The Dodgers, an Unsung Hero, and Jackie Robinson

Sandy Amorós catch

by Art Huston on May 22, 2012

in Leadership, Strategy, Technology

What do you see in this picture? Is it just an outfielder making a catch? Or is it something more?

Big Picture Thinking

At one level, it is “just” an outfielder making a catch, but this was the 1955 World Series, Brooklyn Dodgers versus New York Yankees. Leading 2-0 in Game 6 with two Yankees on base, the Dodgers’ fans held their breath as Yogi Berra, future Hall of Famer and Yankees catcher sent a slicing drive towards left field. Sandy Amorós, a replacement outfielder, ran towards left-field and suddenly – miraculously – stuck his glove out and caught the ball. The Yankees’ opportunity was over, and the Brooklyn Dodgers were on their way to a World Series win.

With the additional background, you now see this as more than just a catch, but as an historic moment. As in this photo, the capacity to see the “big picture” is an essential skill for any leader or organization. Without understanding context, we miss key opportunities in business. Without understanding context, we miss hidden messages our employees are sending to us, we miss leadership opportunities.

Consider some parallels in business and technology. When Google went public, many thought of them as “just” a search company. The big picture view was quite different: holding the key to search enabled Google to drive advertising on the Internet through Google Ad Words, and an industry juggernaut was created. Today we have much the same scenario with Facebook’s IPO. Time will tell if Facebook really has the advertising mojo but the larger lesson remains the same – look deeper before making a judgement.

Examine your business strategy: maybe you’re having success with your current product, but your complacency is clouding your judgement and causing you to ignore the pitfalls ahead. Take a look at the big picture, and adjust your strategy before it’s too late, or risk going the way of Kodak, Digital Equipment, Palm and others. Look at your management dilemmas – a new employee looking for their place in an organization; what do you look for beyond the superficial that allows them to shine? Are you paying attention to hidden messages your key performers may be sending you that they are unhappy or restless and may be ready to move on?

Innovation and Riding the Wave

Branch Rickey, owner of the DodgersKeeping in mind the year, the other thing that leaps out about this picture is that the outfielder is African-American. Just eight short years earlier, in 1947, the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball, shaking up the baseball establishment and bringing top talent to the majors. In the nine years from 1947 to 1955 five of the most valuable players in the National League were African-American, and four of those were Dodgers. Not coincidentally, the Dodgers went to the World Series five times during that span. What the Dodgers owner Branch Rickey had done was not only morally right, but daring and innovative. The Dodgers saw the future, and instead of retreating they moved forward.

In business and life, the opportunity to move forward is always there, but there are powerful forces holding us back as well. Especially when we have some success, inertia sets in that must be overcome or we fail to grow, as companies like Kodak and Polaroid have learned the hard way. There is no easy recipe to follow, but again it’s important to look at the big picture and look for industry trends. In technology, enthusiasm and excitement about new developments is a key. Look for this quality in your employees.

Leadership

Jackie Robinson, first African-American player in major league baseballNone of the Dodgers success would have been possible without leadership. Jackie Robinson showed courage and conviction long before he was in the spotlight, and it was his character as much as his talent that moved Branch Rickey to challenge segregation. On July 6th 1944, more than a decade before Rosa Parks, Robinson refused to conform to Jim Crow laws in the United States Army. Although his actions earned him a court marshal, he was later found not guilty of insubordination and was honorably discharged.

The Dodgers challenged the status quo in 1947 to end segregation that had relegated African-Americans to the old Negro Leagues. Robinson’s character and unquestionable talent challenged the very foundation of segregation, and his determination in the face of discrimination and hate inspired his teammates. Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ shortstop and team captain, showed great leadership in his support of Robinson. Reese refused to sign a petition that threatened a boycott if Robinson joined the team. Faced with hecklers and abuse in Cincinnati in 1947, Reese went over to Robinson, engaged him in conversation, and put his arm around his shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the crowd.

Together Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese showed some of the best qualities of leadership – taking a principled stand; doing it publicly; leading by example; and perseverance. If Robinson could endure the taunts of fans and still excel, how could his teammates expect anything less of themselves? If Pee Wee Reese, the team captain, could stand up for Robinson, how could his teammates fail to follow his example?

Team Work

Sandy Amorós, outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers 1952-1960.Finally, the other thing that stands out about this picture is who is making the catch. Sandy Amorós was really a bit player on the Dodgers team; not a superstar, and not even a regular on the team. In the moment of truth, he rose to the occasion.

Strong teams in business are like that. You have top performers, but you also must build a strong team collectively that trusts in each other. Only then will the team succeed and grow. Any team built on one or more superstars who get all the credit is unstable, and inevitably leads to dysfunctional teams and ultimately hurt our chances of success.

Additional Information

1955 Dodgers: Wikipedia
Sandy Amorós: Wikipedia
Branch Rickey: WikipediaHall of Fame
Jackie Robinson: WikepediaHall of FameBiography.comHistory Channel short bio
Pee Wee Reese: WikipediaHall of Fame
“42″ Movie: Trailer 1Trailer 2 (better)

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