Saturday, February 25, 2006

Give us your baseball memories

Those of us old enough to remember the Red Sox prior to 1967 don't have a lot of fond Red Sox memories. I vaguely remember Frank Malzone catching a popup to preserve a no-hitter (some very old synapses, I could be wrong), and listening to Mom's transistor radio under the covers, infuriating her by burning out the batteries.

But the real memories come from personal experience, throwing a baseball endlessly against a big rock with a strike zone painted on it, playing catch with Dad (who threw 'the drop'), playing ball throughout elementary school, high school, and a little in college. It all paled by comparison with watching my son's Little League games, or daughters' softball.

What makes baseball special is how personal our relationship remains with the game, the shared experience, the closeness we have to the game. We all know how it is to be overpowered at the plate or the frustration of making a bad throw, or dropping that popup. The thrill of victory and pain of defeat aren't the mysteries of Cover 2 or Under Zone defenses, or playing above the rim.

Spring Training like spring brings the promise of renewal, of something better, for achieving something special. Of course, that's how we feel. Major League players grew up in Orlando, or Sacramento, Caracas, or Santo Domingo dreaming of a chance to hit, or run, or throw on the green grass with the brightest lights, before riveted fans. But now, do they embrace the achievement and the joy of their skill, or whine about two hour bus rides and how they're only making a king's ransom?

The long season is a grind, with endless air travel, hotel lobbies, and late nights. Strawberries have to heal, jammed fingers remind the players of yesterday's action, and even the healthiest pitchers have arms that ache. But I don't hear enough players thankful for their gift and their opportunity, products of our fascination with childhood memories.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Predictions anyone?

Today on sports radio, some of the regulars gave their predictions on how many games the Red Sox would win this season. The consensus seemed to be 90 to 95, with variable belief as to whether the Red Sox would capture the wild card.

Last time I checked, the Sox have barely started constructing the newest version of the Big Red Sox Machine, with questions about who will comprise the starting rotation, many of the bullpen roles, and of course the closer.

Presumably, the rotation gains stature with the return of Schilling, the addition of Beckett and Papelbon, and the maturation of Arroyo. Wakefield fills out the rotation, presuming that Clement and Wells find greener pastures. Frankly, with the injury histories of the top of the rotation, I'd rather try to find a way to at least keep Clement, with the hope of having five healthy starters all year long.

I expect that Foulke will make a satisfactory physical and mental (attitude) recovery, and that we'll see how Tavarez, Timlin, Seanez, Hansen, Delcarmen, and a LOOGY (lefty out of the pen to get one guy) work out. Obviously, something's got to give, and we can look forward to Jon Lester just over the Rhodizon as the Bruce Hurst replacement in waiting (heck, it only will have taken twenty years).

A new season, a new hand-wringing article. What can go wrong?

1) The pitching coach gets a serious health problem. Nah, that could never happen.

2) Manny Ramirez loses his directions and doesn't arrive at camp. Manny must have an in-vehicle GPS, so he's going to need a better reason than that.

3) The number two starter gets blisters. Whoever heard of that?

4) David Wells decides he wants to stay, and stay in the rotation. He demands to stay, or he'll go on a hunger strike. Probably not.

5) Dustin 'The Wind' Pedroia beats out Mark Loretta for the second base job. Theo announces Loretta has 'turf toe', and trades him back to the Padres for Dave Roberts. Roberts gets standing ovation in first appearance.

6) John Flaherty homers in first Red Sox at bat. Terry Francona faints and is taken to Mass General for observation. Pigs fly.

7) Theo Epstein looks for additional players with Massachusetts city and town names for local appeal. Lowell and Wakefield ask for 'naming rights' bonuses. Adam Everett says he will not be a reserve infielder, Brian Lawrence reports Boston weather unacceptable, and Terry Adams doesn't fill the bill.

8) Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein star in Brushback Mountain.

9) Coco Crisp retires after one month to run for governor.

10) The Sox raise ticket prices and seats go empty. Never happen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Give Us Bat-Rabbles

So loyalists of Red Sox Nation. You are asked to choose, between the incessantly whining scribes (and bloggers) and Manny Ramirez. Here's a sample of the Steve Buckley 'stat line' from the Herald today:

"Theo Epstein and Terry Francona are well-practiced in the Manny Ramirez Excuse Industry. No matter what the issue — a questionable hamstring injury, a sick relative, and, now, a desire to stick to some kind of at-home training regimen rather than show up at spring training"

Meanwhile, at points unknown, Manny swings the weighted bats, takes some cuts in a phantom cage, and maybe still runs Rocky-like, dragging some used tires behind him. Well, at least he takes some cuts.

