From Excellence to Legendary

The 3 plays in 372 days that made Derek Jeter a baseball legend …

 

Prologue

It’s not always easy to identify that moment in a professional athlete’s career when he or she has passed through the threshold of greatness to legend. By the time Michael Jordan finished his 3rd NBA championship, his legend was secure. For Wayne Gretzky in hockey, he transcended from prolific scorer to Stanley Cup Champion in 1984 and his legend was born. Others are defined by extended periods of greatness yet we struggle to find that moment in their career when they took that indisputable step forward.

As he waited to step into the batter’s box before the start of game four of the 2000 World Series against the New York Mets, Derek Jeter’s excellence was already established. By the time he finished his storied career, his iconic plays had been given monikers that all baseball fans knew – “The Flip”, “Mr. November”, “The Dive”, and so on. Like music fans remembering their favorite songs by the titles, Derek’s “Greatest Hits” all had names of their own.

His retirement after the 2014 season started the clock to the inevitable first ballot Hall of Fame induction in 2019. The only question is whether he’ll be voted in unanimously or not (no-one has yet achieved that in baseball).

As he readied himself, his stance, his bat, and his eyes on the pitcher that night no-one had a clue that his indelible mark on MLB’s storied history was about to be stamped on us with surgical precision.

With what was about to transpire over the next 372 days through three epic and game-determining plays, Derek Jeter would go from being an excellent shortstop on the winning-yet-again New York Yankees to a legendary shortstop on yet another dynasty in this amazing franchise’s history.

Why? Let’s explore it some more.

 

Game 4: 2000 World Series

The Yankees were clinging to a two games to one lead over the Mets as game four started at Shea Stadium in the 2000 World Series. The Mets held serve in game three to close the 2-0 gap to within one game of a tied series. Their late rally in game two put a scare in the Yankees – all three games were close. Would the pesky younger NY baseball siblings tie the series and make it that much more pressure-packed?

The Yankees had already won consecutive World Series titles and they were on the verge of winning the third. This game was a pivotal point for them to achieve that goal.

It happens rarely. No one ever expects it. When it happens, since it’s such a rare event, it’s always very emotional and powerful. To do it in the key game in the World Series against your crosstown rival, that’s taking it to an entirely different level.

Derek Jeter hit the very first pitch from Bobby Jones in game four of the 2000 World Series for a home run. Of course, the score was now 1-0 Yankees.

Yankees fans erupted with joy and you could feel the collective sense of Mets fans all being punched in the stomach with that hit. In one play, he turned the game and series into a Yankees 4-1 dominant performance to win their 3rd in a row and 4th in 5 years. Epic in any stretch of baseball that does not already include other Yankees’ dynasties.

 

“The Flip”

The 2001 MLB post-season was played under a dark cloud. Delayed by the terrible events of 9/11, baseball was hoping to generate excitement to help bring the country back together. The Yankees were again pursuing a championship. If successful, this would make 4 in a row.

The Yankees found themselves on the verge of defeat after losing two games at home against the Oakland Athletics. The A’s won two games against formidable Yankees pitching – Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were beat in close games. Losing two games at home and heading to the West Coast is not the script that manager Joe Torre or the team wanted.

Game 4 was another close won. Scoreless through four innings, Jorge Posada hit a home run in the top of the 5th to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. The score remained 1-0 by the time the A’s got up in the bottom of the 7th.

Oakland was threatening the 1-0 ballgame with Mike Mussina pitching a gem. With a runner on first base, Oakland’s Terrence Long hit a ball into the right-field corner with two outs. With Jeremy Giambi rumbling around the bases towards home, the ball thrown by right-fielder Shane Spencer sailed over the heads of two cut-off men … heading towards nowhere land and a potential game-tying run.

Out of nowhere, Derek Jeter appears at a spot on the field near home plate that is nowhere near routine for a shortstop to be at that moment. Albeit, he was! He made an all-time back-handed flip to Jorge Posada to get Giambi out to end the inning and the threat. The Yankees held on to win 1-0 and eventually win the series. Disaster averted.

