So You Think You Know Jeff Bagwell?

What is My Point?

Jeff taught me that great leaders care about people. And more importantly, they pass along their knowledge of leadership to others.

Why Does it Matter?

Teams with great leadership will win.  Teams with no leadership might win on occasion, though that’s pretty rare.  But no team will succeed over time if their leaders only care about themselves

Mike Maddux

Mike Maddux was the pitching coach for AA Round Rock in 2000.    He and I had no real reason to be around each other, whether we were on or off the field. But, I would always dress early and get out to the field before anyone else was there.  The next person out of the clubhouse would be Mike.  He would sit down next to me and we would talk baseball until batting practice started. We immediately hit it off.

After the last game of the season in Round Rock, Keith Ginter and I were called up to the Big Leagues.  The night of the call was amazing.  We had just won the Texas League Championship and suddenly were called to fulfill our dreams of becoming Major League ballplayers.  This is what Maddux said to me:

“Have fun and shut your mouth.  Don’t say a word.  Get there early and get dressed.  When you are on the road, don’t take the team bus.  Take a taxi and be there first.  Just listen to everyone and get out of the way.  Congratulations!”

Walking to the Locker Room for the First Time

Ok. Don’t talk.  That is going to be hard.  But I am really nervous so I probably won’t be able to say a word anyway.  I hope they put my locker somewhere out of the way.  It will probably be at the end of the clubhouse, in a spot that’s all dark and quiet, the one spot no one wants to be.  That will be good.  Just get in, put your stuff on and get out of there.  Mike said to be silent. Here we go.

Where’s My Locker?

When I first walked into the Astros clubhouse I was surprised by its shape.  It is in the shape of an “eye” with doors on either corner.  One is the entrance and exit, and the other leads to the restroom.  There is a large built-in television cabinet in the middle of the room that faced Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio’s lockers.  That spot is where the team leaders’ lockers are placed.  There was also an empty locker between their lockers.  (Usually the players who are considered the “best” will have an empty locker next to them at home and on the road.  It is a sign of respect by the clubhouse managers.) I took in the entire scene before me, knowing how few players had the opportunity to experience what I was going through.

Then I realized I was standing in the middle of the clubhouse, staring at lockers that weren’t mine. I needed to find my locker so I could implement Maddux’s advice and quickly blend in.

Since the room is shaped like an oval I couldn’t see the nameplates on either side, but I could see the names at the other end of the oval.  I saw Berkman, Hildalgo, and Dotel. Then I saw Keith Ginter’s nameplate as well.  I knew I would probably be placed somewhere around Ginter’s locker, but I didn’t see my name.  Maybe I was on one of the sides.

As I started walking into the clubhouse I start seeing more name plates.  I noticed Chris Truby, Julio Lugo, Billy Wagner, and then I saw Biggio.  The Astros will forever be known as the team that Bagwell and Biggio established, the Killer B’s.

Sorry Nolan.  You were really good, but your last name started with an “R.”  Maybe if your name was Nolan Byan you would have had a chance.  I’m sure your handling that loss like a pro.

I was glad that I had found Bagwell’s and Biggio’s lockers so that I could stay away from them.  Mike had told me to shut up and stay out of the way so I figured I would watch them from as far away as possible.  Then I saw a problem.  It was a major problem.  I looked up at the name plates in the center of the room and  saw BAGWELL, ENSBERG, BIGGIO.

No. No. No. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Mike said to get out of the way!  How do I get out of the way when my locker is in their way!  This is bad.  We have 35 flippin’ lockers in here and they put me in the middle of Bagwell and Biggio?

Calm down.  You can handle this.  You’ll just get here early, like Mike said, put your stuff on and get out of there.  (Then I smiled a little bit.) Dude this is RAD!  My locker is in the middle of Bagwell and Biggio! My friends are not going to believe this.  I need a camera.”

Then somebody tapped my shoulder.

“Hey I’m Jeff.”

My reply,

“Hey.  Morgan Ensberg.”

