Saturday, December 27, 2008

Red Sox offseason - 2008-2009

The Red Sox were outplayed by the Rays in the ALCS and now they’ve been completely outclassed by the Yankees in the offseason. The first one was a mild surprise, but the second one shouldn’t have been. If you think it is, you’re not paying attention. Since the advent of the free agent era, the Yankees have signed nearly every free agent they’ve set their minds to acquiring. From Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson, and Bernie Williams through Jose Contreras, Carl Pavano, Mike Mussina, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon, the Evil Empire cannot and will not be outspent. This winter, they committed $423 million to three players: CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixiera. That’s closing in on half a BILLION dollars. On three players. Three. Burnett is as fragile as spun glass. Sabathia is a Wendy’s triple combo meal from outweighing an NFL offensive lineman, though I must admit Orlando Pace doesn’t have a very good changeup. Mark Teixiera is, well, very, very good.

If you look at the Yankees’ history, some of the signings were brilliant (Reggie, Bernie and Mussina) while others were downright boneheaded (Pavano, Kei Igawa, Jaret Wright) However, the wisdom of the signings or the dollars doled out aren’t the point. The lesson the Red Sox should learn is much simpler: stop competing with New York for the mega-dollar free agents. Stick to the mantra of building the team the way it’s been done successfully in the Theo Epstein era: research smart trades, continue the shrewd drafting, consider signing more affordable, mid-level free agents (familiar with this guy?) and keep concentrating on solid player development. Every now and then, they’re going to nab a big, key free agent (Foulke, Schilling, Dice-K), but if the Yankees are in the mix and really want the guy, the Red Sox (and everyone else, for that matter) are going to lose every single time. Bidding wars are pointless and futile, so stop getting into the no-win battles.
Also, some of the big free agent signings aren’t going to pan out the way you’d like. JD Drew is a decent, serviceable outfielder, but he's AJ Burnett's brother in durability. Do you really think $70 million for five years was wise? Also, can you say Edgar Renteria? How about Julio Lugo? Let’s not do that again, ok?

The core of the new millennium Red Sox is home grown: Youk, MVP Kid Dustin Pedroia, No-hitter survivor Jon Lester, Bostonian Manny Delcarmen and Championship Jigmaster Papelbon. The next two waves are either already here or very soon on their way: Buchholz, Ellsbury, Masterson and Lowrie are here already. Michael Bowden, Daniel Bard, Josh Reddick, Junichi Tazawa and Lars Anderson are part of the coming attractions. This isn’t a new concept: the Minnesota Twins and Florida Marlins, who didn’t have the financial wherewithal to compete with any rich teams, built World Series champions this way. The Tampa Bay Rays used this exact philosophy to build the 2008 American League championship team. I’m pissed off that the Sox couldn’t sign Teixiera, but not surprised. We’re rich, but not Yankee rich. What we are, though, is stocked with young talent. Don’t panic. Seeing Mark Teixiera wearing #25 in pinstripes will suck, but it’s not the end of the world. The Red Sox remain very good, and are only a few pieces away from domination again.

Here’s what has to happen between now and opening day:

• Settle the catching question. Either give Jason Varitek a sane offer or pull off a trade for a young catcher such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden or Miguel Montero. It might cost us Clay Buchholz, but would you rather do that, or go back to the Rich Gedman/Mike Stanley/Bob Montgomery days?
• Grab one more starter. Post-Christmas deals are available out there for folks like John Smoltz, Andy Pettitte and Brad Penny. It’ll cost barely more than the Sox paid for Bartolo Colon, and could yield far better dividends.
• A solid bat: If we had signed Teixiera, this wouldn’t be a problem, but nobody knows how healthy David Ortiz and Mike Lowell will be, and Lars Anderson isn’t ready yet. This might require a trade. Or not. See below.
• Another outfielder: everyone’s talking about Rocco Baldelli. Yeah, maybe. Fourth outfielders are a dime a dozen. Dozens of choices remain out there on the bargain basement shelf. Personally, I think Bobby Abreu might look good with “Red Sox” across his chest, and I can’t imagine he’ll be in Teixiera’s contract neighborhood.
• Extend Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon to long-term deals. Look, we locked up new MVP Dustin Pedroia for a multi-year deal before he could hit the open market and become Yankee/Met/Angels-eligible. The same needs to be done for Youkilis, Lester and Papelbon, for less than the total money that would have been spent on Teixiera. We can’t lose those guys. They’re far too important. That’s one of the secrets of the Tampa Bay Rays: They signed Evan Longoria to a grown-up contract right away: what seemed silly at the time is now brilliant. No matter what you pay when they’re young is a screaming deal compared to what will happen when “Scott Boras” is attached to their name in news stories.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

2008 ALCS after game 2

When Terry Francona set his ALCS rotation against the Rays, his logic was that the starters for games 1-3 would also start games 5-7. With last night’s extra-inning loss, Dice-K is now guaranteed for game 5, which would be the final series game at Fenway Park. The problem now is Josh Beckett. What we saw last night is that, for whatever reason, Beckett is not quite right. Either he’s still hurt or just isn’t sharp. Whichever it is, unless Boston sweeps the next three games, we’re looking at Beckett starting game 6, back at Tropicana Field next Saturday. It’s also entirely possible that the season will be on the line.

Dilemma #1: Do you want last night’s version of Josh Beckett starting that do-or-die game? If he was vintage 2007 Beckett, hell yeah. If it’s the Josh Beckett we’ve seen recently, not so much. The alternative would be to put Paul Byrd on the hill, which might conceivably be no better, and possibly much worse.

Dilemma #2: In the postseason, David Ortiz has 4 hits, no homers and 1 RBI in 23 at bats. He’s 0 for the ALCS. Jason Varitek is hitting .143 in the postseason. Jacoby Ellsbury is .207 in the same time period, with an on base percentage of .258. This is when you expect to face superior pitching, and although Pedroia, Youkilis and Bay are doing their part, the rest of the team has been handcuffed. What options do hitting coach Dave Magadan and manager Terry Francona have at their disposal? Not many. At this point, the lineup is set, and replacing Ortiz, ‘Tek and Ellsbury in the batting order with Sean Casey, Kevin Cash and Coco Crisp won’t improve the offense.

It’s still all about pitching, so seeing Jon Lester taking the mound for game 4 is hugely reassuring for Red Sox faithful. His tendency to get his team into the late innings will help take some pressure off the bullpen, and (I sincerely hope) keep Mike Timlin off the mound in important situations.

Friday, October 10, 2008

2008 ALCS Preview

Ok, so I was wrong about the ALDS. I expected the Angels to actually show up, and they didn’t. I did say that if the Red Sox beat the Angels, they’re in the World Series, and I stand by that. This is not to denigrate the Rays. This Tampa Bay Rays team is good. They’re young, hungry, talented and athletic. Their starting pitching is superb, their bullpen, always the traditional Achilles heel, is as good as anyone’s. Joe Maddon has them believing, and it’s been clear all year that nobody intimidates them. They’ve handled everyone and everything thrown in their way.

I’m picking the Red Sox for a couple reasons. One, my heart says I can’t bear to see my beloved Sox get dropped on the doorstep to the World Series by the freakin’ Tampa Bay Rays, of all teams. And two, the Red Sox have a seemingly endless supply of guts. Since the night that Aaron Boone took Tim Wakefield deep in October of 2003, the Red Sox have shown a wire tough resiliency in the face of all challenges. Overcoming decades of futility, bad play and bad luck to win in 2004 changed everything. Since then, Francona’s gang has had it figured out.

The St. Louis Cardinals were, on paper, a far better team than the Red Sox in the fall of 2004, and the Sox disposed of them as if they were the Washington Generals against the Globetrotters. Pujols, Walker, Rolen and company looked anemic. In October, pitching always wins. In 2007, the Indians were deep, tough, and also not the least bit intimidated by the AL East champion Red Sox, and with Josh Beckett’s help, Boston outlasted them. In the World Series, the Rockies weren’t a better team, but they came in white hot. The Red Sox put up an impregnable stone wall of pitching, and shut the Rockies down cold.

In the postseason, it’s always all about pitching and defense, and also the most intangible factor, toughness. The Red Sox know what is needed. Against the Angels, the heroes weren’t Pedroia, Youkilis and Ortiz. Game 4 was won in the bottom of the ninth by Jason Bay and Jed Lowrie, two guys who weren’t even regulars on the roster until after the All Star break (Lowrie had made early season appearances, but it wasn’t until Julio Lugo was hurt that he became a fixture). In ALDS Game 2, Bay and JD Drew both homered, and remember that Drew was a guy who hadn’t played all of September. What the Red Sox lineup does, and has been doing for most of the past five years, is exhaust opposing pitchers. They’re patient. They take more pitches per at bat than any other team, and in so doing stretch each inning, each rally, and make it harder for the opposing starting pitcher to get into and stay in comfortable grooves. When each pitch matters that much more, the Red Sox lunge at bad pitches that much less frequently (I constantly rail against “giving away at bats” by swinging at bad pitches). Mike Lowell won’t be on the ALCS roster, but the rest of the Red Sox roster showed Anaheim that they can succeed even without the 2007 World Series MVP. Combined with solid starting pitching from Dice K, Lester, Beckett and Wakefield, this plate discipline is ultimately going to make the difference against a younger, incrementally more eager Rays team.

