So Much for “Clubhouse Atmosphere”

For years, we have heard the importance of a good clubhouse atmosphere, particularly from proponents of old-school baseball (and usually opponents of Sabermetrics). Despite years of mediocre offense made to look gaudy by a .300-plus batting average, Michael Young earned high marks from many across the sport for providing leadership in the clubhouse. Ostensibly, Young’s “intangibles” were part of why the Phillies acquired him from the Texas Rangers.

The reasoning behind the Young acquisition, now, looks very questionable as the Phillies have since brought in Delmon Young and Carlos Zambrano. Young was arrested last year on a hate crime harassment charge, and had previously thrown a bat at a Minor League umpire in a fit of rage. Zambrano is famous for having fought with teammates (namely Michael Barrett), beating up a Gatorade cooler with a bat, and flipping out at umpires regularly.

Prior to injuring his shoulder in 2008, Zambrano was legitimately among the best pitchers in baseball. Between 2003-08, the right-hander posted an aggregate 3.39 ERA with a 20 percent strikeout rate. In the four years since, he has maxed out at 28 starts in a season with an aggregate 4.10 ERA, an 18 percent strikeout rate, and a ballooning walk rate. He turns 32 on June 1.

Assistant GM Scott Proefrock described the signing as “low risk, hopefully high reward”. It’s true in a vacuum — signing Zambrano to a Minor League deal costs the team next to nothing, and Zambrano still has the potential to provide value at the back of the starting rotation. However, it flies in the face of everything the Phillies have stood for over the years. Adding Zambrano has the potential to disrupt the finely-tuned clubhouse led by Charlie Manuel. Four years ago, this move never would have been a possibility. Remember the media outrage over the relatively-tame Jayson Werth? Mandy Housenick wrote this in 2010:

But what worries me more is the way he acts in the clubhouse, something the organization prides itself in. I read about what he did in Chicago….totally uncalled for.

On Friday night after Ryan Madson gave up a game-winning home run in the eighth, Madson answered reporters’ questions. My understanding is it wasn’t a long interview (everybody can’t be as professional and cordial as Brad Lidge), but Madson stood there and did his job when I’m sure it was the last thing he felt like doing.

The same can’t be said for Werth.

He walked by the crowd of reporters who had just spoken to Madson and said, “Nice interview, guys.”

Nice attitude, Jayson.

To Delmon Young‘s credit, he hasn’t done anything remotely stupid thus far though he has only been in town for two and a half weeks. Maybe he is a changed man, and maybe Zambrano is, too. It’s a gamble, though, one that has the potential of making the Phillies’ clubhouse atmosphere look worse than the 2011 Red Sox. Remember this the next time Amaro puts down Sabermetrics and talks about intangibles like “clubhouse atmosphere” and “leadership”.

The Phillies aren’t the only ones to do it, though. The Rays have a rapist in their bullpen (Josh Lueke). The Cardinals employed Tony La Russa despite his having been arrested for a DUI. The Braves let Bobby Cox direct a team despite being a wife-beater. Miguel Cabrera‘s DUI and domestic abuse incidents were swept under the rug because he could hit dingers. On a less serious note, the Rays kept Matt Garza and Dioner Navarro around despite a heated mound conference that resulted in a dugout shoving match between the two (and those Rays would eventually make it to the World Series!). Mets outfielder Jordany Valdespin seemingly has no friends on the roster — not even his own manager — but he is kept around because he provides value on the field.

Any team will divert their attention away from your inability to follow rules and create a positive atmosphere if they think you can help the team. Claims of intangibles are simply euphemisms for poorly-defined, flimsy-evidenced beliefs about baseball. The Phillies are simply providing the latest example of the discrepancy in publicly-stated beliefs and actions.

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45 comments

  1. Kyle Neubeck

    May 16, 2013 07:12 AM

    What really drives me nuts is how much Wheels and Co. harp on this stuff. Michael Young can’t get through an at bat without him slobbering all over him about how “he knows how to play the game.” What does that even mean? By virtue of making it to the major leagues they ALL do. It’s like hearing Skip Bayless talk about the “clutch” factor in basketball – give it up already.

  2. Scott G

    May 16, 2013 07:46 AM

    Maybe “Nice attitude Jayson” is what began the path of his becoming a National. N-attitude.

    Is “what Werth did in Chicago… totally uncalled for” what follows in the next paragraph – walk by a group of reporters and say “nice interview”? If so, how is that even a story?

  3. Zach

    May 16, 2013 07:55 AM

    @Kyle

    If Wheels didn’t have those nonsense platitudes, then he wouldn’t have anything to say in the booth.

