Sep
28

Chemistry? Yeah, chemistry

By

A week ago, the Houston Astros fired Cecil Cooper, their manager. Simply put, the Astros are not very good. They’re 72-83, en route to a fourth- or fifth-place finish. At over $102 million, the team’s payroll is eighth in the Majors, and they’re the second-biggest disappointment to the Mets in terms of dollars spent vs. success on the field.

In the world of baseball, Cooper was doomed. When a team performs that poorly, the manager bears the brunt of the blame, and although the General Manager and ownership are generally responsible for the product on the field, the manager is the figurehead. He represents the Front Office to his players, and if he “loses the team,” in the parlance of the game, his days at the helm are numbered. That is exactly what happened to Cooper.

In the wake of the firing, my good friend Tommy Bennett at Beyond the Box Score challenged the narrative of the managerial firing. His argument is that managers just don’t matter that much. Generally, a team doesn’t play better or worse under one manager than the next. The determining factors remain the quality of the General Manager and the make-up of the team on the field. Firing the manager is simply a public relations move. “Do front-offices think fans are so stupid to be satisfied — like vengeful gods — with human sacrifice?” Bennett asked.

I offered something of a rebuttal to this approach. Recognizing that the numbers do not show improvement, sometimes players need a change in the person coaching them. Over my baseball life, I played for a variety of coaches. Some of them had great styles, and others were coaches with whom I could not click. When the latter arrive, it is tough to gear up mentally for the game. Once the first pitch arrives, though, anyone playing baseball generally puts issues with coaches behind them and plays as their baseball instincts teach them to do. The manager might not impact the play on the field much more beyond a handful of strategic bunting and relief pitching decisions, but players may feel better playing for one coach over another.

These ramblings on managerial changes bring me to the topic of team chemistry. In the non-sabermetric world of baseball narratives, team chemistry is popular motif. Teams that have fun together play better together. Or something like that.

This season, we’ve seen the team chemistry narrative surround the New York Yankees. A.J. Burnett and his walk-off pies are creating a looser atmosphere, and Nick Swisher is so care-free. A-Rod is walking around without a gorilla on his back, and Johnny Damon says the 2009 Yankees remind him of the 2004 Red Sox, the kings of chemistry. Plus, Melky Cabrera‘s and Robinson Cano‘s obvious enthusiasm for the game and for their teammates is so hard to mess.

Leave it up to Derek to rain on this parade. During the post-game, post-clinch interview last night, Joe Morgan and Jon Miller asked Jeter about team chemistry, and his response was telling. “I think winning has a lot to do with that,” Jeter said. “The more you win, the more fun you have.”

Straight from the horse’s mouth comes the definitive word on chemistry. It makes for a compelling story, but that’s all it is. The chemistry narrative is one that helps fans relate to a team they see winning. But just as a group of 11-year-olds playing Little League have more fun when they win, so too do a group of professional baseball players. Winning creates chemistry; chemistry does not create winning.

Categories : Musings
  • andrew

    you’re so wise. like a miniature buddha, covered in hair.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Well, hello… you pointed to your boobies!

  • JRVJ

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think Jeter is the final word on anything (since he speaks in clichés).

    The Yankees during Jeter’s tenure have often won a lot of games, and yet a lot of the post-Dinasty teams looked to have pretty weak chemistry.

    Now if Jeter is trying to say that it’s a lot easier to have good chemistry when you are winning, sure, I’ll buy that, but not the rest of Jeter’s cliches.

    • whozat

      “The Yankees during Jeter’s tenure have often won a lot of games, and yet a lot of the post-Dinasty teams looked to have pretty weak chemistry.”

      How do you know? Because they didn’t win in the post-season? Isn’t that really just you trying to come up with a justification that fits the narrative you want?

    • Pasqua

      What “weak chemistry” are you referring to? And how can we quantify the impact of this “chemistry” into wins and losses?

