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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

May 20, 2008 at 9:19 AM

Chemistry contradictions

Good morning to you all. Adam, Mr. X, M’s Fan in CO Exile, Tacoma Rain, Kujo, Jeff, and company. See ya, Ziasudra. Don’t let the cyber door hit you on your way out. Same for everyone else. If you don’t like the debates here, you don’t have to stick around. There are plenty of other sites out there that will tell you exactly what you want to hear at any given time, while cheerleading for your favorite players and kicking your least favorite when they’re down, up, or otherwise. There are so many different sites out there that you can custom-design your daily reading to suit your every mood. If you come on here looking for the standard “every move this team makes is idiotic” stance so you can find an outlet for your anger, you’re wasting your time. Therapy works best for anger issues. Not a blog.
Two more things I wanted to throw out there, because I didn’t get to them last night. No. 1, there is a distraction involved to being a DH. It’s called sitting around on your butt trying to stay focused and loose for 45 minutes to an hour at a time while there’s a game going on. Position players have to be focused on the game because a ball can be hit their way at any time. Try doing that at your next company softball game. Go sit in the stands when your team takes the field, chat with the guy from accounting, buy a soft cone, pet the dog, then try to walk in cold and hit. Then do it all over again for another hour. And pretend the pitcher is throwing 95 mph instead of lobbing it to you underhand.
Last thing, this to answer Al’s question about why I “only” spent a paragraph ripping Miguel Batista’s performance and refusal to speak to the media, when I also lambasted Felix Hernandez for the same thing. Al, I devoted an entire blog post to this topic on Saturday — about players being accountable to their teammates and not leaving it to others to do their talking in the media. I posted how Billy Wagner of the Mets had criticized Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran for the same thing, told you how — in my experience of actually covering major league baseball clubhouses for a decade — players don’t like teammates pulling this stuff. Paul Lo Duca said much the same thing last season in regards to his Mets teammates, so this isn’t just a onetime thing. I challenged readers to tell me why Hernandez and Batista should get the free pass they’ve received from the Seattle blogosphere when two of the decade’s better hitters, Delgado and Beltran, did not get one from a relief pitcher on their own team. One or two of you tried to bite. The rest of you shied away. Didn’t want any part of that action. Don’t blame you. Never thought I could shut so many people up so easily with a little logic. Usually doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. But for whatever reason, all the big talkers teeing off on the media earlier in the week, missing the point entirely, I might add, suddenly had little to say when confronted with Wagner’s views on the issue. Most of you were more interested in getting into petty name-calling with Adam. But it wasn’t only this site that went quiet. Heard no debate about this anywhere else in the Seattle blogosphere the rest of the weekend. Funny, because other sites had plenty to say about the topic earlier in the week before Wagner spoke up and perhaps enlightened some people as to what actually does go on in a major league clubhouse.
As they say, live and learn. Or stick to your guns and insist it doesn’t matter in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Whatever. If some of you want to think I call out only “young” guys, I can’t stop you. I’d ask you to go back and read previous entries. Can guarantee you we’ve ripped just about the entire team to this point, individually and collectively. I’ll guarantee you the veterans on the Mariners saw my story last Thursday, about whether language and cultural differences are getting in the way of a more together clubhouse, as an indictment of their leadership skills. Some of you want to have a “young versus old” holy war played out on the blog pages every day. That’s OK, too. Just don’t expect me to follow along. And when I don’t, if you want to take your glove and trudge on home from the sandbox, that’s fine with me. For the rest of you, which is several hundred times more than the daily comments you see posted here, thanks for sticking around. And for your private emails and your patience. It is much appreciated.
On that note, on to today’s topic, which ties in with that clubhouse leadership thing. If you think the Mariners have it bad, consider the plight of this week’s opponent. The Detroit Tigers spent $135 million and sold fans and media on the notion they could win it all this year. Right now, they are a game behind the M’s, dead last in the American League. Some fans are blaming GM Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland. Most are blaming the players. That’s ultimately where I think most of the blame in Seattle lies. But I understand the difference in sentiment between fans in the two markets. After all, the Dombrowski-Leyland combo has achieved far more than Bill Bavasi-John McLaren.
But it’s easy to blame management all the time. That’s what the media does in bad, uncompetitive markets, with a few exceptions. Some management is so bad for so long that blame truly does fall on them. But I can tell you, it’s always easier for a media member to point a finger at one GM or manager than at some of the 25 players he or she has to face every day. In the good markets, though, the players — even popular favorites — are held accountable by the media.
That said, figuring out what is causing player non-performance is no easy task. If Jeff Pentland can’t figure it out with his Seattle hitters, how are we supposed to? Plug some numbers in to the trusty computer? Well, that works on some occasions. But not others.
How about this clubhouse chemistry thing? Been thinking a lot about it since I wrote my piece for the newspaper last Thursday on Seattle’s clubhouse. Pretty much wrote the same stuff in this blog two days before that story was published. So, it’s been on my mind.
Then, I open my copy of USA Today at the hotel this morning and get two different versions of how important clubhouse chemistry is: one from Tigers boss Leyland, another from former Mariners reliever George Sherrill.