  4. Richard

    May 16, 2013 07:56 AM

    You’d think “knowing how to play the game” would entail, dunno, not swinging 2-0 in the first inning against a pitcher neither you nor your teammates have never seen.

  5. SteveH

    May 16, 2013 07:58 AM

    The fact of the matter is that these are moves of desperation. Plain and simple. They are cheap to make and they are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Can you guys just imagine Wheels and the boys if comes up and explodes. You know they will find excuses and apologize for him. Can we fire Wheels too?

  6. pedro3131

    May 16, 2013 07:59 AM

    @Scott, because when (2010) you go to back to back World Series and have just acquired the best pitcher in the game there isn’t as much anti Romaro / anti CM / bah humbuging to be doing?

    Is clubhouse atmosphere the same thing as creating a team of upstanding members of society? I don’t see how they have to be bound together. I assume that DY doesn’t go running around the clubhouse spouting off about his hate crime’s and DUI’s, just like Chase probably doesn’t go around bragging about his clean record. I think you can be a positive or negative clubhouse influence regardless of your personal life. While it’s not really possible to measure, we can all think anecdotaly about situations in our life (maybe on a highschool sports team, or in our jobs, or in the classroom) where there are those people that we enjoy being around and are inspired by and those people who we aren’t. I don’t think that we can assume legal transgressions are a disqualifier from that

  7. Bill Baer

    May 16, 2013 08:01 AM

    They’re about the only solid information anyone has — other than word-of-mouth — about a player’s personality, and meeting that player (as a GM or other front office executive) in a formal business setting is not representative of what his behavior may be in the heat of competition.

  8. Richard

    May 16, 2013 08:06 AM

    I’m not sure they’re moves of desperation, SteveH, though I can how they might look that way. As much as we (rightly) criticize the Phillies for their apparent disdain of sabermetrics, especially in the face of their competitors’ embrace of same, the Phillies nevertheless had to know that coming into this season they had a lot of question marks. Utley, Howard, Halladay were all major concerns entering the year. It seems plausible that they didn’t think it prudent to make any big splashes this past off-season with such concerns going in. That doesn’t excuse some of the moves or non-moves they’ve made, but it perhaps puts the Delmon Young and Zambrano moves, at least, in some perspective. They’re just buying time/insurance with those guys.

  9. Steve

    May 16, 2013 08:11 AM

    You guys remember Ugueth Urbina, now there is a stone cold killer! haha

  10. JM

    May 16, 2013 08:15 AM

    for all of you hating on Wheels, and I am not his biggest fan, remember their job is to spin this team to be great in every way. They are not paid to disparage the team, but to provide positive entertainment during a game. This is not ESPN where the announcers are “unbiased” and can be truthful to the actual state of the team. They are paid by the Phillies.

  11. NickFromGermantown

    May 16, 2013 08:20 AM

    @Scott

    It’s a story for the media because it’s a direct attack on them. Of course they are going to be offended. It’s not as if Werth didn’t have merit. He was standing up for his teammate against some of the asinine questions that the media has a tendency to ask.

  12. Kyle Neubeck

    May 16, 2013 08:20 AM

    @JM

    I think they could provide positive entertainment without rehashing colloquial sayings all the time. It’s like listening to a broken record. And it isn’t just him, don’t get me wrong. Part of the plague that is modern announcing. I’d prefer none at all, personally.

  13. JM

    May 16, 2013 08:22 AM

    I can’t stand these signings. I wouldn’t want to be in a clubhouse with either Douchebag Young or Zambrano. However, it has been said for the last 3 years how complacent these guys are. Maybe a little fire in there might ignite a spark. they’re still only 3.5 back, even though Hamels and Doc have been major disappointments.

  14. JM

    May 16, 2013 08:25 AM

    @Kyle
    have you ever been around a person over 50 who did not spout colloquial sayings all the time?

  15. Robert Anderson

    May 16, 2013 08:30 AM

    As a relatively new British baseball and phillies fan I am massive convert to sabremetrics and think that British sports have a huge amount to learn. One thing I can’t get on board with is the playing down of intangible qualities. I get that you can’t measure how good a leader someone is easily and that given a choice between someone who’s a nice guy and someone who can hit you take the latter but any group of individuals doing anything needs to be led. For example one of the things that struck me about Moneyball was the clarity of purpose and superb leadership skills as much as the use of stats of Billy Beane. Just as the old school should embrace stats, sabremetricsions should be open minded about “intangibles”.

  16. gus

    May 16, 2013 08:31 AM

    bret myers beat his wife and they kept him around for years. this is just another example of baer looking to rip on the phils.

