Nick Cafardo Does a Chemistry Experiment – Fails to Use Science

Nobody knows how to develop team chemistry. Nick Cafardo asks somebodies anyway.

I had a recent interaction with Pete Abraham of the Globe on Twitter. I enjoy his writing, and am impressed by the frequency of which he connects with Red Sox fans on twitter. On this occasion, he had made a passing remark regarding the crazy questions that Nick Cafardo is asked for the mailbag. I asked him why those questions were chosen, and Abraham insisted that these were the best questions.

This leads to many strains of possible thought: (1) Red Sox fans are generally dumb. (2) Readers are becoming more aware of good sources (baseball-reference, Fangraphs, etc.) to answer their own questions. (3) Twitter and blogs allow for conversations rather than a question/answer format on a weekly basis. (4) Intelligent fans want to ask someone rather than Nick Cafardo their questions (like, for example, Pete Abraham via twitter.

That said, there is still a massive Red Sox fan base that is all hustle and grit. Nick Cafardo hits in their wheelhouse.

Rather than look at the mailbag, I chose to look at something that was Cafardo’s own work, reliant on nothing than his own thought. This article is what ensued.

Nobody really knows why good chemistry happens and why the lack of it can ruin a team. It’s like a recipe for a great dish. Include the wrong ingredients and you’re liable to spit it out. Put the right ones together and it’s delicious.

This is what you call a thesis. “Nobody knows why good chemistry happens and why lack of it can ruin a team.” Now, it has been a while since I was a freshman in High School, but if I remember correctly, the rest of the article needs to modify and illustrate the thesis.

So here we go on magical tour of random Major League Baseball sources describing great chemistry. If nobody knows, why do interviews, of all things, to make the point?

Some baseball followers believe in a simple theory: Winning breeds good chemistry and losing brings on bad chemistry.

Here is a theory: winning is more important than chemistry. Chemistry is nice, but it does not affect winning as much as talent does. When I was in High School, my football team got a long well. We listened to Tom Petty’s Freefallin’ in the locker room (a gritty song if ever there was one), went to the pizza buffet after the game, added the suffix -ie to everyone’s last name (i.e. Brooksie). We also never
won a game.

Others will tell you good chemistry is dumb luck.

Can we just say that chemistry is probably in between, and that this is a dumb conversation? We all think we are likable and are all surprised when someone does not get us. “Chemistry” is dependent on personality exuded and personality received. The coolest bro in the history of the world may not be liked by a thoughtful bookworm.

As was the case with the 1993 Phillies, who lost to the Blue Jays in the World Series, it can defy logic.

So, are you saying it is dumb luck? I’m confused by the [lack of] transition and one sentence paragraphs. But, again, freshman English was a looooong time ago.

“You know, I’ve been on bad teams that you got along great with everyone,” said former Phillies first baseman/outfielder John Kruk, now an analyst on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.” “I was on a good team in Philly that there were times when fights broke out in the clubhouse more often than not. But everyone said we had such
great chemistry.

This man finished exactly two seasons on winning teams. Credit blakearthur24 via flcikr

“I think the bottom line is it all comes down to winning. When you’re winning, you overlook certain things. When you start losing, you try to find things of why you’re not winning. This guy showed up late for BP. This guy doesn’t come out for BP, spends all his day in the trainer’s room. That’s when you’re losing.”

There are few things like a search for the Holy Grail, or the essence of chemistry, and inserting your findings to be sentences that start with “I think…”

Then again, the thesis was “nobody knows.”

But seriously, you mentioned the 1993 Blue Jays. Is there a reason for that mention?



Orel Hershiser, another ESPN analyst, was on the great 1988 Dodgers team that won it all.

Cafardo happened to be hanging with the new ESPN Sunday night booth? These are his sources for the story?

I would have asked Dan Schulman, the questions, to be honest. How was your on air chemistry with Bobby V? How about after the show? What was it like to have a knowledgeable manager who was high on charisma leave in favor of buffon-ish John Kruk?

“Tommy Lasorda used to say, ‘We can fight behind these clubhouse doors, but once we leave here we got to lock arms.’ All that matters is when you cross the white lines that you are on the same page. It doesn’t mean that you go to dinner, you ride in the same cab to the ballpark. The fact when you get on the field, everybody wants to win, show up, concentrate,” Hershiser said.

Apparently Hershiser has never heard of the 25 guys, 25 cabs Boston Red Sox. The Boston media is certain that riding the same cab is vital!

Infighting was certainly the case with the great Yankees teams of the 1970s, yet on the field, respect took over. The team jelled and won under the sometimes impossible demands of “The Boss,” George Steinbrenner.

