When the Washington Nationals saw Bryce Harper escape to Philadelphia, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect the Nats to slip. Most baseball people said that the club was still quite talented, but I don’t think anybody expected this.
When the Washington Nationals were 19-31, it would have been easy for the team to go into sellers’ mode, looking to shuffle some pieces around and plan for 2020 or beyond.
Instead, they decided to Stay In The Fight (#StayInTheFight), as manager Davey Martinez implored them to do.
There are so many lessons we can learn from the 2019 World Series champs, whether it be in baseball or in life. I rooted for the Nats throughout their playoff run largely because I grew to like them during the regular season. Much like the NBA champs from earlier this year, the Toronto Raptors, baseball’s new kings were comprised of a bunch of good guys. My opinion, of course.
I root for people more than I do uniforms, and I sensed that the Nats could make a run, especially when their bullpen finally got its act together. Heck, I even predicted it on Twitter.
My MLB playoff prediction, and I need to keep this secret from my Dodgers-loving family. I think the @Nationals are going to win the NL. Great pitching. Huge heart. They feel to me like baseball’s feel-good Raptors story in-wait.
— Ryan Welton (@ryanwelton) October 1, 2019
That’s not to pat me on the back, that’s to say that I don’t believe the Washington Nationals were that much of a surprise or a fluke. They had some important characteristics of winners and winning teams from all walks of life. I want to detail some truths we can take away from the World Series champs.
1. Great chemistry beats good talent. I look at the Dodgers and the Yankees, two clubs with extraordinary talent. I see them as a collection of supremely talented individuals but without a strong team vibe. The Nats were 25 guys pulling on the same rope.
To be fair, I think the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays also have great chemistry — although I also think there is something to be said for the whole Houston, Russell Osuna, Brandon Taubman situation being a massive karmic meteorite crashing onto Planet Astros. But nobody had the good-guy chemistry that the Nats had, and I think that chemistry was set in motion with the departure of Harper.
2. Age is just a number. The Nationals were the oldest team in baseball, and only Hunter Strickland had ever won a World Series with any team. I believe that experience led them to work smarter and not harder throughout all their series. Plus, experience gave them peace in understanding what was possible when they got behind, which they did often, so that they wouldn’t panic.
Age isn’t about being stale and slow. It’s “been there, done that” and got the proverbial t-shirt.
Teams (of all types) are always looking to get younger, and I’m not sure that’s the wisest strategy.
3. You need to be able to have fun as a team. Did you see the Nationals’ home run celebrations? They were the equivalent of orchestrated touchdown dances. My favorite was the revving-the-cars celebration in the dugout. Did you hear their team anthem, “Baby Shark?” Started by Gerardo Parra, the ‘Baby Shark’ thing started much earlier this year, and it grew sea legs. Having fun together builds chemistry and alleviates pressure.
4. Keep your head in the game. That’s the essence of the Stay In The Fight mantra. It means doing the little things. It means staying focused. It means persevering, even in the face of long odds. Best piece of advice from a boss I’ve ever gotten was to keep my head in the game. She told me, “The main thing I ask of anybody on this team is to ‘keep your head in the game.'”
It helped that Davey Martinez encapsulated it in such a pithy phrase: Stay In The Fight.
For the business team, it might be something like, “Put The Customer First, Always.” Or it might be “The Deadline Is Now,” as it is in our Tulsa newsroom.
Anyway, if I were a baseball GM, I’d be moderately concerned about on-the-field talent, but I’d be obsessed about individual EQ, team chemistry and organizational culture. I’d have a “no jerks” rule, regardless of talent. And my manager would be a world-class communicator, not somebody who obsesses over all the analytics.
Sure, the production has to be there.
But if you nail the intangibles and the production is worthy, you’ve got a chance to have something special.