Clubhouse Change Has Lead to More Victories, Better Play
There is always talk about the “attitude in the clubhouse” and how certain players can be a “cancer” in the locker room, affecting the way a team plays and ultimately how successful they are. I have never completely bought into this theory as I feel good players are good players, no matter their attitude, and the more good players you have, the better chance you have to win. Did Randy Moss affect the Patriots in 2007? Nope. Did Manny Ramirez ever bring down the Red Sox with his antics? Two World Series trophies say no. However, whether a good player can bring down a team or not isn’t what I am going to discuss. Rather, a better question would be can a positive attitude and a generally positive clubhouse lead to improve play from mediocre to above average players and eventually take a below average team to average or beyond? The Royals through the first couple weeks of the season will have you believing attitude can change a team’s losing fortunes.
Dayton Moore as a GM has been criticized for his major league moves and rightfully so. Up to 2011 he has made no move that has yielded any result that is even close to netting the Royals more victories over the course of the season. Rather, many would argue that he has found a way to actually make the Royals worse through some of his suspect moves over the year. Moore has seemingly been intent on snatching up former Braves players and prospects and players he believes play “the right way” and represent non-quantifiable qualities he believes lead to winning, “grit,” “toughness,” “heart,” etc.
Possibly no player represents this better than Jeff Francoeur. Frenchie has been described as nothing but a great guy and great to have around the clubhouse. A solid rookie year followed by a few mediocre ones has made it hard for Frenchie to find a place where he truly fits and is loved by the fans alike. He has his faults (Alex Gordon-like plate discipline) but you cannot deny that with his positive attitude and stand-up demeanor people respond to him positively. Radio hosts on both 610 and 810 have mentioned how much of an impact he has had on the club in the early going. Other players noted how they looked to him as a true leader, one who led by example with is play in the field and backed it up by being a true team player in the clubhouse.
Frenchie is not the sole reason that there has been a change in the clubhouse though. Bill Simmons, a writer for ESPN.com, has something he calls the “Ewing Theory,” which put into simple terms is addition by subtraction. Sometimes a team can be too defined by their star player and once that player is gone they can prosper without having to always be focused on that one player and what he brings to the team. This theory doesn’t come into play much in baseball but there is rarely a better candidate than Zack Greinke. Since leaving the Royals it seems they have a new and different energy about them. People like myself who have lived in KC their whole lives and never seen a winning Royals team (outside of the 2003 anomaly) will attest to the fact that this team just plain feels different. Part of it is Greinke gone, part of it is Frenchie here, part of is Manager Ned Yost, part of it is the team finally realizing that this is their time and they are tired of losing and being laughed at. This team is different.
Nearly universally this team was regarded as a top candidate for a 100 loss team at the start of the season. Most pundits didn’t give the Royals much of a chance to win more than 65 games at best. There is a lot of baseball to be played and who knows how much they will actually win but at this point every player on the team believes they can keep this going. In years past would the Royals have been able to come back after Soria blows a save and take the game to 13 innings? Would the Royals be able to battle back after being down 5 runs within the first 3 innings? No and no. In years past the Royals would have hung their heads in those situations and found themselves mired in a losing streak as they cruise their way to the cellar. But not this year.
Players have decided that all those pundits don’t have to be right. The team doesn’t look at itself and its weaknesses and become hopeless. This team has the mentality that no matter what happens they believe that are in every game. The youth around the clubhouse is no doubt a big part of this but I think most of it will belong to Ned Yost. Yost has been here before with a young Brewers team earlier in the decade and he has exemplified some of the good traits of a manager that Trey Hillman never had. His players are buying in to what he’s selling and it’s showing on the field.
Gage wrote earlier this week comparing Kila to Pedro Cerano from Major League. I offer another parallel to ‘Major League’ with this team. The team in that movie didn’t get any new players throughout the year, they simply changed their attitude and started to believe they could actually win. ‘Major League’ is just a movie but fact of the matter is it does a good job of showing how a team can change its fortunes by changing its attitudes. I haven’t bought in completely, and I still don’t think the Royals will be able to contend this year, but I have come around on the idea that this team is never out and will always have a chance. After an entire lifetime of not having chances, that is something I welcome with open arms.