In each baseball game, there is a winner and a loser; in each World Series, the best of each league face off, and only one team can walk away with the title. That kind of competition can be fierce, but it’s the lifeblood many players thrive on that helps propel them throughout their careers. And it is no new concept to Jim Lefebvre, whose highly successful baseball career began in his childhood backyard.
Although the stakes were higher when Lefebvre later played in the major leagues, he says his principal motivation has stayed the same.
“That competition between brothers about who gets bragging rights at the table meant a lot to us,” he says. “The bottom line is bragging rights were just as valuable as the prize for the world championship — the prize just got bigger. The point is the game never changed; the stage did. That competing was special. As a kid, you start to develop that sense of competition, and all those things were fundamentals to get to different levels in life.”
“The one thing that I learned at a very early age was competition,” he says. “That’s what the big leagues are all about. That’s one thing that’s so great about baseball — we play every day, and it becomes part of your life, your fiber, what drives you and pushes you.”
“We’re competing against the best in the biggest stage in the major leagues,” he says. “The thing you learn over the years is that it’s not all about one game, it’s about the season. Some days, you walk on to the field and you’ll be successful. Some days, things won’t go your way. It’s the persistence of going out there every single day and competing that puts you in a unique situation. Life isn’t built around one opportunity — it’s many. You have to keep pushing and grinding.”
Lefebvre’s career is a stellar example of that intense work ethic. The former Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs manager played in two World Series and was named 1965 Rookie of the Year while with the Los Angeles Dodgers
“There is a big difference between achievements and achieving,” he says. “When you’re achieving things, you’re successful. When I got into managing, it was about setting goals for the team and working toward those goals. The endless pursuit of that, day in and day out, that to me is being successful in my life.”
Now serving as the director of player development for MLB International, Lefebvre is working to develop baseball in China, Southeast Asia and Europe. “It’s been really challenging, but a lot of fun,” he says. “We go to these countries and focus in on athleticism and learning to play the game right — it’s a very complex program and they’re responding dramatically.”
As his career has moved forward and changed, Lefebvre says his perception of success has changed.
“When you’re player, it’s all about batting averages and getting numbers up and doing your job,” he says. “Now, in management, it’s based on winning. If the team wins, you’re successful. When you’re a manager, the big picture perspective is more what it’s about. As a kid I never thought I’d be a coach or dreamed I’d be a manager. But the most significant factor you can say about teamwork is that we all need it. Being the manager of a Major League Baseball team is no different than being a CEO. The manager has to make every person on the team feel like they’re part of the dream. That’s when you’ve really reached success — when the team feels like they’re part of it.”