BY KEVIN KERNAN
Here is what I’ve learned about baseball after being around the game in one way or another since 1960.
You take the game seriously, but you can’t take yourself too seriously. The game is played by human beings, not robots. The goal is winning.
That lesson was once again driven home this year in Major League Baseball with Chris Young and Bruce Bochy leading the Rangers to their first World Series championship.
Lead and teach, but be human and humble. Keep it simple.
I bring up all this because of the way the Rangers won, overcoming every obstacle.
While most new-era GMs and presidents of baseball operations rely on the old injury excuse, somehow the Rangers got stronger with each devastating injury. They had a backup plan and a backup-backup plan and they stuck with tried and true baseball fundamentals in words and actions. They played as a team.
All this really hit home this week when the Red Sox introduced their latest chief baseball officer, Craig Breslow, a former major league pitcher. Once I heard him speak I decided to find the Rangers’ press conference when Chris Young, also a former major league pitcher, was introduced.
Night and day difference.
Again, both men pitched in the major leagues. Both men went to Ivy League schools: Breslow to Yale and Young to Princeton. One man was a clear communicator about the value of competition and teamwork, lessons learned, and, just as importantly, lessons that needed to be learned. The other spoke like he was attending a McKinsey Global Institute Conference or a World Economic Forum event.
Chris Young offered a clear baseball vision.
Craig Breslow admitted, “I understand that some of you will see me as another Ivy League nerd with a baseball front office job.’’
Well, he is right about that. That is exactly what AMBS is seeing at the moment.
Breslow offered a word salad of sentences and phrases that might be difficult to digest in a clubhouse and if they are digested, all I can say is good luck to the Red Sox.
I’m not going to wear you out, but Breslow offered such delights as “The right thought partner will avail itself … a right-handed bat to even out some of the platoon asymmetry… some objective and analytically driven … ubiquity … optimization … create an overarching philosophy behind that goal … synthesizing analytical information… When you tether yourself to a singular approach you lose opportunities to create competitive advantages.’’
Welcome to Chaim Bloom II. Nerdspeak to the max.
I questioned Bloom’s ability to lead from Day 1 of his Red Sox reign and here we go again in Boston, doubling down on the Nerds; much like the Yankees, two once proud baseball organizations that have lost their way.
This McKinsey speak is a problem throughout baseball.
The Rangers, though, not only won their first World Championship; they speak in clear terms about the importance of winning.
The Rangers, though, not only won their first World Championship; they speak in clear terms about the importance of winning.
It’s vital to have people who can communicate in that fashion in a baseball language.
“How about in just human language?’’ one top evaluator said to BallNine on Saturday of what is ailing baseball in general. “Be genuine. Nobody is marking you on your vocabulary. It’s like the episode of Friends where Joey was writing a letter of recommendation and he was looking for big words and Ross showed him the thesaurus on his laptop. It was taking a basic sentence and turning it into a joke, every word. It’s actually hilarious what these people do, ‘a synergistic blend of optimization and information stream for a thought partner.’
“Yeah, we’ve created a good culture,’’ added the evaluator.
And that is why so many teams stink when it comes to excelling at baseball things and have little or no understanding of a winning culture.
The Breslow voice in the press conference was the voice of an automaton. There was no passion. But maybe it will all work out for the last place Red Sox.
After all, the American League East is not the mighty American League East that it once was – because the Yankees are led by a battalion of Nerds who bring the Jake Bauerses of the world to the Bronx and are excited about it. The Blue Jays have talent, but it’s misdirected and the front office is pretty clueless, especially when you consider they gave away great young catcher Gabriel Moreno to the Diamondbacks as well as some of the terrible pitching decisions they made this postseason. The Orioles are on the move; young, athletic, and talented – but have pitchers who wear out and have an owner who will not spend money (and look at all the money Rangers owner Ray Davis spent to win a World Championship). The Rays continue to be a baseball science project that does well during the regular season, but their ownership doesn’t spend cash and the Wander Franco mess this season set the Rays back tremendously.
But give the Rays credit – at least they were smart enough to dump Bloom on the Red Sox, essentially ruining their franchise.
No, the AL East is not what it once was in any way, shape, or form. Maybe the Red Sox will get it together. True Red Sox fans will need to have a translator for Breslow along the way.
Meanwhile, when I dug up Chris Young’s opening press conference comments, he talked clearly about the goal of winning a World Championship. He eventually jettisoned Nerds in that organization and brought in real baseball people and real baseball work to get to that goal.
“I’ve had 17 years on field preparing for this moment,’’ Young began in the session presided over by Rangers legendary public relations man John Blake. “It’s somewhat of a unique experience. It’s given me a perspective that every step of the way I’ve had an open mind and a curiosity to learn to observe and study what has made successful players, successful franchises; and certainly I look forward to applying that but continuing to learn and grow in shaping the future of the Texas Rangers … It is important to say I do have a lot to learn.’’
