Engineering Baseball: Branch Rickey's Innovative Approach to Baseball Management

Article excerpt

Branch Rickey is regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of professional baseball. Although he is most renowned for his role in the integration of the game, he left other equally indelible marks on the way professional baseball is played and managed. One of the many quotes attributable to Rickey is "luck is a residue of design." (1) This brief quote outlines Branch Rickey's approach to baseball management, which begins with his belief that "baseball is a science" and thus requires a "scientific approach" in its management. (2) The philosophies Rickey used in his management approach are quite similar to the methodologies taught within the discipline of engineering management. Previous research has investigated and designated Rickey's work as that of a public manager, particularly vis-a-vis the integration of Major League baseball. (3) This paper will investigate Branch Rickeys approach as an engineering manager toward all of his work in baseball.

Given the nickname "the Mahatma" for his wisdom and high-mindedness, Branch Rickey saw baseball as a science requiring unique and systematic methods for its management. His approach differed greatly from the haphazard methods most often employed in the management of baseball. Before Rickey baseball certainly had managers and leaders who were innovators and strategists. For example, Ned Hanlon was an influential manager who fostered the development of scientific baseball, a system of strategies and knowledge of the percentages of success of individual plays in order to achieve victory. However, no one to this point had the vision of Branch Rickey in assessing the potential for innovation and pursuing success on an organizational level in baseball. Rickey developed specialized management tools in such areas as player and manager training, player evaluation, strategy development, and organizational evolvement that were quite innovative for their time. Once implemented Rickeys management methods engineered great success for his teams both on the field, in terms of wins, pennants, and World Series victories, and off the field, in terms of profits and respect. They also changed the way professional baseball is played.

As previously stated, the essence of Branch Rickey's management philosophy is found in the quote "luck is a residue of design." This paper will explore the various forms this "design" took in the successful innovation of baseball and will draw connections between Rickeys design methods and those of engineering management. First the paper will briefly describe the discipline and approach of engineering management. Next an analysis of Rickeys educational and professional backgrounds and their influence on the formation of his management style will be considered. Then several of the major innovations developed by Rickey will be discussed in the broad context of the management of baseball. In an attempt to identify the inspiration for Rickey's management approach, these innovations will be examined in how they relate to the methods of engineering management. Finally, the accomplishments of Branch Rickey will be reviewed in order to define Rickey's impact on the history of professional baseball.

ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT

Engineering managers are distinguished from other managers in that they are trained and able to direct and organize projects and people, and thus manage, as well as to understand and apply engineering principles. Therefore, engineering managers are qualified for two broad types of management positions: managing specific technical functions (such as research and design) that can be found in most any company, and managing broader areas in technology-oriented companies (such as marketing or sales). (4) In a sense, a professional baseball team can be thought of as an organization having myriad technical functions. For example, the preparation, training, and maintenance of pitchers, a task with biomechanical, physiological, psychological, and strategic components, demands highly technical expertise of their coaches and trainers. …