Jeter’s play not only saved the game, it was an instant classic for ESPN and others to play over and over again that night and to this day. It became known forever as “The Flip.”

Two down, one to go.

 

Mr. November

With the Yankees about to pursue their fifth World Series championship in six years and four in a row in 2001, the story had transformed from one about an all-time Major League Baseball team to a family rivalry.

The only other teams to ever have had this type of streak were the earlier historic versions of the New York Yankees. This group was attempting to stamp a dynasty rating on themselves that only their older siblings could rival. Yankees dynasties of the late 1930’s and early 1950’s had won four and five consecutive World Series, respectively. The team that had won four in the past five years had a chance to elevate themselves into the “greatest ever” debates.

Jeter was in the middle of it all and was poised to put his own mark on his role in this stretch of Yankees dominance as Mantle, DiMaggio, Gehrig and Ruth had before him. He had already proven himself with four rings, four All Star games, the never-equaled, same-season, All Star Game and World Series MVP awards, and played a leading role each season while hitting .331 over the 4-year stretch that ended in 2001.

3000 hits was years away. He had not yet emerged from “The Dive” with his face bloody. They were both years away at this moment in Derek’s career.

Then, with the unfamiliar position of being behind in the series and barely pulling out the prior win to take the series to 1-2 upon them, Jeter once again is there on center stage.

Joe Buck announced to the television audience what was shown on the big scoreboard – we were now officially playing on November 1. Everyone knew this was unchartered baseball territory.

Who made the moment his and only in the way a player could? Derek Jeter hits the home run that was heard around the world. The first home run ever hit in November in MLB’s history. It was the culmination of the lows and highs of what NYC and the USA had just gone through. Derek resurrected New York City’s spirit out of the horrible feeling that took down The Towers. And the Yankees were tied two games each with the Diamondbacks. Once again, Derek was at center-stage and delivered.

While that series ended with the Yankees losing, Derek’s legend was secure.

 

Cooperstown Bound

First, it was the lead-off home run against the Mets in game four of the 2000 World Series, then, it was “The Flip” in Oakland in the divisional series to save the Yankees from losing the series and then, finally, the walk off home run on November 1, 2001 against the Diamondbacks in game four at Yankee Stadium.

These three plays over the course of 372 days cemented the legend of Derek Jeter.

It was that night, that point in time on November 1, 2001 that one now realized Derek Jeter not only is but has also been an elite, legendary player who has been coming up with epic plays when it was critical for the Yankees his entire career. It’s at this instant, the culmination of 372 days and three larger-than-life moments in Derek’s history as the Yankees shortstop, that Derek Jeter became a baseball legend.

History tells us that Derek continued his greatness for thirteen more seasons – taking the Yankees to two more World Series, winning the final one in 2009. In 2011, Derek put gold plating on his already cemented legend with a home run for his 3000th hit (and went 5-5 that day, knocking in the winning run, too). On his last game ever in Yankee Stadium, he hit the game-winning, walk off hit to put that final exclamation point on his resume.

He finished his career with 3,465 hits – the most ever by a shortstop or by a NY Yankee – and number six all-time. His five World Series rings are second only to Phil Rizzuto, another NY Yankee, for shortstops. Of course, Derek’s #2 was retired by the Yankees.

 

Michael Massetti is a life-long NY Yankees fan and a lover of baseball. In his professional time, he is an Executive Partner with Gartner who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously. All opinions are my own.

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How centerfield made me the leader I am today!

This article is dedicated to a long-time friend, mentor and leader, David Lavalette of Vermont.

  Yankee Stadium Centerfield

Leadership Lessons Learned on the Field of Play

There are myriad stories and metaphors that draw comparisons and contrasts between sports, leadership, and performance. I will add another one to that hefty list.