The A’s, who won three straight championships from 1972-74, created an “Us vs. Him” mentality, uniting against owner Charles O. Finley. It was a group of young, talented players who were brought together by Dick Williams, a tough manager who often clashed with Finley.

What is the common link between those teams? Reggie Jackson. That would have been an interesting interview. That could have brought this article somewhere. Nah, let’s ask Phil Garner.

“I often thought Charlie created that ‘Us vs. Them’ on purpose,” said Phil Garner, who played for the A’s during their title run, was on the all-time chemistry team — the 1979 Pirates — and managed the Brewers, Tigers, and Astros.

The A’s had great players and their talent offset all obstacles.

Ah, talent. Halfway through, and this is the first mention of talent as part of the winning recipe. Hmm.

“They would kid each other, get on each other in a good-natured way,” recalled pioneer player agent Jeremy Kapstein, who represented several top A’s players. “There was a unifying force — Finley. It was all of them against Charlie. There were so many gamers on that team, blue-collar type guys who just came together for the same purpose.”

Never mind talent. They had Grindy McHustle on their team. #Winning

Did Cafardo really not explore all the talent on those A’s team and just make a passing mention? And how has Reggie Jackson not been mentioned, yet?

I also suspect Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, and Rollie Fingers had a bit more to do with those teams being elite than hustle, grit, or chemistry.

By the time Garner joined the A’s full time in 1975, the team was still very good, but “I remember one writer who covered us writing ‘the A’s have had 14 fights this season and all of them are in their clubhouse.’ It was rough, but the big thing was, on the field those things were forgotten. The fighting was almost therapeutic. Everyone got their frustrations out.”


The 2004 Red Sox are an interesting study in good chemistry. They had come off a devastating Game 7 loss to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS when Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in too long. Yet the ’04 Sox acted like it never happened.

There was a new manager, a new top starter in Curt Schilling. The Idiots — Kevin Millar, Johnny Damon, Mike Timlin, Alan Embree — kind of took over the persona of the team. Having fun became the top priority, and while it was wild and unorthodox — very similar to the 1993 Phillies — the loose feeling in the clubhouse spilled over onto the field. Terry Francona just went along with it.

Saying that “fun” was the top priority is revisionist history. Winning mattered to those guys.

Also, Kruk all but admitted in his previous interviews that that famous winning ball club he was on used to get in fights and the media portrayed them as having good chemistry because they were winning [which by the way was one of only two teams he was on for a full season that had a winning record, the 1988 Padres being the other]. Cafardo is duped by his own article!

“I think we just had strong veteran players who just understood what it took,” Francona said. “We got on a roll and people just started to believe in one another. It was a beautiful thing to see. But that was chemistry at its best.”

“I think we were able to come in and get into the flow of what Johnny and Kevin had created there,” said Dave Roberts, who was part of an outstanding roster/chemistry tweak by general manger Theo Epstein at the trade deadline. “I don’t know that you’ll ever be able to explain it or describe it or that you’ll ever duplicate it again, but it existed and we were all engulfed in it.”

This is kind of an interesting quote. It is as important for followers to follow as it is for leaders to lead.

Asked how the two favorites in the National League West compare this season, one NL executive said, “Check out the Dodgers — a lot of good players but bad clubhouse guys. And then look at the Giants, position by position, and you tell me.”

The inference there is the Dodgers have more talent, but the Giants, who have won two championships in the last three years, seem to have the right group of guys.

“I think it just comes down to your manager and coaching staff being able to identify what is needed on that team with that group of people to create good chemistry,” Giants GM Brian Sabean said. “There’s no magic formula except that if your people have been around long enough and they understand what it takes, you’re bound to get it right.”

Sabean’s plan – give me more time than I deserve and eventually I will luck through the crapshoot of the playoffs.

At least he is honest.

And don’t forget, Sabean also oversaw successful Giants teams with Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, whose reputations weren’t exactly stellar. Some of Bonds’s self-absorbed antics and the all-consuming attention paid to his quest to break the home run record may have cost the Giants more chances at a championship.

What? Can you support that with anything other than “they were good, I did not like Bonds, and they did not win a championship with him.” This is pure speculation.

How about this for speculation: those Giants teams would not have made the playoffs without Bonds. He did not cost them championships, he gave then a chance to win one.

And listen, I cannot stand Bonds, just like you. But can we be honest?

The 2012 Red Sox simply had the wrong mix of players, not necessarily from a performance aspect but from a tone-setting one. Carl Crawford’s whining, Adrian Gonzalez’s clubhouse politics, Josh Beckett’s surliness.

Credit SittingStill

Man, it is as if Josh Beckett were not a part of a World Series winner in Boston. If chemistry is so vital, how did his surliness not undermine 2007?