The USA Today story on the Tigers failing to meet expectations paints a scene of an apparently disinterested clubhouse and has a couple of players raising the chemistry issue. But don’t tell that to Leyland.
You read the Leyland stuff and he says: “That’s everybody’s cop-out all the time, that chemistry must not be good. No, the chemistry is not good right now because we’re getting…beat.”
So, sort of what Bill Bavasi told me last week. When you win, all kinds of issues are shoved aside. When you lose, they all come out of the wood work. And they are all, according to Bavasi, personality based rather than a byproduct of language or cultural differences.
Fair enough. So, it’s safe to say Bavasi and Leyland are of similar mindset in regards to chemistry.
But then, in the same newspaper, you’ve got an Associated Press story on the Baltimore Orioles and their team-first attitude. In the story, Sherrill is quoted as saying the O’s clubhouse is better than Seattle’s.
“I think it’s better,” he said. “Everybody in here is great from top to bottom. There’s a lot of guys in Seattle that weren’t personable or anything. It could have been just the situation. You’re a high payroll team that’s kind of hovering in second or third, and you’re trying to battle and battle. Here, it just seems like everybody’s pulling for each other.”
So, does chemistry help teams win? Or is it a byproduct of winning? Because the M’s won 88 games last year and Sherrill is saying these things about the 2007 clubhouse.
Was there poor chemistry around last year that only became worse this year with the team losing more? Or does chemistry really make no difference?
This will be very interesting for some of you to tackle, because, those of you who feel the chemistry issue is a non-factor and only a byproduct of losing will be firmly entrenched in the Bavasi camp. I know that’s not where a lot of you want to be.
Is this team losing at this rate because the players are just so plain awful? Or, is it because they are all underperforming at the same time, out of sheer bad luck?
Is there something to be said for losing chemistry being contagious the same way winning chemistry and togetherness helps a team overachieve (think the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies or the 2001 Mariners)?
These are not mundane questions. They will ultimately help you answer whether or not Seattle needs a complete management overhaul. Because a lot of you, even those who didn’t believe in Seattle’s pennant hopes, did feel that this was a winning team. Even if it was only 83 wins you believed in. Not many GMs get fired after winning seasons. Look around the game. It happens, yes, but is not all that common.
So, is this team performing like this because of poor planning by Bavasi? Or because of chemistry and other factors more in the players’ hands? Or, does the GM take the heat for bad chemistry?
It’s important to ask, because if this really isn’t Bavasi’s fault, the next GM could come in and inherit the same mess. What if, say, Chris Antonetti were hired by the M’s as a GM, signed a good defensive left fielder, made Raul Ibanez the DH, puts Jeff Clement at first base and sticks Brandon Morrow in the starting rotation. And what if the M’s, like the Tigers, a seemingly powerhouse team on paper, went out and kept on losing a bunch of games like they are doing this year? Would it be time to fire Antonetti as well? Or re-hire Bavasi?
A computer, unfortunately, will not be able to get to the bottom of this question. Because as bad as both the M’s and Tigers have looked so far this year, I don’t know of any system that predicted they would be this bad. Identifying the reasons behind their struggles (assuming neither turns it around), including a hard look at whether chemistry plays any type of role, will be key to figuring out what the next move with the front office should be.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS (2:32 p.m.): For Edgar, I think it was, the U.S.S. Mariner post titled “We don’t care” is something I had read earlier. They may not care, despite having attempted an entire post on the issue the day after Hernandez ducked the media, but I do care about every aspect of what could be hurting this team. It has nothing to do with what I think of Billy Wagner personally, or Paul Lo Duca personally, or any other player who has ever been irked by players not standing up for post-game interviews. It’s what it says about the team that I’m interested in and have been from the start. If you want to blame every M’s woe on the Richie Sexson-Jose Vidro-Jarrod Washburn trio, well, that idea has been done to death. We know. They’ve underperformed. But are there other things going on that could impact the team? Most certainly, even stuff you can’t always measure, multiply and divide.
I wasn’t at the game on Saturday, when Miguel Batista ducked out, but here’s a snippet from the post-game blog on that from TNT: “Batista’s failure to be accountable for his own start, clearly irked JJ Putz in the clubhouse last night after the game. Putz even grabbed Raul Ibanez to voice his concern. Today Richie Sexson also said something to Carlos Silva about it as well.
Look I’m not complaining about them not talking. We all know that it’s not their job, but it is expected. And from a veteran like Batista, who usually has plenty to say, it’s surprising. But it works like this, if a starter doesn’t talk to the media, it forces somebody else in the clubhouse to have to do it. Like on the Texas road trip, Raul Ibanez had to stand up and do it three days in a row. It’s kind of why Billy Wagner was so mad after having to be interviewed following a game he didn’t even pitch in”.

