LEARNING FROM A CHAMPION

By:   Kurt Snyder

When a season ends and a champion is crowned, copycat season often begins.

In 2017, the Houston Astros put a bow on their rebuild with the final destination, a World Championship. They did it primarily through the draft and then spent when it was time,  when spending would help put them over the top. But their core had been established. They had drafted remarkably well and other teams have now made them their model for success.

But what about this year’s champion? Are the Red Sox a model for success? Can just any team look at them and decide, yes, if we follow their model, we have a shot at duplicating their success?

Well, when it comes to the Red Sox or even the Dodgers whom they defeated in the World Series, these are big time, freewheeling, free spending juggernauts of the game. They represent the cream of the crop. Big market teams with big market dollars.

And although there was still plenty of homegrown talent, much of their core was supplemented with expensive free agents. And if they weren’t free agent signings, they acquired high-end talent in exchange for high-end minor league prospects; something Boston’s Dave Dombrowski has practiced often and in doing so has made a name for himself – Trader Dave.

But, teams still searching for that championship, along with teams in the midst of a rebuild, have an obligation to look at recent champions and see what they did, how they build and what they built their team around.

There is always the emphasis on fundamentals. You build with pitching, speed and defense. On-base percentage has been a huge stat now as teams look at analytics and every potential intangible a player has that can help them gain an advantage.

But in the end, what do champions always seem to have? Well, they are relentless hard workers who give a tremendous effort. Is that enough? Well, it is a great place to start without question.

In baseball, teams can work their tails off but talent eventually shines through or the lack of it eventually drags teams down.

Teams that win championships are relentless at taking advantage. They are opportunistic, always looking for an edge; an opportunity to win the little battles.

But the icing on the cake, especially this season was quite obvious. The Red Sox were a true team. A group of guys who genuinely enjoyed each other, were excited to share in the success.  They had built a family-like atmosphere.

Do general managers consider fit when they draft, when they make trades or when they sign a free agent? Are players just expected to get along? Is it on the manager to take a group of professionals and build the bond?

It’s hard to know. It has to be difficult enough for a  GM and his scouts to find talent that will fit the park they are going to play in and fill the needs where the team may be lacking. But can they possibly make a decision based on their potential fit with the other players?

To me, it’s not possible, or at least very difficult.   You can check a player’s background for any previous behavioral issues, but that’s about it.

That’s where the manager has to perform his magic. It’s when a team finds out what they have in a leader. Can he not only build a bond with his players, but can he foster that bond between his players. Team sports are exactly that.

It is often said that a team cannot win with a bunch of individuals. They must win as one. Even losing as one builds a tighter bond for the future.

In Detroit, the Tigers appeared to have a team that was quite tight in 2018. They appeared to have a bond and genuinely enjoyed playing with and for each other. You could see it.

And much of that, if not all of it, was due to the efforts and tutelage of Ron Gardenhire. But Gardy was brought in for this type of situation. He was brought in because he had experience in getting the most out of players, maximizing potential and getting players to play for each other, especially during a rebuild.

Someday, the Tigers will gather enough talent to compete again. Players will come and go and before you know it we will have a whole new mix and a whole new core.  However, they could be very talented but with no real bond between the players.

I think we have experienced that before and it became the downfall of what was a very talented team.

So who will be our Alex Cora when it becomes time to bond the team that has been formed? That’s a question for years down the road, but it is just one more reminder that talent alone can’t win it. You need great effort and a willingness to play for each other.


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12 thoughts on “LEARNING FROM A CHAMPION

  1. I tend to believe that the Tigers were tight mainly because they had a bunch of career minor leaguers who were excited to be in the majors and they played aggressive baseball in hopes of staying in the bigs. I give Gardenhire little credit for how these guys got along.

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    • I see no credible reason to believe that any manager could have done better than Gardy did last year. If little else, at least Gardy did not throw any of his players ‘under the bus’ like Brad Ausmus oftentimes did. As for GM ..I believe DD would have had better success rebuilding than AA has thus far. Finally, seems to me that MLB Championships these days are won via excelling in basic baseball fundamentals on defense, bullpen, and timely hitting w/RISP.

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  2. I see your point but to be the devil’s advocate, Jim Leyland ran a tight clubhouse. In addition he won a World Series and had a career winning record, items lacking in Gardy’s fine resume. I am not buying tickets to see either one manage AAAA players.

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      • I agree that JL created a cohesive atmosphere. When I attend games live, I often sit behind the Tigers’ opponent’s dugout, so I can look into the Tigers’ bench. I was often struck by how the Leyland Tigers were not self-segregated into white, black and Latin groups; they all seemed to enjoy each other’s company. This stopped happening in the Ausmus era, and as for Gardy, I can’t say–I wasn’t about to pay to watch the 2018 team.

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  3. I think the die is already cast that Doug Mientkiewicz will be the manager after Gardenhire. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers hiring him to manage Toledo was one of Garenhire’s conditions for accepting the Tiger job and keeping some of the existing coaching staff. He did a commendable job getting the Mudhens into the playoffs and will likely build relationships with a lot of the minor leaguers as they advance through the system.

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    • Spartan, I was actually thinking lately that it might be wise to bring the next manager along for the rough ride with the young guys. Grooming them all together, and failing/succeeding as a group would be good for their futures.

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  4. The NFL, NHL,college football, and college basketball are all “coaches” leagues. The NBA and MLB are “players” leagues. In the MLB and NBA it’s pure individual talent that is most important; not strategy, play calling or rah-rah club houses. In the MLB and NBA unless the team has a total idiot for a coach or manger they will usually do just fine. It’s the winning that brings the team together,not the other way around.

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  5. I am concerned that our manager will have trouble keeping Miggy motivated. What is he going to if the team ends up losing 90+ games? And will he be in any hurry to return from his annual injury? I can see potential trouble brewing.

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  6. The Astros drafted “remarkably well” is a questionable statement. Ever hear of Mark Appel or Brady Aiken? That’s who they took 1st overall in 2013 and 2014. Granted they also drafted George Sringer (#11 2011), Carlos Correa (#1 2012) and Alex Bregman (#2 2015). My point is that drafting has a lot to do with timing and luck. Also, finding Jose Altuve as a 17yr old amateur free agent is amazing, but the team also let JD Martinez go.

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    • Altuve, Bregman, Springer, and Correa–that is four All-Star position players (one an MVP to boot) all drafted within a decade. Actually, I’d say “The Astros drafted remarkably well” is an understatement. The last All-Star position player the Tigers drafted was Curtis Granderson, I believe.

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      • My point is that the draft is a crapshoot. 2 of 3 of their #1 overall picks bombed. Also, they had to be completely awful for several years to get that many top picks.

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