Sometimes, the best leaders step away from the game.
Salvador Perez is one of the best leaders (and catchers) in major league ball today. Nevertheless, he stepped away at a time when, you can be sure, he desperately wanted to stay in the game.
It was the 12th inning, Game 5, of the World Series. The Royals were hanging on in extra innings. Perez singled. And then he left the game so pinch runner Jarrod Dyson could take his place. Relinquishing his spot on first base to a faster runner meant that Perez would no longer be in the game to catch or, perhaps more importantly, to encourage and collaborate with any pitchers who would need to hold the Mets at 2 points IF the Royals managed to tie the game in this critical inning.
Perez, the team’s 3-time Gold Glove winner and fun-loving backbone, left the game. Team manager Ned Yost called this his biggest regret in the post-season when he told Bleacher Report “I think if I had one regret during the whole playoffs, (it) was I had to pinch run for Sal there in that inning. But it opened up the door for us to score five. I really wish that Sal could have been out there to jump in (Wade Davis’s) arms when we got that final out.”
Imagine yourself in Perez’s shoes. You’re an important contributor behind the plate and at the plate (.364 in the World Series). You’re a fan favorite. You’re a strong contender to be named MVP if your team wins the Series. You’re deeply invested in the other players and in this game. You’re essential. How would you feel about leaving the game?
Now contrast Perez, who left the game, to Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey. Harvey dominated through 8 innings of that game. So far, it was lights out. He had a chance to pitch a scoreless game in the World Series, a feat achieved by few pitchers.
When, in the bottom of the 8th inning, the Mets manager signaled that he’d be taking Harvey out, the cameras captured a passionate Harvey saying “No way” over and over again, demanding to stay in the game. And the audio between innings captured the crowd of 44,000 fans chanting “Harvey, Harvey,” demanding that the manager keep their beloved “Dark Knight” pitcher in the game.
With a 2-point lead, fans making their preference clear, and Harvey feeling strong, the team manager relented. He put Harvey back in for the 9th inning. Later, he regretted the decision. He said his heart overruled his head. He knew, logically, that the inning was beyond reach for a pitcher who’d been through Tommy John surgery and had already thrown nearly 100 pitches this game.
What if Harvey hadn’t asked to stay in the game? What if he, like Perez, had acknowledged his own limitations and accepted his manager’s decision in that moment? Chances are that the Royals would not have scored 7 runs, winning the game 7-2 and clinching the World Series.
Leaders, like everyone, have limitations. Self-awareness about your own limitations is essential. Having the humility to concede your limitations is not optional. There is no shame in stepping aside and making room for a stronger player. Going for individual glory at the risk of compromising the team’s success is not what leaders do.
Perez stepped aside. Because he did, Dyson stole second base and soon scored. The momentum picked up from there, and the Royals won. They won because they played as a team.
When it was all said and done, Perez still received an individual honor. He was named MVP of the World Series. He earned that honor by playing well. He made the honor possible by not playing at all in that single moment when he stepped aside to let Dyson into the game.
As a leader, where do you need to step aside and let someone else get into the game?
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