In the 2003 ALCS, the Yankees had the confident swagger of a team that had been there before, that knew how to win, and trusted that if they hung in there long enough, the Red Sox would make the critical mistake that would, and did, ultimately cost them. By the 2004 ALCS, Boston was experienced enough to have learned that same lesson, and took advantage of their own newfound mental toughness to claw back from an 0-3 hole to win the league championship. I don’t believe a team can learn mental toughness. I believe you can only develop it via time and experience. Look at the players who were surrounding Michael Jordan on the Bulls. They needed time to “get it”. Same with the New York Giants, leading up to last year’s Super Bowl against the Patriots, or the Patriots leading up their first successful Super Bowl against the Rams. It’s a process, and it doesn’t generally happen the first time you’re in the bright lights. In the end, I think this is what’s going to bring the Red Sox their third American League pennant in five years. It’s not about one “this guy vs. that guy” matchup. It’s about knowing what it takes, and against the Angels, the Red Sox have proven they’re in the right frame of mind.

Prediction: Red Sox in 6.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

2008 Division Series postmortem

• I had picked them to win the National League pennant, but I need to start this post by saying that like so many people in North America, I was suckered onto the Cubs bandwagon like an unwitting rube at a bad carnival attraction. Regardless of what the carny said, the Cubs suck.

• Vladimir Guerrero has become the new Alex Rodriguez: a tremendous talent who becomes an impotent non-entity when it matters in October.

• After further review, the play stands, and the Cubs still suck.

• Manny remains Manny. When he feels like paying attention, he IS the most lethal offensive force in the game, and nobody can stop him.

• Jon Lester is the 2008 version of Josh Beckett. Put him on the mound, and he’s automatic. Just imagine if 2007 vintage Beckett shows up against Tampa Bay…

• I don’t believe the Phillies can stand up to Manny and the DodgerTones.

• Kudos to the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans. Though this wasn’t their year, they were great fun to watch while it lasted.

• Seriously, there’s no two ways around it. The Cubs flat out suck.

• Those remarkable Tampa Bay Rays are for real. They’re not just a cute, cuddly, freak occurrence. They’re a dangerous bunch.

• Terry Francona, Theo Epstein and the entire Red Sox organization have created an environment where everyone plays hard all the time, nobody hangs their head, and as long as the game isn’t over, it’s never over. That’s why Jason Bay and Mark Kotsay were great pickups, why the Red Sox are in the ALCS, and why the Angels are flying home to Anaheim for the winter. The Red Sox no longer try not to lose. In the new millennium, they play to win.

• The White Sox were lucky just to be in the ALDS, and were completely outclassed by Tampa Bay. Count on heads rolling on the south side of Chicago. Could be worse, though. At least they’ve won the World Series recently, unlike the Cubs, who suck.

• Thanks in large part to Epstein’s organizational philosophies, the Red Sox homegrown youth movement will continue to yield dividends for years to come. Ellsbury, Youkilis, Pedroia, Lowrie, Lester, Masterson, Delcarmen and Papelbon are all critical parts of the machine, all are on the 2008 postseason roster, and none are over 29 years old. Best of all, there’s more talent on the way. This is a very good time to be a Red Sox fan.

• It was a treat to listen to Don Orsillo do the play by play for the White Sox-Rays series on TBS. The guy’s good. Could you imagine him trading off innings in the World Series with the legendary Vin Scully? How cool would that be?

• Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukodome, Ryan Theriot and the rest of the pathetic, choking, infuriating Cubs completely, totally suck. I’m not buying into their “we’re due! It’s finally our year!” bullshit ever again. As far as I’m concerned, they can rot for another hundred years. Hey, eventually we figured out how to win, and then did it again. Count on three immutable truths: death, taxes and the certainty that the Cubs are going to suck.

• If anyone is interested in buying a slightly used Cubs cap and windbreaker, let me know.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

El Tiante's 2008 Posteason Awards

AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Indians 22-3, 2.54, 223 innings, all for a team that was never competitive. A WH/IP of 1.11. Lee may not have been 1972 vintage Steve Carlton, but he was close enough, don’t you think? Honorable mention: Francisco Rodriguez.

AL MVP: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox It helped that Carlos Quentin got hurt, and Josh Hamilton faded. Still, Pedroia was the little engine that could: he led the league in hits, doubles, multi-hit games, finished second in batting average, and by the way, was a gold-glove caliber 2B. He was Mister Spark Plug. Joe Morgan won the MVP in 1975 with an eerily similar resume. What team did Morgan’s Reds beat that year to win the World Series? Wait, it’s on the tip of my tongue.

AL Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria, Rays He’s already close to the best 3B in the game. As Pedroia was for Boston, Longoria was for the Rays. It shouldn’t be a shock that Pedroia won this award last year. I sense a trend. Honorable Mention: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox

AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Rays Are you kidding? Is there even another candidate? I don’t think there’s ever been an easier Manager of the Year choice. If anyone else gets a vote, I’ll be very disappointed.

NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, Giants His 265 strikeouts led the league. Both of them. Second in the majors in ERA. And like Lee’s Indians and Carlton’s Phillies, the Giants y sucked. Honorable Mention: Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks.

NL MVP: Ryan Howard, Phillies Everyone else is telling you it will be Mr. Pujols of the Cardinals, but these are my awards. Howard’s great advantage was that he was a more critical force on a winning team. His 48 HR and 146 RBI both led the majors, and this year you know those numbers definitely didn’t come out of a needle. He’s 100%, certified clean. Without Howard, the Phillies finish behind the Marlins, and Charlie Manuel gets fired. Without Pujols, the Cardinals still finish in 4th place, and, well, nothing else very interesting happens, because Tony LaRussa will never get fired.

NL Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto, Cubs He catches for the Cubs, and he started the All Star game. Can you believe he started 131 games? I mean seriously, he started more games than Varitek, and fewer than Joe Mauer, but Soto’s a ROOKIE. His leadership took a good pitching staff, and made them terrific. That’s good enough for me.

NL Manager of the Year: Lou Piniella, Cubs
Full disclosure: Lou Piniella’s my favorite ex-Yankee not named Gehrig. He also happens to be one of the best managers in the game. He kept this Cubs team focused and playing like a team all year, and they’ve now won the NL Central two years running. No Cubs fan has the nerve to admit this, as it would tempt the baseball gods, but thanks in large part to their rookie catcher and their outstanding manager, the Cubs are the best team in the National League. I’ll say that again: The Chicago Cubs are the best team in the National League.


Two guys who didn’t play an inning this year, and you didn’t miss either one of them:
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. See? If you don’t lie to the investigators, you get to play with the big boys. If you lie, you stay home and watch on TV.

How the mighty have fallen:
The Colorado Rockies, 2007’s darlings, finished this year 14 games under .500, 10 games behind the NL West champion Dodgers.

It’s all relative: As stated above, the Dodgers won the west, but their 84-78 record would have landed them in 5th place in the AL East, 10 games behind the Yankees. Of course, they’re not in the AL East, Joe Torre IS in the postseason, and there’s nothing Hank Steinbrenner or his $208 million can do about it.

El Tiante’s World Series prediction: Angels over the Cubs in 6 exciting, excruciatingly emotional games. Sorry, Cubs fans. 100 years still isn’t enough.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

2008 ALDS preview: Red Sox vs. Angels

The drawback of winning the Wild Card is that you draw the strongest division champion, as long as they’re not in your division. This year that’s going to mean the Angels, and that’s not good news for the Red Sox. This isn’t the same Angels team we swept in both 2004 and 2007. They’re more complete, and they have something personal to prove. Of everyone in the American League, the Red Sox match up worst with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. There’s a reason we’re 1-8 against them this year: they’re the best team in the league, and we’re not. In the 9 games with the Angels, the Red Sox were outhit, outpitched and outplayed. The Angels are the real deal, and if they continue to do what they’ve been doing all year, which is pitch, field and hit with consistency, they could easily turn the tables on the Red Sox and sweep the defending World Series champs in three games (the first two are in Anaheim). In fact, I think the Angels are the best team in baseball, period.

In the postseason, the discussion begins and ends with pitching. The rotation of John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver and John Garland are a combined 69-36. The three likely playoff starters (Lackey, Santana and Saunders) have an average ERA around 3.34. Quality starts are their bread and butter. That eases the workload on the bullpen, and in the ninth inning we all know about K-Rod and his gaudy record of 62 saves and 2.27 ERA. After Cliff Lee, he’d be your likely Cy Young award winner. So their pitching is outstanding.

The lineup is deeper and longer than ever before. Adding Mark Teixeira (13 HR, 42 RBI, 1.089 OPS in only 52 games as an Angel) and Torii Hunter (21, 78, .816 over a whole season) has given Vlad Guerrero the support he’s never had. And remember, offense isn’t the full reason the Angels landed Hunter: there’s no reason to believe he won’t win his 8th consecutive gold glove award this year. With Vlad’s cannon arm in right and Juan Rivera / Garrett Anderson in left, the outfield defense is every bit Boston’s equal.

Boston comes into the series tired and wounded: Count on both Mike Lowell and JD Drew being out. This seriously hamstrings Terry Francona’s ability to tinker with the lineup. Jed Lowrie’s been a great fill in at shortstop, and he should blossom into a terrific shortstop over time, but he is a rookie, and he doesn’t add much pop to the lineup. Jason Varitek isn’t quite so awful offensively, but he still gives away 1-2 at bats a game. Jason Bay was a superb pickup, but he has cooled off some since arriving on the scene midseason. He’ll need to anchor the middle of the order with Kevin Youkilis if Drew and Lowell can’t play a significant role. It’s hard to know which David Ortiz we’re going to see in October, but we know Bay and Youkilis won’t frighten pitchers the way Manny and Lowell did last year, and therefore, the Angels’ starters may not give Big Papi much to hit. In other words, the Angels can pitch around this lineup, which wasn’t possible in either 2004 or 2007. Look, there’s no way around the most obvious point: although Manny Ramirez HAD to be dumped to save the team and the season, his loss is not without its consequences, the biggest of which is a badly weakened lineup. Since the trading deadline, this Red Sox lineup isn’t scoring runs with the ease that they had previously.

