Rowen: Chasing the holy grail of baseball performance: team chemistry

From Ben Rowan at The Atlantic on June 15, 2018:

In the final regular-season game for the 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers, Dusty Baker hit a home run, giving him 30 for the season and making him the fourth Dodger to reach that milestone that year, a Major League Baseball record. As Baker rounded third, a rookie who had recently entered the game, Glenn Burke, approached the plate from the on-deck circle and, seized by joy, raised his hand high above his head. Baker was taken aback by the gesture and, in a mix of celebration and confusion, decided to smack Burke’s hand. Their high five was clumsy, but then again it had every right to be: Reportedly, it was the first one ever.

Baseball has always been a strange mix of social and solo. In American fashion, the game stresses the collective, but demands that you play for yourself. Despite all the intimacy of the sport’s language—crowding the plate, touching base—its play is quite lonely. Other sports require a tacit harmony between players—setting a pick for a teammate, blocking for someone 10 yards behind. In contrast, a baseball hitter stands in the solitary confinement of the batter’s box, facing a pitcher on the desert island of the mound. The players on the defense align themselves, except for the occasional shift, to be as far from one another as the limits of the ability to recuperate lost space permit. Defensive errors are unfailingly—and officially—attributed to individual players. The rule book, irrespective of out-of-play butt slaps and handshakes, does not sanction contact.


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Originally published: June 15, 2018. Last Updated: June 15, 2018.