Friday, December 28, 2007

Jim Ed Rice

I’m not sure what possessed him to do it, but in the Boston Globe this week, Dan Shaughnessy opines that Jim Rice will finally get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this time around, and also insists that he certainly deserves it. I agree that Rice probably will get in this year, since he doesn’t have a lot of competition, and that he’ll also likely be joined by Goose Gossage. I think Gossage’s induction is long overdue, and I’ll be happy for Rice if he does get the call. It’s always great to see another Red Sox player be inducted, especially one I watched his entire career, but I think Rice is the classic “just shy” guy. He had about 12 good years, from his rookie season in 1975 to 1986. During those years, Shaughnessy insists Rice was the most fearsome hitter of his time. That’s stretching it a bit, Dan. Actually, that’s stretching it a lot. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, Dale Murphy and Dave Parker were all at Rice’s level, and each of those three had years as good or in some cases better than most of Rice’s. None of them are in Cooperstown. There are also guys named Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray and a few other pretty good hitters, who have been rightfully inducted. Rice was a fearsome hitter, but certainly not the most fearsome of his time. Although he had the quickest and strongest wrist snap in the game, credentials for Cooperstown, especially for a slugging outfielder in an age of hitters, have to be examined carefully. When you do that, I actually believe that Dwight Evans is more deserving of induction than Jim Rice, and in a minute I’ll prove why.

Rice’s great claim to Fame was his power, but he only had 382 career homers, and that ranks him 53rd on the all-time list, well behind Carlos Delgado, Jose Canseco and Darrell Evans. He’s 4 behind Chipper Jones, 3 behind his former teammate, Mr. Dwight Evans (did you know that?), and 1 behind Larry Walker. Rice is tied with Frank Howard. Nobody I just mentioned is in Cooperstown, and none of them are going to be. Rice had a few fantastic seasons, though none of them strung together, and he won the MVP in 1978. In that golden year, he truly was the most fearsome hitter in the game. But that was 1 year. Rice had 11 seasons of 20 or more homers. Dewey did that, too. So did Barry Bonds’ father Bobby. Joe Carter had 12. These are very good numbers, but not Hall of Fame caliber, and that’s what we’re talking about here. Total bases: Rice led the American League 4 times, which is terrific, but he still ranks only 66th all time, well behind Harold Baines, Dave Parker, Vada Pinson, DWIGHT EVANS, and about 30 behind the immortal Steve Finley.

Rice was exceedingly 1-dimensional. He wasn’t blessed with great speed, either defensively or offensively. He did lead the league with 15 triples in 1978, but he led the league in everything in 1978. After that, his high was 7 in 1984. Defensively, he ranged from indifferent to abysmal. His arm was never better than average, and he played in an outfield that also included Fred Lynn and (ahem) Dwight Evans, who holds the Red Sox franchise record with 8 Gold Gloves. The contrast, for those who might not remember it, was best described as striking. Rice was never in great danger of winning even one Gold Glove. Offensively in his own league, Reggie Jackson and Eddie Murray were each as fearsome, if not moreso than Rice (Murray from both sides of the plate), and they’re both in Cooperstown today. Both of them were far better defensively than Rice, as well. You’d also have to admit that Dawson (mentioned above) is in a league above Rice defensively, too. Hawk belongs in a class with Robin Yount and my buddy Dwight Evans for flashing the leather.

I mentioned Dave Parker earlier. The "Cobra" was, in many ways, the National League version of Jim Rice. Parker finished 43 career homers behind Rice, though 40 RBI ahead. He also won an MVP award as Rice did, but Parker managed to lead the National League in batting average twice and picked up 3 Gold Gloves as well. If Jim Rice gets into Cooperstown, Dawson should be there first (playing on significantly inferior Expos and Cubs teams: 438 career HR, 8 Gold Gloves, 8 All-Star appearances). Dwight Evans next, THEN Rice. Parker should be soon after. Anyone for inducting Dave Parker into the Hall of Fame?

Jim Rice wasn’t even the best player in his own outfield for the vast majority of the time he called Fenway home, and I don’t hear anyone screaming for Dewey’s induction. To be fair, Rice did terrorize pitchers for much of his career, and he was great fun to watch. I loved writing his name in my scorecard when he played, and knowing that he was ours. It’s not like the Red Sox didn’t respect him. Nobody else has been issued a #14 jersey since Rice retired almost 20 years ago. Rice had a unique characteristic that I only encountered one other time before or since: the ball sounded different coming off Rice’s bat. There was a more authoritative, sharper CRACK when Rice hit the ball. The only other guy that I remember creating that sound in my lifetime was Bo Jackson. Bo Jackson is certainly no Jim Rice, but Jim Rice is certainly no Reggie Jackson, either. If you’re looking at sluggers from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Jim Rice might well be in the top 10, and perhaps even the top 5, but this is a discussion about comparing him to (literally) the best ever. By that standard, I’m sorry but he doesn’t qualify. He’s just shy, but that “just” makes all the difference.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's all just so unspeakably sad

The Mitchell Report is out now, and it’s all just so unspeakably sad. There’s more than enough blame to go around. From the stars who determined that they were willing to do whatever it took to fight the natural pace of aging in the modern athlete, to the bit players who followed suit just to stay on a big league roster, to the training staff who either assisted or pretended not to know, to team and league management who willingly and consciously turned a blind eye to the corrosion in the game and rationalized the outrageous statistics as being the harbinger of a new age of great ballplayer, to the players’ union who insisted that drug testing was nothing more than an invasion of privacy, and therefore completely unacceptable (and subsequently refused to cooperate in any way, shape or form with the Mitchell probe). And don’t forget the great titans of the press who winked and refused to acknowledge the 800 pound elephant in the middle of the room, some of them now decrying the Mitchell Report as being either inadequate or fundamentally compromised because Senator Mitchell is on the board of the Boston Red Sox. Everyone involved bears guilt, blame and responsibility for the fraud that was perpetrated on the American public for a generation.

What are we left with now? It’s impossible to know what to make of the statistics that baseball fans treasure so reverently. How many of Barry Bonds’s homers “count”? Should one (or more) of Roger Clemens’s Cy Young Awards be ignored due to some number of the strikeouts and wins having come out of a needle? Which ones? Which years? How about Andy Pettitte? Ken Caminiti? Jose Canseco? Mark McGwire? Should one (or more) of the Yankees’ World Series championships not count now? How many others *not* named in the Mitchell Report were involved? How many of the players who were named in the Mitchell Report were named incorrectly? What if Clemens and Tejada and Jack Cust and Brendan Donnelly and Mo Vaughn are actually innocent? What if they’re not? Should their accomplishments be stripped from the record books like Marion Jones’s Olympic medals? All of them? Some of them? Starting when? Ending when?

Or should we just accept that like it or not, it happened, stop worrying about the past and just move on now? That last one might be the best and easiest idea, but it isn’t possible. Baseball is all about history, more than any other sport on the landscape. All of us have to come to terms with this era somehow.

Personally, there are things I’d like to see happen. They certainly won’t, of course. I’d like to see both Bud Selig and Donald Fehr resign their positions and allow baseball to move on with a new sense of responsibility and impetus for change. I’d like all current players named in the report to end their careers immediately, and see MLB (and Minor League Baseball, as well) permanently suspend any player who tests positive from here on in. Zero tolerance. One strike and you’re gone. No appeal. Playing professional baseball is a privilege, not a right. Deal with it. That might send a clear message to kids that if you use these substances, your hope of playing organized baseball is nil.

I agree with Senator Mitchell in that there’s no sense in punishing players for transgressions that took place years or decades ago. Writers will have to decide on their own what to do in evaluating Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Sheffield and others when it comes time for Hall of Fame consideration. I don’t envy them that dilemma.

But no matter how it happens, change has to be serious, far reaching, and immediate. Baseball has faced literally dozens of crises in its history, including labor relations, gambling, race, free agency. It has weathered these storms and come back each time, stronger than ever. It needs to do it again, or else nobody will care who wins, who loses, who breaks a major record or who is inducted in Cooperstown.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Early December musings

· I’m a big college football fan, but this season has been maddening, and the NCAA refusing to implement anything resembling a playoff appears increasingly counter-intuitive, given what’s transpired over the past few weeks. Gene Wojciechowski of summarizes it better than I could. Maybe this year the Lords of the NCAA should just determine that nobody’s worthy of being called National Champion.

· The Boston Celtics are DAMN good. I haven’t said that preceding sentence in well over 20 years. Have you watched them play? This team is for real. Kevin Garnett has turned them into a whole other animal, and I don’t know about you, but I’m already envisioning the C’s going up against San Antonio in a hot, stifling June series. I think we’ve waited long enough for Banner #17, don’t you?

· George Mitchell’s steroids report for MLB is due out any day. It might have the impact of a nuclear warhead. I’m idly wondering if it will be hard hitting enough to get Congress involved, forcing the implementation of an IOC-type testing program, or perhaps threatening to revoke MLB’s utterly ludicrous anti-trust exemption, which has been in place since the early days of Prohibition. It might even succeed in shaking the players’ union out of its selfish intransigence. Well, ok, maybe that’s asking a bit much.

· I love that Kenny Rogers fired Scott Boras so he could re-sign with the Tigers, as he had wanted all along. Scott Boras should watch “Jerry Maguire” sometime. There are some important truths for him in that movie.

· Dick Williams, the manager of the Red Sox’ Impossible Dream team of 1967 as well as the great ’72 and ‘73 Oakland A’s teams and a pennant winner in San Diego, has been voted into the Hall of Fame. Good for him. Williams was a superb, no-nonsense kind of manager that we’d call “old school” today. The only promise he made to reporters before the ’67 season was “We’ll win more games than we’ll lose”. That would be been good enough for the majority of the fan base at the time. By the time Williams’ career was done, franchises in both Boston and Oakland were transformed forever.

