Harrison Bader is now the St. Louis Cardinals’ most-tenured outfielder. In his recent media session, he talked about what that means for him.
One of the most important intangibles to look for on any team will always be leadership. In baseball too, leadership can sink or float an entire organization. And while they may not talk about it frequently, the St. Louis Cardinals front brass has to have a pulse on the leadership group of the team as part of their duty to cultivate a good team culture.
On this current Cardinals team, there are plenty of strong leaders. The old guard of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are the first two to come to mind, but the new guard of Paul Goldschmidt, Jack Flaherty, and hopefully Nolan Arenado have also displayed leadership.
One place that I and other fans haven’t looked at as a source of leadership has been the outfield. However, it’s clear that in this position group, just like most others, the leadership is going through a transition.
After Dexter Fowler was traded away earlier this month, Harrison Bader became the longest-tenured Cardinals outfielder on the roster. While the team could’ve brought in a more veteran presence to make sure everything went well, they have held off to this point.
In this absence of leadership, it seems that Bader is stepping up into the shoes that Dexter Fowler filled here. It was rarely written about publicly, but Bader said in his recent media session that when he came up, Fowler took him under his wing.
“He’s always been a positive influence on my career on and off the field. He’s always had my back, he’s always taken time to go out of his way to give me any piece of information whether it was related to baseball or not.”
Knowing the quality of person that Dexter Fowler is, it’s not surprising to hear that he was a leader in the outfield, it’s just surprising how little Fowler’s leadership had been talked about to this point.
Now, Bader wants to give back. “I have a job to do, I have things to prepare for and I am going to go out there and just do my absolute best to be what Dex was to me to some younger guys.” Bader has, at times, been viewed by the fanbase as a flippant showoff more than an on-field performer.
In this leadership absence, he is stepping up. “It’s just a matter of staying locked in, staying present, and just being there for your teammates just like Dex was for me.”
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For a 26-year-old, this is some really big, mature talk. If there’s one thing Bader has proved, it’s that he doesn’t do anything halfway. Though Bader isn’t the perfect big leaguer, he has the defensive acumen and the experience to be a guy that the younger players in the outfield can be mentored by.
Bader is coming off his best offensive season in recent years, even if it was in the shortened season. He could’ve easily deflected responsibility and taken a chance like this to talk about himself. Instead, fans got to see a very mature side of Bader that I don’t know if we have seen before.
At the end of the day, Bader being a great presence in the clubhouse is one thing, but his producing on the field still has to happen. Perhaps a renewed sense of pride and responsibility to be the lighthouse in the outfield can give him the confidence he needs to show the player he was in 2020 was for real. Bader’s leadership also has the chance to help the young outfielders a ton. It’s a win-win.
There is that old saying that the best way to learn is to teach someone else, and it’ll be fun to see what Bader can do this year. Fowler’s leadership was undervalued but if Bader can come full circle with it, Fowler’s mark will have been made.