David Wright, Derek Jeter and the Role of Captains in MLB

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David Wright, Derek Jeter and the Role of Captains in MLB
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David Wright was named Captain of the New York Mets shortly after he signed a lucrative eight-year contract extension this past offseason.

When the New York Mets named David Wright their captain this spring, he became just the fourth player in franchise history to hold the honor.  Wright is no stranger to a leadership role, however.  Until a rib injury cut short his preseason, Wright led the 2013 World Baseball Classic in RBI and earned the nickname Captain America." 

Often referred to as the Mets' " face of the franchise," Wright has been a leader on and off the field in New York.  The media has counted on him for insightful quotes even after devastating team collapses in 2007 and 2008 and disappointing seasons since then. 

The longest-tenured Met recently committed to an eight-year, $138 million contract with the organization. 

Further, Wright's community involvement rivals that of any other major leaguer.  The six-time All-Star's foundation provides financial support to charitable organizations that help children and promotes awareness of Multiple Sclerosis in his hometowns of Norfolk, Virginia, and New York City. 

In many ways, Wright has modeled his career after Yankee captain Derek Jeter, a homegrown talent who leads on the field, makes himself available for questions after the game and is actively involved in children's causes. 

Relatively few players in the history of baseball have had the privilege of holding the title of captain. Wright, Jeter and Paul Konerko of the White Sox are the only current captains. 

The Mets have had three previous captains: Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and John Franco, the last to hold the honor in 2004. 

The Yankees have had 14 captains in their 100-plus year history.  Lou Gehrig was the team's most famous captain, and after his death, the Yankees did not name another one until George Steinbrenner bestowed the honor on catcher Thurman Munson in 1976.

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Derek Jeter became the 14th captain in the storied history of the New York Yankees.

After Munson's death, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph and Ron Guidry served as captains in the 1980s, followed by Don Mattingly in the 1990s. Jeter has filled the role for over a decade.

So what are the qualities that define captains? 

 

Leadership by Example

Captains usually are well-rounded players who are models of consistency on the field.  Jeter, in particular, is renowned for his clutch hits and competitiveness in the postseason as he led the Yankees to five World Series Championships in his career.  Until injuries slowed him, the shortstop was an exceptional fielder and an excellent base runner.

Captaining a team doesn’t involve just statistics, however. Jason Varitek, the former catcher and captain for the Boston Red Sox, helped lead the team to World Series victories in 2004 and 2007.  Varitek was not a Hall of Fame hitter, yet he was appreciated for his toughness in baseball's most demanding position and for his locker room gravitas.

Many of baseball's captains are leaders off the field through their community involvement.  Paul Konerko has a well-earned reputation for helping families in and around Chicago.  Since 2007, he and his teammates have helped raise over $400,000 with the Children’s Home + Aid, a leading social service agency in Illinois. 

Derek Jeter established his Turn 2 Foundation early in his career.  The organization has contributed millions of dollars to efforts to help kids turn away from drugs and alcohol and towards positive achievement in sports and in school.

 

Accountability

The way players respond to adversity defines their role on the team.  

A leader must inspire his teammates to take accountability.  He or she does this by setting an example for others to follow.  Captains don't look for excuses.  They identify areas that need improvement and inspire their teammates to raise their level of play accordingly.

 

Optimism

Derek Jeter in particular seems to have ice in his veins—even when his team is behind.  His optimism and his refusal to let circumstances overwhelm him helped build the Yankee aura of invincibility. 

Captains motivate their teammates and encourage them to continue playing valiantly even when the odds are stacked against them.  They encourage them to play their game no matter what the scoreboard says. 

Positive thinking and a focus on the task at hand help spur teammates to accomplish things that they might not have thought possible.  I have seen this many times during my career as a coach. 

 

Humility

Good leaders aren't chest-bangers.  Rather, they routinely praise teammates for their performance.

For instance, following a game in the World Baseball Classic in which he drove in five runs, David Wright credited his success to his teammates for putting themselves in position to score when he stepped to bat.  Wright has stepped up to help younger teammates, such as Ike Davis, acclimate to the major leagues and frequently praises the development of talent in the Mets system. 

Every great athlete has an edge and has confidence in his or her abilities.  However, the great leaders lead by example without crowing about it.

 

Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.

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