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There is one professional baseball organization that stands out as the worst over the last 20 years. That organization is the Pittsburgh Pirates. They have endured 19 losing seasons in a row. They have played bad baseball and made questionable trades for many years. Their losing performance is illustrative of a team going in the wrong direction.
The Pirates have not always been so bad. They have a history of World Series championships and some of the best baseball players have played for them. But for the last 19 years, they have been the worst team in baseball.
This spring, skeptics said they made another questionable trade as they acquired a pitcher who mirrors the Pirates’ futility. That pitcher is 34-year-old A.J. Burnett whom they acquired from the New York Yankees. He was very successful as a pitcher when he was an integral part of the 2009 World Series Championship team. However, the last two years, he was inconsistent and often pitched terrible games. He had one of the worst earned run averages in all of baseball. He was known as a very talented pitcher but he was labeled a head case as it appeared he could not perform under pressure. He could not be at his best when it mattered most.
This did not seem to be a marriage made in heaven. However, sometimes disasters can produce new successes. The Pirates’ organization became committed to changing their losing ways. They have brought in professionals who have winning attitudes and know how to teach others to be winners. It is only half way through the season but it is impossible not to see the change in the organization and in Burnett.
At the beginning of July, the Pirates had won seven more games than they have lost. This is a good pace if they can sustain it for the rest of the year. They will have their first winning season in 20 years. At the same time, Burnett is 9-2. This is a great record for a pitcher the Yankees gave up on. Burnett has been part of the reason the Pirates are playing good baseball and he’s contributed more than just good pitching.
Burnett has contributed by helping to change the way younger players think on the Pirates team. It is hard to not think of the Pirates as losers. A common phrase used for people or organizations that have had difficulty is to say they “have a monkey on their back.” Burnett decided to take this negative and turn it into a positive for himself and his team.
He literally had a monkey tattooed on his back to represent all of the negative things that had happened to him. Then he decided to do something active to represent the change he was going to bring for himself and his team. He had T-shirts printed with a monkey on the front dressed as a Pirate. This symbolic change has been powerful for the team as they see the monkey on the front of the shirt. They know the power of the symbolism and have begun to believe this is the year they get the monkey off their back.
The team wears the shirts with pride. They have changed their mindset. They are inspired by Burnett, who was castoff by the Yankees and now is a star for the Pirates.
He represents the power of change through using performance principles to change the mindset. When people and organizations work hard to do this, disasters occasionally do produce successes.
Dr. Keith Wilson is a performance consultant in Hardin County and owner of The Wilson Center for Performance. He is performance anxiety consultant to Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center. He can be reached at TheWilsonCenter7@aol.com.