Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Baseball Economics

If this off-season’s happenings have shown us anything, it’s that baseball’s economic status is a mess. When one team has the four highest contracts in the history of the sport, there’s something askew. Even the most biased Yankee fan has to admit that they can afford to do things that other teams cannot. As it stands right now, the revenue stream in NY dwarfs the stream coming into Kansas City. Is it fair? Probably not. Is it the Yankees fault? Absolutely not. Can the Yankees be blamed for using every advantage they have to win baseball games? Not really. Is it something that Bud Selig should be concerned with? Without a doubt.

Like I said, it’s not the Yankees fault. And, the only reason I could say they are being irresponsible is if I look big picture. I believe that the Yankees could afford to have the best player at every position on their payroll. If they did that, interest in other markets could drop to the point that there would be no teams left for the Yankees to play. That might concern them a bit, although I doubt it does. Other than that, they’re free to spend as much money as the rules allow…which is as much as they want. That is exactly why lots of people think baseball needs some form of a salary cap. But, I’m not sure it’s that simple.

One problem with the economy of baseball is that you have 30 different owners. If baseball were owned by one person, whose lone goal was to set up interesting baseball games all over the country, it would be one thing. But, the 30 baseball owners all have different ideas of what it means to own a franchise. Apparently, the Steinbrenners think the goal is to win championships. I’m pretty sure John Henry has a similar goal. Some owners might like to turn a nice profit. They might just like having a team. A corporation may like the idea of having brand recognition, or a venture creating a loss for tax purposes. Spending money to put a winning team together might not be on top of everyone’s list. Plus, all the owners aren’t as good as the others. Take the Red Sox for example. The previous ownership group did a pretty good job. The teams performed pretty well, made some playoff appearances. But, the new group has made it even better. They thought of places to put new seats the old group hadn’t considered. They marketed the team to the point where they’ve sold out every game for years. They deserve to be rewarded for the effort they put into running the franchise. The effectiveness of any salary cap or revenue sharing is going to depend on how each of those owner types is addressed. I also agree with the complaints about the current form of revenue sharing. The Marlins keep getting revenue sharing money, and they keep dumping players to have a low payroll. I don’t think it’s fair for the Marlins owner to line his pockets with the Yankees’ money.

So, any system with a ceiling absolutely has to have a floor. Any sort of revenue sharing has to be put directly into player salaries. A team should be rewarded for doing things well, and punished for doing them poorly. And, most important, the Players Association has to be convinced that it’s a good idea. Does such a system exist? I have an idea or two floating around my head.

But, I’ll save that for another time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

36 Years of Sox cards (Part II)

As I continue my look back at the last 36 years of Red Sox baseball cards…

1984 Fleer Wade Boggs Batting Champion
This is a fun little card. At first glance, it looks like it’s been badly miscut. The border of the card is only showing on three sides. But, in actuality, this card is a puzzle. Another card in the set is of the batting title runner up, Rod Carew. His card is shifted in the other direction. When the two cards are placed next to each other, they form a single image of Carew sitting next to Boggs. It’s not an earth-shattering concept, but it’s just a little bit of variety to break up the collection.

1995 Upper Deck Andre Dawson
There’s just something about the photo of this card that I like. It’s a perfect pose showing off the classic Boston Red Sox home white uniform. The player pictured isn’t too bad either. Dawson fashioned himself a fine career…although not with the Red Sox. By the time he joined the Sox, Dawson’s best years were left behind on the Olympic Stadium Turf. He was the type of signing that the Sox did a lot of in those years…big names well past their prime. I guess it was supposed to draw fans to the park. Dawson didn’t even play for the Sox in 1995, instead heading to the Florida Marlins. It’s still a nice picture.

2001 Fleer Red Sox 100th Nomar Garciaparra Bat card
As a Red Sox fan, this was my dream set. An entire set of cards was dedicated to the Boston Red Sox. The set included 100 of the Sox players from the previous century. It was a great opportunity for current collectors to grab great Red Sox players from the past without spending a fortune. Players like Ruth, Foxx, and Williams were suddenly on affordable Red Sox cards. In addition to the regular base set, extra insert sets were included featuring autographed cards, cards pith pieces of a game worn jersey in them, or with a piece of a game-used bat in them. What could be better than opening a pack of cards and getting a piece of a Carlton Fisk jersey, or a Dom Dimaggio autograph, or a piece of Nomar bat. While the actual concepts weren’t exactly new, it was the first chance to get all the Red Sox players assembled in one great looking set. These days, it’s hard to open a pack of cards without tripping over a piece of a bat or jersey or stadium seat. But, I still love this card, and the set that contained it.

