Which Beard Should Be Feared

The Red Sox are division champions and have the best record in the American League.  This is really an incredible turn of events, considering that last year at this time, a long rebuilding program was being predicted for the Sox.

Last year, the Red Sox took an under-performing and high-priced team and slashed payroll like they were in a Friday the 13th movie.  They jettisoned $260 million in payroll that they owed for the next few years– a payroll dump that has never been seen before.

They did this by trading Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers.  The Dodgers, who were under new ownership, wanted to start winning as soon as possible and with new TV contracts in place, money was no object.  The key to this deal was MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez. The Dodgers took on the inflated contracts of Crawford and Becket that nobody wanted just so they could get their hands on Gonzalez.  And it worked.  The Dodgers could be headed to the World Series this year.  But surprise surprise, so might the Red Sox!  How do you dump $260 million in salary and get better?

The Red Sox quit shopping at Tiffany’s last offseason, and went bargain shopping after “gamers”.  Could this be a future trend in baseball?

Instead of throwing away a $100 million contract to questionable ‘stars’ like the overly sensitive and often injured Crawford, the Red Sox went and signed a bunch of what is termed in baseball “gamers”.  A gamer in baseball is loosely defined as someone who loves the game, is popular in the clubhouse with his teammates, plays through injury, and helps “team chemistry”.

The Red Sox signed Shane “The Fly’in Hawaiian” Victorino and the tatted-up Mike Napoli–who was so clutch in the 2011 World Series that he might have won MVP if the Rangers hadn’t lost. They also signed free agent Jonny Gomes from the A’s, a team that seems to be in first place just because they are a team of gamers.

Just how important is team chemistry in baseball?

Baseball is a sport where team chemistry and psychological comfort are even more important than in some other sports.  Some baseball players wear on their sleeves just how fragile their psyches are.  And by wearing it on their sleeve, I mean that literally–like the guy who keeps wearing the same jersey with the pine tar spot on his sleeve without washing it until the team winning streak ends.  Or the player who, while running out to his position, always jumps over the first base line for good luck.  I don’t see many football players tip toeing over yard lines for good luck.

While football can be won at times on pure overpowering strength and speed and pre-drawn plays that are executed to a tee, baseball hinges more on a mental state of confidence. Baseball players face the seemingly impossible task of only having 250 thousandths of a second to hit the ball once they make the decision to swing, and they have to make this decision after the ball has travelled about 20-25 feet, so I can see where some stress and uncertainty could creep in.

This is where team chemistry comes into play.  The more the team gets along and creates a positive atmosphere, the more comfortable and loose they play.

Take the 2010 Giants, not a team full of All Stars.  For example, only 1 position player who started in the 2010 World Series still remains a starter today.  But they were a team of gamers who had fun and liked each other, and this put them in a comfortable and confident mindset that fostered success.  On that 2010 championship team, Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff were best friends and college teammates.  The friendship of these two and their zaniness carried over to the rest of the team.  Huff even wore a “rally thong” to make his teammates laugh, and Burrell was part of the very bizarre “machine” with Brian Wilson.  Edgar Renteria was already a legend among the Latin players from his long history of success in clutch moments.  Reports were that Renteria and Juan Uribe brought the clubhouse together and transcended any language barrier.  And who can forget Wilson’s beard and the slogan “fear the beard”, which Sergio Romo followed in uniformity with his beard.   Last week in the New York Times, Wilson described that team as a “band of brothers”.  On that team, the sum of the whole rose above the group of individuals.

This appears to be the model that the 2013 Red Sox front office targeted with their offseason additions, and the players have followed suit. In fact, as you see in the feature photo above, some of the Red Sox players have even grown beards together like the 2010 Giants!  The photo shows Napoli touching Victorino’s beard in jest.

Personalities getting together and clicking in the clubhouse can lead to winning baseball.  Just as baseball teams now employ scouts and statisticians to evaluate prospects, will they also employ psychologists and personality experts to help formulate a roster of complimentary personalities?  Could the next arms race be around predicting how team chemistry will evolve’?

If the Red Sox and the Dodgers meet in the World Series this year, it will be a fitting meeting of two teams who, just over a year ago, engaged in a trade that rocked baseball.  It would pit a Red Sox team of gamers vs. the mighty Dodgers, whose payroll grew from 94.7 million when Frank McCourt sold the team in 2012 to a league-leading $220, 395,196 payroll for 2013.

In addition to the trade with the Red Sox, the Dodgers also paid top dollar for pitcher Zack Greinke and took a gamble on the big contracts to Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig.  This was all added to their own stable of stars such as Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. They now have a starting lineup that looks like an All Star Lineup.

The Red Sox vs the Dodgers in the World Series would be a classic.  Which sum of the parts would be more effective– the gritty gamers wearing beards together to show unity or the lineup of all stars?

Although, if it’s possible to add any more twists and turns to this potential match-up, the Dodgers now have 2010 Giants alumni Uribe and Wilson on their team.  I wonder if Wilson would be confused seeing all the players in the opposing dugout in beards?

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