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“Team chemistry” was to blame for the Sox collapse? Really?

Sep 30, 2011, 8:20 AM EDT

David Ortiz

I hate Terry Francona’s likely departure for a bunch of reasons. He’s a great manager. Like Matthew said, there are no better options. Whether it’s Francona getting nudged out or him simply wanting out, him leaving smells of scapegoat-creation.  It’s just not the kind of thing that happens in otherwise well-run organizations.

But it’s apparently happening with the Sox, and it appears that some in the Boston media are going to use that as a justification to go with the whole “the Red Sox lost because of bad chemistry” thing.  Here’s Jackie MacMullan of ESPN Boston eagerly taking up the cause an hour or so after the Francona news was first reported:

Back in the good old days, the Red Sox famously dubbed the Yankees “the Evil Empire” because they were arrogant, complacent and, yes, entitled. When New York failed, it merely outspent everyone else to pluck the best players from free agency and rejigger its lineup.  Somewhere along the way, the Red Sox became what they once abhorred …

… People say we make too much of the value of good chemistry and camaraderie. They are wrong; it matters. When things get tough, teams with unified players step up. They rely on guys who believe in leadership and accountability — and each other — to turn things around.

Know which teams also “step up” when things get bad? Teams that aren’t suffering through a crap-ton of injuries to key players. But let’s not let that distract from the team chemistry stuff.

The same players with the same personalities who stunk up the joint in September were the ones tearing through the league from May through August. The thing that changed: losing.

Once — just once — I want someone to identify bad chemistry before a team starts losing, not after. Or good chemistry on a bad team. Until that day happens, I’m will remain convinced that “bad team chemistry” is the product of losing baseball games, not the cause of it.

  1. Jason @ IIATMS - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    Yes, but then what would these old horse hacks write about? CURSES?

    • kopy - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:05 AM

      I identify with the points on why the “team chemistry” angle can be a load of crap, especially in this example. But I do believe in the saying that winning cures everything. If you have to work with somebody you don’t get along with, it can be easily tolerated if you are very successful. But if you start to fail, the blame games and arguing come out.

      I guess what I’m saying is chemistry is the result of winning and losing and not the cause of it.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 30, 2011 at 1:11 PM

        Agreed, but once the losing starts, bad chemistry can make it tougher to turn things around.

  2. acheron2112 - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    Ugh, the Boston media is becoming more annoying than usual. Obviously the usual suspects — Shaughnessy et al — are piling on, but they’re pulling a lot of others along too. So we get articles about “chemistry”, and “heart”, and “grit”, and all that BS.

    I really don’t want to see Francona go, but he’s certainly lasted about 7.9 years longer dealing with the media than I would, so I can’t entirely blame him if he wants out. We’ll just have to congratulate the CHB on another kill and pull in some dumbass like Bobby Valentine. Or hey, I hear Jim Riggleman is available.

  3. proudlycanadian - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    I am sure that Francona had enough of the Boston media and the constant complaints from the fans. That chemistry smelled.

  4. Jason @ IIATMS - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    Want bad chemistry: Munson & Reggie. And they won.

    Talent wins. Period.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:39 AM

      “Talent wins. Period.”

      So are you saying the Rays have more talent than the Red Sox? Or does talent playing up to its potential win…Period?

      • Kevin S. - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:44 AM

        With Boston’s injuries and Jennings/Moore in the show, I’d say the Rays are at least as talented.

      • Jason @ IIATMS - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:47 AM

        how ’bout this: HEALTHY talent wins, period.

      • Old Gator - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:48 AM

        No question. You want talent without commitment? I give you Hanley Ramirez. You want to see what playing up to potential, if not beyond it, looks like? Hold your noses: Pete Rose. And before we factor in the Razed, let’s remember that all Boston needed to do was to win one more game. I give the Razed all the credit in the world for taking advantage of the opportunity the Beanbags’ crapout afforded, especially that breathtaking game on Wednesday night – an alltime classic – but no matter how well they played, if Boston had held its course, or even half its course, they wouldn’t even have been an afterthought.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:53 AM

        Jason…yeah, I guess that HEALTHY talent wins…period 😀

      • Francisco (FC) - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:57 AM

        If Boston had held the course they would have been the Arizona Diamonbacks holding of the San Francisco Giants despite the latter going on a late season tear with an 8 game winning streak. And they also swept the last season series between them, to put insult to injury. That’s called TCB. If the D-Backs had faltered like Boston or Atlanta or the ’10 Padres, we’d be talking about the miracle Giants right now.

