You’ve all heard Jim Leyland address the role of chemistry in Major League Baseball. He’ll tell you on and off the record that it’s completely meaningless.
Well, coach, I have trouble believing that the Tigers cliquey clubhouse is meaningless. I may buy the notion that the best team unity may not translate to more wins, but I won’t buy the notion that a disjointed team doesn’t translate to more losses.
When I had the incredible opportunity to cover the Detroit Tigers on the road last year, thanks to the amazing people at WDFN, I observed a very awkward clubhouse.
It’s kind of an unwritten rule that sports reporters stay away from writing about this kind of stuff. It’s really no secret that there’s a much different relationship between sports reporters and athletes than, say, the president and his press corps. There’s obviously more chummy behavior. I mean, heck, it wasn’t until after the departure of Ivan Rodriguez that we learned what a diva he was in the locker room.
Recently, however, with the impact of Twitter and Facebook, you are hearing more and more about player personalities, albeit very subtle.
Unfortunately, while I’m not exactly comfortable revealing some of the shocking things I witnessed in clubhouses while covering the Tigers, Indians and Red Sox, I will say that there is a weird, almost tangible feeling of disconnect. Given, as my luck would have it, you can count on one hand the number of games the Tigers won while I was covering them, so one would certainly expect these competitors to be unhappy, but it was more than that.
And there in lies the problem. I wrote a column the other day, Identity Crisis, in which I said this team won’t be able to put anything substantial together until they figure out who they are. I think we can all agree that the Tigers don’t know who they are. Their bullpen, their starting pitching, their offense, their defense, their style of play, literally everything, has been either to credit or blame for wins and losses. The question then becomes, how do you figure out who you are if, as a team, there is no chemistry?
Sabermetricians will tell you of all the major sports, baseball is the least dependent on the idea of chemistry. They’ll say that stats are stats, and players will perform within a certain range of predictability. While I agree with that to an extent, I can’t accept their assumption that everything is statistically measurable. Being able to rely on each other, trust each other, I mean, just liking each other, would logically lead you to believe that players would perform to their potential.
Now I’m not saying the Tigers don’t “like” each other. They do. What I’m saying is, when you introduce any polarity into any situation, it creates tension. And from what I’m hearing, and what I’ve seen in the past, I truly believe that this team is disjointed.
If they are going to figure this out, it’s going to take an identity. To create one, it will be a tremendous task for Jim Leyland. But, for all his faults, he’s the guy that can get the best play out of every athlete on the club. I have some faith left, but it’s waning.