Here’s what you need to know about team chemistry in baseball: Even if it matters, it’s nearly impossible to predict and completely impossible to quantify. And it’s always assessed with 20/20 hindsight that ignores the insurmountable underlying chicken-or-egg dynamic.
Players on baseball teams playing well tend to get along, because mega-competitive pro athletes really enjoy winning and will generally overlook or at least not worry about obnoxious personalities in the clubhouse if they’re cruising toward the pennant. In the rare instance that members of a good team do not get along well, it is hailed as evidence of the feistiness they ride to success.
And maybe it is that! But again, we’ll never really know. And it’s far, far more common to hear stories about infighting on clubs that are falling apart at the seams. Jonathan Papelbon choked Bryce Harper in 2015 after the Nats had lost four of five games to horrible teams and seen the Mets’ lead in the NL East grow insurmountable.
And according to an ESPN.com report on Monday, things turned violent in the Phillies clubhouse in 2018 at the tail end of a 6-20 stretch in which Philadelphia fell out of contention and below .500:
When the Philadelphia Phillies lost their ninth consecutive game toward the end of last September, veteran first baseman Carlos Santana felt like he needed to send a message to his teammates who he said spent portions of the game against the Atlanta Braves playing video games in the clubhouse. Santana grabbed a bat, retreated to the room at Citizens Bank Park where the gaming took place and smashed the TV to ensure there would be no more “Fortnite” the final two days of the season.
“I see a couple players — I don’t want to say names — they play video games during the game,” Santana told ESPN. “We come and lose too many games, and I feel like they weren’t worried about it. Weren’t respecting their teammates or coaches or the staff or the [front] office. It’s not my personality. But I’m angry because I want to make it good.”
A good thing to understand about 2018 in general is that there were probably “excessive ‘Fortnite’ games” in every single workplace in the country, successful MLB team clubhouses among them. Santana wasn’t wrong to get frustrated about it, and he’s hardly the first veteran on a crumbling MLB team to try to teach younger players a lesson about taking losing more seriously.
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But it almost certainly wasn’t Fortnite that doomed the 2018 Phillies (and Passan doesn’t suggest as much). The general team youth that helped make Fortnite popular in the clubhouse might have had something to do with it, but if it wasn’t video games, it would have been poker or pop-a-shot basketball or fried chicken.
In any case, there’s no reason to think the 2019 Phillies will face similar issues with team chemistry unless they underperform on the field. That’d be true even if they hadn’t overhauled their roster this offseason, but they did. Half their starting lineup – Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen – is new for 2019, and they’ll have a handful of new faces in the bullpen as well. And they shipped out Santana in the trade for Segura.
Will the 2019 Phillies all get along? Probably, because the 2019 Phillies look like they’ll be really good.