What is a Winning Culture?


I have an office mate; it’s like a roommate only if we’re hanging socks on the door we’re probably getting fired. He’s a smart guy. He’s a former college baseball player, and he’s a big Royals fan. We were recently wrapping up the end of the spring semester by talking about a Royals game from a while ago. He hadn’t seen it due to a night class he teaches, and I informed him that he missed a hell-of-a game.

It’s the one the Royals almost blew in the ninth in the first Yankees series. Jonathan Broxton was shaking like a 300-pound leaf, and consequently I was shaking like a slightly smaller leaf. He allowed two runners immediately and Mike Moustakas and Chris Getz had to make incredible plays to get the Royals out of Broxton’s jam. It was weird to look at a closer and immediately think that he looked nervous. Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe I was projecting my nerves onto him.

But either way, I was relaying all this to my office mate, and he brought up an interesting point. He started talking about a winning culture—one of those ambiguous phrases that analysts love to talk about alongside things like “grit” and “heart.” Of course he has a heart. They all have hearts or they wouldn’t be living … duh.

I thought back to the game and remembered seeing guys like Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez. In the moments during which Broxton looked very much like a young pitcher, these guys looked like they might be taking cuts in the corporate challenge—as pressure packed as that is. It never looked forced with them, as if the outcome of the game wasn’t even in their hands, like fate was in control. They were going to take their swings and something was going to happen, but at the end of the day they were multi-millionaires and get laid whenever they want. So, no big whup.

Since that conversation with my friend, I’ve been thinking about that game and a winning culture because so much of what people mark as a deficiency of the Royals is the lack of a “winning culture.” I think a winning culture does exist, but I can’t exactly define it. I think if you asked most ball players, they would agree, but I’m guessing they’d have trouble coming up with a solid definition as well. What is a winning culture? What does it look like? What does it take to get one? Why don’t the Royals have one? Or do they and it’s just not resulting in actual wins?

I don’t necessarily have answers to these questions. In fact, I’d like you to answer them in the comments section so I can learn something. I do believe though that teams with a winning culture look like the Yankees looked that night. They didn’t win, but I think teams with a winning culture present an ethos that says We’re going to win, and I’m more concerned with this blonde in the second row than my potential inability to come through in this clutch moment. It doesn’t enter the mind of winners that they may fail. They know that they may fail, on some level, but it doesn’t register at that moment. It doesn’t drive their play in any way.

As I stated above, I definitely don’t have all the answers. I do think that the Royals don’t quite have what I would consider a winning culture. Part of that is their youth. I watched Johnny Giavotella hitting with a man on second and the other day and on a 3-2 fastball WAY out of the strike zone he whiffed completely. I remember thinking He’s trying to do too much to impress Ned and GMDM. That’s understandable. He wants to stay in the majors and get playing time. Right now, too many Royals are concerned with avoiding failure—Giavotella, Jarrod Dyson, many starting pitchers—for the group to have the type of winning culture that a team like the Yankees has. Time and some increased confidence from success should remedy that.

This isn’t really an article to provide answers but ask questions. So, let’s hear what you think about a winning culture in baseball. That’s what I really want. This is my call for answers. How does a team—say a young, nearly rebuilt team, from the Midwest—build a winning culture? What distinguishes a team with a winning culture from a team with a losing culture? Let me know in comments AND e-mail Dayton Moore and Ned Yost. They’d probably like to know.