Lessons from the 2012 Cardinals’ Collapse


As defending world champions, there were high hopes for the Cardinals this year.  What started as a great playoff run with flashbacks to the 2011 World Series (universally hailed as the greatest of all time) ended with three straight losses to the San Francisco Giants.  In the wake of the team collapse, here are a few lessons you can take and apply in your own organization.

It’s Not All About Leadership

The Cardinals made an interesting move this year, appointing Mike Matheny as the heir to Tony LaRussa. While my feelings on TLR are well documented, Matheny came in with no managerial experience. On any level.  But he was a great field general as a player, and he was given a shot.  It wasn’t an easy gig, to be sure.  While the team had hoisted the hardware in 2011, they would face 2012 without Albert Pujols.  Then they lost Lance Berkman.  And Chris Carpenter.  And Rafael Furcal.  And Jamie Garcia.

Despite all that, the Cards had a commanding 3-1 lead in the NLCS over the Giants.  A fine job by a rookie skipper, to be sure.  But the offense, pitching and defense all disappeared in game 5, never to return.  While there were some questionable decisions made by Matheny along the way, the player have to execute.  An no manager in the word can field a ground ball from the dugout.

You have leaders in your organization that will, from time to time, be given too much credit for a success.  The good ones, you may have noticed, pass that credit along to their team.  They may also get too much blame for failures.  The good ones keep that for themselves. But we all know that leaders can only set people up for success. Execution has to happen on the field.

Be Careful In Selecting Your Stars

With Pujols likely on his way out of town, the Cardinals invested a lot of money and years in acquiring Matt Holliday in 2009 and then signing him to a long term deal.  He’s a solid investment, at least on paper.  He’ll hit 25-30 home runs,drive in 100, hit .300 or so each year.  But Matt also has something in common with almost every car I’ve ever owned.

No clutch.

When your talent team is sifting through candidates, trying to find the right person to add to your team, remember that it’s not all about the results.  How you got there matters, too. A leader who makes their goals by burning out their team and running off their players isn’t one you want.  Nor do you want a team member that can’t come through when the pressure is on.  Dive a little deeper, and find the ones that strive when the spotlight is on them.  You’ll be glad you did.

Sometimes It Really Is A Team Sport

The Cardinals may have had a better group of players, more experience, and a bunch of rings that make them the better bet, but they were beat by a team that outperformed them in every aspect of games 5-7.  Would you trade rosters straight up if you ran the Cards?  Probably not.  But the process equation holds true.  The team’s outcome is a function of their inputs, and no two groups of inputs will react in the same way.

When you put your team together, they will form in their own way.  You can’t recreate an old team, even with the same people, in a new place.  And you can’t hope to succeed long term on the backs of one or two people. Pay attention to who you acquire, create an environment that accepts them for who they are and allows them to play to their strengths, and you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish.  It’s why the business world sees David whoop the pants off of Goliath over and over and over.

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