· Brooklyn Dodgers fans will be furious that the late Walter O’Malley is going to enshrined in Cooperstown as well, but that’s just too bad. He deserves to be in. He helped transform the game exactly 50 years ago. A shame he couldn’t live to see the day.

· Sometime during (or after) the baseball general manager meetings in Nashville, the Red Sox will have one of the following on the 40-man roster: Johan Santana, Eric Bedard or Dan Haren. And we’ll be missing some combination of Coco Crisp, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholtz, Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson.

· Add me to the list of fans who will be seriously pissed off if we lose Ellsbury or Buchholtz. It isn’t that I don’t want Johan Santana: he is, hands down, one of the three best starters in the game. Acquiring him will create a rotation that borders on the unfair, but he’s going to demand a contract that will rival Venezuela’s annual oil revenues, and Theo still has to make Jonathan Papelbon happy in another year, so Pap can continue doing his deranged rocker act each October. Home grown talent is worth so much more than we realize, and when it pans out (like Lester, Papelbon, Pedroia, Ellsbury and Buchholtz, all of whom contributed to the team’s championship trophy), it affords a team a huge advantage. I don’t want to lose those few gems we develop in house that we already KNOW are going to make it big. Can you say Jeff Bagwell?

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Wheel Is Going to Turn

When you’re up by 10 runs, you don’t continue to steal bases. When the great Chicago Bulls teams were hammering opponents, Phil Jackson took Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen out of the game and sat them on the bench. Gratuitously showing up your opponent violates a basic rule of professional athletics. It’s poor sportsmanship. If you’ve taken your foot off the accelerator and your second team is *still* beating the snot out of the opponent, there isn’t a lot you can do. However, you are supposed to make that visible effort to cease the destruction, and you don’t rub your opponent’s nose in their ineptitude.

I must admit that even though I’m not a Patriots fan, I’m in sheer awe of what they are accomplishing this season. Tom Brady, Randy Moss, the entire defense, they are rewriting the record books. We’re witnessing what might be the best NFL team to ever take the field. Better than the Lombardi Packers, better than the Montana and Rice (or Young and Rice) Niners, better than the Payton and McMahon Bears, and perhaps even better than the great Dolphin team of Griese, Czonka, Warfield, and The Perfect Season. Four or five guys are going to have to suffer broken bones for these Pats to lose a game, and even then I’m not so sure. You have to admire the numbers that Tom Brady and the offense are putting up game after game after game, and the ease with which they're doing it. And you KNOW that no matter how soft-spoken they are, they know damn well what’s going on. This Patriots team is playing a whole other game, every week. So, when the New England Patriots are up by 4, 5, even 6 touchdowns and continue to go for it on 4th down (tossing a touchdown pass against the Bills on 4th and short, instead of kicking a field goal), the sentiment is becoming harder to escape: the Pats have no interest in unwritten rules such as “thou shalt not show up thy hapless, helpless opponent”. The Patriots are certainly winning, but without any class.

Now look, I’m neither stupid nor naïve. I realize that the object of the game is to win, and if winning weren’t important we wouldn’t be keeping score. And I similarly understand that the best way to keep the Pats from scoring over and over and over is to play better defense against them. Finally, it’s not the Patriots’ fault that they have created a machine that can’t help but annihilate anyone and everyone they face. I get all that, really I do. But you and I both know that the Pats are perfectly capable of calling off the dogs as the game drags on, but they’re making a conscious decision not to. Bill Simmons of ESPN has a term for it: he calls it the Fuck You Touchdowns. His theory is that Bill Belichick is punishing the league for denigrating him and his team after Spygate, and in every game he’s sending the same message: You think we were beating people only because we were cheating? Fuck you. We’ll score on you whenever we want. You want to tear down our greatness? Fuck you. We’ll score at will. And then we’ll do it again. Kick a field goal on 4th down? Fuck you. We’ll throw the ball into the corner of the endzone. How do you like that? You don’t? Fuck you. We’ll do it one more time.

And Simmons might be right. The Pats don’t have to stop playing, of course. They can be the vintage Nebraska Cornhuskers or Oklahoma Sooners and hang 60 and 70 points on the board every week. But in the NFL, you don’t get more style points for winning by 50, rather than 35. There’s going to be a price to pay for what some view as disrespecting the game and the guys on the other side of the ball. The wheel’s going to turn, and this scintillating run won’t last forever. While some teams may never achieve greatness (see the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions), every team eventually has to hit bottom sometime. Talk to the Oakland Raiders, the Miami Dolphins, or my beloved St. Louis Rams, who not so long ago were hailed as the Greatest Show on Turf. One of these days, no matter how good you were, you are going to suck. Pats fans should remember what it’s like, because it’s going to happen again. Maybe not next year, but it’s coming. And when that does happen to New England, as it someday will, teams aren’t just going to beat them, they are going to make it their mission to punch them in the face a few times for good measure. They’re going to humiliate New England, and have fun doing it. The Pats will get bitch slapped around the field. That unstoppable wide receiver on the Redskins isn’t going to come out of the game, and they’re going to throw to him over and over and over, just to make the point. The battering ram running back on the Jets is going to come back into the game in the 4th quarter just to score another touchdown and make sure he sets the record against the Patriots instead of waiting for the following week. The Steelers will fake taking a knee and toss another touchdown pass at the end of the half to put them up by six touchdowns instead of settling for five. Pats fans will at this point be counted on to whine and scream bloody murder that “you shouldn’t kick someone when they’re down, and we would never do that”.

I am going to be watching that game. And I will be laughing my ass off.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Guardians of History

Barry Bonds has been indicted for perjuring himself in front of a federal grand jury. Senator George Mitchell is about to introduce a report on rampant steroid use in major league baseball. Mark McGwire, who with Sammy Sosa had famously broken Roger Maris’ home run record in 1998, disgraced himself in front of a Congressional hearing seven years later with his graceless evasiveness and refusal to “talk about the past”, even though it had become common knowledge that he had been juicing throughout the late power surges of his career. Ken Caminiti admitted that his 1996 MVP year was largely a result of performance enhancing substances. Subsequent drug use and abuse killed Caminiti in 2004.

Baseball is officially awash in its latest divisive, dangerous and unutterably sad crisis. Since the latter half of the 1800’s, baseball has coped with internal wars over upstart leagues, money, labor issues, gambling, race, and now performance-enhancing drugs. This post isn’t a history lesson. If you want the story behind how we got to where we are now, I’d recommend two seminal books that serve as critical histories of the Steroid Era. If you haven't read them, you owe it to yourself to buy them both.

The first is “Juicing the Game”, by my friend Howard Bryant. Howard is a widely respected, former beat writer who’s worked in the Bay Area, New York and Boston. He’s now a senior columnist for ESPN. “Juicing the Game” is a lucid, important and far-ranging history of how the steroid era came to be. It’s a scathing indictment of the baseball hierarchy and their willful disinterest in acknowledging or combating the rampant use of steroids or other drugs, in deference to the infusion of cash arising from baseball’s new power game that was embodied in the old Nike marketing slogan “Chicks Dig the Long Ball”. More than just relaying the facts, Howard contextualizes how and (most importantly) why it got so completely out of control so quickly.

The history of BALCO and the Bonds affair is perfectly captured in “Game of Shadows”, by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. It details with precise evidence, sworn testimony and background explanation the rise of an egomaniacal con man named Victor Conte, and how he amassed a collection of Olympic-caliber athletes (Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery), football players (Bill Romanowski) and baseball players (Barry Bonds, Benito Santiago) who willingly and in fact gleefully injected themselves with cocktails of steroidal and other performance-boosting substances.

People should remember that Bonds is not being indicted for having used EPO, Human Growth Hormone, the Cream or the Clear. He was indicted for lying about it. Jason Giambi went before the same federal grand jury and admitted his steroid and other substance use. He took a profound hit in the press and his professional reputation, but he’s not facing decades in prison for what he put in his body while playing first base for the A’s and the Yankees. Giambi told the truth. Bonds lied repeatedly, and his career is likely over because of it.

Baseball press, historians and fans are going to have to figure out what to do with the significance of all the alarming power statistics that started in the mid-90’s. Is it “cheating” if the lords of baseball were too greedy, selfish or ignorant to implement an actual substance testing policy until it was long too late to stop the damage to the integrity of the game? Is it Mark McGwire’s, Ken Caminiti’s or Barry Bonds’s fault that they got away with perpetrating a fraud on the game? Was it a fraud? How do you convict someone of violating baseball’s basic fabric of meritocracy if their “crime” wasn’t yet a crime in their game? This is not as cut and dried as it might seem. Personally, I’m grateful that I don’t have a Hall of Fame ballot. Howard does, and he’s told me that he won’t vote for McGwire, Bonds, or anyone who he believes juiced. Peter Gammons is on record as saying that until someone *proves* guilt, he’s going to have to presume innocence, and vote (or not vote) for players based solely on their performance on the field. Will Gammons’ vote change based on this week’s events? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Peter.

None of this is easy, and all of it is both sad and infuriating. Personally, I don’t blame Bonds, McGwire, Caminiti, or anyone else for what they did to gain an extra advantage, any more than I blame Gaylord Perry for getting away with his famous spitball for decade after decade, eventually leading to his Hall of Fame induction in 1991. It’s an athlete’s job to do what he can to gain an advantage. If you don’t stop him, he’s going to keep doing it. Umpires are responsible for stopping spitballs, not pitchers. Bud Selig was responsible for safeguarding the good of the game, and at that he failed spectacularly. Donald Fehr and the players’ union should have understood that keeping the players honest was central to the good of the game. Blocking stringent testing as a violation of privacy only serves to allow rampant drug abuse in every major league clubhouse, thereby rendering some of baseball’s most sacred records open to debate as to how “real” they are. The teams themselves (most especially the A's, Cardinals and Giants) didn't want to know what was happening in their own clubhouses, because the last thing they'd want to do is kill the golden goose. Because of Selig, Fehr and baseball's collective ownership, all of us now wonder not about what we know, but about what we don’t know.

