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.)

Viral marketing: Here’s your sign

Kid @ Rockies game

It’s really as simple as this.

I had the TV on mute just now, watching Monday Night Football and I saw some kid and his dad with a sign. Their sign was quite large, had a lot of words on it and was not easy to read. In any case, by the time they figured out they were on camera, they weren’t hold it up and the scrambled to get it up but by then, the cameraman had moved on.

I saw this and immediately thought of viral marketing. We’re talking something where you 1) don’t pay much for it and 2) you’re looking for an added value beyond that of what you’ve invested. That’s what separates social media, blogging and all of this so-called Web 2.0 stuff from traditional media. We don’t spend millions to get folks to read our blogs and while cred can be earned and lost due to a perceived or actual lost in trust by an audience, the fact is, we have to grow our own here and we usually do it on a shoestring.

When someone “makes it big” after blogging, they’re simply leveraging something they did as a hobby or as a side project and turn it into something huge. People who make a living doing this stuff are really astounding. Heck, I shake my head a few times a year when I consider what is it that I do everyday. It’d be one thing if I were just a web designer or something. But we’ve reached a point where many of us are able to specialize in the minutia of the web for legitimate, bricks and mortar institutions.

It’s an astounding thing to consider that 90% of us would not have been able to inhabit the roles we do as recent as a decade ago, because the jobs simply did not exist. With a role like that comes an extraordinary opportunity to evangelize a whole new way of THINKING about the way we do business.

That’s what I do every day. I talk to people about things that are going to frustrate them and leave them wondering why they need to change what they’ve done what they do all of the time. I mean, after all, that’s familiar to them and it’s what works. What we’re able to do when we’re successful, is to excite them about the possibilities and make them seem REAL. Not everyone has a huge marketing budget to sink into all sorts of awesome whiz bang projects and not all of us have the access to teams of developers and other rock stars just waiting to do our bidding.

We often have to wear the hats of developers, designers and marketers. You need to have the savvy to talk to audiences of all stripes and take a decidedly entrepreneurial view of all of this, while recognizing the constraints — especially in higher education — that prevent rapid change from happening, without letting that kill off your momentum or leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Remember the guy Rollen Stewart? You probably wouldn’t know him by name, but if you’re a sports fan, you recall he’s the guy who wore a rainbow Afro wig and had a sign that said John 3:16 on it. That’s it, nothing else. Now, whatever your religious persuasion, the point of this is…this was viral marketing in the 70s and no one thought a thing of it. He took a medium — television — and reached audiences in ways that were probably more effective than if a church had bought airtime during those same games he went to and held up his sign.

But what eventually happened to him? Well, he’s in jail for kidnapping. But the real story is, before all of that, TV cameras became wise to his antics and avoided showing him on camera. Per Wiki:

His first major appearance was at the 1977 NBA Finals; by the time of the 1979 MLB All-Star Game, broadcasters actively tried to avoid showing him. He “appeared behind NFL goal posts, near Olympic medal stands, and even at the Augusta National Golf Club” strategically positioned for key shots of plays or athletes.

Rollen taught you viral marketing and he taught you how to be a spammer, at the same time. He managed to keep his ruse up for two years at various major sporting events before they finally caught on? I realize it was the 70s and all, but talk about capturing an audience and finding a way to effectively pitch a message.

Now your message isn’t as well known as the Bible. I mean, even Seth Godin himself couldn’t put a book quote on a sign and expect that scores of people would know or care what he was talking about. The real question here is: What will your sign say, when you get your shot on the screen? Will it be part of a bigger message? Will you reach your intended audience?

It’s not enough to put a domain on a placard and expect that to be enough. And sometimes, your viral marketing campaigns can go really, really wrong.

In the end, it’s up to you to understand who you’re trying to reach and make sure you get to them, to determine whether your viral marketing campaign will be a successful one.

Tampa Bay..all the way?

I’ve been saying all week that the Rays were going to do to Boston what the Marlins did to New York in 2003.

So far, so good.

Go (future) Brooklyn.

I know that the area where the RATner is building his cathedral for the Brooklyn Nets is supposed to be too small for a baseball stadium, but where Keyspan Park is works just fine and there is already a park there anyway.

If the Mets and Yanks don’t play ball, just build a park on the Jersey Shore. There are towns that are 75 miles from both NYC and Philadelphia, though it was a challenge for me to figure it out. :)

I created some new baseball statistics

As if it wasn’t enough for me to go off and create my own college football ranking algorithm, I’ve taken my love of baseball statistics too far once and for all.

The new stat is called VOCL or Value Over Championship Level. (Pronounced VO-CAL) It’s not that beautiful of a stat, but it works. It’s only measure is to help you determine whether your team is at championship level. Doesn’t mean you’re anymore likely to win or anything like that.

It just means that your team is officially within its “win window” I’ve seen teams win at a lower rate than championship level. It’s just a helpful tool.

The thing is, in each league, championship level is different. In some leagues, you can get as high as 600 for some years, in playoff leagues, it can be as low as 450. I’ve seen VOCLs into the 800s on occasion.

