Today, in the media scrum, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he wasn’t planning any team functions during the spring. He has no plans to host a team barbecue, paintball match (the Diamondbacks did that), ice cream social or even a Sadie Hawkins dance. Nothing.
When I heard that, I couldn’t help but frown. In my eyes it’s a wasted opportunity.
I know it’s usually the team veteran’s job to organize such events, but if the veterans aren’t up to the task — or if they’re not around thanks to the World Baseball Classic — the manager needs to step in.
I know baseball is draconian about adopting change, and managers typically the most draconian of all, but in the world outside of baseball holding social events that facilitate bonding just makes sense.
There is no shame in taking a page out of the Joe Maddon playbook and having a talent show, a competition or a party during the spring. The Rays always see a lot of turnover in their lineup year-to-year and these bonding events help those new names gel.
Gibby may be “chillax” with a tangy hint of “old school”, but if you’re going to shoulder the real and present responsibility of finding ways to make your team play well together at the risk of your job, why not exhaust all your options?
When I was with the Jays, Vernon Wells (yes, the same Vernon Wells everyone loves to hate) organized a team party to watch the Canada-U.S.A. Olympic gold-medal game. Scott Richmond and Shawn Marcum chased each other around on roller blades, in fully hockey gear, throwing body checks and insults that had everyone laughing.
Gibbons has more than enough guys on the team that could use a tax write-off in the name of good team chemistry, and I’m sure Brett Lawrie would love to wreck something in full hockey dress.
It’s probably because chemistry building events are an unquantifiable proposition. There’s no guarantee that if Gibby “strongly encourages” an event off the field that it will help the team on it. In fact, doing such a thing could actually piss some guys off who would rather get away from the ballpark and the miscreants that populate it.
But, that’s a good way to gather intel on the clubhouse in and of itself. Just proposing an event is an opportunity to get a reaction from the team, which may reveal how they feel about being around each other.
Ideally, you want your players to love being at the clubhouse. You want the fellas to have a sense of pride and brotherhood, if not fun. It’s great that early reports on the Blue Jays have shown the team to be upbeat and social, but Spring Training is the honeymoon period of the season. Cuts haven’t been made yet. Guys are still being nice to each other because they don’t know who is going to stick and who isn’t.
If you want the magic to last, you have to keep the relationship fresh, and Gibby organizing a date night wouldn’t be that bad of an idea.