Leadership: we know it when we see it

Eric Wedge is looking for leadership among his players:

Manager Eric Wedge is looking for leaders. He says they have to come from the Indians’ position players and they better not take too long to get here . . .

. . . “There are certain things that are happening that shouldn’t be happening,” Wedge said. “That won’t continue to happen, one way or another. We’ve always done things here a certain way. That’s not going to change . . . I’m the leader of this ballclub, but I’m the manager, not a player,” Wedge said. “We’re going to do everything we can do to be the best we can be. Whether they like it or not, we’re going to do what’s in the best interest of this ballclub.”

I love stuff like this. What, exactly, does he want? Why can’t either the manager or the writer provide an example of what this clubhouse leader is supposed to be doing? The only time you ever hear anything concrete about a clubhouse leader is either when (a) guys are fighting about which music is played on the clubhouse boom box; or (b) when a guy is being described as the leader following some excellent play on his part, in which case he is said to be “leading by example.” Name me one clubhouse leader whose primary attribute isn’t that he’s playing well. More generally, show me one team who has a solid, respected and previously-identified clubhouse leader that is playing awful baseball.

It all smells like retrospective hogwash to me.

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  1. pete said...

    I think he should take the ping pong table out of the clubhouse. And the couches. Wedgie won’t stand for this!

  2. Lewis said...

    I would argue that Varitek, Jeter, and almost anybody above the age of 35 are considered to be clubhouse leaders, although they are way over the hill in terms of ability. And Jason Bartlett was considered a clubhouse leader of the Rays despite not being that great a player.
    Not that I have any idea of what a clubhouse leader is, but I don’t think they necessarily have to be playing well at the moment.

  3. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Lewis: I guess I’d ask why they came to be considered clubhouse leaders in the first place.  If it was something specifically they did, cool, I want to hear it (and it’s the kind of thing I’d like to hear from Wedge or the writer in this story).  If it’s just because they happened to be the best or among the team’s best players at a time when they won a championship, well, that’s less satisfying.

    Millar: I saw a story this morning in which he was being called a leader on the Blue Jays.  He’s also playing well on the Blue Jays and they’re winning, and when he was considered a leader for the Sox he was playing well there too.  Why didn’t anyone talk about him as a leader when he was playing for Baltimore?

    To be clear: I’m not saying that there is no such thing as a clubhouse leader. I’m sure they exist. I’m just not certain that Wedge’s exhortations for one aren’t really a means of deflecting blame for a slow start from a team that was supposed to be doing better.

  4. Sara K said...

    Jake Taylor.  The way he diffused the Serrano voodoo crisis trumps his inability to generate power from his bad knees.

  5. Ben said...

    The Twins gave backup catcher Mike Redmond a multi-year contract almost solely on the ground that he’s a “leader.”  His primary “leadership” trait seems to be that he’ll walk through the clubhouse naked.  He is also a terrible offensive baseball player; last year he had something like 8 RBI. 

    I say all this, by the way, as a frustrated Twins fan.  There’s talk of keeping 3 catchers once Mauer comes back.  But it shouldn’t be Jose Morales going back to the minors, it should be Redmond off the roster.

  6. Don Mattingly's Sideburns said...

    I’d argue that this phenomenon does have some validity in basketball and football, two sports with more physical intensity and immediate emotional expression than baseball.  It has appeared over the last two years, for example, that certain Boston Celtics players have been afraid of KG “going unstable” on them in the event that they loaf or play lazy defense.  From top-to-bottom they don’t have a roster filled with well-regarded defensive specialists, and yet their defensive performance has been excellent. Have KG’s 1.3 blks/game during that period been so valuable, or has Doc’s coaching prowess been so impactful, that we can simply discount the leadership principle in *this* instance?

    It’s hard to make a similar case for baseball, though …

  7. Mike said...

    Sounds like Wedge is trying to reason away a slow start and grasping at straws, or maybe he’s just trying to take some heat off his pitching staff.  “Poor clubhouse leadership” is effervescent enough to avoid calling out any individuals and it sounds more fixable than “5.83 ERA”.

    Then again, maybe distracting the public with vague statements about intangibles is exactly the type of leadership the tribe needs right now.  Well played, Eric Wedge.

  8. Millsy said...

    Tought problem to really parse apart from winning.  If the team is doing well, everyone is happy and collegial.  When the team isn’t doing well, someone needs to step up or Wille Mays Hayes and Charlie Sheen might start fighting (too late on the Major League reference, I see).  Kind of a causality problem.  I don’t think the search for someone who can lead by example (which isn’t necessarily something a Manager can do, since he’s not playing) is anything to laugh at, though. 

    The Padres enjoy having Brian Giles in their clubhouse…Giles is hitting .190 or something atrocious.  The awful hitting Padres, with an underacheiving (and a half) Jake Peavy, are 10-9: about 9 games better than most would have predicted if they knew Peavy’s ERA would be above 6.  Of course, the cause-effect isn’t realistic conclusion here, and it’s a small sample size.  But assuming moral and player to player leadership has no impact on team success is a mistake, in my opinion.  Of course, when you get more than one guy trying to be a leader, you might see some clashing going on.  So who knows what the best ‘team makeup’ really is.