Did Crawford really whine that much while he was here? And why is Boston the only city that AGon has played in that has found anything wrong with him?

The 2001 Red Sox team also had a toxic mix with Carl Everett, Jose Offerman, Ugueth Urbina, and Mike Lansing, resulting in one brush fire after another. Dan Duquette always said winning breeds good chemistry, but that team seemed doomed with too many distractions to overcome.

It could have been that those guys were expensive, but not very good.  Perhaps Dan Duquette should have built a team capable of winning in order to test his chemistry experiment.

Garner has a very interesting take on team chemistry. He said it can start with middle relief.

“Good chemistry is built in those situations where you might be behind by three runs and you bring your middle relievers in and if they can hold things where they are and your team feels it can come back and win, that does so much for team chemistry you wouldn’t believe,” Garner said.


Garner also believes you have to have “alpha dogs” in the clubhouse. When he managed Houston he had Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, who set the young players straight. In Milwaukee he had Robin Yount.

Garner managed the Milwaukee Brewers for eight seasons [full disclosure: I lived in Milwaukee for five of those years (1994-1999) and went to about 60-80 games managed by Garner. These were terrible baseball teams]. He managed Yount for the first two of those eight years. The Brewers were only good for one of those years.

Also – does ‘alpha dog’ simply mean ‘old’?

“When there’s veteran leadership, chemistry develops,” Garner said. “When you don’t, it can go the other way quickly.”

So, to review, the thesis is “nobody knows.” I suppose that, at the end of the day, we still know nothing. But at least we read scattered stories from people who know nothing.

#Science #NotScience

Categories: 2004 World Series Boston Red Sox Josh Beckett Nick Cafardo Mail Bag Phil Garner Reggie Jackson

Thinks Pedro deserved the MVP and that Justin Verlander did not, that Dwight Evans was better than Jim Rice, that Marty Barrett was a worthy choice as favorite Red Sox player when I was a child, that J.D. Drew was very good for the Olde Towne Team, that Fenway Sports group owning Liverpool is not a proper reason to support that loathsome soccer club, that Peter Gammons needs a key lock on his cell phone, still thinks that Nomar Garciaparra is better than Derek Jeter, and that, finally, there is no such thing as being completely bias-free. When not writing about or watching the Red Sox, I moonlight as a father, a husband, a pastor, a doctoral candidate, an infielder and #2 hitter on the church softball team, soccer fan, Disney pass holder, snark manufacturer, and pizza connoisseur. Free time free since 2001.

8 Responses to “Nick Cafardo Does a Chemistry Experiment – Fails to Use Science” Subscribe

  1. Chip Buck April 9, 2013 at 9:34 AM #

    A few things I learned…

    1. The teams people often think have great chemistry, actually don’t.

    2. Chemistry is vastly overrated, and Cafardo is a fucking moron. (Something I knew already, though.)

    3. Cafardo thinks that the 93 Phillies were great because of chemistry, and not because of (a) their very good starting rotation starting all but 10 of their games, (b) Lenny Dykstra putting together an MVP quality season, and (c) the likes of JIm Eisenreich, Kevin Stocker, and Wes Chamberlain OPS-plussing between 116-125 while accumulating way more PAs than they should have.

    4. That the 04 Sox were all chemistry and not statistically driven (read: Moneyball) despite that they were built with basically the same players and shrewd moves Theo made prior to 2003.

    • Tim April 9, 2013 at 1:13 PM #

      Kruk strongly implied that that 93 team had terrible chemistry, and then says it was chemistry that was the major factor on that team! Ugh!!

      • Jaime April 9, 2013 at 6:25 PM #

        No he doesn't.

  2. Chip Buck April 9, 2013 at 9:43 AM #

    Other issues…

    5. The 2001 Sox had to deal with both Nomar and Pedro being out for extended periods of time. Also, the remainder of their rotation was an iffy Hideo Nomo, a washed up David Cone, the forgotten Tomo Ohka, a perpetually useless Frank Castillo, and occaionally Tim Wakefield. The fact this team 82 games rather than 70 is amazing to me.

    6. The 2011/2012 Sox were not built with the wrong people. In 2011, shit happened. Sometimes teams collapse, and there’s no good reason. No one questioned the chemistry until late-September. In 2012, the Sox both underperformed and sustained a record number of days spent on the DL. Follow that up with a trade gutting the team, and you have a 69-win campaign.

    All of these things are explained by facts, which Cafardo chooses to ignore in favor of fantasy and mystique.

  3. Tim April 9, 2013 at 8:11 PM #

    “I was on a good team in Philly that there were times when fights broke out in the clubhouse more often than not. But everyone said we had such great chemistry." – John Kruk. He was on ONE winning team in Philadelphia. 1993.


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