We’re not trying to calculate how low a team can go to get to championship level, instead, the goal is to try to figure out how to adjudge when your team has “made it” and so, the formula for VOCL is:

(Team Batting VORP + Team Pitching VORP) – 400 = VOCL

Here are the other two stats I invented:

RVe (Retained Value) is the amount of VORP a team gained/lost during an off-season. For instance, Atlanta’s current RVe is 58.2, given they lost about 43.4 VORP and have gained 101.8 so far this off-season.

PVe (Predicted Value) is the measure of the team’s VOCL from the previous season added to their RVe. So for instance, even if Valdosta didn’t add another player of any value this off-season, the team’s PVe is 28, which is higher than the 14.9 PVe, which would indicate things are close, but how close, it’d be hard to say without seeing the other teams or knowing the results of the season yet.

This whole set of new statistics are going to be called CharlieS (Charlie Stats, as in “what are their CharlieS?), the idea here is to create a set of indicators that allow the GM a snapshot of their team’s performance, to assess the current state of the team and could influence future moves, based on it.

I created it for fake baseball, because I needed better indicators to see where my team was, but they could work in real life too with more data available to you.

They’re the first of many stats that I’m devising, mostly as I need them. But it seems that my bringing these up, have incited a minor positive riot of folks wanting me to delve further in to give them more indicators to help them create newer/better/awesomer statistics.

So alas, my work is not done.

Cito Gaston is back!!!

It’s been a ROUGH decade being a fan to Canada’s only remaining major league team. Despite back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993, it’s been the worst period in the franchise’s history since the late 1990s and into the 2000s. Our general manager J.P. Riccardi isn’t smart, doesn’t seem to have a clue of what he’s doing and despite spending more money, we’re getting pummeled in the division by lightweights such as Baltimore and even Tampa (who are impressive, don’t get me wrong.)

In any case, much to my moribund surprise, I read that the team fired John Gibbons (who I never liked) and FINALLY brought back Cito Gaston, the manager of our two World Series winning and four AL East pennant winning teams.

I’m not of the opinion that managers really make a huge difference in baseball. But you know what? Given that NO ONE has been able to do much of anything since he left, I feel like the guy has earned another shot to give it a go. If we can’t get rid of our sorry sack of a GM, then I’m down for this move. I’m so thrilled about this, it makes me feel like my team has FINALLY gotten out of its malaise and is ready to right the ship!

Out of the Park Baseball 9

I started playing text simulations close to a decade ago. For a kid who grew up playing Sim City and Front Page Sports Baseball, text sims were a way to finally capture the essence of an entire sports universe that completely belongs to you and your imagination.

So when I ran into the Out of the Park (OOTP) Baseball series years ago, after graduating from playing Baseball Mogul for years, I was ecstatic.

OOTP is the most realistic baseball simulation in the world. It’s powerful, comprised of stats and has can be connected to databases that allow you to simulate pretty much any baseball scenario you can dream of from the past to present. It has a financial engine and a stat engine beyond comparison, too.

OOTP 9 was released this week. The trick to these games is that they’re not like run of the mill PS3 or high-quality video games where you SEE the action on your screen. Nope. Instead, you see the action in the form of a web cast or play-by-play screen that texts the action to you. This year’s version has sound, so you can hear and see ball animations. But I don’t generally care for that stuff, as I prefer to simulate through seasons fast.

I was a beta tester on the game this year, so I’ve seen it from its early stages to its launch and this is the most stable release of the game ever released and the most comprehensive. While there are things that I wish were added over others, it’s still hands down the most complete version of the game — without patches — ever and it’ll just get better as it’s patched down the road.

Want the major leagues to have 50 teams? You can do it. Wanna control your favorite team and do better than the GM using real life players? Sure, go ahead. Pretty much any conceivable thing you can come up with in a baseball simulation, you can do now with text sims. It’s the sort of thing that if you’re not careful, you can get completely immersed in for hours and days and longer. There are also online leagues you can play in, to compete with other real people from around the world. That adds a whole new dimension to the game and there are virtually limitless games you can create, so you can play with a major league and create a fantasy league or something else.

The question people ask a lot is “is it fantasy baseball?” Not in the sense that it’s tied to what’s really happening on the field. The game is a simulator. It will simulate the results based on the way the team’s are setup, etc., but you don’t HAVE to use real life players. You can go with invented players whom don’t exist, but over time you get invested in after watching the team year after year. These games are the perfect solution to fans whose real life team have them bored to tears or who they never get to see.

These games are often made by small teams often comprised of one or just a few developers. They don’t sell more than a few thousand copies, yet, they’re wildly popular among this small niche base of fans and are comprised of several intertwined communities with their own histories and interesting cultures.

There are a bunch on the market including the most popular game in the world — Football Manager — a game released by Sports Interactive and Sega, that allows you to simulate the world of professional soccer. The game has a massive following in Europe and around the world — even here in the U.S. The most realistic football sim on the market is called Front Office Football.

OOTP 9 is the most advanced baseball sim out there right now and is worth checking out. It might be a bit of a learning curve to the casual gamer to text sims, yet, if you like baseball…there isn’t a game that can give you more than you’d bargained for than this one.

[rating: 4.5]