The Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets were once startups, too, and their journeys to the World Series this season provide valuable lessons.
The Mets were a startup in 1962, filling a huge void in the market that was created when the Giants and Dodgers left New York City for the West Coast. The new team in Queens was in beta until 1969, when the Mets won their first World Series—and that was same year the Royals became a startup. Kansas City was in beta a bit longer, winning their only championship in 1985.
But those same customers have been rewarded for their loyalty this season. The Mets swept the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series, while the Royals were taken the distance in the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Here are some of the lessons that were learned on the way to the World Series, which starts at 8 p.m. EST on Tuesday October 27.
The Mets and the Royals rely on a lot of homegrown talent. Many of their stars, such as Matt Harvey and Alex Gordon, have been promoted from within like promising interns. When the teams reached outside the organization, it was mainly to fill crucial gaps in urgent situations or sell high and buy low when a season had been lost. This season, that meant adding Yoenis Cespedes for the Mets, while the Royals brought on Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto.
And when the Mets lost starting shortstop Ruben Tejada to a broken leg in the playoffs, they had another homegrown player ready to step in: Wilmer Flores, who has been in the Mets organization since he was 16.
This same philosophy serves Procter & Gamble well, too. A.G. Lafley, who will become P&G’s executive chairman on November 1, told Fortune: ”If I get on a plane next week and it goes down, there will be somebody in this seat the next morning . . . We promote from the inside, because that’s our primary source of talent.”
Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista has legions of fans who will never forget his bat flip against the Rangers, or his two home runs in Game 7 against the Royals. However, he threw to the wrong cutoff man in the most important moment of the deciding game of the ALCS, which allowed the winning run to score for the Royals, ending Toronto’s season.
The Royals had been watching Bautista closely and knew that he might throw to second base. They were ready for it. That kind of attention is part of what makes the Royals so good.
Had Yahoo’s president and CEO Marissa Mayer been in Toronto’s dugout, she might have told Bautista to be more of a geek: “Geeks are people who love something so much that all the details matter.”
Someone who fails at one job might be a superstar at another. Adjusting to suit people’s skills is crucial.
Wade Davis was brought up as a starter and was given many chances to succeed in that role. He didn’t. But the Royals helped him find a job that was not only better suited to him, but also one where he has gone well beyond just succeeding: He’s one of the best in the game. Luke Hochevar was a No. 1 overall pick by the Royals in 2006 and has had a similar career arc. He failed as a starter but has excelled in the bullpen.
For the Mets, Daniel Murphy’s historic post-season was the result of work he did with batting coach Kevin Long. Long thought Murphy had an untapped power, helped him make adjustments to his game, and it has finally paid off in the most spectacular way.
Fortunes can improve quickly in baseball and for a startup—and sink even quicker. That’s when it’s time to pivot.
A pivot is, in the words of Eric Ries, “A change in strategy without a change in vision.”
The Mets have done just that. They hadn’t had a winning season since 2008 and suddenly find themselves in the World Series for the first time since they lost to the Yankees in 2000. The Royals snapped a nine-year losing streak in 2013 and this year won 95 games, which is the second most in the history of the franchise.
“Smart companies almost always pivot, usually multiple times,” Digital Intent’s Sean Johnson told ReadWrite. “You might change the product because it doesn’t meet the needs of the market you identified.”
The Mets might not be where they are without Cespedes, but they never would have gotten him had their trade for Carlos Gomez not fallen through.
Gomez landed in Houston, where he floundered along with the Astros, while Cespedes became a driving force for the Mets. In addition to landing Cespedes, New York was also able to keep Flores, who would have been dealt as part of the deal for Gomez. Flores has become an unexpected hero of their postseason.
Kansas City and New York are vastly different markets, but what both teams have found is that a great product fills seats. The Royals drew a franchise record 2,708,549 this season while the Mets saw 2,569,753 come through the gates—the most they’ve seen since 2009.
It’s taken years of work by scouts, coaches, and executives to envision their winning teams and produce what fans will see on the field.
“Having a great idea is important,” Steve Case has been quoted as saying. “But having a great team is also important.”