(Ed.: I wrote this last weekend, and never got around to publishing it. I decided to go ahead and post it today to see what you guys thought.)
Whether we’re talking high school or baseball, I despise chemistry. Baseball fans have always claimed that some teams win with lesser talent, simply because they have great Ã¢â‚¬Å“chemistry.Ã¢â‚¬Â Hogwash, I would say (yes, I say things like that). There’s no such thing, I would insist.
That skepticism about team chemistry began to erode this weekend at Great American Ballpark.
There is a mountain of evidence against the notion of chemistry. Take the A’s and Yankees teams of the 1970s, for example. Those clubs had terrible chemistry, but they won big. Or look at the 1991 Pirates, who began the campaign with an altercation between manager Jim Leyland and slugger Barry Bonds. Leyland dismissed questions about the team’s chemistry: “Chemistry is a .300 batting average, 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases.” Those Pirates, of course, won 98 games.
Baseball analysts have long maintained that team chemistry is a fiction. University studies into the psychology of chemistry have shown that there is no identifiable link between group performance and strong personal bonds or communication within the group. In the baseball context, it seems that claims of great chemistry are only applied to winning teams. Isn’t it more likely that winning breeds good chemistry, rather than the other way around?
That’s what I thought, until I ventured down to the ballpark this weekend. On Sunday, the Reds lost a heart-breaker, but I saw something that day that I hadn’t seen before. Could great chemistry be responsible for the RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ recent success?
I’m beginning to believe. Exhibit one: Adam Rosales. I was very disappointed when Ã¢â‚¬Å“PeteÃ¢â‚¬Â Rosales didn’t make the Reds out of spring training, not because of his never-ending hustle, but rather because he can play several infield positions adequately and, more importantly, because the kid’s bat has been pretty good in the minors.
Since Rosales’ 2009 debut, the Reds are 7-4 and playing with a new-found joy and enthusiasm. Did you see Rosales hit the home run that tied Sunday’s game at 4? Rosales sprinted around the bases at full speed. Immediately, the energy in the stadium increased ten-fold. That energy has clearly infected the Reds roster.
Exhibit two: ninth inning. Even before Micah Owings hit his improbable homer to tie the game, there was a fascinating scene in the Reds dugout. The two best everyday players on this team, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, were on the top step of the dugout, leaning over the railing, cheering on their teammates like Little Leaguers. After the Owings homer, Bruce jumped around in the dugout as if he were imitating my four-year old son. You wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see that scene in any other major league city these days.
Call it the Rosales Effect, or call it good chemistry; it’s fun to watch. Something special is happening here. The Reds are playing harder than ever before; even Brandon Phillips has been running out ground balls since Rosales showed up. It appears that a rookie, along with two guys (Bruce and Votto) who play hard every single play of every single game, have taught a lesson to the veterans. The Reds have been outscored by their opponents this season, yet they have a winning record. Can we give chemistry some of the credit?
I’m not willing to go that far yet, but my mind is changing fast. The Reds still have holes, primarily in left field. In addition, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be fooled into thinking Adam Rosales is the next Pete Rose, or even the next Chris Sabo. Frankly, he wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t out-produce Edwin Encarnacion offensively; IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d let him be a super-sub, playing 5-6 times a week at different positions.
Wherever heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s playing, his impact will be felt. Rosales brought something extra to this team when he arrived. Combine his boundless energy with Votto’s single-minded purpose and Bruce’s otherworldly talent, and you have a group of youngsters who are desperate to win, and confident enough not to listen to those who say they can’t win.
Ultimately, the Reds may not contend this season, but theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a fun ballclub. Maybe itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the chemistry after all.