I’ll start off by making a very long and very debated story short. Baseball players are human beings. Team chemistry exists. However, team chemistry does not appear to have a quantifiable or substantial effect on the overall performance of a baseball team. Thus, to disregard clubhouse chemistry is not to regard baseball players as wooden pieces on a chess board; rather, to do so is the result of a logical thought process based on lots and lots of statistical and non-statistical research.
However, the value of a baseball player’s character is incredibly important in one specific part of the game — in the evaluation of amateur prospects.
There are plenty of talented kids playing ball around the world. There are plenty of kids who can throw ninety miles an hour, hit 400 foot home runs, and play great defense. But there are many fewer kids who are willing to work hard over a long period of time to get even better.
Tony Blengino worked as the assistant director of amateur scouting for around 20 years for the Milwaukee Brewers, so naturally he went on his fair share of house visits. When Blengino met with 18-year-old aspiring ballplayers and their families, it became apparent which of the bunch were driven to strive for success. Blengino mentioned to me that on his very first house visit, he could tell right away that the kid was not mentally tough enough to survive the major league process. [I wish I could find a quote somewhere, but I can't, so you'll have to take my word for this.]
Talent alone is not a measure of guaranteed success in the major leagues. It is a very important measure of future success, but it is not a guarantee in itself. Yuniesky Betancourt was one of the most talented shortstops the Mariners had ever seen, but due to the security of his new-found fame and financial stability, he ate his way out of being a great defender, and subsequently, out of a job; additionally, his unwillingness to work to improve his defense put off many of the M’s coaches and staff.
Professional baseball requires the personal and mental fortitude for a player to tinker around with his swing or pitches, working his way up through the minors, for usually 3-4 years before being given a chance to even make the 25-man roster. Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland Athletics, couldn’t stand failure during his days as a ballplayer despite the abundance of talent waiting to blossom within him and ultimately quit playing baseball.
Baseball generally weeds out most of the players who don’t have the talent to make it in the Majors; the system is set up that way. But when it comes to taking a chance on a young, promising talent, Tony Blengino will be happy to tell you, it ultimately comes down to which player seems to work the most to squeeze out every ounce of talent, like delicious juice from a tangerine.
It’s a tacky metaphor, but you catch my drift.