Guest Post: A Clown Post About Bryce Harper and Warnings

Posted on May 16, 2013 | in Baseball, Error-Proofing, Lean Oops, Lean Tools, Respect For People, Safety, Sports, Visual Management | by

Mark Graban leanblog headshotToday we have another guest post, this time from fellow blogger Mark Graban of LeanBlog.org, one of the top-read blogs about Lean today. Mark is a Lean consultant in healthcare and frequent keynote speaker at conferences, but many of his blog posts also cover Lean topics in sports. He has even created an ebook of his posts about sports. I have contributed a handful of articles to his blog, and he and I collaborated on his LeanBlog podcast last month about Lean in sports. He was instrumental in my start as a Lean blogger and I’m extremely grateful for his support. Follow Mark on Twitter at @MarkGraban.

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A Clown Post About Bryce Harper and Warnings

By Mark Graban, www.leanblog.org

Although he might call this a “clown post, bro” I am writing about Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and how he plowed full speed and face first into the outfield wall at Chavez Ravine on Monday night (article and video via Deadspin).

Running into the wall face first caused a nasty cut (requiring 11 stitches), a hurt shoulder, and a suspected concussion. Harper crumpled to the ground in slow motion and seemed to give his best “Hey, wha’ happened?” reaction when the trainer ran out to him.

Harper is no longer a rookie, but you’d think he would know how to find the outfield wall… it’s called a warning track. As Deadspin said, “It’s called a warning track for a reason.”  The warning was not heeded by Harper. Maybe he thought this was a rickety minor-league wall that he could run right through, as seen in this classic clip from the early 1990’s:

As with Harper, the warning track in that clip did no good.

Details About Warning Tracks

The now familiar warning track was first utilized in Old Yankee Stadium, where a running track probably just happened to be convenient for that purpose. The warning track was officially mandated by Major League Baseball in 1949 after earlier using sloped inclines to warn outfielders.

The standard warning track today is brown (or sometimes orange) dirt (or a polymer blend) that provides both a color contrast and tactile contrast from the outfield grass. As an outfielder speeds or lumbers toward the wall, peripheral vision and the feeling under foot tells the outfielder “warning: wall approaching.” The polymer blend also claims to give an audible “crunch” sound for the outfielder.

The international standards organization ASTM actually has a published standard for baseball warning tracks: “ASTM F2270 – 12 Standard Guide for Construction and Maintenance of Warning Track Areas on Athletic Fields” (how anal-retentive does that sound?).

It states, in part:

In order to provide for an effective warning track surface, the warning track must be constructed and maintained in such a manner so that the player can sense the change in texture from the regular playing surface and the warning track without having to look. This feature is very important in that the player is often visually focused on the ball during play and would not be looking at the ground as he/she is running toward the warning track. The warning track must also be constructed and maintained in such a manner that the warning track itself, or the surface transition, does not pose a hazard to the players.

Does not pose a hazard? That’s not always the case, apparently. New York Yankee Mark Teixiera blamed their stadium’s warning track for an injury to then-teammate Lance Berkman in 2010:

“That warning track around our stadium is very dangerous,” Mark Teixeira said Thursday of the synthetic surface. “It’s hard, it’s basically concrete with sand on top. It needs to be fixed.”

Berkman didn’t disagree with Teixeira, but he wasn’t as blunt. “It’s slick, it’s hard,” Berkman said. “I don’t have much experience with it, but most warning tracks are not that way.”

The warning track is supposed to be about 10 to 15 feet wide (or three full running strides), but there’s no exact standard for that, per MLB rules or the ASTM.

A Non-Warning Track Made of Turf

Earlier this year, the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres played two exhibition games on a field crammed into the Alamodome’s football footprint. The stadium featured an incredibly short-porch right field of just 285 feet (with an non monster-like 16 foot wall).

alamodome warning track turf

“Warning Track” at the Alamodome

When I was there for one game, I noticed how the “warning track” around the field was really just brown artificial turf. This clearly violates the ASTM standard, as it couldn’t possibly have a different texture than the outfield “grass.” I don’t think this caused any injuries, but it was just two meaningless games (although some have criticized Harper for playing too aggressively with a 6-0 lead… just play it off the wall, bro).

The ASTM standard, by the way, says you CAN have a turf warning track IF it surrounds a “skinned” (or dirt) area, such as the infield for software. Not the case at the Alamodome.

Lean Lessons – Mistake Proofing Trumps Warning Signs

So what’s the takeaway that’s relevant to those using the Lean methodology? The lesson is that warning signs don’t always work in any workplace. I’ve collected a number of signs on one of my blogs, “Be More Careful!”

There’s one sports-related sign, one that I found sitting in the center field bleachers at Wrigley Field – if you wander up and sit behind/under the famous manually-operated scoreboard. Sitting there, if there were an exciting play (not likely, considering the Cubs), a fan would easily jump up (forgetting the sign) and bump their head.

I once saw a glass wall/window at a hospital that had a warning, as if the employees and visitors were birds – “Don’t walk into me… please!” Could be helpful on outfield walls perhaps.

This warning sign on a piece of pharmacy automation warned workers against putting their hands inside the machine when it was running. A truly Lean environment (and your average non-Lean factory) would be sure to have equipment that could NOT be opened while running. We’d call this “mistake proofing” (or “poka yoke” in Japanese).

It’s better to have a process where it’s impossible to make a mistake rather than relying on people to be careful. We are more likely to have perfect processes than perfect people. The Toyota Production System produces better products because they build in quality rather than trying to inspect it in at the end of the line. They don’t have more warning signs or more inspectors – they have better process. There’s quite a history of this at Toyota, going back to the days before they made cars, even.