So, choose your poison, the Knights of the Keyboard, with gerunds, i before e, and the subjunctive case or 435 homers, a career 1.008 OPS, and an annual 40 homers and 120 RBI. Gentlemen and ladies, I rest my case.

Alright, so I'm a Manny apologist. Whether a player makes the minimum or 20 million, we expect him to run out every ground ball, sign every kid's autograph, and CARE. Well realistically, I don't think every player, or every star runs hard 100 percent of the time. AND I repeat, do you want Manny at .400/.600/1.000 or Darin Erstad at .325/.410/.735, the latter running out every hit as though it's a sprint for the endzone against Oklahoma?

What do the geek-kneed nebbishes of the media give you (bloggers like myself included)? A couple of yuks, rarely a new vocabulary word, and raw meat to challenge your digestive system. You love sports. We listen to Sports Radio (a.k.a. Nitwit Radio), watch ESPNews, and hang on every word from Boston Dirt Dogs and 'The Buzz'. It's our nature and our nurturing that brought us here. But let's not confuse it with academic achievement or rocket science.

As Peter Gammons reminded us a few years ago, "the players ARE the product." If your finest filet minion came with a corner that was burnt, do you send it back, or cut off the edge and devour it anyway?

We know what Manny Ramirez gives us as a player, offense and defense, pros and cons. He came exactly as advertised, and has performed, as advertised. Is he your ideal employee? No, but nobody's perfect. Is he going to be your starting left fielder on opening day? Give us Bat-Rabbles!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mountain out of a Manny

The Red Sox granted slugger Manny Ramirez permission to report late to camp, on March 1st. So, he's working out feverishly and doesn't want to break the mood, or maybe he's just getting his hair done. Whatever.

Historically, Spring Training has been about 1) getting in some golf, 2) getting a tan, and 3) family time (right). Most of the guys who need to get in shape, e.g. rehab projects, young guns, fringe guys, contract year guys are already in great shape. That would include everyone from Schilling and Foulke, to Youk and Pedroia, and of course, Nixon.

Does anybody think that Manny forgot how to hit over the winter? I didn't think so. Does anyone think that team chemistry is that important? The Sox don't need twenty-five choirboys, they need guys who are performing for pride, dollars, or spite, beating out other teams' guys trying to do the same thing.

Chemistry IS important. Try living a single day without chemistry. It wouldn't be easy. You'd have to be on Survivor. How'd you like the chemistry between Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling? How'd you like the chemistry between Derek 'the Derrick' Lowe and the front office? How was the feeling between Nomar and the rest of the team? Playing good ball wins games, not getting 25 good guys.

Spring training fills in some time until March Madness, and allows the snow to melt and the weather to warm up to merely frigid in points north.

Speaking of that, why aren't the first few weeks of the season played in the warmer weather (or indoor) venues? For example, the home teams in early April would be Tampa Bay, Toronto (Rogers Centre), California, Texas, Seattle (Safeco), Minnesota (Metrodome), Kansas City, and Texas. So fans in Boston, New York, Cleveland and so on would miss the joy of a near death experience watching baseball in mid-thirty degree temperatures with a dusting of snow. I have an ironclad rule about not going to baseball games in April. No exceptions. Not if Willie Mays plays. Well, maybe for Mays.

Well, Manny's going to play for the D.R. in the World Baseball Classic. Great. The less time he has to spend not talking to Bosox scribes, the better off that we'll all be. Word.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Rest in Peace.

From ESPN, Curt Gowdy, one of the signature voices of sports for a generation and a longtime broadcaster for the Boston Red Sox, died Monday at 86.

Nowadays we hear Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy at the microphone, but over the years, it has been so many. In my youth, it was Gowdy, the announcer with a cowboy hat who would seem out of place nowadays with the Red Sox so chic. Later, we listened to Ken Coleman, "and Yastrzemski dives, and makes a TREmendous catch," and of course Ned Martin, who seemed so right and so New England.

