Dexter Fowler and the Importance of Clubhouse ‘Chemistry’

If you went on Google right now and looked up ‘Dexter Fowler’ – like I did earlier when I wanted to do some research for this article – the majority of articles that would be returned from your search involve Fowler doing something off the field.

Dexter Fowler’s Importance to the Cardinals Goes Far Beyond Baseball

Dexter Fowler’s Mission: Change Tune in the Cardinals Clubhouse

Fowler Already Having an Impact on Cardinals

You have to dig a little bit, but eventually you might find something about how his switch hitting ability or high on base percentage will add a different dynamic to the Cardinals lineup this year. But the point here is that Fowler’s initial impact on the Cardinals has mostly come off the field.

Keeping up with baseball over the past few seasons has become more difficult as each year goes by. Every year it feels like more statistics are added and baseball becomes less and less of a game and more and more of a robotic numbers business. Too many people forget that a player’s impact on a team can’t just be quantified by on field performance.

Some of the best players that I ever played alongside were vile teammates that pushed away the rest of the locker room and were not fun to be around. It’s something that’s hard for any non-baseball players/athletes to understand when looking in from the outside, but clubhouse chemistry means way more than on field performance ever will.

This is going to be pure speculation, but take Barry Bonds for example. Excluding the claims that he was a PED user for most of his key earning years, Bonds is, based strictly off of numbers, probably the best player to ever play the game of baseball. I could list his career accomplishments and it would go on forever. The man was the greatest hitter the game has ever seen, steroids or not.

Barry Bonds never won a World Series.

But considering the numbers he put up over his career, that’s not his fault though, right? It might not be entirely his fault, but there is no way that the single greatest player in the history of the game not winning a World Series is a coincidence.

Look at all the other great players up in the same echelon as Bonds. Out of all 32 players that have ever accrued over 100 bWAR in the history of baseball, Bonds is the only one without a World Series title.

Please, I dare you to try and convince me that this is a coincidence.

Well, based purely on reputation alone, Barry Bonds was not a good teammate. He had a reputation for being selfish, and he often carried himself in a manner that would reflect it. In an article written in mid-December chronicling Bonds’ friendship with Dexter Fowler – funny enough – Bonds said that, “he didn’t handle himself the way he wanted to be handled during his career.” And the article goes on to casually say that Bonds is, “known as one of the coldest men in baseball history.”

Not exactly a glowing review.

The greatest statistical position player in the history of baseball. Career numbers that will never be matched by anyone, steroids or not. And a reputation as possibly the coldest man in the history of the game.

Starting to see how Bonds’ non-possession of a World Series Title can’t be a coincidence?

A clubhouse atmosphere and clubhouse chemistry matter, and they were clearly lacking in St. Louis last year. Patrick Cramer, a clubhouse attendant for the Cardinals, notes that “last year, some players were walking on eggshells around here. Dexter came in during spring and just stomped all over those eggshells.”

Everything in this article revolves around speculation and word coming out of Cardinals camp. I will never exactly know the full impact that Fowler is having on the clubhouse of the Cardinals. But I can tell you that, personally, I play my best baseball when I’m having fun.

The Cardinals have never been a club associated with the word ‘fun’. I mean sure, winning is fun, but the way the Cardinals have always won has never had a ‘fun’ feel about it. The club is buttoned up, serious about the work they do, and even makes every prospect and new team employee read an 80 page manual entitled, ‘The Cardinal Way’ – which is exactly what it sounds like.

Fowler, a key member of the 2016 Cubs’ team that finally broke the 108 year World Series curse, has seemingly come in and flipped everything about ‘The Cardinal Way’ on its head.

Listening to music during batting practice is completely normal; hell, we do it on my college team. But it’s making waves of headlines from Cardinals camp because it’s never happened before. Fowler brings a boombox to batting practice every single day and lets a different member of the roster choose the music.

“Dexter is kind of a personality that we haven’t had, that we didn’t have last year,” starting pitcher Mike Leake said in an interview with Ben Hochman on Saturday. “His personality, which is very outgoing, I think helps this team.”

General Manager John Mozeliak echoed Leake’s sentiment when he commented that, “…on the field and off, he’s been everything we could’ve hoped for. The one word I would use to describe him is inclusive. What he’s been able to do in this clubhouse so far is extremely positive.”

Listening to sabermetric-based baseball pundits on television talk about how clubhouse chemistry is a myth and it doesn’t matter as much as on-field numbers has always annoyed me. The type of energy that Fowler can inject into a club can mean so much more than a 5 or 6 WAR season ever will.

The 2015 Cardinals won 100 games and were the best team in baseball before an untimely exit from the postseason. A virtually unchanged 2016 Cardinals team won 86 games and missed the playoffs, underperforming expectations and being just a general pain to watch on a nightly basis. And further pointing towards clubhouse division in 2016, Stephen Piscotty mentioned in an interview with Mark Saxon that, “Already, this year seems more fun, and I think we’ll play looser. I think that’s a good thing, instead of tight and rigid like last year…when you play this game, if you’re not having fun, it’s just an absolute grind.”

That grind is the reason why I believe the Cardinals underachieved last year. And with everything that’s being said this year, combined with Fowler’s reputation as one of the clubhouse leaders of an energetic and fun Cubs team last year, the Cardinals seem to have signed the perfect guy to help reinvigorate a seemingly dead and dry clubhouse.

Having played on a team that wasn’t overly talented but was very tightly knit and had a strong clubhouse bond, I can attest to how much a team atmosphere can mean. A positive team atmosphere is infectious, makes the game more fun than it normally would be, and can cultivate overachievement, something the Cardinals might desperately need from players like Kolten Wong, Matt Adams and Randal Grichuk.

Whether Dexter Fowler is worth -1 or 7 WAR in the 2017 will not and should not be the complete end-all evaluation of him. No, Fowler’s value should be measured in something that can’t be fully quantified and that very few of us will ever understand.

Making the Cardinals fun again.

Thanks for reading

-Ryan

 

Author’s Note: This article was written in March of 2017, but I never got around until publishing it until July 30th of 2017. The perspectives reflect this

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Dexter Fowler and the Importance of Clubhouse ‘Chemistry’

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