By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Leadership in sports is a general term, used to try and define why a team has done well – or what elements are lacking, in other instances.
With the Chicago Cubs, you must travel from locker to locker in search of the straw that stirs the drink in the crunch time of September baseball.
“I believe we have a group of leaders,” reliever Brian Duensing said on WSCR’s “Inside The Clubhouse” over the weekend. “We have the leaders with the pitchers — (John) Lackey, (Jon) Lester, (Jake) Arrieta. I think (Anthony) Rizzo is the vocal guy of the players. As a group, if something needs to be said to the entire clubhouse, it is (Jason) Heyward. I think this is all good. If you have more than one leader, then you as an individual have more than one person to relate to. We have three or four different leaders, and they lead in different ways. That’s what you need in a clubhouse.”
Interesting perspectives on leadership come from the entire room. Heyward is the man who gave the ultimate World Series speech in the midst of a collapse by the Cubs late in Game 7 last fall and will long be remembered as delivering the defining leadership moment in the team’s history. With the Cubs having blown a three-run lead and with a rain delay in place, Heyward set the tone by reminding teammates that they still were in control of their destiny.
“I believe there is leadership in every locker on this team,” Heyward said. “The point is you do not want to look to the other person to get things done. We trust each other to be in that spot. We trust each other every day to go and get the job done.”
Nothing said leadership like Kris Bryant pointing out to teammates and all who would listen that the Cubs being down 3-1 in the World Series was no big deal last year.
“We have won three games in a row more than any team in baseball,” Bryant said of a group that had won three games in a row or more 17 times. “Why wouldn’t you think we will do that again?”
Many believe a club’s manager is the ultimate leader on a team. The clubhouse leader, however, speaks a different language when talking to their peers.
“Guys that have been there and done it really have to show up right now, regarding conversations with each other and talking about a bad day,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “They need to pick each other up somehow. We, as coaches, address it all year long.”
“Those moments are a little heightened now. We pay more attention to little things on the field. When you get to this point of the season and you have a chance to get back to the dance, the guys who have been there before need to be there to help the guys who have not been.”
Playoff experience is golden this time of year. As young as the Cub roster is, they still have plenty of positive postseason play under their belts.
“We are in the middle of a pennant race here,” veteran catcher Alex Avila said. “When I look around the locker room here, guys seem to embrace that. They do not get overwhelmed where we are at in the season right now. The best way is to embrace those pressure-cooking moments. You, of course, will fail at times. Do not run away from pressure, but it is okay to fail as long as you are not intimidated by it. We have a lot of experience here, and that is a big plus.”
Maddon, of course, is a proven commodity when leading a club into the final month of competition.
“He has admitted at times he thought he made mistakes,” Heyward said. “We are all better off when we are responsible for our failings. The key here has been not to ever put blame on anyone else if things go awry. We are the ones playing, and the responsibility is right there. If you think differently, you have got some soul searching to do.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.