Gowdy didn't exactly disappear, even making a cameo in the Freddy Prinze, Jr. film Summer Catch, but for the most part, he was a relic from another era.

I don't remember him as being a great homer (doesn't that seem to be a qualification for so many broadcasters?), although we celebrate the late Johnny Most as the ultimate homer.

With spring training upon us, we look forward to continuity, with Joe and Jerry on the radio, and Don and Jerry on TV. We know them on a first name basis, although we hardly know them at all. What happens on those lengthy road trips, which spawn so much free time (and so much 'oiling')?

After all, we can't be at the ballpark all the time, yet the announcers bring the ballpark to us every day, from the austere 'Concrete Jungles' of Oakland, to the legendary 'House that Ruth Built', and 'America's Most Beloved Ballpark.' Of course, we get only a fraction of the truth, as the juiciest stories stay in the ballpark or the clubhouse, with only nuggets or lumps of coal leaking out from time to time.

So, thanks to all the great voices of today and the past, for the much missed Sean McDonough, who seemed at ease with every sport, ready to laugh at himself and the teams, to the legendary Gowdy, now gone. Rest in peace.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Food for Nonsense

A slow news week creates lots of dead air time. So the Red Sox decided to fill that void by proclaiming their eternal devotion to Roger Clemens, and initiated an effort to return the Rocket to his ancestral baseball home.

First, let's review Clemens' substantial baseball resume'. He is ninth all-time in wins, has 7 Cy Young awards, an MVP, is fifth among active pitchers in ERA, first among active players in strikeouts and second on the All-time list. He is a consensus first ballot Hall of Famer. But you knew all that.

What you need explained is why Roger Clemens must return to the Red Sox? The pundits and fans insist that it completes a baseball life cycle and provides symmetry to the Universe. Somehow, it undoes his bitter departure and provides closure to the Duquette era. It allows him to be the elder statesman of a pitching staff replete with Clemens admirers, Schilling and Beckett, and provides another mentor for Jonathan Papelbon.

Please explain to me what returning to Boston does for Clemens. Clemens doesn't need Boston fans approbation to validate his greatness or complete his career. He can get his number retired in Fenway eventually if he wants, and one has to wonder whether he even wants his cap in Cooperstown to read 'B'. He certainly doesn't need the money, however absurd it gets, because he can get that wherever he signs. He doesn't need whatever grief he inevitably gets when he inadvertently or intentionally snubs a local scribe. He doesn't need the commute to Houston. We've already been through the moving closer to home routine before when he chose Toronto. He doesn't need the cold weather of a Boston April, and he can't pitch in Houston until May anyway. Does he want to go back to the Series? He got there plenty after leaving the Sox.

What certifiable benefits accrue to Clemens by returning to Boston. As far as I can tell, there aren't many. It reunites him with friends Al Nipper, John Flaherty, and Tim Wakefield. Unless his cell phone has broken, he can call any of them any time, and I'm sure that he'd rather spend his time with his wife and sons anyway. All of which is much easier if he remains in Texas. So, call me a killjoy, but I can't see how Roger coming back here does diddly-poo for Roger. And I can't see how a Hall of Famer who has always done what is best for Roger Clemens changes now.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Lights, Camera, Action

Feel I'm going back to Massachusetts
Something's telling me I must go home
And the lights all went out in Massachusetts
The day I left her standing on her own

Tried to hitch a ride to San Francisco
Gotta do the things I wanna do
And the lights all went out in Massachusetts
They brought me back to see my way with you

Talk about the life in Massachusetts
Speak about the people I have seen
And the lights all went out in Massachusetts
I will remember Massachusetts
I will remember Massachusetts
-- Massachusetts, The Bee Gees

The Red Sox intend to produce a video to entice Roger Clemens to return to Boston. Well, I'll help, but throwing him the extra money would work better. That's his history.

(Opening scene) - The Monolith from 2001, a Space Odyssey. Roger's always been larger than life. Cue the music Sprach Zarathustra

(Cut to next scene) - Red Sox legends, Williams smacking his homer into the bullpen on his last at bat, Yaz robbing Tom Tresh on Billy Rohr's no-hit bid, and of course, Roger's 20 strikeout game against Seattle, climactically fanning Phil Bradley. Bill Buckner catching the clinching popup of the ALCS. Background music: The Impossible Dream

(Next scene) - Clips from historic Boston. Fenway Park, scenes from the Freedom Trail, pictures of some lobsters, lots of restaurant pictures (the way to a man's heart), and a shot of Tom Brady holding up the three Lombardi trophies. Background music: Massachusetts (The Bee Gees).

