Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Leadership and Character

Reading the sports pages over the weekend, a baseball trade caught my eye....the Boston Red Sox trading their starting shortstop from 2011, Marco Scutaro, to the Colorado Rockies.

I'm not a fan of either club, although as a Yankee fan, what Boston does is of interest.  But it wasn't this move itself that caught my attention, but this comment made in the Boston Herald's story about the trade..

The position has been a revolving door since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in the middle of the 2004 season. Scutaro, 36, played two seasons with the Red Sox and was one of the few last season to finish strong.

Throughout the late 1990's and into 2000's, one of the rhetorical battles between Yankee fans like myself and Red Sox fans was around which shortstop was the better leader, the better anchor for their team - Derek Jeter for the Yankees or Nomar Garciaparra for the Red Sox.  In many cases, if one look strictly at the statistics - fielding and hitting, Garciaparra had an edge.  But, also during this time frame, Derek Jeter helped lead the New York Yankees to World Series victories in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.  The Yankees also reached the World Series in 2001 and 2003 only to lose to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Florida Marlins.

During this run, Derek Jeter advanced from being a rookie to one of the clubhouse leaders for the New York Yankees.  This leadership role was formally recognized by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner in June 2003 when Derek Jeter was named only the 11th Captain of the Yankees in their history.

Despite the slightly weaker statistics, its pretty clear that what Derek Jeter brought to the New York Yankees, in a complete package, was a major factor to 4 World Series victories out of 6 World Series appearances between 1995 and 2004. 

What Nomar Garciaparra lacked is that intangible that cannot be found in statistics or sabremetrics - the heart of a player to motivate and carry one's team.

During this time frame of Yankee - Red Sox rivalry, there is one date that epitomizes the difference in heart between the Yankee shortstop and the Red Sox shortstop....  June 1, 2004.  At this game in Yankee Stadium, the Yanks and the Red Sox were embroiled in their usual war - and pennant race.

The game entered extra innings as both teams were tied.  In a critical play, Derek Jeter does this....

diving into the stands to make one of the more remarkable catches to keep his team in the game.   The effort and 'sacrifice' helped inspire his team to win the game in the bottom of the 13th inning.

While Jeter was inspiring his team to victory with his play, Nomar Garciaparra sat in the Red Sox dugout.  Garciaparra was coming off an injured right achilles heel - but could have played in the game.  He was available to pinch-hit and thought to also have been available to play in the field.  But the Red Sox manager felt that Garciaparra needed another day of rest.  Throughout the game, Garciaparra sat on the bench and watched.  I recall that he did not pester the Red Sox manager to get into the game or act to motivate the Red Sox players from the bench.  The sportscasters commented on this during the latter stages of the game.

The difference between these two players represented the difference that leadership, character, and heart can make in the game.

It was not much of a surprise to me when the Boston Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago White Sox 7 weeks later at the Major League Baseball trade deadline.  This was one of the 'blockbuster' trades of the season.  But removing Garciaparra from the clubhouse also sparked the Red Sox - and with players starting to step up like new shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiecwicz obtained in the trade - the Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918.

Since then, the Red Sox have understood the importance of heart - Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Curt Schilling (2004), and Jacoby Ellsbury are providing the passion and heart that teams need to win. 

Looking at the Red Sox going into 2012, one has to also consider their historic collapse in 2011 which cost them their General Manager, Theo Epstein, and Manager Terry Francona - the management team that built the 2004 and 2007 World Series winning clubs.  That collapse was as much from a real lack of heart / passion by too many on the club...the pitchers more interested in drinking beers and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse than being on the bench with the rest of their team...to the apparent preference to individual stats over team stats by new 'stars'.

Leadership ability, passion, and heart - these are the intangibles that statistics do not directly highlight.  Yet, they are as critical for success as statistics. They are what differentiate great ballplayers from good ballplayers.  They make teams from a collection of individuals.


After 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, and 5 World Series titles, Yankee catcher Jorge Posada retired today from baseball. 

Like Derek Jeter, he was one of the 'core four' of Yankees and part of the leadership, passion, and heart of the club.  His retirement will effect the club - but the Yankees gained someone with a similar approach to leadership, passion, and heart with Russell Martin who took over the catching duties from Posada in 2011.

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