26 February 2006

Good management is everywhere.

You can find good and bad examples of management in any context. Clearing out some files, I came across this long ESPN profile of Leo Mazzone--by acclamation the greatest baseball pitching coach of this era. You don't have to like (or even understand) baseball to appreciate the power of his techniques.

Future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Greg Maddux:
[In training,] There are no parachutes on your back, no cones to run around, no 10 different meetings talking about something that doesn't concern you. All the other stuff, you don't partake in. So you spend less time doing nothing, and you spend all your time doing what it is you have to do to get better on the mound.
Mazzone in reply:
You don't think pitchers appreciate that? Running all these drills and doing all this stuff before you get on the mound is not very bright. Your first priority is to get on the mound and practice your craft, without being fatigued from drills that are not going to mean near as much as you trying to make pitches.
This is another way of saying "First things first, second things not at all"--an apothegm that's been taped to my computer monitor for years. Mazzone has always kept his players in shape, but primarily by having them throw a lot. Radical concept, no?

One more thing in the first-things-firt vein, this one more baseball-specific. Here's a quote from big-league pitcher Kent Mercker, who worked under Mazzone for six years:
I think there is an understanding, whatever team you are on, whoever your pitching coach is, whoever is hitting, if you can go knee-high down and away on the corner, you are going to be successful. I don't think that's a mystery, but I think it's the fact that he stresses, he harps on it, he doesn't let you forget that. There is not a 10-minute period that goes by in a day where he doesn't say that to somebody.
The heading for that part of the article is "Down and away, got it? Down and away, got it?" Mazzone is willing to be repetitive to implant this fundamental principle into the minds of his charges. His mantra is the converse of a famous observation made by all-time-great hitter Ted Williams in his book The Science of Hitting. Williams said that "baseball history is made on the inner half of the plate"--that is, the part of the strike zone nearer the hitter. Williams waited for the ball inside so he could drive it harder, and thereby make baseball history with big hits. Mazzone consistently--incessantly--coaches his pitchers not to give those pitches to hitters.

If you like baseball, read the article. It's the perfect thing for a Sunday morning during Spring Training, especially if you like your management lessons with a spoonful of honey.


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