    • paperlions - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:01 AM

      Yep, Boston was kicking the crap out of everyone, then Buckholtz got hurt, Beckett got hurt, Youk got hurt, Gonzalez had a nagging injury…every single Boston starting pitcher missed starts…Wakefield wasn’t even in the rotation to start the year and he was 4th on the team in games started…..10 different guys started at least 4 games for them.

      In any case, I’m glad Boston is out…nothing against the team or players….I just can’t stand their fans….as I am surrounded by them…mostly a bunch of unappreciative whiny jackholes.

      • kedaco - Sep 30, 2011 at 1:49 PM


      • FrDrDRS3 - Sep 30, 2011 at 5:29 PM

        Jackholes huh? You must be speaking from experience, based on your posts Paperloins.

  5. dailyrev - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    I’ve worked in corporate America for 2 decades and I can tell you the mindset with top mgt. is always the same: when things go well, take all the credit. When things go badly, blame your staff. Oh, and it always helps to have paid servants to spread that mud of blame around on your behalf. The significant difference here, of course, is that this guy has the respect and credibility among both his peers and the public to deliver an FU to his former employer and move on.

    • skids003 - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:02 AM

      Very well put. I worked there too and you are exactly right.

  6. largebill - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    The Indians were not expected to contend so no one is talking about their epic collapse, but through the first couple months of the season they had the largest lead in any division. That team by all accounts has great chemistry and they pretty much all get along. Well, getting along didn’t help when Sizemore went on DL 3 times, Brantley went on DL, Choo went on DL twice, Hafner on DL, 4 of the 5 guys in rotation to start season went on DL, etc, etc, etc. Injuries can completely remake a team and usually it’s not for the better.

    You know what chemistry does do? All good team chemistry does is take one headache off the managers plate. That’s it. Getting along is not going to lead to better at bats or pitchers throwing more strikes.

  7. Erik Klemetti - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    Will you all stop this nonsense about the generic “Red Sox fans”? No real Red Sox fan thinks that Tito should be the fall guy here and no real Red Sox fan thinks what the media (i.e., WEEI) says is gospel. The Red Sox had a lot of bad luck, a lack of depth and some poor free agent decisions – and a solution might involve firing/new staff but none of the Sox fans I know are calling for Tito to be fired. So get over the idea that Red Sox Nation is (a) a coherent mass and (b) in agreement with the Globe/WEEI morons.

    • indaburg - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:50 AM

      Bad luck can’t be controlled, but lack of depth and poor free agent decisions can be controlled. Who is responsible for lack of depth and poor free agent decisions? That sounds like a GM problem.

  8. Joe - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:48 AM

    “Good Chemistry” = Clay Buchholz
    “Bad Chemistry” = Andrew Miller

    “Good Chemistry” = John Lackey with a 4.something ERA
    “Bad Chemistry” = John Lackey with a 6.-something ERA

    “Good Chemistry” = J.D. Drew, ca 2009
    “Bad Chemistry” = J.D. Drew, ca 2011

    “Good Chemistry” = Kevin Youkilis, 3B
    “Bad Chemistry” = Mike Aviles, 3B

    • Old Gator - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:51 AM

      And Kevin Youkilis looks like a wart hog with mange even when he is playing well. That goes beyond bad chemistry. That’s bad genes.

      • kiwicricket - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:14 AM

        Not everyone is so superficial and willing to shell out for designer pants Gator.

  9. Lukehart80 - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:04 AM

    The Red sox started 2-10 and there were all kinds of stories about how they were dead in the water.

    Where will all the stories about their crap chemistry when they stormed back to take over the best record in baseball during the summer? Oh, that’s right. For three months the stories were about their “never say die” attitude.