  17. aisflat439

    May 16, 2013 08:38 AM

    While im not certain it was the intent of the article, this article read more about the “Bad Guys” to me. I don’t see how having a DUI makes you a person someone shouldn’t hire, my electrician has 3. He’s a good guy who should give up up drinking, but hes a good electrician.

    I think the article intended to portray the problem with the Phillies hiring “bad guys” is that it contradicts every thing they have stated in the past. Especially if you’re the type of team that would disparage a quantitative approach that chose to “ignore” those other intangibles. I was thinking this yesterday when Scott Profrock was on the Radio. Who is gonna hire this assistant GM when he’s avoiding analytics and hiring volatile players.

    Also, this this article wasn’t about Chris Wheeler. Why is he showing up in the comments? I can say with a good bit of certainty that the average Crashburn Alley reading is not Wheels target audience.

  18. Joe

    May 16, 2013 08:58 AM

    I agree with pedro–there’s no necessary connection between somebody’s off-the-field behavior and whether they’re a good or bad clubhouse presence. It’s possible (as hard as it might be to imagine) that Delmon Young is not actually Satan’s spawn and maybe even kinda likeable in some ways.

  19. VoteForDelmon

    May 16, 2013 09:08 AM

    @joe

    So likeable we should all vote for him for the all star game!

    COT FOR DEMON!

  20. Joe

    May 16, 2013 09:09 AM

    I don’t know if I’d go that far.

  21. Old Enough

    May 16, 2013 09:34 AM

    Cut Wheels a break. Baseball commentators are a background buzz that is only necessary because the camera excludes so much of the environment of the game. Watching a game on TV is like watching a game in person with binoculars. Much of the action that provides context is missed. You don’t see the subtleties of interaction and adjustments to circumstances that happen as a play develops. So, Wheels is like a beerbuddy who loves the game but is pretty clueless about its structure. He can’t teach you much but he is kind of entertaining. And isn’t that his job, entertaining?

  22. Scott G

    May 16, 2013 09:36 AM

    JM,

    Actually, I’m pretty sure their job is NOT to spin things toward the Phillies – I think they’re required to act as unbiased commentators. I’ll grant that’s probably difficult to do, but I’m pretty sure that they aren’t supposed to be pro-Phillies.

    NickfromGermantown,

    What’s a direct attack on them. “Nice interview, guys”? That’s an attack?

  23. Phillie697

    May 16, 2013 10:50 AM

    @pedro,

    Neither does cheating on your wife directly affects, as far as I know, your performance as a President. Yet we sure as hell think it does as a society, no?

  24. Phillie697

    May 16, 2013 10:54 AM

    Did someone (JM) just say Wheels “provide positive[s] entertainment during a game”? That’s your definition of “positive entertainment”? I need to go kill myself now.

  25. Phillie697

    May 16, 2013 10:55 AM

    ooops, the [s] was suppose to be on “provide.”

  26. Phillie697

    May 16, 2013 10:58 AM

    @Robert Anderson,

    I agree with you. So does MLB actually. We pay someone for that “leadership” you talk about. It’s a position in baseball called the “manager.” Google it and be amazed :)

  27. Robert Anderson

    May 16, 2013 12:01 PM

    @Phillie697 two points. most people (especially on this site) only discuss the managers tactical decisions (admittedly at least 2/3s of his job) not his other qualities, leadership etc. Secondly it takes more than 1 person to create good culture/atmosphere. I’m not saying pick one player over another because “he’s a good pro” just that if you have 2 similar players, leadership ability/example setting is a legitimate consideration not something to scoffed at becesuse you can’t work out how it effects WAR.

  28. Scott G

    May 16, 2013 12:02 PM

    Old Enough,

    Wheels rarely provides insight to the “things that can’t be seen on camera”. He’s not entertaining. Part of the reason people loved HK and Richie Ashburn is because they didn’t feel the need to constantly talk. They let the dead air hang. SHUT UP WHEELS!

  29. Phillie697

    May 16, 2013 01:40 PM

    @Robert Anderson,

    You’re talking about people who has been through 3 or 4 levels of minors to learn how to be a professional sports athlete, who makes millions of dollars to play what essentially is to most of us a GAME. If they need more than 2 or 3 babysitters (most teams have two or three manager + coaches) to stay happy so that they can produce up to their level of productivity, then you know what, they are all whiny crying babies, which I KNOW they are not.

    Most people enjoy fun, easy-going co-workers who make working more enjoyable, but very very very few of us let one bad co-worker destroy our productivity, lest that co-worker is literally destructive, which isn’t a problem most of the time. This article is correct in pointing out that good attitude among players increase moral sure, but to expect to increase actual game performance? 90% of the time, it’s just BS to make one sound better about a personnel decision.

