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The World Baseball Classic, Corporate Culture, and Short-Sightedness

Joseph Lee
Joseph Lee

If you were anywhere near Dodger Stadium on March 23 for the World Baseball Classic (WBC) finals, you heard the drums and the thunder sticks of 45,000 South Korean fans drowning out the 5,000 Japanese fans—not to mention the 4,816 Americans there just to watch a good ball game. And a good ball game it was, a nail biter ending in the 10th inning when global superstar Ichiro Suzuki (Japan) singled home the two winning runs.

ESPN broadcast the game with expert commentary and the dialogue shifted toward Team USA—why weren’t they in the finals? And what can Major League Baseball (MLB) do to change the attitude of the team owners who refused to part with their best players during the spring?

“It’s our egos that refuse to believe that anything coming from a foreign country can be better than our own,” sports commentator Steve Phillips claimed during a previous game. His colleague Orel Hersheiser responded, “I wouldn’t call it that. It’s just that we have different priorities.”

Or maybe it’s as commentator Joe Morgan said: Hey, this WBC stuff is great, but it’s just an exhibition. Meanwhile, down on the field, the Korean base stealer slid into second base head-first coming up with a cracked helmet and a splitting headache. Just an exhibition game indeed.

In that earlier game, the announcer asked Orel if he had had a chance to pitch for the USA in the WBC during his MLB days, would he do it? When Orel answered, “No,” the announcer probably wished he had some of those thunder sticks to drown out the silence in the booth.

A Corporate Culture of Self Interest

In business, we throw around the word “corporate culture” like it is the magical explanation for anything organizational that we don’t understand.

“AIG had a culture of corruption.” “Citigroup had a culture of overspending.” “Lehman Brothers had a culture of taking unnecessary risks.”

Today, we live in a real-world corporate culture of self interest, and nowhere is it more obvious than on Wall Street.

Perhaps Lou Gerstner, former chief of IBM, said it best in an address to the World Business Forum in 2004: Corporate culture is what employees do without being told. It is what CNN, MSNBC, and FOX reporters do—create the news to boost ratings, rather than reporting it. It is what executives do—make money at all costs, rather than taking care of the company’s employees and shareholders. It is what employees do—accept bonuses they didn’t earn, rather than returning it to the company. It is what baseball owners do—protect their team, rather than thinking of the greater good of the country or of the game.

But there are always the few who rise above the fray: The whistleblower at Enron. The injury-ridden US team. The entire Korean and Japanese baseball squads.

Who in the business world can we look to to demonstrate this type of leadership—to establish a corporate culture of looking ahead beyond one’s own self interest? And how do we balance self-survival against this “greater good?”


Thirteen years ago, I was lectured by a Japanese executive who claimed that Japanese baseball was the best and that no one in their right mind in Japan would turn to watch American baseball. He was proved wrong a few years later when MLB games featuring Ichiro, Matsui, and Matsuzaka became routinely televised in Japan. “What short-sightedness,” I thought of the man.

Perhaps sports commentators Steve Phillips and Orel Hershiser had it right: Big Egos and Existing Priorities didn’t allow the US to field its best team. “Baseball owners have invested too much in the players,” Joe Morgan said at the WBC finals, “and they’re not about to watch their investments get banged up in these exhibition games, as important as they might be.”

What short-sightedness.

Joseph Lee is an adjunct professor at the Graziadio School of Business and Management, where he teaches a course on management consulting. Read his blog at

Related in the GBR

Recognizing Organizational Culture in Managing Change by Mark Mallinger, PhD, Don Goodwin, MBA, and Tetsuya O’Hara, MBA

The Impact of Corporate Culture on Business Strategy by Mark Mallinger, PhD, and Gerry Rossy, PhD

Corporate Culture is the Key to Maximizing Shareholder Wealth by Darrol J. Stanley, DBA

Author of the article
Joseph Lee, Adjunct Professor
Joseph Lee, Adjunct Professor
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