(next scene) - Clips from Roger's Red Sox career, pitching in the World Series, some pictures of Roger winning the Cy Young, lots of smiling Roger pictures. Background music: I Need a Hero (Bonnie Tyler)

(big finish) - Scenes from The Jimmy Fund, Red Sox charities, smiling Roger with some current Red Sox teammates. Pleas from octagenarian Red Sox fans to give them just one more thrill. Music: The Second Time Around (Frank Sinatra).

Sunday, February 05, 2006


In the hilarious rock spoof The School of Rock, Jack Black cons a promoter into entering his school band into the 'Battle of the Bands' because they're dying of stick-it-to-da-man-iosis. Who are the Sox trying to con?

Manny won't be confused with an eagle scout, global statesman, or paragon of virtue. I'd guess that most of us Red Sox fans won't be confused with them either. How many of you have ever wished you could tell off your boss, slacked off, or wished that you could be somewhere else doing another job? Probably everyone.

Manny isn't a Gold Glove left-fielder, but he's not the worst the Sox ever had either. I'd take Manny over the Golden Boy, media-friendly Gator any day. In eleven full seasons, Ramirez hit less than 30 homers once, and in his five Boston seasons averaged 40 homers and 122 RBI, including a season in which he played only 120 games. His range factor and fielding percentage are marginally below league averages, and checking you'll see his Hall of Fame batting and Hall-of-Fame monitor statistics already exceed Hall of Fame average standards.

So, you think he's just a pain-in-the-kiester, and you'd rather have Darin Erstad hit 10 homers with a .700 OPS, because Darin will 'bust it' to first every time. From a productivity standpoint, that isn't ridiculous, it's insane.

So perhaps you need to handle your temperamental superstars a bit differently than your fringe players. Really? The only guys who get away with insubordination are the stars, whether it's in Washington, major corporations, or in professional sports. Is it fair? I doubt that Kevin Youkilis thinks that his career path to date has been fair, but 'The Greek God of Walks' also has eight career homers and forty-four RBI, so he can't complain too loudly.

We're addicted to the Red Sox. I can admit that. I'm not going to get medicated to control it, but let's acknowledge that nothing substitutes for talent in pro sports. Even the best pitching staff in baseball (should the Sox get there someday) is going to need to score some runs. Expecting an infield of Youkilis, Loretta, Gonzalez, and Lowell to be Murderers' Row is preposterous. The offensive expectations center around Ortiz and Manny, and to a lesser extent Varitek, Crisp, and Nixon. Get real. Heal thyself of StickittodaMannyitis.

I'm So Excited

Tonight's the night we're gonna make it happen
Tonight we'll put all other things aside
Get in this time and show me some affection
We're goin' for those pleasures in the night
--I'm So Excited, The Pointer Sisters

Maybe baseball suffers from the reflected glory of the National Football League and the Super Bowl. Or we're worn down by the interest engendered by wondering whether Josh Beckett has to get by on three and a half or five million bucks (he settled for something in the middle- about 4,325,000 George Washington portraits). Josh probably never had to take the SATs or the GREs, but hey, I'd be happy to be rich enough to pay somebody to think for me. Did you know that Beckett's never pitched 180 regular season innings? Plus, pretty soon we'll be reveling in medical talk surrounding JB, either his labrum, rotator cuff, or something as mundane as 'blister talk'. Not necessarily a good omen, as the last Blister Boy was Derek 'Late Night' Lowe.

I'm old enough to remember George Frazier of The Globe and his term 'duende', a charismatic, magical spirit surrounding select individuals. As Sox fans wait for the inevitable stories of 'The Loading of the Truck' and 'Equipment Truck Leaves for Fort Myers', I can't help but wonder who carries the duende ball going forward.

Big Papi's the obvious leader on the excitement toteboard, although Sox fans have to expect to be seeing Coco Crisp coming up on the outside. Jason Varitek's a terrific player, but on the excite-o-meter, he's the equivalent of Field Turf. Trot Nixon's an intense guy, but concerning quotes, he's the Sox version of the NHL, "yesterday, we skate hard; tomorrow we skate harder."

