Play Ball: Leadership Lessons from Baseball Legends

On March 26, 2020, Major League Baseball was set to throw out the first pitch of the 2020 season. Known as Opening Day, the event is the culmination of dozens of offseason trades, renewed contracts, months of preparation, and a date every fan of our national pastime had circled on their calendars. But before the ceremonial pitch was even thrown, before the national anthems were sung, and before fans heard “Play Ball!” reverberate through stadiums across the U.S. and Canada, the league hit pause in order to fight an unlikely, yet formidable opponent: COVID-19.

Thankfully, it was just a delay, and we will soon see the teams we love and those we love to hate battle on the diamond. With the shortened season set to start July 23, we wanted to take a moment to look back on our favorite quotes and leadership lessons we’ve learned from baseball legends.

Jackie Robinson

There is only one jersey number that all 30 baseball clubs have retired: 42. The number doesn’t just represent a phenomenal player. It represents a man who overcame racial injustice to pave the way for future players of color to have a place on the field. While breaking records is iconic, breaking barriers is legendary. Before Jackie, no player in history was able to do what he did: break the color barrier. Because of this, he has impacted millions of fans and aspiring ball players through his grit and assurance.

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson

Regardless of your field, every person has the opportunity to impact those around them. Whether by leading an inspiring life or by leading your team to new heights, success isn’t always marked by stats and numbers but by the impact they create. And through it all, a little competition goes a long way. Or as Jackie said, “Above anything else, I hate to lose.”

Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra is one of the more quotable baseball players in history. Not because he’s known for being a great orator or for being profound. Most of his quotes are nonsensical, which makes him such a beloved person. For instance, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” Or this gem, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

However, there are two quotes in particular that are pure gold.

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” – Yogi BerraAlthough obvious, sometimes it’s important to embrace this mantra. If there is still a chance to fulfill your dreams and accomplish your goals, then don’t give up. You’re still in the game. Your team may need the bottom of the ninth inning to tie it up and push into extra innings, but by not folding and giving up, you’ll make the most of your chances at success.

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra

No one has ever drifted to success. You have to be intentional with your organizational goals. Regardless of the size of your company, it’s imperative to create plans and specific initiatives needed to reach the end goal. Clear communication and goal setting will not only help you, but it will also help your team focus on building on their success.

Hank Aaron

714 home runs. This record was held for nearly 40 years by the homerun king Babe Ruth. But as the saying goes, records are meant to be broken. On July 28, 1974, “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron made history by breaking the Babe’s homerun record, a feat few believed anyone could surmount. In his 21-year, storied career, he went on to hit 755 dingers, a record that was held until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007. When chasing Babe Ruth’s record, Aaron had to overcome not just adversity on the field, but he also faced adversity off the field during turbulent social tension. Needless to say, the Hammer knew a thing or two about persevering.

“Failure is part of success.” – Hank Aaron

Understand, that you can’t have success without failure. His career batting average of .305, means he “failed” nearly 70% of the time. But after each swing and in a miss, ground out, or pop fly, Aaron knew he was that much closer to a hit and a chance to help his team succeed.

“My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.” – Hank Aaron

Sometimes, leaders must overcome incredible obstacles and outside factors in order to focus on the task at hand. If your employees see you consistently swinging and getting back out on the field, they’re more likely to follow suit.

Nolan Ryan

While some players dream of breaking home run records, others enjoy thwarting hitter’s chances at those records. No player in history did that more than strikeout king Nolan Ryan. Over his 27-year career, Ryan racked up 5,714 strikeouts. The second and third place pitchers, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens, finished their careers with 4,875 and 4,672, respectively. No one else has even come close. Ryan’s record is akin to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Or Pete Rose’s 4,256 career hits. These are seemingly unbreakable records. Known for throwing a 103 mph fastball and a 69 mph curveball, Nolan knows a thing or two about adapting on the pitcher’s mound.

“Enjoying success requires the ability to adapt. Only by being open to change will you have a true opportunity to get the most from your talent.” – Nolan Ryan

Every hitter has a favorite pitch, whether the high heater, the breaking ball, or the curve. Knowing how to attack each player at the plate is the first step to adapting. Ryan also worked the plate well into his 40s and had to make the most of his ability as it changed over the years. A leader needs both types of adaption techniques to be successful. One, learn to adapt to your surroundings or others. Two, learn to adapt to yourself and your limits.

“Everyone has limits. You just have to learn what your own limits are and deal with them accordingly.” – Nolan Ryan 

Step Up to the Plate

As the “Great Bambino” Babe Ruth once said, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” Failure should only drive you to work harder. It doesn’t matter your background or experience. You can inspire those around you with the swing of the bat. Yankees Manager Don Zimmer explained it best: “What you lack in talent can be made up with desire, hustle, and giving 110% all the time.” It’s time to step up to the plate, work the pitch count, and put your team in the best position to be successful.

Don’t see your favorite player on our list? Have another lesson from a different legend? Let us know in the comments section below!

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