Ruben Amaro Is Mister Wizard
By John Stolnis
You will have chemistry. Or I will kill you. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
Energy and chemistry. They are the keys to any successful franchise. They’re also the keys to a functioning perpetual motion machine.
When, oh when, will science finally catch up to our imaginations?
In Part 2 of CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury’s interview with Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., Amaro was asked about two different aspects of the club that are often hard to quantify.
Energy and chemistry.
First, on chemistry:
"“You know, one of the things that bothers me a little bit about it – and I think it might be a natural order of progression in some ways – is that when you have success for a long time maybe it gets a little … I don’t know that certain guys, and I’m still observing, that certain guys almost take for granted the opportunity. It’s not easy to win. It’s hard. It’s difficult to do it consistently. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do it up to this year and I’m still hopeful that we finish this year strong. I expect us to. But sometimes I think some people are going to have to take a look in the mirror and think to themselves we’re going to have to push hard to have success and we can’t just think it’s going to happen.I think we have good, quality people. I like our players. I think they have a desire to play. I guess I’d like to see a little bit more fire sometimes. There’s some play, at times, when it didn’t seem like they were getting after it enough at times. And I think that’s something we need to probably address.”"
While I believe that about 80-90% of a team’s success relies on the talent on the field, I do believe chemistry plays a role in winning or losing. Unlike the saber-dudes with their graphic calculators and pocket protectors and nerdy comic books and stuff, I will not ignore that baseball is a game played by human beings and not robots designed to one day revolt against us, take control of our nuclear weapons arsenal and launch a global Armageddon against us.
Is too much made of chemistry sometimes? Absolutely.
The 1993 Phillies were not successful because Larry Andersen liked to spray-paint his head or because John Kruk played eight-hour games of wiffle ball with the clubhouse attendants on a nightly basis. They were good because everyone stayed healthy, no one crashed their cars into a tree after a drunken bachelor party, the starting pitching all came together and the bullpen was rock solid.
In fact, it came out years later that the clubhouse wasn’t a very cohesive unit after all. There were cliques inside the locker room that divided players into different groups. Some of the most popular guys weren’t very nice people. Some were smacked asses.
And the 1980 Phillies HATED each other. They LOATHED Dallas Green. But they won a world championship, despite their clubhouse problems.
Having Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton in their primes didn’t hurt, either.
But one thing the ’80 and ’93 Phils had was an intense desire to whatever it took to win. Both were filled with highly motivated people who worked harder and wanted to win more than is normally seen.
Very often, motivation equals effort and effort usually equals wins, provided you have some semblance of talent.
This year, we’ve seen Jimmy Rollins display a lackadaisical attitude at times on the field. We’ve seen a lot of mental mistakes, bad baserunning, defensive errors and poor at bats. It hasn’t been until the last three weeks that the team has started to look something like what everyone was expecting.
But we haven’t seen what goes on inside the clubhouse. And judging by the comments this year from Amaro and Charlie Manuel, it appears as if a lot of guys on this team have gotten a bit too fat from living high on the hog these last five years. Amaro seems to be indicating that a lot of these guys were coasting, just assuming that they would win because they put on a jersey that said “Phillies” on the front of it.
When you have a team as decimated by injuries and lacking in star power as the Phillies were for the first half of the season, the effort and intensity needs to be jacked up even higher. And this year, it doesn’t appear that happened.
Which leads to the second part of our grand baseball science experiment. Energy.
"When Freddy Galvis went down, that crushed us. We lost Halladay and Freddy right about the same time when we were hovering around .500 and that crushed us. We lost two guys in the middle, a huge starting pitcher and a middle infielder who was arguably the best defensive second baseman in the league. That was a huge element that we lost. And we lost Freddy’s energy. He was one of the guys that was providing energy for the club."
How with all that is good and holy can the loss of Freddy Galvis, a guy with a slash line of .226/.254/.363, even remotely be considered a “crushing” blow? I think the word I would use to describe his absence from the lineup would be, at most, a “bummer.”
Was there really so little energy on the team that Galvis was the only one providing it? And are we sure that it wasn’t Freddy’s PEDs that were giving him all that jackrabbit-like energy?
Here’s my point. Things like “chemistry” and “energy” are overstated. But they are real.
A team operates most efficiently when it is talented, healthy, and energetic. It is most effective when a team is working hard every day, with a hunger and desire to get better every day. It excels when no one is going through the motions and no one is showing up just to collect a very hefty paycheck.
But Amaro must harp less on these issues and more on some of the glaring mistakes he made in putting this roster together. He made incorrect assumptions on the bullpen, the readiness of John Mayberry as an everyday player and the health of Utley and Howard.
Amaro is correct that injuries cannot be avoided. But when dealing with an aging team, one has to assume that injuries will occur more frequently, which is why it is important to focus on depth and have back-up plans in place should the worst occur.
No GM can be ready for everything. That would be unfair.
But my hope is that Amaro stays focused on addressing the personnel issues on the team. There’s not much a manager and general manager can do with players who have lost their mental edge, other than trading them out of town.
It’s important not to ignore chemistry and energy. They are important facets of winning.
But talent is the most important element in this particular science experiment.