Skip to comments.A Gigantic Organizational Problem
Posted on 10/02/2011 1:16:33 AM PDT by Sick of Lefties
A Gigantic Organizational Problem
Why do we care about professional baseball, or sports teams generally? Ask people in Boston or Atlanta, Tampa Bay or St. Louis.
Noman thinks it's that rooting for a team is an initiation into a culture, a history, a tradition, a people. The club confers its identity on all who root for it, and all who play for it if the player let's it. We belong. And, that's important to people.
The San Francisco Giants tenure as Major League Baseball's defending Champions ended in a whimper the other night with a 15-2 thumping at the bats of the new Western Division Champion Arizona Diamondbacks. Noman cares. Hats off to the Diamondbacks, and best of luck in the post season.
Noman realized with Wednesday's season finale that the team had been campaigning for two years running. Last year's Championship caught this season up into it's whirlwind, and extended 2010-2011 into one glorious quest to remain atop the pinnacle they'd scaled for the first time in 56 years, and first time in San Francisco since moving there from Manhattan in 1958. Thank you, Giants. It was fun.
The Giants attention now turns to signing star rental, Carlos Beltran, who is a free agent.
"Agent Scott Boras expects slugger Carlos Beltran to seriously consider returning to the San Francisco Giants beyond this season...
The 34-year-old Beltran, who joined the defending World Series champion Giants in a July 28 trade from the New York Mets, has said he will think about his next step once he is home for the offseason.
"Well, you have to remember when Carlos and I sat down to determine what teams he was going to go to, it was his choice," Boras told The Associated Press on Monday night... "He came to the Giants for a reason. Obviously he has played very well here. He has gotten a chance to get to know the city and the organization."
The switch-hitting Beltran told the San Jose Mercury News last week he would like to see San Francisco take steps to upgrade the offense aside from just getting back a healthy catcher Buster Posey and second baseman Freddy Sanchez, both out with season-ending injuries and the parties would be in touch regarding the plan this winter. Addressing the leadoff spot is something else Beltran has noted."
He said quite a bit more than that, actually. Despite it's "unbelievable pitching," he wants to be around players "that will make the lineup better." The Giants "have missed a leadoff hitter," a huge issue for Beltran who earns his money by producing runs. He believes that the Giants have a "good team," but at this point in his career he wants the opportunity to win. Moreover, there is no guarantee that returning injured players will be the players they once were.
Unfortunately, this reads as if the World Champions aren't good enough for him, yet. It's lineup doesn't quite measure up, especially not it's leadoff hitter(s). He needs more people on base to drive in, and he wants better odds of winning than presently exist in San Francisco.
Presumably, he knows that injured players are a risk, being one himself. He has a history of knee problems, and didn't play between August 7th and 23rd due to a strained right hand.
His comments are standard for someone pondering his own circumstances in isolation from others. It's understandable that he would coax the Giants into complying with his expectations while he has negotiating leverage over them.
It would certainly be better for him not to sign if he can't get his way than to sign, whine, pine and consign his leadership responsibilities.
But, his tack is not good for the Giants, who need him, and everyone in the enterprise, to conform to the team's expectations and to think about his contribution to the organization rather than the other way around.
His comments underscore that Beltran's and the Giant's worlds are separate and distinct even two months after his arrival in the thick of a pennant race. Despite his investment in getting to know the city and the organization, he is still just a rental player.
If Beltran wants to play with the Giants, as his actions in choosing to join them in the first place indicate, and as his agent's comments confirm, he would be better served by saying so and negotiating a contract that affords the team leeway to negotiate with other players. The last thing he should do is to dictate conditions and call teammates out publicly for their deficiencies.
Noman can't imagine that his comments will help him in the club house, especially with Andres Torres--last year's Willie McCovey Award Winner voted the team's most inspirational player by the players--whose subpar year at the top of the lineup he highlighted--or Buster Posey and Freddie Sanchez--two mainstays of the Giants championship team whose ability to recover form he questioned.
Self-centeredness and friction are the norms in organizational life as in everyday life. We're only human, and organizations are filled with human beings. But, these postures are neither ideal nor salutary for an organization, especially not when contrasted to the Giants championship team, which was idyllic in crucial respects despite torturing itself and its fans. That context accentuates Beltran's faux pas, and his role in the team's late season collapse.
The champions were notable for their unity, which translated into character and an ability to tough out close wins on the road or at home, the kind you need to win in order to be winners.
