With all of the rumors surrounding the Chicago White Sox, the concept of team chemistry has become a conversation. Do the Detroit Tigers have team chemistry or is an explosion like the one in Arizona on the way?
Unless you have been sitting under a baseball rock, odds are strong that you have heard the story about Adam LaRoche and his son. Other than that basketball tournament (and the Detroit Tigers home run trend), this is the sports story of the week. Whether LaRoche or the White Sox were right or wrong in their actions is beyond my knowledge. I was not in the clubhouse and I was not in LaRoche’s house. Decisions were made. Words were said.
But, what I can understand is that there is a rift in the chemistry of the employees who work for that team. That, I can understand. Nothing destroys a group like a lack of team chemistry. And, that is what it looks like in Chicago.
Team chemistry wins games. Look at the Kansas City Royals. Nick Castellanos went to high school with Eric Hosmer who clearly loves being with his teammates in KC. Castellanos said: “What the Royals do so good is they come together and they know how to win. They don’t give up. Everybody knows their role.” After watching the Royals demolish every team in their path, it was clear that they actually did enjoy each other’s company.
But, it is easy to like the people you are around when you are winning. The challenges come when a group is not performing well.
Look at the Washington Nationals. When 25 men with different backgrounds, experiences, and talents come together and spend 162 games (plus spring training) in close quarters, bringing them together is a challenge that even the best statisticians have yet to master. The Nationals decided to blame their skipper, so they replaced the 2014 NL Manager of the Year in his second season with the team. Time will tell if Dusty Baker will be the savior of that team.
On the other hand, the Tigers had an equally abysmal season as the Nationals, but the front office decided not to blame the manager. They kept Brad Ausmus, which was a true surprise to the media and fans alike. The reason Al Avila decided to keep Ausmus was – in a nutshell – team chemistry. The 25 men on the team liked what Ausmus brought to the clubhouse, whether they were winning or losing.
At the end of the 2015 season, Justin Verlander was asked about the chemistry in the clubhouse. He told ESPN’s Katie Strang: “That’s the beauty of this clubhouse. Old guys, young guys, doesn’t matter. We pick each other up.” This does not happen without the strength of the manager.
It is evident that Ausmus believes in his team and takes time to work with his players. When a manager (boss, leader, etc.) takes the time to talk one-on-one with players (employees, etc.), the morale of the team improves. This was evident last week when Ausmus sat down with Daniel Norris after his pitching performance against the New York Mets. When each teammate feels like he is valued, team chemistry grows.
Of course, it is difficult to forget the minor scrum between James McCann and Jose Iglesias. In an interview with George Sipple with the Detriot Free Press, Iglesias said: “It’s over. It was just a miscommunication. He’s a guy that cares about winning and everybody wants to win. Everything is good. I’m really happy to have him behind the plate. He’ll do a lot of things to help us win.” The fact that the team quickly moved on after the incident shows that they can forgive and forget. That attitude takes leadership, which usually comes from the manager and veteran players.
Do the Tigers have team chemistry coming into the 2016 season? With the performances on the field, the smiling faces in practices, and the lack of drama being reported, it appears that the answer is yes.
Will the camaraderie happening in Lakeland carry over into the daily grind in Detroit? The answer to that question lies in this statement from Jim Leyland about the current skipper: “I sincerely think he’s got the chance to be a great one. He’s got a feel for it. Not afraid to try stuff. The players respect him. Kept playing for him last year even when they were out of it.”