Tuesday, March 08, 2005

I've got your team chemistry right here for ya, pal

Scott Brown of Florida Today discusses the power of team chemistry---a concept so influential, apparently, that it can rewrite history

I shouldn't be too hard on Florida Today; after all, it is a publication from beyond the DC area that considers the Nats relevant. That counts for something.

Still, fact-checking isn't all that hard these days; Baseball Reference is only a click away.

Anyway, here we go: Brown discusses the importance of every baseball fan's favorite amorphous talking point, "team chemistry." He interviews a number of former players, including Cecil Cooper and one Gary Gaetti:

Houston hitting coach Gary Gaetti can cite two examples of a team playing well on the field because the players got along so well off it. In 1987 and in 1991, the Minnesota Twins won the World Series even though they didn’t have near the starpower of the teams they beat on the way to the championships. The Twins did have one advantage over other clubs. “We had other teams come in and say ‘Man you guys just have a lot of fun, don’t you?’ That definitely translates into the on-the-field stuff,” said Gaetti, a two-time All-Star who played third base on those Twins teams. “There wasn’t much emphasis on stats. We didn’t have all the television coverage and that kind of stuff. We’d have one All-Star because we had to have one.”

I imagine I'm not the only one who can spot the glaring error here. That's right, sports fans---Gaetti didn't play for the '91 Twins. Instead, he bolted for the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after the '90 season and promptly established himself as a member of the Collusion Money Free Agency All-Bust Team.

In retrospect, Gaetti is a fairly strange guy to comment on team chemistry, anyway. I recall reading magazine articles from about 1989, when Gaetti became a born-again Christian, positing that Gaetti's conversion killed the Twins' chemistry, or at least strained the clubhouse (or, at a minimum, left the clubhouse much less "fun," to use Gaetti's word, than it had been before). It's not my place, obviously, to comment on a charge like that, but it is well-known that Gaetti's relationship with the other Twins stars from the '87 champions was certainly different by the time he left the team. Since I'd assume---I'd hope---that Gaetti is not expressing regret over his conversion, even granting that he probably did not misrepresent his championship credentials, he's recalling things rather selectively.

In addition, and I know that this is a comparatively minor point, according to Gaetti his champion Twins were a chemistry-driven, no-name bunch. Well, I can't quibble that television coverage has exploded since he was in Minnesota, but he massively understates the star power that team had. Gaetti himself, at the time, belonged to a class of third baseman---at least popularly---that was just below Wade Boggs, a lingering George Brett, and the recent memory of Mike Schmidt (moved to first, then retired in May '89). Frank Viola had established himself as a top pitcher and won the Cy Young Award in 1988 (right after being the World Series MVP). Bert Blyleven was near the end of a (should-be) Hall of Fame career. Jeff Reardon was a top closer. Kent Hrbek, while never the superstar he was prophesied to be in 1984, was considered a top offensive first baseman. Tom Brunansky was something of a minor star, and so was Tom Herr, who was acquired in early '88 for Brunansky.

And we haven't even mentioned Kirby Puckett, one of the most popular superstars of the era.

So, while Gaetti is generally correct that the Twins had relatively few selected all-stars, the '87 team wasn't made up of eager unknowns, and in fact, the team received tremendous "delayed recognition" the following season, represented by five all-stars.

In other words, this article, at least in how it relates to Gaetti, is hooey.

But that's emblematic of "team chemistry" discussions, isn't it? I'm not saying such a thing doesn't exist---how could I possibly?---but it's funny that an article that stresses its importance is built in large part on either flawed memories or faulty fact-checking. In other words, the concept suffers from post-hoc rationalizations and "make it up as we go along" revisionist history.

Then there's also the fact that the Twins cheated to win both of their World Series'.
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Then there's also the fact that the Twins cheated to win both of their World Series.
Obviously, I'm not very good with comments. Good thing I'm pretty.
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