Classic card of the week

Expos Leaders, 1987 Topps

What is “leadership?” Is it inspiring your team to win with a grandiose speech behind the closed doors of a closed-door meeting? Is it marching an oppressed people out of Egypt with Divine assistance? Is it boosting the morale of an army of men, fatigued from battle, by convincing your superiors to get them new boots? Or, is it standing on the pitcher’s mound, hands on your hips, waiting for your relief pitcher to arrive in an absurd bullpen car?

Leadership is all of these things, but mostly the last one. In 1987, the leaders of the Montreal Expos were an old man in a baseball uniform, some umpire, and Fitzgerald.

A picture is worth a thousand words of leadership, and although the matter is generally subjective, there has literally never been a picture as inspiring as this one. Obviously, an Expos pitcher was not performing adequately, or was tired after throwing a bunch of pitches. What to do? Let’s ask a leader.

Me: Buck, what do you do when a pitcher is not pitching well, or is tired from pitching?

Buck Rodgers, Manager, Montreal Expos: I get his ass outta there!

Amazing. But there are other, more understated styles of leadership. Let us ask another leader for his perspective on things.

Me: Ump, what do you do when there’s a pitching change, but everybody gathered on the mound is dilly-dallying?

Umpire: Welp, I hike my pants up, head out there and halfheartedly ask them to break it up. Then I’ll linger for a bit of small talk. Maybe I’ll make a joke about my ex-wife or something. Then I’ll turn around and go back.

I don’t want to get all dramatic, but I would run through a wall for that umpire.

It is indeed apropos that this picture is set in dream sequence mode, as I have often dreamt about leading others under similar circumstances. Here is the scene in my dream: Johnson is goofing up, shaking off signs, giving up runs. I am pissed. I walk out there slowly and say, “Johnson, what gives?” Johnson is like, whatevs. I say, “Gimmie the ball!” and I tap my left arm. The bullpen coach can’t really see that, but it’s all for show—I already called him on the bullpen phone, thinking ahead like a leader. Garcia the catcher arrives, spits some tobacco on the ground. I pat Johnson on the ass as he walks away, and we wait. Ump comes out there and I’m like, “I knew I shoulda retired, Billy!" He snickers. Walks away. Tannenbaum the lefty gets there, and I tell him to throw strikes. He does. We win the game, Johnson learns his lesson. I wake up. It’s time for work. Better not be late. Don’t want my boss to get upset.

Let’s check the back for leadership stats:

The three leaders featured on the front of the card are surprisingly absent from the back, but that just goes to show ya’ that leadership isn’t always about numbers, or helping your team win with the actual things that you do on the field. Sometimes it’s about making the tough decisions, and waiting for those decisions to arrive. Sometimes leadership is just standing there in uniform, with everything else implied. It's leadership like this that has made the Montreal Expos what they are today.