First off, I'm glad to see you back, Doc. The world needs men like you doing what you've done for as long as I've known you. We are enriched by whatever measures of your presence we're blessed to receive.
In case you didn't read the by-line, this is Jonezy. I spend most of my time lurking these days as my limited internect access (and even desire to use it) dwindles more with each passing day. I miss y'all, certainly, but it's hard for me to balance my life while remaining connected so I mostly step back from online engagements that aren't business-related.
Something came up in a recent conversation on FieldGulls where I noted the difference between exemplars and leaders. Then again, here, a conversation turned to Alex Rodriguez' insatiable desire to be considered a *leader* by his teammates, whether it was with Seattle, or Texas, or New York, and how he came up short in that regard. So it seems to me that, for whatever reason(s), we Americans/English speakers have curious difficulty separating the concepts of 'leader' with 'exemplar.' And it seems to me that this can be a little slippery-slope-y if we don't think on it clearly now and again. So I thought a few moments' rumination on the subject might be fun, but if that's not your game, scroll on by...
Start with some (Google) definitions:
Exemplar: a person or thing serving as a typical example or excellent model.
Leader: the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.
Ok, so right off we can see that dictionaries aren't going to settle this conundrum. But we can see some differences in the directions of these definitions, the most important (to my mind) being that an exemplar is a model of something. It's a functional version of something which is either typical, or excellent, but in my experience when people use the term 'exemplar' they mean the latter while generally opting for something like 'example' when discussing something more typical or 50th percentile. So it seems correct for us to narrow 'exemplar' down a bit to 'a person or thing serving as an excellent or superior model.'
With 'leader,' there is a notable absence in the description of anything to do with the leader's relationship to, or membership within the group, organization, or country being led. This, I think, is *key* to establishing the demarkation in this 'exemplar vs. leader' dichotomy. Put simply: a leader doesn't need to possess any real affinity with the people they are leading in order to be an effective leader of those people. This is why businesspeople are generally good at pretty much any type of business, regardless of what the business happens to be (manufacturing, service, import/export, tech, etc..). You don't have to be a great IT professional to marshal a team of IT professionals into producing a competitive product and carving a niche out in the marketplace. Business is business, because humans are humans and leadership is leadership.
Alex Rodriguez was, without question, one of the finest baseball players in the history of the sport. Whatever you might think of his personality, or of his appetite for gummy bears, he was easily one of the most potent bats the game has ever seen. There weren't fifty players better than him in the history of the game. Heck, there might not have been twenty, and Fangraphs has him #13 on the all-time WAR leaderboard. By any objective, fair-minded measure, he was an exemplar of his sport. At his peak he did *everything* at a superior level, and his megawatt smile was proverbial icing on his face-of-the-sport face. He was showered with money, both literally and ironically (remember his return to Seattle after signing with Texas?), and was a darling of the baseball world who reveled in his seemingly inevitable march on the all-time home run record. He was unstoppable. The player of his generation. And everyone knew it.
And here's where the matter begins to teeter on the border outlined by the 'exemplar vs. leader' dichotomy. To my mind, there is little question that Alex Rodriguez was more successful than every player he ever took the field alongside. Use whatever metric you choose to employ in countering my claim, but I think you'll find the suggestion is (somewhat surprisingly, at least it was to me) irrefutable. So why, then, did he play second (or third?) fiddle to men like Edgar, Junior, Buhner and Wilson during his time in Seattle? Then after moving to Texas, he sat solidly behind Palmeiro, Juan Gone, and possibly even Pudge on the leadership ladder.
The final nail in the coffin came before he'd ever suited up for the Yankees. Upon his arrival to New York, it was made clear even before his private jet's tires cooled off from landing that he would be deferring to Jeter by moving to 3B instead of making the more obvious move of Jeter to 3B or the OF. A-Rod was the superior defender of the two at SS, and his bat was considerably more valuable. Jeter's legs, meanwhile, would have made for a butter-smooth transition to the outfield. It *seemed* obvious that A-Rod would end up at SS while Jeter moved off to accommodate him.
So why didn't it happen?
Because not all exemplars are leaders, and not all leaders are exemplars. But if you ever happen to get both in the same person, you'd be a fool not to install that person as the beating heart of your organization.
Rafael Palmeiro was not A-Rod's equal on the field or in the box. Neither was Jeter. Surprisingly, neither was Jr. when all was said and done, and trying to make the case that Edgar was somehow a 'better baseball player' than A-Rod is a pretty laughable assertion. He *did* do some things better than A-Rod, but on balance you'd take A-Rod several rounds above 'Gar in the all-time fantasy draft and you'd never question the decision. But a guy like Edgar, whose leadership was improbably manifest in his actual performance (remember all those long AB's in the middle of a game where the opposing pitcher was mowing the M's down? or the opposite-field groundballs to advance the runners instead of gripping-and-ripping for glory?), endeared himself to the fans in ways a guy like A-Rod never could. I think much of that endearment should be attributed to his leadership, which humans have been conditioned by tens of thousands of years of social development/evolution to recognize at a glance. After all, follow the wrong leader (even if that leader's got enough charisma to light up Vegas and the physical prowess of Conan the Barbarian) and you have a greater chance of dying than if you followed the right leader.
Look at the NFL and you can see how the 'leader vs. exemplar' dichotomy is often much, much clearer than it is in baseball. How many teams have special teamers who serve as player-coaches, but take few (if any) snaps on offense or defense? It seems like *every* team has one or two of those guys on the roster to start each season. And on the other end of the spectrum are the perpetually mercurial, prima donna wide receivers who, like A-Rod, are better at what they do that everyone else on the field. But how many WR's are also considered legitimate leaders in their own rights? Larry Fitzgerald comes to mind, and I'm sure there are others, but you get the point I'm making: exemplary athletic ability does not confer upon someone the mantle of leadership, even among fellow athletes. Russell Wilson is the rare combination of leader and exemplar, which is a huge part of why he's beloved (both locally an nationally). Is he the best player on his team? Most seasons of his career, the answer probably would be 'no.' But he's still the undisputed Team Leader, and I think we all know that he earned every bit of that mantle.
Alex Rodriguez was, perhaps, the most striking example of an exemplar who was not a leader that we've seen in MLB's recent history. He did *everything* on the baseball field better than *everyone* he played with. He was a baseball god. Full stop. He was also unable to ever, for a single season on any of the three teams he played for, ascend to the top of Mount Olympus and take charge of his fellow sportsmen in the same way that even a relatively lowly player like Dan Wilson (who we all love and appreciate) could do year after year. Heck, even Jay Buhner was commonly considered a team leader with his ongoing hijinks and through-the-front-door approach.
Exemplary performers, on whatever field they choose to compete, are automatically regarded more highly than their fellows. It is my (not altogether uncommon) opinion that the concepts of 'merit' and 'leadership' continue to drift closer toward each other in Western societies precisely because we believe in fairly compensating excellence. We cannot shovel money quickly enough at people like Zuckerberg and Bezos for having contributed to our daily existences so significantly, but I think that, like with our athletes, we'd probably be wise to recognize that their exemplary performances in the marketplace should not automatically confer the mantle of leadership, or even significant quotients of authority. That isn't to say that being mega-wealthy negates their potential for leadership, just that they are not fundamentally the same thing or are even linked to each other.
Pay them their money, as we paid A-Rod his, and be glad for their contributions to your overall happiness. But don't ignore the examples set by our hometown ball clubs when they make perfectly clear that even 'meatheads and jocks' know the difference between an exemplar and a leader.
Even if they don't eloquently verbalize it.