Wednesday night's World Series finale was a game for the ages. It was the most intense game of baseball I can remember watching. I'm sure someone will tell me there was a better Game 7 somewhere in World Series history, but for me, that was as good as it gets.
A big part of the drama that unfolded in Game 7 actually began the night before, during Game 6. Cubs' Manager Joe Maddon became the focus of every armchair baseball manager in the country with a decision he made late in the game. Fans were so angry with Maddon during Game 6 that the Cubs' official Twitter account posted this:
We still don't make managerial decisions, but thank you all for the advice. pic.twitter.com/oM34OMV3R7— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) November 2, 2016
Why the heck were fans so angry? The Cubs won big, didn't they? Turns out the chorus of armchair managers were virtually yelling at the team via Twitter because Maddon decided to use the team's star closing pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, despite the team having a 5-run lead in the bottom of the 7th inning.
Their anger is understandable - The Cubs' 5-run lead was relatively safe with only two-and-a-third innings left - and having their ace closer fully rested for a Game 7 winner-take-all game would have given the team a better shot to win the World Series title.
But Maddon wasn't playing to win Game 7. At the time, he was only focused on Game 6. After that game, Maddon said, "The middle of the batting order was coming up, so I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly…If you don't get through that, there is no tomorrow."
Fast forward to Game 7
As it turns out, Maddon made two decisions in this game that drew the ire of Cubs fans.
First, with a 4-run lead in the bottom of the fifth inning, he pulled pitcher Kyle Hendricks with two outs and one runner on base. Up until that point, Hendricks was on fire, and Cubs fans groaned (and vented on Twitter) as Maddon walked to the mound to pull Hendricks and bring in Jon Lester. Fans' fears quickly turned to panic as 2 runs quickly scored before Lester got the final out of the fifth inning. The Cubs' lead was now 5-3.
The next decision came in the bottom of the 8th inning. Lester had settled down after giving up those 2 runs in the fifth, and was protecting a 6-3 lead. With two outs, Maddon again called on closing ace Chapman earlier than fans thought he should. Cubs fans’ fears became their worst nightmare as it appeared Chapman was indeed fatigued from pitching extensively in the previous game. Chapman gave up two consecutive hits followed by a game-tying home run before getting the final out of the 8th inning.
Let's recap what happened
Maddon made a very unpopular management decision in Game 6 that fans feared would impact Game 7. Then Maddon doubled down with two more bold (and highly unpopular) moves that cost the Cubs their lead. I'll be the first to admit that I thought the decisions Maddon made in Game 7 were questionable, but once again Maddon took accountability for his decisions.
After the game, he said, "I mean, [Chapman], he's our guy in that moment. We narrowed it down to four outs." The Cubs ended up winning in 10 innings, and Maddon's decisions didn't cost his team the championship. And you have to appreciate the courage Maddon displayed in his decisions. We have the luxury of hindsight to judge his decisions, but in the moment, big leadership decisions are not easy to make.
How this relates to leadership in business
Leaders make hard decisions all the time, and oftentimes what they decide isn't going to be popular. Maddon sets a good example for leaders and managers in business. There will always be people second-guessing your decisions and many of those decisions may make you temporarily unpopular.
But if you've prepared thoroughly, analyzed the options, solicited appropriate advice where needed/available, and made the decision you feel gives your team/organization the best chance of success, you have to have the courage to make the decision and take responsibility for the decision you made.
I'm no baseball expert, and I'm sure there are plenty of people that can pull some stats that prove that Maddon's decisions were actually wrong. In the moment, I know many of them felt like they were wrong, but in the end he led his team to a World Series victory while making some gutsy decisions in big situations on the path to victory.
Leaders won’t always be the most popular person, but they’re not paid to be popular. [Tweet this quote] They’re paid to make tough decisions, and I give Maddon credit for bold leadership and taking accountability for his decisions.