*Reposted and updated to reflect 2014 stats from an original November 1st, 2012 article: (http://fridayreflections.typepad.com/weblog/2012/11/1commongoal.html)*
Author's Note: Last week the San Francisco Giants won the World Championship for the third time in the past five years. It is a rare feat in modern sports that has been accomplished only a handful of times by teams now considered some of the best in history. For all of us that work in a team environment, there is much to be learned from these resilient Giants.
I have witnessed all three championships unfold, all happening to a team that comprised of many different players (many of whom were considered castoffs and misfits), with different skill sets, and at different points in their individual careers. If you were to compare, the 2010 team was comprised mostly of old verterans on the tail end of their careers, while the 2014 team seemed built for the future - youngsters, many of them rookies, stepping up to make huge contributions. In fact, only eight players from the 2010 team remain on the current active Giants roster. So with so much personnel in flux over the years and with different rosters how did the Giants manage to keep winning?
What I believe remained over these past five years is that the Giants leadership have ingrained a philosophy into their culture from the executive offices all the way to the players and personnel on the field. That culture promoted the belief in the strength of the whole, of the team, over any individual member. While the people the organization may have changed, that belief in the team as a whole has remained consistent, and illustrates the Giants commitment to their constancy of purpose.
The proof is in the pudding. Three championships in five years. All from a team that didn't have the biggest name players, didn't have the most money, and were hamstrung by injuries all season. But what they did have was belief in each other, and they never quit. This team doesn't know how to quit. It's not in their DNA. In fact, the pattern that emerges in their selection of new players are not solely on individual statstics but on how that player will amalgmate into the whole. The whole, playing each moment as if it were their last, and that never stop beliving and working towards a common goal.
POINT TO PONDER
A good boss makes his men realize they have more ability than they think they have, so that they consistently do better work than they thought they could.”
– Charles Erwin Wilson
STORY LINE by Rajiv Shah
Yesterday (well, in 2012), I attended the victory parade for the San Francisco Giants, a baseball team that won its second world championship in the last three years. It is tough to win one championship let alone 2 in the past 3 years (and even harder to win 3 in 5 years). Even more remarkable is the way they won. Without the big name stars, they nurtured players through draft or scouting. They continually found ways to win, even when they lost key players to injury or suspension. In the (2012) playoffs the Giants were only one of two teams in the history of the game to have conquered six elimination games en route to their improbable championship victory. This team was defined by its resolve, heart, and determination. Quite simply, this team refused to quit no matter how dire their circumstances.
I love using sports examples in Friday Reflections as I feel there are lessons from them that we can apply to our own lives. In its best sense, sports shows us the capacity of human performance on many levels: physical, emotional, mental, and interpersonal. At the risk of sounding cliché, sports can show us the very best we can be when statistics and expectation might say otherwise. Sports express what analysis cannot - the human spirit. As if reading my mind Larry Baer, the Giants CEO, echoed that sentiment at the victory parade in 2012. Mr. Baer proudly expressed, "I believe we can take away life lessons, very much teachable moments for our children."
And what are those life lessons? Well, it seems the San Francisco Giants instill a culture that starts with their executives, then filters down to their managers and onto the players. The Giants culture and values are best expressed by a plaque that hangs in the clubhouse as a reminder of the team's core values. The plaque reads:
1 Common Goal.
This core value resonates with everyone that puts on a San Francisco Giants uniform and is reflected in the way they play the game:
- Never give up.
- Play for the greater good, for the team. This was especially exemplified when in 2012, the Giants refused to reactivate Melky Cabrera after a suspension for 50 games due to his use of performance enhancing drugs (or this year when superstar pitcher Tim Lincecum didn't make a stink about being demoted to the bench and only played 1 2/3innings in the post season when he began to struggle). Melky at the time was the hottest hitter in all of baseball and quite easily their best player. The team came first and by excluding Melky from the remainder of the season, the Giants showed it's resolve - the integrity of the team came first over any individual. Incidentally, the Giants improved their record after losing him and sailed into first place, eventually winning the National League West.
