Archives for posts with tag: athletics

 

Working Smarter, Not Harder...Literally

Work smarter, not harder is good advice. This axiom takes into consideration that there might be a better way to accomplish a task. Analytical data present options that may be preferable to the old way.

That is the central premise of a book by Michael Lewis. It is the story about the Oakland Athletics, a Major League Baseball (MLB) team, and it’s General Manager Billy Beane. A film based on the book starred Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game proposes a better way to assemble a competitive team than how baseball insiders have done it in the past. The Athletics, and Beane in particular, believe that the use of computer-generated analysis to acquire new players produces better results than the system used for many years. The conclusion was that rigorous statistical analysis demonstrated better indicators of success. This strategy enabled the A’s to reach the playoffs in 2002 and 2003 in spite of having the third-lowest team payroll in the league.

If you are not a baseball fan, don’t quit reading.

Theo Epstein

In 2004 Theo Epstein became the youngest GM in the history of MLB when the Boston Red Sox hired him at the age of 28. Using the Moneyball approach, he led the team to six playoff appearances and two World Series titles (something they had not accomplished in 86 years) in nine seasons.

In 2011 Epstein resigned from his job in Boston to become President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. His devotion to the data-driven analysis that helped teams identify and accumulate players with little-noticed but crucial strengths had succeeded inestimably in Boston. However, “a few weeks before spring training of 2012, in the ballroom of a budget hotel in Mesa, Ariz., Theo Epstein stood before nearly every person connected with the baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs and told them how the Cubs were going to win the World Series” (Fortune Magazine).

The magazine article was based on The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Baseball Team and Breaking the Curse, a book by Tom Verducci. He reported that “Epstein devoted the first three days of the session to on-field strategy: hitting philosophy, pitching philosophy, defense, and base running. But the entire last day was devoted to character. The Cubs, Epstein insisted, would acquire only players with outstanding makeup.”

Near the end of his tenure at Boston he came to understand that character and chemistry were strengths that could not be captured with a strictly analytic approach and “their absence was painfully clear as the team underwent a late-season collapse. The more the team lost, the more it broke apart from within. Players ­feuded with one another. The egos that had created cracks in the clubhouse while they were winning caused deep fissures as they lost.”

Epstein had put so much faith in numbers when he began as general manager of the Red Sox. “Now character did not just matter. It was essential to Epstein’s blueprint to win the World Series.” He gave his scouts very specific instructions about how to assess not only a player’s skills and abilities but the kind of person he was. How he treated other people. How he responded to adversity. What others- friends and enemies- said about him. His character.

Chicago Cubs 1908 & 2016 World Series Champions Team Photo (Size: 12" x 15") Framed

The brilliance of what the Cubs did was to put their faith not just in numbers, but also in the type of people they acquired. In 2016, five years of applying this new approach, the Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years.

Epstein understood that character counts!

Isn’t that what Jesus was implying when he told his disciples “Do not break your promise, but do what you have vowed to the Lord to do.” “Don’t say anything you don’t mean” (Matthew 5:33 CEV, MSG). Repeatedly the Master points his followers to a high standard of morality and instructs them to be genuine in their relationships.

Jesus wants us to know, character counts.

Jamie Jenkins

I arrived in the small west Georgia town of Roopville in the summer of 1972. It would be a wonderful place for me, my wife, and our eight month old son.

In the next few months I discovered that there was no organized recreational opportunities for the children and youth of this rural area. With the help of a few committed folks in the community we changed that.

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The Roopville Athletic Association was formed. Volunteers invested many hours and their money and this loosely organized group fielded two boy’s baseball teams the next summer. With the help of a lot of local people we worked on the hard red Georgia clay playground at the Roopville Elementary School and made it into a baseball field of sorts. The contributions of entrepreneur J.W. Wood, who lived across the road from the United Methodist Church, enabled the boys to be outfitted in uniforms as nice as any other teams.

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Although the Roopville team uniforms looked as good as others, that was where the similarities ended. The boys in our area had never played organized baseball and they competed with teams in other communities that had been playing competitively for years. If you looked at the season’s won-loss record, it was ugly. The Bad News Bears looked like all-stars compared to our teams. But it was a chance for these kids to develop their athletic skills and learn a lot.

You know that they were desperate because they let me coach the 11-12 year old team. During one game we miraculously got a runner on base. Then, wonder of wonders, someone hit the ball that got past the opposing team’s center fielder allowing our player to advance to third base where I was coaching.

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As our next batter stepped in I said to the exuberant young man who had just slid safely into third, “Phil, if Tony hits the ball no matter where it goes do you think you can make it home and score?” He looked at me with a big grin on his face and replied, “I don’t know coach. I ain’t never been this far before!”

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Some days I am as bewildered as Phil. I read and hear that self-driving cars are becoming a reality. There is serious talk about establishing colonies where people will live on Mars. The globalization of the world’s societies and economies makes us interdependent and vulnerable. The recent decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union sent shock waves through economic systems worldwide. Terrorism across the globe has changed the way we live. The immigrant crisis in Europe has caused great concern everywhere. Climate change, Zika virus, and a host of other issues cause me to realize that we have never been this far before. And it can be frightening and unsettling.

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I cannot comprehend what changes will occur during the short span of years that I hope to live. And to think about what my grandchildren will experience is mind boggling. Rather than be pessimistic, I find comfort and hope in the words of a song I learned a long time ago:

Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand

But I know Who holds tomorrow and I know Who holds my hand.

There is ONE who sees the end from the beginning and I have complete confidence that God will guide and guard us through the future.

Jamie Jenkins