Wide receiver Sean Murphy remembers how well his Oakland Athletics team started the 2021 season.
“Last year we started the season as 0-and-five, 0-and-six. It was just terrible,” he said. “We just got beaten in the first week. I felt like we weren’t even close.
But then Matt Chapman stepped in, rallying his troops in the clubhouse and reminding the wayward A-team just how talented they really were. It was a small moment when Chapman spoke up, but it sticks in Murphy’s mind because of what happened after.
“I think right after that, we got ripped off like 13 [wins] in a row,” Murphy said.
In a dramatic turnaround, Oakland did indeed win 13 straight games from April 9 through April 24, with Chapman’s pep talk a catalyst for that hot streak. That’s how powerful leadership can be in a major league clubhouse – and the need for this essential element is heightened when a team faces adversity.
Over the course of 162 games, there will be highs and lows, heart-pounding highs where teams feel like nothing can go wrong, or devastating losing streaks where players wish they had chosen a different sport. A team needs the right personality to weather this storm, and Chapman is giving the Toronto Blue Jays a very capable leader after joining the club on a trade in March.
Every veteran player has a different personality trait that compels guys to follow him, and with Chapman, it’s his relentless energy no matter how grueling the season.
“He wants to be in the lineup; he’s there every day,” said Murphy, who shared the field with Chapman for three major league seasons. “And he expects that from his teammates as well.”
In that sense, Chapman is like Marcus Semien, who only played one season in Toronto but left a lasting impact with his ability on the court – he finished third in AL MVP voting and played all 162 games in 2021. – and his behavior in the clubhouse.
Both Chapman and Semien are extremely diligent in their pre-game preparation, and that has rubbed off on some of the Blue Jays’ young stars.
“[Semien] was there every day, training, playing, every game, every day,” Bo Bichette said. “So just seeing that level of consistency, no matter how he plays, how he’s doing, I think it meant a lot to all of us.”
Semien’s fingerprints were all over Toronto’s epic but devastating 91-win, near playoff campaign a year ago. And part of the reason the Blue Jays were in contention until the final day of the season was because of Semien’s leadership, Bichette said.
“There is a difference between a talented team and a good team,” he said.
A 91-win season was not possible without Semien’s presence, Bichette explained, as Semien, now a member of the Texas Rangers, often kept the team together, pairing Toronto’s incredible young talent with the core values that he learned from his years in the game.
But Semien was a quieter, leading by example type of guy. Chapman runs things a little differently.
“He leads by example, but he also leads by the way he talks to people,” said Tony Kemp, A’s utility man. say, “Hey, let’s do that” or “Hey, we don’t do that here.
“[Chapman] is a hell of a leader, and once he’s comfortable in his skin there [in Toronto]it will fit perfectly.
Kemp has been lucky enough to see this Blue Jays team for some time now – in September last year he was alone on the field watching Semien celebrate after a home run at Rogers Centre. Kemp, a seven-year MLB veteran, sees something very special in this Toronto team; he likes how much fun they have on the diamond and thinks the Blue Jays have created a great culture, one that Chapman fits very well into.
“Obviously they have some big faces there – Bichette, Vladdy [Guerrero Jr.]Theoscar [Hernández]”, Kemp said. “But Matt Chapman, he’s also going to be up there with the faces of the franchise.”
For now, the Blue Jays have a stacked roster, and a World Series is the goal, but there will come a time, perhaps soon, when the gang will go their separate ways — Chapman and Hernández are both free agents after the 2023 season. At that time, a new chef will have to step in.
Bichette seems like the obvious candidate to pass the torch to, although he was coy about his future as club leader.
“I come here every day to play as hard as I can, work as hard as I can,” he said. “So if that’s how people see me, then I’m going to make sure I set a good example. But it’s not something I strive to be.
Whether Bichette wants to admit it or not, the players in the Jays clubhouse will look up to her one day, if they haven’t already. And while Bichette isn’t actively trying to step out and be a leader, he will by now have learned from two of the game’s best players in Chapman and Semien, setting him – and the Blue Jays – up very well for years to come.
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