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Softball—The Secret to Success

There are no secrets on the diamond.

Our bookstore shelves sag with the alleged business secrets of successful coaches and managers. Everyone from Joe Torre to Bill Parcells to Pat Riley offers management lessons that can be translated directly from the ball field to the board room.

It’s all unnecessary, really. That’s because the best place to learn about your employees or co-workers is on the softball field. There are no secrets on the diamond, where every trait both good and bad eventually is revealed. So throw away Joe Torre’s Ground Rules for Winners, call in sick to the next management training retreat and save yourself a lot of time and grief by simply reading:

“All I Really Need to Know About My Office I Learned on the Company Softball Team”

Swing Away: Avoid workers who delay the game by refusing to swing unless the pitch is right in their wheelhouse. Billy Beane is not your CEO— on-base percentage might be all important in the Oakland Athletics organization, but not in yours. The sort of people who work the count in softball are exasperating slaves to detail and will go directly to the union rep whenever you ask them to do anything that isn’t specifically covered in the contract language. There’s a phrase among Caribbean ballplayers: You don’t walk off the island. Tell these troublemakers that you don’t walk into the Fortune 500, either.

(Corollary: Players who tell the women batters to take a walk are even worse. They’re sexual harassment suits waiting to be filed.)

Teamwork: Beware of outfielders who roam far beyond their position and never listen when they’re called off and hog all the fly balls to themselves. These fielders assume no one ever can do the job as well as they can. Such micromanagers will butt their noses into everyone else’s business, repeatedly lengthen office meetings by interrupting with their (misguided) opinions and (unworkable) suggestions and also constantly annoy you by asking if your TPS reports are done yet.

Versatility Pays: People who demand to play only one position and then sulk if you don’t let them are nothing but trouble. Generally speaking, players who aren’t adaptable to multiple positions usually aren’t very good at the single position they want to play, either. Guaranteed, these people will sue you the minute you try promoting someone better qualified to a management job ahead of them.

Remain Calm: It’s all right to get momentarily upset with a bad call— particularly when the #@$%*#$ umpire costs you a crucial run—but quality workers get over it and move on. Players who curse and shout and kick dirt are almost always disruptive employees who will also whine that their cubicle has less square footage than their neighbors’ or that the medical co-pay is too high or that the company should offer a matching 401(k) or that the company Christmas party wasn’t held at a nice enough restaurant. There is no pleasing these people—get rid of them now.

No Fighting: It’s softball, not the last working oil well in Fallujah. Players who trash talk or come to blows over a mere softball game will also lose their tempers and smash the glass on the office copier whenever there’s a paper jam. Get rid of these people while you have vending machines that still work. Just be sure to have security around when you deliver the bad news.

Be Prompt: This is obvious. If you’re always staring at your watch and telling the umpire to give you just a few more minutes for the 10th player to arrive, you’ll wind up waiting for the same unreliable guy to show up for work in the morning or return from lunch. He’ll also be the first guy out the door in the afternoon. And yet, somehow, he’ll still be late for the game.

Team Morale: Infield chatter is generally good, but not when it goes much beyond, “Humm baby, we’ve got ‘em now, let’s take two!” Players who constantly talk just to hear their own voices will also spend hours chattering on the phone and clogging the office e-mail system with 2 MB photos of their family or “cute” (and completely untrue) stories that you’re supposed to share with six friends. They’ll also make everyone feel guilty by bringing in candy from their kids’ fund-raisers and setting a box by the coffee machine for your “donation.” Dump them.

Keep Accurate Box Scores: People who can keep score are valuable, but be wary of those who want to keep score. On the one hand, you don’t want scorekeepers who are too lax and score everything a base hit. Sure, it looks good in the box score when they give you a home run on what was actually an E8 (dropped can of corn by the guy in plant maintenance) followed by an E6 (relay throw into the parking lot by the guy in I.S.) followed by an E2 (bobbled tag by the woman in human resources), but it won’t be so funny when the IRS auditors arrive with subpoenas to investigate their questionable triple-entry accounting techniques. On the other hand, you also don’t want someone who is too rigid and insists that you can’t reinsert anyone back in the lineup until the sub has batted. Trust me, this is not the sort of person you want going over your own expense reports.

Dress Codes: It’s fine to wear simple team jerseys, but you’ve got problems when people show up in matching caps, baseball pants and stirrup socks. Players who show up wearing batting gloves and eye black are taking themselves and their appearance way too seriously. These anal-retentive people will waste their mornings and afternoons using the company computers to buy crap online. Cut them loose.

Drug Testing: Stay clear of players who drink beer during the games. It’s one thing to drink afterward—it’s fun, morale-building and the beer is probably a deductible business expense—but boozing it up during the game is a clear warning sign that the player is an alcoholic who keeps a flask in his desk drawer. Hand them a specimen bottle and then lock the doors behind them.

Throw Strikes: The only thing worse than standing around while a pitcher walks batter after batter is sitting around for an hour each morning listening to mandatory status reports at a meeting that probably was called by the same pitcher.

Clutch Players: Know who you can— and can’t—depend on when the game is on the line. If players consistently pop up, ground out or, worse yet, strike out in the clutch, they’ll also drop the ball when it’s time to make that big PowerPoint presentation for the vice president. Don’t give them the chance to fail—can them now.

In essence, the key to running a successful company is the same as coaching a winning softball team. Surround yourself with players who enjoy a good game, don’t take themselves too seriously, are supportive of teammates and play reasonably well.

Just make sure they’re not too good at softball, because that means they’re probably a bunch of goof-offs who spend their afternoons reading ESPN. com on the office computer.

This article originally appeared on espn. com and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

Meet the Author
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com, with his weekly baseball column “Off Base” for Page 2 among his contributions. Before coming to ESPN, Jim worked in Minneapolis and Seattle. His first book, “The Devil Wears Pinstripes,” is in bookstores now.

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