Over the first 60 ball games of the 2022 season, the New York Yankees have posted a 44-16 record with a +127 run differential. Winning has always been an integral part of the Yankees’ identity, but culture has been the franchise’s secret weapon. World renowned management consultant and distinguished scholar Peter Drucker was once quoted as saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” A management philosophy of profound clarity and wisdom, Drucker intimately knew how employee empowerment with integrity can drive meaningful changes for organizations struggling to achieve success. It is an exercise that requires accountability, discipline, and maturity.
Regardless of best efforts, the Yankees have failed to align organizational objectives with performance for over a decade. Empowerment with integrity has created a cohesive culture for the Yankees as they are presently dominating Major League Baseball. Their excellence is not only indicative of vast improvements in several areas of concern from last season, but a mindset defined by selflessness and confidence. Successful cultures are built upon shared values, but it doesn’t happen overnight and usually requires patience.
Immediate observations tell us the Yankees’ culture begins with Aaron Judge. A ball player of high moral character and integrity, Judge decided to end negotiations by Opening Day if he and the Yankees could not come to terms on a contract extension. As his performance has exponentially increased his market value as a potential free agent at season’s end, the Yankees and Judge are not burdened by incessant questions regarding his future in pinstripes. Judge never wanted his contract status to be a distraction as the focus is solely on winning ball games.
Amid the recent altercation between Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson and Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, Judge demonstrated leadership while stressing the importance of accountability. He expressed disappointment in Donaldson’s actions but carefully chose his words. Judge’s displeasure was evident, but he still found a way to commend Donaldson for being accountable and allowing the ball club to move forward without further distraction. Judge deftly navigated a difficult situation which could have fractured a fragile clubhouse’s culture.
As Judge’s emotional intelligence serves as the bedrock for the Yankees, the presence of Anthony Rizzo has added depth and breadth to the culture. Rizzo intimately understands the subtle nuances of leadership. Joy and enthusiasm might be hallmarks of Rizzo’s personality, but he also knows how to motivate and comfort a teammate. Sometimes, a ball club’s culture can feel like a jigsaw puzzle and Rizzo has quickly identified where he fits and how he can support Judge as a voice of reason and experience.
In his third season as pitching coach for the Yankees, Matt Blake’s impact goes well beyond an increased usage of the cutter among starting pitchers or helping to unlock the brilliance of Nestor Cortes. Blake has methodically implemented a pitching philosophy that embraces experimentation which ultimately leads to continuity. Injuries and impatience might have impeded progress, but Blake was always soliciting feedback and looking for ways to connect data and technology with natural talent. Most importantly, Blake has instilled a growth mindset among the pitchers which promotes meaningful dialogue.
As the starting pitchers are being hailed for their excellence in several statistical categories, the selflessness of the catchers is a primary reason why continuity exists on the mound. The Yankees have decided to prioritize defense, pitch framing, and game calling thanks to the presence of catchers Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino. Gary Sanchez’s trade to the Minnesota Twins allowed the Yankees to reassess their priorities regarding the catching position. Higashioka and Trevino are collaborators whose meticulous attention to detail and studious preparation have immediately paid dividends for the pitchers.
Manager Aaron Boone has used the words “aptitude” and “experience” to describe how Judge has incrementally improved as a ball player. The same could be said for the Yankees’ fifth year manager. As enormous attention and credit has been given to Judge throughout the season, Boone’s healthy influence is ever present in the Yankees’ culture. Through experience, Boone has learned to empower ball players by emphasizing accountability and a commitment to shared values. The Yankees are never out of a ball game due to their tenacity and Boone’s evolution as a manager.
The current ball club is drawing favorable comparisons to the 1998 Yankees who are considered by many to be one of the greatest ball clubs in baseball history. They mastered the art of extending leads at critical times while also demonstrating a multitude of ways to win ball games. Manager Joe Torre knew how to effectively inspire and motivate the diverse talent on his roster which produced 114 regular season victories and an 11-2 postseason record. The Yankees were relentless while dominating and overpowering opponents. Even though there was an abundance of strong personalities on the ball club, they were unified in their pursuit of a world championship and fueled by disappointments that had occurred during the 1997 postseason.
No one is denying the New York Yankees have won world championships in the past where the culture was plagued by controversy and hostility. Combustible relationships fueled by unnecessary drama might have sold plenty of newspapers back in its heyday, but it was never a sustainable model. Sacrifice and accountability establish a winning culture. The Yankees have made a conscious decision to think and act differently and the results have been positive over the first two months of the season. Sometimes, you must look beyond the statistics to see improvement and in the Yankees’ case, it begins with culture.