By: Holly Horning
I was sorely tempted to go sit in the lobby of the Gaylord National this week which sits across the Potomac from my home and is a 10-minute drive. (Or, 2 minutes via bass boat.) But being the only woman staking out the grounds, as I saw on TV, made me hesitate. Well, that and my clients who somehow feel I should be paying attention to them instead.
But my desire to go there made my husband shake his head. The same motion he makes when he sees me watching or listening to some in-depth program that focuses on a specific baseball issue.
And that was the case last weekend when I listened to a satellite radio program about how the Cubs built their team and vision. The story was a 2-hour report that traced the evolution of the team since Theo Epstein came to Chicago. And in all the interviews with Theo, Joe Maddon and a host of others responsible for the building, what hit me was that their focus wasn’t primarily on the players.
To them, it was all about crafting a precise vision covering a number of years, creating a specific culture, getting people to buy into it, filling in the details and enforcing/rewarding performance. Theo and Joe talked about how important it was to hire the right behind-the-scenes people and make sure that everyone was on the same page re goals, methods, beliefs and actions. The athletic talent, of course, was extremely important, but seen as secondary.
Which, of course, brings us to the Tigers. A team that practices the opposite. A team that has stubbornly maintained the same philosophy for years but changed their players frequently. So frequently that rosters often turned over 50% more years than not. A roster that now only boasts Justin Verlander as the sole remaining original player from 2006 yet still employs a disturbingly large number of non-athletic employees for decades.
Unlike the Cubs, the Tigers are not on the same page. They have been a team of contradictions for years now. Maybe decades. And if you believe the man who ended both baseball curses with the Cubs and Red Sox, the Tigers need to do some serious work addressing these, which include:
1. Building Comerica – a park that screams for speed and defense – but filling it with big, slow ballplayers with power bats and iffy gloves.
2. Hiring someone with no managerial experience yet expecting him to take the team to the World Series (or at least the playoffs) in his first year. Second year at the latest.
3. Declarations about how the team needs speed yet benching (this year’s AL stolen base leader) Rajai Davis, last year because he wanted to be able to run on his own.
4. Hiring a new GM who doesn’t replace a single Front Office executive and instead rehires former and much older employees.
5. Introducing an analytics department but keeping coaches who don’t use or buy into it. One advisor, (the coaches’ former manager) Jim Leyland, is on the record as being firmly against the system.
6. New departments, software and programs are created in stark contrast to the ageing and old-school employees who don’t use them and are on the record regarding their preferences for older methods.
7. A new GM who wants a new direction yet he brings back former employees and managers who are from the old system.
8. Hiring a recently-retired baseball player as a first-time manager who is good with rookies to manage a team filled with experienced veterans and highly-paid stars.
9. Tons of money spent on signing players but nothing spent on advancing or updating the organization beyond the roster.
10. Willing to pay out some of baseball’s largest contracts yet unwilling to spend on the bullpen for many years.
11. An owner who desperately wants to win but keeps meddling in the GM’s business and insisting on signing players to long-term contracts that further handcuff the team.
12. The same owner who states that a ring is the top priority yet he keeps management and personnel despite their track records of not having achieved the specified goals. Loyalty became more important than winning.
13. A publicly-expressed desire to improve speed on the basepaths and defense yet a continuation of signing slower players with poor defense metrics but possessing star power.
14. An owner who wants stars on the team yet does nothing to promote the retired Tiger stars of the game either at home or for the Hall of Fame.
Can you add to this list?