  • Zack

    Exactly. They could be best friends, but if they’re 80-80, there’s not going to be any pies, funky handshakes, loud music, etc.
    Yet another media-lead Yankee myth debunked.

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.baby-bombers.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/melky-cabrera-317x400.jpg Drew

      Unless you’re the Mets. haha

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    …and Johnny Damon says the 2009 Yankees remind him of the 2004 Red Sox, the kings of chemistry.

    The 2009 Yankees chemistry probably reminds Damon of the 2004 Red Sox chemistry for one huge reason: The 2009 Yankees have Tex-ARod-Matsui in the middle, mashing balls, taking names, and making wins, just like the ’04 Sox had Manny and Ortiz in their primes in the middle.

    Jeter’s right: Good clubhouse chemistry is a byproduct of winning, which is itself a byproduct of talent. Talented teammates enjoy being around talented teammates, because they know every game is a potential win.

    • Pasqua

      This.

    • steve (different one)

      really, you mention prime Manny and Ortiz and there is no CHEMISTRY (wink, wink) joke?

      we’re slipping RAB.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Meh, I’m over the steroid mess.

    • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

      Gosh, in that case we’d better get us a cute slogan like “Cowboy Up” or something to make millions on crappy t-shirts rally the fans!

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        2009 Yankees slogan: Ridiculous Upside

        • Whitey14

          I can think of quite a few slogans for the 2009 Yankees, but they all come from my jealousy so I digress….

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    But just as a group of 11-year-olds playing Little League have more fun when they win, so too do a group of professional baseball players.

    see: Chico’s Bail Bonds Bears circa 1976

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      See also: Danny Almonte

      After they almost won the 2001 LLWS, he took the whole team out for Jello Shots. They had no idea.

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        Little known fact. Danny Almonte’s catcher during the 2001 LLWS, was his own son.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Danny’s baby mama? Jose Tabata’s ex-wife.

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

    “I think winning has a lot to do with that,” Jeter said. “The more you win, the more fun you have.”

    I don’t really have anything to add to this, I just wanted to say it louder so everyone could hear.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Tanner Boyle and Kelly Leak were awful for team chemistry.

      • steve (different one)

        Kelly Leak is Rorshach. wierd, huh?

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          He also won $10,000 when he made a full-court length shot at a Flint Tropics game.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            And he got a bunch of awards (and an Oscar nomination) for cutting his junk off in Little Children.

            (great movie, btw.)

            • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

              Semi-Pro = *very* underrated. Had zero expectations, laughed my ass off.

              • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

                Really? Hated that flick. Will Ferrell throwing a tantrum is old news.

                • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

                  Yeah, maybe I was just in the right mood or something. :)

                • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

                  Copy. I’m sure I was in the right mood when I watched it as well — can’t remember the last comedy I watched when I wasn’t in the right mood — but yeah, it just grated on me.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  Pete says:
                  Yeah, maybe I was just in the right mood or something. :)

                  Joseph Pawlikowski says:
                  Copy. I’m sure I was in the right mood when I watched it as well — can’t remember the last comedy I watched when I wasn’t in the right mood…

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphemism

                • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

                  And you don’t think I got that euphemism? I mean, not only did I use it in context in my reply, but I’m the most notorious right mood guy on RAB.

                  Unless “right mood” isn’t a euphemism for smoking pot.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  SHHHHHHHHHHHH IX-NAY ON THE OKING-SMAY OT-PAY!

                • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

                  C’mon tommie, you’re harshing my buzz.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside
                • ColoYank

                  Okay, I think this is the true meaning of better living through “chemistry.”

          • CountryClub

            He’s also the new Freddy Kruger.

      • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

        Are you kidding? Tanner Boyle = Dustin Pedroia!

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          Tanner was taller.

  • Pasqua

    “Chemistry” is always the catchphrase that gets bandied about when an analyst (or regular fan) has no means of putting together a cogent analysis.

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: A team’s success is the result of a combination of talent and luck. Whether two guys (or 25) like each other has absolutely nothing to do with how a team performs on the field.

