Team Chemistry

I’m going to jump into my own experiences to tell the story rather than break down major league teams by chemistry. I feel that by telling you my stories about baseball, you will get a better sense of how chemistry affects baseball. Did it affect the 2001 Red Sox? Did it affect the 2003 Red Sox? Will it affect the 2004 Yankees?
Before I start, let me preface this by saying that the teams I play on consist of kids much younger than those of the major leagues. Major league players are more mature – and more importantly, more professional.
The earliest I can truly remember my teams was when I was 12. We were in the “major” leagues. I was on the Athletics. The Athletics, over the course of the time the Majors had been in Sturbridge, were the powerhouses. We were not the powerhouses when I first broke into the majors, at 11 (and had been flagging before that.) My last season in the majors, at 12, the players genuinely liked each other and played hard. We reached the final game as underdogs. We were not supposed to even last the first round. All we had to do was win one game. The hated, rival Red Sox (!) were … I can’t put it into words how good they were. They won two games. The loss stung, but we were the underdogs and we pulled together. (The year after I left, my father changed the team name to the Rockies – let’s just say that not only were the A’s the overall powerhouses, we were the overall trashtalkers. He wanted to change the image. He did and won two titles with my brother. Go figure.)
Next was Junior and Senior league. This team was different. Unlike the majors, where everybody played (it was very popular in my hometown and drew very well, but is flagging right now) and was just of the athletic breed, the people that went on to Junior and Senior league liked baseball. Key word: liked, not played. Sure, there were some players, but for the general consensus, people just weren’t good. People split into cliques, the (Senior) team manager played his son over someone else more deserving (me, and put me at a position I had never played before). I could not hit a LICK, but I had good defense. We were horrible year after year, but we left our differences on the bench. On the field, we played hard and with each other. However, there was a “fear” of screwing up on the field and having the other cliques point at you and laugh. The Junior coach tried hard, but could never unite us.
My father returned for Big League. The players that liked baseball (including the Senior manager’s son) dropped out, and the good apples stayed. My hitting (finally) exploded, and the team loved each other. We played hard, and won the regular season championship. We started out 2-4 then won 12 straight. We lost in the playoffs due to vacations. We truly bonded, and it showed on the field. We were not afraid of trying. We took risks, knowing we wouldn’t get it thrown in our face. My father was dedicated to getting everyone equal playing time, and he did – to the chagrin of the good players but with bad heads. But they couldn’t complain, we won 12 straight games. Yes, they threw a fit when we finally lost, but whatever. They were good players and played well while we were winning.
I guess the whole point of this is to point out that no matter what you do, there will be people on teams that change things. Even if you have great team chemistry, there will always be some people who you joke around that will throw a snit if their playing time decreases or the team loss total increases. However, you are less afraid to take risks. Risks is part of baseball. If you have bad chemistry, you are afraid to take risks, but your team will still play and leave the problems off the field.
When I think of the 2001 Red Sox, I am reminded of Senior League. A manager who (believe it or not) used to be pretty good who just deteriorated into having an agenda. A team who was afraid to take risks and was sniping at each other. Sure, they played. But they didn’t play hard. The 2003 Red Sox remind me of my Big League team. If we lose, or playing time decreases, people WILL snipe. Pedro comes to mind. But if we win, team chemistry is great. Even when we lose, chemistry is still good.
Chemistry does not affect everything. But I contend that it does have something to do with the overall win/loss total. I believe the Red Sox “won” (parentheses, because I did not factor Grady Little’s bonehead moves into this equation – some of those games were lost because of Little) at least five games in 2003. In 2001, I believe we lost at least ten. How about the Yankees? In their heyday, they probably got ten games out of chemistry. That chemistry has been deteroriating lately. I think, last year, they lost two games due to chemistry. This year will probably stay about the same.
Someone once said that chemistry does not matter once you take the field. It does matter. If chemistry is good, you trust your players to back you up. You take risks, knowing you won’t be yelled at. If you have bad chemistry, you must hold up. You try to show up your teammates, which just ends up messing everything up. I remember in practice, the Senior League’s son telling his father to hit the ball all the way on the shortstop side of second base (where he and I played) … the manager did. I got it, but make no mistake about it – I didn’t appreciate the challenge. If that challenge had been issued while I was on the Big League team, I would have taken it as a challenge of pride, not a challenge of worth.
Baseball is entirely about risks and trust. You have to trust that Varitek to call the right pitches, especially if you just came over from the NL. You have to risk diving for the ball and trust that Trot will be there to back you up. Trust and risk. The two go hand in hand, and they only show up when you have good team chemistry.