I immediately thought,

Dude, way to go.  Must have sounded like a turd there.  Dude is probably thinking I have a “cute” name.  Morgan? Isn’t that a girls name? No it means “Born by the Sea.”  Yeah, that’s manly, “Born by the Sea.”  The only thing worse would have been, “born by a lilly patch.” Might as well have have said my name was Tinkerbell. Can’t wait until he finds out I’m from L.A.  That goes over well in Texas.

Bagwell said,

“Congratulations.”

Seems like a nice guy.

Can I Borrow a $100?

We were at a restaurant celebrating Brad Ausmus’ birthday.  Everybody was invited and we were sitting in a lounge area.  Even though I was a rookie, I thought it would be a good idea to buy a round of beers.

I went up to the bartender and bought the beers and handed them out to the guys.  They all looked at me and I took it that they were impressed by a young guy being so considerate.

A little bit later in the night I was by the bar and Bagwell came up to me and said,

“Hey Man.  Can I borrow a $100?”

I said,

“Yeah Sure.”

My thinking was that he simply didn’t bring any money with him.  He must just pay with a credit card.  Shoot, if anyone is good for it then Jeff Bagwell certainly is.

Bagwell ordered 2 beers.  Took the $100 bill and put it in the tip jar.  The lady behind the bar said to me,

“Thanks kid.”

This is what Jeff said,

“You don’t ever pay for anything when I am around.  Do you understand me?”

I smiled and said,

“I understand.”

Bagwell smiled back. I had just learned a very valuable lesson about being a leader.

Lesson Learned

Bagwell’ lesson wasn’t about money.  It was about establishing set roles of leadership.  Bagwell was showing a “kid” that a leader will take responsibility for his group.

Another Tap on the Shoulder

Bagwell never got in another person’s face to embarrass him in front of the team.  One time I fouled a ball off that I felt I should have hit.  I threw my hands up with my bat in a motion that I thought was implying, I should have crushed that ball.  I wasn’t thinking about the pitcher.

The next day, during batting practice, Bagwell came up to me in the dugout with nobody around.

“Morgan, don’t throw your hands up like that after you foul a ball off again.  Did you think about how that looked to the opposing pitcher?”

I just lowered my eyes and head. I realized that I was only considering myself.  This is how I responded,

“Shoot.  You are right.  I was just thinking about me and didn’t even think about how that must have looked to the pitcher.  That was lame.  I won’t do that again.”

He gave a “lesson learned” nod and I never heard him bring it up again.

Now You Try

A couple of years later I received my first leadership responsibility.

Bagwell tapped me on the shoulder during a game and quietly said something in my ear.  I looked him in the eye and nodded without saying a word.  I knew that this was a very important moment.

One of our players had just made a similar mistake I had made a few years earlier.  My mind flashed back to the time Bagwell came and spoke to me.  As I watched our player, it occurred to me that I must have looked like our player just did.  That was perspective.

The following day, before batting practice, I went up to a player who was sitting down in the dining room.  As I sat down next to him, I said,

“You are here for a reason.  You are supposed to be in the big leagues and part of being a big leaguer is carrying yourself in a certain manner.  (this particular behavior) isn’t how we play the game here.  But I don’t want you to feel bad.  Let me tell you about the time when Baggy talked to me a few years ago…”

What’s Going On Here?

Today it just seems like the workplace is filled with leadership problems.  You go to work and find that your boss doesn’t treat you with respect.  He doesn’t show a single quality that makes you want to follow him.  His belief is that you will listen to me because he has been here longer.

Of course your boss experienced the same environment.  He got there only to find that his boss didn’t respect him.  This cycle continues and employees don’t give the company everything they have.  Instead they spend the majority of time dealing with a boss handling non-work issues.

In-N-Out Burger

A company that doesn’t seem to have issues is In-N-Out Burger in California.  I love going into that restaurant to watch how amazing those workers are at communicating with respect.  These are small burger places, but they have their process down to a science.  In-N-Out has so many workers in such a small space that one would think they would have problems.  But no chance.  Each worker has a specific job responsibility and they have a very specific way of communicating with each other.  You will hear the word, “Please” after every request.  They have great leadership!

