Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Banishing the Devil in Tampa Bay: Review of "The Extra 2%" by Jonah Keri

The timing of my reading of this new book could not have been more fortuitous; it followed immediately after my reading of "First Break All the Rules." Marcus Buckingham's book bears the subtitle: "What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently." In this great business book, Buckinghom lays out a clear picture of what it takes to be a great manager - and an outstanding leader. "The Extra 2%" by Jonah Keri serves as an excellent case study of how the owners of the Tampa Bay Major League franchise accomplished a stunning turnaround in just a few short years. The team that had been the perennial cellar-dweller in the American League East division shocked the baseball universe and went to the World Series. This book takes the reader behind the scenes to glimpse the changes that were wrought by the team of former Wall Street executives who took over the running of the franchise.

In re-naming and re-branding the team - from the former Tampa Bay Devil Rays to simply the Tampa Bay Rays - the new owners not only banished the devil from the premises of Tropicana Field, they also shined a bright beam of enlightened management. Vincent J.Naimoli, the original owner of the expansion franchise, had run the team and its stadium into the ground, along the way turning public opinion against him and his team by his penny-pinching and high-handed ways.

In 2004, Stuart Sternberg acquired a 48% share in the team, and eventually bought controlling interest in the team and began to assemble a coterie of executives, front office, back office and on field personnel who shared his conviction that the principles that had allowed him to achieve success on Wall Street could be applied to the world of baseball. Inspired by the "Money Ball" mentality that had brought success to the Boston Red Sox under John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein, the Rays' new team of leaders began to make consistent decisions that would eventually bring their Rays to the 2008 post-season.

Sternberg brought with him to Tampa Bay Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman. They wisely chose as the field Manager a baseball veteran in Joe Maddon. Maddon had worked his way up the ladder of MLB, filling almost every possible scouting and coaching role in the minor leagues and major leagues. His keen eye for talent, positive approach to molding ball players and his enthusiasm for using the new analytical tools provided through sabrematrics made him the perfect person to translate into on-field tactics the philosophy of the triumvirate in the front office.

Maddon embodies all of the traits described in Buckingham's book, creating an environment that challenges and empowers his players to do their best in the roles to which they have been assigned.

I have seen with my own eyes many of the dramatic changes that this franchise has experienced. My sister lives in the Tampa area, so she and I have attended many games at Tropicana Field. When I first started watching the Red Sox as they visited Tampa Bay, I noted that most of the fans were wearing Red Sox garb rather than that of the home team. I once did an actual count at a Red Sox vs. Tampa game. 95% of the fans wearing baseball clothing were sporting Red Sox apparel - only 5% showed the Devil Ray logo. By 2009, the balance had shifted so that it was closer to a 50-50% balance when the Red Sox now come to town in South Florida.

As a citizen of Red Sox Nation, I welcome the new rivalry with a Rays team that can challenge and often beat Boston's more established and better funded team. This book gives me a new appreciation for what it took to engineer such a dramatic transformation.



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