Two important events are about to transpire which will unquestionably shake the foundations of the game as we know them: Barry Bonds faces arraignment in US District Court in San Francisco for lying to a federal grand in December 2003, and the Mitchell Report is on its way any day. Bud Selig, if he’s capable of it, will have to deal with both events. Why? Because both the impending Bonds trial and the Mitchell Report will show baseball was not just asleep at the switch, but intentionally unwilling to police itself, its players, and the protection of its own legacy. As commissioner, Selig serves as baseball’s ultimate guardian of integrity, just as Kennesaw Mountain Landis did after the Black Sox scandal and Bart Giamatti did in the Pete Rose gambling affair. Selig failed us, all of us, and for that he is going to be every bit as on trial as Barry Bonds. Except Selig doesn’t have to face a federal judge. He only has to face history.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Looking toward 2008

Now that the 2007 season has ended in glorious celebration, it’s already time to look forward to next year. There are two key free agents about whom Theo will need to make a call. Curt Schilling will declare, and if I were the Sox, I would say “Thanks so much for everything you’ve done for us, Curt. You were a true warhorse. You gave us your talent, heart and soul, and those 2004 and 2007 flags wouldn’t have existed without you. We’ll never forget you. Good luck next year wherever you end up, and we’ll see you in Cooperstown. If you’d like to wear a Red Sox cap on your plaque, we’d be honored”. There are reports circulating that Schilling has already written goodbye notes to his teammates, so that makes his intentions clear. If I were Theo, I would send a very different message to Mike Lowell. Even though he’ll turn 34 at the end of February, he was the team MVP (and World Series MVP) in 2007. His bat and his glove were irreplaceable, not to mention his professionalism. I don’t believe there’s another 3B available who will be an adequate replacement (yes, I know about the guy who just left New York. Lowell remains superior because he’s a winner). Given what the Red Sox will be saving by not giving Schilling his $13 million and change, I’d try like hell to re-sign Lowell as soon possible, while the cheering from the parade is still fresh, and before the market develops and jacks up the price to JD Drew levels. Even if the price is already wacky, do it anyway. He’s proven he’s a pro’s pro, and he’s worth it. Just remember what ARod would cost, and count yourself lucky.

Assuming they can lock up Lowell, the lineup isn’t likely to change much from what you saw in 2007. It would be good to jettison Drew, but that isn’t happening, certainly at his bloated contract value and substandard performance level (at least before October). We’re stuck with him. Maybe he’ll play better in 2008, this time picking it up before Labor Day. Same for Julio Lugo. I’d still unashamedly rather have Alex Gonzalez or Orlando Cabrera back at short, but that’s the way it is. Lugo did well enough and had a terrific October, so we could clearly be in worse shape. Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia should be playing second base for the next 10-15 years. Ditto Youkilis at first. Captain Varitek is signed through 2008. We can worry about him in another year, or perhaps sign him to an extension now (yes yes, I know that’s not happening, but I can hope, can’t I?).

A month ago, I would have said that Jacoby Ellsbury should be ready to take over in center in 2009. However, everything changed when Terry Francona put him in the lineup in the ALCS and kept him there through the World Series. Now, Coco Crisp is likely out of a job. I think Theo is going to try to get what he can for Coco on the open market, in spite of Crisp’s likely Gold Glove award. Manny Ramirez will remain in left for one more year. This extends the remarkable lineage of Red Sox left fielders that started with Ted Williams in April of 1939 and has extended through Yaz (1961-1974 in left field), Jim Rice (1975-1987), Mike Greenwell (1987-1995) and Troy O’Leary (1996-2000) before Manny arrived in 2001. Only six full-time left fielders over almost 70 years. Amazing, isn’t it?

The rotation is probably close to set, as well. Assuming Wakefield doesn’t retire, next spring’s rotation should be Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholtz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester. You could make the case that you never have sufficient pitching, and therefore Schilling should be brought back, but 6 doesn’t go into 5, so pick who’d you’d like to get rid of. I think it’s time to get younger, not older. There are bullpen questions, to be sure. It would not surprise me to see Mike Timlin retire. Eric Gagne should be shown the door. In fact, I’m relieved he didn’t accidentally guide his duckboat completely off the parade route. Other, smaller holes exist, but they don’t have to be solved in November. As long as Okajima, Delcarmen and Papelbon are there, the rest can be sorted out.

Way to Go

There’s a proper way to do things. One of the major disagreements that Theo Epstein had a couple years ago with Larry Lucchino was that Epstein found Lucchino’s public feuds with the Yankees unseemly, unprofessional and completely counter-productive. Beat them on the field, but don’t get into pissing matches with them over El Duque or anything else. There’s no need for it, and it makes you look boorish. Do your job and let them do theirs. During his entire career as both player and manager, Joe Torre always conducted himself with the utmost respect for the game, his opponents and the uniform he wore. Torre never showed up the competition, and he was a role model for Terry Francona. The two of them developed a profound respect for each other, and when Torre resigned, Francona was late for a post-season press conference because he was busy watching his colleague’s words on television. There is a way to behave, and that includes showing respect for the game and your opponents.

As the Red Sox are doing their best to win the right way these days, not everyone gets that. Enter Hank Steinbrenner and Alex Rodriguez. Hank is the son of the Boss. Clearly, the apple does not fall far from the tree. When Torre determined that the contract “offer” he was given included not just a pay cut but performance incentives that shouldn’t be necessary for someone of his experience and track record, he walked away. That was, of course, his right. Rather than saying “We’re sorry that Joe Torre did not find our contract offer acceptable. We’d like to thank him for his extraordinary performance as Yankee manager, including his 10 AL East division championships, 6 American League pennants and 4 World Series titles. He always handled himself and his team the with the utmost professionalism, and exemplified the Yankee Way. We wish Joe the best, and we know he’ll be a tough act to follow”, Baby Bluster instead said the following

“Where was Joe's career in '95 when my dad hired him? My dad was crucified for hiring him. Let's not forget what my dad did in giving him that opportunity -- and the great team he was handed”.

What a colossal shmuck.

Then, there’s Alex Rodriguez. It should not have been a shock that ARod was going to opt out of his contract and walk away to seek even greener pastures. Seriously, his agent is Scott Boras. Let’s just make it easier and call the pair Borod. Did you really believe that Borod would do anything other than seek the greatest possible remuneration on the open market? If you honestly did, you don’t understand either of them. It’s not about rings, it’s about the greenbacks. No more, no less. They had every right (and tens of millions of reasons) to walk away, but to do it during the clinching game of the World Series represents unconscionable egomania and arrogance. The next day, MLB was pissed.

"There was no reason to make an announcement last night other than to try to put his selfish interests and that of one individual player above the overall good of the game. Last night and today belong to the Boston Red Sox, who should be celebrated for their achievement, and to the Colorado Rockies, who made such an unbelievable run to the World Series."

Correct. But selfish interests are all that matter to Borod, and all that have ever mattered. The timing of the announcement is further proof of the most damning sin of all: Alex Rodriguez doesn’t get it. He’s never been a team player, but worse than that, he doesn’t respect the game, nor does he even bother to pretend to anymore. He pissed all over the clinching game of the World Series because he felt that while he was standing above it, he might as well draw attention to himself. Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News put it best: ARod upstaged more World Series games than he actually played in. Alex Rodriguez is going to be elected to the Hall of Fame some day, but nobody should cheer for him. I wouldn’t want to be associated with the team who’s cap he wears. His next team is about to see up close what the Mariners, Rangers and Yankees know all too well: Not all statistics tell the complete story.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

2007 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are the 2007 World Series champions. The series was over soon after the first pitch of game 1 in Boston, since neither the Sox pitching staff nor their bats allowed Colorado to participate. Going in, although the Rockies were white hot, they just weren’t in the same league with the Red Sox, literally or figuratively. They never had a chance.

I had the strangest feeling when Josh Beckett dominated the Indians in Game 5 of the ALCS. The Red Sox and Indians were going back to Boston with Cleveland still up 3 games to 2, but I honestly believed the series had just turned an irreversible corner. After game 4, I thought the Red Sox were cooked. After game 5, they were a different team, and I was suddenly sure they would take the ALCS and win the World Series. As far as I was concerned, the Indians were the only dangerous team left, and Boston had just exposed them. Fearing the Rockies never made much sense to me. What was there to fear? I felt their great streak masked a team with no depth, shallow pitching, and a lineup that could be controlled by a quality pitching staff. I thought that, in spite of the winning streak, the Rockies were the weakest league champion since the 1998 San Diego Padres. How could Colorado match up with the Indians, much less the Red Sox? Turns out they couldn’t. And for the second time in four years, the Red Sox sit on top of the baseball universe.

In the 7th inning of game 4, the last pitch thrown by Aaron Cook landed in the left field seats after it was launched off the bat of World Series MVP Mike Lowell. That pitch finished the Rockies once and for all. A solo homer by Brad Hawpe didn’t much matter, as Bobby Kielty (of all people) made up for it on the first pitch he saw, swatting it into the same spot where Lowell had homered an inning earlier. Even the homer by Garrett Atkins didn’t change anything. Meanwhile, Jon Lester turned in a performance that Josh Beckett and Curt Shilling could be proud of. Lester’s next stop will be the 2008 Red Sox starting rotation (after the Duck Boat parade, of course).