The lineup can be a bit schizo, but my biggest concern is the Red Sox pitching. Josh Beckett NEEDS to be the 2007 postseason stud again. Jon Lester NEEDS to be as good as he’s been all season, and Daisuke Matsuzaka NEEDS to stop spending whole innings performing death-defying high wire acts. In his two losses (can you believe he only has two?), he was absolutely shelled. One game was against the Cardinals. I was there, and he didn’t survive the second inning. The other was against these same Angels, at Fenway at the end of July: 5 innings pitched, 6 runs allowed (all earned), 7 hits and two homers, including a 3-run shot off the bat of Mr. Hunter. If he pounds the strike zone and uses all his pitches, Dice K is worth the big bucks. But he doesn’t do that all game, every game, and that could hurt in October. Our emergency starter / long man is likely to be Tim Wakefield, which could be a godsend or a death sentence, depending on the whims of the knuckleball gods on any given night.

The bullpen has been a crapshoot all year, and still, from one game to the next, it remains just like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get. In an October short series, you can’t afford even one Lopez, Aardsma, Okajima or Delcarmen implosion, because if an imperfect bullpen corps follows a sloppy five or six innings from Beckett, Lester or Dice K, that could literally be the ballgame against Los Angeles.

Boston’s battle tested, gutsy, well coached and has enjoyed delicious postseason magic the last couple sojourns into the chilly lights of national television. Dustin Pedroia is a legitimate MVP candidate, and if you give them a chance, the Red Sox can and will hurt you. That said, I don’t see Mike Scioscia’s crew being denied this year. If the first round matchup were against the White Sox or Twins, it’d be a different story, but it’ll take another long, grinding series with too many improbable occurrences to escape this Angels team. If they manage to survive the Angels, I think the Red Sox win the AL pennant, but that’s a big if. I hope I’m wrong, but I think the 2008 season ends here. Sorry.

Prediction: Angels in four games.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Closing the Doors at The House That Ruth Built

Another great old stadium is gone. Of course I’m a Red Sox fan, and of course I hate the Yankees, but I’m not dense. I fully appreciate the loss of Yankee Stadium. It ranks with the Rose Bowl, Churchill Downs and Madison Square Garden among the most important sports arenas anywhere. It’s hosted popes (3 of them), presidents and Pele, maybe the greatest soccer player ever. Nelson Mandela, Billy Joel and Jose Feliciano have played Yankee Stadium. Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey and Muhammed Ali won fights at Yankee Stadium. The greatest football game ever played happened at Yankee Stadium when Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants to win the 1959 NFL championship. Notre Dame and Army both played home games there, too.

No other stadium has its own monument park (which used to be in fair territory). The greatest speech ever made by an athlete was a dying Lou Gehrig’s famous “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” address when Yankee fans paid tribute to him on July 4, 1939. The second greatest sports speech took place there, too (Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper”). Chuck Bednarik of the Philadelphia Eagles ended Frank Gifford’s career at quarterback with a hellacious (but perfectly clean) hit. That was at the Stadium. When Babe Ruth died, his body lay in state at the entrance to the Stadium. Of course, it’s hosted 37 World Series and 26 World Series titles, along with a ridiculous number of Hall of Famers. An abbreviated list of pinstripe immortals includes Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle, Berra, Dickey, Huggins, McCarthy, Stengel, Martin, Jackson, Rizzuto, Ford, and will eventually add Jeter, ARod, Rivera, Torre and Clemens. Three perfect games by Yankee pitchers: David Wells, David Cone, and of course Don Larsen. Nobody else has ever done that in the World Series. That was at Yankee Stadium, too. Jackie Robinson stole home in the World Series, at Yankee Stadium. Reggie Jackson dismantled the LA Dodgers in the World Series with consecutive homers on three at bats, against three different Dodger pitchers. That was, of course, at Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium has boasted the greatest public address announcer in the history of sports, Bob Sheppard. I loved the late Sherm Feller at Fenway, but he wasn’t Bob Sheppard. Yankee Stadium has the Roll Call. Yankee Stadium has The Big Louisville Slugger. Yankee Stadium has the fa├žade. Yankee Stadium has Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” (unless the Yankees lose, in which case it’s Liza Minelli singing it). This was the first baseball venue to be called a “stadium”. Before, there were “parks” (Fenway, Shibe, Forbes), “grounds” (Polo) and “fields” (Wrigley, Crosley. Ebbets). If Fenway is baseball’s Sistine Chapel, Yankee Stadium was baseball’s grand cathedral.

There will be a new stadium hosting the hated Yankees next year, but no matter what it’s called, it’s not going to be The House That Ruth Built. There’s one Carnegie Hall, there’s one Empire State Building, and there’s only one Yankee Stadium.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sox in Sarasota?

I attended my first spring training game when I was about 9 years old. It was 1973, at Payne Park in Sarasota, Florida. The White Sox were hosting the Red Sox. I know the year because I was there with my older brother Kenneth, and he took pictures. I remember meeting Red Sox pitchers Bob Veale and John Curtis. We were in Sarasota because just a couple years earlier, my grandparents had bought a condo in nearby Longboat Key. In the 35 years since, I’ve seen a bunch of spring training games, including the first full year that Carlton Fisk was part of the White Sox, and more recently, at newer Ed Smith Stadium, the spring home of the Cincinnati Reds. Last year the Reds informed the city of Sarasota that they’re heading to Arizona. So who’s seriously interested in picking up stakes and moving their spring operation to Sarasota? That’s right, the Red Sox!

And who’s helping to lead the charge in Sarasota to bring the Red Sox to town, leaving Ft. Myers? Elsie Souza! Who’s Elsie Souza, you say? Elsie is one of the most wonderful women you could ever hope to meet. I’ve known Elsie since I was a very little kid, probably not too long after I attended my first Spring Training game. Elsie’s son Chris and I were in the same carpool together in grade school when I was growing up in New Bedford. I became a big fan of Elsie and her remarkable husband Tony, and have remained in touch off and on over the years. Chris was an incredible kid. Smart, talented, funny, as much of a Red Sox fan as I was, and really just a great product of two fantastic parents. Chris went to Syracuse University, just as I had. At the same time I was working in Washington, DC, so was Chris. He was a legislative assistant in Ted Kennedy’s Capitol Hill office. In 2004, Chris was stricken with cancer, and passed away at the far-too-painful age of 26. The agony that Elsie and Tony must have endured is beyond my capacity to imagine. Nevertheless, they’ve found ways to keep going and pay tribute to Chris, one of those rare kids that you never forget, even if you only met him just once.

A few years ago, Elsie and Tony moved to Sarasota. Tony is now the executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity. And what’s Elsie doing these days? She’s the coordinator for Citizens for Sox, a grass roots effort by Sarasota residents to help lure the Red Sox to a new training complex off Fruitville Road in Sarasota. This would actually be a return to Sarasota for the Sox. They’ve been there before, most recently for 14 years in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Sarasota needs the Red Sox, and the Red Sox would do well to move just a few miles up the gulf coast and expand to a new, state of the art complex. Take it from someone who’s familiar with the area: you WANT to see the Sox in Sarasota. It’s a wonderful place to spend a week in March, and it’s vastly more interesting than Ft. Myers. What could you do to help make this happen? Read the articles on the website. Sign the petition. Write a letter to the editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

As Elsie said to me in an email today, “You know that Chris is overseeing this”. Damn straight he is, and I bet he’s grinning broadly. I, for one, have no intention of letting him down. Besides, I want to see the Red Sox in Sarasota!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Dustin Pedroia Show

Last night I attended my 6th game of 2008, and fourth at Fenway (I also saw the Dodgers beat the Padres at Dodger Stadium, and the Cubs lose to the Orioles at Wrigley). This time it was a game in the middle of a pennant race. The Red Sox had already been hammered by the Blue Jays 8-1 in the first game of a day-night doubleheader, and were counting on Bartolo Colon, of all people, to help earn the split. At the same time, the Rays were at Yankee Stadium trying to sweep the spoiler Yankees.

I hadn’t bought into the "Dustin Pedroia for MVP" hullabaloo until the past couple weeks. Last night, the logic became crystal clear to me, though if you don’t watch Pedroia on a regular basis, it might be hard to see why the kid deserves serious mention. He came into the nightcap with 197 hits, three short of 200. You can’t expect someone to have a 3-hit game on command, and certainly not against one of the hottest teams in the league. In the first inning, though, the Case for Pedey presented exhibits A and B.

After Jacoby Ellsbury leads off with a walk, Pedroia lines a ringing double off Jays’ starter Jesse Litsch to send Ellsbury to third. David Ortiz strikes out swinging, and now Kevin Youkilis is up. One out, and two men in scoring position. Then the fun begins. Litsch throws a wild pitch that ricochets off catcher Greg Zaun and trickles up the third base line. Ellsbury scores easily, but the amazing part was that Pedroia was still sprinting from second base. As Pedroia heads home, you could almost read Zaun’s mind. “Where the hell did HE come from?” Zaun hurriedly throws wide of Litsch at the plate, and without Youkilis having to do a damn thing, the Red Sox have a 2-0 lead. That’s how the inning ended, but Pedroia had already sent the same message that he broadcasts every game: pay close attention, because I’m not taking even a single pitch off. In some ways more than Youkilis, though less demonstrably, Pedroia is perpetually intense. The Red Sox list him at 5’9” and 180 pounds, but that’s pretty optimistic. He’s probably closer to 5’7”, and if he’s just had a few cheeseburgers and has lead weights in his cleats, maybe 170.