1979 Topps Carl Yastrzemski
This card has a nice classic old-time design. It doesn’t overwhelm you like the newer cards will with graphics and gold foil. It just shows you the picture, the name, and the team. pitting the team name in a banner was as flashy as cards needed to be in those days. 1979 ended up being a big year for Yaz. In July he notched his 400th career homerun. In September he amassed his 3000th career hit. He became the first American League Player to accomplish both feats. It almost appears that Yaz is looking off into the distance towards those accomplishments on this card.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Teixeira Tease

The big free agent left on the market is, of course Mark Teixeira. (Although recent reports have him headed to NY) His signing has been the cause of endless speculation this off-season. Frankly, free agent speculation is my favorite reporting. In the effort to scoop everyone else, reporters…even otherwise reputable ones…will throw out any meaningless piece of information they can. Lead stories like, “so and so talking to this team” or “this team shows interest in so and so” are laughable. Frankly, doesn’t every team in the majors have interest in Mark Teixeira? Would a GM calling Boras to check in really be a story? How does one team “have the lead” in the process? Does the highest offer make them the leaders? If that was the case, why hasn’t the offer been accepted? It’s great.

In this particular case, my question involves why the Red Sox are so interested in Mark Teixeira. Like I said, every team could use a 30 home run gold glove first baseman. I just wonder why the Sox are so eager to get this one when they already have one. Kevin Youkilis is a former gold glove winner, and looks to be a player who can give you 30 home runs and 100 RBI. So, would Teixeira really be much of an upgrade? What if you move Youk to third? Then you have Lowell in the way. Didn’t everyone just practically beg Theo to sign Lowell for as long as he wanted? Suddenly, he’s an expendable part? There’s been talk of moving Ortiz to make room for Tex. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of getting “another” 30 home run guy if you get rid of one of the ones you already have? For the money the Sox would have to spend, I don’t really see the fit.

Which I guess is one of the problems I have with Theo. He doesn’t seem to look ahead very well when it comes to free agents. Did Theo not know that Tex would be on the market this winter? Sure you can’t depend on a guy not extending his contract. But, don’t we know that Boras doesn’t do contract extensions? Did he sign Lowell knowing he was going to push this hard just one year later? What about Lugo? He signed him to a huge contract. Did he not know that Lowrie was coming right behind him? What exactly is going on with the revolving door at shortstop? Or Coco? Was Ellsbury’s speed invisible to Theo to the point that he had to trade away Varitek’s replacement to get Coco? Where is the planning? I don’t get it.

I’m not going to sit here and say that Mark Teixeira wouldn’t improve the team. If you replaced Lowell or Youkilis with him, the team would be better in the long run. I’m just not convinced it would be that much better. Especially since you then have spare parts. Ortiz, Lowell, or Youk would be odd man out. Do you trade one? For what exactly? Youkilis probably has the most value. Which position do the Sox need a player equal in value to the second runner up to MVP? Unless you’re trading for Joe Mauer, everything else is taken. The Sox are set at second. There are no shortstops that good out there. Third is still plugged. The outfield is pretty set with bay, Ells, and Drew. The rotation? Even if there was a top of the rotation guy available…the Sox don’t really need it. Their current top three is just fine. The resultant moves would just make a mess. Signing Teixeira looks like one of those moves GMs make just to make a move, and look good in the papers.