Again, this is nothing I didn’t know already. I’m trying to share with you the stuff that matters to players in the clubhouse that might not occur to you, or the casual fan, who has never been in a clubhouse and doesn’t understand how this stuff works. Mike Blowers mentioned it on TV as well, saying it’s up to veterans to police the clubhouse and make sure everyone is accountable and not forcing teammates to stand up for them. If U.S.S. Mariner thinks these guys on the M’s are wrong, too, and Wagner, and Blowers and me, then that’s OK. They can have their beliefs and stick to them. I can’t force people to consider information laid out in front of them if they don’t want to. But I do care about stuff, even if it’s going to make me unpopular with some of you for whatever length of time. And just because some in the Seattle blogosphere would rather I let it slide, doesn’t mean I’m going to.
As for the question from Jack, asking me about a Shannon Drayer blog item, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of her recording machine’s time codes. I’ll stick to the 45 minutes, even though she claims it was 37 minutes after the game ended that Hernandez came out. Thing is, if we’re arguing 37 versus 45 minutes, this is getting silly. Most of these things are done within 15 minutes of the media entering a clubhouse. Drayer omitted the part where Hernandez (about 15 minutes into the wait) forced media relations official Jeff Evans to call out to him multiple times, his voice getting more irritated with each, to come over and get the interview session over with. Hernandez then rudely snapped back that he wouldn’t as he strolled casually by the shower area with a beer in his hand before heading to an off-limits room. It wasn’t until well after that attempt by Evans, when everyone but and the team’s flagship radio reporter had left the room, that Hernandez finally came out. Don’t know if Drayer was around for the whole middle process. I’ll assume she was off doing her radio segment because she has quicker deadlines than we do right after games, later ones than us once her first hit is done. But that part’s a little important to telling the whole story and it’s missing. Hernandez did this stuff several times back in spring training to members of the team’s staff, making them chase after him all over the clubhouse and back rooms. So, it was not the first time this has happened. He’d been ducking the media all week since the brawl with Texas as well. So, what do I “have to say” about the blog item you referenced? Not much.
Do the rest of you care? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. I know Jack cares, which is why I addressed this to him.



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