Relationships, the idea is to be around people we like and admire. To be around people and an environment that is conducive to our personality, strengthens our attributes, and forces us to grow in positive ways. Until now, maybe the thought that the places professional athletes play does not necessarily equate to being a mirror image of the cities where the professional team is located.
It is notable, and maybe somewhat obvious in non-sports settings, that relationships fail when two people do not find compatibility. In the sports context, think about your favorite team and a player that was acquired through free agency or a trade and how that specific person did or did not “make it” in that particular city/team. It happens all time and some would argue we can be and are generally a product of our environment. We can always outperform expectations and environments pursuing the American Dream, but famously experts have argued that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was that much greater because he was in a positive environment with head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft.
In a preview of the 2018 World Series as perceived favorites among Las Vegas betting houses, let us sample two major league baseball teams, one on the East Coast and one on West Coast. When looking at the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, California, and the New York Yankees in the Bronx borough of New York City, we can see some fascinating traits. Never before have the Dodgers had the Bronx Bombers style of player. Never before have the Yankees had a steady diet of Cy Young-caliber pitchers each year. This is not to say it should not happen, but the Dodgers have never had an Aaron Judge type of player. On the other hand, the Yankees have never had a Clayton Kershaw type of player. Part of this comes down to team philosophy in drafting and acquiring players, but Babe Ruth is a Yankee, and Sandy Koufax a Dodger. Part of it is also acquiring talent that performs well in the home ballpark with Yankee Stadium being more hitter friendly than Dodger Stadium. The above being said, the Dodgers as a franchise lead most other franchises in pitching statistics, whereas the Yankees lead in hitting statistics.
Part of this theory comes down to the pressure on players in certain cities. The media in New York, and the fans, have been seen as traditionally tougher and more demanding than say in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or even in Los Angeles, where Hollywood is such a dominant force. Some players were not built for the brightest spotlight and conceivably teams note that when acquiring players. For example, the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim (Orange County, California) were a great landing spot for pitcher Shohei Ohtani because he specifically wanted a smaller environment to pitch and succeed. Having pitched in Japan’s fifth largest city in Japan (Sapporo), it made sense that for an easier transition Ohtani chose Anaheim, a city of 317,000 people within a county of 3.1 million people, where Sapporo had a population of 1.9 million people. This compared to the 3.9 million people in Los Angeles and nearly 10.1 million people in the county and currently America’s second largest city behind New York at 8.5 million people.
The theory goes across sports as well. In the NBA, Los Angeles had the Showtime Lakers with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The New York Knicks had tougher, bruising types of players in Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Anthony Mason, and Charles Oakley. The Detroit Pistons were famously bruising types of players, compared to the finesse of the Chicago Bulls. Sometimes the players adapt and/or adopt the personality of the team and the city. The point here being that just because an athlete is a professional in his field does not mean the context and environment where he plays should be ignored. It should be studied and understood, ideally before acquiring said player. As spectators, we sometimes forget that professionals are people and make decisions life-decisions that affect their professional decisions, and vice-versa.
Going forward, our imaginations will be captivated by where the likes of Bryce Harper, LeBron James, and others sign in the 2018-2019 offseason. Money is of course a factor, but so will be where the player feels best suited for his personality and success and those two go hand-in-hand. We should always remember the human element in sports-decision making.