The Chemistry Contradiction

If I earned a dollar every time I heard a fan say, "Chemistry is the most overrated thing in professional sports," I'd plan a vacation. Yet, the cliché seems kind of true. What really gets me is the follow-up cliché that goes, "Winning teams have chemistry and losing teams don't." That cliché seems kind of false.

The way I see it, some winning teams have chemistry and some winning teams have friction as in "friction is the mother of pearls."  The 2011 Brewers fall into the first category. They have chemistry and to deny its impact on their winning ways seems like a slap in Doug Melvin's face.

I've never spent more than 20 minutes in a major league clubhouse so I base my opinion on books about team's and their so-called chemistry.

The 1979 "We Are Family Pirates," were supposedly a team of different ethnicities and personalities that gelled well together, all under the leadership of Mr. Wilvor Stargell. That was how the media spun it anyway.  Phil Garner in The Pirates, We Are Family by Lou Sahadi sheds a different light on the situation.

"Brotherly love is so much bull. You get 25 guys together from Puerto Rico, the ghetto, rich white neighborhoods, etc. and a lot of them are bitter. Are you going to tell me they will all love each other? This team gets it out in the open and brings everybody into it."

The Garner scenario looks more Reggie-Billy Martin dueling banjos than Hollywood chemistry and yet both these teams, the Pirates and Yankees, were good enough to win the World Series. Even the 1982 Brewers, as described by Daniel Okrent in the book, Nine Innings, were weighed down by all kinds of complaints over who batted where in the batting order. The situation peaked when the more laid back Harvey Kueen replaced Buck Rodgers and the boys were left alone to be those immortalized Harvey's Wallbangers.

There must be dozens of teams portrayed by Hollywood as chemistry-rich who in fact thrived under very hostile conditions, adding fuel to the argument against the importance of team chemistry.

Again, I am not in the clubhouse so I don't know if fairy tale representations of the 2010 lily-white Rangers or Misfit Giants are true. And I certainly don't know if they thrived in part due to some invisible chemistry.

And I don't know if the 2011 Brewers are thriving with chemistry, but it sure seems so and I think it was designed that way.  Or am I a sucker for the mosh-pit celebrations in the Brewer's dugout like the one last night after Counsell's home run? And am I sucker for the schmaltzy drama portrayed in national network and FSN affiliated introductions; those over-the-top, hyped up scenarios about some team's magic?

It's obvious that the Brewers have great starting pitching like it's obvious that the bullpen received a lift with K-Rod. It's obvious Yuni Betancooor should NOT be playing shortstop like it's obvious Jerry Hairston should NOT be playing centerfield. And it may be just as obvious how much of a genius Doug Melvin is,  but I'm going to spew out chemistry clichés and praise him anyway.

He sat in his half-lit luxury box for 6 or 7 years mulling over the right I dare say, mulling over the right "chemistry?" It was trial and error and now the right brew has been mixed. (there's another cliché! ). Building chemistry seems a lot like an inspired rock band that hides away in a country cabin to crank out one incredible LP or an army platoon or a hospital surgery crew. All three require a vision to assemble the right pieces that will blend well together and get the job done regardless of the ups and downs.

If this sounds like a contradiction, it should because team chemistry doesn't mean squat! Teams win with chemistry. Teams lose with chemistry. But in the 2011 Brewers case, there is chemistry and fans should get accustomed to hearing about it because in the coming weeks, the national networks are going to exploit it. Sports Illustrated was only the beginning. So if you get the urge to rage against the cliché, consider Doug Melvin's efforts tinkering away in his skybox laboratory.

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