Dumb Jocks

Players feel how teams treat their workers.  We know if they are overworked or if they are appreciated.  I feel like owners think ballplayers are just dumb jocks who know nothing about running a business.  But we are smart enough to know that people run businesses.  We know that if you have to communicate exactly what is being asked from your employees.  We know that you have to show them exactly how you want a process to be executed.  We know that eventually you are not going to be there to help make micro decisions and the success of the company will depend on that employees decision.  We also know that if your leader cares enough to take the time to teach you how to be a leader, you won’t have to worry about those micro decisions when they come up.  Jeff Bagwell taught me that.

My Example of a Leader

Jeff Bagwell is one of the greatest people I have ever met. It has nothing to do with the fact that he is a future Hall of Famer.  For me, his most amazing attribute is his ability to lead.  He is a great leader because he cares about people.  While most relationships in baseball are based on whether you are a rookie or a veteran, where the more days you have, the more respect you are given, Bagwell doesn’t care about this pettiness.

Post Script

By the way, I have never paid for a single thing when Jeff Bagwell has been around.  In fact, I have sent my dinner check over to him from across the room before.  The waiter usually looked at me funny but this is what I said,

“Oh, I don’t pay.  See that guy over there with the goatee?  Send this check over to him.  But before you do, what is your most expensive bottle of wine?  I would like to send him that bottle of wine, please. Add it to his tab.”

Whenever he got the check he would look up and give me that same mischievous smile that he gave me on Brad Ausmus’ birthday.  I would smile back and give him a nod as a thank you.  You only need to tell me once, Baggy.

Morgan (the guy with a girls name)

By the way, I love my name!


122 Comments on “So You Think You Know Jeff Bagwell?”

  1. drbristol says:

    I think my favorite part of the story is Bagwell having *you* approach the other player. That way rather than class being a dictatorship it’s taught first in theory and then put into practice. Otherwise everything dies with the teacher.

    If you’re soliciting topics, I’m curious how seriously players take (took?) the criticism of the media. You have to deal with some people who know little and will type/say anything to get attention and create a buzz so they can make their bones. Realizing that everyone is different, how do players deal with that constant barrage of blather that is mostly uninformed and negative? And can an honest writer with ethics survive today?

    Keep writing – this is fabulous stuff.

  2. RandyKatz says:

    Thats was phenomenal. It was very entertaining, and very valuable as well. Really, the leadership lesson is just brilliant. I can tell by the other comments, that this really hits home for s many people. Thanks for sharing this. I’ll certainly be visiting often.

  3. Steve Bonner says:

    Morgan,

    In an interview I recently read with you, you basically said that when you were in a slump you tried to become a “guess” hitter and “never guessed correctly.”

    It got me wondering two things:

    1) Are you aware of any “guess” hitters that are very successful. I think I’ve heard that Posada is a “guess hitter.” Not sure if that’s true.

    2) How specific is the guess? I would imagine guessing “slider low outside corner” would be fairly difficult to guess with any level of repeatability, but can’t you guess zones? Like I’m gonna look for something low, or I’m gonna look for something up, or outer half or inner half or whatever.

    Are MLB pitchers really that good at avoiding patterns and predictability that even “guessing” locations is pretty much impossible? Love to hear any thoughts on this.

    Thanks!

  4. renaudTN says:

    Very interesting post Mr. Ensberg. It’s my first time on here, and I regret I didn’t check your blog sooner. I wish I could have seen your face when Bagwell drop that $100 bill in the bucket; I bet it was ‘priceless’ …Did your jaw drop? On another note, I wish you were still an Astros. Believe it or not, I still have your 2005 Topps card in my wallet…I’m such a kid! It has an interesting piece of info on the back though: it says “After being sent down in 2002, he moved his feet 10 inches closer together, drew in his arms and gave himself what he terms a mental cleansing.” You said baseball is 90% mental; this prompts me to ask you a question that I’m sure many have asked you before: could you talk about this in more details; what was that mental cleansing you gave yourself in 2002 that helped you come back to the big league and hit 291 with 25 HRs in 03; what happened in 2006/2007 (did you try the same mental cleansing as in 02?). Anyhow, I don’t mean to take too much of your time; I just want to know more about Morgan ‘Brensberg’ (here’s your Killer B name :-)

    • In 2006 I hit 23 hrs and it was considered a bad year. When that occurs your head is spinning. I didn’t know what I needed to do to get on the field. Mike Lamb had a good average so he played. That lead me to believe that average was everything so I started to panic and try and get hits instead of trying to get in the best position to hit.

