(BaseballStL) -- Chemistry is often the default explanation of why a team is winning when the victories defy the probabilities. It is defined as the intangible quality that makes the whole much greater than the sum of the parts. It is why baseball is so much more than statistics and why analyzing Wins Above Replacement doesn’t mean you know the game.
The stats said Clayton Kershaw could not possibly lose to the St. Louis Cardinals once, let alone twice. The stats very clearly said Matt Adams could never hit a three-run homer off a left-hander who hadn’t surrendered one in two years. The season very clearly demonstrated the Cardinals could never hit four home runs in a game.
If stats cannot explain the Cards’ improbable late season run, perhaps chemistry can. But chemistry is hard to capture and harder to maintain. It is ephemeral, impossible to quantify and often visible only in retrospect.
A better bet might be tradition. Tradition is living up to the standards of the name on the uniform and respecting what others who wore it have achieved. It is more reliable, more potent and easier to understand. If chemistry is experienced, tradition is learned.
In a late season interview in Milwaukee where the Redbirds vanquished the Brewers for good, Peter Bourjos said that he experienced the compelling urgency of September in a Cardinals’ uniform firsthand. It is neither a myth nor a threadbare legend, but an enveloping urgency, perceptible and contagious.
Tradition is learned and then passed on. The Cardinals of 2014 are not a veteran-laden team with tentacles to past success. Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina are all that remain of the 2006 Cardinals who muddled through an 83-78 season before an unlikely run to a World Series championship. From the equally unlikely 2011 World Champions, just eight players are on the current play-off roster. Yet they all respect the shared glory of the past.
It explains more than dubious victories, why is there such a universal surrender of the self for the greater good of the group, why egos are not tolerated or selfishness embraced. The Cardinals become a collective consciousness; nine men moving as one for the greater good of all.
There is no room for doubt on the Cardinals; no fear, no uncertainty or hesitation. Winning requires unwavering faith, but faith requires a basis, a guiding principle grounded in equal parts trust, loyalty and commitment - consistent and well documented.
That is the tradition Wainwright and Molina pass on. No amount of preparation, luck or skill can predict success. Great teams fail at crucial times, great pitchers surrender implausible three-run homers. You have no future guarantees, only current opportunities. There is only now. As the ancients said, you can never step in the same river twice.
Tradition is not demonstrative or obvious. Its foundation is communal devotion to a cause and the melancholy realization that when this opportunity has expired it can never be reclaimed.