Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Mix Master (Cut Faster)
2007-11-09 06:14
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to

I'm in the process of putting the final proof-reading touches on The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan. (The book will be released next spring.) I am the editor of the project, which, in many ways, has been like making a literary mix tape. Jordan has long been one of my favorite writers, so it has been an utter joy to read through well over one hundred of his magazine pieces from the past 40 some oddd years and select 25 cherce cuts for this collection.

I'll have more to say about Pat and the book as the release date approaches. In the meantime, you can check out a bunch of Pat's New York Times work, which has recently been made available via the Times on-line archive (the only piece that is there that is also in the forthcoming book is the Roger Clemens story).

Here is an excerpt from a piece Pat wrote about clubhouse harmony in spring training, 1989, when both the Mets and Yankees were dealing with "chemistry" issues. I thought you guys would get a kick out of it:

Reporters, however, take the...disturbances seriously. They wonder, in print and on television, if dissension is ripping apart what they perceive as the delicately stitched fabric of clubhouse harmony each team must weave if it is to be successful? They see it all so clearly from their perspective, as men and women who have never been part of such clubhouses. They have always imparted to clubhouse harmony a certain romance of brotherhood they would only laugh at if someone tried to impart it, say, to the boardroom of I.B.M. They see relationships among players in a baseball clubhouse as merely an extension of the child-play relationships they remember from their youth.

In a way, this is condescending to the players, implying as it does a childishness on their part, which, as grown men, they don't have. What reporters see, then, exists only in their mind's eye. Which is why the players laugh. They know that clubhouse harmony or the lack of it hasn't much to do with a team's success on the field. Players know that good-natured camaraderie in the clubhouse, shared intimacies over a locker, plans to get together with families for a cookout on a day off, all have nothing to do with a team's success.

...Like most men in business, baseball players compartmentalize their jobs. What goes on across the white lines is infinitely more important than what goes on behind them. A close friend who consistently strikes out with the bases loaded isn't as much use to a ballplayer as a despised teammate who consistently strokes game-winning hits. The respect a player feels for a teammate's personal life has nothing to do with the respect he feels for a teammate's baseball talent. Babe Ruth, Pete Rose and Wade Boggs are three of the greatest hitters ever in the game, and yet not many teammates might envy their personal lives. Yet to a man, every player in the game would want one of those three at the plate if a World Series championship was on the line.

Check it out. There is even a "Rickey being Rickey" line about Henderson, the original Manny.

2007-11-09 06:57:19
1.   Shaun P
Jordan's points are so right, and so beautifully conveyed, which leaves me wondering - why is "chemistry" still talked about? People just haven't gotten it yet?

The next time someone mentions "chemistry" to me, I'm going to tell them about Jordan and Hendricks.

2007-11-09 06:58:02
2.   rbj
Good point about clubhouse chemistry. Didn't Tinkers & Evers not speak to each other for years? Never hurt them in turning a double play.
2007-11-09 07:11:55
3.   JL25and3
2 Yes, they supposedly couldn't stand each other.

Ruth and Gehrig weren't exactly chummy, either.

2007-11-09 07:18:01
4.   jonm
Great quote, Alex. I'm really looking forward to the book and will surely buy it. A False Spring is probably amongst my top 3 favorite baseball books of all time. By the way, is the Carlton profile in the book?

It's funny how images from Jordan's pieces have stuck with me. I remember he did a profile of baseball owners in the 90s which had an observation about Bud Selig at a salad bar that I thought was just perfect.

2007-11-09 07:20:35
5.   ny2ca2dc
I agree that most of the clubhouse chemistry, clutch/not clutch, psycho-babble is nonsense at worst and at best just not relevant to the play on the field. However, lets take a second to remember that these are NOT all grown men. From next years team, some of the most important players will kids: Hughes 21-2, Joba 22, IPK 22-23, Cano 24, Melky (if he stays) 23ish, plus half to two thirds of the bullpen. Hell, Wang is only, what, 27-28.
2007-11-09 07:30:56
6.   mehmattski
0 I agree... there is but one thing that creates "clubhouse chemistry"--- winning. Would the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox be viewed as the champions of camaraderie if they had finished in third place? I mean, the 2006 Sox team had a lot of the same players, but people talked about how tense the clubhouse was...
2007-11-09 07:34:18
7.   NJYankee41
I don't think chemistry is a cause for winning or losing, but I do believe in some cases in can help or hurt. Everyone is different so I wouldn't be surprised if the surroundings effect some players and follows them to the field. If you like what you are doing its easier to want to succeed in it. The opposite goes for if you don't like it. I'm not in any way saying you should ever evaluate a player or team with team chemistry in mind, I'm just saying it wouldn't suprise me if it did effect some players a little bit.
2007-11-09 07:35:27
8.   Murray
2 ,3 It wasn't just Tinker and Evers who couldn't get along. Nobody got along with Chance, either. Evers was supposed to be impossible to get along with, but Chance was a royal pain, drunk with power because he was the manager.
2007-11-09 07:37:04
9.   Gagne55
5 21 year olds aren't grown men?
2007-11-09 07:43:16
10.   RIYank
9 Sometimes. Often not, though. Which reminds me, I loved Pat Jordan's piece on "The Holdout" a few years ago.
2007-11-09 07:48:47
11.   Shaun P
5 Yes, but you figure many of those guys have been playing baseball long enough to know how to keep stuff off the field from affecting stuff on the field.

If a guy continually let off-field stuff bother him on-field, he'd never do well enough to make it to the bigs.

2007-11-09 07:50:37
12.   Sliced Bread
I love Jordan's story about throwing a baseball at Joe Torre's head when they were in the minors together.

