By: Holly Horning
Last week, I wrote about how A. J. Hinch instilled a winning culture into the Detroit Tigers’ roster. It included Hinch’s infamous comments as well as those from players and the noticeable level of improvement in play that is garnering Hinch some votes for Manager of the Year.
If you missed it, here is the link:
Today, I want to dig into one of the qualities of a winning culture.
It’s something that has been missing in Detroit for decades.
According to Merriam-Webster, “teamwork” is defined as “work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.”
Teamwork isn’t automatically a quality of a competitive team. It just doesn’t appear on its own.
Teamwork is a quality that has to be introduced, practiced, enforced and believed in. Those who practice it best go further.
Teamwork requires that everyone involved understands that it’s all about the team and that individual accomplishments are secondary to the greater good.
Just because the Tigers were winning division titles and making 2 World Series appearances, doesn’t mean that the Tigers possessed a teamwork attitude back then.
In fact, one could argue that they didn’t have it and it was one of the reasons why they only won a single game in both World Series.
If we look at those years, here’s a sampling of what we saw:
– Ego-driven battles between 3 of the 5 starting pitchers.
– A future Hall of Famer who was given special privileges not afforded to the rest of the team. The same one who couldn’t bother to learn most of the names of his teammates.
– The same future Hall of Famer who put his own pleasure above that of the team by partying all night with opponents during the crucial last series that lost Detroit the division title.
– Three affairs with teammates’/coaches’ spouses/daughters/girlfriends that disrupted the clubhouse and created dissent and in-fighting. One resulting in a physical fight that injured Miguel Cabrera who was trying to stop the fight. He ended up requiring surgery after he was unable to perform to his level in the playoffs.
– Three players who were traded because their personal actions disrupted the clubhouse and on-field performance.
– A player who excused his poor performance in the playoffs because he had other priorities.
– Another future Hall of Famer, pitching in a crucial 2013 ALDS game, removing himself despite dominating the opponents, who went on to win the game – and the series.
Despite performing poorly when it mattered most, the Tigers reaped an astounding number of individual awards during those years, including, but not limited to:
– 3 MVPs
– 2 Cy Young
– 2 Triple Crowns (pitching and hitting)
– 2 Rookie of the Year
– ERA King
An immensely-talented group of athletes and a ton of trophies. Trophies for individuals, not for a team.
Was this a result of Mr. I spending millions on star players with egos to match?
Was this a result of an organization not understanding the importance of team chemistry and failing to instill a winning culture in the minds of the players?
Was it the result of both of the above factors?
Jim Leyland was the antidote to the too-nice Alan Trammell who was savaged and undermined by the influx of new free agents. Leyland was a disciplinarian who kept order. But he was old school and seen as more of a fatherly figure to players. He infamously said that he stayed out of the clubhouse and believed in separation between players and managers.
Leyland was respected. But labeling him as such doesn’t automatically mean he was capable of bringing everyone together on one goal.
And when you have to infamously rip your players in a clubhouse tirade, it means that you haven’t been doing your job as a leader and motivator.
Brad Ausmus, as we know all too well, wasn’t capable of bringing anyone together. During his tenure, tantrums, swearing pitchers and dugout fights happened regularly. After 4 long years, it was reported that he lost the entire team in his first year, yet the Tigers kept him.
Ron Gardenhire was the benign babysitter put in charge of a team put into a deep freeze as the owner and Front Office focused on cutting payroll and collecting prospects. There were no expectations, no requirements.
And now there’s A. J. Hinch. A complete 180-degree turn from the previous Tiger managers.
The question to ask is whether it actually occurred to the team that talent is only part of the equation and that the mental/interpersonal strength is the other part. Did the light bulb just go on over their heads this year as they saw what was starting to happen?
It is a difference between night and day. Just look at the games.
On the field, the players are sacrificing for each other in order to get ahead. They are working with each other in order to win. They have created a fire from within to fight all game long and come from behind.
Look at Sunday’s game in which the Tigers came back, not once, not twice, but three times to win the game in extra innings.
They are taking series and playing .500 or better against MLB’s top teams with a roster that is not that much different than last year.
You’ve also got players regularly speaking out about how much fun they are having – and how much they love playing in Detroit. One who actually made good on signing an extension despite having Scott Boras as his agent. Another who says he wants to spend the rest of his career playing for Hinch.
When was the last time you heard a Tiger say that?
Almost every player is now on record about how much they love playing for this manager and team.
Need more proof? Watch the dugout.
These guys are behaving like a team.
There are no more cliques. No more players sitting by themselves. No one is leaving the dugout for the sanctuary of the clubhouse in-between innings. They are one solid mass.
All of them squeezed together. The dugout railing is now shoulder-to-shoulder with players intently watching the game. Many of them even hanging over it as they gesture and encourage their teammates at the plate.
There’s laughter. Everyone is smiling. And the quiver/arrow gesture requirement has become a team signature.
They have all bought in to the greater good.
Even Miggy. He’s a ringleader in the dugout. He’s having a blast.
And I bet that he now knows everyone’s names.
There are celebrations when players return from the field after advancing the team offensively, whether it be an RBI or a sacrifice. New traditions that involve the entire dugout, not just a handful of players.
And they even have swagger. Did you see the performance of Jeimer Candelario on Sunday after he hit his second home run? Joined by 8 of his teammates as they celebrated as a group?
They are believers.
Never mind that no one is running away with the lead in any statistical category for their own personal gain. And that’s probably fine with them.
Finally, there is the goal of working for the good of the team, not for the good of the player.
All because one man and his coaches decided that a team needs to adopt both the tangibles and intangibles in order to succeed.
And it’s about time.
What did you miss on the Totally Tigers Twitter feed yesterday?
Areas the Tigers need to strengthen most in order to contend.
What the Tigers will miss without Jake Rogers next season.
What the Tigers may be forced to do if they are without their most experienced pitcher next season.
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