ASKING THE TOUGH QUESTIONS

By:  Holly Horning

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” pretty much describes the other day for the Tigers. Less than 24 hours after hitting the cellar in the AL Central, JV comes oh-so-close to throwing a no-hitter. Wednesday was the perfect microcosm of a very strange 2015 Detroit Tigers season.

Earlier in the day, more than a few in the national media were anointing our beloved team as the most disappointing one for the year so far given the fall from “first to worst”. And the justification for their opinions was based upon the significant amount of talent many believe resides on this team.

So much talent, that despite some injuries, should have translated into so much more than 7 games under .500, 18 games out of first place and the 10th worst record in baseball. Talent that consistently produced top offensive numbers yet had difficulty in translating those figures into wins.

We know all too well about the struggles of the starting pitching for part of this year and the eternal black hole known as the bullpen. But can we really use lack of pitching as the sole or primary excuse for this year?

For all the arguments that say good pitching beats all, the Tigers had the best starting pitching in baseball for years yet always managed to win the division by a single game. (2011 is excluded considering they were the only team above .500.) We won’t even discuss performance during recent playoff years or the single World Series win from two contests.

So what gives? Why have the Tigers failed to put it all together for the past 10 years when expected by most to have had at least one ring by now? And why especially did this year turn so sour?

Maybe it’s just not talent that is a factor. Maybe there are other non-physical skills and intangibles that are at play. And that’s why we need to evaluate this team as any other business gets analyzed.

Make no mistake, baseball runs like any other company – the same structure, purpose and goals. The intent is to develop talent and produce a winning team. And when owners invest millions in employees and resources, but expectations don’t match performance, companies have to look inward at the culprit(s).

Many of these organizations end up bringing in analysts and coaches to help them dig deeper and locate the hidden weak links. And from my experience as a professional performance coach, I can say it is never one single factor. It is usually a combination of elements – and it always involves the tangibles as well as intangibles.

So can we assess the Tigers organization? Sadly, no, unless Mr. I gives me a buzz – and even then there’s the pesky issue concerning client confidentiality. To be able to locate the factors holding this team back, we need to be welcomed through the front doors and to be able to scratch around a bit.

But we can, like coaches, ask lots of questions. Questions raise awareness and in turn, issues are identified and hopefully resolved. As we say in the biz, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

So what questions would I ask if this was my client? I thought you’d never ask……..

What is the corporate culture? In other words, what are the shared values, standards, attitudes and beliefs of the members that would characterize this organization and define it to outsiders?

What is the leadership style? Does upper management take a proactive stance on exhibiting visible leadership or is their style subtle and low-key?

Are the goals of the organization clearly spelled out in detail? Or are the goals vague, unwritten and assumed?

Does each leader within the organization mirror the leadership and energy of the owner? If the owner is exacting and energetic, for example, are all the managers as well?

Are the methods of managing conducive to achieving the set goals? How well do they inspire the desired level of performance?

Are the leaders of the organization easily recognized by everyone else? Does every department, division or team have at least one clearly defined leader?

Do the leaders have mentors and coaches to assist them? Do these “helpers” coordinate the work and message with the leader?

Does every employee or player have someone to guide them? Are they able to understand what is expected of them? Is there someone who can work effectively with them?

How is accountability communicated and measured? Do members understand what is expected of them? If they fail to meet goals, do they understand that consequences may be involved?

And the biggie……

How important is teamwork in the overall organization’s philosophy? Is it taught, emphasized and practiced regularly?

So once again, we’ve got an exercise in which questions, not answers, are offered. And that’s OK, because the fans and media should be asking the questions. It’s up to the owner to provide the structure and for the team to provide the answers.

12 thoughts on “ASKING THE TOUGH QUESTIONS

  1. Great questions to ask the bean counters in the Armani suits. Good luck getting answers. I’m betting that what happens in the board room stays in the board room. See: The Mysterious Case of the General Manager.

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  2. The Tigers had an old school type of manager who didn’t follow much the numbers and stats, went by his feelings, knew how to handle the locker room, and still the Tigers didn’t win. The last two years the organization has gone completely in a different direction, young manager, modern school, Ivy degree, and still the Tigers didn’t win.

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    • I disagree. The manager was younger in years, but the approach was the same, with a carryover of some of Leyland’s staff. DD’s approach didn’t change. Only superficial shiftings. It will be interesting to see if Avila brings in a much needed different direction.

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  3. So is it just a matter of the bullpen? Nossir, cannot be. What I see on the field the last decade is a bunch of good and great players, at least half dozen headed to the HOF and it has not been enough. What is missing is the TEAM, a group of players who grew up in the minors, who suffered together, hungry not only of $$$ but of success.

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    • Absolutely. The important TEAM aspect was completely obliterated in favor of DD’s “buy a team” philosophy. Financially this worked, Illitch made a lot of money, but it failed to bring about the ultimate winner.

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  4. Great blog, Holly! Team is the essential ingredient to success!! Having the SAME goal and knowing that everyone is laying everything they have on the field every time they lace up their cleats! Appreciation of the skills and shortcomings of everyone on the team and knowing that everyone is giving it their very best daily.

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  5. I agree with Frankie. In today’s game not sure that plays as large a role. You’ve, asked great questions Holly. Two more questions from me: accountability..why was Ausmus not shown the door, as well as AA? Vision: assuming a bench clearing of coaches, will replacements mesh with Miggy, JV, VM, Kinsler, 2016 goals?

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  6. The performance has been there, except for a World Series win. My main thought this year has been, “They had their chance.” The big contracts finally caught up with them, but unfortunately, it was all three at once (Verlander, Cabrera, Victor Martinez). Next year should be better, because of this year’s humbling.

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  7. Firmly believe that Ausmus is the root of all the Tigers ills this year. The injuries to various players didn’t help, however, the team had the talent to overcome. Feels like Brad sucked the life out of the team and probably the clubhouse. He probably will be a good manager someday but his first job should’ve been in the minors.

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  8. The thing that I find clear is not everybody was on the “same page” for quite some time. That tone was set when Dombrowski was “shockingly” booted. But as bad as their record was at the firing, there has to be more to it than just that they let him go because of a bad record this year. Had to be a developing “disconnect”.

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