A Review: Management by Baseball

Jeff Angus sent me his book a while back, Management by Baseball. The book relates four skill sets of a good manager to the four bases on a diamond. First base is operational management. Second base is people management. Third base is self-awareness. Home plate is managing change.

I loved this book from the beginning because it starts with a story about Maury Wills, a manager for the Mariners, and relays a story in which Wills made a very bad decision to have a slow runner steal second base. Why?

Wills had once been the premier base-stealer in the majors, a compact, efficient speed merchant with an unerring ability to read pitchers and their moves, an exceptional talent that made him famous. Like most people, he came to believe that the talent most important to his career was the talent most important for winning ballgames. It's a classic management blunder.

Amen to that one. Successful business requires many different skills and even if you have mastered all of them (and you haven't) you still can't do everything yourself. Management is about getting the best out of your team, appreciating what makes people unique, and harnessing that power to drive success.

This book isn't about specific tactics. It is about how to think as a manager. And it's awesome. Jeff highlights some examples of things that we don't often think about, like the overcompensation bias. He tells about Jack McKeon and a pitching dilemma (in which McKeon decides to throw a pitcher on just a few days rest) that teaches the following lesson:

Most managers become knee-jerk in response to getting burned. That is, he first had to understand that abusing young pitchers is a bad idea, then he had to learn that sometimes you can abuse a young pitcher's arm in a specific situation where the context dictates the benefit/cost is pretty high.

Here is some other wisdom from the book…

How to Keep Your Employees Happy Without Giving Them a Raise

About Ichiro Suzuki and his approach to batting

Like any good contributor (in or out of baseball) he makes himself totally accountable, embracing it as a moral imperative or perhaps just a self-inspiration tool, unlike the accountability sluffing norm among U.S. managers and contributors.

This critique of management:

Because management itself is not seen as a profession in this country, but merely something one gets promoted into for no (or vaguely) related reasons, American managers tend just to imitate managers they've had themselves (who, in turn, problemably developed their managerial behavior portfolio the same way). If one does this consciously and with a rigorous and systematic approach, it's a wonderful shortcut to adequacy. But if one does this as a last resort, merely imprinting on a pervious supervisor as "this must be a template for the way I'm supposed to act," it almost guarantees failure.

And my favorite part of the whole thing?

Angus' First Law of Organizational Development: All human organizations are self-amplifying.

Google is the perfect example. They are getting the best and the brightest right now in part because they have many of the best and brightest already.

This book is great for anyone in a management position, whether you like baseball or not. The analogies to the sport help drive home the points about management, and make them easier to grasp. I also like that the book is only 140 pages. Jeff is writing an expanded version, but when I spoke to him on the phone I asked if he is just adding a bunch of unnecessary fluff. He said he hopes not, but that I can review the new version when it comes out. I also have some audio of Jeff from a phone call we had that I'll try to get posted soon. In the meantime, check this book out. It's worth the price and your time to read it.

  • If you like taking great lessons from baseball and you like business books, then my book, Baseline Selling – How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know about the Game of Baseball should be on your must read list too. My Blog, Understanding the Sales Force, has great content for management.