Will the Kevin Youkilis and Joba Chamberlain Spat Stir Up the Yankees Clubhouse?
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Kevin Youkilis and Joba Chamberlain have never gotten along. Since 2007 the two have repeatedly clashed as opponents in baseball's fiercest rivalry.
Now they are teammates, and with news that Chamberlain's offering of an olive branch has gone ignored, it would appear they remain at odds.
Will their spat disrupt the Yankees clubhouse or will it add some life to an atmosphere sometimes criticized for being too professional?
Neither player is without "baggage" coming into 2013.
Youkilis's departure from the Red Sox last season wasn't without its share of controversy. Former manager Bobby Valentine blamed the third baseman for causing friction and lacking the right attitude needed for playing the game. There were allusions to "Youk" being the clubhouse "snitch" in the widely publicized beer-and-fried-chicken saga.
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Kevin Youkilis, with his fiery demeanor on the field, and lack of shyness in front of the camera off it, has been anything but invisible on and off the diamond since he entered Major League Baseball.
Joba Chamberlain's career is a roller-coaster ride that has also contributed to "in-house" controversy.
The big right-hander was called up as a 21-year-old reliever in August of 2007 and promptly pitched 16 consecutive innings (over 12 appearances) without yielding an earned run. Included in that stretch was a game against the Red Sox where the brash rookie fired two 98 mph fastballs over Kevin Youkilis's head. That led to a two-game suspension and lit the fire that has become the spat the two now must deal with as teammates.
Chamberlain finished that season with a microscopic 0.38 ERA, striking out 34 in 24 innings pitched. It seemed that this youngster with the blazing fastball and knee-buckling curve would be the heir to Mariano Rivera's throne.
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Rather than ride the early success Chamberlain experienced in the fall of 2007, the Yankees changed directions and transitioned him into a starter's role in 2008. GM Brian Cashman said that was their plan all along even though remarks by Co-Chairman Hank Steinbrenner appeared to push it into fruition.
Since then, Joba's mountainous peaks and cavernous valleys have been well-documented. His struggles as a starter ended with him being thrust back into the bullpen, only to have injuries—both of them being "usual" and "freakish" in nature—interrupt what appeared to be another successful venture making appearances late in games (by mid-2011 he had a 2.83 ERA in 27 appearances out of the bullpen).
Chamberlain has polarized the Yankees and their fans in much the same way Youkilis has with the Red Sox.
Will the Youkilis/Chamberlain relationship disrupt the Yankees clubhouse?
What kind of clubhouse will the Yankees have when they open spring training next month?
Will the issues between Chamberlain and Youkilis further upset an already fragile apple cart of aging stars and thinning depth? Or, will it enhance the chemistry of the team—often noted for its characterless nature—giving it new life, color and excitable potential?
Every successful team needs a spark, or heartbeat—something to help it rise above the monotony of playing day-in and day-out. Where it comes from can be the most unexpected of places.
The 1977 and 1978 Yankees were referred to as "the Bronx Zoo" because of the many clashes between player and player, and player and manager.
They were also back-to-back World Champions.
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The 2011 and 2012 Boston Red Sox were supposed to be among baseball's best teams. They had similar issues to those '77 and '78 Yankees squads.
Their controversies ripped them apart.
At this point, there is nothing to suggest that this year's New York Yankees will suffer the dysfunction that either of the aforementioned teams experienced.
But, the potential is there, and how the team reacts may very well dictate the direction its season takes.
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