This Red Sox team led almost wire to wire, but didn’t really find its championship personality until very late in the year. Calling up Jacoby Ellsbury the final time from Pawtucket changed everything. The team already had the odds on choice for the league’s Cy Young award winner in Josh Beckett and the probable Rookie of the Year in Dustin Pedroia. Mike Lowell was acknowledged to be the team’s MVP, and everyone in baseball respects Captain Tek as one of the great on field leaders. Curt Schilling was gearing up for October, and Jonathan Papelbon was perfectly prepared by Francona and John Farrell for the pressure innings to come. Still, it was clearly Ellsbury, wearing Bob Stanley’s #46, that the Red Sox needed to be the final catalyst. He changed the lineup. He was the perfect fill in for Manny Ramirez in left, and he seemed to function like some kind of speedy left handed enzyme that the team had obviously lacked.

The chemistry experiment exploded all over Cleveland, then Colorado. In 2004, the Red Sox won as a veteran team. Schilling, Martinez, Lowe, Foulke, Millar, Bellhorn and Damon were the war horses. In no small part due to the new generation of talent exemplified by Beckett, Papelbon, Lester, Matsuzaka, Okajima, Pedroia and Ellsbury, the World Series championship banner will be raised once again over Fenway Park next April.

World Series Game 3: Lots of ways to win

The Red Sox have won three World Series games three different ways. Game 1 was an old fashioned ass kicking. Game 2 was a classic pitchers duel. Game 3, in the thin air, was a baby slugfest. We score 6, you score 5, we then come back and pound your vaunted former closer/current setup guy with another 4 runs to salt the game away. It bodes well for Boston’s future that all three of the linchpins of the Game 3 win are rookies: Daisuke Matsuzaka (5 1/3 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 5 strikeouts, plus a 2 out, 2 run single), Jacoby Ellsbury (4 for 5, 3 doubles, 2 RBI) and Dustin Pedroia (3 for 5, 2 RBI).

The 2007 Colorado Rockies are not the 2004 Boston Red Sox. They’re not coming back from a 3-0 deficit. This Rockies team doesn’t have the pitching, the hitting, or the ability to be anything other than what they are: a team that wouldn’t have even made it into the American League playoffs

Now, we’re one win away from finishing what’s been a lopsided series. Game 4’s starters are Jon Lester and Aaron Cook. It’s impossible to handicap this matchup, given that one (Lester) only made 11 regular season starts and hasn’t pitched since September, and the other one (Cook) hasn’t been seen on a mound since August 10. Anyone who tells you that they *know* what’s going to happen is frankly lying. It can’t be predicted, as there’s no data.

What we do know is that Boston is hitting reliably and Colorado isn’t. Boston has outscored Colorado 25-7 in three games. In the 6th inning of game 3, the Rockies scored two runs. That was the first time in 29 innings that they’d strung together more than 1 run in the same inning. The last time they’d done it was the bottom of the 4th of NLCS Game 4 against the pathetic Diamondbacks. The Red Sox have scored two or more runs 24 times in the 2007 postseason. 24 different innings of multiple runs.

Sit back and enjoy game 4, because a Red Sox loss would only set up another appearance by Josh Beckett.

Friday, October 26, 2007

World Series Game 2 Thoughts

  • What exactly do you think Matt Holliday was doing when he was caught leaning the wrong way off first in the top of the 8th inning? Was he contemplating stealing second, with Todd Helton at the plate? Very strange play. If Clint Hurdle was calling for a steal with the #4 hitter up and two outs, shame on him. Dumb call that essentially ended the game. If that was just Holliday napping, even weirder.

  • Mike Lowell, Mr. Clutch RBI Guy for 2007, just keeps chugging along. He’s had at least 1 hit and 1 RBI for four straight games now, dating back to game 6 of the ALCS. Last night’s RBI double, of course, knocked in the winning run.

  • The litany of Curt Schilling’s October numbers make you shake your head:
    1) He’s the only pitcher to win a postseason game in his 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
    2) He has a lifetime postseason winning percentage of .846. That’s the best there’s ever been, when counting pitchers with 10 decisions or more.
    3) Over 19 appearances, his lifetime postseason ERA is 2.23

  • Quick, who’s more valuable, Hideki Okajima or Jonathan Papelbon? Tough question, isn’t it?

  • J.D. Drew is looking forward to seeing Denver this weekend. His career numbers at Coors Field are comforting indeed:
    25 games, 87 at bats, .368 batting average, 6 doubles, 2 HR, 18 RBI, .467 on base percentage, 1.065 OPS

  • The current parlor game in Boston is guessing who gets stuck on the bench in Denver. You didn’t ask me, but here’s my opinion:
    1) Defense is incredibly important in that cavernous outfield, and for that reason I’d play Coco Crisp in center over Jacoby Ellsbury. Remember, Manny has to play left, so Crisp’s bat becomes much less important than his glove and defensive instincts. Ellsbury’s fast, but Coco’s a gold glove.
    2) However, Coors Field’s infield dimensions are exactly the same as Fenway’s (and everywhere else in the majors). With or without the humidor, if the ball’s going to fly farther, I’d rather it be coming off Big Papi’s bat. For that reason, (assuming he’s healthy) I’d start David Ortiz at first, and bring in Kevin Youkilis in the late innings if there’s a need for a defensive replacement. While Ortiz isn’t Youkilis or Todd Helton or Keith Hernandez with the glove, he’s no Kevin Millar or Jason Giambi, either. Of course, if Ortiz is more hurt than we know, the equation changes a bit.
    3) Leave Mike Lowell right where he is, period, full stop. The lineup loses its center of gravity without him. He only gets taken out if we’re up by 12 runs again, and even then I’m not so sure.

  • For the third time this month, we’re all wondering which Daisuke Matsuzaka will be showing up tomorrow night. I’m hoping that Colorado’s never having seen him will help.

  • Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki is quoted as saying “We’re going to make a series out of this.” I’m assuming he then added “Honest, we are!”, sounding just like Ron Howard’s Richie Cunningham from Happy Days.

  • If you want my free taco, you’re welcome to it. I’m waiting for the free lobster.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

World Series Game 1 quiz

1) In October, it’s all about:
A) Eve
B) Pitching
C) The Great Pumpkin
D) Free tacos

2) David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are to clutch post-season hitting as:
A) Fish are to bicycles
B) Julia Child was to French cooking
C) Britney Spears is to good parenting
D) Kazoos are to symphony orchestras

3) Hitting against Josh Beckett these days is akin to:
A) Shooting billiards with a rope
B) Expecting relatives of the Nigerian president to make you fabulously wealthy
C) Waiting for Barry Bonds to admit “Ok, you got me. I’ve been using steroids for the past decade”
D) All of the above

4) The Colorado Rockies need the following to happen before game 2:
A) The Arizona Diamondbacks to switch places with the Red Sox
B) The World Series to be suspended until the Rockies can find better pitching
C) The World Series to be decided based on who has the uglier uniforms
D) All of the above

5) 197, 94.5 and 4:
A) What three numbers add up to 295.5?
B) What are the IQ’s of Albert Einstein, George W. Bush and Paris Hilton?
C) What are the number of pitches thrown by the Rockies in game 1, Franklin Morales’ current World Series ERA and the total number of runs allowed by Josh Beckett in the 2007 postseason?
D) What is the number of times TBS showed promos for FrankTV during each playoff game, the frequency of an FM station and 2+2?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Boston's newest banner

The 2007 American League Championship banner, flying atop the old Hancock Tower

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

2007 World Series Prediction

In 2004, the St. Louis Cardinals were a juggernaut. They had great pitching, the most frightening lineup in the game, a solid bullpen, and one of baseball’s smartest managers. Before that series started, predicting a Red Sox sweep over that Cardinals team would have been damn foolish. The Cardinals were just too good to simply roll over. Ironically, the one thing that the Cardinals lacked was a rock solid belief that they not only could beat the Red Sox, but that of course they WOULD beat the Red Sox. Confidence is self-perpetuating, and once the Red Sox started winning, they just kept winning, all the way through Game 4 in St. Louis.

Confidence matters on this stage. The Larry Bird -Kevin McHale-Robert Parish Boston Celtics walked into the gym knowing they were going to win, not just hoping. Same for the Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers and the current New England Patriots. I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe in the Colorado Rockies because I honestly think that they’re just thrilled to be in the World Series. On this stage, I look for the team that has an absolute confidence in themselves. Josh Beckett uttered the following quote after the ALCS ended, “When I’m out there, I feel like the guys are all behind me, and I just feel like we’re better than everybody else”. That’s called swagger, and it ain’t bragging if you can back it up. Beckett and the Red Sox have been backing it up. They overcame injuries to Curt Schilling, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and still led the American League all season. They earned home field advantage, and used it to dispose of the Angels and outlast the Indians, who may well have been the second-best team in all of baseball.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but in October, it’s all about pitching. The Red Sox pitching staff is far superior to anything Colorado saw in the playoffs. Colorado has decent pitching, but only 1 true ace, and Jeff Francis is going up against Josh Beckett in game 1. Again, they’ve never faced a team that’s as disciplined and patient as the Red Sox. The Rockies are undeniably hot, but they’re just not that *good*. Their defense is stellar, but their lineup showed surprisingly little power during the playoffs. Colorado has good speed at the top of the lineup in Willy Tavaras and Kaz Matsui. However, as was shown in the ALDS with the Angels, if you keep the speed merchants off the bases, they can’t do very much harm. They’ve probably got the NL MVP in outfielder Matt Holliday. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki could very well be the Rookie of the Year. Still, there aren’t enough weapons to keep up with the Red Sox’ shut down pitching.

Tim Wakefield will not be starting game 4 for Boston, which is going to set up a decidedly odd World Series matchup: It’s probably going to be Jon Lester, who hasn’t started a post-season game, against Aaron Cook, who was Colorado’s Opening Day starter, but hasn’t been on a major league mound since August 10 (strained abdominal muscle). I’m not quite so worried about game 4 in any case, since the Red Sox game 5 starter will be Josh Beckett.