Young established at that point that he is smart, but does not consider himself the smartest man in the room. As Brian Sabean, a super successful GM with three World Series championships under his belt (yet apparently was not even given a sniff by John Henry, Tom Werner, and Alex Cora in Boston), told BallNine earlier this year “If I was the smartest guy in the room, I was in the wrong room.’’
Young is a learner. And he learned quickly. After 196 losses in two years, the Rangers beat the Diamondbacks in five games to win their first World Series this past week; and, most importantly, Young had the smarts to hire Mr. World Series as manager, Bruce Bochy, who took home his fourth World Series trophy.
It’s all about winning baseball World Championships, nothing else – not the Exit Velocity World Championship, not the Spin Rate World Championship, not the Prospects World Championship.
There is only one goal, winning the World Championship; and now clear-speaking Chris Young’s Rangers will have the opportunity to be the first team to repeat as World Champions since the Joe Torre Yankees from another era of player development and leadership won three in a row in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Torre, by the way, is one of Bruce Bochy’s heroes.
Here is the key comment from that 2020 press conference.
“You never quit trying to improve,’’ Young said. “It was a philosophy of mine as a pitcher. I was never satisfied. I always wanted to be better than I could and each day tried to commit myself in improving in some capacity. And I expect to do the same as an executive in this role.’’
I can verify that, having interviewed Young after many games he pitched – and he always had that expression on his face and the words he spoke, “I can do better.’’
He was driven. Just as his Rangers were driven this postseason. Look at what Nate Eovaldi did, going 5-0 and being a vocal, positive force in the dugout every game.
Young, a Princeton grad who played for one of the great college coaches of our time, Scott Bradley, was part of the 2015 World Championship Kansas City Royals. He knows about creating a championship culture and spoke in plain Harry Truman terms about that in 2020.
“I would say, given my background and being part of a championship team in Kansas City, I do have a great understanding and appreciation for the culture of a team and how important that is in sustaining success. Things that stand out to me from that team was there was just a group of guys who were hungry, day-in and day-out, that had this inner conviction, yet a motivation to reach their potential; and every day they showed up to the ballpark ready to play and ready to win. That expectation is something I would hope to enhance here – and I’m confident that we will get there.’’
Ready to win.
The Rangers got there on Wednesday with a 5-0 win over the D-Backs in Game 5, with Josh Sborz getting the final seven outs to earn his first save of the season. World Series MVP Corey Seager certainly showed that inner conviction as did Marcus Semien, who always posted. So many Rangers simply did their job and performed as a team in all aspects, not just hitting and pitching – but defense and base-running too. You know, baseball stuff, player optimization.
I call it winning optimization. Try it sometime, Nerds.
One final quote from that first day from Chris Young: “A true sign of any successful organization is that you develop internally, whether it’s position players or pitchers and certainly pitching development and getting talented major league pitchers through our system and to the big leagues contributing to a successful franchise is part of sustained success. That will be a primary goal.’’
Players clearly related to Chris Young and Bruce Bochy.
Another quick point. For all the talk of young gurus leading teams, here are the last three World Series winning managers and their ages: Bruce Bochy, 68. Dusty Baker, 73 in 2022. Brian Snitker, 66 in 2021. Old Guys Rule.
Interesting to note too that the Mets interviewed Chris Young in 2020 before he landed the Rangers job. Missed the boat again, Mets. Young preferred the Rangers job because Dallas is home.
David Stearns is now running the Mets and he has the new language down pat. We will see how that works out. Here was his press conference in a nutshell.
“The goal here is sustainable success … I view the managerial position as one of true partnership, someone who is working side by side with me and the rest of our baseball ops group… facilitate an organizational culture … I need to get under the hood a little bit… we have to create our own blueprint here… Billy (Eppler) and I have a really nice relationship. I’m looking forward to working with him… Always looking at it through a granular lens while trying to thread the needle for sustained competitiveness … We are going to cast a wide net (for a manager)… The point is finding the right person who can grow with the organization.’’
Chris Young found the right leader in Bruce Bochy, who established a team culture, and didn’t have to grow with the organization.
He established the organization and the culture on the field. And that is how the Rangers went 11-0 on the road in the postseason.
I enjoyed having World Series champion Derek Jeter added to the FOX broadcasts because he brought a win-first approach to the analysis; and I also think that brought out the best in both Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. When Bochy joined the World Series broadcast after Game 5, Jeter noted of Bochy’s Rangers, “No one on your team ever talks about themselves. How great is that as a manager when the only thing they care about is winning on the field?’’
Bochy didn’t miss a beat or give a word salad answer about a granular lens, he said in simple to understand terms: “It’s the only way you win, I think … The message in spring training was we have to play as one. Everybody has to play as one. Let’s do things right. Fundamental baseball, we are going to work on that. We are going to become a good team defensively.
“They are a tight knit group. They care about each other.’’
Keep it simple. Keep the championship goal in view and care about each other. That is the magic formula.
“I stepped into some pretty good stuff,’’ Bochy noted, thanking Chris Young for his championship vision and giving him the opportunity to get back into the game after three years away. “This is why I came back.’’
Winning is the only reason for the season.