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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"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner
Dick–thanks for this!
This entry caused Buz Graham and me to take a walk down Memory Lane!
Like all young boys in the 1950’s, Mickey Mantle was one of the first names I ever heard as I began to be interested in baseball. I remember him being on the cover of Boys Life magazine when I was a Cub Scout. . .as well as the Wheaties commercials he used to shoot.
Thankfully (I guess) we didn’t know what a scoundrel he was off the field. I did read The Last Boy by Jane Leavy. Fortunately, Bobby Richardson led The Mick to Christ before his death in 1995. Hope things are well in your corner of the world. Much love and best regards, Richard
The last years of Mickey’s life were better thanks to Booby Richardson and to his drying up. His life is a tragic example of the consequences of not having a positive father figure to shape his early years. Of course, growing up in Oklahoma in the 50’s, I idolized him.
Great post – thanks for reminders of the value in a “strengths focus” – I was introduced to the Strengths Finder 2.0 (T. Rath) when I joined the organization I am in now almost a year ago. A personal passion perhaps isn’t always a strength, but somewhere I am thinking there is alignment with the 48Days concept of finding the work you love as well.
Thanks David, good to hear from you. Though I have an engineering degree, it was a shortstop position for me. I was much better suited to the biz side.