Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Friday, February 15, 2013

On Chemistry...Maybe It Isn't So Important

There has been a lot of talk about chemistry lately.  Brandon Belt of the Giants says you can’t buy it, in reference to the Dodgers and their $200 million plus payroll.  It was a rather dumb statement to make, but then again, he said it before thousands of Giant fans at their “fanfest,” so we know he was simply just preaching to the choir.  Additionally, you have to believe that Belt didn’t fathom that his quote would make national headlines as it did.

But lets look at the term “chemistry” a bit.  I contend that winning often brings a healthy mix of chemistry.  I also believe that there have been a lot of winning clubs that had awful team chemistry.

Bill North facing the Dodgers in the 1974 World Series (photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Take a look at the 1972-74 champion Oakland A’s.  That mix of players hated each other at times, and they were a dynasty.  Blue Moon Odom and Bill North punched out each other on a team bus.  Reggie Jackson wrestled North on the locker room floor in Detroit.   Ray Fosse threw out is back while breaking that one up.  Odom and Rollie Fingers fought in the Dodger Stadium clubhouse before the first game of the World Series in  ’74.  There was one thing all Oakland players were unified about though.  They all hated their cheapskate owner Charlie Finley.  As a team, they put things together on the field and had not Finley been so cheap, they may have won a few more World Series championships.

The Yankees in 1977 and 78 weren’t close to being a cohesive group.  Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin feuded.  Thurman Munson and Jackson were at odds with each other.  Mickey Rivers, Graig Nettles, Roy White, King George the owner.  There was feuding galore in that place. Sparky Lyle wrote a best seller, The Bronx Zoo, which aptly described that teams wild side.   Chemistry-wise, the two time champion Yankees weren’t a very good mix, but they won.
Mickey Rivers in the 1977 World Series
Mickey Rivers says today that the in-fighting in the Yankee clubhouse made them a better team: “It was worse than a boxing ring.  If you strike out or look bad on the field, We’d get on each other...everyday, somebody got their turn.  We yelled mostly, but bad enough that you wanted to fight.  That’s how we became winners.  We fought each other. “  (Jada Yuan, nymag.com, July 10, 2007)

I won’t be foolish enough to say that clubhouse chemistry isn’t a positive element that helps clubs.  In more cases than not, championship clubs get along, but clubhouse chemistry can also be overrated.   In the examples mentioned above, those teams had some semblance of a positive cohesiveness, otherwise they couldn’t have pulled off the championships.  

“Winning creates chemistry,” said Reggie Jackson in a interview with MLB.com’s Lyle Spencer last year.  And who wouldn’t know more than Reggie?  “I’ve been on teams that didn’t have great clubhouse chemistry, but won.  We didn’t always get along off the field, but between the lines we played the game hard, together.”

If there is one thing that Don Mattingly has brought to the Dodgers the past two years, it has been a positive clubhouse atmosphere.   Players have enjoyed their time under his tenure.  They know that Don has their back.  The pressure isn't unbearable under him.  He understands what it's like to battle in the Major Leagues and he relates to his players.   One thing that Mattingly knows is that a positive clubhouse usually provides better results.  

Don Mattingly at 2011 Spring training.  A "hands on" manager  that engages with his players (photo by Morry Gash/AP)

A division winner hasn't happened under his tenure, so there are those detractors that believe that the jury is still out on his managerial abilities. His staff of Wallach, Hillman, Lopes and now McGwire aren't the types of coaches that are high strung and place additional pressure on the ball club.  Maybe that is the point to stress here.  Things may be too lax in this clubhouse.  Is it possible to actually be too comfortable and lack the necessary intensity to win?

There was a time when the Dodger team, in the not too distant past had its cliques and divisions.  Grady Liddle had no lid on the tension that developed during the Kent/Gonzo vs. Kemp. Ethier. Loney factions.  Joe Torre's coaching staff with Bowa and Shaeffer didn't handle the younger players well either.  This club is an easy going group that is on the same page, and that's important.  But as I said before.  Winning solves a lot of problems.  If this ball club breaks out of the gate on a tear and wins 20 of their first 28 or 30 games, there will be very little talk of chemistry issues.  No one will care about how much time they spend together playing cards in the clubhouse or who is going out to eat with each other.  Winning cures all.

1 comment:

  1. There can be little doubt that good team chemistry is a good thing. But, I agree a team can win without said chemistry. On the other hand I think it does help the unexpected WS champions to emerge.

    I felt the suggestions that the Dodgers had not jelled or gelled as a reason to explain the lack of production after the big trade in 2012 was an excuse not a reason. Players can still hit the ball, as you have demonstrated above, whether they have gelled or not. It surely must be more fun to play the game when the team is a happy family but if that is a prerequisite for hitting with RISP, many guys will not be able to hit under those circumstances.

    I think Ozzie Smith said it too: "Winning builds chemistry."