Player value begins, ends on the field

June 23, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

Baseball has played a game of semantics with itself that only creates a massive case of self-delusion. The latest round of tiring and worthless poppycock deals with how certain players are fTC supposedly "good in the clubhouse." It's putting the emphasis in the wrong place . . . on personality instead of ability.

Besides, there's no correlation between a happy gathering in the locker room or dugout and a team's chances of winning. What happens between the lines, when the game starts, is more important than being a likable clubhouse politician or engaging in building effective public relations.

It's comparable to suggesting that if Dale Carnegie, author of "How To Win Friends And Influence People", had pursued baseball he would have ultimately gained the Baseball Hall of Fame. The sport, let's not forget, is predicated on talent, to hit and pitch and make the plays. Forget the personalities of those involved.

With so much emphasis placed on how a player is able to get along with his contempories, there's reason to ponder how Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby, perhaps the greatest left-handed and right-handed hitters of all time, would be perceived today when it came to measuring their value in the clubhouse. There's no record that either Cobb or Hornsby was ever nominated for a popularity contest.

Both were despised by their fellow team members for their surly character traits but respected on the basis of what they could do with a bat in their hands. Again, from the social aspect, they trailed the entire league. It's also well documented how both were admittedly prejudiced against other groups.

Cobb once battered a black man on the street in Cleveland for no reason other than to attempt to demonstrate how tough he was. Then there was the time Cobb went up in the grandstand to silence a heckler. The man was handicapped but Cobb pummeled him.

As for Hornsby, he made it clear that he was anti-Semitic. A

pitcher named Vernon "Turkey" Taylor, who lives near Crownsville, was playing for Hornsby the second time he tried to manage the St. Louis Browns. This was the early 1950s.

Hornsby had called a team meeting on a rainy day in New York and Taylor wasn't told. He had earlier gone to lunch with two sportswriting brothers, the late Milton Richman of United Press International and Arthur Richman, then with the New York Daily Mirror.

"He called me over later in the lobby of the hotel in New York and said you're fined $200," recalled Taylor. "Then he followed up by telling me, 'That ought to teach you a lesson not to hang out with those Jews.' "

Therefore, it's by all means preferable to have a collection of miserable so-and-sos who can play rather than making sure they are easy to get along with and well-adjusted. The matter of individual disposition, whether a player is accepted or despised, adding to this "good in the clubhouse" syndrome, has become too much of an issue. As with other cliches that lack credence, it has become the popular thing to say but carries no credence.

Actually, a member of the team who is reputed to be "good in the clubhouse" is being damned with faint praise, or worse than that. It's tantamount to saying he gets along well with his fellow man but has limited skills when it comes to hitting or pitching. There's no real basis for believing he can play.

While dealing with the "good in the clubhouse" pretense, there's another equally annoying and trite-filled declaration that talks about "chemistry" on a team. More fiction. If chemistry is so important, then fire the general managers and managers or else buy them their own chemistry sets. It's possible chemists could be recruited right out of college and allowed to study the farm system teams to create the proper mix. If not that, then raid the DuPont corporation.

Could it ever be suggested that one of the most successful of all teams, the Oakland A's when Charley Finley owned them, had players who made for ideal chemistry or were "good in the clubhouse"? They fought with one another but still won and dominated the major leagues. Again, the concept that they had to be "good in the clubhouse" was a misnomer.

What every team needs to win is a collection of players who don't have a lot of rah-rah, false hustle and the desired rapport but, instead, know how to play. Pure and simple.

If anyone tries to inflict upon you the he's "good in the clubhouse" theory or what constitutes proper chemistry on a team, tell them to start reading Hans Christian Andersen.

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