TAMPA, Fla. — From the outside looking in, it doesn’t seem like the Yankees are having all that much fun. This spring Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the voluminous red mane of Clint Frazier had become a “distraction” so the Yankees made the problem disappear.
— Yankees PR Dept. (@YankeesPR) March 10, 2017
FanGraphs’ own Nicolas Stellini wrote about the Yankees’ “War on Fun” several weeks ago.
So a couple weeks back when I was in Yankees camp, I was curious to enter clubhouse and get a sense if these guys are having any fun or if the volume of media, the franchise’s tradition and expectations, and the military-style grooming standards prevent light-heartedness.
While I suspect the industry is a long ways away from quantifying the value of clubhouse chemistry and culture, it was interesting that the Cubs and Indians seemed to have a lot of fun en route to capturing league pennants last season. And in college football, all-about-fun Clemson beat serious-all-time Alabama in the championship game. Maybe fun is making a comeback. Back in January I wrote about that time Dabo Swinney met Joe Maddon and how they learned they were more similar than they were different.
Said Swinney to the Chicago Sun-Times about his meeting with Maddon in the Cubs’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field last summer:
“I walk in there and they’ve got a drum set, they’ve got a disco ball hanging. I’m like, ‘What the heck is this?’ And they’re like, ‘This is the celebration room. Joe likes to celebrate.’ And I thought, I like this guy.
“We talked for a minute and [Maddon said], ‘Hey, man, I watched you guys last year,’ and we kind of had an instant connection. It was really neat. I told him, because I had met his players and been around them, ‘You guys have a great culture. I’m telling you, you’ve got a winning culture here. You’ve got just a good feel in this building. You can smell it.”
If there was an expert on the culture differences between the Yankees and Cubs clubhouses I thought it might be Adam Warren, who came up through the Yankees’ system and then was traded to the Cubs on Dec. 8. 2015 in the Starlin Castro deal. He was then traded back to the Yankees as part of the Aroldis Chapman trade on July 25 of last season.
While he perhaps did not feel at liberty to speak with complete candor, I nevertheless asked Warren how accurate the outside perceptions are, and if he sees one culture contributing to better on-field performance.
“I can see it both ways, and I have seen it both ways,” Warren said. “I definitely think the Cubs are super laid-back and Joe Maddon does a great job of letting guys be who they want to be … The Yankees, I don’t think things are so serious as they are perceived to be. At the same time, you have to shave, you can’t have long hair but it’s almost like you are buying into a way of life. You are buying into this Yankee Way. I think when you buy into something it doesn’t feel like a burden. You are buying into the idea that the team is greater than I am, which sounds kind of cheesy.”
Upon entering the clubhouse on a day in the latter part of spring training, the first thing that struck me was the amount of media members present. The media coverage creates a different level of pressure, Warren says. Warren said just seeing the iconic logo, and putting the uniform on does carry more weight due to its tradition.
But there was also hip-hop music blaring with rookie Aaron Judge in control a playlist that included Fifth Harmony’s “Work From Home.” Apparently, the stereo and music genre was not always permitted in the clubhouse at George Steinbrenner Field. A number of young teammates had come to chat, laugh and hang around Judge’s locker. It didn’t seem like an uptight environment and it was certainly a younger clubhouse than in past years.
“Over the last couple months of last year, I heard people say that the culture is changing,” said Warren after his return to the Yankees. “They said ‘This is the most fun they’ve had as Yankees.’ You start to wonder ‘Why is that?” Was it the younger guys coming up and helping infuse that energy into the team? I definitely think the last few years with the Yankees you are seeing younger guys come in and that energy is starting to change. Or is it because they made the trades, because, people wrote us off? Because it took the pressure off our backs and we went out there and it was like playing when you are 13 just having fun and not looking at it like a job? I think when you see that it in teams, you see that a lot in the championship teams. Both the Indians and the Cubs seemed like they were having a lot of fun in the World Series.”
The Yankees did finish the season 32-26 after trading away Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran at the deadline. And that “family” culture, that desire to spend more time around teammates, is part of what the Cubs were trying to accomplish with not only their culture but their new clubhouse.
“Instead of ‘Let’s show up be professional and go home,’ people see the Yankees being a bunch of professionals that show and go home were, we are starting to see a family culture develop,” Warren said. “Guys enjoy being around each other.”
Maybe the Yankees’ war on fun is winding down and we are about to see another benefit of a Cubs-like youth movement: the Yankees will also enjoy more of a Cubs-like culture that could perhaps ease pressure in the most pressurized of markets and stadiums in which to perform.