As we finally put away the winter coats and crack the windows to welcome the changing season, it reminds us that one of our rites of spring, baseball, is about to begin.
Despite the overwhelming popularity of the NFL, baseball has endured and still remains part of the quintessential American spirit.
It doesn’t hurt that baseball comes equipped with its own quirky lexicon, folksy charm, and the homespun built-in metaphors. After all, the season is bookended by spring and autumn; as the flowers bud, we think of hope in a team’s rebirth, and by the time the final out is made in the World Series, the frost has come and we transition again.
But perhaps, baseball’s charm emerges from the fact that it takes 25 men to win a championship, including many an unsung hero.
Instead of 16 smash-mouth games, baseball is a grind played out over 6 months – 162 games – and that’s before the “real” season begins. In a game of match-ups, pitchers change daily, and a lineup is formulated to expose that pitcher’s weaknesses. Adding to the daily fluctuations, injuries and fatigue are give-ins, and slumps are as inevitable as rainouts in April. This only underscores the need for organizational depth.
Businesses, too, rely on their “bench strength.” However, when you break down that expression, a paradox emerges; in other sports, being “benched” is synonymous with failure and poor play. Star quarterbacks or point guards tend to dominate a game, and telling someone that he’s being sat to provide “bench strength” might actually lead to a call from the player’s agent, alleging that his client has been “disrespected.”
But in baseball, as in the business world, your bench is your weapon. And if you lack in any key area, your job is to find the missing piece, which could be hidden in the form of a previously undervalued individual.
Yankees fans cringe at the mention of former Red Sox outfielder Dave Roberts. He had been a little-known speedster before his timely stolen base coming off the bench in the 2004 American League Championship Series. In the best-of-seven battle, the Sox trailed the Yanks three games to none and were behind 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th inning during this potentially decisive fourth game. Roberts’s now-famous steal and game-tying run would prove to be the catalyst in the Red Sox ultimately winning their first championship since 1918.
Most teams and businesses have their core “rosters” set for the long haul. What separates the contenders from the pretenders, though, is being able to think strategically into the future while doing what it takes to better your organization at present.
The Red Sox would go on to win again in 2007 and 2013, but despite the Hall of Fame-caliber talent that existed in 2004, they would not have won without cultivating a team in which all 25 players were cohesive and were properly utilized.
Time to find your Dave Roberts.