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Baldelli Leads and Empowers by Encouraging Open Communication


Normally managers get to talk about baseball during their press conferences, but as you can imagine, in “Summer Camp” the questions have been about a wide variety of topics. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has had to answer questions about a global health pandemic, social justice, and player accommodations. These all touch on roles we don’t commonly attribute to a baseball manager, but this year they are critical, and one is providing an environment where people feel safe talking about anything including how they are feeling.Rocco Baldelli recently said, “In any role. It's hard to focus on everything. So you have to prioritize the things that are most important to you to bring to all of your men and women that you work with, and I think a lot of what we've all experienced recently in Minneapolis and throughout the country. It's a very significant time. It's a very important time.”

 

The Twins manager believes that the important thing is to give his players a voice, to provide an environment where they feel comfortable talking about any topic, even difficult ones. Even topics that really haven’t been addressed in baseball in the past.

 

Returning to the game of baseball has bought a mix of emotions from players and others. There have been many positive COVID-19 tests around the game. Several players and coaches have decided to opt-out of their 2020 contracts due to COVID-19 concerns.

 

Baldelli said, “One thing that we talked about was making sure that the guys know that they have a voice. We want to know how they're feeling. It's very important for all of us and for all of them to feel very open and free to talk about these things. Whether they feel good about things or they feel apprehension."

 

According to Baldelli, this isn’t just touchy-feely millennial stuff. It serves an important purpose. All-Stars such as Mike Trout, Buster Posey and Sean Doolittle have spoken about how they are still contemplating opting out. But for the Twins to have a manager who understands that baseball is a part of their life, not their entire life, and that they can freely discuss their concerns is a positive.

 

“It helps us, but more importantly, it helps the player to be able to say these things. We aren't going to be able to help until we have that open dialogue going. We have a good group for that. Our guys are really good about feeling good about talking about whatever they want to talk about.”

 

Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond is forgoing about $6 million of 2020 salary. He wrote nine pages on Instagram explaining his decision. I included just the ninth page (below) in which he summarizes why he is opting out of the season. If you’re on Instagram, you’ll want to read the first eight pages as well (they’re short pages).

 

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Beyond COVID-19 concerns, of which there are plenty, social issues have come into play across our country.

 

Baldelli continued “We've talked about and had conversations about things that I've never openly talked about in the game. And I know many people in our clubhouse have never openly talked about in the game. And I think it's very welcome. I think it's been a very empowering period of time for all of our people, to different extents maybe, for each one of us. But I think we've probably learned different things about ourselves, especially over the last few weeks, that some of us that have been in the game for a very long time have never really touched on and never really felt to this point.”

 

Baldelli continued, noting that it isn’t just for leaders or managers to discuss, but for all of us to be willing and able to discuss. “I do think that anyone regardless of what position you're in - if you're in any sort of leadership position or if you're just just a human being that believes in things - but I think it is our job to consider constantly re-evaluating what is most important, and not be afraid to have conversations about things just because it's uncomfortable. If it's important, it's important and should be talked about.”

 

With the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent response around the globe, Baldelli notes that it has created a lot of uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations. Again, he wants his players to feel comfortable talking about these topics within the team.

 

Baldelli spoke calmly and clearly in his message, “Especially related to the George Floyd murder, essentially, especially related to that. Everything that's come from that has affected our group, a lot. We've come together as a group, numerous times to discuss this.”

 

“I've never seen in baseball and in the short 20 years that I've spent in the game. I've never experienced that before when I tell you that it's empowering to be able to discuss things and talk about things and be vulnerable amongst your teammates and your fellow coaches and your staff members. And to tell people how you really feel about things that are important to you. That is very, very empowering and it feels late.”

 

“But there is no better time than now to do it. I think I'm very proud of the way our guys have handled it.. All these discussions. I'm very proud of the way guys have stepped up and probably breathed in a way that they've never really felt before, where they're able to say these things. I think it's been a very welcome and beautiful thing that came from something so tragic.”

 

Arguably the most important job of a manager - a baseball manager, a store manager, any leader - is to encourage communication and support and empower those you work with. It can be a good thing to put yourself out there. It can be a good thing to feel comfortable enough to discuss topics that are uncomfortable. And in doing so, be able to more easily discuss the issues that arise from playing a game, like baseball.

Usually when someone says "these are challenging times" they are saying "challenges are being presented to us which we must overcome." That is certainly true now. But there can be another meaning, perhaps better understood if one adds a “The” and capital letters: These are The Challenging Times, the times in which we challenge ourselves, whether it be our beliefs, our biases, our relationships and even our history.

 

As both a manager and a role model, Baldelli is in a position where he must handle both meanings, navigating a shortened season amid a pandemic while reaching out to players who are challenging themselves and their teammates with new visions of the world. For all of the impressive credentials and accolades on Rocco Baldelli’s resume, we may now be seeing his most important attribute as a manager.

 

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good article Seth,

 

"Arguably the most important job of a manager - a baseball manager, a store manager, any leader - is to encourage communication and support and empower those you work with"

 

I would argue that the most important job of a Manger is winning and the things you wrote are tools to help you succeed in winning. Nobody cares about that stuff if you are consistently 70 -90.

 

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I wonder what the player response is to hearing of the millions of workers who cannot "opt out" of their work because they can't afford not to. Obviously I understand people's freedom and the virus is a scary thing. But the average working American could really use the moral boost that baseball provides. 

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really, really great article, Seth!

 

Each and every moment forward, I am just so much more impressed with Baldelli.

 

Agreed!

 

We often hear about head coaches and managers being "players coaches." But I think sometimes that description CAN mean a negative. While their level of success varies, all coaches and managers were players at some point. The "negative" perspective of being a "players coach" is you are soft, or coddle players too much. Or, in some cases, you cater to the STAR players.

 

But the positive side of such a coach/manager is he just GETS IT. Rocco was a top prospect, and for a short time, he was an elite player. While I'm sure he has always been a hard worker and smart guy, he then went out and re-invented himself as a coach and now manager. He can embrace analytics while also having the experience to relate to his players, having been one, and a good one, not that long ago.

 

He seems to demand the right stuff from his players. He also understands...as part of the new direction of the FO and system...that players are individuals and not cookie cutter plug and play pieces.

 

Yes, he had the basis of a great team and roster for his rookie season. But he and his staff did a great job of maximizing and utililizing the talent on hand. Despite a questionable bullpen early in 2019, he made the best of it. When thjngs changed, he and his staff continued to get the best out of who arrived. Injuries happened, but depth and smart usage still maximized.

 

We shouldn't discount the FO, who appears to work in harmony with Rocco and his staff and for the moves they made. It's one thing to have talent, to bring in talent, and another thing to make it work together.

 

And then we read and learn more and more about our skipper from articles like this and I become even more impressed. Just like a player, how much better can he and his staff be once they gain even more experience and really figure stuff out?

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