Fast forward to the 5th. After Colon barely survived a nightmare second inning, giving up 5 Blue Jay runs, the Sox are down 5-2, and look listless. Pedroia comes up with two outs and lines his second double of the game off the center field wall. At the time it was only the Red Sox third hit of the night. He ended up stranded at second, as Ortiz again struck out. However, that was hit # 199 on the season for Pedroia, and double #50. In Red Sox history, only two men had ever banged out 200 hits AND 50 doubles in the same season: Tris Speaker in 1912 and Wade Boggs in 1989. Pedroia was now one base hit away from doing something that Williams, Yastrzemski, Fisk, Rice, Carney Lansford, Nomar, Vaughan, Ramirez and Ortiz never accomplished. Pedroia already leads the majors (not just the American League) in hits and doubles. He leads the AL in batting average and runs, and trails only Aubrey Huff and Josh Hamilton in total bases. Now, he’s stalking Red Sox history.

Sure enough, up comes Pedroia in a pivotal moment in the bottom of the 8th, when the Red Sox would finally take the lead and win the game. Following Ellsbury’s 15-foor swinging bunt where Scott Downs fell on his face, unable to field the ball, therefore allowing Jed Lowrie to sprint home with the go-ahead run, Dustin Pedroia comes to the plate and lines a single.

Everyone in the park who hadn’t been keeping track figured it out when the news was posted on the center field scoreboard: Dustin Pedroia had gotten his 200th hit of 2008.

So on the evening for Pedroia, that’s 3 for 5, 2 doubles, 1 run scored, entering the Red Sox history book, and also turning the pivot on 3, count ‘em 3, double plays. This doesn’t even factor in his first inning hustle, scoring from second and jump-starting the evening’s offense. Apart from his stats, which are becoming gaudy, I’d posit that Dustin Pedroia, the 2007 Rookie of the Year, deserves to be voted the American League Most Valuable Player for the simple truth that he embodies the three words “Most Valuable Player” better than anyone else in baseball. Jason Varitek may be the captain, and Jon Lester may be the ace, but Dustin Pedroia IS the offensive sparkplug, as well as the heart and soul of his team, and has been since he stepped on the field in Fort Myers for the season’s first workouts. You can’t say that about Carlos Quentin in Chicago, Josh Hamilton in Texas, or any one player in Tampa Bay. Only Pedroia in Boston.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

456 Reasons (and counting) why Red Sox fans are the best

The Red Sox didn’t make history last night, but Red Sox Nation did. We collectively set the record for most consecutive sellouts by a Major League Baseball franchise, breaking the record set by Cleveland Indians’ fans at Jacobs Field from 1995 to 2001. For Red Sox fans, the streak began on May 15, 2003. On that night, Pedro Martinez pitched 6 innings and got his fourth win of the year, beating Alan Benes and the Texas Rangers. This was the Red Sox lineup that Thursday evening

Damon CF

Walker 2B

Garciaparra SS

Ramirez LF

Ortiz 1B

Millar DH

Nixon RF

Mueller 3B

Varitek C

Only Jason Varitek and David Ortiz remain from that starting lineup (Mike Timlin and Tim Wakefield are the other remaining players from that roster). May of 2003 was a division championship, two American League championships and two World Series trophies ago. Those guys were the “Idiots”, if you remember. This year’s team was a long way from maturity. Jon Lester was a 19 year old prospect pitching for the Augusta Greenjackets in the South Atlantic League. Jonathan Papelbon was in his first professional season at Single A Lowell. Daisuke Matsuzaka was winning the Nippon Pacific League ERA and strikeout title for the Seibu Lions. Dustin Pedroia was busy being a college sophomore and earning PAC 10 co-Player of the Year honors at Arizona State.

Five years and 456 capacity home games later, Red Sox fans can now officially be called the best baseball fans anywhere, even though tickets at Fenway are harder to get and more expensive than all the rest. Cardinals fans are more polite. Philles fans are ruder. A’s, Dodgers, and yes, Rays fans are more apathetic. Meanwhile, we’ve been here, stuffing ourselves into every possible nook and cranny of Fenway Park, our “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark” (thanks, John Updike), every possible chance we’ve had. In fact, we tend to embarrass other fans in their home ballparks by sometimes turning out in better numbers than they do to see their own team. Check out Camden Yards in Baltimore, Ameriquest Field in Arlington, TX and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg for proof.

This streak shows no sign of stopping, either. You should count on it continuing for some time to come, especially if the Red Sox’ current performance continues as it has. Fenway is already sold out through the end of the 2008 season. I wouldn’t be surprised if the streak goes to at least 700 games. So congratulations, fellow Red Sox fans, on proving for 457 straight home games (including tonight) that there’s no place like Fenway Park, and there’s no fan like a Red Sox fan.

Meanwhile, for those who didn't see today's Boston Globe, here is an ad from the team, thanking fans.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hoping for Magic

This isn’t 2004, and it’s not 2007, either. This year’s edition of the Red Sox has been hampered by injuries (Schilling, Ortiz, Drew, Lugo, Lowell and Beckett) and badly inconsistent relief pitching (Hansen, Tavarez, Delcarmen, Okajima, Timlin).

Fortunately, the rotation, the starting lineup and especially the kids (Masterson and Lowrie) have stepped up. Since the trading deadline, though, the most valuable member of the team has been Theo Epstein. Jettisoning Manny’s childish distractions and bringing in Jason Bay, Paul Byrd and now Mark Kotsay has succeeded in settling the team and refocusing everyone on the priority at hand, namely making the postseason.

As currently constituted, this team probably doesn’t have what it takes to go all the way this year, especially without a reliable Josh Beckett or a rock solid bullpen. Magic is possible, but you do get the sense that the team needs to catch fire, and that hasn’t happened yet. We’re running low on time. However, you’ve got to love their energy, grittiness and their refusal to give up. The nucleus of the present and future of the team now looks like this: Pedroia, Lowrie, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Bay, Lester, Matsuzaka, Masterson, Buchholz (we hope) and Papelbon. That’s already a Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove and two no-hitters, along with an MVP candidate or two, a handful of potential batting championships, a couple 30-30 guys in the making and perhaps a Cy Young (maybe 3 or 4). Probably about 10 more Gold Gloves, too.

I probably shouldn’t be conceding this season already, but it just feels like it’s going to be some combination of the Angels, Rays, Cubs and Mets this year, unless Michael Bowden becomes the instant new phenom or Beckett magically regains fall 2007 form in a big damn hurry. Doesn’t feel like it, though. The stars don’t feel like they’re quite aligned. And hey, that’s ok with me, because if the Sox are eliminated, it gives me a chance to become one of Boston’s biggest Cubs fans. I’m hoping that if we’re not there, it could be, finally, the Year of the Cub. Once every hundred years is appropriate!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Great hitter, rotten role model

In the summer of 2003, I coached Babe Ruth League baseball in Waltham. I was having trouble getting the kids to hustle. One night while watching a Red Sox game, it became crystal clear why. In a game in Tampa Bay, Manny Ramirez hit a routine grounder to short, and barely moved 10 feet out of the batter’s box while the shortstop made the play and threw him out, ending the inning. I was horrified, as was Jerry Remy, who supposed that “perhaps Manny didn’t see where the ball had gone, and thought it was foul”. Bullshit. Manny saw the ball. He just didn’t feel like running out a routine grounder. The possibility of the shortstop missing the grounder, or throwing it in the dirt or over the first basemen’s head either didn’t occur to him or he didn’t care. He didn’t feel like running, so he didn’t. A couple innings later, he homered, and the Sox beat the pathetic (at the time) Devil Rays.

The next day we had a practice. “How many watched last night’s game?”, I asked. Most hands went up. “Do me a favor. Don’t watch Manny Ramirez. I don’t want him to be your role model. Watch Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon or Pedro, but please, don’t follow Manny.” “Are you kidding?”, they asked. “He hit the ball a mile! They won!”

Manny’s homers were all anyone cared about. Yes, he’s one of the most talented hitters of the past 50 years. In his time in Boston, he was also a rotten team player. His defense was routinely laughable. His concept of baserunning was pathetic. Worst of all, he didn’t care that he was a distraction. He reveled in Manny being Manny. We all put up with all of it because you couldn’t ignore his lethal power numbers. 35 HR and over 100 RBI a year will do that. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will go down as arguably the best 3-4 combination in the history of the game. And I’m overjoyed Manny’s gone. He pushed a traveling secretary to the ground because he didn’t get enough comp’d tickets. He intentionally tanked during the last few pathetic weeks of his tenure in Boston. He begged out of games because he didn’t feel like hitting against tough pitchers. He feigned injuries. He stood with the bat on his shoulder while Mariano Rivera blew him away on three straight strikes to end a rally in New York. He jogged down the first baseline in key late-inning situations. He fell all over himself in the outfield, once rolling on to the ball. And he thought it was a hoot. To boot, he insisted “I’m sick of them, they’re sick of me”. What were you sick of, Manny? That you were being paid $20 million a year and the team just wanted you to show up, hustle and be a team player? At no point did the team ever truly hold him accountable. And he rubbed their noses in it.

