BOSTON (CBS) — You can tell me all you want how much team chemistry means nothing in sports. I hear the argument all the time that “winning brings about great chemistry”.
I refuse to buy that.
Spend some time around the 2012 Red Sox and then around the 2013 edition and I think you’ll change your mind.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington recognized a major problem early on with the ’12 team. A lot of his players 1) didn’t love the game and 2) didn’t like playing in a market like Boston.
That was a bad combination that didn’t get much help from a manager who was a bit on the stranger side. Having some of those players also didn’t help in trying to develop younger players. Young players are impressionable when they come up to the big leagues and that atmosphere within a clubhouse is not something you want them to be around if you’re the boss.
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So Cherington shipped out and let go of some of the players that were part of the problem, and then went out and found exactly the players that fit. Yes, he may have overpaid those players, but at least they were short term deals.
Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, David Ross, and Ryan Dempster were all brought in. Stephen Drew, Mike Carp, Koji Uehara and others too.
Throw them in with mainstays like Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and part of the problem was solved right off the bat.
Next, add a manager and coaching staff that were on the same page with the GM and who the players respect, and the 2013 Sox were on their way.
Now, there were other factors too.
Dustin Pedroia had to be convinced that ownership wanted to win more than anything else. If not, he was out of here. That happened.
Jon Lester needed to embrace the role of veteran leader. He did.
It’s all added up to a remarkable turnaround. From 69 wins to a team that will win more than 90 — and maybe closer to 100 games.
It’s been a pleasure to watch too, even as injuries got in their way.
The bottom line with this team? The 2013 Red Sox truly love the game. You can see it when you watch how they play. You hear them get on each other; they pull for each other. You see it with their hockey-like beards. You see it in their desire and hustle.
One thing that has stood out to me has been the dugout. When the TV cameras get a shot of it you see constant chatter and involvement. All of the players are into the game, with a few lighter moments sprinkled in as well. But when you see them laughing, remember it’s still all about baseball.
That all started early this season. Remember opening day in New York? What stood out? How about, as John Tomase of the Herald pointed out, the play where Jacoby Ellsbury legged out an infield single to second while Jonny Gomes came all the way from second base to score and give Ellsbury a second RBI. The Sox players were more giddy about that afterwards in the clubhouse than anything else. That play set the tone.
They have simply become a t-e-a-m.
And, now the question will is how far can this team go?
One thing that you have to love is that it looks like — barring a major collapse — Boston will win the AL East and avoid the one-game Wild Card play-in. You want to avoid that game at all costs, and in my opinion, that game is bad for baseball. One game? You start February 15th and grind your way through Spring Training, 162 regular season games, battle for a playoff spot, and then you could get one game, one chance to move on. Stupid.
But it doesn’t look like the Red Sox will have to worry about that. Things could be tough further down the road, especially if Detroit is an eventual opponent. However, I won’t put anything past this Sox team. They seem to rise up when they need to.
Adversity? They dismiss it and embrace the next opportunity. There’s no reason to think they can’t do it again; no matter how great their opponent is.
The 2013 Red Sox are a talented bunch. But, they are much deeper than that. They have great — not good — team chemistry.
I’ll take that every time. Just ask the 2004 Red Sox or the 2012 Giants.
If you haven’t yet, hop on the bandwagon. These Sox will welcome any and all comers. The GM made sure of that last winter.
Follow WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on Twitter @RochieWBZ.