I thought Theo was above all that.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

36 Years of Red Sox Baseball Cards

One of the many ways I fuel my Red Sox obsession is through baseball cards. I love flipping through them. It reminds me of players I might have forgotten. It takes me back in time to a player’s early years. It brings up players I wish we still had, or I’m glad we got rid of. So, I thought the lull of the winter was a great time to dip into the Red Sox baseball card past. I’m going to look over the last 36 years of Red Sox baseball cards. I’ll pick out one card from each year to discuss briefly. If you’re a fellow card collector, hopefully it will remind you of some of your favorites as well. If you’re not a collector, hopefully you won’t think the exercise is a waste of space. There won’t be any set criteria for picking out the cards. I won’t own most of them. They won’t all be of star players. They won’t all be the most valuable cards of the year. They’ll just be the ones I most felt like talking about. I’m also not going to go in order, just to mix it up a little. So, here we go.

2006 Fleer Jon Lester
Mr. Lester has had quite a year the last twelve months or so. He went from World Series winner to effective trade bait. From promising youngster, to playoff ace. I bet this off-season, not many people would trade him for Johan Santana even up…let alone in a package. This card is one of Lester’s rookie cards. It’s a classic card with an attractive design. It doesn’t have the flash or the flair of other products from 2006, but I like it. The rookie logo on the card reminds everyone that at this point, Lester was just a hot-shot prospect looking for a way to get into the rotation. My how things change.

1990 Score Mo Vaughn
I loved Mo Vaughn. I loved the way he looked at the plate. I thought his stance was so intimidating hunched ever so slightly. He would glare out at the pitcher through one eye and almost dare him to throw a pitch. This is one of Big Mo’s rookie cards, coming from a “Draft Picks” subset. Card companies realized that people wanted the first cards they could get of their favorite players. Including a subset of draft picks allowed cards to be produced as soon as a player was in an organization. The only problem with the subset is that they were usually of players you hadn’t heard of yet. When this card was pulled out of a pack, Mo was still a year away from his Red Sox debut. Once he started playing for the Sox, though, I was sure to grab up a handful of these cards.

1975 Topps Tim McCarver
I like the 1975 Topps baseball card set a lot. I’d love to be able to build the entire set someday. The colors on the cards are a lot of fun. I’ll take the bright borders over a blander scheme any day. I also like the set because the player selection crosses generations. The set is old enough to have cards of Hank Aaron and Bob Gibson, but recent enough to have Nolan Ryan and George Brett. They have managers when they were players such as Bobby Valentine and Mike Hargrove. And, there’s cards of announcers like Tim McCarver. I don’t like McCarver as a broadcaster. He actually makes me turn the volume of the TV off during games. But, there he is on this card displaying himself as a member of the Boston Red Sox. McCarver appeared in 12 games for the Sox in 1975 before being shipped away. If it weren’t for this card, I might never have known that.

More to come...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Short Hops

A lot has happened since last I wrote, so I thought I’d touch on each of them just a little bit…
CC to NY- If you had asked me going into the offseason which big-time free agents I could live with going to NY, CC would have topped the list. His career has been so inconsistent that I can’t wait to see the NY media handle his bad stretches. The fact that the Yankees practically got on their knees for him is even more enjoyable. Now, I’d like to think that giving Sabathia such an enormous contract will hurt the Yankees in years to come by tying up available cash. I know that’s not the case though. If Sabathia is a bad as he usually was in Cleveland, the Yankees will be just fine paying their #5 starter $25 million. I love the idea of a guy saying flat out he didn’t want to play in NY but finally getting the offer he couldn’t refuse. What place is better than NY for players who don’t really have the desire to be there?

AJ to NY – What is it with the Yankees and initials this offseason? I think Burnett would have been second on the list of free agents I could live with the Yankees signing. Granted, getting both of them is a little annoying. Again, Burnett is a high risk, medium rerward signing. It’s very likely that AJ will spend more time on the DL than on the field during this contract. That’s the high risk. The reward if he’s healthy? An aging pitcher who’s notched 10 wins each of his first two years in Toronto.

