In the wake of the dubious story suggesting Skip Schumaker had to go into the clubhouse a few weeks prior to get a recalcitrant “superstar”—and could this be a reference to anybody but Joey Votto?—to partake in the practice of batting, I can’t help but feel another episode of Clubhouse Culture (Baseball Channel, 3-4pm, check local listings) is getting ready to air shortly here in the Queen City.
Grit. Leadership. The Will To Win. General Clubhouse Bonhomie. Whatever you want to call it, these are the qualities that are oft-listed as MIA in the Reds dugout, the missing DNA strand that is holding the Cincinnati Redstockings back from greatness—or at least the NL Wild Card. That these conversations invariably pop up when the team is struggling, is a matter to be addressed at a future date. What we do know—or what we’ve been told—is that the Reds had “clubhouse issues” last season. That perception at least partly led to Dusty’s demise. Which brings us to Schumaker. We’ve all been led to believe that Skip has this “essential” character quality in spades, the ability to transform laggard players into run producers the way plants employ photosynthesis to turn sunlight into fuel.
Whatever it is, it’s a mysterious tune, like the song of the humpback whale, decipherable to only the lucky few possessing the quintessential quality that informs such things as “gut” and “player motivation.”
Todd Frazier has it. He called out his teammates for lackluster play the other day, as reported by John Fay in the Enquirer:
“We were going through the motions. That’s not baseball. That’s not fun when that kind of stuff happens. You want to win. You want to cheer. But there wasn’t that extra gusto — like a playoff game or something. It was great meeting; a lot guys stepped up said some things. You take a lot away from that. You find out who the leaders are, how passionate guys are about the game. We are. But we hit a lull. We’ve got to make the game fun again.”
We buy into this stuff not only because the media keeps shoveling it to us and let’s face it, players believe it wholeheartedly. But we also buy it because it humanizes the game, makes it simpler for those of us on the other side of the rail to understand. It makes the unknowable knowable and gives these athletes the common touch that Lamborghinis and limos don’t. If we could only mark these players with harmonic radar tags and follow them around from team to team, pollenating their new clubs with all this grit and grinding grandeur that some believe is an essential component of winning teams, Baseball would have an organizational blueprint for winning on their hands and we could vanquish the monied teams who perennially sit atop of the standings once and for all. And advanced metrics? Who would need that nonsense?
I mean, Brandon Phillips smiles—a lot. So what’s the problem? An undisputed truth is that smiling faces sometimes, well, they don’t tell the truth—or so I’ve heard. My new favorite player, Brayan Pena, is a smilin’ machine. Pharrell’s “Happy” must play on a continuous loop in his head. Amirite?
It’s not that I think it’s a bad thing to have players of the grit persuasion—whatever that is. It’s just that I think it’s wildly overblown. It obfuscates a baseball team’s real needs, sometimes to disastrous effect.
Take the Arizona Diamondbacks, who the Reds just vanquished out in the desert. This was an organization that ditched players of value, like Tyler Skaggs and Justin Upton, and performed a complete team makeover that revolved around “glue guys” and players who PLAY THE GAME THE RIGHT WAY. How’d that work out? Now, they’ve brought in Tony La Russa as Chief Baseball Officer— a title that sounds suspiciously like the Special Assistant to the Owner title Walt Jocketty was given just before owner Castellini brought the hammer down on Wayne Krivsky—to “assist” GM Kevin Towers. Anybody want to take bets on the employment of Messrs. Towers and Gibson say, when the DBacks visit Great American Ball Park in late July?
Me, neither. The Character Experiment in the desert was just a complete failure. The entire weeked featured camera shots of La Russa looking down on the field with the same look General Patton had on his face as he surveyed troop deployments in Africa. So, the Diamondbacks look like a teardown coming in short order.
The local media has been blowing the Rebuild Shofar loud and long for the last week. It’s quieted down over the weekend, but expect it to escalate if the Reds fail to hold their own against the San Francisco Giants and their league-best won-loss record. I said over a week ago on Twitter, there’s no way on Pete’s green astroturf that Bob Castellini blows this whole thing up now. Not with the All Star game at the Ballpark Down By the River barely more than a year away.
Still, this team is going to need both help and health. It’s going to need the good guys already here—Affable Jay and Stoic Joey—to start producing that voodoo that the back of their baseball cards say they do so well. What this team doesn’t need is more grit and the distraction all that silly conversation brings, whether it comes from Bob Brenly or talk radio. It doesn’t need more controversy over how much fun Joey appears to be having or how much time DatDude is twittering away on Twitter.
This team needs to get healthy. And hit some. And keep pitching like they have for the last two months. As long as Skip continues to get on base some, Brayan Pena continues to rake when he plays and Todd Frazier keeps showing the better plate discipline he and Don Long have been working on, they will be valuable contributors to the club.
The grit & gusto stuff?
It’s all just noise.