Warning Signs Don’t Prevent Medical Errors or Other Fatal Mistakes – We’re All Human

In the case of serious surgical errors, it’s apparent how warning signs would probably not be effective. If they were, we could just post a bunch of signs everywhere, including one that says, “Warning! Don’t operate on the wrong side of the patient’s brain” – as errors like this occur all too often.

Hospitals don’t post warning signs that say, “Caution: Don’t give the babies the wrong medication” or “Warning! Don’t mix up the laboratory specimens.”  I’m glad they don’t have signs like this because they wouldn’t be effective.

Warning signs are pretty useless. ESPN even wrote that “warning tracks are useless.” At best, warning signs are a last resort – to be used only if you can’t find any way to error proof the problem. Warning tracks seem to fit into that category. It might not be 100% effective, but it’s better than not having a track.

Bryce Harper KNEW the wall was there (he can’t be that dumb, bro). He just forgot in the moment. That’s often how errors occur, whether it’s a medical error or forgetting to set the flaps on a plane before takeoff or hitting a Boston overpass with your bus, even though there was a warning sign (a lesson in error proofing that had fallen into disrepair).

We’re all exceptionally human. We make mistakes. I just don’t know how you truly error proof against running into the outfield wall.

I guess a Lean countermeasure would be making sure the wall had enough padding (Harper hit a section of scoreboard in the Dodger Stadium wall).  I’m sure there is an ASTM standard on the thickness and softness of wall padding? Maybe to be explored in a future blog post…

Let’s be careful out there.

Mark Graban is a consultant, author, and speaker in the “lean healthcare” methodology. Mark is author of the Shingo Award-winning book Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen. He is also the Chief Improvement Officer for the software company KaiNexus. He blogs regularly at www.LeanBlog.org.

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5 Responses to “Guest Post: A Clown Post About Bryce Harper and Warnings”

  1. Pingback: My Guest Post @LeanBlitz – Baseball and Warnings — Lean Blog

  2. Chad Walters says:

    King Kaufman (@king_kaufman) of the Bleacher Report (http://www.bleacherreport.com) had these responses to the article via Twitter:

    “Isn’t proper training part of lean management? Was Harper taught that running into walls is stupid?”

    “That was a serious question. One out rarely worth risking serious injury. Never in a 6-0 game in May”

    “I hadn’t seen video. Does look like he didn’t know where he was, as opposed to going balls-out after a ball. But Dodger Stadium track is dirt, which is pretty strikingly different. Given rarity of what happened, it’s likely good enough.”

    The following email is what I sent to King after I realized 140 characters wasn’t going to cut it to properly respond to his questions.

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    “The optimal situation for any process with inputs and outputs is both a) a streamlined process with the right tools and b) the proper training for anyone using them. “Lean management” helps obtain that streamlined process (with the proper tools) and creates the right knowledge base through training and documented standardized work as necessary.

    In the Bryce Harper example, it’s not clear that the warning track, either through visual perception (color contrast against the grass) or feel (through cleats) or sound (different sound – crunch of dirt versus grass) was enough to truly warn him of how close he was to the wall.

    So some variables in play here:
    – Whether Bryce Harper knew the right action in this situation (play it off the wall or go balls out)
    – Whether he knew how close he was to the wall or not
    – If he knew, how he perceived this warning (sound, sight, feel)
    – If he didn’t know, why not?

    Error-proofing aims to eradicate the opportunity to do something more than one way – leaving just one way in which a process can be completed. Electrical plugs, USB plugs, gasoline pump nozzles vs. diesel nozzles, LEGO blocks, these are examples of error-proofing. If processes can’t be error-proofed, they can be error-minimized.

    Let’s assume Bryce knew NOT to run into the wall (11 stitches would suck). What told him how close he was to the wall? Is the warning track a sufficient warning system? Are the crunches perceptible enough?

    This isn’t to say the warning track isn’t a good start (hey, there are ASTM standards for warning track dirt and all!), but it’s more to suggest that more questions can be asked to help prevent such injuries from occurring. In this case, error minimized = injury-minimized. He hit the scoreboard, where there is no padding. With all due respect to the Dodgers and Chavez Ravine, they essentially placed higher priority on communicating out-of-town scores and pitching changes (by having the scoreboard in the wall) than on player safety. Couldn’t that scoreboard be situated somewhere other than in the wall? Even the commentators made mention of the lack of padding on the scoreboard.

    Mark and I look to help organizations find ways to prevent errors, to prevent injury, and make processes as simple as possible and minimize variations. Very few processes get perfectly error-proofed (like USB plugs), but the closer we get to reducing the ways a problem CAN happen the better off we’ll be. And if there are ways to better prevent wall crashes from happening and minimize injury, the better off the outfielders will be.”

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  3. Mark Graban says:

    The more we have discussed this, I think the real culprit and thing to be reexamined is the wall scoreboard, not the warning track. The problem seems to be running into a hard metal scoreboard. Rather than a knee-jerk call to remove such scoreboards, is there a way to minimize the exposed hard surfaces that can be run into?

    As with many things, there are no easy answers, which makes this an interesting safety / mistaking proofing problem to solve.

  4. Chad Walters says:

    I would like to add that the pitcher in this clip eventually became the head baseball coach at Tri-State University, my undergrad alma mater. This was not long after my time at TSU (now Trine) so I never got to play for him, but it’s still cool to have that connection.

  5. Pingback: Curious Cat Management Blog Carnival Annual Review - Part IILean Blitz – Do it better.

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