Red Sox, Pirates teach chemistry lesson

For as much as baseball fans in our region loved to follow the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, there is something to be said about the magical run of the Boston Red Sox, which ended in a World Series Championship last week.

Not only did the Red Sox give Bostonians a much-needed reason to cheer, just six months after the horrific bombing at the end of the Boston Marathon.

Not only did the Sox turn around a last-place divisional finish in 2012 to capture baseball’s ultimate prize in 2013 – and not only did a bunch of Boston players grow team-bonding beards ala Duck Dynasty in the midst of their remarkable season but the 2013 Red Sox made the case for the importance of team chemistry, emphasis on team.

In fact, the same may be said of the Pittsburgh Pirates even though their season was unfortunately cut short before the World Series.

Chemistry is another one of those intangible elements of sport: the indescribable and often unattainable situation where everyone is on the same page, everyone understands their role and is satisfied in it, and somehow everyone performs at a level higher than expected, creating a whole that is far better the sum of its parts.

Chemistry is more than talent, more than leadership, more than attitude, more than luck and more than destiny; it is the combination of all of the above and then some.

How many times have we witnessed teams from high school to professional athletics that on paper seem to have it all player-for-player superior talent, good coaching, significant resources, a favorable schedule, but don’t win it all? And how many times have we watched those favored teams falter?

What those champions-on-paper-only teams are often missing is chemistry. It is this component of sport that is perhaps the most desirable because it is the most difficult to attain.

You can tell a team has chemistry when, like the Pirates and the Red Sox this year, players don’t care who gets the credit as long as the team is successful. Teams with great chemistry not only seem to find ways to win, but they seem to have an inordinate amount of fun doing it.

One might argue that winning is inherently fun, and success breeds chemistry, when in fact, it’s chemistry that leads to success. The fun comes not so much in winning, but in being part of the team and being able to accomplish more by working together than any individual player can achieve alone.

Chemistry is what makes sport unpredictable and ultimately worth watching.

Like the sense of accomplishment that comes with placing the last piece of a large puzzle, chemistry gives the underdog the chance to end a 20-year-sub-500 streak, or go from worst to first in a single season.

Goodman Shaffer can be reached at