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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