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Captains Courageous: David Wright and Derek Jeter

jedhughes_opt_copy_copy_copy_copy_copyBY JED HUGHES
VICE CHAIRMAN OF KORN/FERRY
SPECIAL TO NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

The New York Mets named David Wright captain this spring, and the six-time All-Star was clearly honored by the designation as he became just the fourth player in franchise history to hold the title. He is no stranger to a leadership role, however. Until a rib injury cut short his preseason, the third baseman led the 2013 World Baseball Classic in RBI and earned the nickname Captain America."

The so-called "face of the franchise," Wright has been a leader on and off the field. The local media has counted on him for insightful quotes even after devastating team collapses in 2007 and '08 and disappointing seasons ever since. However, the longest tenured Met recently committed to a eight-year, $138 million contract with the organization.

Further, Wright's community involvement is exemplary. His foundation provides financial support to charitable organizations that help children and promotes awareness of Multiple Sclerosis in the New York area and in his hometowns of Norfolk, Virginia. In many ways, Wright has modeled his career after Yankee captain Derek Jeter, who is a home-grown talent who leads on the field, makes himself available for questions after the game, and is actively involved in charitable 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 Yankees have had 14 captains in their 100+ 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. After Munson's death, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph and Ron Guidry served as captains in the 1980s, followed by Don Mattingly in the 1991. Jeter has filled the role for the past 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, but he his toughness in baseball's most demanding position stood out.

Many of baseball's captains are leaders off the field through their community involvement. Derek Jeter established his Turn 2 Foundation early in his career. Turn 2 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, his refusal to let circumstances overwhelm him or his teammates 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 the team. They encourage them to play their game no matter what the scoreboard says. We often hear him say, “We can do this”, or “this is our game.” Positive thinking and a focus on the task at hand helps 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 5 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 mentor 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.

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A native of Newark, Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high profile placements are New York Jets GM John Idzik, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy, New York Jets President Neil Glat, and Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. Earlier in his career, Jed coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.

 

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