That’s what Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd said the team lacked in 2011 in this article by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci: an “all-for-one” mentality. So what is the big takeaway from this offseason for O’Dowd?
“We will play better as a team.”
From a young age we learn to value playing well as a team. Don’t be selfish. Pick up your teammates. Always remember what is best for the team. But what exactly does that mean in baseball?
There is no questioning the importance of team chemistry. Among the problems from last year, O’Dowd notes that players did not hold each other accountable. That is a more precise articulation of the vague “change in clubhouse culture” that has been a major talking point this offseason. In that regard fans can find hope in the claim that the new players will “play better as a team.”
At the same time baseball presents a unique tension between teamwork and individuality. On a basic level one needs to be a good and supportive teammate, and yet the crucial moments of a team’s season often fall on one player’s ability to make a play, independent of his teammates: throw a strike, get a hit, move the runner, make a defensive play, etc. The defining moments of a player’s career are just as likely to be individual as they are to be collective. We want Troy Tulowitzki to be selfish when he strides to the plate as the tying run in the 9th inning…don’t we? Is that not why he is paid over $100 million?
This makes baseball complicated, and it makes it ripe for unique treatment in other areas. It endures as the backdrop of movies and novels because of this tension. Fiction writers are able to weave chapters out of the intersection of these two values. They develop their characters in moments where they try to balance their own interests and the interests of the team. Baseball’s cultural importance, its label as the ‘National Pastime,’ emerged in part because the game’s heroes represented the ideals of rugged individualism, the so-called “self made man.” Yet those same heroes are expected to cooperate with their coaches and teammates, and we criticize them if they negatively put their own selfish desires ahead of the team’s. Back and forth we go.
Why is this relevant to one sentence spoken by Dan O’Dowd? Because it shows that this seemingly positive comment about the changes this winter ultimately lacks any substance when it comes to whether or not the team will succeed this season. You can only stretch the importance of chemistry so far; otherwise the concept of teamwork is far too fluid.
I bought into the idea that the Rockies needed a change in culture from the moment the 2011 season ended. But that should not be mistaken for a fix-all solution this offseason. The Rockies were bad enough in 2011 that they needed to add more than strong presences in the clubhouse to make an immediate impact.
What makes baseball fascinating makes this quote from O’Dowd tricky. What seems like a confident declaration is simultaneously a deflection, a tacit admission that nobody truly knows if he pushed the right buttons this offseason.
“We will play better as a team. I know that.”