Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Va-reality Check

Jason Varitek has provided Red Sox fans with terrific service over the past decade. He has caught four no-hitters, and most importantly was the catcher on a pair of World Series Champions. Like Clint Eastwood, he may merit a "Lifetime Achievement" award.

Chart of U.S. Unemployment
But there's more than meets the "I" here. The "little people", the Great Unwashed of the proletariat, are suffering as they have not for eight decades. Unemployment, using cold, unenhanced data (government statistics have a tendency to shift unpredictably) approaches numbers not seen since the Depression (peaked at 24.6%).

Free market proponents (I am one) encourage professional athletes and other entertainers to reap the benefits to which their unique status entitles them. If a free agent can find someone to pay him top dollar and multiple years, so be it. We can understand how players fear getting "left behind". But how many players have refunded part of their salary for underperformance, injury or illness? Curt Schilling left some money on the table, but also collected the lion's share despite his illness. That is simply how baseball works. No objections and no regrets come from this corner.

But anything less than gracious comments from players who earn (at a minimum) five or more times than a school teacher or a nurse, simply fall on deaf ears.

A murder-suicide took the lives of an entire family today where the breadwinners were fired and tragically destroyed an entire family. The elderly often cannot afford either their medication or proper food under economic strain. Families struggle to pay food bills and meet mortgage payments or lose their homes. Students cannot return to school because they can't afford tuition. That's suffering, not a fifty percent paycut to the earnings of a city in a developing country. Yes, I realize that entertainers do not "own" or cause the suffering.

To most of their credit, we are not hearing the sad stories of multimillion dollar athletes living through the bonfire of the vanities. Many of these gentlemen perform community service and fund raise for worthwhile projects. Sure, sports gives us a diversion from life. But let's not confuse the mundane business negotiations between billionaires and millionaires with real life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sacred and Profane

John Updike passed today, another celebrant of the Fenway tradition gone. The author had written of the ballpark, "a compromise between Man's Euclidean determinations and Nature's beguiling irregularities." Rest in peace.

And the Mexican standoff between the chintzy Sox brass, only willing to pony up five million dollars, and the Boras-Varitek brain trust, deepens as a Saturday deadline beckons. In one corner, management spending prudently and cautiously amidst the greatest economic crisis in eighty years. In the other, the flawless Darrow-like barrister whose mastery of hyperbole is not exceeded.

The Red Sox have concerns about their veteran catcher's age and declining offensive skills. Scott Boras and his client remain worried about the denominations of Red Sox currency. What both sides need to accept (I think the Red Sox have) is not only the benefit (money on the table), but the risk, as Varitek lacks another suitable destination. If he had one then he would be gone.

George Bernard Shaw was at a party and asked a woman if she would sleep with him for a hefty sum. Her interest seemed piqued. He then asked if she would sleep with him for two pounds. She asked him, "what kind of woman do you think I am?" Shaw replied, "we have established the kind of woman you are; we are negotiating the price."

The Red Sox are simply negotiating the price with Scott Boras.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

History and Baseball

I've read and heard people say that they didn't consider the recent inauguration of President Barack Obama that significant. They felt he had not achieved anything.

As a 54 year-old man, I can recall a handful of seminal events, including the Kennedy assassination in 1963, the blackout of 1965 (I was playing electronic football), the lunar landing of 1969, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Challenger explosion, 9/11, and the Obama inauguration. That doesn't discount the many others including the Bay of Pigs, Arab-Israeli and Vietnam Wars, Iran hostage crisis and so forth. We're not counting the Red Sox' painful World Series defeats and redemption and of course the Patriots winning the Super Bowl.

My wife was at the hairdressers and struck up a conversation with a woman whose husband played baseball in the fifties and early sixties, for the Red Sox. She generously shared her stories with my wife. Southern road trips meant African-American players (not that the Red Sox had many) had to stay in separate hotels. They often ate their meals on the bus, while white players ate in the segregated restaurants. Monbouquette apparently often ate on the bus with them.

