That's what some are calling San Francisco's surprise World Series contenders, the Giants. After defeating the Philadelphia Phillies four games to two for the National League Championship, the team takes on the Texas Rangers this week in the 106th edition of Major League Baseball's Fall Classic.
Fans in the Bay Area could not be more delighted.
This year's team features a lovable cast of characters with back stories that could have been conjured by a Hollywood screenwriter. Take ace relief pitcher Brian Wilson. He sports a menacing pirates beard, dyed jet black to intimidate opposing batters. Then there's fastball specialist Tim Lincecum, known as "The Freak" for his powerful arm and boyish looks. San Franciscans have especially warmed to outfielder Cody Ross, the the NL Championship Series MVP. Ross joined the team in mid-summer after being dumped unceremoniously by the Florida Marlins. Instead of sitting home watching TV, he now finds himself starring on it.
I could go on, but you get the point: The Giants roster is filled with individuals that other teams either overlooked or did not want.
So how did the organization turn them into winners? Simple: it provided opportunities for individuals to shine while building a foundation of cohesive teamwork. While that might sound easy, anyone who has ever managed a team knows it isn't.
In organizations that prioritize the collective, new ideas are often smothered and groupthink frequently prevails. When this happens, individuals lose their drive to aspire for greatness. As a result, mediocrity often settles in.
Similarly, organizations dominated by superstars have their own problems. When jumbo-sized egos take over, teams lose their unity and sense of purpose. Without shared organizational goals, individuals focus more on their own glory than on team pursuits. When this occurs, internal strife often results.
Giants fans need only think back to the last time San Francisco was in the World Series to be reminded of this. The year was 2002, the height of the Barry Bonds era. Though the all-time career leader in home runs, Bonds is one of baseball's most polarizing figures. When he was the Giants' highest paid player, Bonds wouldn't pose for the team picture or ride the team bus. He had his own trainer, his own chef and his own PR spokesman.
Bonds won five MVP awards as a Giant, but he never led his team to baseball's ultimate prize. To be fair, neither did San Francisco's more beloved Hall of Fame players, including Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry. Try as they might, these legendary superstars could not produce both the team cohesion and individual excellence that the 2010 Giants have.
Give credit to team manager Bruce Bochy for doing both. In his four years with the team, he has convinced his players to aim high, work collaboratively and check their egos at the door. Specifically, he has experimented with the lineup, providing an opportunity for different players to have their moment in the spotlight.
Take rookie Buster Posey. When first called up from the minors, he played backup catcher. But Bochy convinced the young player he could achieve greatness if he got in better shape and improved on his hand speed. Posey did and worked his way into the starting lineup. After batting .305 for the year, he's now a candidate for league Rookie of the Year.
While inspiring individual performers to aim high, Bochy has also promoted an atmosphere of inclusion and camaraderie. That's inspired stars such as Wilson to spend more time bonding with teammates. He, for example, is a regular at the dominoes table in the locker room with his teammates.
Bochy's insistence that stat leaders and role players stand together has helped him to make some difficult choices. In the post season, he dropped the team's highest paid player, pitcher Barry Zito, from the active roster due to inconsistent play. Recognizing that the decision was controversial and could divide team loyalties, the affable Zito stepped up and expressed his support for the decision.
"My heart and soul is in this clubhouse," Zito said afterward. "I have no other options in myself than to pull for every one of these guys."
You can bet they remembered his unselfishness as they took the field last night against the Rangers.
Superstar performers or team players? In San Francisco, it's nearly impossible to tell them apart.
Managers everywhere should take note.
Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today's Profits and Drives Tomorrow's Growth. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.
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