A professional sports club contains a tier by tier depth of personnel, all whom have a specific and tailored job that in theory, leads to club success. From the players, to ownership, to the manager, training staff, front office, and so on, the relationship between all of these aspects of a team is crucial for prosperity.
On one hand, when a ball club is doing well the internal details, both minor and major are generally kept internal and overlooked in favor of continued success. On the other hand, when a club is doing poorly, major and minor details come into open view and under public scrutiny.
The whole notion of team chemistry and its effect on team operations got me thinking.
Who is to blame, who is the scapegoat, and what is the importance of chemistry among members of a team?The recent emergence of clubhouse struggles within the Red Sox organization has sent tidal waves through the city of Boston, its fanbase, and Major League Baseball. What initially seemed to be purely a "best for the team" decision regarding the Terry Francona/Red Sox split, has evolved into a full blown war of the words that has undoubtedly cast doubt on the credibility and professionalism of not only Francona, but of Red Sox ownership, and its players.
Pehaps it is simply the Red Sox, famous for scapegoating its iconic figures (i.e. Damon, Garciaparra, Ramirez, Lowe, Martinez, Francona, et al), or maybe there is a larger issue looming.
Following Francona's departure, reports of his marital problems, alleged addiction to pain pills, and gross unprofessionalism within the clubhouse surfaced. The Red Sox ownership led a full 'torch and pitchfork' campaign against him, with players, whose development Francona took a personal interest in, lambasting his ethic.
I have, in the recent days, read reports from the Boston Globe, ESPN, and a number of sports journals/blogs covering this, and it lead me to ponder the depth of such disputes, and who is REALLY to blame. Is it ownership? The manager? The players? How about the training staff?
After taking in several different viewpoints from even more sources, my postulation developed from the following variables:
- The only team personnel that could have known about his pain pill use had to have been ownership, team doctors, and training staff (a small group of people, nonetheless).
- Despite his best efforts to motivate his team, the abundance of player insubordination was far too much to overcome
- Ownership placed the blame on Francona, despite almost certainly knowing of the clubhouse condition.
- Theo Epstein's decision to leave for the Cubs, in part, an understandable endeavor of a new challenge to undertake (very similar to the one he came into with the Red Sox in 2002), may have also been in large part due to the rampant toxicity that is the Red Sox baseball club.
From these select, albeit, few variables, I deduced that it is the sole responsibility of the ownership to mediate the overall quality of the team. The manager, staff, and general manager can only do so much, thus it is the obligation of the ownership.
Think of it like a family; the child's teachers, babysitters, coaches, and doctors can do their jobs to the best of their ability to make sure the kid will be successful, but it is the responsiblity of the mother and father to raise him the right way and keep him out of trouble. However, admittedly, the one flaw in this argument is that parents cannot trade or release their children.
What leads to good team chemistry? It's simple. Trust.
If you trust your teammates, your coach, your staff, and the owners, you play with a sense of security absent from teams such as the Red Sox. Carl Crawford struggled this year, and from Boston Globe reports, never felt comfortable in the clubhouse, which in turn, shifted his focus.
The 2010 San Francisco Giants were certainly not the most talented team in the major leagues, however, they developed a bond with one another that allowed them to play with comfort, security, and confidence. Youngsters and veterans alike, played together as one, and this confidence propelled them to a championship.
Chemistry proves time and time again, that it's not the best team that wins, it's the team that wants to win, not for themselves, but for the guy next to him, and that can only come through trust. Last season, the Giants did not have a single personality that felt he was better than others, and for the first time in years, had an owner who truly cared for his players, and viewed them as part of a family rather than that of a business investment.
Call them what you want, misfits, undesirables, rejects; their desire and brotherly love for one another propelled them to heights that other team's couldn't reach.
The ownership trusted its management, who trusted its players, who in turn trusted the staff. Think of it as the nitrous oxide boost you see in racing films: the first boost was the ownership, as they improved, the second boost came from the management. As the playoffs neared, then came the third boost, and finally, with the finish line in sight, the final boost launched them into the record books.
This isn't an ideology limited to the Giants; all teams are capable of chemistry-fueled championships. The Red Sox, for example, aren't too far off of building a dynasty, they just need the personalities to get over themselves, or find people who will. The first step, however, is for ownership to, well, OWN up to their responsibility, take the blame, and strive to fix the problems.
Last year we saw veteran players truly helping the younger players, and vice versa. Everyone had everyone's back, and when you don't feel an overwhelming and uncomfortable pressure to succeed, it becomes easier to play the game, just like we all did as kids. Playing to win, playing for each other.
Alas, team chemistry is, above all, the single most important element in a sports club. From the rookie player, to the equipment manager, to the general manager and beyond. Good chemistry yields good results.
I realize that some of you might say: "well what if you have managers like Bruce Bochy who screw the team over with stupid lineups/decisions?" Well, to you I say, the players trust him. Last year it showed, and barring the plethora of injuries the Giants sustained this season, I have no doubt they would be, at least, in the NLCS this year. Injuries lead to frustration, which leads to pressure, which leads to slumps, which ultimately can upset team chemistry.
There's a reason why they call certain players or situations "toxic" or clubhouse "cancer."
Good team chemistry and the trust in your teammates is the recipe for a successful ballclub. Its importance is overwhelming and unmatched by any other elemets. The Red Sox were the most offensively potent team in the majors (on paper, of course), and had a 2-ace rotation with a solid bullpen and closer. They didn't make the playoffs. The 2010 Giants had an excellent pitching staff and a stellar bullpen, but virtually no offense - just enough to get by. Was the success attributed to the dominance of the pitching staff? Sure, but it wasn't the only reason. Trusting your pen to finish your game and hold your lead goes a long way for the confidence of a reliever. Trusting your lineup to give you a lead, and in turn, holding it for them also goes a long way. As does
In conclusion, trust your team. It'll go a long way.
Note: Excerpts from the Boston Globe and ESPN were used as a reference.