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Hi Bill. About the 2011 Red Sox you wrote, "if anybody ever tries to tell you that team chemistry doesn't matter, man, they should have been there." I've also heard you attribute the Red Sox' success in '04, at least in part, to good chemistry.  
As someone who hasn't spent much time in a locker room, how does this work exactly? Do players stop playing as hard or practicing as hard? Do they stop trusting each other as much on the field, so that pitchers and catchers aren't on the same page, or infielders don't communicate as well? Do players stop pushing through minor injuries? All or none of the above?  
I would guess that bad chemistry can come in a zillion different flavors. But are there general ways that it translates into real wins and losses?
Asked by: briangunn

Answered: 1/19/2022
 It works in a million different ways; that's why it is hard to explain.  
The only way I can explain it is to reference your own life.  If you work in an office, or on a construction site, or in a school, can the other office workers, the other construction workers, the other teachers and the administrators. . .can they make you more productive than you otherwise would be, or less?  Of course they can; it's not really a debatable issue.  I've asked that question to audiences dozens of times, and I've never heard anybody say "No".   Well, one guy, but he was just being obstreporous.  
If other people WANT you to succeed, the odds that you will succeed are better.  By other people I mean your mother, your father, your neighbor, your business partners, your customers, your agent, your neighbor, your lawyer, your town or city administrators, your landlord.  The more of those who are on your side and willing to step up and do some little thing for you, the better the odds that you succeed.  It's an entirely normal process.  But since that assistance can happen in 10 billion different ways, it's very hard to document.  
If you make yourself a disagreeable prick, people don't want to help you.  If you help others, they will help you.  So in putting a team together, it becomes very important to stock it, as much as you can, with people who get that.  People who AREN'T late for the plane, or late to practice, or late for the restaurant.  People who will pick up a check for the rookie.  People who will listen patiently while you bitch about the umpire.   People who set next to you on the bench after you make an error and tell you a joke.  People who say "I'll go talk to the press" after you lose five in a row and look like you're never going to win again.   Veterans who will talk the coach and tell him to stop riding your ass when you're getting down on yourself.  
Still thinking about this. . .
There are two principle things that this is really about.  One is unwritten rules.   The other is confidence versus anxiety.  
In any thing you do, there are a million unwritten rules, and the unwritten rules are always much more central to your success than the written-out rules.  If you're a school teacher, there are unwritten rules about how you relate to students, how you deal with a student who is disruptive, how you deal with a student who is flirting with you, how you deal with a student who just isn't capable of doing the work.   There are unwritten rules about how you deal with an angry parent, how you deal with stupid directives from the School Board, how you deal with a broken computer in your classroom, how you deal with it when you need office supplies, what you can do on Valentine's Day, how you deal with it if you have a kid in your class who wants to bring up Jesus no matter you are talking about.  There are 10 million unwritten rules; you CANNOT succeed unless you understand them, and the hardest possible way to gain understanding is by stepping on every landmine.  A good teammate helps you gain understanding of the unwritten rules before they put you in the crazy house.  
The other thing is confidence vs. anxiety.   I wrote a long article here maybe 2 years ago about Confidence in Sports.  Much of what I was trying to say is, when athletes talk about "Confidence", what they are REALLY talking about is fear or anxiety, but they say "confidence" because confidence is a positive concept, and they don't want to talk about other athletes dealing with anxiety or fear.   It's a continuum; supreme confidence on one end, terror on the other.  
You gain confidence, what I regard as "true" confidence, only through successful experiences.  You gain anxiety through uncertainty.  The less anxiety you have,the more likely you are to succeed, and that is the other meaning of the word "confidence".   You asked a girl out on a date; the more confident you are, the more likely she says "Yes".  You're giving a speech; the more confident you are--that is, the less anxiety you have about giving the speech--the more likely you are to make it a good speech, well received by the audience.  You're on TV; shoot, I've been TV a thousand times, there's not much anxiety in it, although there is still some.  You're playing golf--or in my case, pool--the more confident you are about making the shot, the more likely you are to make a shot.  
