One of the great topics for debate when it comes to team sports is how much does team chemistry play in making a difference between a winning or losing team. There are many who believe team chemistry is a bunch of bullshit and it’s mostly those in the sabermetric segment of baseball fans who take this position and feel that folks like me who believe in this part of the game are relics of the past and that whether you’re BFF’s with teammates or a big time snob, as long as you produce on the field that’s what counts. In some ways they’re right, Jeff Francouer had a million dollar smile and a ten cent approach at the plate while he was with the Mets. Barry Bonds was one miserable prick in the Giants clubhouse but he is still considered one the best baseball players of all time (I’ll leave the PED discussion for another time) but there is still something about having a group of people who have the same goal, winning and will do whatever has to be done to achieve that goal. When you have that collective mind set, I feel you have a greater shot of being a winning team than if you have a team that is just a collection of talent who worry about their 2 for 4 day and their statistical resume than winning games.
I bring this up because of four teams I’ve watched over the last month or so, two teams that have that “team chemistry” one that doesn’t and one I think will have it.
I’m a Boston Celtics fan and if there is a team that thrives on chemistry and is the best case study on the subject it’s the C’s. For the bulk of his career, Paul Pierce was the best the Celtics had to offer but as the losses piled up with exception of a trip to the NBA Finals in 2001, Pierce was ready to bolt Boston until GM Danny Ainge made two deals that put the Celtics back into the forefront of the NBA, obtaining Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. All three players were All-Stars and future Hall of Famers as well; this melding of talent would either be a big success or a major failure. It’s been a rousing success. All three superstars under the direction of Head Coach Doc Rivers have checked their egos at the locker room door and preached the value of teamwork to their teammates. Ainge also added a great supporting cast who all have the same team first mind set. Garnett uses the term “Ubuntu” which loosely translated from African culture means a sense of community. Yes it helps greatly that the team employs four players who are all time greats and one in Rajon Rando who will be in that same group when his career is over. When you watch the C’s play you know right away what the mission statement is, to win Banner 18 and to do it by any means necessary.
A team that is nowhere near having Ubuntu are the NY Knicks. Here is a team that is just a red hot mess. The best guy in the entire Knicks organization is the GM Donny Walsh, who took over a disaster of a team, got them below the salary cap for the first since the inception of the cap, who then went out an acquired two superstar players and has made The Garden the mecca of basketball once again. For his hard work and dedication what did Walsh get in return, a knife in his back wielded by the clueless owner of the team Jim Dolan. The head coach Mike D’Antoni preaches offense, offense and more offense with his “7 seconds or less” fast break style. A style that will never win without the player’s ability to play even plausible defense, which the Knicks don’t do. But the biggest problem with the Knicks is they have two superstars who don’t seem to know how to mesh. Amare Stoudemire was THE show for the bulk of the season with the Knicks. He was the focal point of everything from merchandising to promotion of the team, he was anointed the next great Knickerbocker. As the team had early success the chant of M-V-P cascaded from the fans at MSG, they loved their Amare. But wait, all of a sudden another superstar joined the team, this player was born in Red Hook Brooklyn but raised in Baltimore MD and won a National Championship with Syracuse and did everything in his power to be a Knick. Move over Amare make way for Carmelo Anthony.
Both these star players said all the right things at the ‘Melo presser (the same cannot be said of Dopey Dolan) and the first few games, the duo had Knick fans thinking it was 1970 all over again. But as the season has gone on, we see that both players are still trying to figure out who gets the ball when the game is on the line and how to get the rest of the roster to raise their game and guts to do what it takes to win games. We have seen ‘Melo glare at teammates who haven’t gotten the ball to him in crunch time and we’ve seen Stoudemire wonder what happened to the team he was the leader of and the coach trying to figure out how to appease two big egos. I guess you could say the Knicks lack “team chemistry”
Now the other tenant of MSG , is the exact opposite of their basketball cohabitants. For long time NY Rangers fans like myself , the best trait of this Ranger team is they never quit and even in losses, it’s hard to get mad as they are what hockey folks like to say a “lunch pail team” . Not only are they a hard working bunch but for the most part the Rangers roster is mostly home grown. Ryan Callahan is the captain in waiting along with Brandon Dubinsky, Mark Stahl, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan and King Henrik Lundquist are all setting the tone for big run to the playoffs. No matter what happens in the playoffs, as Ranger fans we have to be pleased that the foundation of the team that will be a Cup contender for awhile has been set. There is a very good blend of veteran and young players on this Ranger team. When you see teams like the Rangers play as hard as they do, as a fan your proud to say you root for that team. With the NY Rangers you have team and fan chemistry.
That brings me to the NY Mets. If your sole knowledge of the Mets was obtained through the NY beat writers, sports columnists and Twitter, you’d get the impression that this was the worst team in baseball. But if you watch the games and possess an open mind ,you’d come to the realization that the Mets are a pretty good ball club. Are they a World Series contender? Not this year. Will they be better than last year? No question in my mind they will.
There is a lot of familiarity with the players on the roster, most have played together either in the big leagues or in the Mets minor league system. R.A. Dickey had mentioned this during the off season that many of the guys on this team know each other very well. Dickey also mentioned that a baseball clubhouse is just like any work place, some of guys you’re close with and other guys not as close but when you put the same uniform you have that in common and that’s what’s important.
One of the biggest failures of the past front office staff was they let the clubhouse become fractured. The last two mangers seemed to polarize the clubhouse and that led to cliques forming between the players. You can see this spring that the new regime realizes this has been a problem with the Mets as Terry Collins instituted the Sunday night bowling parties to try to form a bond within the team.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying if the whole team sat around singing Kumbaya it will make the Mets a World Series winner, but if the TC and Sandy Alderson can change the climate of that clubhouse and Collins can get the team to buy into a team first mentality, that will be half the battle in getting the Mets winning games. I feel the seeds of that way of thinking have been planted. If the players realize that no matter how much money or how much time you’ve spent as a Met , means nothing if you don’t produce something positive to the club, you’ll be gone.
Think about it, the past administration went out and brought in talented players at big money contracts and what do they have to show for it? A division championship and two players calling out their teammates for not stepping up and talking to the media (the infamous “they speak English you know” from Bill Wagner and Red Ass LoDuca towards their Latino teammates) I think this will be a much better clubhouse and a much better Met team than most think. I can’t wait until a week from tomorrow and I really am excited for April 8th and the home opener. Forget about the mess the owners are in, forget about the nay sayers in media worrying about who the Mets fans are going to boo next. I’m not saying we should become a bunch of Pollyanna’s , but this Mets team looks like one we should be rooting for.