Today In Poorly Formed Thoughts

I really like baseball a lot. I like playing it, watching it and talking about it. In all three of those capacities I want the very best. I want to play with the very best players available. I want to see the best games. And I want baseball discussions to take place at the highest possible level.

Lately, I’ve seen some really encouraging signs with regard to how people are talking about the game. At the Getting Booked event we held at the end of January, I couldn’t get over the level of discourse among the 40 relative strangers who gathered to talk about Moneyball. And even before that, there was a lot of intelligent discussion leading up to Bert Blyleven getting elected into the Hall of Fame. And before that we saw something similar happening around the same time that Felix Hernandez won the American League Cy Young Award.

People are thinking critically about the game of baseball and discussing it in a manner that isn’t accepting of the hokum we hear from commentators or read from some of the more ridiculous elements of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America.

As a baseball fan, you see all this and you feel good about the sport. You feel good about the direction that it’s taking. And you feel good that you get to be a part of that, that you get to be along for the ride as new ways of thinking about baseball become more and more prevalent.

And then you come across an article by Steve Dillbeck in the Los Angeles Times and all those happy thoughts disappear with the suddenness of a sneeze erupting.

And then there are the Dodgers, who were bad last season and completely devoid of anything resembling a leader in their clubhouse. It’s not like an absolute requirement, but most winning teams have a leader, a dominant presence in the clubhouse.

I’m sure Dillbeck is a nice guy, and I know he’s covered the Dodgers for a long time, but not only is there no possible correlation between having what he would consider “a leader in the clubhouse” and winning, it’s such a hopelessly subjective title that you could never measure it even if the world worked in a way that one cause always equaled one effect.

You could just as easily suggest that there was no one in the Dodgers clubhouse praying to Jobu last summer and they were bad because of that.  In terms of logic and reason it makes just about as much sense.

It further amazes me that Dillbeck could claim to know exactly how all 25 players on the Dodgers respond psychologically to the qualities he believes would make a good leader, let alone what’s happening in the locker rooms of “most winning teams” around the league.

Last season, the team lacked a genuine clubhouse leader, which you could argue, was a definite factor in their spiral.

I’d be very interested in reading that argument.  It’s bound to be more interesting than the same assumption being made over and over again using different words.  Maybe a quote from Dodgers GM Ned Colletti would support that idea.

It’s hard to go through tough times without a leader. It takes far more of a collective effort. I think we have players who will respond very well to it, and maybe somebody can come out of the pack to be it. But I think when you talk about guys like [Jamey] Carroll and [Casey] Blake, [Doug] Mientkiewicz when he was here, [Rafael] Furcal — they get it. Are they free and easy to voice an opinion, to capture a room and the attention of everybody? Maybe here and there. It’s not necessarily their style. In the past, they were really our extra guys — [Brad] Ausmus, [Mark] Loretta.

So, the team does have leaders.  They’re just not the vocal kind of leader.  They’re the type of leader that doesn’t really ever say anything.  And in the past, the leaders were the “extra guys” on the team, so they don’t necessarily lead by example either.  Hmm.  I did notice that five of the six guys that Colletti mentions happen to be white, so that’s kind of interesting.  Basically, from this description, a leader is someone who’s usually a white guy that doesn’t say or do anything.

It’s more difficult for a role player to be a leader, or a starting pitcher (Ted Lilly, Clayton Kershaw) who plays once every five days.

But didn’t Ned Colletti just say that in the past, the leaders were the role players?  I’m getting so confused I think I need a leader just to get me through this article.  I’m glad that Dillbeck lets us know that Lilly and Kershaw aren’t leaders because even though they’re both white, they’re also starting pitchers, which I’m beginning to learn must cancel them out in the leadership race.

It’s not like the Dodgers can suddenly put their troops in an ROTC class. They have what they have, but growth is needed not just on the field, but in the clubhouse.

Yeah, because the military works so well together, especially when they’re degrading Iraqis.

