In 1950, an eighteen-year-old Mickey Mantle played shortstop for the Joplin Miners. In 137 games, he made 55 errors, one every 2½ games. How bad is that? So far in 2011, the best shortstop in the major leagues has made one error every 23 games and the worst shortstop, one error every 5 games. Mickey Mantle was twice as bad as the worst shortstop playing major league baseball today. It is probably safe to say that he was the worst shortstop to ever play baseball. However, he was one of the best hitters to ever play baseball. In the same year that he made 55 errors, he hit .383, including 26 homeruns. One year later, in 1951, he began his eighteen-year Hall Of Fame career with the Yankees which included a Gold Glove for fielding in 1962. From the worst shortstop to a Gold Glove? Yes, but it wasn’t at shortstop, it was center field.
Casey Stengel is the one who moved him. Watching Mantle throw balls out of the first basemen’s reach, Stengel came charging out of the dugout, yelling, “I’m gonna teach him how to play center field…and I don’t want to see him at shortstop again” (from The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle by Jane Leavy).
In First, Break All The Rules, Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman say that great managers—baseball and otherwise—“Focus on…strengths and manage around weaknesses….” They “…don’t try to fix the weaknesses.” Stengel knew that trying to fix Mantle’s weaknesses at shortstop would yield a mediocre shortstop at best. However, by utilizing his great speed in center field, he could be something special. He was following the Good To Great principle of getting the “right people in the right seat.” Mantle was clearly a “right people” and center field was clearly the “right seat” for him.
The leadership lessons from this are:
◊ Superstars can’t play every position. Do you think Peyton Manning would be a Hall Of Fame wide receiver?
◊ Don’t exhaust yourself trying to shore up weaknesses—your own or anyone else’s.
◊ If your talented players aren’t performing, maybe they are out of position. Move them before you give up on them.
Casey Stengel was a good player; he was a great Hall Of Fame manager. Why? He knew how to manage great talent. That is what will make you a great manager too.
© Copyright 2011 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company
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