I think that once the series shifts to Denver for game 3, it’s not coming back to Boston. The Rockies may well win one game, but that might be stretching it. I don’t see this World Series being very close, but I’ll be conservative. Red Sox win the 2007 World Series in 5 games.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

2007 American League Champions

Sweep the ALDS in 3 games, then survive a grueling 7 game battle against a division champion to take the American League pennant. That was the script in 2004, and now again in 2007. The Indians were as good as we thought, just in different ways than we expected. Neither Sabathia nor Carmona were worth a damn, but everyone else compensated. They never rolled over, they just ran out of bullets at the end. Ultimately, Cleveland wasn’t outplayed so much as they were outpitched, and there is no shame in that. I tip my cap to a very talented and deserving Cleveland Indians team.

This Red Sox edition is a tough, focused, professional bunch. They have some similarities to the 2004 team in their defensive and offensive balance, but this team has a bunch of young kids and rookies (including two veteran rookies from Japan) who give it a completely different character. It doesn’t appear to be the collection of wingnuts of 2004 vintage. There are no “idiots” like Millar, Damon and Cabrera. Instead, there are the tough as nails kids: Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jonathan Papelbon, alongside a core contingent who were present in 2004 (Ortiz, Ramirez, Youkilis, Varitek, Schilling, Wakefield and Timlin), plus key contributors who know exactly how to handle the bright lights of October (2003 WS and 2007 ALCS MVP Beckett and Mike Lowell) and our new Japanese pitchers, without whom we couldn't have won game 7, or even gotten to it (Matsuzaka and Okajima).

But like the 2004 team, they play exactly the same way whether they’re sweeping the Angels or fighting back from an ALCS hole on the road. Everyone chips in. In game 7, Ortiz and Manny were invisible offensively, but Dustin Pedroia was the man. In game 6, it was J.D. Drew. In both games 6 and 7, Kevin Youkilis homered. If all the weapons contribute, this Red Sox team is not going to be beatable. Even if some of them just take turns, as happened Saturday and Sunday nights, it’s good enough to get them to the World Series.

Bring on the Rockies!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

ALCS: Ready for a Game 7

As stated in previous posts, in October, it’s all about pitching. A freak performance from J.D. Drew notwithstanding, the stories of game 6 were the reappearance of Curt Schilling’s legendary October pedigree and Fausto Carmona’s inability to be even remotely effective. Not that Drew and everyone else didn’t do a great job, but the Royals could have hit Carmona tonight. I’ll say it again: in October, it’s all about pitching. Boston has had it in games 1, 5 and 6. Cleveland had it from the middle of game 2 through game 4.

Seeing J.D. Drew hit tonight was a wonder (3 for 5, 5 RBI, a grand slam HR). Youkilis is locking in again. Pedroia’s getting good swings. Lowell has been solid, of course. The lineup has looked good since game 5. If everyone shows up offensively tomorrow night, and Dice-K pitches effectively, game 7 could be great fun, and cap another phenomenal comeback. If, however, Matsuzaka and Jake Westbrook both pitch the way they did in game 3 at Jacobs Field, we will be left to ponder what could have been. Here’s my concern: Dice K has had one quality start since the beginning of September. Tomorrow night would be a dandy time for another one.

When the ALCS started, I predicted Boston in 7, and I’m going to stick to it. I’d love to see a Red Sox – Rockies matchup and see if Colorado truly is for real. They played great in the NLDS and NLCS, but seriously, the Phillies and Diamondbacks weren’t exactly great measures of competition. Neither of them would have made the playoffs if they were in the American League. I still insist that this ALCS will determine who wins the World Series, which makes tomorrow night that much more momentous in my book.

Game 7's are the great spotlights of sports. Pull out the cliches. This one is for all the marbles, win and move on or lose and go home, do or die. No matter how you describe it, the best part of tomorrow night: it's at Fenway Park.

Friday, October 19, 2007

ALCS: On Josh Beckett

What Josh Beckett is doing in the post season is more than simply impressive. He isn't just silencing the Indians after dominating the Angels, and he's not merely winning key ballgames. He's putting himself into rarified company. So far in this postseason, Beckett is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, 26 K's and 1 walk in 23 innings. He's holding opponents to a .181 batting average, and his 2007 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) is a laughable 0.61. Those are numbers you'd be hard-pressed to duplicate in a video game. Beckett's all-time postseason numbers are 4-0, 1.78, 73 strikeouts, 13 walks in 65 2/3 IP. These aren't just good numbers, they compare with all time post-season stats for Sandy Koufax (3-1, 0.95, 61K/11BB), Bob Gibson (2-1, 1.89, 92/17) and the estimable Mr. Schilling (8-2, 2.23, 111/23). This year's ALDS and ALCS performance by Beckett is also augmenting what will almost certainly be 2007 Cy Young numbers (20-7, 200 IP, 3.27 ERA, 194 K, 40 BB, and a WHIP of 1.14)

As we sit today, pondering how Curt Schilling may add to (or detract from) his glittering postseason numbers at Fenway tomorrow night, it's worth noting that Josh Beckett has joined him in an elite class. Remember, Beckett is already a World Series MVP. Combine that with 2007, and we're witnessing the blossoming of a talent that stands up quite nicely alongside the primes of the great money pitchers of the last few generations. One other point to remember, for those who say "Sure, but how long can he keep this up?": Josh Beckett will turn 28 next May 15.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ALCS after Game 4

Things we know now about the Indians:

  • The starting pitching is plenty good enough
  • Their bullpen is better, especially the setup guys
  • The lineup is very balanced and patient
  • Their ability to get key 2-out hits is scary
  • They’re playing like they can smell the World Series

Things we know now about the Red Sox:

  • Nobody other than Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell can be counted on to produce
  • It’s all about pitching in October, and
  • The bullpen is back to its mid-summer shakiness
  • Eric Gagne still sucks, and can’t be in the game with less than an 11-run lead
  • Of the starters, only Josh Beckett has gotten through the 6th inning.
  • The last man I want at the plate with the game on the line is J.D. Drew
  • They don’t look like league champions, (though the 2004 Red Sox looked worse, and were facing a 3-1 deficit with games 6 and 7 in New York)

    Other important things we know
  • Tim McCarver is just as annoying as ever
    “Can you BELIEVE David Ortiz is swinging away with a 3-0 count? That’s just extraordinary!” No it isn’t, you pinhead. He’s done it consistently for the past few years.
  • If someone doesn’t figure out a way to control the Rockies, it might not make any difference

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

2007 ALCS Preview

This is a damn good Indians team, and it should be a helluva series. Don’t assume that the Red Sox are going to do to Cleveland what they did to the Angels. Remember, the team that just finished rolling over New York tied with Boston for the best record in the league. C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona are the best 1-2 punch going right now. Sizemore, Hafner, Martinez, Garko and Peralta are all hot at the same time, and of course both Trot Nixon and Kenny Lofton have seen October before. If I had a vote for Manager of the Year, I’d give my second place vote to Eric Wedge. The 2007 Cleveland Indians are not a fluke.

That said, the Red Sox have never been in better shape all year. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez have never been both healthy and on fire at the same time all year – until now. This creates a much more frightening lineup. Defensively, this is among the best teams in Red Sox history, with as many as five legitimate Gold Glove candidates (Crisp, Drew, Youkilis, Pedroia and Lowell). Nobody in baseball calls a better game or handles a pitching staff better than Jason Varitek. The starting rotation in the ALCS will match up almost evenly with the Indians. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 0-0 score in the 7th or 8th inning of game 1 (Sabathia vs. Beckett).

You can go down the rosters, and see mirror images of each other. The only significant difference between the two teams that jumps out at me is experience. Many more members of the Red Sox have been here before, including three of the four starting pitchers. Most importantly, Terry Francona won’t be intimidated. Experience matters, and given a team that knows what to expect vs one that’s living in the crucible for the first time, I’d lean toward the veterans. Schilling, Beckett and Manny have all been World Series MVP’s. Of the Indians, only Trot Nixon, Paul Byrd and Kenny Lofton have even been to this point before.

I’ll take the Red Sox over Cleveland in 7 games.

Goodbye to a classy foe

I’ll address the ALCS in another post, but first I want to say something about the ongoing drama of Joe Torre’s status as Yankee manager. Although there had been persistent rumors earlier this summer that George Steinbrenner was suffering from extreme senile dementia, it appears that rumors of Steinbrenner’s demise were greatly exaggerated. And if that’s the case, it’s a terrible shame. If Steinbrenner is indeed still in charge, and his words to the Bergen Record are true, Steinbrenner is going to make sure that Torre is made to pay the consequences.

Joe Torre will walk the plank because George Steinbrenner is still the same shortsighted, arrogant prick he always was. By now, everyone knows the story. Torre, a former MVP and 9-time all star, took a Yankee team that had only sniffed the playoffs once in 14 years and led them to 12 consecutive playoff appearances, 9 American League championships and 4 World Series titles.

After all those years, amassing the 2nd best record in the history of Yankee skippers, I think 2007 was far and away his best job. This year’s Yankee team was dead and buried after the first two months. Their rotation was in tatters, the bullpen exhausted. The lineup looked old and creaky. And they made it to the post-season anyway. He had a bullpen of worthless nobodies, and a starting rotation held together with stickum and sunflower seeds. The Yankees managed to hold off the Tigers and Mariners and win the wild card. In the first series they went up against the Indians, who were tied for the best record in the league. They ran out of gas against the Indians, but they never would have appeared in Jacobs Field in October if Torre hadn’t gotten them there.

