Intentional Walks In The Workplace

This post is going to talk about baseball to make a broader point (I hope) so if you’re initially turned off, you should just go with me for a minute.

Joe Posnanski is probably the best writer about baseball in the business right now. His blog posts are quite long, but he writes yesterday about the World Series in Game 6. In case you weren’t watching, the long story short is basically that the Texas Rangers were just a strike away from winning the World Series twice in Game 6. They eventually lost that game and Game 7 the following night to go home runners-up from the World Series for the second straight year.

I’ll let Joe’s article set the backdrop to what I want to talk about here:

Then came Game 6, 10th inning, the Texas Rangers up a run. The Cardinals had the tying run on second base. And Albert Pujols stepped to the plate.

Baseball fans watch for a million reasons. It’s silly to try to reduce the game to a simple, “This is what the game’s all about” cliché, because the game is all about many, many things. But, Game 6 of the World Series, 10th inning, two outs, runner in scoring position, Albert Pujols at the plate, the whole city of St. Louis going bonkers — yeah, that’s a pretty good moment for the game. That’s a time when you wake up your kids to watch. That’s one you think about for the rest of your life.

And Ron Washington had his pitcher Scott Feldman intentionally walk Albert Pujols.

Now, you can question the strategy of the move, and you would be right. Washington was putting the winning run on base. The next batter, Lance Berkman, is one of the best hitters of the last generation, and he would have the platoon advantage being a switch-hitter, and in 2011, anyway, Berkman was actually BETTER against right-handed pitchers than Pujols.

2011 vs. righties:

Pujols: .300/.372/.525

Berkman: 307/.427/.571

But, I’m not talking strategy here. I’m talking about competition. I’m talking about conviction. I’m talking about guts. Ron Washington, in the biggest moment, didn’t trust his pitcher to get the final out. Ron Washington, in the biggest moment, tried to win the World Series by means of evasion, tried to win the World Series with an out-of-court settlement. And it was grotesque.

This whole sequence didn’t bother me because it was questionable baseball strategy — I’m a web guy with some tennis background, I might love baseball as a spectator, but I can only second guess — but rather because it was so clearly a questionable leadership decision. At the most critical moment at the most critical time. At a time when the boss could only watch, he inserted himself into the situation and made the best call that he thought he could make at the time.

There’s no shame in that. But the choice was essentially to concede defeat at a point when the stakes were high, but not so high that if there was a problem (worst case: pitcher gives up a 2-run home run to tie the game) that it couldn’t be fixed in some myriad of ways after the at-bat. But to step in and raise the stakes (now we’ve got 2 guys on base and are sending the winning run to the plate to face the music) and expect optimal performance — even if it’s just a situation that happens routinely in the sport — given the magnitude of the circumstances, it seemed extremely shortsighted.

I don’t have to live with the choice. Sure it might have cost that franchise millions of dollars in lost revenues associated with the prestige of winning a World Series title. But he won’t get fired, because somebody has to lose the World Series and it’s a rare occasion to even be there. A real life example? You’ve got to pitch a big project to a particular client and your ace comes down with some rare non-fatal, highly contagious Antarctic flu and can’t deliver. You need to rely on someone else and you’re not able to do it yourself. Rescheduling is not an option. So what do you do? In our baseball example, you’d just say “there will be other people who want to work with us. We’ll just wait for him, because if we can’t pitch him with our best guy, we won’t pitch him at all. They’re good for us to give our B game.”

I’m being over the top here. I just think there’s a real lesson embedded in this sports metaphor and it prompted me to jot all of this down. You draw your own conclusions and if you’re so inclined, leave a comment. (Especially if you’re one of those sixthousand Cardinals fans on my Twitter feed who surely supported Ron Washington’s decision. Hehe.)