A Losing Team of One

Do you need someone to take the blame?


Early last month, I made good on a belated birthday gift to my son - a trip to St. Louis for two Cardinals baseball games at Busch Stadium. It was Independence Day weekend, so the stadium was packed beyond capacity for the first game.

Entering the 9th inning, our beloved St. Louis Cardinals were up 3 - 0. The whole place was rocking as the anticipation of another win reached its climax. Then it happened.

The Closer came in to save the game and promptly gave up two runs. With the tying run on base, he finally managed to get the last out. You could hear the collective sigh of relief from the more than 46,000 in attendance. The home team was able to eke out the win, 3 – 2.

As my heart recovered from the emotional roller coaster of the game's final 10 minutes, I suddenly got angry as I heard myself saying,

“This Closer should not get the save for this game! They should consider the manner in which the game is saved before awarding a pitcher the save. But they don’t! Now, he gets credit for a save that he almost blew!”

I was ready to blow a gasket when Paul said,

“Dad, you know it doesn't work that way. It's a team game, and the team awards the ‘Save’ to the pitcher who gets the last out in a close game”.

Yes, I knew that, but I was still mad anyway! Mad that he was awarded the save. Mad that he got the credit for doing a sloppy job.

But that’s the beauty of teamwork, isn't it? It includes everyone. All share in the team’s success and failure. While the performance of just one member may prevent the team from accomplishing its goals, a good team won’t sacrifice the guilty party. It will try to pick up the team member and encourage them to do better next time. That’s what the Cardinals team did after that game.

But that doesn’t happen quite often in other areas of life, especially in business. Typically, the size of the failure determines the consequences. And it could range from a minor reprimand to being fired. The team leader would want to be able to explain to the powers that be, that the culprit has been dealt with. In business, we have a long memory and we need someone to pay. That’s what Wall Street expects when things go wrong.

But can you imagine how this affects the morale of the other team members? The results can be devastating, especially for a team that depends on innovative ideas for its success.

If Jill knows that she will be the sacrificial lamb when she comes up with an idea that backfires and loses money, how willing will she be to take the risk? But that’s what you see in many organizations. No wonder most of these just thread water; they're barely surviving.

Organizations that flourish encourage their people to take risks within the bounds of decency. And they don't punish the risk-takers when things go south. That’s how a business thrives.

Baseball may be about business to the players and team owners, but to the typical fan like me, it’s all about the emotions. The die-hard fan in me still thinks that those who (almost) cost my team a win should not get an undeserved credit. And I was proven right during the next game the following day.

The same closer came into a 5-4 game in the 9th inning, gave up two runs and lost the game for the Cardinals. This time, I blamed the Manager for putting him in the game.

I have to blame someone, don’t I?

Even Paul agreed with me on that.