Friday, January 27, 2006


Chemistry 101

Henry Schulman the other day wrote a goofy article about the Giants' distinct lack of team chemistry last season, and how the additions of proven veterans such as Matt Morris and Jose Vizcaino are supposed to help remedy that. Maybe Morris and co. can come in and instill some sort of camaraderie into the Giants clubhouse, but it's downright silly to place even a modicum of blame for the 2005 debacle on poor team chemistry. It's clear that the Giants weren't exchanging rose petals in the dugout (hell, even Moises Alou, whose father is the manager, bitched about the bad atmosphere at midseason), but I seriously doubt bad attitudes had a whole lot to do with the losing. As anybody knows, the major factors leading to last year's 75-87 disaster included bad hitting, bad pitching during the first half, a month of Alex Sanchez, and the best hitter in the world missing the entire season to a bum knee and posting cryptic updates on his website.

Unfortunately, this kind of article trumpeting the all-important team chemistry takes the attention away from the real issues (like, for one, maybe the Giants were bad because they signed too many mediocre veterans) and begs the question: is team chemistry overrated? Well, yes and no. Obviously a putting together a team full of players who can't stand each other isn't exactly the ideal formula you want if you're trying to win in the majors. However, success isn't limited to those teams who joined hands in between games to sing "Que Sera Sera". The 1972-74 A's didn't get along at all (especially the '74 version), yet still won three consecutive titles. The 1977-78 Yanks hated each other, with the feud between Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson gathering the most headlines, yet they still won two World Series. Even the 2002 Giants, whom we all remember fondly, apparently had one of the most polarized clubhouses imaginable, and it's hard to forget that magical night in San Diego when Bonds and Kent sparred in the dugout. History is littered with teams who won without great chemistry. We can go back to the rivalry Ruth and Gehrig to see this. To quote the immortal Bill Lee: "Give me 25 assholes and I'll show you a pennant winner."

Being nice and friendly and getting along is all well and good, but I think at the end of the day winning is decided by plain ol' talent rather than any emphasis on good team chemistry. In my opinion, good chemistry is simply a byproduct of winning. Your team wins, you start to get excited about coming to the ballpark. As the team continues to win, the players begin to bond, going out for drinks after the game and exchanging dirty limericks. And some sportswriter will get all misty-eyed writing about how the team wins because of their kinship, not because they have the best talent in the league.

You never hear the media hyping up good chemistry on losing teams because everybody flat out hates to lose. And, of course, winning baseball is decided by the talent you put onto the field, and if that talent consists of overpaid, overrated veteran players who were brought in for their leadership skills (Matheny, Vizquel, I'm looking at you guys), then you aren't going to win too many games and your team chemistry is pretty much going to be in the shits.

Here's a quote from the Schulman article, by Matt Morris, that made me laugh:

"When the team is out there trying to win, you don't want to be in the clubhouse having cookies and milk. Some guys on this team are not going to allow it to happen. I'm going to be sitting on the bench, and if some guys need to be slapped on the butt, I know some guys here are going to do it."

Yeah, Ok, Matt. I can see it now. After a tough loss in which he goes 0-3, Barry is busy sulking in his lounge chair, so Morris, in an attempt to liven up the clubhouse and to charge up Barry, gives Bonds a slap on the ass and starts yelling. Yeah, that'll go over well. The only thing Bonds will do after that kind of thing will be to give a baffled little shrug of the eyebrow before proceeding to beat down whitey.

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