Dodger Win 2020

Lessons Learned – From Winning And Losing

This past week my 32-year bondage with the LA Dodgers ended.


In a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, my beloved team secured its place in World Series history.  The Dodgers’ victory in Game 6 ended an excruciating drought and delivered fans their first championship since Michigander Kirk Gibson (from my new home state) hobbled to the batter’s box to blast a famously fitting – and excessively replayed – home run to take the 1988 Series.

Yes, I’m breathing a grateful sigh of relief, on so many levels.

This season has been fraught with challenges. First, there was the delay due to COVID … then players tested positive … no fans in the stands … the economic impact … and the list goes on.

Yet, like any major inflection point in one’s life, there’s a silver lining with lessons to learn and opportunities to seize.

The Dodgers’ path to the championship reveals lessons applicable to business — and beyond. I’d like to throw a few pitches your way for consideration.

In fact, I challenge you to step into the batter’s box and stare them down.

Here comes the first pitch: Build excellence from the ground up.

LA has won eight consecutive division championships. In some ways, that feat is more impressive than the ultimate World Series victory. The Dodgers won the first seven of those divisions and failed to bring home the big metal trophy. The six teams that claimed World Series championships in those previous seven years won an average of TWO division championships in the past eight years. As a matter of fact, five of those six teams had LOSING records in 2020!

Business, and life, are long seasons. What one does over the long haul creates lasting excellence, and the Dodgers can be commended for that. How did they create this consistently solid performance in the regular season?

Well, that’s the second pitch: Invest in developing talent.

The Dodgers’ lineup in the final game of the World Series included six players (Pedersen, Urias, Seager, Smith, Barnes, Bellinger) who came up through their farm system SINCE 2016! The Dodgers’ starting five pitchers in 2020 ALL came up through the LA farm system. They have aggressively developed and promoted from WITHIN. And, even though they have had to draft behind almost every other team the last eight years, they still have the fourth rated talent pool AFTER all these promotions. Take note … great organizations recognize the value of developing talent within.

Next pitch: Seize the moment.

The Dodgers had arguably the best offense and pitching in 2019. Then a player became available that could make their lineup even more demoralizing. What to do? Rest on laurels? No way. Mookie Betts joined this great team and had the potential to make it legendary. The Dodgers passed on some fine players waiting for Mookie, and Betts somehow exceeded expectations all season. He seized his moment in the sixth inning of Game 6 with a double, then slid into home safely on a grounder to the right side. He also tacked on an important insurance run with a solo homer in the eighth, helping to lead the Dodgers to the title.

The point: great organizations are prepared and patient to seize the opportunities they encounter.

Pitch number 4: Learn from mistakes.

Teams and their leadership are often paralyzed by conventional wisdom and repeat even obvious mistakes. Team manager Dave Roberts has been (justifiably) criticized for his unusual decisions regarding pitchers. Recently, he has clung to using his aging closer Kenley Jansen to close games, even though Kenley has struggled. That decision essentially cost them Game 4, in which the Dodgers lost the lead and the game with two outs in the ninth (the last time a World Series game turned that way with two out in the ninth was 32 years ago on the aforementioned, overplayed, Kirk Gibson homerun).  As they did all season, Roberts and the Dodgers learned … made adjustments … and found a better formula for success in Games 5 and 6.

Pitch number 5: Winning is a TEAM sport.

Even in “individual” sports, winners don’t step up to accept the trophy on their own. At least figuratively. Behind them stand invested parents, coaches, mentors, physicians, friends, fans. During Game 6, six relievers — Dylan FloroAlex WoodPedro Baez, Victor Gonzalez, Brusdar Graterol and Julio Urias – stepped up for starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin who recorded only five outs. Collectively these relievers retired 22 of the next 24 batters, keeping the game within reach until the Dodgers’ offense woke up. Game 6 is an example of the way champions win. The team and the game plan employed produced a collective effort that cannot be achieved even with the best individual effort.

So how do these lessons apply to success in today’s challenging workforce?

Let’s hit replay.

Perhaps the overall message we can take from the Dodgers’ successful run is the power of PEOPLE FIRST. I have observed that organizations in all industries outperform their peers with this focus. One could ask, “Isn’t this true for all World Series victors? Don’t all of them have winning teams based on their people, thus are also People First?”

I would submit that the answer to those questions is a resounding “no.”

Note what I pointed out earlier. Only one team that won a World Series in the last seven years even mustered a winning record in 2020. The World Series winners from 2018 and 2019 finished dead last in their divisions.

In business, we do not have the option of winning it all one year then collapsing to the cellar the next.  Our customers, our investors and our people expect us to deliver every year. Investing in talent every day of every year allows business to build – and sustain — a great organization from the ground up.  It’s a powerful mindset, make no mistake about it. A savvy, well-trained team will learn from mistakes and seize the moment when opportunities present themselves.  A People First organization comes to compete every day … and will win as a team.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training for the 2021 season in a little more than 100 days. As always, all 30 teams will start the season hungry to win a championship. Will the Dodgers repeat? The lessons they learned this year give them a good starting point, as did the 32 previous seasons that at long last paid off in 2020.

As a fan and avid student, I for one will continue to watch and learn.