Looking forward to the book, Alex.

Is the Bernie piece gonna make the cut?
Are you taking requests?

2007-11-09 07:50:50
13.   rilkefan
Hmm, the quote seems rather wordy and question-begging to me, though I tend to agree with the point. "In a way, this is condescending to the players, implying as it does a childishness on their part, which, as grown men, they don't have" is particularly weak writing.

Also, was Pete Rose really that great a hitter? Not a fair question I guess since '89 is well before good metrics were developed. But still couldn't one come up with dozens of better hitters as of then using old methods?

2007-11-09 08:06:51
14.   Shaun P
13 Maybe, but when talking about well-known hitters with lots of off-field issues that didn't impede their play, Rose was and is a great example.
2007-11-09 08:09:06
15.   Alex Belth
Hey, No not taking requests anymore, thanks. And no, the Bernie piece didn't make the cut. It was nice but not one of his best. We could have done a book strictly of baseball stories, heck, we could have done just pitchers. As it is, we spread it out so there are football, tennis, gambling, hockey, auto racing and basketball stories in there too. His two most infamous pieces--on Steve Garvey and Steve Carlton, which have never been published in book form--are both there.
2007-11-09 08:09:31
16.   yankz
Michael Jordan was absolutely ruthless as a teammate. Used to publicly chew people out for making careless mistakes. But I'm guessing that everybody would want him on their team.
2007-11-09 08:14:05
17.   NJYankee41
16 I think that was more of a device to get players to play hard. Whether it worked or not, I don't know. But they did win.
2007-11-09 08:16:05
18.   NJYankee41
Off topic. Did the Bronxer and Joe in Boston thing ever get revealed? That was some good ole fashion entertainment.
2007-11-09 08:18:06
19.   RIYank
16 But I'm guessing that everybody would want him on their team.

Not me. Guy hit .202 in AA!

2007-11-09 08:18:15
20.   Bronxer
18 Not yet. Haven't seen or heard from Joe in Boston for quite some time ...
2007-11-09 08:23:13
21.   yankz
Goldman says what I've been saying: the offense is really overrated right now.

2007-11-09 08:27:34
22.   Sliced Bread
15 cool.
Yeah, I prefer his baseball stuff, especially his pitcher profiles, because that's where he comes from, but it's all good. I don't recall ever reading anything by him on hoops, or some of the other sports you mentioned, so I'm looking forward to it.
2007-11-09 08:27:54
23.   NJYankee41
20 Haha. Looks like I've summoned Bronxer!
2007-11-09 08:32:18
24.   Bronxer
23 I've been here all along, posting sporatically.
2007-11-09 08:33:12
25.   ny2ca2dc
11 Recently (was it on Pete Abe's blog?) it was noted that Andy Pettitte occasionally admitted after a poor performance at the end of a long road trip that him missing his kids affected his performance. Of course i can't find the quote now, but these guys aren't robots, even the ones who actually are grown men.

I hate when a guy has a bad day and the press is so quick to blame it on personal or clubhouse issues, but on the other side of the coin they're human. Witness ARods slump approaching #500, after stripper-gate, etc.

2007-11-09 08:34:34
26.   NJYankee41
21 It is overrated. The only guy you can expect to improve is Cano. Hopefully Melky can as well, but we're still trying to figure out what kind of player he is going to be. I think it will be good, but they will need to add a good hitter. I say no to Crede 100%. I'm sick of the Yanks aquiring players based on career years.
2007-11-09 08:46:15
27.   rilkefan
14 That's still pure question-begging. Maybe Rose's teams would have been better if he hadn't been a jerk. His individual performance is as relevant to the argument as his hat size.
2007-11-09 09:10:37
28.   Shaun P
21 26 I'm not sure I agree with Mr. Goldman either.

If you total up the Yanks' VORP for 2007 (and exclude the little bit generated by pitchers hitting in interleague games), you get 359.9.

I took the guys likely to constitute the offense next year (Posada, Jeter, Cano, Matsui, Giambi, Damon, Melky, Abreu, Duncan, Molina, Phillips, Betemit, and Gonzalez). If you take the 3-year average of those guys' VORPs, and adjust where necessary*, I got a team VORP of 329. I'll be happy to share the numbers if you like.

*For example, Posada's 3 year average is 46 - which is clearly brought up by his 73.4 in 2007. (The other 2 years were 26.4 and 38). So I adjusted his down to 30.

Similarly, Giambi's 3 year average is 19.8, clearly dragged down by his 7.3 in 2007. (The other 2 years were 50.7 and 47.4). So I adjusted his up to 40.

And, obviously, guys like Duncan and the AG only have data for last year, so I didn't use the average there. But I think the values I did use (10 and -2, respectively) were quite fair.

2007-11-09 09:20:39
29.   yankz
28 I couldn't figure out how you could only subtract 30 VORP points with Arod's departure, and then I realized it's because you expect Giambi to be five times as good this year as he was last year. Maybe, but I'm less optimistic.
2007-11-09 09:21:29
30.   yankz
Also, what if Abreu's decline continues? Maybe his first few months extend a little more.

Maybe Cano never figures out how to hit in the early months.

And let's pray Jeter's and Matsui's knee issues are resolved.

2007-11-09 09:26:30
31.   mehmattski
28 I'd like to see those numbers for Runs Created, because then we can see the effect on wins and losses due to not having A-Rod. I'm doubting that the 2008 Yankees will be able to score more than 850 runs, as currently constructed (again, assuming Posada returns).

Also, how did you get asterisks to show up without everything being bold? Are you secretly Don Shula?

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