Voila, he’s traded to the Dodgers, and starts hustling, pronouncing himself “in love with Los Angeles” after 24 hours, and of course, restarts his torrid hitting ways, crushing everything in sight. He says he wants to end his career as a Dodger. Now, according to George King of the New York Post, Manny wants to sign with the Yankees in the offseason and get his revenge on Boston 19 games a year. Nice adult behavior there.

Manny Ramirez is a slam dunk first ballot Hall of Famer. His credentials for greatness are indisputable. And he’s a childish, petulant embarrassment to the game he plays. It’s hard to find good role models nowadays. Manny Ramirez certainly isn’t one.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

2008 Red Sox at the halfway point

We’re almost at the All-Star break. We now have an excellent sense of who the 2008 Red Sox are and what their prospects for September/October may be. I’m not all that worried about Manny Ramirez, Coco Crisp (aren’t you glad he didn’t get unloaded?), Youk or Rookie of the Year candidate Jacoby Ellsbury. They’ll all be fine. However, there are some players that need to be looked at carefully.

JD Drew: This is the guy we vastly overpaid for a year and a half ago. His torrid June (.331, 12 HR, 29 RBI) was critical in large part because he filled the gaping hole in the lineup created by David Ortiz’s presence on the DL.

Mike Lowell: Day in and day out, he is a pro’s pro. Great offense, and the best defensive 3B you’ve ever seen. I can say that last sentence with confidence because of the following stat: Did you know that Mike Lowell has the best lifetime fielding percentage of any 3B in the history of Major League Baseball? It’s true. Better than Brooks Robinson. Better than anyone. Mike Lowell.

Dustin Pedroia: No sophomore slump. The kid is hitting for more power, and still playing as good a defensive 2B as anyone in the business. Barring injuries, you can pencil this 5 foot nothing, 170 pound sparkplug into the lineup for the next 10 years.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester: A no-hitter is just the most glittering highlight of his 7-3, 3.21 (8th best in the league) first half. Josh Beckett has a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Dice K may have had some shaky games (I was in attendance when the Cardinals lit him up for 7 runs in 1 2/3 IP), but he’s still 9-1 with a 2.84 ERA. When he's on, as he was against the Twins this week, he's damn impressive. Tim Wakefield has been by far the most consistent starter, and still eats innings like no other.

No David Ortiz. First, a paralyzing slump, then a torn tendon sheath in his wrist. His loss to the lineup and the clubhouse can’t be quantified.

Jason Varitek’s offense: I say this with great trepidation, as there is no other catcher in recent memory with Captain ‘Tek’s work ethic, study habits or knowledge of his own staff and the entire league he faces on a daily basis. Still, though, he’s become an offensive black hole. If the bottom of the order weren’t such an atrocious sea anchor (see Julio Lugo), #33’s lack of average and on base percentage would be totally forgiveable.

Julio Lugo: Julio Lugo has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He’s worse defensively than anyone in recent memory (ok, Edgar Renteria was pretty bad in the year he was here, but I’d posit that Lugo’s worse). In contrast with Renteria, Lugo is utterly worthless at the plate. He has no power and a terrible sense of plate coverage. He can’t move runners along, much less knock them in. And worse, yet, he’s not easily tradeable, since everyone in organized baseball knows he sucks, and he’s got a 4-year, $36 million contract which nobody in their right mind would want to take on. Lugo stands as one of Theo Epstein’s unmitigated failures, joining Byun Hyun Kim, Jeremy Giambi and Tony Clark. Why, in the name of Rick Burleson, did we walk away from Alex Gonzalez for this stiff? Bad doesn’t even begin to describe this loser.

The bullpen: All the above weaknesses can be overcome (though I’d rather dump Lugo and install Jed Lowrie right now). The fatal flaw in this roster is the gap between the starters and Jonathan Papelbon. Javier Lopez is meat. He should be released, or traded for a bucket of baseballs. Manny Delcarmen is talented, but badly inconsistent. Craig Hansen is getting there, but he’s not The Man yet. Mike Timlin’s gas tank is running low, and numerous injuries are making the inevitable transition to his retirement look like a matter of sooner rather than later. The real head scratcher is Hideki Okajima. This is very clearly not the same guy that was damn near automatic in 2007, and some of his appearances, particularly when looking at inherited runner situations, are dreadful. They need help here. Whether it’s new blood like Brian Fuentes or a new and improved reliever version of Justin Masterson, once Clay Buchholz returns to the rotation, something has to be done, and soon. The bullpen is hemorrhaging games in damn near every series. This has to stop asap if there’s going to continue to be hope of another Red October.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My favorite team

I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, but I’m also, at heart, a devotee of the game. When I was at Dodger Stadium a couple weeks ago, I was wearing a Sandy Koufax jersey, and one of my friends thought I was being so very disloyal by wearing another team’s colors. I tried to explain to him (in vain) why Sandy Koufax transcended team loyalties for me. It made me think about one of those mythical “favorite teams”. Not just my favorite Red Sox players, but a lineup of the baseball players from today and yesterday that I’ve idolized the most, and would want to have on my All-Time Team, regardless of what’s sewn on the front of the jersey. These aren’t necessarily the best ever at every position, though you could certainly make a good case for a lot of them at their spots. These are the guys I’ve looked up to the most, my baseball role models. This isn’t anything close to an all-Boston team. Ted Williams isn’t on this list. There are only 4 BoSox players on my team, and you could say that one of them is really an Oakland Athletic. My team has two Dodgers, three Orioles, a Cub, a Cardinal, a Pirate, a Giant, and even (gasp) a Yankee. Hey, tough. It’s my team.

C: Jason Varitek
An old school catcher in the modern age. Supremely prepared, tough, smart, and I love watching ‘Tek call a game. He earned the “C” on his chest. Neither of the most recent World Series championship banners at Fenway Park would be there if Captain ‘Tek had not been behind the plate for the past 10 years.

1B: Lou Gehrig
He worked in Babe Ruth’s shadow, but did nothing but play day in and day out with surpassing class, excellence, and respect for the game, his team and his opponents. When he was faced with a debilitating, ultimately fatal disease, he came to epitomize the definition of grace in the face of unimaginable tragedy

2B: Jackie Robinson
#42 transformed the game with his speed and savvy, and irrevocably changed the country with his determination and fierce pride. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. admitted that he never could have achieved what he did had Jackie Robinson not paved the way for him by taking the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson isn’t just one of my favorite players, but stands with Lincoln, Jefferson, Twain and RFK as one of my favorite Americans.

3B: Brooks Robinson
Mike Schmidt had more homers. George Brett had a better average. Still, there was never another Brooks. The Human Vacuum Cleaner was the definitive defensive marvel. He made so many plays that made you shake your head, you came to expect nothing less. And why? Because every year between 1960 and 1975, he was the American League Gold Glove third baseman. That’s never going to happen again.

SS: Ernie Banks
“Let’s play two!” How can you not love Mr. Cub’s pure enthusiasm and love of the game? He actually played more games at first base than short, but this is my team, and I’m calling him a shortstop. Two MVP awards and 512 homers are the hallmarks of the greatest player in the history of the Cubs franchise.

OF: Willie Mays
Say Hey! The term “five tool player” gets thrown around a lot today, but idea started with a guy who wore #24 for the Giants. Mays’ catch of Vic Wertz’s blast to centerfield in game 1 of the 1954 World Series is still called the greatest defensive play in the history of the game. 12 Gold Gloves, 660 homers and 3,283 hits. Who’s the best center fielder ever? Willie Mays or Joe DiMaggio? Take your pick. I’ll take Mays.

OF: Roberto Clemente
Not just a dangerous hitter (4 batting titles), but very possibly the greatest outfield arm there ever was. When he played at Pittsburgh’s cavernous old Forbes Field, Clemente once threw a ball from deep right center field to home plate on the fly to nail a runner at home. The throw was measured at 460 feet. Clemente wasn’t the first major leaguer from Puerto Rico, but he was the first great one, and still the best. He owned the 1971 World Series. He followed Mays as a true all-around player, and finished his career with an eerily precise 3,000 hits before he was killed in a plane crash while trying to help Nicaraguan earthquake victims. The usual 5-year waiting period for Hall of Fame induction was waived for Clemente because if you’re going to get 93% of the vote for a great player and a genuine hero to boot, why bother waiting?

OF: Frank Robinson
The guy won a triple crown, and MVP awards in both leagues. He was the first African American manager in the game’s history, and in his first game as player/manager of the Indians, illustrated the Robinson concept of leadership by homering. He didn’t just ask for respect, he demanded it. F Robby played the game with a fierce, take-no-prisoners energy. And yet, I still say he might be the most underrated player in Cooperstown.

SP: Bob Gibson
1.12. In 1968, Bob Gibson had an ERA of 1.12 over 304 2/3 innings. That ranks with Cy Young’s 511 wins and Johnny Vandemeer’s two consecutive no-hitters on the list of pitching records that will never be broken. Gibson pitched games 1, 4 and 7 in three different World Series, and had a cumulative ERA of 1.89 in those nine appearances. If I was a manger, and I needed one man to start one game for me, and that game was a matter of life or death, my starter would be Bob Gibson.

SP: Sandy Koufax
Koufax is special for me. The greatest Jewish baseball player in history. After all, he was the kid from Brooklyn who refused to start a World Series game because it conflicted with Yom Kippur. Would I have done that? I don’t know. But I didn’t win 3 Cy Young awards, 5 straight ERA titles, or throw a perfect game, either. Koufax threw a no-hitter every year for four straight years. His postseason ERA was 0.95. He was baseball’s Mozart, and left the stage earlier than anyone wished.

