FORT MYERS, FLA. -- There was a distressing moment while watching television the other night. I happened to check the MLB Network and found myself in the middle of Brian Kenny’s show, “Today in Baseball Pomposity.’’
And this was the distressing part:
Proving there’s a first for everything, I found myself agreeing with Kenny as he downplayed the idea of clubhouse chemistry in turning a team into a winner.
Of course, in this decade, chemistry has been replaced by “culture,’’ a precious and obscenely overused phrase that seems to be on the lips of every coach in every sport from middle school to the highest level of competition, with the notable exception of Bill Belichick.
Culture now and chemistry then both fall under the category of “leadership,’’ which has been the motto for baseball managers (and football coaches, too) for generations.
“We have great leaders in this clubhouse,’’ say the winners, and “We need some leaders to take charge in the clubhouse,’’ say the losers.
And what is most Twins’ fans first card of the deck of complaints about Joe Mauer even if he’s getting some hits: “Mauer isn’t a leader.’’
My response to this always has been, “Leadership is a based-loaded double,’’ and, horrors, it seems that Kenny agrees with me.
Yes, Kirby Puckett was more fun than the circus as he yammered away in the clubhouse, but what made him a leader was going 10-for-11 on a weekend in Milwaukee, and leaping onto the Plexiglas to make a fabulous catcher and then hitting a winning home run in October.
Joe Mauer was a hellacious leader in 2009 when he was the best hitter in the American League. Low-key or high-volume in the clubhouse, leadership comes from what’s done in important moments on the field.
You know who else was prominent Twins player without an outgoing presence in the clubhouse or on-field displays that would cause today’s fans – brainwashed by body language – to exclaim, “Now there’s a leader!’’
Rod Carew. Or Harmon Killebrew, for that matter.
I’ve received feedback from a couple of recent pieces on P.J. Fleck, the new Gophers football coach, that would indicate a healthy percentage of Gophers followers have taken his filibusters on culture as gospel rather than claptrap.
Derek Falvey, soon to be 34 and 2 ½ years younger than Fleck, is also new on the job as the chief baseball officer for the Twins. And, Falvey throws out the word “culture’’ with regularity, and I’m intrigued as to how this will play out in roster decisions.
A question of immediate interest for me is who will wind up as the second catcher? Jason Castro is the starter for his ability as a receiver. The backup will be either Chris Gimenez, 34, or John Ryan Murphy, 25.
Phil Miller wrote a feature story on Gimenez for Friday’s Star Tribune. I wrote a piece on Murphy for Saturday.
Gimenez is here mostly because of Falvey’s admiration for him as a clubhouse presence and an ability to work forcefully with pitchers. Murphy is here because the Twins’ previous baseball hierarchy traded Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for him in November 2015, and it’s advisable to take another look after last season’s major disappointment.
You can spend five minutes in the home clubhouse at Hammond Stadium and see Gimenez has no discomfort about being with a new club. He’s been bounced around so often that it might be impossible to rattle him over something new.
One team social event in the spring for players is a charity golf tournament. It was held on Thursday. Usually, the players are matched with Fort Myers folks and team employees, but Gimenez, outfielder J.B. Shuck, catcher Dan Rohlfing and minor league coach Steve Singleton were late entries and became a foursome.
Singleton is a former caddie and a good player. They won the tournament, and were still celebrating in the clubhouse the next morning – as other players questioned a foursome made up of three players and a ringer in Singleton.
Gimenez was leading the banter. That’s always enjoyable to overhear, but Kenny and I don’t think it wins games.
If Murphy doesn’t hit this spring, keeping Gimenez in the name of “culture’’ will be an easy decision. If Murphy becomes a facsimile of the player that the Twins thought they were getting a year ago, then what?
I mentioned to Paul Molitor a theory of mine from Tom Kelly’s days as the manager: The worse you were as a hitter, the better chance you had to be Kelly’s backup catcher.
So, manager Molitor, what are you looking for in a backup catcher?
“We can go through names of backup catchers along the way, but almost always they’re good catchers. You don’t want to fall off [in receiving] for those 40 games.
“Some of the guys you think of, they might go 2 for 10, but they got a homer and four RBIs, they can run into one now and then …
“We have some good candidates here. The three leading people are going to be Murphy, and Gimenez coming in, and [Mitch] Garver, with the improvements he’s made in the minors.
“We’re not sure how it’s going to play out.’’
It’s 2017, Brian Kenny and I aren’t in on the decision, so I’m betting on culture, no matter what Murphy’s bat looks like this spring.