As for Beltran's contribution in San Francisco, Scott Boras might more accurately have said that his stats were good rather than that he played very well. In 44 games and 167 at bats with the Giants, he scored 17 runs, drove in 18, batted .323 and was on base at a .369 clip. His power numbers were equally professional: 7 home runs, 9 doubles, 4 triples and a 1.471 SLG+OPS. He hit his milestone 300th career home run on September 14th, his second homer of that game, which led the Giants to a sweep of the San Diego Padres.
In sum, he is a star ball player who performed capably. The Giants got what they paid for, but not their money's worth.
The Giants were 16 games over .500 when they traded for Beltran, with the third-best record in the National League despite having the third-worse offense in baseball. They held a 4 game lead over 2nd place Arizona, and made a statement by taking the rubber game of a prideful series with the Philadelphia Phillies on the road the night that Beltran joined them.
To play Beltran in right field, they moved Nate Schierholtz who was slowly maturing into a star over to left field. They departed from their core philosophy of not trading homegrown talent for a big-bat, high-priced free agent. They added to a burgeoning pack of outfielders, and trifled with their castoff-and-misfit chemistry.
Most importantly, they acceded to his conditions in order to secure his approval to the trade. That was the beginning of the end.
By August 10th, twelve days after he'd joined the team, they fell permanently out of first place in their division. By August 20th, they'd capped a 6-16 stretch that dropped them 2.5 games behind the first place Diamondbacks. By August 29th, a month into his rental, they were 5 games back.
On September 18th, the team won its 8th in a row, too little, too late. The Diamondbacks clinched the division by pounding the punchless Giants on September 23rd, and knocked them out of NL Wild-Card contention the following night.
The Giants finished 2011 at 10 games over .500 (86-76), finishing 8 games behind the Division Champion Diamondbacks.
The Giants lost their je ne sais quoi along the way. That wasn't Beltran's fault, or any individual player's. It was management's fault. It was the organization's fault for letting it happen.
For all of the great players and Hall-of-Famers who have toiled for this historic franchise, the 2010 Giants gave Noman a gift that no other Giants team had since he was in the womb, a World Series Championship. His father had been a Giants fan in New York. The Giants moved West four years after Noman was born in San Francisco, and they became his team. His loyalties were fated, though seemingly destined to never be feted.
His earliest Giants memory happened three years before he was born: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!..." Russ Hodges immemorial call redounds in his soul like a Platonic form.
Noman's actual earliest memories are of the 1962 Giants improbable pennant win, which depended on the Dodgers losing 10 of their last 13 games, blowing a 4 game lead with 7 games left to play, and a 2 game lead with 3 remaining. (Thank you Cardinals!) They needed to win a three-game playoff with the final two games in LA where the Dodgers were all but unbeatable. They needed to rally for 4 runs in the top of the 9th inning to win game 3 by a score of 6-4. It all came to pass.
Noman can't remember a time when the Giants weren't important to him. Twenty-five years after leaving his native San Francisco--ten of them abroad in Europe--he still follows and roots for the team.
The 2010 Champions emerged in the least expected of fashions--when there were no titans among men leading them onto the field; when every game down the stretch was so agonizing as to prompt Giants announcer Dwayne Kuiper to dub them "torture"; when the Phillies and Yankees and Rangers, oh my, were oh so formidable. It all added to the joy.
What an unlikely bunch. Andres Torres, Freddie Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe, Cody Ross, led by a rookie catcher, Buster Posey. Who dey?
The secret, of course, was lights-out pitching, a September ERA of 1.78 to win the division coming from behind, and a postseason ERA of 2.47, including 11 games of allowing fewer than 3 runs. Lincecum and Cain and forget about rain; Sanchez and Baumgardner; Lopez and Wilson. Fear the beard! Tight defense was nearly all they needed.
Something happened on that team that doesn't happen in many organizations, not even on championship teams. It grew to become greater than the sum of its parts.
Every man filled in wherever another man vacated. Twenty-five men each made the team his personal problem, and not his personal problem the team's. They self-identified as castoffs and misfits, as Giants. They identified the team as the place where they belonged and became one with it.
The players adhered from the heart outward, and it raised their game to unconquerable heights. They merged into a unity. They became champions, together.
The World Champion Giants were untrue to the organization's usual modus operandi. Giants teams were always built around a savior: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bobby Bonds, Barry Bonds, Jack Clark, Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, Hac Man Leonard. Normally, it was a dynamic duo or trio: Mays & McCovey; Bonds, Matthews & Maddox; Mercer & Montanez; Clark & Evans; Mitchell & Leonard; Williams & Clark; Bonds & Kent.