  30. Pat

    May 16, 2013 06:11 PM

    One of the most important things sabermetrics did was call bullshit on the intangibles argument. And now we have an argument for better intangibles. I don’t get it.

  31. GB

    May 16, 2013 07:15 PM

    JM-

    Wheels is a broken record shill for the Phils, he carries their water in all things. He and the generic announcer guy are the most annoying combo in sports – Kalas and Whitey showed exactly how a baseball broadcasting team should work and they covered some dreadful teams. Larry and Franske are light years better than Wheels/GAG as well. Its not entertaining or funny or even mildly smart…they are like sticking a hot fork into one’s eye socket repeatedly.

    Defense and getting on base are the other foundational piece Amaro has gotten away from even while continuing to mouth how important they are…they get themselves out routinely without much help from the pitcher and we’ve had way too many defensive gaffes…he and Manuel hold no one accountable (except for young players of course) and the players know it is all empty words.

    Its very ironic to hear Amaro/Wheels/GAG all wax poetic about patience, working counts and getting on base too when routinely guys like Abreu, Burrell, Werth etc. used to be denigrated for not being “aggressive enough” and leaving the “hard work up to others” by taking walks…those are the type guys this team needs now…

  32. Hunter

    May 17, 2013 05:07 AM

    Does being charged with a crime now mean that, ipso facto, you’re guilty of said crime?

    Leuke, as repellent as his actions sound, was never convicted of rape. He pled guilty to a lesser offense. And no, that doesn’t automatically indicate guilt. There’s plenty of cases where the person is guilty, but pleads. There’s also cases where the person is innocent, but knows the evidence against them looks bad enough, they’d rather not take their chances.

    All we can say is he’s been convicted of a lesser offense. There’s never been any conviction for rape, nor has the individual ever admitted it.

    If its your personal, informed, opinion, you are more than entitled- but it should be denoted as your iopinion in some way, and not listed as a fact.

  33. hk

    May 17, 2013 06:04 AM

    Pat,

    You’re right, you don’t get it. BB is still calling bullshit on the intangibles. He’s just pointing out that some non-Sabremetric types, who espouse the importance of those intangibles, are not practicing what they preach. If BB is arguing anything, it’s for better players, not better intangibles.

  34. Bill Baer

    May 17, 2013 06:17 AM

    @ Hunter

    Link

    Josh Lueke […] faced rape and sodomy charges in Bakersfield, Calif., last summer [2009], but later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of false imprisonment with violence. Lueke was sentenced to 40 days in prison, but was freed with time already served after agreeing to the plea bargain.

    […]

    Pleading no contest carries the same legal weight as a guilty plea, but sentencing is often more immediate and less harsh.

  35. hk

    May 17, 2013 06:19 AM

    Boo-urns and Hunter,

    Would it be better if BB had written, “the Rays have someone who admitted to falsely imprisoning an obviously drunk woman, on whom he masturbated while she was vomiting and with whom he had intercourse, an act about which he lied to the police” in their bullpen?

  36. amarosucks

    May 17, 2013 03:33 PM

    No one here cares about the red sox

  37. amarosucks

    May 17, 2013 03:34 PM

    weird, there was a red sox comment…now it’s (thankfully) gone.

    Now if we could just get ruben minaya jr to disappear we’d be all set

  38. Hunter

    May 17, 2013 03:42 PM

    Exactly,Bill. Leuke pleaded guilty to false imprisonment. Unless I’m misinformed, false imprisonment is not rape.

    Some people might find this objection pedantic, and thats fine. and admittedly, Leuke does seemlike a repellant individual, at least insofar as we can judge a person on one action.

    I just find it distasteful to present someone as guilty of something he’s never been convicted of, for the simple reason that we really don’t know enough.

  39. Nehemiah

    May 17, 2013 06:44 PM

    I don’t mean to turn this into a political discussion on the definition of rape, but if they were both wasted and neither remembers consenting, is it really rape or simply to stupid people losing themselves to alcohol and making poor decisions? Again, not being an apologist, just posing a question.

  40. pedro3131

    May 17, 2013 07:25 PM

    If only we had a legal system to answer those difficult questions given the context of the situation….

  41. Brian

    May 19, 2013 05:40 PM

    Not sure they have always adhered to a totally clean clubhouse policy. Remember the Brett Myers wife beating incident? He started the next day I believe. It just proves your point that as long as you can help the team your behavior will be tolerated.

  42. Ezra V. Gill

    May 22, 2013 09:46 PM

    He’s not performing, yet he is continually trotted out there every day, despite having Ruf as a legitimate younger option (not to mention a potential platoon partner in Nix rotting away as a glorified Ross Gload).

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