I played baseball and softball until my mid 40s. I loved roaming the outfield, usually centerfield. My teams won a lot of games and competed at a pretty high level. This is a story from very early in my career when the wisdom of leadership and self-awareness were completely undeveloped.

Some Thoughts About Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence surfaced in management lexicon in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee are three prominent authors and thought leaders in this area of study. Their research has shown that high-performing, financially successful organizations are highly linked to the emotional maturity of the leader. “Exemplified by such capabilities as self-awareness and empathy.”

For many years, the softer side of leadership success was discounted or ignored. Strong, intense military leaders, such as George Patton, were often used as examples of what a successful leader should be like. And, more recently, no one ever accused the legendary Steve Jobs of having a soft side.

Leaders set the tone for the organization. Their mood, approach, personality, and style flow through the organization, whether positive or negative, loud or quiet, or collaborative or confrontational. “The leader’s mood is quite literally contagious, spreading quickly and inexorably throughout the business.”

So, what should a leader focus on – the business, the data, the customers? Given the research by Goleman, et al, the answer is “A leader needs to make sure that not only is he regularly in an optimistic, authentic, high-energy mood, but also that his followers feel and act that way, too.” Goleman calls it “primal leadership.”

 

Just Another Day

It began innocuously. Our team had played together for three years, my first years with them. We were a solid, competitive team, battling for first place each year. Anyone who has ever played competitive sports, whether as part of a team or solo, knows that performance on any given day can be a personal best or a disaster. For me, this night was the latter.

By the middle of the game I was hitting poorly and we were losing. I lost it after I made an out at a critical point in the game. I came back to the team on the bench angry, yelling, and out of control. I was not mad at anyone but myself. I was completely oblivious to the adverse affect it had on my teammates.

At the end of the game, my coach (and co-player and co-worker) Dave came up to me. He said that I had been a very influential and positive force on the team. My energy and passion rubbed off on the team and made us better. But, he highlighted, the reverse was true when I ventured into anger and tantrums.

I had absolutely no idea. I never paid attention to the others while I was lost in my selfish world of no self-awareness, much less self-management. He delivered the message so well (wisdom of experience) that the impression was tremendous. He put his arm around me and told me to stay positive and to keep the others up, too. I was very thankful for the feedback.

I had to change. I was now aware, albeit only at the surface, of the impact one individual could have on the mood and performance of a team or group of people. The journey began.

Time Heals All Wounds

Rarely is a personal style change immediate. It was time to pay attention to myself, others around me, and be aware of my affect on others. As my career was progressing, more and more people were directly impacted by my approach and style. Thankfully, the company’s management development program was fantastic and thorough. There was a lot to learn, absorb, and practice.

At the same time, I joined softball teams that were excellent. I was able to channel the positive instead of the negative much better and winning started to come easier. Of course, there were always bad days, but I learned how to keep it inside and positive – no one play, or game, would distract me from the new course of self-management.

Everything came together in the subsequent years. My leadership roles increased. I paid very close attention to the most successful leaders around me. Certain effective leadership attributes started to surface and they had nothing to do with their technical or professional skills. It was clearly their self-awareness and how they managed their teams that made them excel.

As I practiced and employed the skills of awareness and empathy, the 360 feedback messages I received consistently improved. They accentuated the positive, inspirational, and engaged leadership impact I had developed. The journey is never over, but the influence of that night nearly 30 years ago continues to persist.

Passing It Along

There are myriad resources out there for leadership development and improving performance. I have applied the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) in multiple organizations to start the conversation about style differences and to encourage the dialog for all of my leaders to be aware of themselves and the impact they have on others. Personally, I had to learn how to take my ENTJ type (with the emphasis on the “E”) and effectively lead an organization.

Another set of great resources come from Patrick Lencioni and his consultancy The Table Group. His books, especially “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and “The Advantage,” are great tools for organizations to improve the overall leadership environment.

While no one is perfect, the process of self-awareness and self-management takes time, effort, and help. It is important to reach out to others to get feedback and support to work on improving one’s leadership skills. Enjoy the journey!

ciao…mam

All references and quotes are from “Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance,” Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, December, 2001.