What a teammate does is not to give you "true" confidence; you only get that after you have successful experiences.  What a good teammate does is to lower your anxiety.  What a bad teammate does is increase your anxiety.  You're traded to a new team, but there's this guy there who you've been teammates with before, and he has your number.  He calls you up, says "I'll meet you at the airport and take you to the hotel."  On the way there he explains "This coach is a really good guy; he'll cover your back for you.  That one will scream at you when you make a mistake, but he doesn't mean anything by it; he'll be over it in 10 minutes.  This is the coach who runs the manager; he's the guy who checks up on your workout sheet, etc.  The restaurant where we go after the game is Charley and Michelle's; there's a backroom there that they keep open for us.  The manager is named Martin; tell him who you are and he'll take you to the back room"   He's explaining the unwritten rules, and the fact that the new player KNOWS the unwritten rules, knows some of them, reduces his anxiety in regard to his new team.  
There are four movies that I would suggest that you watch and focus on this issue to gain understanding.  The most obvious one is Bull Durham.  That's. . .what, 70% of the movie?  It's about Bull Durham teaching Nuke Laloosh the unwritten rules, some of which he just makes up.  Here's how you do an interview with a reporter.  You don't throw fastball after fastball after fastball, no matter how good your fastball is.  When you hit a home run, you don't stand at the plate and admire it, you RUN."  He's not doing this out of friendship; he's doing it because somebody has to do it.  
We have a large crop of idiot sportswriters who decry the whole concept of unwritten rules, and want baseball to get rid of them all . A stupider notion is difficult to imagine; it's like getting rid of hygene, or manners, or groceries.  Unwritten rules are the hallways, the pathways, the stair steps and the sidewalks that tell us where to walk safely.   YOU"RE NOT GETTING RID OF THEM.   You're not writing them all down.  It's not the way it works.  
A second movie, almost as obvious, is "The Blind Side", about the wealthy white couple who adopt a huge black basically homeless kid and guide him toward the NFL.  It's parenting, but it's friendship.   Do you think he succeeds in the NFL without their help? 
A third movie. . . I think it is called The Fisher King. . . Nick Nolte goes to a psychiatrist, Barbra Streisand, and Streisand has a teenaged son who wants to be a football player.   Streisand asks Nolte to coach her son in football, which he agrees to do, but the son is an alienated, disrespectful teenager.  The key thing that Nolte has to teach him--and not in a nice way--is, "You want to be a football player, you treat your coach and you treat your teammates with respect.  You treat the game with respect.  If you don't, you're not making the team.  Period.  It ain't happening."   And that's exactly right; you want to be an athlete, it doesn't matter whether you like the coach or not; he's still the coach.  You treat him with respect, or you are not an athlete.
And the fourth movie. . .it's a great movie, apart from one disastrous character/subplot.. .is "the Caine Mutiny".   Fred Macmurray (MacMurray?) plays what in baseball used to be called a Clubhouse Lawyer.  He is the best illustration of a clubhouse lawyer that anyone could possibly make.   He second-guesses everything the Captain does, and convinces the other officers that Captain Queeg is losing his grip.   This interferes massively with the smooth and efficient operation of the ship, and results eventually in (a) a mutiny, and (b) several of the officers facing a court-martial.  It's almost an exact copy of the Cleveland Crybabies Incident, 1940.  
At the end of it, the lawyer (Jose Ferrer) bails them out, but challenges the clubhouse lawyer to step outside so he can explain the facts of life to him.   This is probably not an EXACT quote, but it's something like "You don't follow him because you like the way he wears his uniform or you agree with anything he does.  You follow him because he's The Man or you're no good."  
I didn't understand that line when I first saw the movie, but I do now.  It's not about him, it's about YOU and how you deal with him.  It's the exact same thing that Nick Nolte tells his project:  He's the man, or you're no good. 
Of course, it's different in the Army because the Army has to enforce that with threats and regulations and punishment, whereas a sports team enforces that by offering you an opportunity to be part of the team effort.  But those four movies should help you visaulize the essence of what we're talking about here.  


Here is a bar bet. 
Asked by: OBS2.0

Answered: 1/19/2022
 This isn't a bar.  


