I am constantly trying to instill the love of baseball in my youngest daughter. This morning I showed her one of the all-time great World Series home runs. The Detroit Tigers were winning 5 – 4 in the 8th inning of Game 5 in the 1984 Fall Classic when Tiger Kirk Gibson approached the plate. Runners were on second and third with one out, so conventional wisdom is that future Hall of Famer and San Diego Padres relief pitcher, Goose Gossage, should intentionally walk Gibson. This would make it possible for an inning ending double play. San Diego Padres manager, Dick Williams, asked for time out and approached Gossage to discuss giving Gibson a free pass to first base. Anyone watching the game can tell from Gossage’s body language that he wanted to pitch to Gibson! Historically Gossage pitched well against Gibson, with only a bunt single in the previous ten plate appearances. Sparky Anderson, manager of the Tigers, was amazed when Williams allowed Gossage to pitch to him. He called out to Gibson from the dugout that “He don’t wanna walk you.” What happened next is that Gibson blasted the second pitch into the right field upper deck of Tiger Stadium. This put the game farther out of reach for the Padres and a half inning later the Tigers were World Series Champs.
As leaders we need to decide when to let staff “pitch or walk.” Dick Williams went against what most managers would do in the same situation and allowed Gossage to talk him out of walking Gibson. If he insisted on issuing the base on balls, Gossage might have felt like his manager had no confidence in his ability. Gossage felt like he could strike out Gibson and wanted the opportunity to shine. By giving him the chance, Williams put Gossage in a position to possibly succeed on the greatest stage in baseball. I admire Williams for his courage as a leader. It was tough to go against the law of averages, but he stuck by his guy and showed confidence in his pitching prowess. Unfortunately for him, it resulted in a mythic home run. At Gossage’s 2008 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Williams again took responsibility for being talked into letting him pitch to Gibson. Great leaders will own their decisions and never lay blame on anyone.
The next time someone on your staff is facing a situation in which great success or failure hangs in the balance, I hope you have the strength to allow them to pitch away. Even if the result is a heartbreaking loss, your credibility as a supportive supervisor will not walk away.