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD
      • Pasqua

        That guy totally dogged it on the field. I don’t think he wanted to take one on the chin. Very self-absorbed.

    • Sleepy Carl

      *see late 70′s Yankees when Reggie and Billy where in disarray

    • steve (different one)

      I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: A team’s success is the result of a combination of talent and luck. Whether two guys (or 25) like each other has absolutely nothing to do with how a team performs on the field.

      as fun as it is to pick on the Joe Morgans of the world who like to over-inflate the importance of chemisty, i’d say it’s equally silly to say chemistry has “absolutely nothing” to do with performance.

      how do we know that? we don’t.

      • Ivan

        The 77-78 Yankees said hi.

        • steve (different one)

          well, that certainly proves that chemistry can never have an impact.

      • Pasqua

        My question in response is, how COULD chemistry impact performance? You can’t just reverse the question and think it’s an argument. It’s not.

  • Pags

    Even the commenters on this blog have better chemistry when the Yankees are winning.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      (puts shiv back under mattress)

      • Pags

        LOL! An AJ pie in your face for that walk-off humor.

    • JeffG

      Def have better chemistry when the Yanks are winning…

    • Riddering

      Just as a winning team is more likely to have a greater amount of talented, hard-working players you could say that when the Yankees are winning the commenters who show up on RAB are more reasonable and capable of successful written communication.

  • JeffG

    I do think the winning plays the bigger role in team chemistry but I don’t think having personalities that work well together is meaningless. I would just infer that having people around that pick you up, make you laugh, leads to good mental health, wheras on the other side of the coin being aggrivated leads to distraction and less energy. Outlook, confidence, general happiness, are all important parts of mental make-up. I believe that when people feel good they do their best – basball players included.

    • Pags

      And what makes people feel good? Winning.

      • JeffG

        Winning, as I said, plays the biggest role but being around people you don’t like vs people you do also would play some part IMO.

        • Pags

          Its sort of a circular argument. Take Manny Ramirez for instance.

          If ManRam is on your winning team and starts his typical antics – “Aww, that’s just Manny being Manny.”

          If ManRam is on your losing team and starts his typical antics – “Why can’t that jackass get with the team!”

          Winning allows you to put annoying differences aside.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            That.

          • Whitey14

            When did Manny last play on a losing team?

  • whozat

    Also…Guys and Dolls reference? In the title of the post?

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Well, indeed there is.

      • whozat

        Heh. I did that show in high school. It was weird, because the female lead was a freshman that had skipped a grade, so she was 13. I was 16, and the director was like “ok, time to practice kissing scenes,” and I felt shady and creepy. But then she slipped me the tongue the first time we ran through it. So it felt funny in my pants, and I became conflicted.

        It was a difficult time for us all.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          JMK, is that you?

          • JMK aka The Overshare

            Too old.

        • Pags

          “So it felt funny in my pants, and I became conflicted.” – Whozat

          QUOTE OF THE DAY!

        • AndrewYF

          Now you will always have the memory of making out with a 13 year old slut.

          • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

            It’s fine if you’re BOTH underage, isn’t it?

            /Hanson’d

      • Rob

        Musical theater references in baseball posts? Has Joe Poz taken over RAB?

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.baby-bombers.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/melky-cabrera-317x400.jpg Drew

    Chemistry is great to see and fun to watch but by no means is it necessary to win. All you need is some great pitching and a decent offense and you can do damage throughout the year and into the Post-season.

    • JeffG

      I’d agree that talent is the main point when taking about a team that can win… but at the same token players might just maximize their talent a bit more when they are good mental state.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        but at the same token players might just maximize their talent a bit more when they are good mental state.

        …aaaaaaaand, they get in that good mental state by winning and being surrounded by talented players. Not because they have a bunch of best buds who are great listeners and full of empathy.

        • JeffG

          I’ll agree, like I said above, winning means the most.

