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Baseball Leadership

14 USMC Leadership Traits

In honor of 2020 Opening Day (as originally scheduled), I decided to post what I wrote a few years back as I was considering how to encourage a group of little-league boys on my son’s team. The coach would print out reminders such as these on half-sheets of paper and go over a quick lesson with the team before practice. With that in mind, I adopted the 14 USMC Leadership Traits (which I learned while a midshipman at the US Naval Academy) to what I call Baseball Leadership. To read about the USMC Traits, check out the book called BACKBONE. These 14 traits are an amazing distillation of what it takes to be a leader.


Justice is the practice of being fair and consistent. A just person considers each side of a situation and bases rewards or punishments on merit.

Baseball Leadership – Umpire Justice!

Baseball Leadership:  The sport has always relied on fair calls and consistent officiating. Knowing that this is a hallmark of the game, you should respect the rules and the officials as they work to provide an even, just playing field for the sport.

Be honest with yourself about why you decide. Avoid favoritism. Try to be fair always and treat all things and people in an equal manner.


Judgment is your ability to think about things calmly and in an orderly fashion so that you can make proper decisions.

Baseball Leadership:  All players must exercise judgment on what play to make. After catching a ball in the outfield, you judge distance and your ability when determining where to throw the ball. As a baserunner, you require quick, accurate judgment to know whether to tag up, freeze, or run on contact. All fielders must think through each pitch, judging the count, game situation, and strategy to think through their actions ahead of time, increasing their accuracy and speed in making game-time decisions.

You can improve your judgment if you avoid making rash decisions. Approach problems with a common-sense attitude.


Dependability means that you can be relied upon to perform your duties properly. It means that you can be trusted to complete a job. It is the willing and voluntary support of the policies and orders of the chain of command. Dependability also means consistently putting forth your best effort to achieve the highest standards of performance.

Baseball LeadershipIn any team sport, it is paramount that the players rely upon each other. Nowhere is that clearer than when a batter hits a ground ball to the first baseman.  Depending on the depth of the ball and positioning of the first baseman, they may not be able to beat the batter in a foot race to the bag. The batter has 90 feet to go to get to first base; however, the pitcher has just less than 60. So, as long as the pitcher moves toward first base every time the batter hits a grounder to the first base side of the infield, they will get to the bag first, and the first baseman can throw the ball to the bag, knowing that the pitcher will be there. That is dependability.

You can increase your dependability by forming the habit of being where you are supposed to be on time, by not making excuses, and by carrying out every task to the best of your ability regardless of whether you like it or agree with it.


Initiative is acting even though you have not received orders. It means meeting new and unexpected situations with prompt action. It includes using resourcefulness to get something done without the expected material or methods being available to you.

The ongoing debate about the 3-0 pitch. I say let the batter hit! Initiative!

Baseball Leadership:  In certain hitting situations, the coach gives the batter the “green light.” This signal means that the decision to swing at pitch number 4 in a 3-0 count is up to the batter. The batter uses initiative, analysis, and judgment to decide whether to swing, instead of “taking all the way,” hoping for a walk.

To improve your initiative, work on staying mentally and physically alert. Be aware of the things that you need to do and then to do them without having to be told.


Decisiveness means that you can make accurate decisions without delay. Get all the facts and weigh them against each other. By acting calmly and quickly, you should arrive at a sound decision. You announce your decisions in a clear, firm, professional manner.

Baseball Leadership:  When the runner on first base receives the steal signal from the coach, they must be decisive. There is no hesitation – once the pitcher moves toward the plate, the runner goes! Head down, arms pumping and legs churning, headed toward second base. Perhaps a quick look back over their left shoulder to see what the catcher is going to do. Finally, the runner makes a decisive finish with a dive into the bag, or with a feet-first pop-up slide, ready for action.

Practice being positive in your actions instead of acting half-heartedly or changing your mind on an issue.


Tact means that you can deal with people in a manner that maintains good relations and avoid problems. It means that you are polite, calm, and firm.

Impending collision during a pop-up requires baseball leadership tact.
Baseball Leadership
Tact to avoid a collision

Baseball Leadership:  As a spectator, nothing is worse than a pop-up to shallow left or right field. With two outfielders and at least one infielder converging on the ball, time slows down. The players’ eyes are to the sky, and not on each other. Collision is imminent. But then, seemingly at the last moment, one of them calls the others off, and with tact shown by all, they avert the collision.

Begin to develop your tact by trying to be courteous and cheerful always. Treat others as you would like them to treat you.


Integrity means that you are honest and truthful in what you say or do. You put honesty, sense of duty, and sound moral principles above all else.

Baseball Leadership:  Perhaps integrity is easiest to see when it is absent. With the advent of super slo-mo video, and camera angles everywhere in the modern ballpark, it is laughable when the player pretends to have caught a ball, but instead pulled one out of their pocket. Everyone knows that they know that we all know that the batter is not out. Sometimes we applaud their spirit with a short, humorous attempt at convincing the officials that they caught it, but more than that, and we see an integrity problem.

Be honest and truthful always. Stand up for what you believe to be right.


Enthusiasm is a sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of your duties. If you are enthusiastic, you are optimistic, cheerful, and willing to accept the challenges.

The throw over to first... with Enthusiasm!
The throw over to first… with Enthusiasm!

