Success in business is out of reach to those who aren’t already blessed with plentiful advantage, so goes the conventional wisdom. A similar stereotype in sports is that you either have talent or you don’t. But the story of a once-maligned pitcher’s World Series victory upends both of these stereotypes, and has great lessons for entrepreneurs.
A year ago, the Boston Red Sox would have gladly traded John “Popeye’s Chicken and Beer” Lackey for a bucket of dirty baseballs. Certainly, the fans would have. The pitcher delivered a horrific 6.41 earned run average in 2011, missed the entire 2012 season due to injury, and his clubhouse antics suggested a lack of discipline and focus that would hamper him even when he was healthy. Read More »
As a devoted Red Sox fan, I have a lot to celebrate today, and perhaps the nation has a lot to learn. The team’s worst to first transformation in a trying time might give us clues on how to rebuild our economy and democracy into something that again makes us stand tall and proud as one.
Here’s what I take away from this turnaround.
1. Distributed Leadership
The Red Sox owners and general manager reflected on and learned the right lesson from their failed effort to build a team around expensive stars and a flamboyant manager. Shedding and replacing them with talented players and a manager willing to and capable of building a team culture of mutual respect, shared leadership, and accountability paid off. David Ortiz said it well: “We probably don’t have the talent that we had in ’07 and ’04, but we have guys that are capable, stay focused, and do the little things. And when you win with a ball club like that, that’s special.” America’s CEOs might take note: Hire and invest in talented people who are also team players and leaders; pay them fairly and equitably. Don’t squander all your dollars on a few stars (including yourselves).
In 2007, Daryl Morey, MIT Sloan MBA ’00, and Jessica Gelman of The Kraft Sports Group had a vision to build a forum for innovation in sports. Just five years later, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference developed into that and more. With more than 2,200 participants, the conference grew by 50% from 2011 and featured some of the biggest names in the industry, including Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner, Brian Burke, Toronto Maple Leafs President and GM, Mark Cuban, owner of the world-champion Dallas Mavericks, and Bill James, the founder of the sports analytics movement. It even included Drew Carey, owner of the MLS Seattle Sounders and Price is Right host. Read More »
I came to baseball later in life. As a kid growing up in Greece, I played soccer, which is very popular in Europe. I then got interested in American football, and basketball, and I also followed track and field. Even after living years in Boston – a rabid Red Sox town – I never gave baseball much of a thought.
Then, a while back, a friend gave me a copy of the book Money Ball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, because he knew I was interested in analytics. (You see, I have a passion for sports, but my greater passion is analytics.) The book, by Michael Lewis, is the story of how Billy Beane – a former player who later became general manager of the Oakland A’s – used an analytical, sabermetric approach to create a winning team. The A’s were the first team to heavily depend on quantitative methods, and at the time – we’re talking 2002 here – many considered Beane’s approach very radical, even foolish. But he made believers out of his skeptics. Even with the third smallest payroll in major league baseball, the A’s were able to use quantitative methods to gain an edge.