During this past week two icons from the baseball world – Lou Brock and Tom Seaver – sadly passed away. They largely played during the same era and according to ESPN, as a hitter Mr. Brock faced Mr. Seaver as a pitcher 157 times – that was Mr. Brock’s most plate appearances against any pitcher and Mr. Brock was the batter that Mr. Seaver faced the most.
While their enormous talents on the baseball field provided so many great memories for baseball fans like myself, their legacies also offer these valuable lessons that are applicable to all of us who work in Corporate America:
Identify, Embrace & Don’t Lose Great Talent
In 1964 the Chicago Cubs traded Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1977 the New York Mets traded Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds. In both cases the Cubs and Mets made poor trades, received limited talent in return and essentially discarded these two future baseball Hall of Famers. After Mr. Brock was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals he blossomed into a star outfielder and led the Redbirds to three World Series and two World Series Championships in 1964 and 1967. Although Mr. Seaver’s best days as a pitcher was as a member of the New York Mets, after he was traded he still remained a very productive pitcher for the rest of the career, he threw his first and only no-hitter in 1978 and he won 113 games in his post-New York Mets career with the Reds, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox. These bad baseball trades serve to remind us that people are any organization’s greatest asset. As leaders we all need to be highly skilled in identifying great talent, we need to know when to “re-recruit” such talent, we need to nurture such talent and we need to provide opportunities for that talent to be successful.
Prepare, Prepare & Prepare
Both Lou Brock and Tom Seaver were masters at their respective crafts. Mr. Brock was known as one of the baseball’s most prolific base stealers as he is second all-time in career stolen bases with 938 and he even stole 118 bases during the 1974 season. As a pitcher Mr. Seaver won 311 games during his career and earned the coveted Cy Young Award 3 times. While they both of course had outstanding natural athletic abilities, they both took their respective talent to the next level by excellent preparation and hard work. In the case of Mr. Brock – in an era when ballplayers did not watch or study videos of themselves or opposing ballplayers as they do nowadays – Mr. Brock filmed pitchers on an eight-millimeter camera. He studied the films to try to gain an edge on pitchers so that he could get a better jump off their respective pitching deliveries in order to steal a base. Mr. Seaver was also maniacal in his preparation. Gil Hodges, Jr, the son of Mr. Seaver’s former NY Mets manager who led the “Amazin Mets” to their first World Series Championship in 1969, offered the following quote in this Newsday article: “The only thing my dad always told me about Tom was nobody was prepared for a game like he did. He never left anything to chance.” As true students of the great game of baseball, Mr. Brock and Mr. Seaver never settled for complacency and they constantly honed their skills so they could perform at their highest levels. Being highly successful in our own professions requires a similar Lou Brock and Tom Seaver type of commitment to hard work, preparation and constant learning.
Be a Terrific Teammate
While the baseball world called Tom Seaver “Tom Terrific” because of his excellence as a pitcher, by many accounts he was also a terrific teammate who helped make his colleagues better. A recent NY Times article talked about how Mr. Seaver mentored a then young and somewhat “raw” pitcher from the Dominican Republic named Mario Soto during the early 1980s while they were teammates on the Reds. He did the same a few years later with another then young pitcher Roger Clemens when they were teammates with the Red Sox in 1986. Mr. Brock was also an equally great teammate. As mentioned in this article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Keith Hernandez, the 1979 co-Most Valuable Player in the National League said, “I don’t think I would have made it without Lou. For him to be a superstar and I, as a young kid, who was struggling, to take me under his wing and offer all his advice is a testament to who he was. He was an extraordinary man.” As we work at our respective organizations, think about opportunities to help make your teammates better. One of the most important legacies that we can leave is making a positive impact on the lives of others.
Resiliency is Key
As a lifelong New York Yankees baseball fan, I have grown increasingly frustrated at how the current era of young and physically strong Yankees players seem to be highly injury-prone as they unfortunately spend more time getting medical treatment from their trainers instead of being on the baseball diamond. This was never the case for Mr. Brock or Mr. Seaver as they hardly spent any time on the injured list – previously known as the disabled list – when they played in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. From 1964 to 1974, Mr. Brock played in over 150+ games per year (out of a maximum of 162 games) – many of which were played in the sweltering heat of St. Louis. Likewise from 1967 to 1979 Mr. Seaver started 30+ games as a pitcher per year. The incredible resiliency that Mr. Brock and Mr. Seaver demonstrated throughout their careers is something that we can all marvel at as business professionals. In fact, the next time you find it difficult to “show up” virtually at work nowadays or complain about participating on yet another Microsoft Teams or Zoom call, think about Mr. Brock’s and Mr. Seaver’s dedication to their own workplaces.
Mr. Brock (19 years) and Mr. Seaver (20 years) also had very long careers in Major League Baseball as Mr. Brock retired at 40 and Mr. Seaver at 41 years of age. Towards the twilight of their respective careers on the field they also needed to embrace change and reinvent themselves in order to keep on playing. Near the end of his career during the 1978 season as age was catching up to him, Mr. Brock lost his starting job in left field as he was mired in a prolonged hitting slump. He returned the following year with a vengeance as a 40 year old as he hit for a .304 batting average, surpassed 3,000 career hits and earned the “Comeback Player of the Year” – the first player to be so named in his final season in Major League Baseball. Early in his career Mr. Seaver was known as a “power pitcher” but as he lost velocity on his fastball during the late 1970s he needed to rely more on other pitches, to lean on his extensive experience and to constantly change the speeds and locations of his pitches in order to keep hitters off-balance. Whether it be in baseball or in business, Mr. Brock and Mr. Seaver confirmed that the only constant is change and that regardless of our professions we all need to embrace change and adapt in order to continue to be successful.
Be Great Ambassadors for your Organizations
Mr. Brock and Mr. Seaver are respectively synonymous with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets brands. Mr. Brock was the heart and soul of the St. Louis Cardinals for so many years and as a stolen base artist he also stole the hearts of legions of Cardinals fans. Mr. Seaver was affectionately known as “The Franchise” when he was a member of the New York Mets, led them from being perennial losers to their first World Series Championship in 1969 and is without a doubt the greatest Met of all-time. Due to their performance on the field and their extreme popularity off the field, these two men were great ambassadors for their teams – and for the great game of baseball. As representatives of your own employers, think about opportunities for you to serve as a leading brand ambassador for your respective organizations and to help your employer earn and maintain the trust of your company’s customers, partners and employees.
The respective legacies of Lou Brock and Tom Seaver will live on and off the baseball diamond forever.