Yes, times have changed, and they have done so in many of our lifetimes. By no means has the concept of all men (and women) are created equal been fulfilled, but we are getting closer. Which is why we should recognize history when we see it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How Much Money Did Scott Boras Cost Jason Varitek?

Go to about 3:20 of the video.

Hot stove smoke.

Scott Boras may be the best at what he does, and as the joke goes, his ethos of the 95% (of lawyers) makes the other 5% look bad. He played the Red Sox to a point and got Mark Teixeira megabucks. He's off the speed dial in Atlanta after stabbing the Braves in the back with Rafael Furcal. But then he showed Derek Lowe the money getting the erstwhile philander and righthander a four year deal with the same Braves.

But Jason Varitek remains on the outside looking in. The Sox offered Varitek arbitration and he was not likely to get a significant pay cut with that route. But the Varitek-Boras alliance has not found willing suitors (or market) and both will get a pay cut, although in Varitek's case, he's the one to suffer not Boras. Of course, Boras will think (but not say) "it was your decision to test the market, Jason." "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

Plenty of high priced talent remain out there. Manny, Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, Andy Pettitte, and Ben Sheets continue to pound the pavement, evidently wondering where their next ten million dollars comes from. Poor babies.

The Sox traded David Pauley (we hardly knew ya) for Randor Bierd of the Orioles, which registered at 0.02 on the Richter scale.

The Sox have done an excellent job of staying under the radar, while getting a lot done. They've locked up Pedroia and Youkilis, and acquired Penny, Smoltz, Baldelli, and Bard for (in baseball terms) short money and short contracts.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon and Javier Lopez approach arbitration. We're definitely talking apples and oranges here. Of course, Lopez will only make about twenty times the average family in my community. Tough noogies, eh?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Back to the Future?

Your father's Red Sox lived by the sword and died by it. The front office built teams for station-to-station baseball and three run homers. Jim Rice's 400 plus total bases in 1978 weren't enough to win the pennant amidst an August pitching collapse.

Fast forward to 2009. The Red Sox seem to have lost the power battle, but may be winning the arms race, with potential starters including Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brad Penny, Tim Wakefield, John Smoltz, Clay Buchholz, and Michael Bowden. If momentum 'lasts as long as the next day's pitcher, then the Sox could have plenty.

In the bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon anchors, with plenty of help from Takashi Saito, Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, Justin Masterson, Hideki Okajima, and Javier Lopez.

In the game of finding new ways to skin the proverbial cat, the Sox have opted to double up on the run prevention side of the baseball ledger, without abandoning the offense.

Amidst the worst economy since the Great Depression, the Sox have economized while waiting for the development of Lars Anderson, who could project to be another Justin Morneau-type player.

Yes, the Sox continue to have a hole at catcher, and it remains to be see who will become the fungible piece necessary to fill that hole via trade. Whether Jason Varitek and Scott Boras have worn out their collective welcome remains to be seen.

The key questions for the team offensively are:
  • Who is the real Jacoby Ellsbury?
  • Is Big Papi ready to resume his usual form with good health?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rice Capades

Most Red Sox fans are happy for Jim Rice that he finally received induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sitting in the bleachers for Game 1 of the 1975 series, I wondered what it would have been like if the Sox had Rice, who was down after a fractured wrist. My fading memory prevents me from remembering who hit him...I think it was a forgettable Tiger pitcher.

My memories of Rice aren't many but a few stand out. First, I remember a rocket just to the right of the original flagpole in left center, clearing the back wall. It wasn't a towering Harmon Killebrew backspin fly ball that keeps on going. It was milk...screaming. Second, I remember Joe Morgan pinch-hitting Spike Owen for Rice. Third, although he was no defensive marvel, Rice worked hard to become a competent left-fielder, and excelled at playing the wall. I recall Mike Lynch saying how it was hard to criticize a player whom he saw working hard and regularly to excel.

Rice may have seemed like a surly star who wasn't much of an interview. Was that really his persona, or was he simply "Batman" who neither sought nor received the limelight, doing his job the way he saw fit because that was his destiny?

Congratulations to Jim Rice, a career Red Sox whose cap won't be a question when he goes to Cooperstown in July.