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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Baseball and life: The winner mindset, a tribute to the upcoming season.

In a story well known by St. Louis Cardinals baseball fans and by many baseball fans outside of St. Louis, the 2011 Cardinals defied the odds. They were 10 1/2 games out with 31 to play, 8 1/2 back with 21 to play and 3 out with 5 to play.  Furthermore, they were one strike away from losing the World Series that year to the Texas Rangers.  Yet, they fought back each time and won.

So, it occurred to me, why do some teams with great talent fold under pressure, yet some teams with lessor talent seem to win it all?  I believe it is what I call a "winner mindset".  In a way, like individuals we seem to live up or down to our expectations.

  • Some teams just have a bad history.  They can never seem to get over the hump.  Year after year they are subject to futility.  We think of the Cubs, the Padres and the Pirates prior to the past couple of years as such an example.  They have almost no recent winning tradition to speak of.  They may start out well, but typically they fade.  It is almost an expectation that they have that they will ultimately not succeed.  Comparing it to relationships, they've had so many bad ones before that 'seemed' to start out good that they have little expectation for new ones.
  • Some teams have a moderate to healthy amount of success   They know they have talent and they think they can win, but they just don't have that eye of the tiger.  In teams with talent, but not a culture of winning, this often leads to what we know as 'choking'.   They are underachievers in a sense.
    • The 2004/2005 Cardinals were such an example.  Arguably they were the best teams in baseball, but in 2004 they got swept by Boston and they didn't fare much better in 2005.
    • The Braves from 1991-2004, were pretty dominate--making the post season each year--but with the exception of 1995, they did not take home the crown.
    • Thinking it in terms of relationships, it is like hoping to find 'the one' and getting close to whom you think is the one, but never quite finding someone who is a good match.
  • Some teams just seem to know that they are winners.  It is as if they not only think that they can win, but frankly, expect to win.   The 2011 Cardinals were such an example.  The Giants of 2010, 2012 and 2014 are such an example.   It may come across as arrogance or swagger, but really it is believing in yourself.  Comparing to relationships, it is having a quiet confidence that you are with the right person.  In a sense, knowing that you can be yourself in the relationship and be accepted.

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The progression to winning:

1) Bringing in winning leadership: Tony Larussa and Walt Jocketty and later John Mozeliak.
  • You have to have confident leadership to a) be able to determine which players are part of the problem and which are part of the solution and b) be able to generate/send a winning vibe. 
2) Taste some success.  In 1996 and 2001, the Cardinals tasted some success in the postseason, but in some ways, maybe just happy to be there.

3) Build a strong team, and think you can win, but not KNOW that you will win.  In 2004/2005, the Cardinals had arguably the stronger teams but they didn't know that they were suppose to win.  They thought that they could, but didn't yet know that they were suppose to.

4) The team knows that they are suppose to win.  It's an intangible, it is almost a sense of mission.  Where you know what your destiny is.  You don't just think you can win, but expect or know that you will win..  It is a quiet confidence.  I believe in 2006 and 2011 the Cardinals organization of recent finally matured and realized that they were meant to win, to be the team of destiny.



I believe the Dodgers know they have a good team, but haven't fully embraced that they are meant to win.  The Giants on the other hand have.  Similarly, the Washington Nationals haven't gotten over that hump either.   Sometimes, it is just a matter of having the right players/management combination and sometimes it is having a winning tradition built in your organization.

For me, the takeaway is this:
1) You work towards winning.
2) Even when you are unsure, you work through the motions of believing in yourself, even if you don't feel it initially.
3) You taste some success and gain confidence.
4) You start to believe in yourself.
5) Finally, one day you just know you can do it.