SP: Jim Palmer
Palmer was the first opposing player that I watched in person, tried to hate and couldn’t. He was way too much fun to watch. Palmer may have had 3 Cy Young awards and eight 20-win seasons, but he also owns what I think is the greatest clutch statistic on any plaque in Cooperstown: over 19 years and almost 4,000 innings pitched, Palmer never allowed a grand slam. Not one.

SP: Pedro Martinez
Did you ever see a pitch that made a batter look foolish and say “wow, that wasn’t fair”? Nobody’s done that in my lifetime more than Pedro. In the four seasons between 1997 and 2000, Pedro was thoroughly Koufaxian. In 1999, he had 313 strikeouts and only 37 walks. The following year, his strikeout to walk ratio was even better. When he was at his best, Pedro’s 95 mph fastball was hard to hit, but his 82 mph changeup was the most devastating (and unfair) pitch in baseball. With Pedro, anything could happen on any night.

SP: Luis Tiant
The corkscrew windup. The knee bucking movement. The cigars. The style and charisma. El Tiante was the heart and soul of the Red Sox for most of the 70's. Being in Fenway and hearing the crowd chant "Loooo-ieee" is an experience you don't forget. "Unless you've played with him, you can't understand what Luis means to a team." - Dwight Evans

RP: Dennis Eckersley
You had to love Eck. The long, flowing black hair under the cap, the flailing arms, the blazing heater (or “high cheese” in EckSpeak), the pinpoint control and the everpresent attitude that he was just better than anyone he faced. Even his failures were legendary. That was Eckersley, of course, who gave up Kirk Gibson’s famous pinch hit homer that ended Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Still, how many pitchers have 390 career saves and 197 wins? Just Eck. I loved Eck because he was downright cool.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Kids

Seeing the Red Sox win is exciting, but I’ll tell you what gets me going about this team and why I think the current Red Sox administration is far better than any that has come before: it’s all being led by the best youth movement in the game. In previous generations, we relied primarily on older, well-proven vets. The younger players were superfluous, if they were on the roster at all. It was all about Yaz, Fisk, Dewey, Boggs, Mo Vaughn and Bruce Hurst. When you needed help, you brought in Jack Clark, Tom Brunansky, Otis Nixon and others who arrived in the clubhouse with dusty highlight reels of days gone by. The clock was always ticking. Who knew how many years these players had left?

Now, even though there’s still the old guard (Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, Mike Timlin and Tim Wakefield), the younger generation is infusing the lineup with energy that will continue to dazzle the next generation of Red Sox Nation. Consider today’s roster.

Pitchers: Josh (Mr. October 2003 and 2007) Beckett turns 28 next month. Jon Lester is 24, and Clay (No Hit) Buchholz won’t turn 24 until August. Manny Delcarmen is 26. Craig Hansen, who’s admittedly still finding his way, won’t turn 25 until November, and Justin Masterson, the phenom with the heavy sinker and today’s emergency starter, just celebrated his 23rd birthday last month. Mr. Papelbon, he of the “Here’s My Fastball, Good Luck” demeanor is 27. By the way, do you know old Daisuke Matsuzaka is? He’s four months younger than Beckett.

Position players: First baseman Kevin Youkilis (Wade Boggs with Brooks Robinson’s glove) is the senior statesman of the new generation at 29. The rest of them are all just about the same age. At second, 2007 Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia isn’t yet 25. Shortstop/3B heir apparent Jed Lowrie just turned 24 last week. This year’s Rookie of the Year candidate, Jacoby Ellsbury (a cross between Freddie Lynn and Johnny Damon, only with much more speed), will celebrate his 25th birthday this coming September 11.

Get the idea? We can count on a solid 10-12 years from this young core that already knows how to win and has proven that they have the talent. This mitigates the need to blow insane wads of cash on creaky free agents, and also means that at the trading deadline, Theo Epstein can deal from a position of strength instead of suffering a public panic attack (can you say Eric Gagne?). Coco Crisp can help someone else’s defense down the stretch while he might net us the middle relief guy or spare starter we may need. There are dozens more possibilities to consider because the Red Sox are getting younger, not older. In the sweepstakes for Johan Santana, Theo Epstein categorically refused to give away the farm. As great as Santana is, and will continue to be, Theo knew what this new crop of talent represented, and has a pretty good idea how great they will become. Masterson, Lowrie, Ellsbury and Buchholz for Santana? Nope. During the winter, I read more than a few columnists who insisted that Epstein was being stupid. Bird in the hand theorists said “Look, we know Santana has maybe the best arm in the business right now. Why not?” Just watch this gang of talent playing at Fenway today, and you’ll see why not. Because this is our present, and our future. Santana is incredible, and has filthy stuff. He’s a legitimate no-hitter waiting to happen every trip to the mound, but these kids, combined, will be far better today, tomorrow, and for the next decade. There’s nothing quite like homegrown talent. Just watch.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dodgers 11, Padres 1

On a night when the Red Sox beat the Yankees 4-3 at Fenway, I was 3,000 miles away in California. Ironically, I was about 4 blocks away from Angels Stadium in Anaheim, staying at the Marriott for a company conference. Unfortunately, the Angels weren’t in town. They were up in Seattle facing the Mariners. So, I went with about a dozen colleagues an hour up the road to Dodger Stadium to see the Dodgers host the Padres.

Things you need to know about Dodger Stadium:

  • You can generally get tickets without a problem, and frequently good ones. Had it not been a group of 14, I’d have been able to score killer seats anywhere I wanted in the park. As it was, we had decent field-level seats down the 3rd base line.
  • Even though it’s almost 50 years old, it’s still a beautiful park. Far better than some newer facilities like US Cellular, but definitely not in the same class as Camden Yards. Regardless, it’s more comfortable than Fenway.
  • There’s no such thing as public transportation in LA, so you need to drive, but allow LOTS of time for traffic and parking. I’ve never seen traffic jams quite like that in a ballpark before.
  • Dodger Dogs are excellent: footlong and grilled.
  • Beer is insanely expensive: 11 dollars. Bigger portions than Fenway, but not enough to stop you from saying “I’m sorry, HOW much?”.
  • As you may have heard about southern California, fans arrive late and leave early. Get there early and leave when the game ends. It’s what most sensible non-west coast fans do, anyway.

Dodgers-Padres. The pitching matchup was Chris Young of the Padres against (wait for it) Derek Lowe!! Young had already won a game against LA in San Diego, and when he’s on, he’s terrific. Not last Saturday night, though. Young was batting practice. Rafael Furcal led off the game for the Dodgers with a homer to right, and that was pretty much the ballgame. The Dodgers have some eye-opening young talent, and most of them were on display at one point or another. Rightfielder Andre Ethier was 3 for 5 with a homer, a double and a great diving catch. Matt Kemp replaced Ethier in right and he went 1 for 2 with a homer. Even D-Lowe got on base 3 times, had two hits and 3 RBI. When he was on the mound he was in complete control. After he allowed a run in the first inning, he was dominant for the next 7, and the Dodgers won an 11-1 laugher.

The Padres had a couple problems: First, their pitching was dreadful. I didn’t know Wilfredo Ledezma was still in the majors until he came strolling out of the bullpen, and when he reached the mound I remembered why I thought he had retired: he was worthless, and in fact almost as bad as Young had been. Young, as stated above, should have had a fork stuck in him in the second inning, but Bud Black thought Young would get out of his early game problems. Sadly for both Black and his starter, they only turned into mid-game problems. Young didn’t stick around long enough to have late-game problems.

Their other problem is the Padres rolled over and put their paws in the air. The defense was listless, and the team simply appeared to give up mid-game, as if they all said “oh, ok, we’re behind, so much for this one”. The Dodgers have got some very intriguing kids who will put a scare in the National League over the next number of years, and the Padres should be better than they looked. After all, Jake Peavy wasn’t pitching.

If you get a chance to see a game in LA, definitely do it. Dodger Stadium is worth the traffic.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A first month from hell

The Red Sox have never experienced a season opening series quite like that.
We don’t know very much new of interest about either team other than the following:
1. Daisuke’s still got the same maddeningly unpredictable concentration & control issues he had last year. He’s talented as hell, but he remains prone to those old Derek Lowe-style “what the hell are you doing out there” innings.
2. Brandon Moss might be an intriguing fifth outfielder to ponder as the year progresses.
3. Manny can still hit, no matter the month, continent or local language.
4. When he’s healthy, Rich Harden is flat out nasty.
5. Emil Brown can hit, but his base running skills leave a lot to be desired.
6. Red Sox Nation knows no international borders.

I thought I did a lot of traveling, but I’ve been home steadily since mid-February. I’m lucky. Here’s what the Red Sox players, coaches, staff, press, broadcasters and various other hangers-on will have logged between the end of spring training in Ft. Myers and the home opener on April 8 against Detroit (which, by the way, will be preceded by the Red Sox’ second World Series ring ceremony in three years):
· Ft. Myers, FL to Tokyo, Japan via Chicago. Playing two exhibition games against Japanese League teams, followed by two regular season games against the A’s.
· Tokyo to Los Angeles, CA. Playing three exhibition games against the Dodgers (two in Dodger Stadium, one in the LA Coliseum).
· LA to Oakland. Playing two more regular season games against the A’s.
· Oakland to Toronto. Three games against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
· Toronto to Boston to host the Tigers and Yankees (!) at Fenway
Add it up. That’s a grand total of 16,105 air miles. It’s also the equivalent of flying more than halfway around the planet.

