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In Baseball and Business, Is Leadership Grabbed or Given?

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

By Luke Melms

Is the title of captain or leader better off being grabbed by whoever steps up or handed out as an official title? Most baseball teams don’t have a designated team captain while just about every football and basketball team have multiple team captains. I believe one of the best recent case studies for answering this question whether it be in baseball or business can be found by taking a quick look back at the 2014 World Series teams.

With the San Francisco Giants winning three World Series as of recent, it can be easy to forget how close the 2012 team came to not even winning a single postseason game. A 9-0 defeat in game two after also dropping the first game of the NLDS to the Cincinnati Reds put the Giants in a win out or go home scenario.

Only a little more than two months after being acquired in a midseason trade, Hunter Pence called the team together in the dugout to give a pregame speech for the ages heading into game three. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Giants coach Tim Flannery jotted down what he heard:

“Get in here, everyone get in here…look into each other eyes…now! Look into each others eyes, I want one more day with you, it’s the most fun, the best team I have ever been on, and no matter what happens we must not give in, we owe it to each other, play for each other, I need one more day with you guys, I need to see what Theriot will wear tomorrow, I want to play defense behind Vogelsong because he’s never been to the playoffs…play for each other not yourself, win each moment, win each inning, it’s all we have left.”

He didn’t hesitate to step up because of the short time around his new teammates and as a result helped the Giants grind out an extra innings win. The fun continued for more than just a day as they rattled off 10 more wins to take home a World Series title.

He isn’t just a rah-rah guy in the dugout though. He produces and goes beyond just getting the job done.

On the flip side of success coming into 2014, the Kansas City Royals hadn’t even reached the postseason since 1985. It’s fitting that the leader in the Royals clubhouse is a polar opposite of Hunter Pence. A homegrown talent drafted second overall, Alex Gordon could’ve done what many good players do when on losing teams by finding a way to get out of town.

Instead, he didn’t demand a trade or wait to become a free agent. He did the complete opposite signing a four year contract after the 2011 season despite never playing on a team that finished above fourth place in the AL Central and just finished 20 games under .500. He was set on being the leader of a young team in the middle of general manager Dayton Moore’s rebuilding plan to return the team back to the postseason which led to a World Series title in 2015.

Alex Gordon always has and always will lead more with his play than his mouth. He puts in extra time in the weight room, the cages, or whatever way he can find to become better as a baseball player.

The leaders on these teams are obvious and the title of captain isn’t needed to command the respect of the other guys in the clubhouse. Baseball isn’t like football or basketball. The third string quarterback for most teams usually doesn’t take a snap in a game over the course of an entire season and the last man off the bench in basketball normally only sees time when the game is out of hand.

All 25 that are on a baseball roster not only get on the field but do so in meaningful moments during the course of an entire season. While all players are assembled in teams, a group of 25 guys that play 162 games across North America in about 180 days is almost better described as a family.

Ned Yost learned how to foster leadership organically from coaching next to one of the best managers of all time in Bobby Cox. Upon being hired as manager of the Royals, Yost was asked about team captains and said,

“I’ve never done that, never even thought about doing it. You’re a product of your environment. Bobby never had one and I never even thought about having one. If Bobby named a captain the 12 years I was there, I’d probably be naming a captain.”

The Royals success under Yost is proving the old adage of if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it to still be true. The Atlanta Braves won a division title each of those 12 years Yost coached. The 14 straight division titles under Bobby Cox still stands as the MLB record.

Pence and Gordon’s leadership styles on the baseball field display two different types often seen in the business world.

Like Pence is to the Giants, a CEO is typically more extroverted establishing the corporate culture in addition to being the face of the company to the public.

While a CFO is just as important, most of their work is done behind the scenes and are often more well-known internally than to the masses. Alex Gordon is the perfect example of what a CFO looks like on a baseball field and is Kansas City’s secret success ingredient rather than a household name from coast to coast.

Both players’ career numbers likely won’t land either in the Baseball Hall of Fame when they decide to hang up their cleats. Leaving a legacy though is about depth rather than width. While these guys aren’t the faces of baseball, teammates, coaches, fans, front office, and local media will forever feel the positive effects of being around them.

Now I’m not suggesting titles be non-existent in everything. Titles are necessary in business but those are earned not randomly passed out. Leadership doesn’t require a title to lead though.

Whether you are reading this as a CEO or a recent college graduate, everyone holds a leadership role in life whether it is within a family, business, organization, or wherever you find yourself spending much of your time. It isn’t a matter of if rather when the ball will be hit to your spot on the field with the game on the line. Never forget you have what it takes to make the play when your team needs you most.

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