We continue our celebration of the Houston Astros winning the 2022 World Series by considering the Astros manager, Dusty Baker, how his leadership helped lead the Astros to the 2022 World Series win and what lessons might be drawn for the compliance professional.
Baker already had a Hall of Fame managing career before he added his first World Series title as a manager. (Baker won a World Series as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981.) He had been to the World Series twice, in 2002 and 2021 but had come up empty each time. As a manager, he had won 2,093 regular-season games and 40 more in the playoffs while being the first manager to guide five different organizations to the postseason. But there was always that weight on his back that he had never won a World Series. That weight is now lifted, and he proved it by hoisting the World Series Trophy himself Saturday night in Houston.
Baker was brought in to manage the Astros at one of the franchises lowest points. After the sign stealing scandal was made public, the prior manager and General Manager (GM), AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow respectively, were fired the day the MLB Report was made public. Baker was hired shortly thereafter to manage the club and James Click was hired as the new GM.
Tom Verducci, writing in SI.com, said, “Jim Crane, the Astros owner who needed someone not just to manage his team in 2020 after he fired A.J. Hinch in the wake of the team’s sign-stealing scandal, but also to manage the choppy waters around it. Crane could not change the taint associated with the ’17 team—that’s here to stay—but he needed a championship that moved the franchise forward. He flew Baker to Houston for a lunch meeting. “We talked for like two and a half hours, and it seemed like we talked 10 minutes,” Crane says. “We had a lot in common. I got very comfortable with him. I knew he knew baseball. I knew he wanted to come back. I made the decision pretty much as soon as I walked out of the restaurant.”
Jeff Passan, writing in ESPN, said, “He inherited an impossible situation, summoned in 2020 to shepherd a team that had fired its manager and general manager following the revelation that the Astros cheated during their prior championship season in 2017. Baker was beloved around the game, and his presence could bifurcate that of the Astros, who would be supported fanatically in Houston, booed and loathed everywhere else. But Baker refused to separate his own reputation from the team’s. He embraced the Astros, warts and all, and tempered the negativity. He was brought in to play a role — more pop psychologist than in-the-weeds overlord — and he did it masterfully.”
Even though they had cheated, he would not allow that to define their next incarnation. They would mold something new, something better. It wouldn’t erase the past, because nothing can, but it would stand alongside it as proof that this organization is more than a trash can used to relay oncoming pitch types to batters in real time. In a world where narratives super glue themselves to stories, Baker was intent on writing a competing one that would change the perspective of the Astros — and him, too.”
The players loved his as well. Second Baseman Jose Altuve said of Baker, “Right guy at the right time.” Third Baseman Alex Bregman said, “He has been an unbelievable manager. He has been an unbelievable human being, just on a personal level with every single person in our clubhouse. He loves the game of baseball. He has dedicated his life to this game, and he deserves it. He deserves it.”
Leadership Lessons for Compliance
What can Baker and the Astros World Series win teach up about leadership and compliance? I think a clear lesson is that trust goes both ways. Just as employees must trust their employers to help create and foster a true speak up culture, leaders must trust their employees to not simply do the right thing but do the right thing while doing their jobs. As Passan noted, “Dusty Baker finally winning a World Series might not have ever happened without him sticking to his principles — relying on a starting pitcher longer than the modern game suggests, or relying on trusted hitters despite their deep struggles. In the past, unconditional faith hindered Baker, presaged his downfall. In 2022, it won him a championship. He let his players do what they do. He let the Astros be the best version of themselves.”
Leadership in the 2020 business environment certainly means using data and data analytics. The Astros have been one of the foremost exponents of data analytics in baseball. Yet anyone who is 73 years of age certainly qualifies as ‘old school’ and Baker has those tendencies. Sometimes those tendencies do not always work as in Game 1, when his ‘long leash’ on pitchers hurt him for not pulling starting pitcher Justin Verlander before he squandered a 5 run lead. There were certainly questions about allowing Game 3 pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. stay in to be shellacked for a World Series record five home runs by Phillies pitchers. Baker said that he did not want to go through the Astros bullpen by pulling McCullers as early as the second inning. Baker’s faith was rewarded in Game 4 when the Astros starter and bullpen combined for the second no-hitter in World Series history.
Jeff Lorie, former owner of the Miami Marlins, had perhaps the best word on Baker, writing in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), said “Mr. Baker is an equally powerful motivator; his players talk about their “love” of playing for him. “I’m a very goal-oriented person,” Mr. Baker says. And as Saturday night proved, he gets results.” Every Chief Compliance Officer should strive for such an accolade.
Join me tomorrow as I explore the Houston Astros and Continuous Improvement.