Perhaps if we had two hands and a flashlight

JMB · May 21, 2007 at 10:27 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Baker, over at his blog, shares the opinion of an unnamed clubhouse insider–the M’s are crummy because they don’t have enough jerks. No, really.

He told me that what the Mariners lack, to put it bluntly, is more jerks. He didn’t use the word “jerks” — more like a word that rhymes with manholes. Anyway, this insider also didn’t mean jerks like the kind who go around getting into bar fights, driving drunk and such. Just guys with a little more edge to them. Put simply, the Mariners “are too nice” is what he conclude

Wait a minute, now. Weren’t the Mariners so good in 2001 because they didn’t have any jerks? I realize Baker wasn’t here then, but still. This whole thing gets back to the argument that winning breeds so-called “good chemistry,” not the other way around. Well not quite that exact argument, but similar.


80 Responses to “Perhaps if we had two hands and a flashlight”

  1. Max Power on May 21st, 2007 3:18 pm

    Batters hacking at the first three pitches, batters jogging to first on groundouts, fielders letting the ball bounce in front of them needlessly, throwing to the wrong base. You see these things, you draw conclusions.

    Here are some conclusions I would draw:
    1) They have been aggressive hitters from childhood
    2) They aren’t very fast
    3) They were afraid of risking a bad hop
    4) They thought they had a chance to throw out the runner/prevent the runner from advancing by throwing to the base they chose

    There just isn’t any reason to think this particular team ‘dogs it’ any more than any other.

  2. etowncoug on May 21st, 2007 3:25 pm

    I am of the opinion that the best way to address the “chemisty” issue is to find someone and make an example out of them. When Billy Beane blew a fuse and traded Jeremy Giambi for John Mabry, it was a good trade because it showed the players what was what. The only way to get that pyscho Beane off their back was to play well. It certainly will make a player think twice about mailing in a game.

    With a little planning a good scapegoat can go a long way towards improving a teams fortunes.

  3. gwangung on May 21st, 2007 3:27 pm

    Hm. As other people elsewhere have posited, maybe the reason why the team doesn’t have chemistry, why it doesn’t have a passion for winning is that the front office doesn’t have it. How can a team possibly have it if the top echelon has no clue about it?

  4. etowncoug on May 21st, 2007 3:29 pm

    “There just isn’t any reason to think this particular team ‘dogs it’ any more than any other.”

    Watch a team like the Minnesota Twins everyday and I think your opinion will change. Some teams play harder than others.

  5. Gomez on May 21st, 2007 3:33 pm

    I still affirm that a key reason they don’t get better players to sign here is because of the geographic distance from the rest of the country, let alone the families and homes of the league’s Latin players. Sure, they draw some free agents like Beltre (Sexson already is from the PNW), but when it comes time to sell top FAs on Seattle, it’s still farther away from home for many than LA, NYC, Chicago, Houston, etc. Not be a winning ballclub certainly doesn’t help, but it’s not the only factor.

    This ‘So-and-so is a good clubhouse guy’ is one of 1000 smokescreens the org uses to mask the fact that they guys they sign are the best guys they can convince to come up here to play.

    The org has its fundamental philosophical problems, but the Seattle Mariners will always be at an inherent disadvantage in luring free agents, no matter who’s in the front office.

    As for the likes of Carlos Pena, that could be the case of the M’s never making an offer… but could that be because he never had any interest in straying from the East Coast?

  6. scraps on May 21st, 2007 3:36 pm

    I want a team that plays hard and smart. I see no evidence — and I watch plenty of baseball — that the Mariners play less hard than they should, though I see a fair amount of evidence that they could play smarter.

    I hardly know what to say to someone who thinks it’s a good idea to “find” somebody to make an example of. Jeremy Giambi didn’t need to be found: we was a problem. Random scapegoating would do nothing more than create a culture of fear, and while fear can be a short-term motivator for some people, long-term it’s been shown over and over again to be a lousy way to try to get groups of free people to accomplish things. This isn’t news; the business leader who tries to create a culture of fear these days is viewed as a sorry dinosaur.

  7. Max Power on May 21st, 2007 3:38 pm

    Watch a team like the Minnesota Twins everyday and I think your opinion will change.

    No it won’t.

  8. scraps on May 21st, 2007 3:40 pm

    55: How many times have the Mariners made the top offer and had a free agent spurn them?

    The Seahawks get free agents they want. The distance of Seattle no doubt works against us, but Seattle’s widespread reputation as a great place to live probably helps. Inasmuch as non-baseball and non-financial considerations matter at all.

