I’m stuck in a classroom with desks facing a teacher wearing eyes that say”don’t do it.” It’s the late 1970’s and that teacher drills the word cooperation into us students or at least his or her notion of it.
I never learned much about geo-politics, but i did learn that the earth is a huge place. It seems natural that two won’t tango, that countries or ethnic groups, brothers, religions, mailman and dog won’t get along. Like it seems natural that mountains sprout up and divide land into two. And when mountains don’t sprout up, it seems natural to construct walls and keep warring peoples separated for 10 years, 10,000 years or however long it takes for the lover’s quarrel to mellow out.
We are inundated with countless examples of “team chemistry” as the intangible that “brought everyone together” and helped such and such team “win.” Some even argue it as a necessity. They pay veteran players to add a certain presence in the clubhouse. Yes there are teams that supposedly thrive in this lovey-dovey atmosphere. The Red Sox are the most recent example with their tugging of each other’s beards all season long.
The Giants were open-minded weirdos in 2010. The Cardinals once had a pet squirrel. The Angels used a rally monkey. The A’s had excess facial hair, and so on. I’d like to compile a huge list of these one day, but more interesting to me is the flip side of harmony and cooperation where dissonance and friction sits or rather, where it combusts.
I had a gym teacher in the 1970’s. His name was Leo Kroch. I know. That name is way too appropriate for a boys gym class. Anyway, when two kids started pushing each other, he stopped the world and ushered everyone to the locker room and made us form a circle. He pushed the two enemies into a makeshift ring and let them fight. He let it go a while until a winner was clearly evident. I think everyone felt better.
I’m still learning about the mid 1970’s Yankees, filling in the pieces between what I already know; Reggie Jackson pissed off Billy Martin who in turn pissed off George Steinbrenner who fired Billy Martin. Thurman Munson then got pissed. The Yankees won the 1977 World Series and then won again in 1978. Everyone lived happily ever after. End of story.
I’m doing the same with the 1979 Pirates. That was the first World Series I participated in by filling out a homemade box score on construction paper. I learned the names Omar Moreno and Ed Ott. The Pirates were a team lifted up by what appeared to be amazing team chemistry. Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” was released that same year. I don’t know if the R/B artists intended it for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it became the team’s theme song.
Beneath the surface, the Pirates were apparently more like a rehab clinic than a family with every ethnicity, personality and economic class shooting their mouth off. The daily clubhouse dissipation was not pleasant. Players emptied their bottles in each other’s faces like a back alley free for all. They let all their prejudices hang out. And as a result, no lingering grudges made it onto the field. That’s what I’ve gathered anyway from various sources. In many ways, they did justice to the Sledge song. They were a family, a healthy and honest family who didn’t necessarily like each other, but respected.
This volatile but very sane chemistry of the Pirates and maybe the Yankees before them was followed by the Phillies in 1980. Dallas Greene had been appointed interim manager to close out the 1979 season. After wining three consecutive NL East titles the Phillies slipped into fourth place. Greene was hired to stay on board for 1980 and he was apparently a son of a bitch. That was either his style of managing or a tactic he decided to employ based on the climate of the Phillies clubhouse.
“Glory Days-The story of the 1980 Phillies” provides a nice capsule of a team chemistry that is more like the chemistry I struggled through in high school. It was loud and explosive.