Was doing some reading this afternoon and came upon a nice piece by good buddy Bob Klapisch, who wrote about Joe Girardi’s spring training opening address to the Yankees. Klap is right in that some of the best advice Joe Torre ever gave his teams came in these speeches, and I can remember talking to one rookie shortly after the speech one spring and the kid giving me the widest-eyed look you’d ever seen; it wasn’t because Torre was fired up (Torre was usually very understated, as you’d expect) but because of the difficulty of the message: Simple as Torre might have made filtering out the distractions sound, the notion that it had to be a point of emphasis on the first day of spring hammered home the idea that playing for the Yankees is something different.
We talk all the time about chemistry and, as I’ve said before, I’m of the belief that chemistry is much like a team’s manager – it gets too much credit when the team wins and too much blame when it loses. That said, in New York – especially on a team like the Yankees (and even more especially when George Steinbrenner was at his peak) – the vibe in the clubhouse matters. There’s too much pressure for it not to make a difference.
Many of you emailed after Melky Cabrera was traded to ask about how his departure would affect Robinson Cano, who was his best friend on the team. There were also questions about how Hideki Matsui’s departure would affect team chemistry since Matsui was an established veteran. In neither case did I think the player leaving would make all that much of a difference; Cano will miss Cabrera, but he’ll be fine and Matsui was a rock, to be sure, but not necessarily a vocal leader.
Johnny Damon, though, is a slightly different story. Assuming Damon does, in fact, sign elsewhere it will be interesting to see just how the clubhouse is affected. A few years ago, I would have said his departure could have caused a much bigger change; with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Nick Swisher now on the team, there are others who can provide the “light” element that the core four doesn’t necessarily offer. Damon was also a stand-up spokesman, someone who would not hesitate to speak about big-picture team issues on tough days – a role which is important because it allowed his teammates to avoid the stresses of the media on days when emotions were high. In a market like New York, that’s important.
Girardi (deservedly) got a lot of credit for improving his clubhouse tenor last year and it will be tested again this year. Without Damon, can he find the right balance again? As he tries to lead the Yankees to repeat, it may be one of the biggest challenges he’ll face.