Baseball Leadership:  I never understand why the crowd boos when the pitcher throws over to first base. Perhaps it is because sometimes the toss appears half-hearted and low energy. But the enthusiastic pitcher knows what they are doing, for they are trying to interrupt the batter’s timing and purpose. After lulling them to sleep (reducing their enthusiasm), the pitcher plans to use their best move. It was the 5 or 6 slow throws (maybe with a medium mixed in for good measure) that allows the pitcher to bring the best last, and catch the runner off the base. Now that is good baseball and something about which to be enthusiastic!

Understanding and belief in your mission add to your enthusiasm for your job. Try to understand why you are required to perform even the most tedious jobs.


Bearing is the way you conduct and carry yourself. Your manner should reflect alertness, competence, confidence, and control.

Baseball Leadership:  Maybe it is the traditionalist in me, but a crucial part of baseball is the uniforms. Nothing offends me as a fan as seeing a sloppy appearance, untucked shirt, or pants askew. Even after a head-first dive in the dirt, a sliding catch in the lush green grass of the outfield, or a couple of plate appearances with a pine-tar laden stick of ash on their shoulder, the professional ballplayer maintains their bearing.

To develop bearing, you should hold yourself to the highest standards of personal conduct. Never be content with meeting only the minimum requirements.


Unselfishness means that you avoid making yourself comfortable at the expense of others.  Be considerate of others. Give credit to those who deserve it.

Baseball Leadership:  Sometimes it is called “small ball” but really it is unselfishness in action. Bunting the runner over to second or third, taking an inside pitch on the arm, or a sacrifice fly. All of these are unselfish acts, done to help the team and not necessarily the individual. Baseball does a good job rewarding these unselfish acts by keeping detailed statistics, but that is not the motivation.

Avoid using your position for personal gain, safety, or pleasure at the expense of others. Be considerate of others.


Courage is what allows you to remain calm while recognizing fear. Moral courage means having the inner strength to stand up for what is right and to accept blame when something is your fault. Physical courage means that you can continue to function when there is physical danger present.

Philadelphia Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins gets hit by a pitch from Cleveland Indians’ Cliff Lee in the fifth inning of a baseball game Monday, June 18, 2007, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Baseball Leadership:  They say the hardest thing to do is get back in the batter’s box. This is especially hard after an absence (perhaps an injury or an off-season), or after being hit by a pitch. As a player grows and matures, there is nothing more important than consistent development as a hitter. I can’t imagine the courage that it takes to stand in there, just inches away from a 90+ mph fastball, or even a 78 mph Cliff Lee curveball!

You can begin to control fear by practicing self-discipline and calmness. If you fear to do certain things required in your daily life, force yourself to do them until you can control your reaction.


Knowledge is the understanding of a science or art. Your knowledge shows that you have acquired information and that you understand people. Therefore, knowledge should be wide-ranging and in addition to knowing your job, you should know your team’s policies and keep up with current events.

Baseball Leadership:  The essentials of baseball defense boil down to three things: ball, base, backup. It is knowledge of these three, during each play, that allows a fielder to perform properly. First, the ball – know where it is going, where to position yourself for the catch, and know what to do with it next (where to throw). Second, the base – if the ball is not playable for you as a fielder, your next responsibility is to cover one of the bases (or home plate) as appropriate. You must know who is going where. Third, the backup – without a ball to catch and a base to cover, the last thing is to back someone else up. Every play. You must have the knowledge of where your backup would be most effective.

Increase your knowledge by remaining alert. Listen, observe, and find out about things you don’t understand. Study, read, and watch those around you to learn what you need to improve.


Loyalty means that you are devoted to your country and your seniors, peers, and subordinates. You owe unwavering loyalty up and down the chain of command, to seniors, subordinates, and peers.

Baseball Leadership:  No matter how the season turns out, no matter who ends up on the roster from year to year, I will always be a Phillies fan. I follow their players wherever they go. I am sure that if you like baseball, you have a favorite team, too!

To improve your loyalty, you should show your loyalty by never discussing the problems of your team with outsiders. Never talk about coaches unfavorably in front of your teammates. Once a member of your team has made a decision, carry out that decision willingly as if it were your own.


Endurance is the mental and physical stamina that is measured by your ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship. For example, enduring pain during a conditioning march to improve stamina is crucial in the development of leadership.

Cal Ripken passes Lou Gehrig’s record 2,130 consecutive games on September 6, 1995 (Reuters/Gary Hershorn photo)

Baseball Leadership:  The baseball season is long, with 165 games. Plus the postseason if your team does well. Nowhere is baseball leadership endurance seen more clearly than in the example set by Cal Ripken, baseball’s ironman, with 2,632 consecutive games. That is 17 years without a day off. That is endurance.

Incidentally, I saw Cal Ripken on a plane flight. He was sitting near the front of the cabin, not too far away from me. I had recognized him before we boarded. I waited until just before the fasten seatbelt light before final approach. Then I approached him for an autograph. I imagine that he appreciated my timing because as soon as I had him sign for my son, others figured it out. But the ironman only had to sign for a few minutes before the landing announcement!

Develop your endurance by engaging in physical training that strengthens your body. Finish every task to the best of your ability by forcing yourself to continue when you are physically tired, and your mind is sluggish.

Baseball Leadership — today’s ActionLink. Be sure to check out more leadership and communication principles from P H Tyson and Associates. See the Definition of a Leader for more about leadership traits.

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