 

Michael Massetti is an executive who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional and a leader! While my playing days are over, I never stop learning from what goes on in the world of sports and business.

How To Be the Biggest Loser, Like LeBron James (NOT!)

Losers

Let’s get something straight! LeBron James is NOT a loser. He never has been and he never will be. For those who call him a loser, I want you to know that I wish I was that good of a loser!

Let’s face it, in the world of sports, and I do mean the entire world, winning is the goal and the fascination. Unless you live in a long-term deprived city rooting for a perennial losing team (like the Chicago Cubs in baseball in the USA), your dreams and hopes at the beginning of every season are to “Win It All!”

Vince Lombardi, a great winner in American football once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Of course, this quote originated in a different form from Henry Russell “Red” Sanders, coach of the UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) American college football team. As the oft-cited rhetorical question goes, “Who ever remembers the team (person) that took 2nd place?”

In addition to the enthrallment with winning, there are the never-ending comparisons to players and teams of the past. With today’s social media providing a platform for anyone and everyone to opine, the “my favorite player (team) is better than yours” debates go on like a perpetual motion machine.

For LeBron James, the comparison is almost always against Michael Jordan, the 6-time NBA champion, 5-time NBA MVP, and 6-time NBA Finals MVP. Is LeBron James a loser because with 2 wins and 4 losses in the NBA Finals he pales in comparison to Michael Jordan’s 6 wins and no losses? Or, Bill Russell’s 11 wins and only 1 loss? Absolutely not!

Just the facts, please

First, let’s take a look at some statistics and facts about LeBron’s most recent performance in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors and his career to date.

  • First player in NBA history not from the 1960s Celtics to appear in 5 consecutive NBA Finals and the first to do it with two different teams.
    • Three of the six years his teams were in the finals they were the statistically lowest rated players (excluding LeBron) in NBA Finals history.
  • First player in NBA history to lead the both teams in the finals in points, rebounds, and assists.
    • He nearly achieved an NBA “triple double” for the finals (more than 10 points, rebounds, and assists – he averaged “only” 9 assists).
    • Between points and assists, he accounted for at least 50 points per game.
  • 4 times NBA MVP (just like during Wayne Gretzky’s and Michael Jordan’s tenures – they should probably name the award after him and give it to others).
  • 2 times NBA Finals MVP.
  • He played 93% of the team’s minutes during the finals this year.
  • He averaged 38.3% of his team’s points in the finals, 2nd only to Michael Jordan’s 38.4% in 1993.
  • His key teammates missed 21 shots during the precious little time they were on the court while LeBron was resting.
  • His two best teammates, NBA All Stars, went down with season-ending injuries during the playoffs.

 

Winning isn’t everything, is it?

Basketball is somewhat unique due to the fact that there are only 5 players on the court at a time. One player can make a huge impact, especially when one is arguably the greatest in the world. Look at the impact that Lionel Messi has in soccer with a much larger field and more players. Their excellence shines, win or lose.

There are many ways to measure a player’s greatness. While Big Data is now getting attention globally for business, it’s been in sports forever. Comparisons abound. Is Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player ever? Some numbers support the hypothesis that he is. Some numbers suggest others are the greatest.

Does the fact that LeBron lost in 4 championship series reduce his excellence? Does the fact that in each series he led his team and the other team either in points or assists or minutes played?

There is only so much a player can do to win it all. For every Batman, there has to be at least one Robin for the team to win. Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. Magic Johnson had Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy. Larry Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. Nobody won it by himself.

If you want to equate winning with solo performances, you might want to look at track, swimming, golf and tennis. However, even in individual sports, one can achieve their personal best ever performance and still lose the match. That does not make them a loser!

 

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t

LeBron did not shoot enough. LeBron shot the ball too much.

LeBron did not drive into the lane enough. LeBron did not shoot enough 3-pointers.