Joe Torre didn’t sign Roger Clemens, Brian Cashman did. Joe Torre didn’t force Jason Giambi to take steroids and ruin his career. Against the Indians, Joe Torre didn’t cause the Yankees to strike out 35 times and force Jeter, Posada, and Matsui to combine for a only 11 hits in the division series. The players lost the series. The Yankees were out-pitched, out-hit and outclassed by a vastly better team. Clemens was old and hurt. Mussina was just plain old. Alex Rodriguez was barely better than worthless.

And very possibly the classiest man to ever wear the uniform will be unceremoniously dumped. As a Red Sox fan I’m thrilled. The Yankees are going to SUCK for the next few years. ARod is gone. Posada, Rivera, Giambi, Clemens, Mussina, all will be history over the winter, many of them jumping ship in part because their leader will have been dumped. This will be great for the Red Sox, but as a baseball fan, I’m nauseated.

Farewell, Mr. Torre. You were always a class act, and you’ll be missed.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

ALDS Game 3: Checking out early from Hotel California

In 2004, David Ortiz completed a sweep of the Angels in the AL Division Series with a monster homer at Fenway. Today, Big Papi got things started in the fourth inning with a monster home run off Jered Weaver at Angel Stadium. After that, it was Manny’s turn to take Weaver deep. Although it was only 2-0 at the time, the game was over that fast. The 7-run 8th inning was just piling on. Curt Schilling put all his skills on display today. He didn’t have great stuff, especially early on. In the first couple innings he was a little wild within the strike zone, though he never allowed the Angels to score. It helped that Los Angeles / Anaheim / SoCal couldn’t get men on base, and therefore couldn’t move them over, much less get them in. Schill did his job, and once again cemented his reputation as one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time.

In retrospect, it’s clear that we faced the Angels at the right time. They were tired, banged up and playing at much less than full strength, but that’s what happens after a long, tough season. You work with what you’ve got. The Red Sox were just flat out better, period, full stop. No different than Colorado vs the Phillies and Arizona vs. the Cubs. Tonight we’ll see if it’s going to be four sweeps in four division series.

I have a friend who is a member in good standing of the BBWAA. When it comes time for voters to consider Curt Schilling’s resume for Cooperstown, what he accomplished when the calendar read “October” should be exhibit A. Great players become even better when it matters most. (a point of particular note to Alex Rodriguez)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

ALDS Game 2: Man oh Manny

It was a matter of time. You keep walking David Ortiz, and Manny is going to burn you. Manny Ramirez is what ballplayers call a "Christmas Day Hitter"; he can get into the batter's box on Christmas Day and hit. The strained oblique muscle that took him out of action for the end of August and most of September appears to have cleared up, and the timing of his recovery has punished the Southern California Angels.

Let's talk about the pitching, Daisuke Matsuzaka specifically. He's got a bulldog's tenacity, a la Orel Hershiser. What he doesn't appear to have is Hershiser's control. When he's on, he pounds the strike zone with all his pitches. Otherwise, he's a "power nibbler", as the broadcasting team said last night. If you can't demonstrate mastery of the strike zone, umpires won't give you the corners. Josh Beckett is the perfect example. He was able to stretch the zone in game 1 because he showed that he was locating his pitches. Dice-K fought hard, but he was doing a hire wire act through his entire appearance, and he's shown a lot of that. In a critical situation against a better lineup (read: Cleveland), I'm a little concerned.

Then there's the bullpen. 4 1/3 innings last night. No runs, no hits, 4 K's. That's a shutdown performance, and the way Francona spread out the workload means that nobody's unavailable Sunday in Game 3. Curt Schilling vs. Jered Weaver. 3pm Eastern.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Indians up two games to none

Before the Indians-Yankees series started, I had an email conversation with a friend and former colleague who also happens to be a Yankee fan. I posed to him what I suspected were going to be some of the key questions in this series. A few already appear to getting answered:

-Can the Yankees' starters remain effective enough to keep the bullpen fresh?
Not really, no. Even Andy Pettitte's game 2 brilliance didn't save them.

-Can they control Sizemore and Hafner?
Evidently not. Sizemore's hitting .375 after two games, and Hafner won game 2 with a blistered single to right in the 11th inning.

-Can the bullpen be effective if/when it's called upon?
That would be no. In game 1, Ross Ohlendorf allowed 4 hits and 3 runs in 1 inning, and Phil Hughes gave up a pivotal HR to Ryan Garko. The bullpen was better in game 2, until it wasn't. There's a reason why Luis Vizcaino has pitched for 4 teams in 4 years....

-Can Messrs Sabathia and Carmona shut down the Yankee offense, specifically Jeter and ARod?
Yes. Jeter and ARod are a combined 1 for 14 after two games.

-Will the Indians be spooked by the bright lights of the post-season?
Clearly not.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

ALDS Game 1: Dominance

Short of a no-hitter, it just doesn’t get any better than what Josh Beckett did to the Los Angeles, Anaheim and all of Southern California Angels tonight. John Lackey’s inability to get people out was very much a secondary story to the performance put on by #19. In any series, game 1 is important. In a short series, game 1 is critical. Beckett didn’t just beat the Angels, he demoralized them. Mike Scioscia has to be aware that even if they have the ability to come back and make it a five game series, Game Five will be at Fenway, and it will be Beckett vs. Lackey again. Right now, I just don’t see a Game Five in this series. I think the Red Sox will return to Fenway, though, because they’ll have home field advantage for the ALCS.

Cal Ripken put it well tonight. What would he do if he were stepping in to face Beckett? “Stand up real close to the plate and hope he hits me”.

In the meantime, I don’t understand how the Rockies are so good, but they clearly are. In fact, nobody in the National League really frightens me. They’re all deeply flawed. The Rockies, Phillies, Cubbies and Diamondbacks are playing for the right to lose to the AL champion.

El Tiante's 2007 Awards

American League:

MVP: Alex Rodriguez, NYY; Honorable Mention: Magglio Ordonez, Detroit

Cy Young: Josh Beckett, Boston; Honorable Mention: Chien-Ming Wang, NYY and CC Sabathia, Cleveland

Rookie: Dustin Pedroia, Boston; Honorable Mention: Delmon Young, Tampa Bay

Manager: Joe Torre, NYY; Honorable Mention: Eric Wedge, Cleveland

Comeback: Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay; Honorable Mention: Sammy Sosa, Texas

Biggest Disappointments: Chicago White Sox and J.D. Drew

Best stories: Clay Buchholtz’s no-hitter in his second major league start and return of Sammy Sosa to the Rangers after flaming out in Baltimore

National League:

MVP: Matt Holliday, Colorado; Honorable Mention : Prince Fielder, Milwaukee, Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia

Cy Young: Jake Peavy, San Diego; Honorable Mention: Brandon Webb, Arizona

Rookie: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee; Honorable Mention: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado

Manager: Lou Piniella, Chicago Cubs; Honorable Mention: Bob Melvin, Arizona and Clint Hurdle, Colorado

Comeback: Dmitri Young, Nationals; Honorable Mention: Rick Ankiel, St. Louis

Biggest Disappointments: The New York Mets, Barry Zito, the New York Mets and the New York Mets. Also, the New York Mets.

Best stories: Rick Ankiel’s comeback as a power-hitting outfielder, Mets collapse and Phillies division championship

Friday, September 28, 2007

AL EAST CHAMPS Looking toward October

As I write this, the Red Sox have just defeated the Twins 5-2, and the Yankees have blown another lead and lost in 10 innings on a squeeze play to the Orioles. The Red Sox are 2007 AL East champs! It appears Boston will be facing the Angels in the Division Series. Both the Angels and Indians are terrific teams. In the post-season, especially in short series, I’m of the belief that it comes down to three factors: pitching, experience and home field advantage. The Indians appear to have better pitching, but the Angels have been here before, they’ve got veteran leadership, and one of the league’s best managers in Mike Scioscia. If the Sox finish with the better record, which is likely, home field advantage will be crucial. So here’s how I think the Red Sox match up with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Disneyland and much of Southern California.

Starting pitching:
Red Sox: Josh (2007 Cy Young Award) Beckett, Curt (Mr. October) Schilling and Daisuke (2007 Rookie Pitcher of the Year) Matsuzaka will be one through three, with Tim (The only guy left who remembers Kevin Kennedy) Wakefield the fourth starter if necessary. Add it up. That’s 60 wins. Is there another rotation in the league better? No.

Angels: Lackey, Escobar, Weaver, Colon. Not too shabby. John Lackey and his 3.11 ERA will get a bunch of Cy Young votes. Kelvim Escobar throws gas and has exceptional control, but he’s returning from an injury, and nobody knows what he’s got right now. Jered Weaver is immensely talented, but he’s been tiring recently. The Angels’ biggest concern is their pitching, and it starts with the starters. Edge: Red Sox

Relief pitching:
Red Sox: From April to July, they were untouchable. Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon were almost literally unhittable. From mid-July through the beginning of September, the bullpen grew tired and achy. Eric Gagne was flat-out awful, and I wouldn’t be upset if he’s left off the post-season roster. But Okajima has returned, Tavarez will be joined by Jon Lester as a middle inning eater if necessary, and as long as Papelbon is his typical lights-out self, he can make all the difference.

Angels: The bullpen has always been the Angels’ strength in their glory years, culminating with KRod. This year, it hasn’t been so dependable. The Angels bullpen has a combined ERA over 4.00, 8th in the league. KRod is still KRod. It’s going to come down to the setup guys, specifically Scot Shields, Justin Speier and old man Darren Oliver. This could be the Achilles heel that dooms them or (literally) saves them. The numbers make you wonder. Edge: Red Sox

Red Sox: They lead the league in walks with the bases loaded. They’re patient, but there are big honkin’ holes in this lineup. These are not your father’s Boston Bashers. Julio Lugo runs hot and cold. Coco Crisp does, too, and he’s been hurt. Manny has never really been MANNY this year. The only three guys you can depend on day in and day out are Big Papi,, who admits his knees are killing him, Mike (Team MVP) Lowell and Dustin (2007 Rookie of the Year) Pedroia. After that, I’m not confident. They can nickel and dime teams to death, but it’s going to come down to one guy to be the tipping point in this offense, and that guy is J.D. Drew. Gulp.