  10. evanhartford - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    Craig, the EXACT same thing happened to Grady Little in 2003. He was fired for making a single mistake in a BIG game yet the Media and Sox Brass claimed that he wasn’t a “stats” guy. Meanwhile, the Sox had a better record in each of his two seasons than in 2011 AND he made it to the playoffs.

    People will talk about Francona’s bad decisions or “team chemistry” but he is leaving the team because the Sox had one of the biggest collapses in baseball history, end of story. I know you think its not entirely his fault but “buck stops with him.” Their failure is his failure, end of story.

    • Joe - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:42 AM

      I think Theo wanted to get rid of Little all along, so they took whatever opportunity presented itself. Had they made the WS, firing the manager would have been awkward.

  11. drmonkeyarmy - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:12 AM

    I’m tired of this bullshit injury excuse. Over the last 10 days of the season, the Red Sox lost 5 of 7 to the Orioles. Last I checked Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Ortiz, and an assortment of other decent to good players were in the line-up. Also, Beckett and Lester pitched in those games. Way more talent, even with injury, than the O’s. A mere 4-3 record against a terrible Oriole team would have been enough.

    • Jonny 5 - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:21 AM

      Yes, and even with injuries, the Rays still did more with less talent.

    • paperlions - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:23 AM

      I’m tired of people using small sample sizes as if they mean anything….a perfectly healthy Yankee team went 3-3 against the Royals this year.

      Weiland, Bedard (2), and Lackey started 4 of those games….and Becket was pitching with an ankle injury.

      • paperlions - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:28 AM

        Sorry…forgot to include the point.

        I agree that the player are to blame: they lost.

        But….injures are much more to blame than team chemistry.

        People that lose are pissy, when players are pissy with their answers to questions, lazy reporters immediately jump to the “bad chemistry” theme…as opposed to realizing that they are just pissed that they are losing.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:33 AM

        Small sample sizes mean something when your season is on the line. I get tired of people dismissing stuff because of sample size. Even with injury, the Red Sox have tons more talent than the O’s..hands down. Injury is not an excuse to getting dominated by them down the stretch. That is nonsense.

      • paperlions - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:42 AM

        Be tired all you want…you know why every team in the playoffs has a roughly even chance of winning (every team is somewhere between 9-15%)? Small sample sizes. How often does the apparent best team win a series? Maybe 60% of the time? Anything can and does happen in a short series in baseball (7 games is short and most series don’t last that long)…..the Tigers lose to a mediocre Cardinal team…the Phillies staff gets roughed up by a punchless Giants teams….over a small sample size in baseball…anything can happen…because chance plays such a large roll in the game.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:55 AM

        I think “roughed up” is an over statement. The Phillies offense got roughed up by the Giants pitching. I’m just saying that one cannot dismiss what happens in a relative short period of time because of sample size. The Red Sox should have been able to beat the O’s 4 times in 7 games regardless of the injury situation. There is a distinct gap in talent between those two teams which should have mitigated the luck factor. Dismiss it all you want but it is incredibly relevant.

      • Jonny 5 - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:06 AM

        Yeah PL, your theory is blown away by the 27 rings of the Yankees. That fact kind of blows your 60% out of the water. Again, not a small sample size either. More talent wins MOST of the time, to a tune of around 75% judging by the largest sample size, which is the NY Yankees. I’d say off the top of my head that some of those 9 losses the Yankees had were due to the fact that they weren’t the best team that season either.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:36 AM

        paper, I think you are mis-using sample size here to prove a point that is not even being made. I believe the point here is that, in the 7 games the Red Sox played against an inferior team, they lost 5 of them. The size of the pie is 7 games. Nobody is saying anything about the entire season. Nobody is saying anything about any more than those 7 games. And in those 7 games, the Red Sox should have been able to win 4. And they did not. Because they choked. Now if you want to say they lost the WC because of injuries and to talk about those 7 games is a small sample size…OK. But that is not what dr is saying. What he is saying is that in the 7 game pie the Red Sox had against the Orioles, they should have had the ability to win 4 of them. And they choked. Period.