  9. induced entropy on May 21st, 2007 3:42 pm

    Dave, I’m not bashing your calls there, as I’m sure you picked up by my saying you are “mostly right, most the time.”

    That alone puts you above the majority of the world on pretty much any subject… and perhaps I slightly overstated your position both on the low of Howard and the high of Reed.

    More or less my comments were pointed toward the USSM readership, not you. I just get tired of the self-congratulatory perspective they seem to take in regards to your opinions, which they will often agree with and immediately take for their own whether after one article by you.

    Do I think beat writers should be better? Certainly. But when they fall short, this site becomes loaded with commentary about how deplorable they are. It is your right (and duty) to point it out. But 100 posts of “yeah, your right!” in various veins get frustrating. And when the 10-30% of us that may disagree add our honest (and ideally intelligently) written disagreement sometimes the mob attacks get at some levels comical.

    But when you are flat out wrong (as you readily admit in the Howard case) I don’t see the same mob mentality brow beating you down.

    I love the submit comment button you used to have. Quirky, humorous and with the goal of eliminating some of the “noise.” I just wish more of the posters took it to heart, added more thoughtfulness to their comments, or declined to post if their opinion didn’t add anything truly useful to the discussion.

    Not that it is always the case. But at times it is.

    And I’m just getting to post this now, with 37 comments on.. a lot may have changed since I first read your response and posted this. But such is life.

  10. eponymous coward on May 21st, 2007 3:50 pm

    The org has its fundamental philosophical problems, but the Seattle Mariners will always be at an inherent disadvantage in luring free agents, no matter who’s in the front office.

    As the past few years should illustrate, building your team on free agents has downsides- because of how free agency works, you’re going to be paying for the 30+ years on the downside of careers.

    Even the Yankees have that- their best years correspond nicely to the peak of their hoomegrown talent (Jeter+Williams+Rivera+Pettitte+Posada).

  11. etowncoug on May 21st, 2007 3:53 pm

    “Jeremy Giambi didn’t need to be found: we was a problem.”

    If Jeremy Giambi was a problem (on the field), then why was Depodesta trying to talk Beane down when he went to make this trade. Why did he have a 125 OPS+ at the time of his trade? I wish the Mariners had a player with a 125 OPS+ that was a problem (on the field).

  12. scraps on May 21st, 2007 3:58 pm

    I didn’t say he was a problem on the field. He was the kind of problem you appeared to be talking about. If there’s an equivalent on the Mariners who needs to be shipped out because of their attitude, who is it? If there isn’t one, the only thing you do by finding someone to make an example of is show that you’re autocratic.

  13. etowncoug on May 21st, 2007 4:20 pm

    I would say that Mike Hargrove is that kind of a problem, but that’s just speculation from my seat in front of my computer.

    A new manager would be able to redefine the roles of certain players without having to keep promises to them. It’s a clean slate.

  14. Gomez on May 21st, 2007 4:26 pm

    The distance of Seattle no doubt works against us, but Seattle’s widespread reputation as a great place to live probably helps.

    As a non-local, I believe Seattle’s reputation as a greta place to live is vastly overestimated by the locals, quite possibly due to a bubble mentality. Seattle doesn’t really stick out in the PsOV of the rest of the nation: to many it’s just the rainy city that gave the world Starbucks and grunge.

    There are a lot of great places to live in the US, many closer, more culturally diverse and with more to offer (or at least perceived as such) than Seattle. It’s about as much of a negotiating advantage as ‘Dallas has great supermarkets.’

  15. Gomez on May 21st, 2007 4:29 pm

    Also, a good manager benches players who are sucking and/or moves them down the lineup until they begin to produce again. The ‘psychological factor’ behind having a certain lineup spot is as silly a notion as the ‘X-player makes the team better because of clubhouse chemistry’ notion. Bat Sexson 7th until he starts hitting.

  16. scraps on May 21st, 2007 4:49 pm

    Gomez, Seattle’s reputation is probably overestimated by the locals, but I’ve lived in New York for twenty years and virtually every time I say where I’m from, people either say it’s a great town or they’ve heard it’s a great place to live or something along those lines, and I get asked with some frequency why I wanted to leave. My experience is people believe Seattle is an even better place than it is these days.

  17. scraps on May 21st, 2007 4:49 pm

    (Um, in case it wasn’t clear, I’m from Seattle.)

  18. Jeremy on May 21st, 2007 4:56 pm

    I live in LA. The reputation from what I hear down here is that people would love to visit, but definitely would not want to live in Seattle because of the rain. I was originally from Seattle but moved a couple years ago.