New Uni’s in Boston – I go back and forth on the new uniforms. On the one hand, I feel that these are the Red Sox for goodness sakes. We don’t need publicity stunts like alternate uniforms. Leave that stuff in San Diego. On the other hand, sometimes it’s nice to see a change of pace on the field. Plus, it’s not like they can’t sell whatever style uniform they want in stores. If they can sell hockey style Red Sox jerseys, why not toss out a different looking road grey. I will say the timing of it is a little slimy. At only a couple weeks before Christmas, how many already wrapped former road jerseys are already sitting under trees? How many lunch boxes are wrapped up using the old logo? If they wanted to use the holiday season to boost sales of the new versions, they could have put it out a month ago so fewer people would open out of date items Christmas morning. Otherwise, I guess I have no problem with new uniforms…just stay away from the camouflage versions.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Catching or Pitching

The Red Sox are currently without a starting catcher. The team captain and starting catcher for the last ten years or so is currently a free agent. While it appears that the Sox would like to have him back, you never know how it will end up with free agents. You never know when a team comes out of nowhere thinking that what a free agent has is exactly what his team needs to put him over the top. In the case of Varitek, the skill most often cited is his ability to handle a pitching staff. That’s one of those immeasurable intangibles that I greatly dislike. What exactly does it mean? How do you know when you’re good?

Where does a catcher’s ability end, and a pitcher’s ability start? Pedro Martinez won a Cy Young without Varitek, and won two with him. Hideo Nomo threw a no-hitter without Varitek, and one with him. Curt Schilling didn’t finish better than second in Cy Young voting without Varitek, and no better than second with him. Did Varitek have any role in any of it?

I’m not a major league pitcher, so I have no idea what it all means. (If there are any major league pitchers reading this, feel free to set me straight.) But, when I look at this issue, I have more questions than answers. When Josh Beckett first joined the Sox, he got beat up a little his first season. The EEIdiots said he was relying too much on his fastball, and not throwing enough curves. They slammed him almost daily saying he was in a new league and needed to mix it up a bit more. Where did Tek fit into all this? Wasn’t he the one calling the pitches? Wasn’t it up to him to call the curve more often? Was Beckett shaking Tek off constantly? Similar issues arose with another new pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka. His rookie season, and last season as well, he threw a lot of pitches. Again, the EEIdiots slammed the pitcher. He was nibbling too much. Rather than try to paint the corners with every pitch he needed to pump it in there more. Again, what was Tek’s role? Doesn’t the catcher set the target? [Side question…when exactly does the catcher tell the pitcher where the location should be? The glove isn’t in position sometimes until the pitcher is into his windup. Is this enough time for the pitcher to direct the ball to the desired target? Again, any MLB pitcher reading this please set me straight] Is it up to Tek to put his glove in the middle of the plate and tell Dice-K to throw it there? Is Daisuke trying to hit the target in the middle and not doing it? Is Tek placing his glove on the corner? Who really is to blame for Beckett and Daisuke, the pitcher or the catcher?

I have to believe that Tek really does have something special. Too many pitchers have given too many specific examples as to why he’s so valuable. When a guy like Schilling who has micromanaged every pitch he’s thrown for his entire career turns the reins over to Tek his first year, I have to believe something’s up. I just don’t know what it is. I definitely hope that the Sox sign Tek for at least another season.

I wish I knew why.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dustin’s Deal

I blame the Cleveland Indians. In the late nineties, they had a load of young stars, and they signed them all to long-term deals early on. After a few years, teams started to notice that by doing that, they had the likes of Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Albert Belle signed to cheap long term-deals that avoided nasty arbitration issues. After that, teams everywhere went around locking up their young talent. The players got a nice deal since they were able to get security against injury. They took a little risk that if they performed well they’d become underpaid. But, at the millions that the deals are worth, it wouldn’t sting too badly. Plus, if they got that good, the free agent paycheck would surely make up for the slight. (You’ll notice that the three players I mentioned above did exactly that just as soon as they could. Didn’t seem to hurt them.) From the team’s perspective, if the player performed well they would get a bargain. If, however, the player went down the tubes or got hurt, the team could be a big loser. I see the reasoning for a team like the Rays to lock up a player on the cheap, and take the risk. It’s the only way they’d ever be able to afford Evan Longoria. But, for a team like the Sox, is it worth the risk?

The Pedroia deal is worth in the $40 million range for 6 years. The first few years are pretty low, in the $1.5 mil range. The last few jack up towards double digits. Is that a good deal for Dustin? I’d say so. His arbitration values would be pretty low for a few more years, so the $1.5 million is pretty good. At the end, he’s assured a pretty good salary no matter how he does. So, what’s his downside? If he goes out and wins the next 6 MVP awards, he’ll be underpaid at $10 million. But, if he does that I’m guessing a 30-year old 7-time MVP will do just fine in free agency. His upside? If he breaks his leg tomorrow and never plays again, he gets $40 million he wouldn’t get.