Angels: Seven starters hit .290 or better. Only 1 guy has more than 90 strikeouts (Boston has 4 over 100). Their on base percentage as a team reads like a Moneyball dream. Three Angels have 20 or more stolen bases, and even Gary Mathews, Jr has 18. These are Mike Scioscia’s go-go Angels. They take the extra base, they put pressure on the pitcher and catcher by running when they can, and they’re unselfish. Orlando Cabrera, Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero, Garrett Anderson and Gary Mathews, Jr. They don’t have the pop of the Red Sox, but they’re more balanced, and more aggressive. That matters in October. Edge: Angels

Red Sox: Terry Francona has established himself as one of the best, most patient managers in Red Sox history. He’s a true player’s manager. He handles the delicate veteran egos of the Schillings and Mannys, he pumps up the kids, he never, ever shows up his players, and he handles the pitching staff as well as any Red Sox manager I’ve ever seen. What many people don’t remember about 2004 is the lineup of managers that Francona went up against in order: Scioscia, Torre and LaRussa. As of today, I’d daresay that two of them should be locks for the Hall of Fame, and the other isn’t going to be far behind.

Angels: Mike Scioscia is the prototypical smart and gritty catcher turned brilliant manager, a la Birdie Tebbets and Joe Torre. He handles the Angels the way he used to handle his Dodger pitching staffs. He never lets up. Although I thought he was completely out of line at the time, I had to admire the way he didn’t back down last year when he went up against former manager Frank Robinson of the Nationals. He’s classic old school, and along with Torre and Francona, there isn’t a better manager in the league. Players play hard for him, or they sit.

Edge: Even

Prediction: It’s October. It comes down to pitching and experience. Home field advantage and the bullpens are going to tip the balance here, and so I give it to the Red Sox in 4.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Red Sox 13, Blue Jays 10

Last night was my second visit to Fenway this year for a game. This was the annual game where I take my stepson Marc. Last year, he and I sat through the excruciatingly painful 5+ hour, second game of a doubleheader in the midst of the 5 game Yankee sweep. That sweep effectively ended the Red Sox 2006 season. This year was different in a whole lot of ways. In the morning, Marc and I enjoyed a free tour of Fenway, which was a surprise I had waiting for him. It was one of the fun perks of my Red Sox Nation membership. Now that I’ve seen the field from there, I HAVE to see a game from the Monster Seats. They could be the best seats in all of major league baseball.

Daisuke Matsuzaka started last night for the Red Sox, and when the Jays scored their first run on back to back doubles in the top of the first, I leaned over to Marc and said “Buckle up. This is going to be a high-scoring game.”. Sure enough, in the Sox’ half of the first, Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single, followed by a Dustin Pedroia single. These two seemed to be on base all night for Boston. With men on first and second and nobody out, Mike Lowell lined a shot into the Monster Seats, and the fireworks show was on. Boston went on to score another 2 in the third, again led by Ellsbury and Pedroia, and sent Toronto starter Jesse Litsch to the showers in the fourth, also teeing off on reliever Joe Kennedy for a combined 5 runs. I reminded Marc that we used to beat Kennedy like a rented mule when he was a starter for Tampa Bay, so last night’s performance was just about normal. End of 4, it’s 10-1 Red Sox, Dice K’s, cruising with a strike percentage north of 80%, and it’s looking like a laugher.

Then a strange thing happened: Matsuzaka-san suddenly and completely ran out of gas after 5 innings. He came out to start the top of the 6th, and inexplicably, he went from overpowering to batting practice. Troy Glaus launched a 3-run HR into the Red Sox bullpen, and before Terry Francona could get anyone warm in time, it was a ballgame. What Francona did at the time made some sense: he brought in lefty specialist Javier (The Other Javy) Lopez. The problem was, Lopez couldn’t throw strikes, and when he did, I could have hit him. He faced three batters, retired nobody, let the two inherited runners score (closing the book on Dice K), and allowed two runs of his own on a Matt Stairs 2-run double. Technically, Lopez was charged with two, but he really allowed four. Manny Delcarmen had to come put the fire out, and by the time he did, Toronto had scored 8 runs, and the 10-1 blowout was suddenly a 10-9 ballgame.

Marc turned to me and said “Wow, I guess you weren’t kidding. This is high scoring”. Somehow, even with the horrendous Toronto 6th, the Red Sox never really lost control of the game. They came right back with three runs in the bottom of the 6th to take back momentum. Hideki Okajima coming in after Delcarmen to give Boston another solid bullpen inning helped, too. Everyone in the park knew that Papelbon would be ready to pitch the 9th, and that would shut the door on what the late Ned Martin would have called a “wild and wooly ballgame”.

He did just that, blowing away Aaron Hill and Greg Zaun with 96 mph smoke, and inducing a weak popup to third to end the game.

I’m not sure what the deal is with Dice K. I think it’s important to remember that it’s got to be a much bigger acclimation process to Major League Baseball in the US after being the Big Man in Japan than we’re appreciating. It’s not easy: new league, new stadiums, a 5 man rotation instead of 6, a new ball, new players, new culture. Still, he’s routinely running into high pitch counts, and that one deadly inning per start where he has a tendency to lose his poise. I don’t think that’s cultural. I’m not sure what it is. In either case, we’re going to need him over the next 6-8 weeks.

Here’s also hoping that Manny Ramirez gets healthy soon and Kevin Youkilis snaps out of his recent slump.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Clay Buchholtz

In April of 1967, Billy Rohr of the Red Sox flirted with a no-hitter in his first major league start, in Yankee Stadium. Carl Yastrzemski made a memorable, diving catch in left to open the ninth and preserve the no-hit attempt. Two batters later, Elston Howard killed Rohr’s bid for baseball history with a clean single to right.

Tonight, Clay Buchholtz finished the job, in his second major league start! I really don’t believe I’ve ever seen a better pitched game in my life. Clemens’ two 20 K games, Pedro’s 17 strikeout, 1-hit masterpiece in Yankee Stadium, Hideo Nomo and Derek Lowe’s no-no’s, Curt Schilling’s 1-hitter earlier this year, they were all outstanding. This one certainly sits up there in the pantheon. Buchholtz’s offspeed stuff, especially his nasty changeup, made him literally unhittable. It should also be noted that Jason Varitek called a great game, and he once again showed why he’s the best in the business.

The irony is that if Tim Wakefield hadn’t been hurt, tonight probably never would have happened. What’s reassuring for the future is that Buchholtz’s performance tonight wasn’t a freak occurrence. He has legitimate major league stuff, with three “plus” pitches: his fastball, curve and especially his changeup are all much better than average, and should seriously concern future Red Sox opponents. World, meet Clay Buchholtz. He could be around, making your life miserable, for a long time…..

Just imagine, Red Sox fans: Next year’s rotation is likely to be:
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Josh Beckett
Clay Buchholtz
Tim Wakefield
John Lester

With Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima helping to set up for Jonathan Papelbon.

Of course, we should enjoy the rest of this year first, I think. I’m going to be at Fenway with my stepson Marc on Monday, probably seeing Dice K, who also isn’t a bad rookie.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Red Sox Nation Paranoia

There’s a problem with Red Sox Nation (alright, some of you, calm down, and stop yelling “JUST ONE???). Some of us appear to have absolutely zero sense of baseball perspective and rationality in the heat of battle. Back at the beginning of June, when the Yankees were 382 ½ games out of first place, a bunch of brain-dead Boston columnists (no, Dan Shaughnessy, Eric Wilbur and Tony Maserotti, I can’t possibly be talking about you) were crowing to the hilltops that the race was over, you could start printing playoff tickets (or World Series, if you like), the Yankees were dead and buried, and gee, spring training 2008 was just around the corner, wasn’t it? Heh heh heh.

Only one problem; it was fucking JUNE, and the regular season extends (gasp) all the way to the end of SEPTEMBER. And they still have to play those games, even if morons writing for the Boston papers insist it isn’t necessary. And guess what, kids, the Yankees had a dreadful start, but they were still the freakin’ Yankees. And ya know, the guys wearing Red Sox uniforms are actually made of flesh and blood, and are capable of putting up less than Hall of Fame numbers for stretches at a time. 162 games makes for a LONG season, and nobody has ever clinched a playoff spot in May or June. It’s true. Never been done.

Then, you know what happened? The Yankees started playing really well. And the Red Sox played .500 ball for week after week after week, stretching past the All Star break. And the 382 ½ game lead dwindled to 4. Then you know what happened? Red Sox Nation started climbing out on ledges, threatening to jump off because “Oh my God, it’s 1978 all over again, we can’t handle this!”. Don’t jump. Or better yet, please do. If it takes that little to turn you into a quivering, neurotic puddle of protoplasm, perhaps you should jump. Or start following professional wrestling. But put your pink Red Sox hat away with your “I love Johnny Damon / Trot Nixon / Gabe Kapler cuz he’s so damn babealicious” t-shirt along with your home jersey that has the name stitched on the back (God, I HATE those) and go root for Tom Brady or some other machine. Leave the rest of us alone.

