Tag Archives: Center

Second-Guessing Managers and General Managers

About a week ago, I was watching the Toronto Blue Jays baseball game and there were some questionable decisions made by the manager. (Note: questionable in that they didn’t really make all that much sense to me or another group of fans of the Blue Jays.) Based on the game situation, many viewers of the game who are familiar with the Blue Jays would have anticipated that the manager would have substituted a certain pitcher. However, this didn’t happen. In fact, the manager substituted a player that was completely unexpected.

As someone who wants to see the Blue Jays succeed, it’s flabbergasting when things like this happen. I watched as fans on Twitter were absolutely dumbfounded by the decision. And that one decision *seemingly* affected decisions in the following game. For instance, because some pitchers can’t necessarily pitch on consecutive days, by using one pitcher on Tuesday, he can’t be used on Wednesday. Having played baseball for some time and having a relatively sophisticated understanding of the game (at least when compared to an average fan), I found it hard to determine the reasoning for the decisions made by the manager. Of course, I was assuming that the primary goal was to “win the game.” However, when you consider that this might not always be the only goal, then one can begin to consider different possibilities.

For instance, maybe the general manager (GM) told the manager that he needed to have a certain pitcher showcased in a game because a scout from a different team was going to be in attendance. Or, maybe the GM said that a certain player was about to be called up and another released, so he should use that player in the game. Heck, maybe there are personality issues (or “office politics“) at play that can’t be seen by fans who simply watch the game on TV. Think about the kinds of politics that happen at your office. These kinds of politics are bound to be at play on baseball teams, especially because the personalities might be a bit more extreme (it takes a certain kind of person to become a high-performance athlete). And, sports teams probably spend more time with each other than your typical office does.

My point in all of this is that it can be tough for a fan when a manager makes a move that seems completely counter to what one would think is the primary goal: winning the game.

On a related note, the NHL free agency period recently opened. Much to the chagrin of Toronto Maple Leafs‘ fans, the Leafs decided to let go of their best center, Mikhail Grabovski. Statistically speaking, that is, if you use advanced statistics, there’s no question that Grabovski was the best center on the Leafs. However, as has been noted with statistics, one can interpret the data to fit their opinion. Regardless, the decision by the GM of the Leafs, like the decision of the manager of the Blue Jays, left fans dumbfounded. These moves by the Leafs were even more frustrating because they had to do with personnel.¬†With the explosion of fantasy sports, many fans have had the ability to pretend to be GMs. My guess is that because of this, some fans may think that they know better (and have tangential proof?) than the current GM of their favorite team.

All this is to say that when your favorite team does something that seems contra-indicated, consider that there might be something behind the scenes that you can’t know. I know, this will probably be of little comfort, but it might allow you to gain a more nuanced perspective of the business of sports.

The Never-Ending Quest for Balance

As part of the for the PhD program I was in a few years back, I had the pleasure of learning a martial art – . I’d already done quite a bit of training in martial arts when I was younger, but Aikido is quite different from . Not to descend too far down a tangent, but, in my understanding, Aikido is much more about blending whereas karate’s primary focus, again, in my understanding, is not blending.

One of the exercises we would often do to practice this sense of blending involved our partner (or partners as it was usually in groups of three or more!) to approach us as if they were attacking us. It was our job to then move out of the way, whilst staying centered. [Note: I couldn’t find any video of this particular exercise, as I think it’s quite basic. However, I was able to find of some of the basic Aikido exercises that are similar to the one I’m describing.] The tempo of this exercise usually started out really slow (intentionally). Though, as time passed, our partners would then speed up. You can imagine how it might be challenging to stay centered in this kind of an activity.

During these times of practice, I remember having a bit of an epiphany.

As my partner would approach me and I would step out of the way, I noticed that the quicker (and the more out of balance!) I was, the more out of balance I would be when stepping out of the way for the next partner who was approaching. Think about that for a second: as I stepped out of the way of one partner and I was off-balance, I was that much more off-balance when stepping out of the way for the next partner. It’s almost akin to the .

This may seem like a small thing to notice, but we can apply this lesson to a much broader (macro!) scope. Let’s think about this in terms of our own lives. When I am faced with one problem or issue and I “lose my center,” I will be that much more out of balance when approaching the next problem that comes my way. This sense of being out of balance seems to grow exponentially (see: the Bullwhip Effect).

We can apply this to an even broader scope (communities or countries). When a community/country reacts to a problem they are faced with, and they aren’t approaching the problem from a sense of balance (and they don’t maintain a sense of balance throughout the problem-solving process), there will usually be a sense of being out of balance at the end of the solution. Furthermore, by being out of balance at the end state, when the next problem approaches, there will be even more “out of balance.”

There’s just two more things I want to mention about my experience during this Aikido exercise. First, when I noticed myself starting to get out of balance during the exercise, I would often try really hard to get myself back in balance. This only made it worst. As I would try to get back to a sense of balance, I would often swing the other way, causing more imbalance, etc. And second, eventually, by being out of balance, I would fail the exercise. That is, by being so out of balance, I might not see one of my partners who was behind me.

The consequence of being out of balance in this exercise illustrates the inherent narrow-minded focus of one who is not centered.