3 Things We Can Learn From The 2013 Red Sox — Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From WBUR Cognoscenti

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).

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It’s not so much the sport of baseball that captivates me; it’s the math

MIT Sloan Prof. Dimitris Bertsimas

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.

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