Baseball and the Simplicity of Leadership

April 15, 2015

A Report from the Director of Lewis Center for Church Leadership

Baseball and the Simplicity of Leadership

True achievement often comes from doing the simplest things well.
The new baseball season is upon us, and hope emerges anew in major league cities across the country. Baseball fans and some who had paid little attention previously were amazed last season when the lowly Kansas City Royals made it to the playoffs and World Series for the first time since 1985. And in 2012, the Washington Nationals surprised everyone with an extraordinary year but surprised everyone again the next year by doing very poorly despite their promise. Each new season brings surprises — and that was surely the case in 1995. The season was not one of the best for professional baseball. Following a long strike by players, fans upset with both players and owners expressed their displeasure with lower attendance. But one highlight of an otherwise discouraging year was the pitching of a Los Angeles Dodgers rookie. Hideo Nomo became the first Japanese player to compete in the U.S. major leagues in 30 years. The 26-year-old had been a star in Japan for several years, but many wondered if he could succeed in his new setting. His first performance left little doubt. He pitched five innings against the San Francisco Giants allowing no runs, only one hit, and striking out seven. He went on to set many records in his first season, including the most strikeouts in a game by a Dodger rookie. He broke Sandy Koufax’s record for most strikeouts in a four-game span. Dodger games broadcast in Japan for loyal fans had large audiences even though some began there at 4 a.m. What was his special secret that brought success in the highly sophisticated and finely-tuned world of big league pitching? After his superior performance in his opening game, a reporter asked him his pitching secret. “I just try to throw at the catcher’s mitt as hard as I can,” Nomo replied. While that answer probably belies a level of sophistication and expertise Nomo surely brought to the game, it does serve as a reminder that greatness tends toward the simple. True achievement often comes from doing the simplest things well. Success may be the result of focus on what looks so ordinary that others take it for granted. While we search for new things we must do, let’s make sure we are doing our current tasks well. When we become absorbed with the complexity of issues today, let’s be sure to remember those simple things that remain remarkably the same generation after generation. As the technological options available to us continue to multiply, let’s not neglect the simple, daily human interactions and relationships on which truly great leadership has always been built. Yes, Nomo was a refreshing highlight for discouraged baseball fans 20 years ago. In addition to his pitching exploits, he was also polite to fans, friendly to teammates, and respectful of opponents. A Tokyo journalist who has known Nomo for years said, “No matter whether he wins or loses, he doesn’t lose his poise.” It turns out that he was well-named because “Nomo” means “hero.” Heroic leadership is sometimes quite simple.
Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. A list of his books is available at churchleadership.com/books.

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