GM Brian Sabean built the Champions around young pitching. He brought in a bunch of role players who performed capably and fit in with one another around the mound talent. They fielded like they knew it was important. They hit opportune home runs in key situations.
He let them grow, fit in, find their place, learn, and somehow gave them something to care about bigger than themselves. They responded as ballplayers, and as men. They made their fortunes; they won; and they bonded.
For most of 2011, the Giants deployed the same Punch & Judy attack and remained in first place in their division. They won fifty games by the midseason All-Star break. Most importantly, they remained true to form.
Then, they made a gigantic organizational mistake. They reverted back to their ineffectual savior mentality. They put their faith in a big bat rather than in unity. Not that there's anything wrong with a big bat. The mistake was to let its possessor dictate conditions.
Desperate to defend their championship, and thinking that they needed a star in their lineup to do so, they traded for Carlos Beltran at the deadline.
"Sabean also said he would be more open to a rental because of the Giants dire situation. Lets face it. You cant look at this team right now and say it can beat Atlanta, Philadelphia and Texas/New York/Boston in the postseason.
Sometimes, when you have a shot for the grand prize, you have to ease your principles. Sabean said hed trade for a rental if he was a difference-maker. Thats exactly what Beltran can be."
As a veteran player with ten years in the league and five on the same team, Beltran had a veto over the trade, which he used to exact conditions from the Giants. The rumor was that Beltran conditioned the trade's acceptance on playing right field (his normal position) and batting third in the order. Sabean has denied part of that, saying only that Beltran's position in right field was "academic."
The important point is that the Giants organization and players know what the conditions were, and so does Beltran. They acceded to them, and proceeded to collapse.
A player's conditions were placed ahead of the team's for its purported sake, and it killed the team's unity. Beltran failed to adhere. He is still a rental, not a Giant, laying down conditions.
The episode is a mini-retreat to the Barry era, albeit on a much lesser scale. Everyone knew about Barry's special treatment, his three lockers, his lounge chair and personal trainer in the club house. Barry Bonds was a transcendent talent, however, and so superior to his contemporaries as to warrant the experiment. That's especially true because the Giants didn't know yet what worked.
Barry, despite one of the greatest World Series performances on record in 2002, couldn't win the championship for San Francisco, even with Jeff Kent. Lincecum, Posey, Huff and Wilson did. Yet, the Giants succumbed to the temptation to toss what worked for what hadn't.
Carlos Beltran, for all of his hitting prowess, couldn't carry Barry Bonds's batting gloves. Standing alone, he wouldn't warrant the experiment. And, today, the World Champion Giants have less excuse for misplacing faith in a salvific bat.
Though it's little appreciated even in business schools where Organizational Behavior is studied and taught, creating the conditions in which unity can occur is a key function of management, and the key function of leadership.
Management creates the conditions for unity, or conversely disunity. Either can only happen through organizational participants (e.g., teammates) free election of goods on offer. The organization proposes values that the human heart can freely elect, if capable.
Unity thus exists because favorable conditions exist, and players are capable of choosing it. It comes about by appealing to human beings where they can be drawn in--first by the belly, next by the head and last by the heart. Achieving unity requires reaching players at all three levels of motivation.
Note the dual conditions: (1) the organization must structure and make its appeals to the belly ($), the head (professionalism) and the heart (service), and (2) the players must be capable of responding to those appeals at all three levels of personal motivation.
One might classify managerial types by motivational emphasis. Strategists align people to the organization by appealing to their material well-being. Executives do that and additionally secure buy-in from people via their assent. Leaders do that and additionally unite people to the organization by appealing to their desire to belong to, and give to, something good.
Leadership, in sum, is a three-dimensional operation. Organizational behavior, which manifests itself on the playing field, is a three-dimensional phenomenon.
Not just any offer will suffice to draw the human heart. People must believe that cooperation with the organization promises some good worth serving, worth loving. This is something beyond money (belly), and even beyond winning (head).
Participants' true good--from players to customers to clerks--forms part of the rightly-directed organization's mission. Human flourishing occurs only where all three motivational levels are satisfied.
Knowing that one will get rich through participation, as all players do, will suffice to draw the belly. Knowing that one may win the championship will draw the head. But neither will draw the heart. Only service to teammates, coaches, fans, a city, an organization, a team, others, someone or something will do that.
Naturally, teams win championships without creating conditions for human flourishing. They might overwhelm opponents with talent, or pay roll. Noman's contention is that the 2010 champions weren't one of them. They didn't overwhelm opponents with their sheer brilliance or superior talent. They won because they played as one.