Bill, your comment in response to a previous question about team chemistry being important was something I was going to ask about.  Do teams look at chemistry in putting together a team?  If so, what kinds of things do they look at?  When considering whether to acquire a player, how much research and and do teams do in evaluating how he will fit into to the team.  
Sorry about the multiple questions, but I was trying to avoid asking a broad open-ended question.
Asked by: Marc Schneider

Answered: 1/19/2022
 It varies both to the amount of research and to the amount of emphasis that was placed on it.  It's more emphasis than research.  Among major league plaeyrs, you KNOW; you just know.   Everybody who is in the majors for two years, SOMEBODY on your team and somebodies in your organization used to be teammates with him somewhere.   You know.  
One time maybe 2005, 2006, Red Sox scout Jimmy Robinson, who covered Texas, was giving us a rundown on the players from Texas.  The best player in the Big 12 BY FAR was some shortstop, can't think of his name, but a magnificent athlete and a troubled kid who had been kicked off of two college teams, once for unspecified violations of team rules, once for disrespecting the coach.  I brought up his name, asked about him, and Robinson said quickly, "Oh, I ain't even putting him name in."  Nobody questioned him.  I remember the kid was drafted by the Cardinals, maybe 3rd or 4th round, but he never did anything.  Don't think he ever made the show.  


Hey Bill,  
On the 2011 BoSox collapse, I remember Ellsbury just missing a great catch against the wall near the end of the game in that fateful last game of the season. At the exact moment it happened I remember thinking that he lost the MVP and the Sox lost the post season at that very moment. As odd as it is that the Sox collapse is forgotten, I could not find a single video or description of Ellsbury's almost great catch in a thorough internet search.  To me, that was the pivotal moment of the season for both Ellsbury and the Sox and that it is not completely documented is very odd. Crawford's failed slide catch to end the game is well covered, obviously.
Asked by: gswilliams9

Answered: 1/19/2022
 Thanks.  My daughter was married that weekend, so a lot of the specific events of the weekend are not anywhere in my memory, either.  


I agree that discriminating against taller b-ball players, and thus denying the best an opportunity to play, would ruin the sport. On the other hand, I do view the need to be abnormally tall as something of a design flaw.  To succeed in pro hoops, you not only have to be a great athlete, but also a genetic aberration. It is not normal to be 6'7"-- the average height in the NBA--it's very rare. I've probably met fewer than 10 people who are 6'7" or taller. 
Asked by: pablo

Answered: 1/19/2022
 I'll bet I've got 10 relatives who are 6'7" or taller, and none of them can play basketball.  We're big people. 
Discriminating against height is not any different than discriminating against speed or quickness.  You can measure quickness.  Suppose that you measured quickness, and you said, OK, each team can have two players who are quicker than 75 on a 100-point scale, but that's it.   People that quick are genetic freaks.   We don't want the game to be dominated by genetic freaks.  
In my view it isn't any different.  It's exactly the same thing.  


I remember three other late season collapses. The 1987 Toronto Blue Jays had a 31/2 game lead then lost their last 7 games, all by 1 run, to lose the pennant on the last day of the season. In the same 2011 season, the Braves blew a similar lead in the pennant race, two (famous) collapses in the same year. And few remember except we Expo fans, in 1989 Montreal, in late May,  traded Randy Johnso for Mark Langston for a pennant run, they went something like 2-26 in September to finish 81-81.
Asked by: tickeno

Answered: 1/19/2022
 OK.  The 1989 Expos went 9-20 in September. Source:  Bill James Presents STATS inc.' All-Time Baseball Sourcebook.  THe most useful book ever with my name on it.  It's 25 years out of date and I still refer to it almost every day.     Anyway, the 2011 Red Sox were 7-20 in September.  


Just finished reading Cameron Bright's "The 1967 American League Pennant Race", and while I enjoyed it, one thing bugs me.  I'm getting this from the e-book so I apologize in advance for not knowing exact page numbers, but about half way through the book there is this:  
"American League president Joe Cronin summoned representatives from all four contending teams to his offices in Boston.  There, they would use a series of coin flips to determine the schedules for all possible playoff scenarios.  Cronin had decided that each playoff would be best of three games."  
Could Cronin just decide that they were going to be a best-of-three series?  Shouldn't this have been decided by not the president, but the ten clubs?  
Asked by: dboy13177

Answered: 1/19/2022
 I'm fairly sure the league President would have decided that at that time, and that the commissioner's office would decide a similar issue today.   Asking four teams to negotiate a solution could get unwieldy.  One team has one dominant pitcher, so they want a one-game playoff.   Another team wants a three-game playoff; another team wants to play all the games at a neutral site.  You don't have time to work it out--and the LEAGUE makes the schedules, don't they?  That was settled in 1876, when the NL President kicked New York and Philadelphia out of the league for not playing the games that he had scheduled for them.   


