BOSTON -- To follow the Boston Red Sox in 2013, one practically needed a working knowledge of the periodic table of elements. If you couldn’t understand chemistry, you just didn’t get it.
Indeed, chemistry was the buzzword surrounding a championship squad that blended well on and off the field. Debates raged as to how much of an impact that had on wins and losses, and some would say none. Who’s to say they’re wrong? Those on the inside, however, felt otherwise, even if they could not quite define how much of an impact it had.
“When you’re around it and feel it, it’s hard to say it’s not valuable,” general manager Ben Cherington said in the moments after the Sox won the World Series. “I don’t know if any of us know how to engineer it, but when you’re around it and feel it, you feel the group coming together as it did. I don’t have any doubt it’s valuable, I just don’t know how to predict it.”
Studies over the years have shown that productivity and commitment are enhanced by a positive atmosphere in the workplace. While the effects of such a vibe in a baseball clubhouse may truly be minimal, maintaining the one that Boston had this season will remain one of the challenges for Cherington going forward, even if he has no clue how to go about it. Because of the magic that surrounded 2013, he will have to navigate the offseason through free agency, arbitration, negotiations and meetings with agents in hotel suites in Florida with the mindset that getting along means getting wins, at least to a degree.
The question Cherington may ask himself as he goes through that journey is this: Has the attitude and mindset with the Red Sox been so established by the current group that anyone who comes in will jump on board, or is it a delicate balance that can be thrown off with the slightest degree of tinkering?
And should that matter?
Certainly teams have won without any great degree of friendship in the clubhouse (the “Bronx Zoo” of the late-70s Yankees comes to mind, as do the “25 guys, 25 cabs” teams in Boston around the same time, although the level of amimosity may have been overblown). Other teams loaded with best buddies have finished last.
There was a common thread in the moves Cherington made last offseason that offers at least a hint of future transactions. Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara, Ryan Dempster and (later on) Jake Peavy all were veterans with postseason experience and none offered up any reason to doubt their effort and attitude.
In fact, it was just the opposite. They were trustworthy, an element that was necessary in a clubhouse that had its share of backstabbing in the previous year. If any of these players had career-worst seasons, at least they would do so in a professional manner. And the example they would provide in doing so could only help in nurturing young players such as Xander Bogaerts, who comes across as a 10-year veteran, and the number of other prospects who are on the cusp.
So when there are vacancies at catcher or shortstop or center field this offseason and there is a need to go outside the organization for help, Cherington may keep that in mind. Although he cannot measure a player’s specific value when it comes to creating a positive atmosphere, he at least has some support in making that a priority.
“Of course you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but we felt that this was a different group of people. The way they were coming together, the way they were giving up for each other, it’s just completely selfless,” Cherington said. “For a team with this many talented and salaried players to be as selfless as they were, it was just a lot of fun to be around.”
One critical factor going forward is the contract extension of Dustin Pedroia through 2021. If clubhouse chemistry, effort and pride in the craft are qualities the organization wants in each and every player, then having Pedroia’s locker in the middle of the clubhouse for years to come is a great place to start. But even the superstar second baseman remarked at how unique this season’s coming together was.
“It’s kind of funny,” he said Wednesday when asked about the clubhouse bond this year. “You’re in college and everybody talks about being a team and this and that. That’s what we were. That’s why this is so special.”
Steps away, Clay Buchholz offered up his take on the matter. Essentially, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“I’d like to see them keep everyone around. It works,” Buchholz said. “Everybody’s good with each other, we all get along. Like to be around each other, and obviously we’ve got a good team too. I’d like to see it stay the same.”
That is an impossibility in this day and age, but it can at least be a target as Cherington embarks on what is sure to be an intriguing offseason.