Where there is smoke, there is fire. Where there is unity, there is the fire of love.
The Giants have Beltran by the belly, as did the Mets, and as will the next team that buys his bat. But, they don't have his heart, and it cost them. Their appeals to it, if they made any, failed to reach him.
He joined a unified team and proceeded to ask what it could do for him rather than what he could do for it. And, Giants management let him, even before he joined so as to gain his consent to the trade. That was their mistake, which is why they are not defending their championship in the post-season.
If they continue to let Beltran impose conditions, they will continue signaling that they're not really interested in his true good, his fulness as a human being capable of service. They'll signal to the entire team that they just want a hitting machine, not a person, a player.
They need to signal that his learning to appreciate what's fully on offer forms part of their intention towards him. His bat is not enough. They need his heart.
It follows that an organization not concerned with building up people capable of identifying good, and choosing it, is not fully rational. It has no plan for achieving a sine qua non of unity, of its own success.
In brief, improving moral quality--helping people to become more generous, to think of others, to serve the team--forms part of the intelligent organization's mission, and vivifies its leaders and managers.
The moral quality of an organization's people are like the tensile strength of a bridge's steel. Just as it would be foolish to build a bridge without knowing the tensile strength of the steel going into it, it is foolish to undertake a project without knowing the moral quality of the people on the field.
From indications that Beltran has given of what he considers important, his tensile strength could stand for improvement. Its current state hasn't helped him to achieve what he says he wants. He's being irrational. And, the Giants aren't helping him.
It's not a question of his prowess, competitive fire or work ethic. By all accounts, he is an exemplary player, a star. For him to grab the brass ring on this team, however, he's going to have to learn to give to something bigger than himself.
The Giants accepted conditions to bring Beltran to San Francisco that he had no right to make, and they had no business accepting. It was bad for him, and caused him to miss out on a true good. The Giants let him be self-centered; they let him hurt himself. Despite his professed passion to win a championship, his participation on the reigning World Champions devolved to his playing well, racking up stats and securing his last big contract.
The Giants didn't educate Beltran about using freedom for something bigger than self. For the foregoing reasons, Noman thinks it's because they didn't try to, not because he couldn't freely respond if encouraged.
Consequently, he missed out on unifying his heart to a championship team, and it missed out on the defense of its title in the post-season. Pity.
Noman would like to end with a theological insight, a suggestion and a prediction.
Noman has written about "The Way Jesus Works, and Doesn't" (9/4/11). Taking the miracle(s) of the loaves and the fishes as a point of departure, the lesson is that God works by mediating his action through the participation of faithful disciples. There is normally no certitude of the type that Jesus could have provided by converting the available food into mountains of loaves and fishes.
Ask the 2010 Phillies, Yankees or Red Sox who were loaded with talent yet gave way to the scrappy Giants, a relatively talentless bunch whether this makes sense.
Noman doesn't know if Beltran is a faithful man, which would make it easier to learn. He is Hispanic, so Noman has hope that he does, or can, have faith. There is something to learn from this parable whether he is, or isn't, can or can't.
There are no assurances in life, or in baseball, no matter how many stars a team piles up in its constellation.
The suggestion: the Giants should let Beltran stay (if they can afford to feed his belly) only if he agrees to their conditions, and stops laying down his. Otherwise, he is simply not worth the cost to team unity. Better to look for a lesser player with a bigger heart.
The prediction: the Giants team that won last year's championship will repeat another time or more, if and only if the pitching staff is kept intact, and the Giants revert back to last year's motivational form.
The 2010 San Francisco Giants strike Noman as being more like the 1981 San Francisico 49ers than the 1974-1975 golden State Warriors. The 49ers went on to dominate football for a decade, and more. They went on to become a star-studded organization. But, they didn't start that way. The Warriors conversely shocked the basketball world, and collapsed in self-admiration to a hungrier team in the following year's playoffs. They've never recovered.
The Giants know that championship baseball counts more on timely hitting than on big-time hitters. With pitching like they've got, they'll always be in the game. That's when unity--which comes from self-donation--pays off.
Ultimately, organizational flourishing is a matter of heart. The Giants can ill afford to let any player, no matter how talented, jeopardize that.
Best of luck to teams in the playoffs. Go Tigers!
Evan Longoria, that was homeric.
Pro sports are a big waste of time.
Yes, they are bread and circuses.
Nevertheless, they matter to people.
They should be studied.