Hm. I remember, many years ago, reading about how an experiment of raising the hoops in basketball affected the domination by the tallest. It turned out to HELP them; the higher you raised the hoops, the more dominant the tallest players were. I wonder whether the same thing might happen if you limited height, which would make the hoops higher in relation to the remaining tallest players. Would the dominance by the remaining tallest players be even stronger than the dominance by the tallest players, before culling, was? Do those two situations seem that similar to you?
Asked by: Brock Hanke

Answered: 1/19/2022
 I'm not sure what you mean by "culling".   A good friend of mine, who is a basketball professional and who knows hundreds of times more about basketball than I do, has tried to tell me that the game would be less dominated by big men if you lowered the hoop about 3 to 6 inches.  I don't know.  
If you really want to prevent the game from being dominated by height, there are two rules that I think would do that.  Rule 1, paint a "black half circle" under the basket, which you could call the rebound circle, about 4 feet from the basket at the nearest point, and make a rule that any shot fired from inside the rebound circle is only one point.  "Inside the rebound circle" means any foot or any part of a foot inside the circle, either at the beginning of the shooting  motion or at the end of it or any time in between. If you're not at least 4 feet from the basket at the time you shoot, it's only 1 point.   
And the other rule is, only one player from each team may be inside the rebound circle at any time.   
The advantage of height is derived from its proximity to the basket.   If you limit the value of proximity to the basket, you limit the value of height.  I think that would be legitimate, because those are or would be legitimate rules of the game.  Whereas regulating height is not a legitimate rule of the game; it's discrimination as to who is allowed to play the game and take advantage of the natural advantages within the rules.  


Hey Bill,  
Regarding handicapping ... equalizing opportunity and equalizing results are not quite the same, right? For example, NASCAR handicaps their equipment until the spots fall off to equalize opportunity, while the examples you mentioned (bowling and golf) equalize the results based on expectations. Horse racing handicaps in a couple of ways, equalizing the competition so Secretariat wasn't running in cheap claimers but also equalizing the Para mutual odds to generate action on every horse.  
My question: does handicapping for opportunity ruin sports at the top levels? For instance, would NASCAR seem more fun if the teams could do anything they wanted to win, short of some Snidely Whiplash boiling oil on the track thing?
Asked by: ventboys

Answered: 1/17/2022
 Yes; yes it does. 
I'm assuming that this is a continuation of the "limiting team height in basketball" thread.  No team "can do anything they want"'.  In baseball you can't cut across the infield first to third; in football you can't put the ball carrier in a pickup truck and drive him through the line of scrimmage.   Sports have rules.   But when you make rules saying "we don't want you tall guys on the team, because you're just too good; you dominate the sport, so we're going to ban you."  That's not a rule of the sport; that's discrimination against the best players. 
And this crap about "equalizing opportunity".. . that's just sophistry.  It's just tricks with words.  What you are REALLY proposing is denying most of the best players the opportunity to play, so that the players who aren't as good will have a fair chance to win.  When you start doing stuff like that, it ruins the sport in a hell of hurry.  


Have you ever thought of developing a way of determining the worst pennant race collapses?  A Collapse index--comparing the usual suspects-'51 Bums, 64 Phils, '78 Red Sox,  '07 Mets,  etc.?    How would you go about it?  
Asked by: Manushfan