      • tomemos - Sep 30, 2011 at 12:36 PM

        The Yankees’ 27 rings don’t blow small sample size out of the water at all. You forget that most of those wins came before there was a playoff: just the best AL team versus the best NL team. Small sample size hurts less when you have to weather just one playoff series—possibly against an inferior league—rather than three (one just best-of-five).

      • Jonny 5 - Sep 30, 2011 at 2:12 PM

        Tomemos, you’re helping to prove my point when you say.

        “Small sample size hurts less when you have to weather just one playoff series—possibly against an inferior league”

        The best team is usually going to win. Plain and simple. That is if you mean less talented by “inferior”. Which I can’t see it any other way.

    • Joe - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:00 AM

      While your point stands that the Sox had enough talent to beat the Orioles, you can’t really ignore the effect of injuries on this race.

      The Rays got 148 starts from their opening day rotation. The Red Sox got 110. How many Andrew Miller starts do you need to replace with Clay Buchholz, or Tim Wakefield with Daisuke Matsuzaka, before you get one more win?

      The Rays put two significant members of their lineup on the DL. Evan Longoria missed a month, and John Jaso missed about five weeks. The Red Sox lost Drew for over two months (though he was having a lousy season), Crawford for a month (ditto), Youkilis for the better part of six weeks, Scutaro for a couple of weeks and Lowrie for a couple of months (though not at the same time).

      You can’t avoid ALL injuries, but if Boston had avoided even a third of those DL days, they still would have been more injured than the Rays, and they probably would have won the WC handily.

      That said, the Rays need to be complimented on building a talented young roster that is less injury-prone than Boston’s. Though Buchholz and Matsuzaka aren’t exactly old guys.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:11 AM

        Fair points. Absolutely fair points. I just don’t like using injury as an excuse. Injuries or no injuries there is no excuse for the Red Sox to collapse as they did.

    • kedaco - Sep 30, 2011 at 1:52 PM

      It is called having heart… instead of getting rid of Francona maybe a visit to the Wizzard of Oz would be in order here.

  12. jagwar73 - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:24 AM

    Bravo! Well put Craig. I too feel that winning cures so-called bad team chemistry and it’s merely an excuse. Too bad for the Sox and their fans. It seems that some teams still don’t understand that loyalty and continuity go a long way in breeding future success. Two WS titles in eight years weren’t good enough? I think I’ll miss seeing and hearing Terry as well.

  13. CliffC - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    I could be completely off base but I think the O’s could qualify as a bad team with “good chemisty”. It seems like they really enjoyed their role in knocking Boston out and had a great time as a team doing it.

    That said, they were winning at the time.

  14. Panda Claus - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    …because they were arrogant, complacent and, yes, entitled….

    If anything, that description better applies to the Red Sox front office and also to their fans. Going into the pennant race armed with a 45-year old [Wakefield], an injury waiting to happen [Bedard] and a under-achieving distracted head case [Lackey] while still expecting to win, that describes arrogance to its very essence.

    The team I saw on the field always play hard-nosed baseball.

  15. yankeesfanlen - Sep 30, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    I don’t care if Francona is being fired or quit, but it seems that every measure of this controversary is not bringing up a point:
    JOE GIRARDI CAUSED THIS! Yes, through his rigid mindset of not playing anyone through the Rays series, at least two of which could have been settled in the Yankees favor by the insertion of one correct Yankees veteran, the end result would have at least put the Sox in the playoffs.
    Oooooh, and that’;s good for the Universe for many moons to come. A lesser manager will be brought in and, ……..well, we’ll see.

  16. nolanwiffle - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    I’d like to be the first to go on record and say that the 2012 Astros will have bad chemistry, and as a result will likely lose 100 games.

  17. tclakin - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    Anyone who doesn’t believe in team chemistry has never played a team sport. If bad chemistry is the direct result of losing ball games, how to explain the 2004 Red Sox? They lost 3 pretty big games in a row, and still they “stepped up” when it counted. How’d they manage that? Oh, right. Chemistry.

    • tomemos - Sep 30, 2011 at 12:33 PM

      I don’t understand. How’d they lose the first three games, then? Did they have bad chemistry for those three?

