Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Endless Summers: The Fall and Rise of the Cleveland Indians," by Jack Torry

As someone who followed the Cleveland Indians growing up in the 1950's, I found this book fascinating. The sportswriters of that era were uniform in their condemnation of GM Hank Greenberg, and now I understand why. Greenberg did not like the press, refused to socialize with them, and as a result the press disliked him as well.

Torry documents that the actual situation is that Greenberg was a great GM, someone who built up the farm system and scouting department, and therefore had the Indians well-positioned for future success. Tragically, he was fired in 1957, and what followed was a 30-year period of poor teams and poor attendance, coupled with never-ending talk of moving the franchise to greener pastures.

As attendance fell, the owners continued to cut back on player development, creating a vicious cycle in which success was impossible. Simply put, the owners couldn't or wouldn't pony up the funds to cover the losses during those years, so they engaged in a series of self-defeating cost-cutting measures.

Things didn't turn around for the Indians until Dick Jacobs bought the team in 1986. Jacobs planned for the future, brought in able people to run the front office, and by 1994 the Indians had a high-quality team playing in a wonderful new stadium. Jacobs actually planned for losses in the first few years, understanding that those losses were a necessary step toward getting the team back on a solid footing.

The lesson of this book is, don't sacrifice the long-term health of your organization for short-term considerations. As voters we should take notice of this syndrome as well; i.e., don't vote for candidates who are willing to sacrifice the long-term health of the country for short-term political gain in the next election.

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