Answered: 1/17/2022
 I've thought about it but never done it.  I thought about it a lot in 2011.  The Red Sox in 2011 have somehow escaped the historical list in the public's mind, but may be the worst collapse of all time.  Even my brother-in-law, who is a lifelong dyed-in-the-wool Red Sox fan who can remember every step of the other famous Red Sox disasters, doesn't remember that one at all.  
The two obvious elements of the measurement would be (1) the probability that the team would win before they didn't, and (2) the length of the sequence of events in the unravelling.   In other words, explaining (2), you COULD get into a position where you were 5 1/2 games ahead with 6 to play; let us say that team Loser was 92-64 and team Winner was 86-69 and they didn't play one another.  Team Loser is 5 1/2 ahead with 6 to play, but Team Loser loses all six games and Team Winner wins all seven of their games, and wins the pennant.  The odds of that happening are 1 in 8,192, or. . .well, several 9s after the decimal point in Team Loser's probability of winning.  All 13 games have to go against Team Loser, and they are independant events, so the odds against that are 8,191 to 1, I think, so it is massively improbable.  But, because it happens so quickly, it's not quite the same as a sustained collapse that begins in mid-August and goes on and on.   
A third element that I would try to measure would be how badly the team that collapsed played during the collapse.  
You probably know this, but the 1951 Dodgers didn't actually collapse; they actually played well over the last six weeks; the Giants just got phenomenally hot, and were able to catch them.  I don't remember the 2007 Mets collapse; if you had asked me about the 2007 Mets I wouldn't have come up with anything.  
OUR collapse, the one that happened to my buddies and me.  In 2011 we started slowly; we were 14-18 on May 6, in last place in our division and 5 games behind the Yankees.  Then for almost four months nobody could touch us.   We went 68-33, making us 82-51 after sweeping a double header in Oakland on August 27, best record in the AL.   We were only two games ahead of the Yankees, who also had a terrific team, but that didn't really matter because we were 9 games ahead of the third-place team, Tampa, and even if the Yankees beat us it seemed certain that we would win the Wild Card, and we could live with being the Wild Card.  We had something like a 99.8% chance of making the playoffs at one point.  
We thought, or at least I thought, that we might have the greatest team of all time.  We were LOADED.   Jacoby Ellsbury was having an MVP season; he would have won the MVP Award had the team not collapsed.  We had Adrian Gonzalez at first and Dustin Pedroia at second.  At that time both Pedroia and Gonzalez seemed VERY likely to be Hall of Famers, and both of them were having great seasons.  Even with the collapse Jacoby scored 119 runs that year, Gonzalez 108, Pedroia 102.  Gonzalez had 213 hits, leading the league; Ellsbury had 212 hits, Pedroia 195.  We had two dominant starters, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, probably the best 1-2 punch in baseball; John Lackey was the third starter.  Kevin Youkilis was playing well, not as well as the previous year, and Marco Scutaro was having the year of his life.  Papelbon was dominating as the closer, not his best year but he pitched 11 times in August, 11 innings without giving up a run and Josh Bard was setting him up.  Bard had a 1.93 ERA in 2010, and went into September, 2011, at 2.03, and he was pitching a lot.  The third man in the bullpen, Alfredo Aceves, pitched 114 innings and was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA.  David Ortiz hit .422 with 8 homers, 28 RBI in August, at the end of August he was hitting .320 with 28 homers, 88 RBI.   Clay Buchholz had pitched great until an injury ended his season early.  Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield were still around.  
In late August we lost 2 out of 3 to the Yankees in Fenway, no big deal, and then lost 2 out of 3 to the Rangers in Fenway, still not really anything.  After beating Toronto 14-0 on September 6 were were 2 1/2 behind the Yankees, but still eight games ahead of the Wild Card, with Tampa Bay holding the Wild Card.  
Then things REALLY got bad.  We lost 10 of our next 12, but then beat Baltimore 18-9 in the second game of a double-header, September 19.   By this time we had been playing terrible for three weeks, but we were still two games ahead of Tampa Bay with just 8 games to play.  Our bullpen was getting shelled on a daily basis.  We took a 5-4 lead into the eighth against Baltimore (69-93) and in Fenway, but Bard and Papelbon both got hit and we lost 7-5.  That started a four-game losing streak, which made it 14 out of 16.
We went into the last game of the season tied with Tampa Bay, both teams 90-71.  Going into the 9th at Baltimore we had a 3-2 lead.  Ellsbury and Pedroia got hits leading off the 9th; we had men on first and third with David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez coming up.   Meanwhile, Tampa Bay was losing to the Yankees in the bottom of the 8th, 7 to 0, so our chances of making the post-season at that point were still. . ..What?   95?  98%?  We still were locked into the post season. 
Only we weren't.  In a series of events lasting maybe 10 minutes, we didn't score against Baltimore, Papelbon got blasted in the bottom of the 9th, we lost to Baltimore, and Tampa scored 6 runs in the eighth inning to make it 6-7.   Tampa Bay would tie the game in the 9th inning on a home run by Dan Johnson, and win it in the 12th on a home run by Evan Longoria.   We didn't make the playoffs. 
Or deserve to. 
Both the team and the front office were torn apart by serious, serious internal conflicts, which ended with Theo leaving Fenway in a gorilla suit.  Terry Francona was fired after a great run in Boston, although little of what happened was his fault; he had lost control of the team, but I don't know how anyone could have kept control of it; it was like keeping control of a field full of angry elephants.  The team was split 15 ways, split between pitchers and position players, split between the super-serious guys and the fun-loving guys, split between the drinkers and the pot smokers.   A couple of players were suspected of being. . . um.   insufficiently committed to good relations between the races.   One guy who had a great year for us was really kind of a criminal; another guy was just nuts.  One guy was just all in it for himself.  Too many people ran their mouths, to the press and to one another.  Most everybody on the team had a list of 10 teammates that he couldn't stand.  The leaders of the team--Varitek, Wakefield, Pedroia and Ortiz--were super guys, but it was just more than they could manage.  
I'm not sure ANY team has ever had a worse collapse than that one.  And if anybody ever tries to tell you that team chemistry doesn't matter, man, they should have been there.  


