Thursday, November 4, 2010

Team Chemistry is Overrated



Team chemistry to most people is considered to be a very important part of a team's success. The thinking seems to be that if the players get along and like each other, they'll work that much harder to accomplish their ultimate goals as a team. Some people think it's very difficult to win a championship, if not impossible, without great team chemistry. When the 2001 Patriots shocked the world and beat the greatest-show-on-turf St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl, team chemistry was cited over and over as to why they won the game.

I'm here to tell all of you that team chemistry is bullshit, at least on a professional level. Yes, a talented team with great chemistry is likely to be better than an equally talented team with no chemistry; but even as I write that I'm not positive that's the case. As fans, we try to relate to the players. Most of us played sports, and at one point or another we had a teammate or several teammates that made the team far less fun to play on. When you have a 14 or 15-year-old kid causing problems for the other youngsters, chemistry is a big issue. That's because we played these sports for fun; as an escape from the daily worries of a teenager. When someone ruins that experience for us, the natural inclination is to find something else that is more fun. Professional athletes don't have the option of simply doing something else, though. This is their job.

I've seen team chemistry believers argue over the last few weeks that chemistry is obviously very important because how else could you explain the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants making the World Series? Again, excuse my language, but that's bullshit. Both the Giants and Rangers deserve a lot more credit for what they accomplished this year; saying they won because they all got along is likely false in multiple ways. First off, there's no way everyone liked each other. That's simply impossible when 25 guys are trying to make a (well-paid) living and there's only nine positions to play. Secondly, and much more importantly, both teams are extremely talented.

Texas didn't make the World Series because they celebrated with ginger-ale to include Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson. Texas made the World Series because they rode Cliff Lee's dominance to victory after victory, and because Josh Hamilton was a monster in the ALCS. The Giants didn't make the World Series because Cody Ross is 'always having fun' and 'smiling a lot' they made the World Series because their pitching was downright dominant, and because Cody Ross hit home run after home run in the NLCS. There's a lot of talk about Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria coming up big--and yes, at times, they did. But both generally struggled during the playoffs (Renteria had a very good World Series, though) and without the pitching staff consistently allowing less than two runs a game, there's no way the Giants make the run they did. Any team with a playoff rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez has a very good chance at making a deep playoff run. If they like each other or not is irrelevant; they all want another contract, and they all know being able to put '2010 World Series Champion' on their resume is going to add a couple zeroes to any contract they sign.

Chemistry has been blamed for the Vikings struggles this season, and many people continue to say releasing Randy Moss will benefit the Vikings because the chemistry will be better. Most reports, though, suggested Moss was fairly well liked as a teammate during his brief second stint in Minnesota. Yes, berating the caterer was absolutely disgraceful and there is no excuse for Moss doing that. But it's now been three days since Moss was reportedly going to be waived and that's the only negative story that has come out. Moss berates a caterer and calls out a bone-head head coach so naturally the solution is to release him four weeks after giving up a third round pick for him.

The Vikings should be better over the next few weeks, at least in the win-loss column. No matter how the local media or the coaching staff tries to spin it, though, the team isn't as good without Moss commanding consistent double teams. They should post a much better record over the next several games, but that's because their schedule softens considerably.

The Vikings are not 2-5 because of team chemistry issues. There not even 2-5 because Childress is a bone-head. They're 2-5 because Brett Favre has been worse this season than Alex Smith and Bruce Gradkowski. (No, really, he has) They're 2-5 because Jared Allen has one sack in seven games. The entire defensive line has been a colossal disappointment this season, and the defensive backfield is consistently getting exposed because the quarterback has all day in the pocket.

While chemistry undoubtedly makes practices and games much easier for players to have fun at, the effect it has on winning in my opinion is very small. The Twins all seemed to love each other this season. They were always laughing in the dugout, they had a great time celebrating their AL Central Division crown, etc. The Yankees on the other hand were very professional, with only the awkward fake A-Rod celebrations on game winning hits. The Yankees were a team of current and former all-stars who hadn't played together for all that long. The Twins were a team of current and former all-stars who had been together for a while, and even the new guys seemed to fit right in to the locker room. (Except for maybe Hudson, but that's a different story for a different time)

The Yankees swept our Twins no problem. The Yanks weren't as talented this year as they were expected to be, mainly because AJ Burnett imploded and Phil Hughes was inconsistent, which is why they eventually lost to a very talented Rangers team. The talent level between the Twins and Yankees was as close as it's been over the last decade, and there's no arguing that the Twins clearly had better team chemistry. It didn't make a difference.

I get annoyed when I hear people talking about team chemistry being a major part of a team's success, obviously. Going back to the 2001 Patriots, they were simply better prepared for the game than the Rams were. Belichick will go down in history as one of the top five coaches of all time, and the only people who would argue that he isn't the greatest of all time are Packers fans who love Vince Lombardi. That 2001 Patriots team was shocking to us because they were a team of several no-name players coming together... except they ended up winning two more Super Bowls over the next few years and many of the players we had never heard of were in fact very good players. Tom Brady was a young, 6th round draft pick who nobody thought would be a star. He's been a top 3 quarterback since 2001.

Look at the Lakers' team that 3-peated in the early part of the 2000's. Kobe and Shaq admittedly hated each other, the locker room was divided between pro-Kobe and pro-Shaq sides, yet they cruised to three straight championships because they were extremely talented and the hatred Shaq and Kobe had for each other was always left off the court. They understand it's a business and at the time they both benefited from playing with one another. The fact that it likely wasn't a ton of fun didn't stop them from winning championship after championship.

Great team chemistry is always a great story for the fans to read about; it's heartwarming to those of us who want to relate to the players in anyway possible.* Unfortunately, it seems to take away from many fans realizing that these athletes are out-of-this-world type talents. San Francisco didn't win because Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey play video games on the road and talk about movies while eating lunch. They won because Tim Lincecum is arguably the best pitcher in baseball and Posey is one of the brightest young catchers in the history of baseball.

*"Hey, Moss is awesome! I smoke weed once in a blue-moon, too! I'd play when I wanna play!" Of course, just because you think you relate to them doesn't mean you do. I don't know of anyone who would berate someone serving lunch for the quality of the food, especially when most accounts of the story say the food was good. Randy Moss has a much better heart than the media portrays, and that's proven by how often he was at the St. Jude's Children Hospital since being traded back here. He loves kids, and I think it's because he knows they're pure. He can trust them, and he doesn't have to worry about issues coming from spending time at a hospital. Moss doesn't care about the positive press. He never has, and he likely never will. But that doesn't mean the local media needs to ignore anything nice this guy does because he treats the media poorly.

So, for my sanity, can we please drop the 'team chemistry' bullshit? Talent wins championships, and discipline, not chemistry, is what can turn a very talented team into a great team. The Vikings last year played disciplined, caught a few breaks, and were one Brett Favre interception from the Super Bowl. Now they commit penalties at all the wrong times and their all-pro players are playing like anything but all-pros. The team didn't go 1-3 because they had Randy Moss; they went 1-3 because they had Brett Favre and Jared Allen... or more accurately, because they didn't. Hopefully the all-pro versions of these players will return this week at home against Arizona, and the Vikings will improve to 3-5. Just don't tell me they won because they released Moss and the team chemistry improved. Please.