Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Power of a Grateful Leader

Last week a milestone took place that was seven decades in the making. Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees broke Lou Gehrig’s hit record with a single to right field. Gehrig’s record for the most hits by a Yankee player stood at 2,721 for a little more than seventy years.

While not a Yankees fan by any stretch, no one can deny that Jeter has rightfully taken his place among Yankee greats. His work ethic and talent makes for a successful combination and without question a team leader.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner released a statement following the game saying, “For those who say today’s game can’t produce legendary players, I have two words: Derek Jeter. Game in and game out, he just produces. As historic and significant as becoming the Yankees’ all-time hit leader is, the accomplishment is all the more impressive because Derek is one of the finest young men playing the game today. That combination of character and athletic ability is something he shares with the previous record holder, Lou Gehrig.”

Gehrig was struck down in his prime with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which later came to be known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. As a first baseman for the Yankees in the 1920s and 1930s, he was noted for his power hitting. Gehrig averaged 147 RBIs per season. His longevity was remarkable. He played in 2, 130 consecutive games, the longest streak in baseball until Cal Ripken Jr. broke that record in 1995.

Only July 4, 1939 the team sponsored Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee stadium. In between games of a double header, Gehrig was honored by his team. His speech that day is what baseball lore is made of. The remarks he made serve to remind us as leaders of what is truly important in life.

He taught us humility through success. Gehrig set many records that stood for decades. Nicknamed “Iron Horse”, Gehrig was the consummate player who worked hard at his craft every game. He set the record for the most grand slams (23), was the first baseball player on the cover of a Wheaties box, and when fans voted for baseball’s All-Century Team, Gehrig was the leading vote getter.

Despite all of those remarkable accomplishments, Gehrig said in his speech, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.’

Gehrig was a man of great accomplishment in his career at a level few attain. With class and humility, Gehrig demonstrated why he was respected by his teammates and competitors, and adored by his fans. While achieving greatness he remained true to who he was.

He taught us to be grateful for our friends. “Look at these great men,” he said, “which one of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure I am lucky….When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something.” Gehrig was a man with many friends who respected him not just as a player but as a person.

Leaders today understand the power and importance of friendships that transcend the boundaries of business and competition. How often do we forget this simple lesson of what is truly important?

He taught us the blessing of family. “When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter- that’s something,” he said. He continues, “When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.”

Gehrig’s perspective and priorities not just made him a great ball player, but a great leader. He ended his speech by saying, “So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.” Gehrig chose to live out his days not bitter for the bad breaks he got, but in grateful appreciation for life’s blessings.

Two years after the speech at Yankee stadium, Gehrig passed away. While he may have lost the battle with his illness, the way in which he lived his life on and off the field will continue to inspire. Congratulations to Derek Jeter – those were big shoes to fill.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

No comments:

Post a Comment