The Astros Had a Culture Problem, Not a Cheating One

Posted on Categories Culture/Employee Engagement, Internal Communications

As I write this, the Houston Astros are fresh off of hiring a new manager.

When 70-year-old, veteran of the game Dusty Baker took the podium to officially accept his role of manager, he was asked about the sign stealing scandal that enveloped his new team since the moment the final out of the 2019 World Series was recorded. His response, “It’s certainly not going to happen on my watch here. I don’t foresee it happening ever again because this has been an embarrassment for a lot of people.”

Rewind about two weeks, and I can set the stage for how this press conference came about.

The Astros were officially designated as “cheaters” from Major League Baseball after an investigation concluded that sign stealing played a major role in their magical, World Series winning season of 2017.

“Maybe we should start rooting for the Cubbies,” my mom said to me after the news broke.

Nope, sure won’t root for the Cubs. I am a 38-year veteran of Houston Astros baseball, and I don’t plan on stopping that any time soon.

Sign stealing doesn’t bother me. My answer to the question of whether or not the 2017 season needs an asterisk is simply, “no”. But what really gets under my skin is that my beloved team, the ones branded as “the good guys” not long ago, have now been painted with a wide brush as “cheaters” and the entire organization exposed as having elements of a toxic culture with a “win at all costs” attitude.

This is a claim Astros owner Jim Crane has denied, but a week after Dusty Baker was hired, 42-year-old James Click was named the Astros new general manager and while officially being introduced to the Houston media stated, “Culture is something that I take very seriously. I think we’d like to do everything we can to continue to make sure this is an employee-first culture, the kind of place where people want to work and are involved and engaged.”

Although Crane disagrees with the MLB assertion of an “insular” and toxic culture, his actions in hiring Baker and Click speak volumes. Bad culture sticks to your reputation and becomes the measuring stick for all things that touch an organization – internally and externally. It influences the lens with which the outside world judges and views an organization, impacting reputation overnight. Not to mention breaking the heart of the 8-year-old little kid that still resides in all of us.

As I watched the Astros news unfold, one commentator said that the team “removed the human element” out of its strategy. Relying so heavily on statistics and analytics to win, it became a cycle that was hard not to perpetuate as the winning became infectious.

But, at the end of the day, the pursuit of winning at all costs and taking the “human” out of success has, even if it’s just for this moment, tarnished the Golden Era of Houston baseball. A good manager, that the players liked, lost his job and was suspended by the MLB for a year, along with a mastermind General Manager who not only used the much ballyhooed, analytics-driven baseball, but perfected it.

For those of us who are closest to knowing this baseball team there is the feeling that moving from the 40ish-year old skipper who embraced the modern age of baseball, to a 70-year-old who probably still relies solely on the concept of leftie vs. righty, this is a step to legitimize the team once again. And, to hopefully reestablish a culture of winning with pure talent, knowledge and within the boundaries established by the game.

These two new leaders are tasked with clean-up duty that focuses on an unwillingness to allow a culture to run amok. Regardless of industry, leaders must walk the talk.  When it’s all said and done, they are the ones responsible for reinforcing and safeguarding culture.

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