Back in the early 2000s, when the A’s were bursting back onto the scene as a relevant force in big-league ball, general manager Billy Beane — considered at the time a merely great young baseball mind — adopted a mantra of sorts in response to queries regarding his teams’ exceptional camaraderie.
“Chemistry,” Beane would say, “is a by-product of winning.”
He stuck to the script even while inspiring a script. Elevated to genius status by the “Moneyball” team of 2002, one of five allegedly undermanned Oakland teams to make the playoffs over a seven-year span (2000-06), he never wavered.
“Chemistry,” Beane would say, “is the by-product of winning.”
Ready for some sacrilege, A’s fans? Beane was wrong.
Yep. Billy Beane. Wrong. Crazy, right? But true.
Chemistry plays a huge role in winning. Sure, winning requires talent, and a team with a truckload of it has a decent shot at success. Look at the dynastic A’s of the early 1970s. They were at each other’s throats much of the time and still beat people like drums because they were flat-out better.
Conversely, though, look at last year’s Dodgers after their trade-deadline spending spree. That truckload of talent crashed and burned, in part because they didn’t have time to establish any kind of positive clubhouse vibe.
And then there are the 2012 A’s, who had some talent but not a truckload. What they had, and they’ll tell you over and over, emphatically, that they had crazy chemistry, and that made all the difference in the most memorable season of baseball in the East Bay in ... F-O-R-E-V-E-R.
Can they do it again in 2013? No. Once-in-a-lifetime seasons come along once in a lifetime.
But can they again buck the odds and overcome their fat-wallet rivals? Sure they can. They have about the same amount of talent, and despite the departures of heart-and-soul guys like Jonny Gomes, Brandon Inge and Brandon McCarthy, they still have that crazy chemistry.
Losers are, in general, toxic.
Need proof? Take a look at the Bob Geren era of A’s baseball.
He took over in 2007. He was dismissed midway through the 2011 season, with the team in absolute freefall, both in the standings and in the clubhouse. Geren is a good man, mind you, but he’d lost his team, and that’s about the worst thing that can happen to the head man on any team at any level.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “A happy worker is a good worker.” Well, the opposite is equally accurate, and with the exception of a few months here and there, the A’s were not happy workers.
Guess when those few months went down? Mostly during the 2010 season, Geren’s only nonlosing campaign in four-plus years at the helm.
Getting it? Chemistry and winning go hand-in-hand, but the former can lead to the latter more often than the latter leading to the former.
That doesn’t mean Billy Beane isn’t still a genius. He is. He still does more with less on a regular basis than anyone in the game, and whether he admits it or not, he makes a concerted effort to acquire high-character guys.
Guess what high-characters add to a club? It starts with a C — and often ends with a W.
Mychael Urban has covered Bay Area sports for more than 22 years as a contributor to Comcast SportsNet, CSNBayArea.com, KNBR, MLB.com, ESPN The Magazine and various newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @BigUrbSports. His website is UrbsUnchained.com.