Monday, October 29, 2012

Intangibles and x-factors

Players of the World Series Champion, San Francisco Giants, were celebrating last night after the sweep was completed. Such celebrations are always fun to watch, even if it is not your favorite team. These are, after all, human beings and watching any human beings that are extremely happy brings a measure of joy intrinsically. The media would pull some players out of the melee for individual interviews. One that stood out was Barry Zito's. Zito, one of the unlikeliest of post season heroes, then said the magic words. Zito said that his team had intangibles and that x-factor to get the job done. Okay, here we go again.

Zito would go on to relate how during Game Five of the NLCS, Hunter Pence gave a speech that left the team speechless and the team took off from there. That moment was watched in this living room up here in Maine. Two things were noticed at the time. First, Pence looked like a crazy man and froth was fully expected to be seen coming from his mouth. The second thing noticed at the time was that shortstop, Brandon Crawford, went around the frenzy in the dugout to get to the other side of the dugout and the look on his face suggested that he thought Pence was crazy too and gave the entire proceedings a skunk-eye.

But that was the moment Barry Zito was mentioning. Another interview of manager, Bruce Bochy, also led the manager to talk about how his players were selfless and loved each other and that this team spirit led to the victory.

The first response here is skepticism. But then again, you have to understand that this observer never watches college sports because the whole rah-rah thing seems so otherworldly. After all, the core of the Yankees' team from 2009 was still in place in the playoffs for 2010, 2011 and 2012. With nearly sixty percent of that team the same from that World Series run to today, why would that "intangible" or "x-factor" disappear? 

And to take that a step further, the Yankees seemed to have it during the ALDS as Captain Intangible, Raul Ibanez, took that mantle from Hideki Matsui from 2009. But that "x-factor" dried up during the ALCS with the Tigers, who seemed to have found it themselves only to lose it during the World Series.

The thought here is that teams pull together as they strive to get as far as they can get into the season. Those feelings of hope and adrenaline lead to a certain level of shared experience among teammates. Those feelings have an edge on them as doubts about the final outcome linger. It is only in retrospect and after that letdown never comes that those feelings lead those players, managers and coaches to turn to a winning euphoria. Only in retrospect does this euphoric feeling transfer into thoughts of something special experienced and the logical conclusion to be that it was intangibles and special team chemistry.

The other thought here is that so much of this is random occurrences. A bunt stays fair, a ground ball hits the third base bag. Pitchers long-ineffective execute perfectly. Things just happen. And yet, this skepticism brings some personal doubts.

After all, so many players, coaches, managers, etc. believe in it and these thoughts get repeated so often all across the spectrum of sports that perhaps this skepticism is misplaced. Who knows.  

The bottom line here, from this seat, is that fans of the San Francisco Giants got a wild ride this fall and fans of the Detroit Tigers had a thrill ride that ended in disappointment during the World Series. The performance of Prince Fielder does not detract from the season he had or the talent he possesses. It just did not work out this time. Perhaps next year, the Tigers can get back to this place and win it next time. And perhaps if that happens, interviews from players will say that it was a magical team that pulled together and made it happen together. Whatever.  

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