Friday, August 06, 1999

Maybe there's something to this chemistry




BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Saying a team has “good chemistry” means what, exactly? It's a bad expression. If you win, your chemistry is good. If you don't, it's Chernobyl in the clubhouse. Players don't need to get along to succeed.

        Would you rather have nice guys who share cabs on the road? Or jerks who throw complete games and hit three-run homers?

        Class dismissed. Chemistry is overblown.

        “It's not overblown,” Sean Casey said.

        In his second season, the Reds first baseman is a Hall of Fame Great Guy. Casey could get along with Ty Cobb and your in-laws. He could make the devil apologize. Of course, he'd say chemistry is important to winning. Casey is a one-man chemistry set.

        I listened to him anyway.

Can't we all just get along?
        “Look at a team like L.A.,” Casey said, referring to Rupert Murdoch's dysfunctional plaything. “The Dodgers have so much talent, it's sick. I look at that lineup and say, "How are these guys not winning?' No one cheers on the bench. You don't see a team that believes they can win. It almost looks like they're there to get a check and go home. I don't know if that's the case, but that's what it seems like.”

        No argument there.

        “I've done something on the road with every guy on this team,” Casey said. “There are no big-timers on this team, man.”

        No big-timers. No veterans who think they're special, no older players making the younger players feel small. Egos in check. Three guys playing one position (right field), each of whom could make a case to play every day. No complaining, no dogging it.

        “In my eyes,” said third baseman Aaron Boone, “I see Dmitri (Young), Tuck (Michael Tucker) and (Jeffrey) Hammonds all pulling for each other. They're the epitome of chemistry.”

        Nobody knows why this has happened, how a mish-mashed team of young untesteds and a few All-Star vets, managed by a good-natured baseball lifer, suddenly could be leading the wild-card race while carrying the flag for all of small-market baseball.

        Uncle Jack McKeon and his collage of 110-percent overachievers have put on a good show, and they're not going away. On Thursday, the newest Red, Juan Guzman, threw eight innings of two-run ball. A deep pitching staff just got deeper.

        The rich get richer. The little-market Reds, rich. Ah, the irony. If you want to credit chemistry for that, go ahead.

The vets getting it done
        Credit Barry Larkin, whose quiet leadership and humility “makes everyone feel welcome, all the way down to the 25th man,” Boone said.

        Applaud Greg Vaughn, whose no-nonsense work ethic has made an impression. Vaughn is usually the first to arrive at the stadium and the last to leave. Vaughn's tirade May 2, after the Reds lost listlessly in Atlanta for the third straight day, set the standard for paint-peeling effectiveness.

        “Why'd we even show up?” Vaughn said. “We were beaten before we got here. We need to put it to the wall every game. We're better than this.” The Reds won 13 of their next 18.

        The Larkin-Vaughn mix has blended perfectly. Their good cop-bad cop act has been just what a young, unsure team required. Said Young: “Barry Larkin is 13 years in the big leagues. He's a 10-time All-Star. You see him doing all that work. If you're sitting around, it kind of makes you look bad.”

        Chemistry?

        “Lark's one of the best players to ever play the game, but you'd never know it. He's the most humble guy on the team,” Casey said. “That first day I came on the field for batting practice, I was nervous as can be. He came over and said: "Hey Sean, I'm Barry Larkin. Good to have you.' I'm like, "Is this guy serious?'

        “I look at how Barry Larkin acts, and I'm going to get out of line?”

        Chemistry?

        Call it what you want. Larkin and Vaughn have given lessons on how to be a pro. Everyone seems to have paid attention. The results speak for themselves.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

       



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