Team Chemistry in Baseball

'Elements' sports team

“If were what you call blending in, there’s got to be more to team chemistry than we bring to the periodic table of elements!”


Team Chemistry in Baseball

What is it? In reality?

Once you get past pure good or bad luck, the random, but rotating movement of outcomes from those you like, to those that don’t seem to matter, and, inevitably,  those you hate, what is this thing that winning teams dismiss as credit to the vagaries of “our great chemistry” as they are popping champagne and pouring the bubbly on each other’s head in the winning team’s World Series clubhouse?

Although we don’t seem to know much about it collectively, we’ve all seen the efforts of ego and intelligence that go into creating the kind of chemistry we think is needed to survive the 162-game regular season as a division winner or playoff qualifier for the games that follow for all the marbles – and the one showdown that puts all other baseball trials and accomplishments in the shade – winning the World Series.

And what is the result of winning the World Series? It’s viscerally that 48-hour moment of celebration that begins with the player pile at the pitcher’s mound following the last out, or potentially, the walk-off victory hit by a home club, through the champagne shower, the all night party that follows, the calls to and from family, friends, and celebrities, the smiles and autograph rapture roll of fans, the joyful moment of awakening the next day to the realization that, yes, it’s true, we won it all, to the big  parade down whatever serves your city as the “canyon trail of heroes”, and finally – to the biggest descent you will ever make as a player – to that gradual or abruptly realized moment that finally hits you: the rest of the world now expects us to rejoin them at ground level on planet earth. It is in that moment of realization that we shall never quite get there – or be able to translate that realization to anyone has not personally shared our World Series victory experience as players. – For 48 hours sharply, and for all eternity on a more mellow plane, we understood that our club just ended this baseball season as the only winners – while all other 29 MLB clubs ended their years as 29 losers! – We would never say it, but we knew it. – Even if the club we just beat lost to us in extra innings by one-run in Game Seven, the best they can now claim is simply expressed. – They were the top loser on a list that included 28 other – losers. History will forget them all. – They may even forget us too in time, but, as for now, that little discovery is way down the road of realization for most of us. In the warm amber glow of what we have just done, our victorious club is in gear to dance with the delusion that no one will ever forget what we did here – and WHO we now are!

“We ARE  The Champions! – WE Are The Champions! – We Are the CHAMPIONS  …. OF THE WORLD!

What is team chemistry?

Is it simply a blow-off phrase for something we cannot really describe? If it is important to winning, is it always a positive factor on the team morale side of things? The 1997 Yankees of Manager Billy Martin, Right Fielder Reggie Jackson, and Club Owner George Steinbrenner won the World Series, but they almost killed each other throughout the season in a meteor shower of ego collisions. In the end, their victory celebration in the clubhouse may even have appeared to the uninformed as a love feast, but it was anything but love for each other that drove the Bronx Zoo club that season. – Were they an example of negative team chemistry driving a club to victory? – Or could they be better described as a club with so much talent that they proved themselves capable in the end of winning in spite of themselves – and a flooding slew of narcissistic collisions with each other?

How important is will?

Most of us don’t know beans about what it must be like to travel through a season with 25 to 40 other members of an MLB club and managerial coaching staff and crew over a 162-game schedule that includes 81 road games from Miami, Florida to Seattle, Washington. How do you do that and perform well if you don’t like or get along with some of the people in your group?

Shortstop Joe Tinker and 2nd Baseman Johnny Evers of the famous early 20th century Chicago Cubs “Tinker to Evers to Chance” double play poem supposedly didn’t speak to each other for years due to a feud they had going between them, but they still performed as one of the premier keystone combos of their time. And they had enough “chemistry” to help lead the Cubs to their last World Series championship in 1908. How did they each do it? Did they simply partition the negative personal stuff out of the way  so that they could play to the best of their abilities. – Or did that negative chemistry actually spur each of them to play at a higher level?

And how vital is a winning attitude to success in baseball?

To me, the question almost answers itself, but it speaks even more loudly now. After years of contact and annual meetings in St. Louis as a member of the St. Louis Browns Historical Society, I was privileged to meet and get to know a lot of the old Browns players from the 1940s and early 1950s through their last season of 1953. They were, and still are, some of the nicest people I know in baseball, but their numbers have now “dwindled down to a precious few.”

