Friday, June 28, 2013

The first step toward success

You may have noticed that Buffalo's sports teams are in the midst of a down period. Most people in Western New York certainly did.

The Bills haven't made the playoffs in forever. The Sabres have missed the playoffs in the last couple of seasons, and haven't won a series in years. The Bandits were the one team out of nine to miss the playoffs this spring. All three fired their coaches in the last six months.

The reaction to all of this losing has been predictable - more housecleaning, more trades, etc. Something else has popped up, which is equally annoying.

Fans have been calling for the local teams to think more locally. This can take the form of drafting local players for their teams' rosters, or for hiring ex-players for the front office. It's an obvious reaction to circumstances.

And it's wrong.

When Bill James was writing in the early days of his Baseball Abstract, somewhere around 1979, he wrote about the history of the Chicago Cubs. Now, the Cubs were not on the cutting edge of the bush to bring players of color into baseball. As a result, they slid into mediocrity and below rather quickly in the 1950s. As James said, when you start using discrimination as one of the factors of selecting talent, you are limiting your choices and are essentially helping yourself fail.

I've tried not to forget that. So when people were upset when Europeans starting arriving in the National Hockey League, I said the Sabres should embrace the additions to the talent pool. Think Japanese baseball players are a poor risk for signing purposes? Ichiro has worked out well on this side of the ocean.

This can be a tricky business. The Bandits for years had a strong Native component to their roster, and they won a lot of games. They also had a Native coach. Was the team giving an edge to that segment of the population when it came to roster decisions, or was it simply taking advantage of an underutilized segment of the lacrosse community? My guess is the latter, but that's impossible to judge completely.

The theory applies to front office hirings as well, of course. If you starting ruling out good people from being a candidate for a job, then you are hurting your own chances. If you have a shoe store and don't hire a good salesman for whatever reason, then you might find yourself with too many shoes in the back room at the end of the month.

We're all human, meaning that some people certainly would think twice about hiring the tattoo-covered Chris "Birdman" Andersen of the Miami Heat to run their Wall Street bank. But especially in the results-driven world of sports, inclusion is definitely the way to go.

After all, what do we have to lose, besides more losses?

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