Long time readers of this site know that I'm not a fan of "chemistry." That's not exactly right. What I'm not a fan of is trying to build chemistry first and a baseball team second. Too often over the last decade we've seen players like Joe Randa, Juan Castro, and Alex Gonzalez brought in because they were "great baseball guys" who could provide veteran leadership. The thing is, none of them were great baseball players. I'm all for good guys in the clubhouse, but I believe superior talent is much more important.
I was opposed to the Scott Rolen deal when it went down. I said at the time that while Rolen is an upgrade over Edwin Encarnacion, it wasn't enough of an upgrade to justify the cost. I was wrong.
In 1990 (here he goes again), Eric Davis was coming off a 101 RBI season where he didn't start the last three games of the year. At the time, Todd Benzinger recalls asking Davis, "Why aren't you playing today?" To which Davis responded, "I've got my 100 RBI. I don't need anything else." Benzinger admitted to us that he felt like Eric Davis was selfish and me-first in 1989. He also told us that Davis was a changed player in 1990.
What had changed? According to Davis, Lou Piniella had brought in a certain air of "accountability" to the ball club. That accountability wasn't there under Rose, who often went to his players at the end of season to make sure everyone was reaching their contractual incentives. Piniella didn't play those games. And the players respected him for it, and, as Barry Larkin said, they didn't want to let him down.
Tell me that doesn't sound like how the current Reds talk about Scott Rolen. Hell, Jonny Gomes has said almost precisely that this past week: "It's kind of like when you're 8 years old and you disappoint your dad."
Accountability is a powerful weapon. It's also something that has been missing with the Reds for a long time. We've had managers passing the buck, general managers blaming other general managers, and owners blaming the fans. At least now we have someone in that dugout that is holding his teammates' feet to the flame.
Rolen may not openly challenge his teammates or publicly criticize them, but he's clearly captured their respect. We don't normally credit that type of stuff in this space, mainly because the numbers don't back it up. I'm here to say openly, it's wonderful to see the players play for something more than their personal goals. It's a great way to galvanize a team. And it's exactly why I think this team is different than what we've seen over the last decade.
It also helps that Rolen has been the second best hitter on the team this year. Attitude is great and all, but show me production first. Rolen's been doing both.
Finally, a tip of the cap to Walt Jocketty. He knew better than I did. He knew what kind of an impact Rolen could have on this clubhouse. He was right. Damn, it feels good to say that about a Reds' GM.