It seems to me that in long-term deals like this, all the risk is by the team. They have the most to lose by gambling that Dustin will be a star. For a team with limited funds, it’s probably worth the risk since it’s the only chance they have. Are the Sox a team with limited funds?

Congratulations Dustin on your payday!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why Derek Jeter Drives Me Batty

OK. Maybe Derek Jeter himself doesn’t drive me batty. After all, I haven’t met the guy or anything. I guess it’s his fans that really drive me nuts. The fact that every aspect of his game has been overrated to the point of insanity isn’t his fault. He’s just a guy who has made a career of being a decent ballplayer. I shouldn’t blame him for taking advantage of it. I just need to ask, why the heck does everyone think he’s so good? Someone actually referred to him as a Hall-of-Famer to me recently. When will it end? Jeter’s career has been a case of “right place at the right time” to a degree that even Tom Brady can’t approach. Take Jeter out of New York, or shift his career a year or two in either direction, and everything would have been completely different.

Jeter’s first full year in the bigs was 1996. He performed well, especially for a rookie shortstop. More important, the Yankees were on their way to their first World Series crown in quite some time. The national media was thrilled. Finally they could write about the team in the country’s biggest market. But, what would they focus their stories on? Don Mattingly wasn’t on the team anymore. The stories of Donnie Baseball finally winning it all were out. Paul O’Neill was a bit of a grump, so that’s not exactly a great story. Neither were bland Andy Pettitte or Tino Martinez. Maybe the Wade Boggs ring could get some play, but not much. So, they turn to the kid shortstop. He’s playing pretty well. Might even win the AL ROY. Great, there’s a story that can be written. So, writers across the country, and even more in NY, tout the young Jeter in every article they write. What are the story lines? The potential ROY is a good one. But, even writers know that winning a rookie of the year doesn’t always mean a great player. The list of players who have won the award isn’t nearly as impressive as the list of players who haven’t. So, after a few cycles of that story, they need more. This is when they realize that there’s this shortstop in Seattle who’s off to a potential MVP season. He might be the best shortstop ever. It turns out, the good shortstop is friends with the one in NY. What a story. There’s another cycle. Then, once it becomes clear that the Yanks will win it all, they kid shortstop becomes the reason. They can’t write about his stats…they’re barely above average. They’re certainly nothing compared to the Seattle guy. So, they decide it’s his intangibles. His leadership. The way he handles himself. Those stories are nice for the writers. First, they’re almost impossible to disprove. They also allow the writers a little creativity. They get to use all kinds of adjectives in their stories. This makes for an almost endless cycle…grit, toughness, professionalism, psyche, clubhouse demeanor, etc. It lasts all year. Then, Jeter does win the ROY, unanimously at that. What a story…the undisputed rookie of the year. The fact that the runners up for the award consisted of James Baldwin and Tony Clark isn’t mentioned. The whole off-season is filled with stories of the Yankees and their super young shortstop.

The next season, Nomar Garciaparra arrives on the scene. Not only is he a shortstop, but he puts up amazing numbers. 30 HR, 98 RBI and a .306 average? From anybody, that’s an amazing season. From a shortstop? That was even better then that guy from Seattle did in ’97. Clearly, in Nomar and Rodriguez, we had possibly the best two shortstops ever. The stories about that duo would be endless. But, they wouldn’t sell as well in NY. Wouldn’t it be great if one of them played in NY to reach that market? What if, instead of a shortstop duo in Boston and Seattle, there was a shortstop trio including NY. Perfect. There’s always a weak link or two whenever a Big Three or Fab Five are tossed about. Nobody would even notice that Jeter wasn’t in the same class as the other two. They could just claim he belonged there because he had the ring. 1998 brought more of the same. Rodriguez had a monster year in Seattle (.310-42-124). Nomar did the same in Boston (.323-35-122). I bet there’s never been a pair of shortstops to put up numbers like that in one year. Jeter had a decent year (.324-19-84) but to say he was in the same league as the other two was a joke. Thankfully, for the writers, Jeter’s team had one of the all-time great seasons. So, the trinity continued…Seattle and Boston with the stats, NY with the rings. Interestingly, another shortstop (Damion Easley) put up a .271-27-100 stat line in 1998 (after going .264-22-72 in ’97). Why was Jeter included in the trinity, and not Easley? Dean Palmer went .278-34-119 in 1998. Why wasn’t it a fab five of shortstops? Easley and Palmer weren’t nearly as good as Nomar and ARod. They were about as good as Jeter, with more power but a lower average. So, why did Jeter make the trio, over the other two? Easley played in Detroit, and Palmer in Kansas City. The writers didn’t need those media markets as much as NY.

