So it’s Groundhog Day. This is not to be confused with Groundhog Year. During Groundhog Year, the Twins pursue mid-level free agents, pretend to be in the running for an expensive free agent (missed him by….this much), and then begin the year with a highly competitive team that we all expect will compete for the central division championship. Very few of us would bet on winning anything beyond a single playoff series, if that, but maybe, one never knows...1987 and all of that. So, it’s always the same, what could make it different?
I think I (like millions of others) have found the difference. I don’t think that there has been enough written, over the years, about clubhouse chemistry. Actually, I do. Truthfully, I think there’s been far too much consideration of it, and usually what is written about clubhouse chemistry is so truly insipid, it makes the one who reads about it actually less informed than when they began the article. I mean,“body language” really? That said, there’s something to a championship team that requires good chemistry, even if we can’t fully define it, and we probably deserve to be ridiculed when we try. I’m willing to accept that ridicule, I mean, if we’re going to let a groundhog predict the weather, I’m certainly qualified to analyze team chemistry. I’m a college graduate. I sort of, barely, remember taking chemistry.
I must confess that I never anticipated writing about team chemistry though, for like proclamations of patriotism, it seemed like the last refuge of a writing scoundrel. Nothing substantive to write or think about….how about team chemistry? Forget analytics, perhaps even allow common sense to take a back seat, while we conjure up fictional notions of “team chemistry.”
I mean, has there ever been more of a waste of five words than “it is what it is?” Still, there’s something to it. Would the Twins have won way back in 1987 and 1991 without Dan Gladden and Kirby Puckett? Puckett was a superstar, no doubt. But Gladden had “it”…whatever “it” was. A team needs a fighter who his teammates know would run through a wall for them.
Do the Twins have that guy? As talented as Joe Mauer was, we all knew he wasn’t that guy. That didn’t make him less of a star, or less valuable to the team, it was just who he was. He needed somebody else with an edge that would sharpen his seemingly gentle and eminently reasonable demeanor. We had Morneau, who like Mauer, seemed like an incredibly nice guy, an all-star player with an all-star demeanor. What we needed (in small doses) was somebody who wasn’t such a nice guy. Somebody who could fire people up in the dugout. Some can probably be both. Dan Gladden was probably a nice guy, Al Newman probably a nice guy, but we also knew they’d be fun to share a beer with and if things got out of control, they’d be happy to engage…while people like me, quietly headed for the back door.
Having said that, talent, of course, ultimately wins out. I wouldn’t have suggested trading Mauer or Morneau for someone less talented but who had an edge about them. But I would suggest that there might be something…just a little something, about the guys in the dugout all being super nice guys lacking an edge. Then again, Delmon Young had an edge (at least on the streets of NYC) and we can see where that took us. So, there it is, that magical undefinable and unquantifiable role of “chemistry.” It’s something we just don’t know what. But it seems real, like something that every truly good team needs.
For those old enough to remember, or who have read about the Oakland A’s championships of the 1970s, it seemed that they pretty much hated each other...now that was a team with an edge. Maybe the Twins don’t need that much of an edge, but they need something....some level of edge.
Who do the Twins need who has an edge? They need Trevor Bauer. Of course, he seems like a jerk, but we’re loaded with good guys who can take that edge off when that edge needs toning down. What we may lack is the edge we need when we lack a fighting spirit. So, like Seinfeld, this is another article about nothing….unless it’s an article about everything. Chemistry is everything, even if we can’t define it. There’s something different about sports. The Twins won’t be signing Bauer. It’s the money, of course, but it’s also the ability to talk the fanbase into the need to sign “nice guys.” It’s easy to root for nice guys, I’m in favor of nice guys myself. I’ve already written about Rocco and what a quality human being he seems to be. I’ve already mentioned Mauer, and Morneau there are countless others who just seem like great guys. I generally favor nice people in charge over total jerks, it’s just what I believe.
And who wouldn’t want to root for them? But….every year there’s just something missing. If we’re not going to spend the money to get over the top (and we know we’re not)…then my argument for what is missing is that one guy. That one guy who makes everybody want to fight a bit harder, play a bit tougher, and not accept losses with such grace and dignity.
Have we ever heard a bad word about Kepler, or Buxton, or Polanco (suspension aside)? We just seem to have a roster of fantastic guys…I think we need one completely off the rails fighter. Romo was close to edgy enough, but it wasn’t all quite there, maybe the “chemistry” has to be in the dugout and on the field rather than in the bullpen, and now even that bit of fire will be playing somewhere else.
Let me use the Vikings as a present example. Is Kirk Cousins a nice guy? Seems like he is. No skeletons in that closet. Was Brett Favre a nice guy? Or Jim McMahon? From the outside, it would seem like inviting Kirk over to the house would be a safer evening than inviting Brett or Jim, but there was something about Favre and McMahon, an edge that got their teammates blood pumping a bit faster. We need that. I mean probably not exactly THAT….but something like that we lack. Rosario came close, he could pump those fists as he rounded first base after hitting a home-run with the best of them, but he wasn’t the total answer…he was close. Now, who even can be a candidate for that role? It’s chemistry…I don’t know if it’s either everything or it’s nothing, I just know it’s something.