BASEBALL AND CHEMISTRY: ABSOLUTELY VITAL ... OR A TALE TOLD BY A FOOL?
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are trying their hand at the New Baseball Math, looking to unload their two unhappy campers -- Manny and Nomar -- for A-Rod, who, only three years into his 10-year commitment to the Rangers already wants out, desperately.
All of this has the Writers' Bloc cogitating on the importance of chemistry in baseball -- can you really hope to win without it? -- and wondering why we all can't just get along. And, in a special WB investigative reporting bonus feature, Jim Caple explains how all this offseason chaos jibes with the Yankees' world-famous Personality Profile Test, and with BoSox stats guru Bill James' soon-to-be world-famous Chemistry Shares Formula.
Steve Wulf: Good vibrations
But now I think it's mostly about chemistry. No matter how many All-Stars you acquire, you better make sure they're on the same page, and that it shouldn't be page 12 of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. The last three World Series were won not by the better teams but by the better teammates. What people think of as parity in the NFL is really just chemistry: Add a Super Bowl ego trip to the same basic elements and -- kaboom! -- you blow up like the Buccaneers and Raiders. The success of the Lakers this season and the Red Wings two seasons ago is not attributable to the collection of superstar talents so much as it is to the sublimation of egos to a higher goal, namely winning. I actually believe there is no I in team.
If there were a Periodic Table of the Elements for team sports, it would have nearly as many atomic numbers as the real one: Talent (Ta), Payroll (Bb), Coaching (Sk), Age (Yr), Management (Up), History (Hi), Camaraderie (Ca), Fans (Fa) Media (Me), Music (Mu), Cards (Po), Clubbies (Tp), etc. With the right mix, you can win despite the odds, a la the Twins or Cowboys or Predators. As a Red Sox fan, I fear that no matter who the manager or shortstop is, they will never win, because once the bunsen burner starts heating up Hi, Fa and Me, you get a chain reaction that takes out all of New England.
The single most important element may be Ta, but right behind it in significance is Sk. It's the skipper or coach who sets the tone, monitors the locker room and keeps the glare away from the players. (There have been instances when a terrible leader wins in spite of himself -- there was a baseball team once that voted NOT to give the manager a full postseason share -- but in those cases, he was probably so bad that he actually united the players.) That's why changing coaches often works, and why fired coaches often succeed in different situations.
I forget which it is: Does good pitching beat good hitting, or vice versa? This much I do know: Good vibes beats 'em both.
Jim Caple: A special Writers' Bloc investigation
Developed over decades by leading psychologists, sabermetricians and Cosmopolitan magazine editors, this proven test has allowed the Yankees to sign only "winners'' and "team players" such as Darryl Strawberry, Chuck Knoblauch, Ruben Rivera, David Wells, Fritz Peterson and, of course, manager Billy Martin. It was the chemistry provided by such players that has lifted the Yankees to greatness.
Scouts for other organizations refer to top prospects as "five-tool" guys but only the Yankees search for six- and occasionally seven-tool players by including this critical personality evaluation. Yankees psychological scouts break players down into six categories: winners, standup guys, team players, troublemakers, team cancers and born losers. Players classified as team cancers or born losers can never be Yankees, but an occasional troublemaker may be acquired during the pennant stretch if there is a glaring need at his position or if the Red Sox want him, too.
Among the questions on the test:
Do you think opposing pitchers are trying to get you out?
When you walk into a new on-deck circle, do you feel a compulsion to constantly tug at your wrist bands?
Did you cry when Kevin Costner asks his dad to play catch at the end of "Field of Dreams?"
Do you enjoy torturing small animals or firing fastballs/spears at the skulls of batters?
Do you have a fear of standing in large grassy fields?
What does the attached ink blot resemble?
A) puppies frolicking on the beach
Do voices coming from the metal plate in your head tell you to attack the other team's starting pitchers?
Does the test work? Bill James calculates that New York's team chemistry averaged 23.7 percent higher than the league average and a full third higher than the Red Sox last year. The Red Sox, who do not use the test, haven't won a World Series in 85 years and are infamous for taking 25 cabs home after the game. The Yankees, meanwhile, have won 26 World Series and squash so many players into one cab that they resemble a circus car filled with clowns.
"I know the test sounds goofy but I know we're much closer than other teams," Derek Jeter said. "I don't know if it's the personality profiling or the mandatory three-month Peace Corps hitches we do together in the winter, but something is making the difference."
THE BILL JAMES CHEMISTRY SHARES FORMULA
(Winning percentage + Karoake videos) + (OPS + Card games) X (Guys named Dizzy, Pops or Yogi) - (Drugs busts)
(Payroll X Book contracts) + (Potential free agents X Cabs taken after game)
Top five teams all-time Chemistry Shares:
1979 Pittsburgh Pirates (101.876)
Bottom five teams all-time Chemistry Shares:
1978 Boston Red Sox (57.381)