01 October 2014

Who's on First?

"Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out."

-- Ernest Thayer, Casey at the Bat
By the time you read this post, the regular 162-game Major League Baseball season will have ended with divisional playoffs getting underway. The playoffs will be followed by the World Series between the American League and National League champions. 
The Kansas City Royals will play the Oakland A's in an American League wildcard slot (Update:  Royals beat the A's 9-8 in 12 innings). The Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants pair off in the National League wildcard game (Update: Giants 8-0 over the Pirates).

Play-ins, begun in 2012, add excitement for the fans and revenue for the teams from broadcast and cable rights. After all, professional sports is a business, first, and a game, second. 

Depending on how fast teams are eliminated from the playoffs, with best-of-five and best-of-seven series, plus weather and travel, a six-month baseball season can extend through a  potentially chilly October, at least for the final two teams.
College of baseball knowledge
Here's a pop quiz to test your current knowledge of the game.
What do the following Major League Baseball teams have in common? (Team payroll for 2014 season according to Associated Press) 
American League
  • East:  Boston Red Sox ($162.8 million)
  • Central:  Minnesota Twins ($85.7 million)
  • West:  Texas Rangers ($136.0 million)
 National League
  • East:  Philadelphia Phillies ($180.0 million)
  • Central:  Chicago Cubs ($89.0 million)
  • West:  Arizona Diamondbacks ($112.6 million)
In 2014 each team on both lists finished dead last in their respective divisions. Together the six teams won 418 games while losing 554.  
The combined payroll of the six cellar dwellers was $766 million. A losing season doesn't come cheap in the major leagues. 

Lessons from the game
What can organizations learn from "America's pastime?"
  1. Winning is harder than it looks. As bad as it is for those on the bottom, winning teams struggled to get over the .500 mark. Just half of 30 teams played .500 ball or better during the season. The Los Angeles Angels (AL) had the highest winning percentage in baseball at .609. The Angels won 95 games, 20 more than in 2013, with the sixth highest payroll in baseball, $155.6 million. The Baltimore Orioles (AL) and Washington Nationals (NL) finished at .590, the second highest percentage.  LA, Baltimore, and Washington lost a combined total of 195 games.   
  2. It’s possible to wear the same uniform and not be on the same team. There's still a lot of room for individual achievement in baseball, especially in a free-market and social media world. Some players show up and do their job--but never build good working relationships with other members of the team. It doesn't take long to figure out who's a team player, or not. Improving trust and cooperation makes a difference in team performance.
  3. Bad luck can be overcome--sort of. There's a chance of getting hurt playing just about any sport, including baseball. Just ask the catchers. Or second basemen. Players get sick, injured, jet-lagged, care for loved ones, and become tired and discouraged. Hitting streaks come and go. Every team faces problems during a long season. What's the difference between winning and losing teams? Often it's the right leaders creating healthy environments which allow players to rest and heal, then get back in the game. 
  4. It costs to get the right talent in place. The American League Division winners--Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels--and National League Division winners-- Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers--are among the top 15 payrolls in baseball. Even then there's no guarantee of peak performance. Just ask the Cincinnati Reds front office which spent $112.3 million on salaries for a next-to-last place finish in the NL Central. Keeping the right talent mix together for extended periods isn't easy with baseball's free agency and outsized salaries in the larger TV markets.     
  5. There's always next year. Just look at the Boston Red Sox. World Champions in 2013. Last place in the American League East in 2014. Is it possible for the Red Sox to come back and win another World Series? After an 86-year drought, Fenway Park saw World Series championships in 2004, 2007, and 2013. Which reminds us, where would any team be without their fans? That's why in baseball hope springs eternal, even with Casey at the bat.

World Series 
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© Bredholt & Co