The first week of April is one of my favorite weeks of the year. The NCAA has its Final Four championship, but more importantly, Major League Baseball opens its regular season. For many of us, the opening day of baseball is a day of hope, optimism, and renewal, if you will. I not only hope but truly believe that the Giants can win their division and finally get that Series championship. My fantasy baseball league seems winnable, even if half of my starting lineup is on the disabled list. I don’t even mind that the first game of the day features the Yankees, because it means I can begin the season rooting against the team I love to hate.

Baseball, of course, is the sport of choice for organizational scholars (or at least for this scholar). Baseball has so many organizational dynamics that you can use the sport as an example in a lecture on almost any topic. For instance,

  • Networks – Baseball skills are picked up through experience with different ballclubs, coaches, and with other pitchers. Understanding how pitching talent develops is essentially a network study of connectedness among pitchers and their coaches. In the majors this means that certain clubs are very good at developing pitching talent, while other clubs are merely purchasers of already developed talent.
  • Networks are also observable in baseball given that it is a game of dyads. Baseball matchups involve a pitcher and a hitter. The well-informed fan call summarize the relationship of that batter and hitter with a few succinct statistics (AVG, OPS, K/AB, etc.). Although the backup defense matters once the ball is in play, the basic dyadic batter/pitcher stats tell you more about what might enfold in a given play than any other piece of information.
  • Value and commensuration – The classic book on commensuration processes in a contemporary business is Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. No other sport is as capable of putting a value on a single skill than baseball, given the elegant statistical makeup of baseball. As such, baseball is extremely susceptible to scientific analysis.
  • Superstition and irrationality – Despite the apparent rationality of the game, baseball players and managers feel compelled to control their environment and gameplay through all kinds of superstitious accessories and rituals. Every baseball fan has heard those stories about the guy who wouldn’t change his socks or who developed some complex pre-game preparation ritual. Managers, despite the accessibility of information about their team and their opponent, are as superstitious as their players.
  • Synergy – The totality of a baseball team’s ability is greater than the sum of its parts. Figuring out how to create the right mix of players is the quest of any good GM. Adding an A-Rod or a Griffey won’t necessarily boost your chances of getting a championship; in fact, a superstar may actually impede your ability to win. There’s something psychological that takes place in the locker room that magnifies teams’ abilities to win.
  • Competition and strategy – If you want to understand how organizations react to their competitors’ strategic adaptations, there is no better place to observe this than in the divisions of MLB (particularly in the AL East). Someone needs to write a book about strategic change and baseball. It’s not only anecdotally fascinating, but strategic changes among baseball clubs are actually amenable to quantitative analysis.
  • Stakeholder perceptions – Just listen to those boos coming from Yankee fans when A-Rod strikes out. Baseball has more available measures of stakeholder satisfaction than any other industry (e.g. revenue, licensing fees, crowd noise when a player walks up to the plate). Not only can you tell how fans respond to the entire team, but in baseball you can actually evaluate fans’ reactions to any given player on the team.

Any other examples?

Written by brayden king

April 2, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Posted in uncategorized

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