  19. Doc Baseball on May 21st, 2007 4:57 pm

    The issue for me with “chemistry” is not that any given writer chooses to raise it — but that they fail to actually do any analysis about it. What is enraging is not their crutch of resorting to the topic, but their failing to think and analyze.

    It is far too easy, and we too often allow them, to say “we need jerks” or “anger and passion are critical”. But, by saying on ly this, they have failed to help us, failed to provide any insight. Because there are 100’s of teams of jerks and passionate “idiots” who have won — and 100’s who have lost. And 100’s of calm guys who have won, and 100’s who have lost.

    So, do some freakin’ digging: when does which type of chemistry lead to what? Joe Torre is calm and won. Carl Everett is fiery and for the most part failed. Olerud and Edgar, Jeter and Alston, Cox and LaRussa, all are calm and won. Pittsburgh was a freakin’ “family” and won. Tons of calm guys lost. Tons of fiery guys won. Clubhouses fought and won (Reggie, Cincinnati, Martin); clubhouses fought and splintered.

    Explain how and why a boston or a st louis or a 2002 angels worked — what are those elements? Don’t just toss off “we need more fire”. THAT is what annoys me — not the topic (which is deeply fascinating, in part because it is so complicated and difficult to elucidate and understand) — but the failure to analyze.

    There is no correlation between chemistry and winning not because there is no relationship, but because there is so much noise that whatever the relationship is is obscured. Someone figuring out how to extract noise and illuminate relationship, now THAT would be a good couple of column inches….

  20. Gomez on May 21st, 2007 6:06 pm

    Yeah, scraps, but anybody will have an opinion on a city if you bring it up. It probably does not come to their minds on their own.

  21. Karen on May 21st, 2007 7:00 pm

    I think the beginning of the end was when the minority owner’s daughter luuuuvvved Joey Cora, and so the team kept him on a year past his “sell by” date.

  22. scraps on May 21st, 2007 9:02 pm

    69: Right on, well said.

    68: Well, in New York we actually get more inches of rain than Seattle does, so the rain thing may not be the killer issue here that it is for Angelenos.

  23. IdahoInvader on May 21st, 2007 11:01 pm

    Chemistry being overrated is said best by Cito Gaston, referring to his playing days for some terrible Padre teams in their inaugural years. Paraphrasing, it went something like this:

    We went to dinner together, went to the movies together, had fun together and finished in last place together.

  24. Oly Rainiers Fan on May 22nd, 2007 5:21 am

    69: Exactly. But it’s not just a failure of beat writers. It’s a failure on the part of the sabermetric community as well, who often assume that if it’s not measurable in some concrete stat, it does not matter – in the same sense that work done for no pay (a primary measure) does not contribute towards the economy.

    It’s another case of lived experience versus eyeballing stats. Most of us do not work in a sport environment, where winning and losing is so clearly definable, but we know from our lived experience that companies can be more profitable and productive with certain kinds of leadership in place, or certain kinds of office morale indicators. Equally hard to define in the office world, and terms thrown around like ‘walk the talk’ or ‘value and invest in their employees’ or ‘takes responsibility for getting the job done’.

    We recognize the value and contribution of such qualities in our own lives, yet dismiss it on a sporting team simply because nobody has come up with a good way to capture or measure it?

  25. Dave on May 22nd, 2007 7:12 am

    We recognize the value and contribution of such qualities in our own lives, yet dismiss it on a sporting team simply because nobody has come up with a good way to capture or measure it?

    No – we dismiss it’s value as a decision making tool in building a roster, because no one has come up with a good way to predict its occurrance.

  26. gwangung on May 22nd, 2007 7:51 am

    No – we dismiss it’s value as a decision making tool in building a roster, because no one has come up with a good way to predict its occurrance.

    Key point, really.

    The team THINKS it can implement chemistry through player selection. Yet, they fail, time after time. The RATIONAL thing to do is to stop trying to do that; if you can’t implement it, stop wasting time and money doing it.

    You think this crew will get a clue?

  27. Oly Rainiers Fan on May 22nd, 2007 8:30 am

    The majority of this thread (and others that have dealt with this issue) don’t do what you succinctly captured and phrased in focusing on its’ value as a decision making tool. Instead, there are many rants dismissive of its ‘value’ at all, or implying that ‘wins’ will somehow create the inherent value of a well-run, functional (in terms of interaction) team. Which is every bit as ridiculous as saying that just stock and profit at Exxon is up, the employees are happy and productive and functioning at peak.