So now, we’re in what’s shaping up to be a real pennant race. I still like our chances. We still have better starting pitching. Beckett, Dice-K, Schilling, Wake and Lester are doing just fine, and New Yorkers are learning that Clemens was as much of a slam dunk as the weapons of mass destruction. We still have a deeper bullpen. That was Mariano Rivera that gave up 3 runs to the Orioles in the 10th inning at Yankee Stadium and kicked away a game New York should have won. And please to be shutting the fuck up about Eric Gagne. Did you know he won a Cy Young Award? News flash: He’s a pretty good pitcher. Fear not: he’ll help us out a lot more times than he’ll give games away. I know, I know, he’s lost three games all by himself. True that. But I have to believe he’s going to be worth it. The guy I trust the most here is Terry Francona. If he thinks Gagne can still do it, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

We have two, and some would posit three, legitimate Rookie of the Year candidates in Dustin Pedroia (who should be handling the duties at 2B for the next 10 years or so), Hideki (Okie Dokie) Okajima, and of course Daisuke Matsuzaka. It’s entirely possible that Clay Bucholtz could be *next year’s* leading Rookie of the Year candidate.

But David Ortiz isn’t hitting 59 homers this year! Correct. He’s hurt. Has been for most of the season. And amazingly, he’s still hitting over .300. I’ll take David Ortiz at 60% over most DH’s in the league at 100% any day. Manny still bothers the shit out of me, but he’s Manny. I just wince a lot, and remember how much I love Cami and Harry. They’re the best, most adorable dogs in the world, but their farts (especially Harry’s) can still clear a room.

We’re better defensively. Even with Julio Lugo at short, we probably have one of the best defensive infields in the league. Have you noticed that? If Coco Crisp does NOT win the Gold Glove for his work in CF this year, perhaps an NBA ref made sure the fix was in ahead of time.

Eric Hinske, Alex Cora and Doug Mirabelli are perfectly adequate off the bench. Remember, Wily Mo Pena is gone! So relax. The Red Sox are a better team, they’re probably going to win the AL East, and have time enough to situate the rotation as Francona will need for the playoffs. And it will feel great. Sit down. Have a drink. Here, watch some Beckett, Papelbon, Okajima, Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell highlights. It’s going to be ok.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Down the stretch they come!

The Red Sox are in very good shape, though I still think it’s a bit early to start printing playoff tickets. They need to put together a better stretch of ball than they’ve shown recently. Beckett, Dice-K, Schilling and Tim Wakefield still constitute perhaps the strongest 1-4 rotation in the game. The bullpen is, hands down, the best in the business with Papelbon as the anchor, and adding Eric Gagne has given Francona options that would make Joe Torre start drooling into his sunflower seeds.

But a strange, perplexing dilemma remains: the lineup. Granted, Mike Lowell has been Mister Consistency at third, and Dustin Pedroia is everything Boston hoped for when they drafted him out of Arizona State. Kevin Youkilis is, well, Kevin Youkilis. The weird part is that neither Manny nor Ortiz has produced anywhere near the power numbers they should have by now, and they haven’t put together that one torrid month of “uh oh, you can’t pitch to either of these guys right now” production that everyone expects. It would be fun if that Magic Month ended up being October, though, wouldn’t it? JD Drew has shown only fleeting glimpse of the guy we were told we’d see when he came over from the Dodgers. And yes indeedy, he’s still injury prone. Not a big surprise there. My kingdom for a solid #5 hitter. Julio Lugo is still, by and large, an offensive black hole, and mostly average defensively at short. And do NOT get me started on Wily Mo (Fastball, I hit very much. Bats see curveball, they are afraid) Peña. This is the conversation I wouldn’t mind Theo Epstein having with someone soon.

“Hi, opposing GM? How are you? This is Theo Epstein. Good, thanks. Hey, I’d like to unload Wily Mo Peña. What would you give me for him? A bucket of baseballs? Are they new? Excellent! You’ve got yourself a deal.”

For everyone who wants to rant that the Red Sox made a horrible move in trading Bronson Arroyo for the second coming of Pablo Serrano, I’d remind you that Bronson Arroyo is 4-12 for a team that’s currently 17 games under .500. Yes, the Reds are bad. However, in his last start against the lowly Nationals, Arroyo allowed seven earned runs on seven hits and threw just 56 pitches over 1 2/3 innings. That’s against the Washington Nationals. He didn’t get out of the second inning. So perhaps the deal was closer to a wash than we thought at the time. No matter. If we don’t have room for Kason Gabbard, we wouldn’t be able to give Bronson Arroyo many innings, either.

Still, I’ll take this team they way it looks right now. I think Joe Torre deserves manager of the year consideration with the patchwork quilt he’s had to construct this year in New York, but his bullpen is being held together with spit and bailing wire, and even the most die-hard Yankee fan knows it. ARod can hit all the homers he wants, but unless he develops a nasty slider to get opposing hitters out in the 7th and 8th innings, I just don’t see that team getting very far. A wild card appearance would be a huge triumph for them, and that is probably all they’re going to get. In October, we well know, it’s all about pitching.

Who scares me in the American League when I start projecting playoff matchups? The Indians (Sabathia, Westbrook and Carmona) and especially the Mariners (Washburn, Hernandez and Putz) . Both those teams play like they’ve got absolutely nothing to lose, and they both look like they could catch fire at the end of the season, a la last year’s Cardinals. That worries me. We won’t be able to afford Manny running into outs on the basepaths, Drew and Lugo giving away at bats, or Matsuzaka becoming mediocre for an inning against solid, fundamentally sound playoff teams. In some ways, we’re all still riding on the propulsion of a great April and May. It’s now almost mid-August. Time to turn on the next rocket stage and boost this team into a new altitude. Schill’s had his vacation, and Dice-K’s had his orientation to American baseball. This team is either going to earn or blow its collective salaries between Labor Day and Halloween, and barring some miraculous waiver wire deal in the next few weeks, it’s going to happen with the guys currently in the clubhouse. I’m hoping that 2007 will be another season to remember.

Who is El Tiante?

Luis Tiant. Born on November 23, 1940 in Cuba. His father was a terrific baseball player. A pitcher, in fact. Probably better than Luis. Luis came to the US and made his major league debut for the Cleveland Indians a couple months before I was born. July 19, 1964. Threw a complete game shutout against the Yankees. Struck out 11, gave up 4 hits, and got the win. That was the first time he’d ever been on a major league mound. At Yankee Stadium. He beat Whitey Ford 3-0. You can look it up.

Luis Tiant went on to win another 228 games in a career that lasted 19 years. He retired with a lifetime 229-172 record, and a lifetime ERA of 3.30. Struck out 2416, walked 1104 and allowed a little over 3000 hits in just a shade under 3500 innings. Led his league in ERA twice. Want to compare his numbers to someone? Try Catfish Hunter and Jim Bunning. Luis is right there. I’m of the belief that El Tiante should be in Cooperstown.

His single most dominant year was 1968 with the Indians, but after he hurt his arm and was thought to be washed up, the Red Sox picked him up for a song in 1971. Over the next 8 years, wearing #23, Luis Tiant became the darling of Red Sox fans everywhere. He won 20 or more games 3 times, and in the magical year of 1975, combined with Fred Lynn, Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk to lift the team on his shoulders and carry them to one of the most glorious season-long rides that Red Sox fans ever saw.

His numbers aren’t why I (and many others) love Luis Tiant, though. He had personality. He had flair. The Spanish term for what Luis Tiant brought to the mound is “duende”; a style, passion, authenticity and soul that can’t be quantified. His delivery was a twisting, syncopated, corkscrew motion that sometimes included a quick glance at the top of his windup toward to the heavens, perhaps to make sure God was watching what El Tiante was about to deliver to the hitter. More on his delivery in a minute. The press loved Tiant because he was eternally quotable before and after games. He was always seen with a thick Cuban cigar in his mouth. He was the clubhouse prankster, but nobody wanted to win more than El Tiante.

"If we lose today, it will be over my dead body. They'll have to leave me face down on the mound.” --Luis Tiant

"The fastball is the best pitch in baseball. It's like having five pitches, if you move it around." --Luis Tiant

The best quotes, though, were the ones said about him.

"If a man put a gun to my head and said I'm going to pull the trigger if you lose this game, I'd want Luis Tiant to pitch that game." - Red Sox Manager Darrell Johnson

"I've never heard anything like that ("Loo-Eee, Loo-Eee, Loo-Eee" chanting in Fenway Park) in my life. But I'll tell you one thing: Tiant deserved every bit of it."
--Carl Yastrzemski

"Unless you've played with him, you can't understand what Luis Tiant means to a team." - Teammate Dwight Evans

I saw Tiant pitch a bunch of times at Fenway, but in his book “Five Seasons”, the great sportswriter Roger Angell put into words better than I ever could what it was like to actually watch Luis Tiant on the mound:
1) Call the Osteopath: In midpitch the man suffers an agonizing seizure in the central cervical region, which he attempts to fight off with a sharp backward twist of the head.
2) Out of the Woodshed: Just before releasing the ball he steps over a raised sill and simultaneously ducks his head to avoid conking it on the low doorframe.
3) The Runaway Taxi: Before the pivot, he sees a vehicle bearing down on him at top speed, and pulls back his entire upper body just in time to avoid a nasty accident.
4) Falling Off the Fence: An attack of vertigo nearly causes him to topple over backward on the mound. Strongly suggests a careless dude on the top rung of the corral.
5) The Slipper-Kick: In midpitch, he surprisingly decides to get rid of his left shoe.
6) The Low-Flying Plane (a subtle development and amalgam of 1, 3, and 4. above): While he is pivoting, an F-I05 buzzes the ball park, passing over the infield from the third-base to the first-base side at a height of eight feet. He follows it all the way with his eyes.

So that’s a little bit about why this blog is named after the man. It’s not going to be completely about the Red Sox (though a lot of it will be). It will also be about the greater baseball world, and sports beyond (gasp!!) baseball.

I hope it’s fun!