Team chemistry is one of the most underrated, yet important aspects of a team sport. Although it is also much less relevant than home runs and strikeouts, it can impact your team on a deeper scale. Unfortunately, you cannot practice team chemistry, you cannot build team chemistry (literally anyway), and sacrificing the quality of your team for a group of best friends will get you fired. A manager is left with the daunting responsibility of fielding a winning team and maintaining/creating good team chemistry.
Although good team chemistry can be a great thing, and underrated, it is oftentimes overrated. Good team chemistry can make a good team better, but good team chemistry cannot make a bad team good (Unless your manager is Gordon Bombay). Bad team chemistry can make a bad team worse, and a even make a good team bad. As a player in the Colorado Rockies organization, I was a part of both good and bad team chemistry.
As a fan, you get to see everyone on their best behavior. Most players aren't going to argue and settle their differences in the dugout or on the field (if you do want to see that though, tune in to the Miami Marlins this season), but it certainly happens in the clubhouse and behind closed doors. When you put a group of guys from all different walks of life, in a small room or bus, without air conditioning, with small seats, tempers will flare, and words will be exchanged. It's the ugly head that only makes an appearance when the proverbial cup "runneth over".
Now, while I didn't spend much time at the big league level (or any, for that matter), I was still able to see how team chemistry is different at that level. The Colorado Rockies have/had a strong core when it comes to team chemistry. It was a very inviting and laid back atmosphere that spring training (2010), but at the same time you were expected to get your work done, and do it the right way.
Manager Jim Tracy was the confident and focused leader. He made it known what he expected from his players and made sure that everyone took the necessary steps to make it happen. Ubaldo Jimenez led by example. Jason Giambi and Todd Helton had fun, yet worked harder than most everyone else. Troy Tulowitzki has that godlike aura around him; he could make stubbing his toe look pretty cool. Matt Belisle, Matt Daley, Huston Street and Jason Hammel were always readily available to give some guidance or advice to a rookie. Seemingly great team chemistry, saddening end results for the Rockies faithful.
On the minor league side of the spectrum, the manager has to tame a different type of beast. More often than not, minor leaguers aren't as highly paid, have just as big of egos, and don't have families to feed. Throughout my time in the minor leagues I was able to see what I feel is the best possible way to handle a team. In 2008, my second season with the Asheville Tourists, Joe Mikulik managed the most unique and talented team I have ever been a part of.
Joe Mikulik may not be considered the "greatest manager", but in terms of handling his personnel and getting the most out of his players, he is the "greatest manager". This may seem like a PSA of my love for Mik, but he truly brings an energy and passion that I have never before seen in a manager. From his highly publicized on field antics, to the clubhouse blow ups you don't get to see, Mik blends his passion to win and his insanity very well. Rather than try and tame each personality to fit a mold, he embraces them all and draws all that he can from them.
Bad behavior was accounted for as well. If you were a part of something the night before, you could expect to have it broadcast on the bus microphone. We even had an incident in which one pitcher punched another pitcher after having a few too many. Mik would make sure that these incidents didn't fester in the clubhouse and affect everyone on the team. Rather than let it pan out and see what happens, he would do what he felt was necessary to put it behind us.
Basically, we played hard and partied too hard. Fortunately, Mikulik knew he really couldn't change that about us (grown men make their own bad decisions), so he made sure our priorities were straight and demand that we adhere to his rules.
Although he is an active and cheerful manager, he is never afraid to completely lose his mind and tear down a clubhouse from the inside, out. As a player, when we brought these tirades out of him, it made you feel bad. The man throws garbage cans, and kicks dirt all over umpires because he has your back. He is all in, and wants to win just as bad as the players.
Mikulik basically gave us a confidence in our instability and brought our conflicting personalities, closer than we ever had imagined we would be. Rather than blow up every time we had an issue, he would hold us accountable. Make sure we knew what the issue was, give us an idea of how to rectify the situation, then left it to us to either fix it, or he would make some changes. He knew that we weren't all friends off the field, but made sure we had each others back on the field.
From the minor leagues to the big leagues, each and every team brings their own dynamics to the table. Team chemistry can be a much needed boost to a talented team, or the cancer that brings the almighty to its knees. I cannot make claims for the current state of the Rockies, or the direction that they are headed, but I can assure you that an emphasis on clubhouse culture isn't all for naught. Whether it works in their favor this coming season won't be determined until the end of September, but it certainly doesn't hurt to take it into account.