By: Holly Horning
Let me tell you the tale about a baseball team. A team that is seeing some struggles in recent years. A team that, until recently, was the best in the AL Central having won numerous division titles in a row. But a team that has been unable to win The Big One in October now for decades.
This team ended up falling into last place and their long-time GM, known for spending big money on a handful of star players, was fired. His Assistant GM, also with the club for many years, took over.
They had hired a rookie manager in 2014 who did well with the team in his first year but quickly made them one of the worst teams in his second. After the GM was fired, fans were shocked to hear that the manager would be retained the following season despite what was going to look like a last place finish.
But should the fans have been surprised? This was, after all, an organization known for their “family” atmosphere and extreme loyalty to employees. A long-time owner who kept the same GM, Front Office and management for years. Rarely firing anybody. A team that kept the same people, same philosophy and same dated outlook on how to improve their team and keep them highly competitive. An organization that considered the term “analytics” a scary concept while all the other organizations had added this tool years ago.
This organization also kept their previous long-term manager on board after he left. He’s a special assistant, joining another former manager and advising the GM and Front Office on a number of topics. Former executives appear to retire but never leave the club.
A baseball team that recently shocked the rest of MLB for making a bold move and finally firing someone. A team that in the past kept managers, GMs, scouts and other executives well past their expiration dates.
Does this sound familiar?
How surprised would you be if I told you I was writing about the Minnesota Twins instead of the Detroit Tigers?
Scary, huh? A story that played out in the media within the past two weeks as the Twins fired their GM, Terry Ryan. A story with eerie parallels and innuendo about teams that refuse to make hard, bold and different choices in how they are run. And how, over time, sticking to the same script and same perspectives stopped working for that organization.
This was the analysis given by a number of former baseball executives on tv. It was also part of the Twins’ statement, one in which they said they needed fresh viewpoints because they were becoming “increasingly obsolete.”
It’s comforting to see that Al Avila has introduced an analytics department and a Tigers’ Way manual. But it’s still too soon to say whether he brings a new approach to the team that will make a difference. The next 7 months will tell us much more.