- Value each member of the team. The Giants organization recognizes the value of each team member. They not only acknowledged the players, but everyone in their support staff including ushers, secretaries, and assistants. This is reflected in the victory parade where every Giants staff member (including past owners and officials) are invited to participate in the parade along with the players and coaches. The Giants value each individual as integral to the success of the organization.
- Take it one moment at a time. Conquer each challenge in the present and you will succeed in the future.
- Play with heart and love. Leave it all on the field. Playing with integrity allows you to walk off the field, head held high no matter if you win or lose.
This culture, set forth by Giants management, worked its way into how the players approached the game as a team. Down 0 games to 2 against the Reds in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Hunter Pence gathered his teammates before the first of 6 elimination games they would play, and exclaimed:
"Get in here, everyone get in here. Look into each other eyes. Now! Look into each others eyes, I want one more day with you. It's the most fun, the best team I have ever been on and no matter what happens we must not give in. We owe it to each other. Play for each other. I need one more day with you guys, I need to see what Ryan Theriot will wear tomorrow, I want to play defense behind Ryan Vogelsong because he's never been to the playoffs. Play for each other, not yourself. Win each moment. Win each inning. It's all we have left."
What the Giants proceeded to do after Pence's speech in 2012 was win each moment, each inning, and each game. Together the team that had the odds stacked against them, the statistics against them, and had the history against them, prevailed. Their leaders made them believe, made them look to each other and not to themselves, and they did the near impossible. With the same spirit and equally difficult odds, the Giants did it again in 2014. The parallels speak to the Giants constancy of purpose and their core values.
In 2012, they beat the Cincinnati Reds on their home field three days in a row to win 3 games to 2 and advance to the championship series. In the entire season, the Reds had not lost 3 games in a row at home until they ran into the Giants. The odds were against the Giants again this year in 2014. Entering a one game playoff the Giants beat the Pittsburgh Pirates on their home field where the Pirates had the best home field record in the National League, the Giants won.
This year, entering the next round against the Washington Nationals, the Giants again were the underdogs and the stats proved it: The Nationals won the regular-season series, beating the Giants 5 out of 7 the games they played and outscored the Giants by 11 runs in those games. Not only that, the Nationals had the best record in the league (96 wins to 66 losses) and were tied with the Pirates with the best home record. Again, against stastical odds, the Giants beat the "better" team and beat them in their own home ballpark.
In the National League Championship series in 2012 the Giants went down to a 1 game to 3 deficit against the reigning world champion St. Louis Cardinals. Again, the Giants refused to give up, winning three games in a row. The Giants won the series, 4 games to 3. Mirroring 2012, the Giants again played the Cardinals in the 2014 NL Championship series. The Giants defeated the Cardinals with a historic walk off home run to send them to the World Series.
In 2012, the World Series the Giants again did the improbable by beating the Detroit Tigers who on paper were the superior team. Not only that, this time they didn't go down at all, winning 4 games in a row to sweep the heavily favored Tigers 4 games to 0. This year in 2014 against the Royals in the World Series, the Giants went the distance and entered the final game in a best of 7 game series to play the Royals on their home field. They had lost game 6 to the Royals and were crushed 10-0. The statistics again were not in the Giants favor; home teams had won the last 9 world series championships that went to a game 7. Teams with the home-field advantage had won 23 of the last 28 titles, including last five in a row. In fact, the Giants themselves had lost all 4 of their World Series games that went to a final game 7.
Despite these odds what did Bruce Bochy, the Giants manager have to say about it? "Yeah, well, my answer to that is to tell these guys if they're going against the odds, because we've done that before," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "You go back to 2012 and look at this postseason. I think a lot of people had us getting beat in the first and second rounds. This club's so resilient. They're so tough. They'll put this behind them. It's nice to know that you've done it. You've come back against the odds, and you can do it again."
And in game 7, with the odds stacked against them on the opposing team's home field, the Giants again defied history, statistics, and again took home the World Championship. They win because the Giants look to the 25 guys around them and win each moment, each inning, and never say die. They play by the culture and values that Larry Baer and management instill into the organization. That culture is reflected in Hunter Pence's speech from 2012 and was echoed this year in 2014 when it mattered most:
"...tonight I was proud to be together as a team, in a hostile environment, with just us...brothers that play for the name on the front, not the name on the back.”