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Oct20
Leadership Qualities are Timeless
Well, the fall classic is now set. Houston closed out the Cardinals last night and now will face the White Sox in the World Series. If you have been paying attention to the race for the National League pennant, you certainly have heard mention of the Houston Astros’ comparison to the Miracle Braves of 1914. If you haven’t been paying attention, you can catch up now because there are some great lessons in leadership and management from this “classic and current” baseball tale.

With their win last night, the Astros became the first team to win a pennant after dropping 15 games under .500 since the 1914 Boston Braves. These two comparable comebacks seem like a formula for a gazillion bad Hollywood movies. But this is real life drama and a great model for business leadership.

Both the Astros and the Miracle Braves celebrated their first pennant win in their 44th season. Both teams showed a can-do, overachieving attitude. Both teams were led by managers that were unafraid to innovate and take risks.

Managing the other team in Boston (not the Red Sox), in the other league (not the dominant and superior American League) and a team without any super talent was the Miracle Man, George Stallings.  Stallings never stopped believing in his team, inspiring them to a sweep in the World Series after their uncanny regular season turnaround.  Using innovative thinking, he was the first to successfully deploy “platooning.” Platooning pairs two players who can play a position but that bat from different sides of the plate. Stallings would then play the player that had the best odds of hitting against any given pitcher.

In the modern day comeback story is Astros’ manager Phil Garner.  Garner has some first hand experience in post-season play and what it means to stay focused and persevere when the odds are against you. He was an infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1979 World Series when they were down 3-1 to Baltimore. Garner was a major contributor to a team that would not quit. He set a World Series record for most double plays by a second baseman in a seven-game series (nine), and he also tied Series marks for highest batting average (.500) in a seven-game series by collecting at least one hit in each of the seven games.

Garner made a bold strategic decision for NLCS game three, replacing Willy Taveras, a favorite for 2005 rookie of the year honors.  Garner’s thinking was somewhat based on the platooning strategy that Stallings deployed in 1914. He thought he had a better hitter against the Cardinals in Chris Burke. Considering Burke had only one start in center field prior to Saturday, it was a risky call.  Burke went 1-for-4 in the game and ended up hitting .348 for the playoffs. Garner returned Taveras to center in the ninth and he made a difficult running catch that preserved a 4-3 win.

It has been 91 years since the Miracle Braves swept the highly favored Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. The character and leadership that kept them focused and able to overcome such adversity is the same stuff that got Houston to the World Series after such a lousy start.

Some things never change like the success that follows hard work, commitment to a goal and a leaders that are willing to defy odds.

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