As one of those guys who is far more inclined to look at past statistics as an indicator of future performance rather than what I imagine the player’s mood to be, I’ll admit that there are some among us who completely dismiss the idea of intangibles.  I would never suggest that intangibles don’t exist, just that they are absolutely impossible to measure, and so to write about them in a quantitative way or to suggest that you understand what effect a particular action will have on all 25 members of an active roster is both insulting to your readership and foolishly arrogant.

There’s no 1+1=2 with intangibles.  They’re intangibles.  I have no doubt that a player’s focus will waver over the course of a 162 game season, he’s a human being.  However, he’s not going to suddenly start to make his at bats “really count” because one of his teammates stood up and told everyone to play hard today.  He may be human, but he’s also an elite professional.  If a professional baseball player were that flimsy mentally, I would be shocked to learn that they had made it to the Major Leagues at all.

As I said in the opening, when it comes to discussions about baseball, I want the very best.  Talking about the unmeasurable as though it’s tangible and pretending as though you understand the motivations of others is not the very best.  It’s falling back into the ridiculous hokum that we’re all hoping to eliminate.  That’s why I’ll maintain that the Dodgers could use more power hitting far more than they could use Steve Dillibeck’s definition of a leader.

Comments (31)

  1. Completely unrelated and possibly old news, apparently JoBau played with a hernia the majority of last season. No big deal.

    http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/Toronto-Blue-Jays-Jose-Bautista-out-to-prove-2010-season-was-not-a-fluke-020211

  2. Not only is it ridiculous to assume that these elite players need other players mentally guiding them through the course of the season, but that somehow these player-leaders would do what the coaches apparently can’t.

    • That’s a great point I brought up with someone on Twitter who wanted to sign Carlos Delgado for his influence and what it would mean for the younger hitters. That’s exactly what coaches are for.

  3. I don’t necessarily agree with what Dillbeck is saying or with his choices of team leaders for the Dodgers, but there is such a thing as a leader in a clubhouse. People who set the tone. And I figure this is true because it is true in an office, it’s true in a school and it’s true in a family. And the fact of the matter is, these players spend more time with each other than they do with their families. And who it is is not always something an outsider like a baseball writer can see. It’s dark inside one’s own ass.

    A coach makes a fraction of what an elite player makes in salary. In any other industry, those in charge make more money. And a coach doesn’t always have big league experience as a player, which can effect the power dynamic. And maybe salary or something like prestige don’t matter, but players have an ego and ego is often inflated by salary. Make enough money, movie stars will hand feed you popcorn public.

    Not that I think that they should go sign Delgado,

    .

  4. Great point about the “leaders” Colletti mentions being white. That is one of those things that I still constantly see in sports; this hidden racism that exists. White players are seen as leaders because they’re always talked about in terms of their scrappiness and hard-nosed…ness, whereas black players can’t be leaders because they’re so gifted athletically that they can’t sympathize with the average player. And then Latin players are too “firey” and “emotional” to be good leaders (even though that particular trait can be great in a leader).

    I’m glad there’s someone else out there who notices that these long-held stereotypes still exist within the game. And it isn’t just baseball, the same thing happens in every sport. In hockey it’s slightly different because there are nothing but white players, so it’s the Russian players that can never be good leaders.

    It’s straight bull-honkey!

    It’s not that leaders aren’t important, it’s just that it’s hard to tell how much effect they really have so saying that was the reason for the Dodgers’ failure last season is ridiculous. If you look at their roster you can find all the answers you need about their failed season.

  5. Also kind of a dick move to disparage an organization as big and old as the us army with a throw away line about Iraq. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to suggest that people perform better when they have a positive frame of mind, which may or may not be attributable to a positive clubhouse. As Joanna said, they spend a lot of time together.

    • @Plain_g It was also kind of a dick move to treat human beings like that.

