Many of my friends know that baseball is my game! I always get a surge of hope each April when I hear an umpire yell, “Play Ball.” For those of you who just don’t get it I can only say “You are missing one of America’s greatest gifts to human pleasure and summer relaxation.” Steroid controversies aside this game will go on and it will only improve when the “lords of the game” clean up a few things. The present controversies themselves make for interest in their own way.

To prepare for the new season I completed a fine 385-page book last evening, Scout’s Honor: The Bravest Way to Build a Winning Team, by Bill Shanks. Shanks tells the inside story of how the Atlanta Braves have built a farm system that stocks them with the largest supply of young pitchers in the game. They then use this overabundance of talent to develop new stars and to trade young pitchers for other players they need.

If you know anything about modern baseball you know that there are two distinctly different philosophies about how to build a winning team. One view, named after the best-selling book Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, says you that use statistics as your primary indicator of potential success. This view is promoted by controversial Oakland general manager Billy Beane. The most important number in Beane’s view is On Base Average (OBA). In short, the more you get on base, regardless of how you got there (e.g., hit, walk, error, etc.), the less times you made an out and the more likely it is that your team will score runs, by the sheer law of averages. The second major part of this view is to draft players who are older and who have had baseball success in college. You can tell more about a player’s numbers, and potential success, if they have played at a higher level longer.

The older view is that perfected by the Atlanta Braves, and other teams before them. They draft young players (generally eighteen years of age out of high school) and develop them within their own minor league system. They create a “Braves way” and teach young guys to buy into it. Character is a major part of this “Braves way” and to meet their players and young guys, as I have done up close, is to be impressed with how they really do this. The credit goes to several men but the two key ones are clearly John Schuerholz, the general manager, and Bobby Cox, the greatest modern manager in baseball. Behind these two high profile guys are a host of lesser known gentlemen like Paul Snyder, Dayton Moore and Roy Clark, who are totally committed to the system and the people in it. These men all respect their players and those who work with them and their ego is never inflated. They enjoy the success of the whole putting themselves a little lower than the team. They also rely very heavily on a vast network of scouts and believe the human part of the talent equation is more important than the raw numbers of previous success. This is not to say they do not watch numbers but that what they look for is a guy with “a high ceiling” i.e., a great potential to be mentored and developed and to improve a great deal more.

I admit I am a lifelong Braves fan so I am obviously biased, and thus easily impressed. But this way of doing things in baseball has produced amazing success. It actually underscores all the basic qualities needed for a leader in the church to succeed as well. You must make the success of the ministry your first goal. Then you must prefer others over yourself, giving them credit at every possible juncture. In addition, you must believe in the people around you and show them how to “win” when things do not go well. In Atlanta patience has paid off time and time again. If you are to succeed in anything patience will be your major virtue.

Enough for now about the philosophy of management and leadership. Let the season begin! I can’t wait. My AL team the Chicago White Sox are already 1-0, back in first place in the AL Central. And my Braves open in Los Angeles in four hours. It doesn’t get much better than this my friends. Spring is here and summer will have many memorable dates with baseball.