By: Holly Horning
What makes for a successful team? Or rather, what qualities does a team need to have in order to be competitive on a regular basis?
Is it simply about drafting and developing players well? Is it about the Front Office executives you hire? Is it about the money you spend?
Is it luck of the draw or is there actually a method to creating a successful organization?
Baseball is no different than any other business. And yes, baseball is a business – at least to its owners.
And in all businesses, the success of the organization comes from the top. The very top.
We’ve seen a number of clubs, the envy of all of MLB, see great success under one owner. And then we have seen that same team plummet to the bottom when a new boss takes over. Just look at the Orioles under Edward Bennett Williams and now under Peter Angelos. Once the pride of baseball and now known as a futile organization.
Look at the Yankees under George Steinbrenner. And then when his sons took over, the team fell behind until Hal Steinbrenner took over and returned to his dad’s philosophy.
The culture of an organization – how to behave, what to say, how to treat people, levels of expectations and how to conduct business are all set from the top. It’s because the owner tends to hire people who are most like him. It’s because his employees take their cue of how to do business from him.
Look at the Boston Red Sox. Owner John Henry has brought the same impatience and constant changing of his mind to the club that he does in the rest of his life. Married 3 times. Owned 3 baseball teams and known for alternating the Red Sox President and GM positions – never having both positions filled at the same time. And yes, the lifespan of these executives has averaged 3 years. Dave Dombrowski lasted the longest at 4 years and fired 9 months after winning the World Series.
The Red Sox are a team of constant turnover as a result. And constant turnover results in instability. Just look at the mess earlier in the decade with the choking debacle and undermining of Theo Epstein’s authority. The recent fines by MLB, the firings and now the cheating scandal. Even their manager is one with interim status only.
Now let’s look at Houston Astros owner, Jim Crane, and the newest investigations of his pattern of business dealings. Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised at what happened to that team.
Now he tells us…….
It appears that MLB owners had great concern over his desire to buy the Astros and they spent 6 months investigating him instead of the usual 6 week vetting process. Why? Because he’s been frequently in trouble with federal agencies.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found him guilty of discriminating against minority and female employees in a wide-ranging report of the multiple ways these people were targeted.
Fast forward to his Astros employee, Brandon Taubman, who was fired for harassing a female reporter. But Crane stuck with him, defended him and actually tried to deep-six the career of that reporter before finally caving to overwhelming public pressure.
And then there were multiple legal actions involving issues (kickbacks, price fixing, fraud) of profiteering during the Iraq war. Inflated invoices and false surcharges among the claims.
In this case, Crane said the incidents were isolated to two employees and that he was “not involved in any way.”
The Astros flagrantly broke the rules and quite possibly cheated their way to a World Series trophy. Guilt was laid at the feet of two of his top people and once again, Crane said he had no idea this was going on. As with his government legal troubles, he also added that he cooperated fully with MLB and will ensure this never happens again.
You know how I feel about patterns. They define the person. It’s not a coincidence when someone keeps doing the same things over and over. They’re doing them because their thought process, mindset and character facilitate the same actions and results.
And they hire people similar to them.
Enter Jeff Luhnow.
Yes, birds of a feather really do flock together.
MLB owners were right to be wary of approving Crane as one of their own. And MLB really needs to keep an eye on the Astros going forward because there’s a higher probability that something similar may happen again. You know what they say about “burn me once, shame on you….burn me twice, shame on me.”
Now, let’s look at yet another baseball owner. Chris Ilitch.
Technically, Ilitch is not an “owner.” He is in charge of the “Ilitch Family Trust” that actually owns the Tigers. And that means there are other family members who are allowed to have input.
The Ilitchs did not have to be vetted by the other 29 MLB owners. Only Mike did.
And just because they share the same last name doesn’t mean that Chris is anything like his dad. Don’t assume that he will do as his dad did once – and if – the team gets better. Chris has not yet earned any good will with either Detroit or the fans. He is starting from scratch.
But what do we know about him so far?
It’s really hard to say because he’s an enigma. He purposely stays in the background, is rarely seen and less often heard. And when he does speak, it’s always through a carefully—crafted message that rarely offers real insight or information. In all cases, it’s a PR-crafted puff piece.
He is not seen at the games unlike the vast majority of other baseball owners. Even his father regularly attended the Tigers’ games.
And when it comes time to make important announcements? He turns to the envy of Toastmasters International – Al Avila – to make the statements. Even his own contract extension which was not only unusual, but also uncomfortable. I mean, really, how many organizations make their own employee hold a press conference about themselves?
We do see him, however, attending and speaking at every hockey conference for the Red Wings.
What does this say about his preferences? What does this say about his commitment to the Tigers?
What does it mean when he says he “stresses discipline over big spending?” when he discusses the Tigers’ rebuild? Other than the fact that discipline when it concerns how to play the game is so completely lacking.
What does it mean when we see him only twice a year – at spring training and at the end of the year for the team photo?
Does anyone really see this as an example of someone who cares about his team succeeding?
Or even as an owner who is interested in baseball?
Or are we simply seeing a man who puts in the minimum amount of time necessary for the sake of appearances?
If patterns are any indication, I think we all know the answers……
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