      Morgan

  5. RR grounds crew says:

    Great piece and good writing, Mo!
    If you have a ridiculous amount of time (and possibly a co-writer), I’d love to read a book or a series of posts about these “unwritten” rule of baseball we fans hear so much about. The rules I am aware of seem to all focus on an ethos of fairness and maintaining a respected hierarchy within the ballclub. Obviously the rules work – they are passed down from one leader to another. I’d be curious as to how the non-conformists are dealt with ?/ is talent level indicative of expected leadership ?/ are the unwritten rules enforced similarly in most clubhouses?
    I am one of the grounds guys in Round Rock, and since the first opening day, a series of unwritten rules have evolved for us as well. Funny how that happens.
    So I encourage you to get all “Hemmingway” and commit to answering the world’s burning questions about the unwritten rules of baseball. You’re welcome. :)

    • Don’t most writers end up “dead”? I don’t even consider myself a writer. You bring up a great point about the inner workings of the team dynamic. There will be more of that later. Say hi to the guys in RR.

      Morgan

  6. Linda says:

    What is your take on the current state of the Astros, and when do you think they will get their first win?

    • I had said a couple of weeks ago that the Astros are in trouble. My belief has to do with their minor league system. The short story is that if your minor league system is weak then you big league team has to play perfectly. There is more to it than that, but that is a short answer.

      Morgan

  7. caltex says:

    Hey Mo, really enjoyed the the story.

    I don’t know how much time you put into wrinting a particular post, whether it is fairly easy for you or it takes a lot of thought and effort but the results of you work is appreciated.

    Keep up the great posts.

  8. Jeff says:

    Hey Morgan, sorry if this was already asked. You mentioned the leaders having that buffer zone with the lockers. Was there a reason your locker was put between Bagwell and Biggio? Like maybe a joke on the new guy.?

  9. John S. says:

    That write-up reminded me of a time when I crossed paths with Bagwell.

    After a few margaritas on Cinco de Mayo a few years back, my wife and I spotted Bagwell with a large group at Cyclone Anaya’s. With liquid courage fueling us, we walked up to him as my wife desperately wanted an autograph. I gave him a big handshake, clapped his shoulders, and loudly told him that he was still “the man”, all the while completely invading his personal space and interrupting his personal time with family and friends.

    He could not have been more friendly and accommodating to a couple of strangers that many athletes would have brushed off without hesitating. He gladly signed an autograph and expressed gratitude for our slurred complements.

    The world of professional sports could use a whole lot more Jeff Bagwells…

  10. Bill says:

    Wow. This is a great blog. Thanks for writing. This is further proof Bagwell is a first ballot HOFer. How can people say he isn’t? Makes no sense to me. Keep writing!!

  11. Wynn says:

    Morgan, you are writing about something that is so very important, but too little discussed.

    Baseball is the finest team sport ever devised. One reason for that is that it teaches so many worthwhile lessons in life, and among these character-builders are hard work, teamwork, humility , fair play, and respect for others including one’s opponents. These lessons are learned and practiced at all levels from the Little Leagues to the Big Leagues.

    My hope is that Little Leaguers and other children all across America find their way to your blog.

    Thanks.

  12. Stephen Luftschein says:

    I can see the corporate speaking engagements piling up! Seriously, wonderful post, and oh, so true.

  13. Dennis says:

    Nice tribute to both leadership and to Jeff Bagwell. It makes me that much happier that he’s the new hitting coach. Some may wonder about his unorthodox style of hitting, but I’m sure that he knows that every hitter has to find his balance and swing, no matter how awkward it may be to others.

  14. J. BENNETT says:

    YOUR A “GOOD GUY”, ENSBURG–DON’T EVER FORGET IT.–HECK–HANG IN THERE GOD’S GOT SOMETHING IN MIND!

    J.B.

  15. Fan says:

    Wow, what was it like when you stepped into that clubhouse? I want to play in the majors. What was it like to play?


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