There’s something inherently risky about living in Red Sox nation and extolling the talent of a former Yankee manager, but I really like Joe Torre. I know, I know. Bear with me here.
What I like about the guy is his practical, self-effacing way of engaging super-egos in the construction of a common ecosystem called baseball. A recent Sports Illustrated article explains how in his latest endeavor, he’s trying to get baseball umpires and players to work together. While everybody is focused on generating new rules ideas, tightening old ones, ruthlessly evaluating umpires and mercilessly punishing players, he believes umpires and players should just get to know each other better. He points to the fact that when the American and National Leagues both had their own umpires, players and umpires were able to know each other and got along better. He’s working on finding a place in training camp where they can sit together. In other words, it’s not about setting end-policies and defining hard paths to those policies. It is about the process of engaging with each other in new ways.
At first blush, his words seem to capture an old-timer’s nostalgic remembrance of a gentler baseball era (Torre is 70 years old). He sounds a bit like Rodney Dangerfield when he talks about “respect”. The article describes his skills set as “communication”, an oft-touted characteristic of older managers.
But Joe is something much more modern than that: he is the Mark Zuckerberg of baseball. He has repeatedly proven able to structure a constructive dialogue between baseball constituencies, no matter how difficult they are (remember George Steinbrenner?). He’s created winning models wherever he’s been (regrettably, the Yankees most notoriously among them). In co-creation terms, he is an engagement platform all by himself, continuously structuring new forms of interaction between warring factions, and enabling them to find new ways to create value together. His modesty and abnegation are his currency, the success of others his reward (but ultimately also his own).
As my friend and colleague Venkat Ramaswamy likes to say, he’s the opposite of the Field of Dreams. With him, it’s no longer: “if you build it, they will come.” It is: “if you build it with them, they’re already there”.