But wait! There’s more. Between the home opener on April 8 and Saturday, April 27, the Red Sox schedule looks like this:
· Three games at home against Detroit
· Two games at home against the Yankees
· Fly to Cleveland. Two games vs. the Indians at Jacobs Field.
· Fly to New York. Two games at Yankee Stadium.
· Back home. A four game Patriot’s Day weekend series with the Rangers (don’t forget to factor in an 11am start for that Monday game).
· Stay home to host Vlad Guerrero and the Angels for three games.
· Fly to Tampa Bay for a 3 game weekend series with the Rays.

That whole stretch takes place without a single day off, weather permitting. After a whirlwind trip of a little over 16,000 miles (and I have no idea how many time zones) starting in Florida, the Red Sox will play 19 consecutive games in four cities. Then they finally get a day off on April 28 before the Jays come to Fenway to end April and start the month of May.

If the Red Sox finish the month of April over .500, I’ll be stunned.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

2008 Red Sox Preview: Bullpen

Here’s where you might be a little concerned. The problem isn’t the closer. Jonathan Papelbon is as close to automatic as there is in the game. The problem is six months worth of how do you get to him. Of the starting rotation, only Josh Beckett (and to a lesser degree Tim Wakefield) is likely to be a real innings eating horse. The others have a tendency to throw a lot of pitches early in the game and therefore not last much past the 6th inning. So Terry Francona is going to need to depend on the bullpen crew to chew up somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 innings (3 innings a game, times 130 or so games). Most specifically, it’s the 5th/6th through the 8th. The best bet among the group is certainly Hideki Okajima. For the vast majority of 2007, he was money, plain and simple. After that, you’ve got a group that will include some combination of the following on any given day: Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin, Kyle Snyder, Javier Lopez, Julian Tavarez, David Aardsma, Craig Breslow, Bryan Corey, David Pauley and Craig Hansen.

This is going to be a big year for local kid Delcarmen, as the Sox will look to him to finally blossom into the 7th inning force and complement Okajima. If Manny Delcarmen produces as everyone hopes he will, this bullpen corps is going to be impregnable. What Terry Francona wants is simple: Delcarmen in the 7th, Okajima in the 8th, then Papelbon to shut the door in the 9th and finish the game. After Delcarmen, there remain smaller questions to be worked out. Mike Timlin just turned 42 a couple weeks ago. Hard to know how many innings he has left in him, but I’m guessing not a lot. On any given day, Julian Tavarez ranges from acceptable to abysmal. Kyle Snyder and Tavarez are going to be swingmen/spot starters who will need to settle into definable roles. The rest of the group will fill in the lefty specialist/key situational spot holes. Craig Hansen is running out of time. He needs to live up to the hype that’s been dogging him ever since he was drafted out of St. Johns in the spring of 2005. If he can’t satisfy, he’s going to be trade bait at the deadline. If Delcarmen doesn’t mature as expected, the load on everyone else increases.

When the Red Sox faltered and let the Yankees back into the race during the dog days of 2007, it was the bullpen that looked weak, tired and thin. Okajima was overworked. Delcarmen was uneven. Timlin was hurt. After the trade deadline, Eric Gagne was hideous This year, it may well be the Blue Jays that pose the bigger challenge to Boston down the stretch, but the six key questions remain:

  1. Will this be the end of the road for Mike Timlin? Yep. 17 years, a thousand appearances and 1150 innings exacts a cost, and the bell will toll for Timlin sooner than later.
  2. Will Julian Tavarez be serviceable? Probably not. Expect him to disappear.
  3. Will Jonathan Papelbon continue to be The Man throughout the year? He’d better be.
  4. Will Okajima and Delcarmen maintain a solid bridge between the starters and Papelbon? Most likely, but they can’t do it every single day.
  5. Will Theo Epstein still be hunting for bullpen help at the trading deadline? Absofreakinlutely.
  6. Is this bullpen good enough to get it done this year? Sure, but it’s going to need help from names that aren’t yet in the organization.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2008 Red Sox Preview: Offense

  1. Dustin Pedroia
  2. Kevin Youkilis
  3. David Ortiz
  4. Manny Ramirez
  5. Mike Lowell
  6. Jason Varitek
  7. JD Drew
  8. Jacoby Ellsbury
  9. Julio Lugo

    The lineup will go through some massaging and various permutations, but in 2008 it’s probably going to look something like what you see here. JD Drew and Mike Lowell may flipflop, or Jason Varitek could fall to the 7th spot. Jacoby Ellsbury might hit second or even leadoff and Kevin Youkilis could hit lower in the order. But this is the starting nine, and this order is roughly how Terry Francona has it set up now.

    Until someone else challenges them, Ortiz and Ramirez remain the most fearsome 3-4 combination in the game, and rank as one of the best offensive double punches ever. They rank with Mays-McCovey, Aaron-Matthews, and yes, Ruth-Gehrig. Those aren’t my rankings. Reggie Jackson suggested the comparison last fall. With Big Papi and Manny anchoring your lineup, every starting pitcher in baseball will agree that they’d rather stick needles in their eyes than face Boston.

    After a slow start, Dustin Pedroia figured how to become a pesky, determined hitter. Although he has a huge swing, he’s established himself as the leadoff guy. Kevin Youkilis has at least a couple batting titles in his future. He’s a more emotional Wade Boggs, still in the maturing stage. He concentrates on each at bat as if the game is on the line, he takes a lot of pitches (The Greek God of Walks, as he was dubbed in the book Moneyball), and he’s learned how to spray the ball around. Mike Lowell remains a deadly force, with a perfect Fenway Park swing. Expect another 20 HR/100 RBI year from him.

    In my mind, the question marks are Jason Varitek and JD Drew. ‘Tek had a dreadful 2006, and rebounded with a barely average offensive 2007 (.255 average, 17 HR, 68 RBI, .367 OBP). My fear is that his offensive numbers will continue to degrade as he ages and the games pile up. There are often long stretches where ‘Tek becomes invisible offensively, and he’s prone to the dreadful at-bat where he waves feebly at high fastballs which can easily overpower him. Then, suddenly, he snaps out of it with clutch doubles and homers. The other big unknown is JD Drew. If you look at his career numbers, (lifetime, his typical year is .284 avg, 25 HR, 84 RBI, .390 OBP), April through August 2007 has to be seen as an aberration, and his performance in September through the postseason is more of what you’d expect. We forget how tough an environment Boston can be. Perhaps it simply took the majority of his first year to become acclimated. If Drew rebounds with a typical JD Drew year, the bottom of the Red Sox order gets much thornier for opposing pitching staffs. Julio Lugo was dreadful in 2007. Again, his typical numbers (.271, 12, 62, .333) suggest he should perform better in 2008.

    What I like the most is what comes off the bench. Alex Cora doesn’t give at bats away, and he is not just a smart hitter, but one of the best baserunners on the team. Also, you should love Sean Casey. His nickname is The Mayor, and he’s widely considered the single nicest guy in baseball, along with being a dependable contact hitter. He’ll spell Youk at first, either when Youkilis or Mike Lowell gets a day off. Casey was a good pickup, and I think he’ll shine in Boston.

    This is a good offense. Manny, Drew and Lugo all had sub-par years by their personal standards, and even though he had 35 homers and 117 RBI, David Ortiz was hurt last year. If they all just rebound to their expected norms and stay healthy (always the biggest unknown), this remains one of the American League’s toughest lineups top to bottom.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

2008 Red Sox Preview: Defense

After the starting rotation, the Red Sox infield defense is by far the team’s greatest strength. They shine defensively, and now boast three gold glove winners: Varitek, Lowell and Youkilis. Captain Jason Varitek still reigns as one of the best game handlers in the business, as every Red Sox pitcher since 1997 would attest. World Series MVP 3B Mike Lowell was routinely called “a pro’s pro” by all of his teammates, and had earned his contract extension long before his great October rolled around. 2007 AL 1B Gold Glove winner Kevin Youkilis was a decent third baseman until Mike Lowell came along. It stands to reason that he’s only going to get better at first, where he didn’t commit an error all year. In fact, with a little luck, this April Youkilis could break Steve Garvey’s all time record for consecutive errorless games at first. Julio Lugo was more than serviceable at short, and Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia was outstanding at second. This is a perfect combination of youth and experience. The backups are going to be Alex Cora at SS and 2B and Sean Casey at first. Defensively, Cora is steady, and can step in for long stretches if needed. Casey is a professional hitter, but although he’s not in Youkilis’ class defensively, he’s still a far better defensive first baseman than the likes of Kevin Millar or Brian Daubach (my nominee for the most overrated player in Red Sox history). In the entire American League, only the Blue Jays (with new 3B Scott Rolen) have an infield as good as Boston’s.