      Re: Leadership

      I do kind of lean on the side of it not making much of a difference. I mean I believe intangibles exist and can affect a player’s performance, but not only can we not measure it, I still find it hard to believe it can account for a player’s overall performance. Is a player not going to swing at a pitch he should or let one go that he shouldn’t have because he’s feeling in the dumps or someone didn’t talk him up before the game starts? I find it hard to believe that that would happen.

  6. @Plain_g & Joanna:

    I think you’re missing Dustin’s point here. He isn’t saying leadership in the clubhouse is not important, he’s saying that there’s no way to measure it and say for certain that it contributed to the Dodgers’ poor season. Dillbeck is jumping to the conclusion that that was the reason without having any sort of proof. Why doesn’t he have proof? Because it’s unprovable. Writing about it, therefore, is irresponsible.

  7. Leadership is an imperative within any organization. To not ‘discuss’ these qualities relative to any player is missing a major component of their possible contributions. I like to analyze stats as much as the next guy but there is a certain ‘feel’ that helps me determine who my ‘favorite’ players are. If it was all about the stats I’d be a Yankees fan.

    Truly gifted athletes must perform at a high level every day. When they are functioning in an environment that inspires and challenges them to reach for the pinnacle of their abilities each and every day is when you see them actualize their foremost abilities. None of these athletes are hurting for money. So a paycheck probably isn’t the key motivating factor for most of them. Therefore they must seek self-actualization through recognition and achievement or helping others reach for these goals.

    I think we can talk about leadership. It shows in the way a team carries out the mundane. Do they run out grounders? Is there genuine happiness when they celebrate? Do players accept their roles without complaining? Are they routing for each other? We can’t definitively identify who’s rocking the cradle but you have a pretty good idea, so why not discuss it?

    Different players can step up at different times but overall players can tell who sets the tone anywhere just like you and I can when we walk into a room. People defer to the leaders in the room regardless of who’s formally in charge. If you have good leaders your chances of success are far greater than without regardless of the tools you have at your disposal.

    These guys all (or most of them anyway) have the tools to be great otherwise they wouldn’t be there. It the intangibles that make the difference between the good and the great. Just ask Jose Bautista (I’m sure more than a minor tweak to his swing gave him the confidence to achieve what he did).

  8. lmao, u lost me after the iraqi comment, ill admit i quit reading after that, your kind of moronic, u just gave a guy crap up to that point for making generalized statements that didnt fit into your narrow little view, and hmmm what do you do, the exact same thing, at least your objective… stick to baseball, maybe you know something about that, but if you didnt come across as such a turd you might have a few more people interested… and a white guy playing the race card, niice!! someone needs a hug, or perhaps his thong is on a little too tight, ohhhh hey, i just made a generalized statement based on nothing, ohhhhh maybe i can be a writer just like you haha

  9. also, green bay packers just won the superbowl, who were there leaders, charles woodson and donald driver, shockingly both black!!!! stop with generalization, or i guess there must be a metric out there that suports your view that only white players in all sports are talked about as leaders, helll, a fella named jarome iginla in hockey might also have an issue with that, u guys are funny, if it doesnt fit your argument you just ignore it

  10. There are plenty of things that are unmeasurable. It doesn’t make them non-factors.

  11. And things can’t really be simplified into a “I took strike 3 looking, cause the first basemen didn’t say hi to me” situation. But if it’s a situation that repeats itself, or a player doesn’t feel comfortable or loose or confident or whatever, it effects performance.

    They aren’t cogs you plug into a machine and then press buttons.

    I don’t know the situation in LA, but I think it’s pretty short sighted to say that just because leadership in the clubhouse can’t be measured, it means it had no effect on the Dodgers’ poor season. Maybe it did.

  12. Okay, so let’s all agree the military can never be criticized EVER, even if they attach electrodes to people’s nuts and blow up 250 civilians taking uninformed potshots at Saddam Hussein. Check Wikileaks on the sheer number of dead innocent Iraqis before you go giving GI Joe the unconditional high five. Oh, and before we forget, it’s THEIR F-ING COUNTRY.

