In the latest New York magazine, Gary Sheffield tells you all you need to know about the 2005 New York Yankees: they are doomed. In the interview, Sheffield maligns the New York media for writing flattering pieces solely about Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, implies that A-Rod and D-Jet aren’t team leaders and declares that the whole Yankee franchise is anti-family. Instead of unifying his team towards a drive to the World Series, Sheffield has chosen to throw his teammates under the bus or more appropriate to 21st century sports, throw them from the private jet without a parachute.
Next to football, no sport requires more team unity and shared purpose than baseball. No matter how talented the player, he cannot win a baseball game, much less a division title or league championship on his own. Randy Johnson can throw perfect game after perfect game but he still needs his teammates to score at least one run for him to get the win. Although there have been some successes to the contrary, a team that cannot get along off the field will struggle to play as one on the field.
No matter how much money George Steinbrenner invests in his team, he is missing the one thing money can’t buy: team chemistry. More than starting pitching and clutch hitting, Boston’s team unity and heart and New York’s equal lack of both were at the core of the Red Sox’s historic comeback in last year’s ALCS. The 2004 Red Sox truly got along, blatantly cheering and prodding each other on to victory. In your wildest dreams can you imagine Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez doing that wacky synchronized dance routine that Kevin Millar and Manny Ramirez came up with? No, I didn’t think you could.
Ironically, one of Sheffield’s complaints about the Yankees is the lack of team chemistry. How calling out his teammates and conceding that he wouldn’t undertake any heroic gestures that might cause him injury will remedy the situation requires the use of a logic that I fear only Sheffield possesses. Despite having the highest payroll in baseball, the Yankees are currently second in the AL East and 3 games behind the A’s in the wild card race. Were this a sports movie, this would be the time where the plot twist that unifies the Yankees and spurs them to victory would unfold. Sheffield’s ill-timed and selfish statements aren’t likely to cause the Yankees to rally around him, spontaneously join hands and sing a round of Kumbaya.
It is not the demeanor of this Yankee team or their fans to quickly forgive and forget. Unlike Manny Ramirez’ annual bout of puzzling behavior, which is usually quickly forgotten and written off as “Manny being Manny”, Sheffield has never built up any goodwill to have this written off as “Sheffield being Sheffield” even though this is exactly the type of behavior you can expect from him. The fans reaction to the New York article is probably inconsequential to the reparation of the Yankee’s team chemistry. If fourteen home runs in July can bring Jason Giambi back into the Bronx faithful’s good graces, Sheffield’s play on the field will determine whether the fans forgive him for trashing their team. Sheffield’s teammates, who couldn’t have been too enamored of the right fielder to start with, may be a different story. Who wants to go to war with someone who is clearly only looking out for themselves?
George Steinbrenner is finding out the hard way that although 180 plus million dollars can buy you some extremely talented ball players, it cannot buy you a championship. Coaches like to talk about the intangibles that make a difference between winning and losing. Number one on that list is team chemistry. Phil Jackson’s genius with the Bulls and the Lakers wasn’t in his ability to spot talent or diagram plays, it was in getting superstar players to play together. You never saw anyone on a Phil Jackson coached team trashing their teammates in the press. Shaq and Kobe won championship after championship until they went public with their relative dislike of each other. Talent alone got them to the finals that year, then they got went down in 5 to the Pistons, a less talented team with extraordinary team chemistry.
What Sheffield has to say about his teammates is equally as troubling as his choice to publicly vent those thoughts. Show me a team that has a guy busting his ass for his teammates as opposed to simply playing for his next contract and I will show you a winning team. By going public with his personal dissatisfaction with his team and teammates, Sheffield has eliminated any chance to get this group of ultra-talented superstars to want to win for him. Unless someone steps up to unify this team, baseball may be looking at its most costly disaster ever . . . and if so, how much fun is this going to be to watch?
by David Schultz for WideWebofSports.com