We’ve all heard those infamous words “home field advantage” and in most cases it usually has an impact on the outcome of games. But what about the other significance of ‘being home’; not teams but players?
What made me stop and consider the importance and impact it makes if a player is home with his family or if he plays cross country without them, was Steve Nash’s decision to accept a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. If it’s a ring he’s interested in wearing clearly he would have had a better chance of garnering one in South Beach. He would have had less of a chance of getting to the finals in New York but consider a starting five of Chandler, Stoudamire, Carmelo, Nash, and, if Dolan pushes the right buttons, O.J. Mayo. A finals team? Maybe not, but formidable just the same.
But Nash chose L.A. for another reason. He wanted to be closer to his family where he’s played for 10 of his 16 years in the NBA and the last eight straight seasons. L.A. to Phoenix is approximately a one hour flight which would get him there in less time than it takes me to get home during rush hour on most evenings!
Remember that Steve Nash never wanted to play for the Lakers and as recently as June 13th on a cell phone interview with ESPN, Nash said that there was ”no way he would ever play for Los Angeles”; one of the Suns’ most hated rivals. He said, “I could never see myself ever wearing a Laker uniform” and yet, that’s exactly what he’ll be doing because he couldn’t see himself uprooting his family and moving cross country, nor playing thousands of miles away from his wife and kids.
And so it gave me the impetus to find some examples where star players left their families behind to play elsewhere and what impact it had on their performances on the court or field. The first one that comes to mind is Albert Pujols. Now in his fourth month in Los Angeles and with half the season in the books, Pujols has become the poster boy for why some players do not perform well after being on one team in one city for so long and then opting to leave their families behind.
We’re talking about a future Hall of Famer here, who’s been trying to deal with the devastating effect of leaving his family in St. Louis after eleven years. His stats, most notably his batting average, which stands at .273, is some 53 points lower than his career .326. He’s on course to finish the season with around 26 home runs. His career average is over 41! Career OBP .417; 2012 .334. SLG. % is at .461; his career average is .609. Being away from his family is the only explanation for Pujols’ sudden downward spiral.
Another striking example, albeit more obscure, is former Mets infielder Edgardo Alfonzo who came up with the Mets in 1995 at age 22 and played in New York for eight years before being traded to S.F. The move to the West coast brought his batting average down almost 50 points from .308 to .259 in his first year with the Giants; that’s some 25 points lower than his career .284 average. He was never really the same after the move and a little over a year after his 3 year contract with Frisco was over he retired.
Another example, but more subtle than the previous two, would be LeBron James. After playing his first seven years in the league in Cleveland, James took his talents to South Beach for the 2010-2011 season. His numbers dropped less profoundly than say Albert Pujols, (from 29.7 ppg to 26.7), but it was his clutch shooting, which had been his calling card with the Cavs, that was affected more than anything else. Enter the 2011-2012 season-his first championship season- in which we all saw a different, more focused, more determined LeBron James. Why? It could be because before the start of the season he moved his family from Cleveland to Miami…