Tampa Bay Rays: How Innovation Replaces Bucks –

Tell Me What You Think, Not What You Heard 

By Shlomo Maital   



  Joe Maddon, manager of Tampa Bay Rays

Read this only if you like, or at least partly understand, baseball.

  Tampa Bay Rays are a low-budget American League team, competing with the big-bucks Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.  Yet right now the Rays defeated the Yankees in three straight games, and are ahead of them in the standings, tied for first with Baltimore. Last year Tampa Bay grabbed a wild-card playoff spot from Boston, on the season’s last day.  The reason is: Innovation.

   Manager Joe Maddon, when he took over at Tampa, had T-shirts made for each player, that said: “Tell me what you think,  not what you heard.”   He wanted his players, and of course himself, to think differently about baseball.  He wanted the people surrounding him to really think, and innovate, not just repeat all the worn clichés, most of which are wrong. 

    Maddon has pioneered something called the “shift”.  When left-handed hitters are shown by data-mining  to ‘pull’ the ball (i.e. hit mainly into right field), Maddon shifts his defensive infielders and outfielders far to the right.  This leaves a big hole in left field, but, so what?  Data are data.  Other teams have used the ‘shift’. But Maddon uses it far more.  And he even uses it on right-handed batters, who ‘pull’ the ball to left field.  And it works!  Moreover, when batters actually see it, mentally it freaks them out.  That alone helps the ‘shift’ work. 

     Eventually, other teams will copy Maddon. (The process is very slow; baseball is a game hidebound by old traditions and clichés).  Meanwhile, innovation is giving Tampa Bay an edge, that big bucks cannot.  Innovator: If you’re facing a tough stubborn incumbent, the only way you can win often is by trying new ideas, and instilling innovative thinking in every single person in your organization.  Tampa Bay and Joe Maddon show that it works.  

   My previous blog was about an illegal experiment. Maddon’s extreme shift is a highly legal experiment – one that pays off.  The other key element in Maddon’s success is perseverance.  Even when the ‘shift’ fails, he says, we stick to it.  We live and die by our innovation. 


     Source:  “Tamba Bay’s shifting ways are paying off” Global NYT May 9, 2012, p. 12