It's pretty hard to imagine anyone filling the quote gap left by Johnny Damon, who seems destined for a rendezvous with angst and disappointment as the latest Bronx Bomber mercenary. Johnny must really be an 'Idiot', as he didn't have his contract negotiated in currency other than dollars.

We can only hope that some of the youngsters on the horizon have not only ability but communication skills. With management somewhere between the Cone of Silence and 'Hakuna Matata' mode, we're going to need excitement from somewhere. Oh, you say, it's all about winning baseball games? Well, that won't necessarily be as easy with a revamped Blue Jay roster, youngsters maturing for the D-Rays, and the ever-lurking Yankees, the 'Jaws' of the AL East.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Big Lie

The Big Lie
Okay, so the Red Sox continue to attempt to deal Manny Ramirez. Here's their proposal to Cleveland, "Manny for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"They've only asked The California, Los Angeles, Anaheim, once Disneyland Angels for their best two prospects, acceleration of global warming, and the beer concessions for the next three seasons.

Okay, Manny, so you want to go to Texas? We want Mark Teixeira, a dictionary, 1 million barrels of oil, and twelve season tickets to Longhorns games.

How about the Mets? Well, Pedro doesn't want to come back without a 15% trade kicker, so we'll take Lastings Milledge, Carlos Beltran, and 5 million Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers.

Does somebody in the front office have a dartboard with a Manny face on it? Okay, so Manny can be immature, petulant, and something less than Willie Wilson running out ground balls. Maybe Einstein had bad breath, or B.O. or flatulence. He was still Einstein.

John Henry knows how important it is to know who's on the other side of the trade. None of us wannabes in Red Sox Nation have a clue who the Sox are dealing with. What the 'braintrust' needs to do is identify the MLB version of the Cleveland Cavaliers' Ted Stepien and make some blockbuster deals with them. You're not trading the market, you're trading the traders. So, Theo, get Ben and Jed to get some of these guys kinda liquored up and compromised, and let's feast on 'em. If you can get some pictures, so much the better.Yeah, so it's the Big Lie. We're competing against the Yankees and their printing press, so we gotta do what we gotta do. So make him an offer.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Oprah and The Red Sox

I'm told that an Oprahism is the question, "are you better off with him or without him?" Oprah must have stolen this line from numerous MLB general managers, who have asked themselves this question since the days of Hack Wilson and his alcohol-aided runs batted in.

For the Sox, Oprah's refrain echoes throughout America's Most Beloved Ballpark. At the top, John Henry must be wondering where his commodity traders' risk management skills went, along with his dough. Regarding Theo, obviously Henry decided that the Sox were better with the Boy Wonder than without.

Last year the Sox jettisoned Derek 'the Driller' Lowe, allowed Paydro to follow the money, and followed it up with a pitching staff makeover this season worthy of the Fab Five. We'll presume David Wells will be hitting the road, and for argument's sake, Matt Clement, too, whether fairly or unfairly. I doubt that Wells, just younger than Methusalah, will fetch a lot, but he probably wouldn't win 15 again either.

Beckett and Tavarez are keepers, and we'll see about the Riske business. Currently, with seven starters, Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield, Papelbon, Arroyo, Wells, and Clement, seven's a crowd.

Varitek's the man, but who carries the lunchpail the other days? Somehow, Huckaby, Flaherty, and Bard sound more like a law firm than an answer to the backup catcher question.

When is Snow in September a good thing? When he's protecting a lead at first base defensively. Youkilis has to produce more than Kevin Millar, and we can only hope that Lowell goes well. A-Gone ain't A-Rod or Juan Gone with the stick, but his glove should stick.

Manny being Manny on the field is plenty, Ortiz is the team's offensive and spiritual guru, and Coco should get a lengthy honeymoon in center. Can Trot have a career year in his contract season? If he can stay healthy, he will put up the numbers against righthanders, and Mohr should be decent as a fourth.

Hope springs eternal, that somehow time and statistics will line up for the Sox. But as Earl Weaver would say, "the only thing that matters is what happens on that little hump in the middle of the field." Which means that Foulke, Schilling, Beckett, and the local orthopedists are the most important guys in the house.