To some, no matter what he did, there was always the more compelling contrarian view. Before and after the game, the talking heads of the media world would argue about what he did, what he didn’t do, what he should have done, and on and on.

LeBron single-handedly took a team to the championship series with one of the weakest championship rosters in NBA history. He’s done that 3 times now. One can argue that not a single player who started alongside LeBron after Kyrie Irving got hurt would have played for the Warriors starting 5. He did everything he could to keep the team in the series, whether by himself (scoring a lot) or enabling others (assists).

Before and after

We have data to show the “LeBron Effect” over a 12-year period. He arrived in Cleveland in 2003. Up until that point, Cleveland finished 2nd place once and 3rd place three times in 33 seasons. During his 7 years in Cleveland, they finished in 1st place twice and 2nd place once – never below 4th place in has last 5 years. They made it past the first round of the playoffs 5 consecutive years and to the NBA Finals once. Including the 2014-2015 season, they have been in 6 consecutive playoffs and a 2nd trip to the Finals.

What happened after LeBron left? Cleveland won 87 games in 4 seasons finishing out of the playoffs and in the lowest tier of the NBA. We already know what happened when he came back this year.

How about Miami? True, the Miami Heat won a championship with Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal in 2006. But, they flirted with excellence for many years and only achieving the pinnacle once. The four years prior to LeBron, they never got further than the first round of the playoffs.

Enter LeBron to Miami: four consecutive NBA Finals and two championships. Say goodbye to LeBron and Miami falls to the bottom tier of their division.

I won’t bore anyone with analytics to show the correlation and causality between LeBron and the success of the teams he plays for. It’s so clear, it’s nearly binary.

Leadership

The last point to address regarding LeBron is his role as a leader. This young man entered the NBA at 19 years old with a degree of fanfare rarely seen in sports. The NBA is one of the few sports where a child can become a man quickly. He was anointed to be the savior of Cleveland – no pressure on that young man. He’s been in the media spotlight for his entire career and the main face of the NBA globally.

As we scrutinize his 6 years of championship series performances, not once did you hear LeBron blaming or deflecting performance issues to his teammates. To the contrary, he’s taken a disproportionate percentage of the “blame” on himself. He speaks positively about his teammates. He talks about hard work. He gives 100% on the court every night – heck, I get tired watching him toil and work harder than anyone out there.

If there is ever a mark of a true leader, especially when you are one of the players (not a coach), it’s how you perform and work with your team. The respect that his teammates have for him is glaringly evident. Regardless of what words they use when asked, their play on the court says it all – he lifts them up to levels they’ve never experienced before. He’s the modern day Wayne Gretzky of basketball.

The greatest?

Finally, just this week the spotlight shone down upon him brightly once again. And, yes, he clearly brought it upon himself. When asked about his confidence for the clearly wavering Cleveland Cavaliers to win the championship while down 3 games to 2, he said “I’m confident because I’m the best player in the world. It’s as simple as that.”

He was trying to inspire his teammates, trying to take the pressure off of them. He could have easily said “If my teammates could only hit a few shots …” He didn’t.

I grew up watching Cassius Clay become Muhammad Ali when he proclaimed, “I am the greatest!” At that time, Ali was raked over the coals for his brashness, but not his heart or his performance. Today, with time providing perspective, he’s revered as one of the greatest boxers and athletes ever. The admiration is global.

“Despite James’s performance for the ages over six games — he averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists — why are there always haters, nit-pickers and naysayers always diminishing his accomplishments?’ (From ESPN)

As Taylor Swift laments, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate …!”

LeBron will have his time, too. And, he will be looked back at as “One of the Greatest!” Not a loser!

Biggest loser?

Don’t you wish you were that great of a loser? I wish my resume were as amazing as LeBron’s!

ciao…mam

 

Michael Massetti is a supply chain executive and a life-long athlete who loves sports and the analogies and metaphors comparing sports, leadership, teams, and performance. He’s also a die-hard Notre Dame and New York Yankees fanatic.