    I think Parkes is right. One person’s leader is another person’s rah-rah annoyance. I couldn’t tell you who was the “leader” on Toronto’s two world series teams. Robbie lived in the hotel and behaved like a rockstar, Molitor just hit; Olerud’s ironic nickname was “Gabby,” Devo played to prove everyone else they were wrong about him, Henke liked to fish, case closed. Turns out Halladay was about as churchy a guy as Tony Fernandez. Anyone think they weren’t leaders? I think the character thing applies, but having one guy in charge on a 25 man roster seems unlikely. And yes, overrated. Not having douchebags like Millar and Hillenbrand around might help, but Dave Steib was a douche by all accounts. Boomer Wells — not exactly Lou Gehrig. Pete Rose. Maybe you need a douche or two to catch shit when things are going poorly. I’ll take skill over intangibles any day. Baseball, unlike hockey for example, is rarely an emotional game.

  13. Sometimes it helps to remember the context. The Giants and the Dodgers feud is just as loud and nasty as the Yanks-Red Sox. So while the article is really flawed, I think that Dillhole figures that the Giants won in part because of the red thong leadership of Huff. So now if the Dodgers can find a thong wearing old fat guy who talks to the media a lot, they too can win!
    Of course this is a prime example of why most of us read blogs rather than newspapers, but plenty of the masses still love articles like that—

  14. Wow, it got serious in here. Somebody’s angry about Parkes being critical of the military and he’s using u’s where whole words should be!

    I guess this isn’t a good time to mention that I’m pursuing a grant to write a book about the interconnectedness of baseball and progressive activism and how it relates to Latin America and the shit MLB pulls down there. Someone might threaten to castrate me and tell me I’m unpatriotic.

    Keep doing what you do Parkes, the smart one’s will keep reading, lol.

  15. Is leadership measurable when viewed? For example:

    Evan Longoria tearing a strip off of BJ Upton after not running out a groundball.

    Can we, as responsible baseball commentators, discuss intangibles then? Or, do we say that Longoria’s in-your-face message to Upton was not recorded, therefore not open to debate, criticism, or summary?
    I watched more LA Dodgers games last year than I have ever before. I did it mostly because I was trying to hear Vin Scully as much as possible before he decided to retire (one more year for old Vincent btw, thank Jobu). Amazingly, they did lack a little bit of leadership last year but not so much because a black guy or a white guy didn’t take the “bull by the horns;” but because after Manny was injured, and Loney started slumping, and nobody on the team could field a ball worth anything, they lost their identity – the swagger they had when they waltzed their way to the NLCS the year before. Scully mentioned it a few times during the year last year. Then again, it’s irresponsible to cite intangibles as proof of your criticism of a team or player, so what do I know.

  16. The thing is, we have no idea of the effect that Longoria tearing a strip off Upton will have. We don’t know if that’s actually good for the team. Anything we say in praise or criticism is entirely speculative. As a rule, I don’t actually mind speculation, but it has to based on some fact (i.e. this guy has hit RHP really well in the past, so I’ll speculate that he’ll do it again).

    Terms like “losing their identity” is the exact same to me as “lacking leadership.” What does it mean? Did hitters stop performing at the plate because the team had “lost their identity?” I can’t wrap my head around how anyone can believe such a vague and unquantifiable notion, even Vin Scully.

  17. It seems to me that the Dodgers didn’t exactly lose their swagger and identity after Manny went down and Loney slumped (Loney sucks anyway). What they lost was guy with an OPS+ above 150 (first to the injury, then to the decision to dump their best hitter), plus a CF and 3B who slumped from OPS+ over 120 to 107 and 99 respectively, replaced Orlando Hudson at 2B with the less effective (though cheaper) Blake DeWitt, and had their bullpen go from being good to being crappy. Their record is indicative of the talent level of the players they put on the field in 2010. Looking over the talent on the roster they have for 2011, and factoring in the idea that Kemp and the bullpen bounce back, they probably are a .500 team at best and no leader is going to change that.

