As a kid, I had the impression that heroes don’t move on.
No one could replace Superman in his cape. Batman didn’t turn over the keys to the Batmobile. Spiderman couldn’t teach a mere mortal to swing effortlessly from one building to another.
I still remember one of the days when that view was shattered. It was May 30th, 1989. I was glued to the television as one of my greatest childhood heroes addressed a hive of buzzing reporters.
A single microphone perched on top of a podium was the only thing between Mike Schmidt and the crowd. The scene was slightly jarring. He was in a suit and tie while his number 20 Philadelphia Phillies jersey was lifelessly draped in front of him.
I loved that jersey! Over the years I watched it trot around the bases after game winning home runs. I saw that jersey jump fearlessly into the dirt and make unthinkable defensive plays. I witnessed it dive head first into bases while the umpire shouted “SAFE!”
Of course, the jersey was simply a symbol. In reality, I was in awe of the man who wore it. Many people consider Mike Schmidt the best 3rd baseman of all time and he played for my team. For me, he wasn’t just “a” hero. He was “MY” hero.
He began his remarks by saying,
”I left Dayton, Ohio, with two bad knees and a dream of becoming a baseball player; I thank God it came it true,”
Shockingly, tears began to flow from his eyes onto his trademark thick mustache. You can watch the video here.
It was evident his historic baseball career was over. A piece of me wanted to weep too. I was confronted by the reality that my hero was a human being. It was like a fastball straight to my gut.
We all are hit by this truth in the people we love and admire. Whether your hero is an athlete, musician, political figure, chef, spiritual leader or social activist, a time comes when they either “hang up their cleats” or pass away.
The same will happen to you too.
One of the toughest parts of leadership is letting go. Transitioning from one role to another is disorientating. In order to do it well, we must release ourselves from everything we were known and respected for. Only then are we free to live out the next chapter of our lives.
Without a doubt, some people don’t give themselves enough time to develop into the leader they were intended to be. They expect extreme change overnight and fail to hone their gifts to their fullest.
Others stay in positions of leadership beyond what is healthy for them and the organization they oversee. The humility needed to make this change is too much for them to embrace.
Thank you, Mike Schmidt for showing me that a hero can acknowledge past success, grieve the current loss and move on with joy into the future. You are still trotting around the bases in my memories.