Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On The Leadership Aging Curve

Joe Sheehan's got an excellent Newsletter issue today about Michael Young's trade demand and, more generally, about "leadership" in the abstract. If you're somehow reading this and aren't a Newsletter subscriber, you should remedy that now (preferably by subscribing and not by clicking away from this blog).

Joe writes:
The notion of Michael Young, Ranger Leader is more a media construct than anything else, as all of these things are, and it is in a time like this, when the player has to choose between self-interest and organizational interest, that we see just how silly the construct is.


Leadership, as much as reporters may say it is, isn't just about making yourself available for quotes, yet some large portion of getting the label of "leader" is that one act. The fact is, we don't know these guys, and after Jeter, after Gonzalez, after Young, maybe it's time we stopped imbuing them with traits they may or may not possess solely because we wish they had them.
Joe would be the first to tell you that it's impossible for an informed outsider such as himself to quantify a "leader's" contributions to his team beyond his observable hitting, fielding or pitching.

But to my thinking, maybe both views are wrong: the MSM's position that a player *is* a leader and Joe's view that players are self-interested and shouldn't apologize for it.

Maybe players' leadership follows a development curve not unlike what we see with baseball skills. You've got your young guys who come up brash and unready to lead. Then they transition into their peak leadership years: they've been big leaguers long enough to command respect from the media and their teammates. Then they enter their decline phase, when both their on- and off-field skills atrophy and they're eventually replaced.

Perhaps during those "peak leadership" years the interest of the player and team are neatly aligned. It's the player's best opportunity to have his personal skills contribute to the team's success, so he goes along to get along, hoping that he'll be part of a championship squad.

You sometimes hear about young leaders like a Jeter, or young malcontents like a pre-rehab Josh Hamilton or a Lastings Milledge, and you hear about the veteran problems you described in the NL. But guys like Milton Bradley -- quality players yet clubhouse cancers -- to me seem the exception not the rule.

Someone with more time on his hands could run a Google News search for players' names + "leader" (and player + problem) and graph the ages of the players cited. Still, I feel like leadership, like elite baseball ability, is a skill that develops, peaks and fades. Not unlike Michael Young's contributions to the Rangers over the years.