    • nolanwiffle - Sep 30, 2011 at 1:17 PM

      Did the ’04 Yankees have bad chemistry that caused their sudden collapse?

  18. rfexpact - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    I am a life-long, die-hard, Yankees fan. However, I do not hate the Red Sox, never have. Boston is a great baseball town and has had some great teams and players. I have always enjoyed watching the Red Sox … can’t say I particularly enjoy them beating us, but it’s all part of the great game of baseball.

    Moreover, Boston has had some great and exciting players … Jackie Jensen, Yaz, Tony C, Reggie Smith, Rico, Dewey, Boggs, Greenwell, Rice, Lynn, Fisk, and Garciaparra to name a few … and maybe the greatest hitter that ever played, Teddy Ballgame … and my personal favorite, Frank Malzone. I can’t even describe the enjoyment I’ve experienced from watching these guys play baseball.

    My point being, the Red Sox will be fine. I think everyone is making way too much of this … they had a good year despite a myriad of injuries to key players and off-years from a few others.

    I really hate to see Francona leave … my gosh, he is an excellent manager! I’m really hoping the powers that be reverse their thinking on this.

  19. Chipmaker - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    It may be time to revive the term “mediot”, because MacMullen deserves it. As do others.

  20. mjmcc0 - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    What no one in this thread has addressed are the comments both Tito and Theo made yesterday about conditioning. I fully agree that “chemistry” is an unknown, largely mythical animal, but commitment and conditioning are essential to athletic success. Any of us who’ve been watching the Red Sox play this year — and not just the past 4 weeks — could sense that lack of dedication and preparation. It’s not surprising that Pedroia spoke out about the lack of work ethic last week.

    • jimbo1949 - Sep 30, 2011 at 12:17 PM

      Watching the postgame show on NESN Wednesday night (indulging in some soxenfreude) I heard Jim Rice refer to the Sox clubhouse, not once but repeatedly, as the “Spa”. Explanation was forthcoming: show up whenever, lots of video games, not much in the way of conditioning workouts. Might be some cranky old ex-player in that statement, but what if some players felt they had some others slacking off?

      That’s bad chemistry

  21. offseasonblues - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    Random thoughts …
    I don’t want to see Francona scapegoated, I’m truly sad about what appears to be transpiring. But I’m willing to accept change for change’s sake if that’s what’s needed. And it may be.

    Team chemistry doesn’t exist in a vacuum and of course it can’t single handedly explain anything. But to deny its existence or absence means anything at all is ridiculous. Put a bunch of people in a room and there will be chemistry of some kind and it will affect behavior in some way. We’re not machines.

  22. markfrednubble - Sep 30, 2011 at 12:27 PM

    Everyone wants to oversimplify, partially because none of us really knows all the stuff the contributed to this collapse.

    Craig, I would submit that “chemistry” is the wrong term to be debating here. I like “accountability” better. Accountability is everyone on the team being accountable for being at their best and getting the most out of their abilities. Conditioning is part of it. Being a good teammate is part of it. Helping out the cause in ways beyond your own at-bats and pitches and on-field play is part of it.

    If you can’t see that guys getting drunk in the clubhouse during games, bickering about the team bus, playing with their iPads while others are preparing for games, could all contribute to losing games, then I think you are missing a key dimension. These are people and they perform in conditions like other people do. Lots of factors lead to success and to failure.

  23. sportsfan8888 - Oct 1, 2011 at 2:22 AM

    Theo Epstein put this crap roster together.
    Theo way overpayed for Carl Crawford who promptly tanked.

    Boston’s pitching staff was very thin all year/
    Theo would not make a decent deadline deal
    (he picks up a chronically injured starter from Seattle??!!

    The team is getting old.
    Veriteck and a few others should have been long gone.

    This bad team and bad team chemistry is on Theo
    who should be fired just like they fired the Angels GM
    who won a championship, then let the team go into the toilet.

    Ditto in Boston.

    Francona is just a scapegoat to cover Theo’s backside

  24. 4que - Oct 2, 2011 at 3:15 AM

    The more I read what this Cacaterra guy writes; the more I think someone should break his keyboard

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