Sunday, November 6, 2011

3 Nights in August

After going through the thrilling St. Louis Cardinals World Series ride and sadly seeing Tony Larussa retire, I was compelled to read this book. I needed something to feed my Cardinals high. I remember hearing about the book after the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006, so it's sort of fitting I read it now.


For anyone who loves Moneyball, it's a great follow up. Tony Larussa is famed for his deep use of statistics for managing situations and creating matchups. However, unlike (as Buzz Bissinger calls them) Moneyballistas, Larussa feels that the statistics can only take you so far. He believes that there is a deeper component beyond it that can't be measured, things like confidence, focus, or stubbornness.

As an example, most sabermetrics fans believe that saves and the use of a specific 9th inning closers is completely overrated. It would be no less effective to have a rotating group of relievers pitch the 9th inning. However, Larussa feels that the a 9th inning closer is necessary for a confident bullpen and morale. Nothing can demoralize a team or bullpen more than losing in the ninth.

I love the individual tales of baseball plays and players told in the book. While the managerial problems are discussed in the context of baseball, they are good examples of how to manage (or not manage) in any profession.

My favorite tale is how Tony Larussa once yelled and took out his frustrations for a loss on Cardinals utility man John Mabry. While Tony later apologized to Mabry, he believes Mabry lost confidence in him, leading him to perform poorly. It's a parable that could mapped to virtually any environment. How many times does an employee become scared or bothered by a superior? So much so that the employee begins to watch their back or just wish to avoid trouble, rather then doing what is best?

There are tons of parables in the book that could mapped to regular jobs: building up the confidence of younger players, getting players on board with a plan, making your players trust you, defending your players, motivating players, etc. There are tales of jealousy between players, players being stubborn, and emotion or lack of focus that everyone can relate to.

Unlike Moneyball, I'm unsure how much non-baseball fans would like this book. It is clearly a baseball book. As a Cardinals fan, there is also a soft spot in this book for me that non-Cardinals fans may not appreciate. I know most of the players described in this book from articles and TV. I knew most of the stories in it at a high level (death of Darryl Kile, issues of Rick Ankiel), so it was very interesting for me to learn the subplots and details.

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