In tennis, the officials do put "points on the board" for unsportsmanlike conduct, but that's after a few warnings.  In hockey, they would award an automatic goal for a very egregious play (defender tackles a player shooting at an unguarded net).  But this is extremely rare, maybe once every few years.  So, I concur with the reader that we seem to be ok with an official giving a "near automatic" point, but it still requires the player to actually score, except in rare cases.
Asked by: tangotiger

Answered: 1/15/2022
 But that's a very short-term issue.  People would stop complaining about it a third of the way through the first season.  


Hey Bill,  
Obviously baseball is a individual sport when you can often figure out how good a player is by looking at his stats. However in the NFL how good a player is depends on his teammates.  A quarterback can't be great if he doesn't have a good offensive line, good receivers and perhaps good running backs.  
So my question is this, Tom Brady's stats how it all over John Elway's stats but do you feel Elway is the superior quarterback if they both had the same team or is Brady just plain better no matter what? Both were great but over the years I would  think Brady's personnel was superior in most years.  
The other thing is that passing is much easier now than in the past with the relaxed passing rules that protect the quarterback and receivers  
What do you think?
Asked by: patzeram

Answered: 1/15/2022
 I try not to answer open-ended quetions.  


Hey Bill, why I agree it’s more spectacle than sports once you start handicapping, I have long supported opening up the Kentucky Derby to tortoises, who need travel only a yard or so.
Asked by: PB

Answered: 1/15/2022
 That's a good idea, but I think they should have to carry jockeys weighing more than 200 pounds.  


Hey Bill, regarding basketball with height limits: How about  a league with an aggregate height limit? I think it might have more value in rec-leagues than pro leagues. A team can have a combined ... say 30 feet of height on the court at one time. The opposing coach is in charge of enforcement, calling it out if he finds a violation from lists made in advance of the respective player heights. That way, the officials don't need to measure anyone.  
And no slouching.
Asked by: ventboys

Answered: 1/14/2022
 Yeah. . .I think there was some semi-serious talk about doing that about 1960.  Wilt dominated everything to such an extent that it was perceived as unfair; there were people who wanted to do this as an anti-Chamberlain action.  
In general, any form of "handicapping" hurts the sport.   Golf uses handicaps at low levels, of course, and bowling I think.   It kind of makes it not really a sport.


I thought the article on vagabonds vs. homebodies regarding Hall of Fame was excellent.  
Too bad there is not a similar way you could use data mining to pinpoint the leading causes -- and the hidden ones -- of the creeping length of MLB games and the pace of play.  
Asked by: wbinaz

Answered: 1/14/2022
 Why would we need to do that?  The causes are obvious.  We ALL know what the causes are.   The only problem is getting to the solution.  


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