    Neither the win/profit or the leadership/morale issue is the chicken OR the egg. In the best (or perhaps, most sustainable for win/profit) they go together, working in complementary fashion.

    And, you’re completely right that it’s hard to identify and make decisions based on something that’s really hard to predict. You’re thinking of hiring for a new position; one of the things you take into consideration is whether the person’s personality is a good ‘fit’ with your existing unit. The degree to which ‘fit’ is given weight varies and is dependent not only on whether you have all the pertinent known facts about the interviewee but also that you have a good understanding of the overall capacity/needs of your work unit and your organizational direction.

    The problem with the Mariners is multi-fold. They don’t have a solid knowledge of organizational direction even at the smallest level (like valuing OBP) – rather, they shift it seemingly randomly and it’s not apparent.

    They don’t have a good understanding of their capacity or needs for different skill sets inclusive of leadership qualities.

    They don’t do a good job evaluating skills (tangible or not) of their interviewees.

  28. Doc Baseball on May 22nd, 2007 9:09 am

    I’m not sure the failure to look at chemistry is a failure of the sabermetric community. I believe the driving principle of the sabermetric community is to analyze, to assess causal relationships, to predict, to determine probabilities. Chemistry gets tossed out there by people as an explanation, but it is horribly analyzed.

    2001 M’s — calm, steady Olerud-Wilson-Edgar.

    2004 Boston — insane idiots.

    “Chemistry” comes in all shapes and sizes. So the question is, can you analyze it to determine causes, to build it, to predict success from it.

    My sense is “chemistry” gets used when people cannot explain failure. I believe the truth is that high-performance teams — in real work or in baseball — need some fundamental elements. Some things ARE critical and look the same across all good teams — maybe things like talent, insights and understandings from “coaches”, clear expectations, feedback on performance, control over your work, a sense from each team member that they and their role are critical.

    But many, many other things can vary and can look wildly different from team to team — and you will still have a high performing team. I believe these writers aren’t thinking hard enough — they are too worried about these irrelevant, superficially different things that have no relation to performance, that inherently have nothing to do with causing or undermining effectiveness.

    Screaming and breaking bats is unrelated to success. Being calm and not caring whether the fans like you is unrelated to success. As long as teams do the critical things — like get talent, coach it well, let the talent operate, provide feedback — that team will perform — regardless of superficial differences, or similarities.

    So, I believe that the sabermetric community is correct here in not looking at “chemistry” — not because it can’t be measured, but because the superficial things people call “chemistry” have nothing whatsoever to do with performance. You have Edgar as a leader, and you have Manny Ramirez as a leader. Arguably, Carl Everett and Jose Guillen are the same guy — is one a leader or someone who builds the right chemistry and the other not? I would venture to say that in your work situations, you have had different-looking situations that worked well. MS, IBM, Apple all look different, all work. What matters — they have in common — what does not matter, they let vary and it does not matter (to performance).

    The M’s failures are a result of the critical aspects of high-performance teams: talent and effective management. The non-critical areas: yelling or not, stand-up guy or not, cares what the fans think or not, “good” chemistry or “bad”, simply have nothing to do with performance.

    So, why even talk about them? Sabermetricians haven’t failed to look at something important. They have correctly concluded that blonde or brunette, long hair or short, rah-rah or zen-like … it doesn’t make a difference.

  29. DMZ on May 22nd, 2007 9:26 am

    Which is every bit as ridiculous as saying that just stock and profit at Exxon is up, the employees are happy and productive and functioning at peak.

    What’s funny is that’s a pretty good description. You can look through historical press accounts of corporate cultures, and you’ll find that they’re described depending on the stock performance of the company at the time.

    Company does well = daring, employee empowerment creates initiative

    Company does badly = directionless, without vision

    Examples of that abound. It’s exactly the same thing for teams. If teams do well, coverage finds reasons they did well. If they do badly, reasons are found for why they did badly. Players hate each other?

    Team’s doing well: they’re playing great to spite each other.

    Team’s doing badly: they’re divided and not playing as a unit.

    Not that that’s exactly the point here.

    If you can’t reliably measure, predict, hire for, manage or manage to any player or combination of player impacts, it’s pointless to use that as a factor in personell decisions, or even really to consider it.

  30. Dave in Palo Alto on May 22nd, 2007 2:40 pm

    This is a good thread, especially Derek’s point that the same clubhouse atmosphere is held out as the source of both joy and woe.

    One final thought I had thinking about this is that I can’t buy the premise of Baker’s informant — no assholes in the clubhouse. If true, they should bronze the benches and enshrine them in the Hall of Fame. It would be a first.

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