    As to trying to quantify leadership, one aspect that I believe is quantifiable is the professionalism of players. Namely, does a player put in the work expected of him. Does he put in the practice time necessary to keep his skills sharp? Does he put the time in with the scouting reports, in the video room and with the coaches so that he is aware of what flaws in his game need improvement and/or the flaws in his opponents that he needs to exploit? Does he keep himself in good physical shape to lessen the risk of an injury which might reduce his effectiveness? And does he contribute a quality performance on a consistent basis? Not only are guys like Halliday, Molitor, Ichiro, Pujols, and Cliff Lee who come to mind, but also guys like Bonds or Manny. It usually seems to be writers or front office types like “white guys make good leaders” Colletti who complain about Manny rather than the players in the clubhouse because for all his wacky behavior, he puts in the work to keep his hitting skills strong.

    In short, if the Dodgers wanted a leader, they should have kept Manny around.

  18. But just because something is unquantifiable does not make it irrelevant. I don’t necessarily agree that a team needs a leader, but I do think having one ups the general responsibility. I’ve got to agree with Joanna about, how if there’s an office project, the group leader makes sure everybody is pulling their weight. The same can be said about the Longoria/Upton situation. Just because you can’t quanitfy what it does, doesn’t make it a poor thing to have.

    That kind of thing has to come from the players, not the coaches. Not because the coaches are incapable of it, but because people will listen to their equals and take it more to heart than if it were to come from their higher ups (the player/manager relationship).

    Of course talent, luck, etc. all play a huge part in it. And to say a season is completely lost due to lack of leadership is ingenuous. But to equally write it off, while still admitting that intangibles are there and have a place in outcome, is too hardline as well. It’s saying if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. The truth, as per usual, is somewhere in the middle.

    As for the race thing, Derek Jeter. Or how Anthopolous regularly mentions Bautista as leadership material. How Romero is the current leader of the group. Speaking of Jays pitching, how about Marcum and the whole “pitch like a man” mantra? I’m not saying that not having that would have resulted in worse pitching, just saying that having it makes each pitcher feel a little more as part of the team, not a lone soul in a group.

    • I’m not saying that intangibles are irrelevant. I don’t think that they have as much to do with outcomes in baseball as they do in other sports that depend more on relationships between players. What is irrelevant is any of our thoughts and comments about intangibles. How on earth do you know that Ricky Romero is the “leader” of the pitching rotation or that “pitch like a man” would make pitchers feel more part of the team? You’re essentially making pop psychology assumptions that have no basis in fact. Sure, you could be right, and while I’d question how feeling more apart of a team makes one’s slider move any better, but the fact remains that none of us know that. We’ve just heard it so many times from the hokum spewing commentators we’ve listened to growing up.

  19. Dustin,

    When did you become the smartest man in baseball? This column comes off like a message board rant from an angst ridden teen upset that his mom packed him carrots instead of cookies for lunch that day.

    Quote from Source/

    Afghanistan!

    Quote from Source/

    Race Card!

  20. @Jits:

    First of all, it was Iraq. Since when did blogs become a place where someone should stiffle their opinion? If you don’t agree with Dustin’s assessment of the military, that’s fine. It’s his opinion, dammit.

    Secondly, the “race card” is being played because it’s a well-worn stereotype in sports that continues to be prevalent despite our apparent changed mentality. Stuff like this has been studied ad nauseum; trust me, Dustin did not pull that out of his ass.

  21. Most of the people who write and comment on baseball are white, and it’s inevitable that any unchallenged assumptions about non-whites will stray into their writing. It has improved in recent years, but anyone who thinks Americans don’t have a race issue is living in a dream world.

    Re: the military. Parkes didn’t assess the military, just the gutless psychos who went after defenceless prisoners. I’m not sure how that can be even be argued with.

