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Astros: Tribalism - The Psychology of Maldonado

Defining the actual psychological pattern of tribalism of the Astros with Maldonado and why THEY will not see what we see.

I went back and read what I wrote about Maldonado last year and it is just fascinating just how truer it is today than it was then. Today, I am going to include a critical section of the Maldonado- The Truth Hurts article where we discussed the psychology of tribalism and how it applied.

I am going to beg you to read all of this. If you hate most of what I write- read this. There are no stats here. This is all about the social dynamics.

It has almost become a religious devotion for some with Maldonado. I call them Maldonadoiacs and they practice the religion of Maldonadoism. This article is an intervention. You have joined a cult and I am here to help you get out of that cult.

I like Maldonado too. I love that he is a leader and much younger players love him and that he works hard and seems to be a role model for others. That's great. That does not guarantee him nor anyone a lifetime access to starting for the Astros. I asked this on Twitter and I ask you now to define your answer BEFORE continuing.

  • WHEN would you be willing to have Maldonado as the backup catcher?

  • If not now, WHEN?

  • What would it take?

Answer that now. Then continue.

The players almost universally love Maldonado and some have been extremely vocal about his value

My summary response to this is simply this

If the results do not support what is being said, I will go with the results

Now please consider.

The excuses just get less and less fact based. For this one I have applied some things I have learned about organizational psychology from 34 years in the industrial workplace.

Specifically, my experience is in the chemical industry. One devotee felt the need to point out that had no idea how a team works. Anyone that has worked in a chemical plant knows how stupid that is. If you work in a plant long enough you will hear about the guy that the team thinks is great. Everyone loves him. The reality is that guy is often taking shortcuts and is talking so much he doesn't get his work done.

What is the point? Opinions are not always the best measure of performance. In the world of baseball, unlike most of life, we have a huge advantage. Performance and impact CAN be easily measured. There is a real report card. Performance does not have to rest upon the opinions of the group.

Another data point- has anyone ever noticed certain players go to the MLB All-Star game long after they are really All-Stars? Why? Because players and fans keep voting them in. It does not matter that they are not really performing at an All-Star level. Their opinions don't care about the true current performance. They LIKE those players. Maldonado is still being talked about in ways that haven't been true in years, but people's OPINIONS are slow to change.

In the world of psychology some of these issues are in what is described as tribalism. As I began to consider this section I wanted to get some help describing my theories here. I got some help from a PhD in Industrial/Organizational psychology in the content of this section.

The conundrum is this.

Why would a team be so adamant about protecting and pushing the value of a player who is clearly failing daily before their eyes?

1. He is the demigod of all things that cannot be measured in baseball and the team thinks they would implode without him

If these team REALLY thinks that then tear it all down. Trade them all. They have no chance of winning anything this year or any time going forward.

I will tell you a little secret. I was told many times in my job we could not measure something. Guess what? I developed measurements for many of those things too. Similarly to the last section, often times the measurement showed the conventional wisdom was wrong. Believe me, I am used to being unpopular on this front.

2, They are too close to admit to what they see.

I did a search trying to find something that would help you understand my perspective here. In this article,

In research conducted by British psychologists at the University of Lincoln, players on the BBC game show "The Weakest Link" were statistically far less likely to vote against the person standing to either side of them compared to players positioned across the stage. The study lends support to a proximity theory of human relations that suggests we're hardwired to support those closest to us -- literally.

We protect the ones we are closest to. We want to deny that there is anything wrong. You have likely seen this in your own family and with friends. We make excuses and defend situations even when they’re wrong. (Hat tip to ClintTheScout for that one.)

Here is how my new friend the PhD in Industrial/Organizational psychology stated this.

"There is a social perception theory of Warmth and Competence. We typically classify people as either being Warm (socially cooperative) and/or Competent (highly skilled). We can attribute both characteristics equally or unequally, but Warmth is most salient because it is easier to get along with someone you like even though they are a low performer as opposed to a highly skilled jackass. Using these two attributions, we can make a matrix of possible behavioral responses.

Possible behavioral responses

I would argue that the players defending Maldonado are engaging in Active Facilitation because they have a good relationship with one another. These types of behavioral responses are universal in psychology, we defend our tribe. Like a lot of things in life, it comes down to tribalism.

Active facilitation explicitly aims to assist the individual who is not performing for the benefit of the group. I think they want to help him and defend him as much as they can but hitting a baseball is an individual act."

The challenge with the things Maldonado is reportedly excellent at are that they are enablers to help others to perform. Clearly, the "others" appreciate that enablement and reciprocate in the active facilitation model, but that enablement does not seem to only be isolated to when he is on the field. I would argue he might be even better at enablement of others when he is not having to pick up a bat and failing four times a night.

Many in in this fan base refused to hear that last year. I think now it screams as so true that no one should ignore it.

Once one understands that this is the psychological pattern of tribalism taking place and I would argue being amplified by their manager, one SHOULD NOT expect the Astros players to say anything remotely objective with regard to Maldonado. They are TOO CLOSE to process and accept his current failings. You are not. YOU can and should demand the team play the players that give them the best chance to succeed. Maldonado only does that when the team is going against a LHSP.

Do you want another ring or not? Break free from the cult tribe that worships Maldonado and see him for what he is. A formerly good player whose skill set made other players better but today his below replacement level performance is hurting the team.

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