The old Brownies were no dummies. They understood that their club was one of the “church mice” members of the great American League baseball temple. – These guys had an incentive to play well, all right – and that was so they could be sold to the Yankees or some other monied clubs that were actually trying to win. The Browns ownership used the sale of their talented players to pay the utility bills at Sportsman’s Park.

Losing and low attendance, as always, worked together like an interlocking virus for the AL St. Louis club. Most talented Browns players held out hope for better personal fortune by their individual accomplishments, but losing streaks as a club are built upon the backs of limited ability players who expect to lose. The unspoken question, “I wonder how we are going to lose today?”, was just part of being a St. Louis Brown.

Ned Garver described the lack of Browns fan support at Sportsman’s Park in a talk he once delivered at one of our St. Louis banquets. “Our fans never booed us,” Garver said. “They wouldn’t dare. We outnumbered them.”

Pitcher Ned Garver also stands alone as the poster boy for the futility of accomplishment among the Browns. As many of you know, the 1951 Browns finished 8th and last in the AL with a record of 52 wins and 102 losses – and 46 games back of the first place Yankees. Incredibly, Ned Garver finished with a pitching record of 20 wins and 12 losses for that same sorry club. When he asked for a raise from club owner Bill Veeck over the winter, Veeck turned him down. “We could’ve finished last without you,” Veeck explained.

The eternally cyclical effect in baseball of the morale-production continuum.

How many times have we heard that an alleged tyrant manager is being fired because of his bad effect on the club’s morale and that he is being replaced by a laid-back leader with a two-year contract. Then, nearly two years later, we get the news that the gentle manager is being fired because his happy campers aren’t winning – and that another big-stick disciplinarian is being brought in with his own two-year contract in the interest of getting the club back on the winning track. Some clubs seem to go through this pattern continuously. – What then is the message about the kind of “team chemistry” clubs are seeking in this never finished search for the best balance between morale and production?

– Or is “team chemistry” simply a catch-all laundry chute phrase that we find useful for describing something we always talk about in the thrill of victory – or the agony of defeat – but never quite get around to actually explaining.

Anybody out there have any fresh ideas on the meaning of “team chemistry”? – Is it intangible beyond description? – Or is it simply something, like Goldilocks search for the right temperature of soup, that you just have to go through personally as an owner, GM, or manager until you find what tastes right to you personally.

The Pecan Park Eagle welcomes your comments or columns on the general subject of team chemistry in baseball.

If you simply want to comment, no matter how long, simply leave it in the comment section. And I won’t presume you intend it as a column feature.

On the other hand, if you would consent to write a column on this subject, I will be happy to publish all appropriate on-topic works as separate follow up feature columns as either a single or multiple article piece – or as a series of columns on the same subject – with full credit to each contributor.

For column material submissions, please send them by WORD attachment to a cover e-mail to me at

Thank you.

Bill McCurdy, Editor, The Pecan Park Eagle







Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas


2 Responses to “Team Chemistry in Baseball”

  1. Tom Hunter Says:

    The Oakland A’s won three consecutive World Series in 1972, ’73, and ’74 with one of the lowest payrolls in the American League.

    “The Swingin’ A’s did it despite a clubhouse chemistry that could require a hazmat suit. Hours before Game 1 of the ’74 World Series, for example, players kept insisting to reporters that tales of their infighting were greatly exaggerated. Then Fingers and Odom started brawling right there in the clubhouse.

    Fingers required six stitches in his head. Odom wound up with a sprained ankle.

    ‘We had some characters and we were beating the (expletive) out of each other. But we still won,’ Fingers, 67, says now. ‘We had our moments, but when the game started we were all baseball.'” –Daniel Brown, The Mercury News, 5/30/2014

  2. Larry Dierker Says:

    Team chemistry is real, but it is illusory. Generally speaking, it is a chicken or egg thing. When you’re winning, chemistry is good and vice versa. When you’re winning, bench players and long relievers often get very little playing time, but don’t complain. When you’re losing, everyone complains about everything, especially the manager. The manager cannot create good chemistry but he can undermine it. Too many temper tantrums, blatant duplicity, and a remote, detached attitude are poisonous. No manager can take a weak team to the World Series, but some managers have taken really talented teams down the steps toward the cellar.

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