Right now, the outfield is Ramirez in left, Ellsbury and Crisp in center and JD Drew in right. That will change, of course, as Coco Crisp isn’t interested in playing second fiddle in center to Ellsbury. That’s his right, frankly. I think Coco Crisp is the best defensive center fielder the Red Sox have ever had, period. He flat out earned a Gold Glove award last year, but didn’t get it. Sorry, Gold Glove voters, but you fucked up. Crisp is fast, silky, positions himself perfectly, gets great jumps on balls hit at all angles, has a very good arm, and is a one-man highlight reel, to boot. But barring a catastrophic injury to Jacoby Ellsbury, Crisp is not going to be the Red Sox regular centerfielder in 2008. Look for him to be traded. Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t yet established himself at the major league level as Crisp’s defensive equal, but he was the Red Sox minor league system’s defensive player of the year in 2007, so chances are he’s going to be pretty good. Most people are now likening him to Fred Lynn, who was a pretty fair player in his day. In left field we have Manny Ramirez. Ok, stop laughing. In Fenway Park, Manny actually does a decent job. He’s learned that he does best when he plays a shallow left at Fenway. His arm isn’t strong, but it’s reasonably accurate, and he’s got a very fast release. His problem is two-fold: he has terrible defensive instincts, and he gets bored on occasion, and stops paying attention to what’s going on in the game. On the road, especially in cavernous outfields such as Yankee Stadium and Comerica Field in Detroit, Manny’s a huge liability. Fortunately, he can hit a little bit. In right, JD Drew’s quite good, and this gives the Red Sox a decent outfield arrangement all around. Nobody’s got a Vladimir Guerrero or Ichiro-type gun, but great outfield arms are a rarity in today’s day and age. The era of the Roberto Clemente / Al Kaline / Willie Mays / Dwight Evans / Reggie Jackson arm is over. Today, there’s Vlad, Ichiro, Torii Hunter, and not much else. The Sox’ outfield is decent. Not the best in the league, but not certainly not awful, either.

As a whole defensively, the Red Sox probably won’t drop too much from last year’s mark as second in the American League. That’s good enough for me.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The four most beautiful words

Pitchers and catchers report. Short of “I love my sweetie” or “The Red Sox Win”, I can’t think of four better words strung together. There may be snow and ice outside, but pitchers and catchers report. The windchill is below zero, and you’re starting to believe the parka and gloves are actually parts of your body, but pitchers and catchers report. Spring is near. The long cold winter is going to end. Whether your team is the defending champions (the Red Sox), trying hard to forget a miserable, humiliating 2007 and rebound toward lost glory (the White Sox and the Mets), or you’re really not sure what to expect (the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers), pitchers and catchers report.

The three ring circus featuring George Mitchell, Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee continues, but none of them are suiting up this week in Florida or Arizona. Bud Selig can spout all the sanctimonious crap he wants about how he’s protecting the game and doing the best job he can cleaning up the mess he helped create, but he won’t be wearing a uniform. The only thing that matters is the annual inevitability of spring: pitchers and catchers report.

Johan Santana is a Met. Pedro Martinez hopes he’s healthy now. The Giants need to figure out what kind of team they’re going to be in the first year PB (post Barry). The Rays have a new name, new uniforms, and they’d like to finish better than last place. The Mariners have a new ace. The Phillies, with their MVP’s, want to put it all together this year. The Tigers want to bounce back. The Brewers want to have a second half of 2008 that’s as good as the first half of 2007 was for them. The Cubs want to break their century-long drought. The Red Sox and Rockies, of course, want to repeat last year’s glory, though the Rockies want four more post-season wins. The Indians know that if they had held on a bit longer in the ALCS, they could have been receiving rings this opening day instead of the Red Sox. No matter the team, it all starts with the four words: pitchers and catchers report.

Such lovely words. It’s all possible. Everyone fantasizes this month about their ability to hoist the trophy in their delirious, champagne-soaked locker room in October. The road to October starts this week, because pitchers and catchers report.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

No Schill, Sherlock

El Tiante's preview of the 2008 Red Sox begins with the starting rotation.

Curt Schilling is not going to be available this year, and possibly not ever again. Oh well. It does solve one of the nagging questions that had been facing Terry Francona: How do you fit six starters into the five spots of the rotation. With Schilling out due to a bad shoulder, we’re back to five: Josh Beckett (the de facto ace), Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester and future ace Clay Buchholz.

This still stands as one of the two or three best rotations in the American League. There’s an elegant balance between experience and youth, flamethrowers and control artists, World Series heroes and a continued thirst to get there again.

· Josh Beckett had a superb 2007 and one of the most dominant postseasons in modern history. Still, he didn’t get the Cy Young, and that remains within his reach in 2008.

· Daisuke Matsuzaka made it through a long, tough rookie season and was rewarded with an important role on a championship team. But he has much to prove in 2008. His season will begin with a very visible start at home in Japan. That will be the kickoff to his campaign to show that he’s as great as his reputation and outsized contract would suggest. Daisuke was good in 2007, but never the best on his own staff. He frequently threw too many pitches early in the game, tired as the season progressed, and on occasion was simply ineffective. Being The Man is important to Dice-K. Look for him to get closer to 20 wins.

· Tim Wakefield may only have one, possibly two years left in him. He’s the senior statesman, but still stands as the designated innings-eater. He was hurt for part of 2007, and missed the historic post-season. Wake would like to go out as the warrior he’s always been.

Then there are the kids.

· Jon Lester was the World Series game 4 starter, which stood as a perfect capstone to his astonishing comeback from cancer treatment. In the offseason, Lester was one of the key names thrown around in the Johan Santana trade rumors. With Curt Schilling now out, the year-long presence of staff’s only lefty shouldn’t be underestimated. Jon Lester could become the new Bruce Hurst, and Francona’s going to need Lester to take the ball and be effective every fifth day. He has the stuff and the poise. Now he has the chance to do it from April through September.

· Clay Buchholz. The sky’s the limit for this kid. He’s still considered a rookie in 2008. He threw a no-hitter in his second major league start, at Fenway Park, in the middle of a pennant race. If the Red Sox had included Buchholz in discussions with the Minnesota Twins, Johan Santana would not be pitching for the Mets this year. Given the choice, Theo Epstein preferred to hang on to the kid, even if it meant passing up one of the best pitchers on the planet. Buchholz might just be that good, and he’s likely to be the #5 starter in 2008.

The starters, all by themselves, are capable of notching an average of 15-17 wins apiece. That might include two or conceivably as many as three 20-game winners. Kyle Snyder and Julian Tavarez are the spot starters in the bullpen. Since the Santana deal didn’t happen, the Red Sox still have real minor league pitching talent developing, most notably Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone.

This isn’t a good rotation. This is potentially a great rotation, even without Curt Schilling. I’d posit that replacing Big Schill with Buchholz makes them deeper, more dangerous, and even tougher for everyone else to prepare for.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Aw Roger, c'mon

Once the Mitchell report came out, the baseball players named soon fell into three camps: they were either quiet as church mice, they admitted their misdeeds, or they vociferously pleaded their case in the media, and complained they had been unjustly accused.

Former Yankees trainer Brian McNamee said he had supplied steroids to both Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. Soon after the report came out, Pettitte confirmed that he had indeed used steroids, though only a couple times. And he was sorry, of course. Clemens, as we’ve all been hearing, first denied having done ANYTHING. Now, he admits the McNamee injected him (the trainer’s testimony was that he had started injecting Clemens in the butt with testosterone while Clemens was a member of the Blue Jays, and that the “treatments” took place in Roger’s hotel room at SkyDome.), but that all McNamee had administered was lidocaine and Vitamin B-12. Jesus Christ, Roger, how dumb do you think everyone is? Lidocaine is an anesthetic, and a topical one at that. Your dentist puts lidocaine on your gums to numb them up a bit before he injects the gum with novocaine. Why on earth would ANYONE have a topical anesthetic injected into their buttocks, unless they had recently taken a line drive off that particular part of the anatomy? Were you about to have surgery on your butt, and McNamee wanted to make sure that while he was in your hotel room at the stadium, before he sliced into your ass with a scalpel, he wanted to make sure you didn’t feel it? And B-12? Are you anemic? B-12 is dandy, if you have pernicious anemia. For an otherwise healthy athlete, it doesn’t do a helluva lot. And you had to have that injected, too? Any particular reason you couldn’t take it sublingually (under the tongue), which is most common for B-12?

Roger, why would McNamee be telling the truth about Andy Pettitte but lying about you? What would he have to gain by doing that? The lidocaine-B12 story is exactly as believable as Benazir Bhutto dying as a result of hitting her head on the sunroof latch of her car. Since you’re now admitting that you *were* injected, perhaps you could go all the way, and take the Pettitte route. Admit what everyone already knows happened: you juiced. You cheated. You hoped that since you were Roger Clemens, you’d be safe. Your career was indeed entering its twilight in Boston, as Dan Duquette so famously said at the time, and once you headed to Toronto, you decided to forestall the twilight for as long as you could by doing whatever it took to stay on top. And you did just that. The performance boost you got from the steroids, testosterone, HGH, or whatever it was you rubbed, shot or squirted, bought you more strikeouts, Cy Young awards, and eventually World Series championships. Everything from the time you went to Toronto is now being questioned as to how “real” it is, but that was the deal you made with the pharmacological devil. You made that bargain long ago when you were in Toronto, and now it’s time to pay up.

The pervasive disappointment, hurt and sadness over what has transpired in the Steroid Era stretches from Boston to San Francisco, from New York and Washington, DC to the home of every kid who had a Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire or Ken Caminiti or, yes, Roger Clemens poster on his bedroom walls. The best any athlete can do now is fess up. “Yes, I’m sorry, I gave into the irresistible temptation to stay at the pinnacle of the sport I’ve loved since I was old enough to love anything. I’m sorry I did this. I’m sorry that I’ve let down countless fans, teammates and family members. I know now that it was a mistake, and I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t. All I can do is beg forgiveness”.

But please, Roger, stop the foolishness. You were NOT injected with lidocaine and vitamin B-12. No intelligent person believes that horseshit story. You lied to Mike Wallace and to anyone who would listen, but to save your reputation, which is still formidable in many circles, tell the truth. Just get it over with, and let the chips fall where they may. Who knows, you may still be forgiven. Before this all happened, before you left Boston, you were one of the greatest pitchers I’ve ever seen. Get another win by being a standup guy, once and for all. Please, Roger.