  9. Michael said...

    I figure a clubhouse leader is a guy who gets people’s spirits up and talks them through a slump – keeps positive vibes and solid comradery (SP?) throughout, gives younger guys advice on how to deal with coaches or the media or whatnot.  Friendly, approachable guys with a good attitude and useful experience.

    The ideal clubhouse leader?  Why, Bernie Mac in Mr. 3000 of course!

  10. bigcatasroma said...

    Scrappy McScrapperson (TM, Keith Law).
    Base ball club “Leader” defined:
    1) anyone with dirt on his uniform (on backside bonus)
    2) anyone less talented than my 8 year old niece, but “hustles”
    3) anyone who sees the most strikes for all ABs per season (see Scrappy McScrapperson, TM)
    4) Cap’n Jetes

  11. Other Ben said...

    A couple years ago I remember Millar saying that Tek was the best teammate he ever had, because he was the kind of guy who would make a point of congratulating you if you went 3-5 with 2 ribbies even if he had gone 0-4 with 3 K’s the same day. That what you’re looking for?

    And, yeah, the Orioles were pretty clear that Millar was on the club last year because he was so good in the clubhouse, especially with younger players.

  12. Eric Solomon said...

    It’s the only explanation for Jason Kendall.  That said, Craig, I’d also LOVE to have some specific examples of things these guys do that fall under the heading of leadership.  “Playing the right way” doesn’t really cut it.  Taking early fielding practice?  Watching video after a loss instead of going to a bar?  Beating up a water cooler?  Knocking down a batter?  Bueller….?

  13. Breaker said...

    I’m with the first Ben on this one…as another frustrated Twins fan, I think Michael Cuddyer falls into this category. 

    There were articles last spring highlighting his activities in the clubhouse (besides the magic tricks) – things like having t-shirts printed that said “Goal 162+ (no excuses).’’

    He’s had one good year out of about six, got a three year extension, and is very capable of being the outfielder that is benched for the Twins.  Assuming, of course, that Gardy would see logic and acknowledge that players abilities are reality and his perception is not.  Long shot, but it could happen.

    Here’s a perfect example from LEN3…


  14. Scott said...

    I’d add a third option to your list, Craig:

    c) the player’s on-field production is so bad that the team needs to justify his position on the roster (or in the starting lineup).

    Tony Clark of the D-Backs falls into this category. He’s been so frustrating for fans, that the TV team regularly reminds us of his value as a “veteran presence” in the clubhouse.

    It goes like this:

    Play-by-play announcer: “Here’s clean-up hitter Tony Clark. He struck out in the first and grounded into an inning-ending double play in the fourth…but he brings so much more to this team than just his batting average.”

    Color-commentator: “That’s right. He’s almost like a player/coach. Such a great example for these young players.”

    Play-by-play: “Shallow pop-fly…and Tony Clark is erased. At the end of seven, it’s Giants 2, D-Backs 0. We’ll be right back.”

  15. Cubsin09 said...

    In every profession and workplace, there are leaders.  Why is baseball any different?  If you ever played on a competitive baseball team, you remember guys who’d:

    - give tips to rookies
    – show up on time and prepare like a professional
    – hustle throughout the game and not take plays off
    – keep up spirits of slumping teammates
    – work diligently to improve their own game

    I think one good example is Paul Konerko- always a class act and good teammate even in his down years.  Smoltz is another- has been hurt a lot recently, but still gets a lot of plaudits from teammates and younger pitchers.

    This is a great column, with lots of solid, insightful analysis; let’s not discount attributes of the game for which we don’t have a stat on hand.  Posts like this just provide fodder for those who rule out sabermetric analysis as too cold and limited in its evaluative scope.

  16. Kevin said...

    Quite a few “fire Wedge” posters @cleveland.com.  I’ve posted this before. I’m a Tribe fan living in AZ.  I get the D’backs games.  Last season, the d’backs were in Milwaukee.  One of the announcers asked Ted Simmons about the team leader.  Simmons pointed to manager, Ned Yost stating, “he’s the team leader.  Players have enough problems playing the game, dealing with media, etc.”

    A week or two later, the same announcer questioned d’backs manager, Bob Melvin about the rough patch the d’backs were going through.  Melvin responded, “it’s on me.  I’m the manager—-It’s my fault.” 

    30-40 years ago, you heard stories about kangaroo courts in the Baltimore clubhouse.  Frank Robinson was the judge.  Some aspects of those playing the game has changed.

  17. BillyBeaneismyHero said...

    Last year, Jason Varitek would’ve been a prime example of a guy being called a leader while playing like crap.  Then again, he has these “intangibles” that no one can really describe—mostly because they don’t exist.  I’d love to see one creditable study that proves that Red Sox pitchers pitch better when he’s catching.

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