The Philadelphia Phillies mob shortstop Jimmy Rollins (11) after he hit the game winning walk off double in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the NLCS at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Dodgers 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Does Chemistry Matter? This Ain’t E-Harmony


I was never any good at science.

Whether it was biology, physics or meteorology, it just never clicked for me. I had to work too hard for mediocre grades in science class and could never figure out why I stunk at it.

Chemistry was the worst. Experiments using Erlenmeyer flasks, distilling stuff into beakers and test tubes with mercury thermometers and Bunsen burners, I hated it all. I could never get the results that we were supposed to get, and I followed the dang instructions every flippin’ time, thank you very much!

However, I realize the importance of chemistry. It is the building block of our natural world. Everything is made up of something. Chemistry allows scientists to come up with vaccines for diseases and a varnish that can coat the outside of a bran flake, thereby keeping the milk from soaking said flake (thanks Clark W. Griswold).

But when it comes to a baseball team, I’m not sure how much chemistry matters.

For the 2012 Phillies and their 16-19 start, much has been made about the locker room, vocal leadership and the intangibles that make up a winner. It seemed as if the 2007-2009 squads had a lot of “chemistry,” however it is you want to define that. This team, for whatever reason, seems to lack that certain “something.” Some are identifying it as “chemistry.”

Charlie Manuel is one of those guys, saying after Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Padres, “We’re quiet, and we go about things doubting ourselves. I definitely don’t send a message that way, but that’s what we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of different new players, and they’ve got to get to know each other. That’s what makes your team come together sometimes. We’ve got to do something exciting to get our guys, everybody clicking on the same page.”

Probably the most damning line in that statement is that the players are “doubting themselves” right now. What that means is that players, when the chips are down, have trouble fighting through adversity.

When you think about the hallmarks of 2007-2011 squads, fighting through adversity was right at the top of the list.

Think back to every game in the 2008 postseason, Game 4 of the 2009 NLDS against Colorado (the Howard game) and Game 4 of the ’09 NLCS (the Rollins game). Heck, the entire last month of the 2007 and 2008 season were nothing but fighting against the odds, playing the game until the very last out, knowing they always had a chance to win until that final out was recorded.

In 2012, there is no confidence when the Phils fall behind. A 1-0 hole can sometimes feel like a 10-run deficit.

However, for my money, the “talent” is the big problem right now. Remove your #3 and #4 hitters from the lineup, and it’s going to affect your play on the field. Still, there have been too many games this year when it seemed like players (Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, I’m looking in your direction) went up to the plate with absolutely no gameplan and just gave away at bats. Defensive lapses and baserunning blunders are sure signs that the little things are being missed.

So, how important is “chemistry” on a baseball team?

Chemistry was credited for much of the success of the 1993 Phillies. The 2007 and ’08 Phils sure seemed to have a locker room that played with passion and enjoyed playing together.

However, the 1980 Phillies hated their manager and didn’t really like each other all that much, and they were world champions. And the Oakland A’s of the early ’70s used to have fights in the shower room on a semi-regular basis.

Most of the time, talent trumps chemistry, provided that talent is assembled so that each individual player brings something to the table no one else does.

 “We’re quiet, and we go about things doubting ourselves. I definitely don’t send a message that way, but that’s what we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of different new players, and they’ve got to get to know each other. That’s what makes your team come together sometimes. We’ve got to do something exciting to get our guys, everybody clicking on the same page.”

- Charlie Manuel, after Sunday’s 3-2 win over San Diego

But can chemistry turn a less-than-stellar team into a championship team on its own? Or, put more succintly, would better chemistry in the Phillies clubhouse lead to more Phillies victories?

There’s also a chicken and the egg scenario going on. Suppose the 1993 Phillies, instead of sweeping the Astros in the first three games of the season, had lost two out of three, or been swept. Suppose they got off to a sub-.500 April. Would the chemistry have been as good? Or would players have doubted themselves a little? And would the pranks and comraderie have been negatively affected because of poor play?

Winning, or a lack thereof, affects chemistry.

The fact is, no one really knows just how much chemistry comes into play on a professional sports team. I suppose the best alternative is for there to be both chemistry and talent. When a talented locker room comes together, plays hard, respects each other, supports each other and has fun together, that can only make playing the game more enjoyable and relaxing.

Professional athletes are slaves to positive messaging. They use them as motivation to keep working hard and to grind things out. I mean, have you ever read Shane Victorino’s tweets? It’s like Tony Robbins vomited all over Shane’s keyboard.

Charlie Manuel did not say the Phillies have “bad” chemistry. When you incorporate new people into a locker room, and those new people are playing prominent roles in place of two All-Star players who are the cornerstones of the franchise, there’s bound to be an adjustment period.

What the Phillies need is for their two superstars to come back and play close to the levels to which everyone is accustomed. They need the bullpen to get its stuff figured out as well. And they need their unbelievable rotation to continue throwing darts.

If they cannot do all that, you can be sure the “chemistry” in the locker room isn’t going to get any better.

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