Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hall of Fame Leadership

I was recently in Boston for a family vacation. For a history buff, Boston is a charming place to visit filled with innumerable places to explore and enjoy. One piece of true Americana is a visit to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. Besides taking in a game we also enjoyed taking a tour of the park. While there, legendary outfielder Jim Rice was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. He returned to Fenway where in a pre-game ceremony had his number 14 retired.

Rice was a consummate player. During his career Rice hit 1, 451 RBI’s, 382 home runs, had 2,452 career hits, and had a lifetime .298 batting average. He was named the American League MVP in 1978 and was named to eight All-Star teams.

Boston Herald writer Steve Buckley recalled in a recent column a few of the qualities that set Rice apart from others. Most professional athletes are use to signing autographs. After his election to the Hall of Fame the way in which a player signs his autograph changes. “From then on,” Buckley writes, “and forever, decorum dictates that said athlete customizes his autograph with an HOF, followed by the year of induction.”

Rice’ first autographed baseball was not for family, the president, or his mentor. It was for Joe Cochran, the Red Sox longtime equipment manager. The second autograph was for Cochran’s assistant Pookie Jackson. Buckley continues, “Ask Jim Rice to explain and he just shrugs and says, ‘The way I was brought up, and the way I see things now, I’m still the same person. My mom and dad are passed away, but if my mom was here now, she’d be saying, ‘I don’t care how big a baseball star you are or if you are in the Hall of Fame, you’re still my son.’ She never would have treated me any differently if she were here, so I don’t think I should act differently.'”

Rice exemplifies leadership qualities that are worthy of emulation today. Allow me to share a few observations with you for consideration.

Hall of Fame leaders lead by example. Buckley recounts what the late Jack Rogers, the Red Sox’ traveling secretary used to say. “Jim was the one guy I never had to worry about. He’d just ask what time the plane or bus was leaving and he’d be there. And he never complained.”

George Will said, “Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence.” While there may be some professional athletes who have not behaved properly in recent years, Rice is a leader who can be looked up to as a role model.

Hall of Fame leaders remain true to their values. Often time success changes a person. Buckley writes, “Peel away the veneer, though, and there were always stories, dozens of them, about how Rice was unfailingly cordial with regular folks, how he treated clubhouse kids and ushers and front-desk clerks as though they were old fraternity buddies.”

“The secret of a good life,” Norman Thomas wrote, “is to have the right loyalties and hold them in the right scale of values.” Rice never lost touch with common folks which is why he is so revered by fans today. Rice is quoted in Buckley’s story as saying, “Sometimes an individual, when good things happen, will put themselves ahead of other people. Life is not like that.” His genuineness is refreshing and is an admirable leadership quality.

Hall of Fame leaders are rewarded. “Given that he was no Hall of Fame lock, some campaigning by Rice might have helped,” Buckley writes. But that was not Rice’s style. Buckley continues, “Whenever we’d talk to Jim about getting into the Hall of Fame, he’d just say, ‘They should look at my numbers,’ said Red Sox vice president Dick Bresciani. ‘He just wasn’t going to campaign. That just wouldn’t be him.”

A Hall of Fame leader doesn’t have to blow his own whistle. Like Ribe, a leader who works hard, plays by the rules, is considerate of others, and achieves success, will be rewarded.

Albert Einstein had it right when he said, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value.” On the road to success a Hall of Fame leader is one who adds value to those around him. That’s certainly what Jim Rice did.

Former Red Sox manager Don Zimmer said, “He (Rice) might be the most misunderstood player I ever knew. He’s just this…this beautiful person who likes to hang out with his friends.”

The mark of your leadership is not whether you are immortalized or enshrined in some museum. At the end of the day the greatest compliment is to be remembered as a kind, caring, beautiful person.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

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