Chemistry Boiling under the surface
There has been a huge cloak of silence since the heated riff this past week by Tampa Bay Rays players Pat Burrell and Carl Crawford in the Visitor’s clunhouse in Baltimore. It was initially reported by the StPetersburg Times that the two got into a heated argument before the team headed out for the stretching session before the start of Batting Practice for last Wednesday nights game.
The back and forth bickering went for a few minutes before Rays starter James Shields stepped between the two and gently eased Crawford away from Burrell. What was not known at the time to the public is the fact that Burrell, the MLB veteran, but not a Rays veteran, might have crossed that imaginary line and called out one of his fellow Rays.
I am not finding fault with Burrell trying to be productive and emerge as a clubhouse leader since Carlos Pena was injured, but the “tough love” treatment is not the norm in the Rays environment. Burrell seized the moment to fire up a higher energy and motivation level during the last leg of the Rays demoralizing road trip.
But the tough chatter actually backfired on him,and might have alienated him with more than two teammates. For the betterment of the team, both Burrell and Crawford left the heated discussion in the locker room. I actually have always admired the old clubhouse wisdom of “what happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse”. And to be totally honest, Burrell tried to provide some positive vibes since the loss of the Rays clear clubhouse voice, Carlos Pena who was back in the Tampa Bay area after his successful hand surgery.
But the way the heated episode unfolded, it might have played better in another teams clubhouse, and did not fit the Rays persona at all. The laid-back Rays crew is used to Maddon taking them into his office for private discussions, or even impromptu talks out on the field before games. The harsh venom and criticism pointed towards a fellow teammate was not usual component of this Rays squad.
There were 29 players present from the 2008 Rays roster in the Team Photo taken with me nestled in the middle last May. A total of 14 players from that American League Championship roster no longer wears the Rays logo. But even in their absence,this Rays team has a deep and respected core of players that this 2009 team was built around.
Including Burrell, the Rays have added 12 different players, either signed or promoted from the minors experiencing their first Rays season.And that is a huge bowl of new personalities and attitudes that needed to be meshed into one unit. Some has seen this incident as a crack in the Rays armor, that maybe everything is not so great in happy valley. But the reality is that the 2008 squad had a great chemistry and a common bond that might not be duplicated ever again by the Rays.
Both Maddon and his Coaching staff have used road trip Travel Party themes and events such as the “All-White” ensemble or the recent “Ring of Fire” tour as bonding moments for this team. Each events has seemed to bring this team more together and forming as a unit, but hopefully this episode has not taken them a few steps backwards in their development as a unit.
The plain truth might be that there are a few coarse sandpaper personalities on this years team that might grind upon a few of the fine grit members of this team unit that embodied the 2008 team. Trial and error has been the happy medium to try and mesh this team solid again. Distrust and walls might have been pushed up by this small outburst, but in the long run, they too should fall by the wayside.
A veteran like Burrell is sometimes looked upon for motivation and inspiration. This episode might have been a misguided attempt for him to also put his personal stamp on this Rays squad, but it should not undermine his leadership skills. But the road he took that day just ended up in disaster than in harmony.
There have been speculation that this Rays squad might have finally just fell apart under the guise of stress and failure after the Boston debacle on that day. But emotions run high in sports, and sometimes a change in the regular routine can spark an uplifting of spirits, or it can cause damaging effects beyond repair. The calling out of a fellow teammate did nothing more on that day than divide their clubhouse for a few moments.
Burrell might have a new found respect for Crawford now by him defending a teammate. And that is sorely missed by this team right now. With Pena out for the season, this Rays team of introverted players will have to go beyond their own personalities and keep the fires burning hot up until October 4th.
Burrell was in the wrong for calling out a teammate in so many ways, but it was not productive of Burrell to call out someone hitting the same Batting Average as himself, plus a player who has been battling an injury bug of his own this season. But he might not have seen the hidden devotion and team bond that still remained from 2008. This recent episode may soon fade to black and never rear its ugly head again.
You have to admire the strength to try and fill the leadership void by Burrell, even if it had a alarming result. But that also might be an issue for Maddon and his staff to consider before this team departs after the last game. The team will discuss off season goals and aspirations for 2010. Maybe one of the biggest goals of this team coming into the 2010 Spring Training might be a few more veterans standing up and being counted on as leaders on this team. Trial and error should not be the way to test the fabric of your team. You should be able to trust your instincts and know it will work. Burrell got some on-the-job training in that art form.