    Re: leadership. Two examples from the Jays. Shawn Marcum was self-elected leader of the Jays’ rotation last year, Mr. Hugs and high-fives. Now I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with a little camaraderie, but do you think anyone with an IQ over 50 would get a little sick of the “Are you going to pitch like a man today?” thing after hearing it ten times? Likewise, scrappy little David Eckstein, whose best years were far behind him when J.P signed him. He was supposed to be a leader because he got the most out of minimal talent and hustled all the time. That might rub off on his teammates, right? All he did here was pound ground-ball outs to the second baseman and run to first on walks, which always drove me crazy. (Oh yeah, and concuss our star second baseman). I’m not sure if the players watching from the bench were inspired seeing Ecks shitballs to first turning routine plays into nailbiters, but I know one thing: running to first on a walk never helped any team win a ball game. All it did was alert stupid people to Eck’s alleged intangibes.

    Like Parkes says: overrated.

  22. Obviously hearing something won’t make a slider move better. But camarederie could be effective in responsibility in the way of motivation. Motivation comes from different sources. I’m not trying to say it’s the end-all, be-all. I’m just saying I don’t think it’s nothing.

    I also don’t think it’s something you can go out and acquire. You can’t go grab a leader. They’re developed, and every situation will lead to a different outcome. There is no hard and fast rule about it. I think that’s what the issue this article is trying to get at. That while it may be an intangible, it’s an unquantifiable measure, and you can’t go out and sign leadership. Marcum was the leader in Toronto’s rotation, is he the same in Milwaukee? No, it’s a different situation.

    I’m not a psychologist so I can’t say whether phrases, etc, help build a team. Maybe they are just pop psychology. And if something doesn’t work, it tends to fade away. I highly doubt Marcum went up to Romero, Cecil, Morrow, etc. before each game and told him to pitch like a man. It was probably more of an inside joke. But that adds to drive, which adds to motivation. And motivation does lead to improved training, greater focus, etc, which DOES lead to an improved slider. And don’t use the argument of “They shouldn’t need added motivation”. They’re as human as anyone else.

  23. I don’t believe Dustin is dismissing leadership entirely, more that it has less to do with a team’s performance than… well, the team’s performance.

    The biggest problem with using things like “chemistry”, “leadership”, “grit”, and “intangibles” is, as mentioned, that they’re impossible to quantify. Did the team win because they had leadership? Or did they have leadership because they won?

  24. I see what you’re saying, Jeff. There are guys with an air about them, but I’d argue that works against the team as often as it works for it. You’re totally right about context. Frank Thomas went from being a quiet leader to a clubhouse cancer without changing one iota. Ichiro Suzuki, if you believe what you read, is a crappy teammate. He’s also the best pure hitter I’ve ever seen. Marcum did seem like he really cared about his teammates succeeding, but it’s that filthy arsenal of offspeed stuff he has that wins ballgames.

  25. @Travis

    Iraq, are you sure? Those countries are like Dodger clubhouse leaders to me, i just can’t tell them apart.

    Look the comment was made mostly in jest but a white guy making an assumption about another white guy being racist based on an arctile is a bit ridiculous, no?

  26. So Jits, what’s your point — only visibile minorities can call out white people for being racially biased? (No one was fitting anyone for KKK cloaks BTW). Do you have to be a Jew to recognize an anti-Semitic remark? Or a Muslim to see the nonsensical racial panic that’s been going on in the Christian right since 9/11? For that matter, who better to call a white writer on this kind of thing than another white writer? All this piece was saying was that it was interesting and perhaps telling that both Dillbeck and the Dodgers GM ran out of “leader” candidates right about the same time as they ran out of white players. It’s a lingering issue many people have noticed about baseball over the years. Roger Kahn has called the lazy, unacknowledged racism in baseball “endemic.” You know, “I know he can run and hit and throw, but can he think?” That attitude is still far from uncommon.

    Isn’t Matt Kemp on that team? I know he didn’t play a lot, but Garrett Anderson strikes me as a fellow younger players might look up to. The organization doesn’t have a spotless track record on this point, after all.

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