The Dodgers game that could have made history teaches us an important Brand Strategy lesson

Megan Davies

When it comes to baseball, most fans only remember the games that make history: Derek Jeter’s last walk-off hit of his career, Cleveland’s 73-year World Series drought end, Kirk Gibson’s unforgettable homerun in 1988.

April 13, 2022: The Dodgers played against the Twins and the game was… almost memorable.

On this seemingly normal Wednesday afternoon, there were few but mighty Dodgers fans huddling in the rain at the Twin’s home stadium to support their pitcher Clayton Kershaw on his fifteenth professional season debut. The first Twins batter, Buxton, struck out against Kershaw. One up, one down. Throughout the span of 7 innings, 13 more Twins players followed suit against the much-feared pitcher. During the downpour, Kershaw pitched seven perfect innings— every Twins player up to bat walked back to the dugout without touching first base.

Despite Kershaw’s astounding success, Dodgers team manager Roberts pulled him from the game before the beginning of the eighth inning. And just like that, Kershaw’s potential shut-out game was a bust. Another pitcher replaced him, and the Twins immediately began to hit the ball again. Even though they still won 7-0 that day, Dodgers players and fans alike were disappointed that Kershaw had to walk away from what could have been a nine-inning “perfect game,” which has only happened 23 times in MLB history.

So, why did Roberts pull Kershaw when they both could have made history?

At first glance, Dodgers manager Roberts may appear as if he was selfishly demonstrating his authoritative power or attempting to teach his players a lesson about teamwork. However, the motive for his decision was more strategic: Roberts inadvertently focused on the bullseye of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle for the Dodgers franchise.

'Start with Why' by Sinek suggests that a company should build strategy based on their “why”— a meaningful mission statement that defines a company’s purpose. Although Sinek’s model is simple, the effects of creating a purposeful “why” statement are profound. Companies can better connect with customers, motivate their team, and make guided business decisions. On an individual level, having a personal “why” statement will help individuals strengthen work and personal relationships, be self-motivated, and determine life decisions and goals.

Both Roberts and Kershaw applied these principles on a professional and individual level. With the combination of a long winter break, short spring training, and a cold rainy day, the risk of Kershaw getting injured that day was high. If the Dodger’s star pitcher injured himself during the season opener, he would not have been able to help the team fulfill the organization’s “why”: give back to Dodgers fans by winning the World Series in the fall. Roberts and Kershaw both tasted that sweet and fulfilling victory in 2020 and they let this motivator determine what decisions they made.

Since Roberts understood the Dodgers’ purpose, he was able to connect with the fans, motivate his players, and make decisions that kept his team safe. After the game, Roberts explains, “fans want to see great moments. I absolutely understand that… But I can't manage a ballclub and players with my fan cap on.” Even though making that day memorable would have pleased the Dodgers Nation, he made a small sacrifice that helped his team win the short game and stay in the running for the long game. He effectively explained the reason for his decision to the team and motivated his key player to support his decision.

Opposed to a myopic point of view, Kershaw found motivation in achieving the team’s purpose by aligning his individual goals with the team’s. Kershaw explained to the MLB nation why they made that tough call and illustrated their ambitious vision, “From a fan's perspective, it's tough to swallow. Hopefully when we're winning the World Series in October it'll mean something.”

It's a special thing, I don't take that for granted...I understand the history of the game, I understand what it means to the game of baseball. There have been only 20-something throughout history, so I get that. But I said it the other day -- the individual stuff is not why I continue to play the game. I wanna win. That supersedes anything individual for me.

Clayton Kershaw

April 13, 2022: What should be remembered?

That rainy Wednesday in mid-April may not be a memorable day for baseball fans, but it can be a memorable day for business leaders. From Roberts’ example, we learn that knowing and understanding your company’s “why” will help you make better business strategies that will positively impact your customers. Once your company has a clear vision, both leaders and their teams should be aligned with that meaningful mission.

In both business and baseball, sometimes we need to prioritize the long-term strategy at the expense of the short. As Mark Ritson has advised, maintaining this type of perspective may even help companies survive an unpredictable economy and potential recessions. To execute your strategy, take ownership of your company’s mission and ensure that everyone is well informed of your “why” both internally and externally.

Some may say that Roberts was “playing it safe” by replacing the pitcher when in reality he had the courage to do what was best for his team and the fans. Are you brave enough to make the strategic calls needed to win the long game?

How can you communicate your company’s “why” to your customers?

Having a compelling why can drive customer engagement. However, just as the Dodgers had to explain their “why” to some confused or disappointed fans, your customers may not fully understand how your “why” compliments their personal “why”. With over 30 years of experience in brand strategy, Hall & Partners could help you better communicate your company mission and measure the associated brand lift.

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