          Lets take an extreme hypothetical example: Yanks win the first month of the season then they find that big player Rob Thomson screwed all the teams wives/gilfriends and they are unhappy in their personal lives (i.e divorce/breakups) … do you think there would be no effect for each player’s performance? I believe chemestry, from enjoying your co-workers, plays a part.

          At the same time I wouldn’t say being best buds can do enough for the Nationals… anyways I’ve got to get back to work.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Lets take an extreme hypothetical example: Yanks win the first month of the season then they find that big player Rob Thomson screwed all the teams wives/gilfriends and they are unhappy in their personal lives (i.e divorce/breakups) … do you think there would be no effect for each player’s performance?

            Jay: (to Silent Bob) I feel like I’m Han Solo, you’re Chewie, and she’s Ben Kenobi, and we’re in that F$%KED UP BAR!
            (to Bethany)
            What about sex?

            Bethany: No sex.

            Jay: (crestfallen; pauses) …Alright, but let’s say we’re caught in a situation where we’ve got like five minutes to live, like, I dunno, a bomb or something is gonna go off – would you fuck us then?

            Bethany: In that highly unlikely situation?
            (pauses; Jay and Silent Bob raise eyebrows)
            Yeah, sure.

            Jay: Yeah? (to Silent Bob) … She’s a SLUT. BONG!

  • Tampa Yankee

    Ah man, guess I have to return my new shirt…

    http://www.zazzle.com/chemistr.....4218743732

    A bunch of Debbie Downers that’s all you all are!

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Here, all the chemistry shirts you could ever want.

      (You won’t want any of them.)

      http://shop.cafepress.com/chemistry

      • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

        Maybe the Heisenberg shirt. Breaking Bad reference FTW.

  • Ivan

    Chemistry is overrated period especially in the world of baseball where it’s really more of a individual thing in team sport.

    Look no further than the 77-78 Yankees.

    When u have a HOF player in Reggie Jackson, an Potential HOF catcher in Munson, Pitchers like Guidry, figueroa Goose, Lyle, and etc, you hate eachother all u want, when u got talent like that, ur gonna win more times than not.

  • Bo

    The Astros the 2nd biggest disappointment? I think you forgot about the Cubs.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      (thinks for a second)

      No, I’ll take the Astros. At least the Cubs have a smidge of respectability.

      • whozat

        But the expectations were so much higher for the Cubs

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Meh, those expectations were probably BS anyway.

  • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

    I agree that pies & chummy-ness don’t equal wins, but my own definition of ‘team chemistry’ has more to do with accountability and the ability to put off-field distractions aside when it’s time to play the game.

    IMO It also helps to have guys like CC take up more of an ‘active’ leadership role, as opposed to Jeter who’s kept the same “do as I do” attitude for his whole career.

    • pete

      i think, though, that on that account just about every player in mlb has good chemistry, or he wouldn’t have made it this far. You get the occasional Hamilton or Greinke, but for the most part, players can compartmentalize enough to keep their minds on the game when they are playing them. Think of it this way: you’re up to bat in yankee stadium, 45,000 fans cheering. Are you not thinking about hitting the baseball? Of course you are.

  • Rob in CT

    This reminds me of an interview Jorge gave back in 2007. Fairly late in the season, and he’s hitting .330 or whatever. Having a sick, sick year. And somebody (Suzyn Waldman?) asked him why. His answer was basically: “I don’t know. I’m doing the same things I always do. The hits are falling for me.”

    I grinned.

    • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

      Right.

      Like AJ was always making whipped cream pies in the dugout after the game, but now he has enough super-clutchy teammates to smash in the face with them.

      • whozat

        I’m picturing AJ Burnett, sitting alone on one end of the Jays bench last August, surrounded by pies. We cut to a closeup of his face, as he forlornly makes one pie after another and gingerly sets them down on the ground. But wait! There’s a double by Aaron Hill! They have a chance! His eyes light up, he grabs a pie and starts to stand…and then Vernon Wells rolls one over to second base to end the game. AJ’s face collapses, and he walks back to the clubhouse with shoulders slumped.

        • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

          Exactly!

  • Riddering

    Just enjoy this chemistry, bitches. It’s a baseball celebration!

  • Tank Foster

    Does it have to be either/or? Meaning, “chemistry” either exists and breeds winning, or it doesn’t exist, and is a by-product of winning?

    I don’t think it does. Of course players will be happier of they are winning, but that doesn’t mean that having a positive attitude and getting along doesn’t help a team perform better.

    With respect to Jeter, other entities which involve group interactions (military units, for example) believe strongly that morale has a definite effect on performance. All the morale in the world won’t help you defeat the enemy with pea shooters, but that doesn’t negate the role of morale.

    Who knows why Derek said what he did. Maybe he was insulted at the question, and felt like it implied that the players weren’t getting credit for working harder and performing on the field. Jeter is probably the perfect ballplayer…he’s one of the rare guys who when he says some cliche like “we can’t lose focus,” you believe he really means it. A guy like Derek doesn’t care about anything but performance, and I suspect his comment reflects his skewed, single-minded athletic approach as much as does the skewed, romantic view of the game that might be held by some baseball writers.

  • crapulent

    I think the 2007 Yankees were a miserable bunch made worse by a manager who screwed with lineups and positions in the playoffs. I hated when they lost but the fact that it was the death knell for Torre and basically turned the page on the dynastic Yankees may have turned out to be a good thing.

    I think the chemistry this year is fun and light. Girardi came in with a boot camp mentality and then (thanks in part to Moose) slowly peeled back the regimented clubhouse. Something had to change this year. It had to.

    And I think the chemistry that exists allows Arod to be looser (and better) and when Arod is looser and better, the team does better.

    Except for Cashman’s visit in Atlanta, the FO has been hands off and quiet. No one is threatening anything.

    I think that the whole organization has benefited from the changes including the new Stadium.

    Chemistry or not something is different. In a good way.

  • Andy

    Saying chemistry has absolutely nothing to do with how well a team does is ignoring the reality that talent and luck are not the only part of the equation. As someone who played baseball at a high level, I can tell you a coach, and chemistry, can make a big difference. I can say without hesitation that the way you feel when you get in the game can affect how you perform, and a coach and your teammates can push you to feel one way or another; for example, if you have a coach and a team that believes in you, it is a lot easier to succeed. To quote Joe Torre, you’re forgetting the heartbeat in baseball. An emotional state, particularly confidence, can make a monumental difference, and a coach and chemistry can really affect your emotional state.

    In fact, for all those people pointing to the ’78 Yanks, I think chemistry had a lot to do with their success – in a different way. There was a lot of emotion in that locker room, no question about it, and the team almost assuredly channeled that emotion. Doesn’t work with every team, but saying they didn’t like each other and won therefore chemistry has no effect on a team ignores not only that there are always exceptions to the rule, but also that team chemistry comes in many different forms.

    To me, there is no question a coach and chemistry play a role in how good a team is, something the holier than thou samermetrics junkies who want to take all emotion out of the game and make it purely a function of math cannot understand.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      “To me, there is no question a coach and chemistry play a role in how good a team is, something the holier than thou samermetrics junkies who want to take all emotion out of the game and make it purely a function of math cannot understand.”

      That’s a pretty holier than thou statement right there, buddy.

      • http://kikojones5.blogspot.com Kiko Jones

        Hits home, Joe? Ha!

  • Pingback: Captain on Chemistry

  • http://kikojones5.blogspot.com Kiko Jones

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think Jeter is the final word on anything (since he speaks in clichés).
    Um, yes.

    Chemistry cannot be the product of winning as Jeter loves to imply. The currently 77-79 Brewers seem as appreciative of each other as the ’09 Bombers are. And on the other end, the oft-referred to ’77-’78 Yankees.

    In the end, chemistry seems to be a good thing to have and a fun thing for the fans to see, whether it affects winning or not.