It went on like this for the next six or seven years. The Yankees won more titles, so the “knows how to win” story could still be written. Jeter’s cute, so he got voted onto a few all-star teams. And, the ones he didn’t get voted on, Joe Torre was there to select him as a reserve. (At one point, the AL team had 4 shortstops to get the people on the team who actually deserved to be there.) The reporters would come up with odd things that Jeter did well. I actually heard during a Yankees broadcast that Jeter was the best ever at fielding a high chopper over the pitcher’s mound. Really? How is that even determined? They might find some streak he was on, like number of games reached base or seasons with 200 hits. After all, NY has loved streaks since the forties. They never quite mention why a streak that can be extended by going 0 for 3 with a hit-by-pitch is worth tracking. Or why it’s hasn’t been tracked before or since. They go on and on that he’s the first player to win the MVP of the All-Star game and World Series in the same year. Huh? Do either of those awards mean anything? They overblow plays he makes. (Two that come to mind are the “flip” he made during the playoffs against Oakland, and the dive into the stands against the Sox in ’04. Check out youtube, and I’m sure you can find those plays to watch again. On the first play, notice that the ball was on line and set to tag out Giambi before Jeter grabbed it and ran it into foul territory. He actually made it a more difficult play since the catcher had to sweep farther to make the tag. On the second, notice that he caught the ball in fair territory, and instead of simply turning right and running into the outfield he dove into the stands. Both plays are hyped up to the moon. If anyone else makes the plays, they’re not even mentioned during the game story.)

So here we are, twelve years later. Jeter’s never led the league in any important category. He hasn’t won a major award. He’s won some stuff that fans vote on, but that’s about it. After a very long-winded post (sorry…I even edited some stuff out), I’m left with one question.
Why does everyone insist he’s so good?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon- By: Stephen King

Quick and dirty, this is a book about a girl who gets lost in the
woods. Of course, nothing ever written by Stephen King has been quick and dirty. Once she is separated from her family, it becomes a race to return to civilization before she loses everything. Along the way, the girl, Tricia, must fight obstacles both real and imagined. Her only weapon against the fear and loneliness are the Red Sox radio broadcasts she can pick up on her Walkman. Days may run together when you’re lost in the wilderness, but her Red Sox games kept her in a sense of normalcy. She may have been lost, but her hero Tom Gordon was still saving games. There was still hope, as long as Gordon kept taking the mound. The only question becomes if hope is enough.

I don’t read as many Stephen King books as I probably should. That might be why the one thing that struck me about this book is that it could actually happen. I may never meet an evil spirit, undead pet, or whatever else might appear in his novels. But, I could get lost in the woods. I could take a left when I should have gone right. That reality made it even more chilling to me. I could see myself wandering in circles. I could imagine waiting for the Sox game to come on, just so I wouldn’t have to worry about how scared and alone I was. I could see myself grasping onto a Red Sox game like it was the only thing that could save me. In that case, Tom Gordon was the perfect person for Tricia to idolize. During the season in which the book takes place, Gordon led the American League in saves, saving 43 in a row to end the season. What better player to put all your faith in. To place your hopes and dreams with? Obviously, King is a gifted writer. I don’t need to tell anyone that. He is also a great Red Sox fan. I don’t need to tell you that either. In this novel, he wonderfully combines the two. As expected, this was a great book. Go find it, and read it. (Maybe not right before bed.)

Rating: 3 bases

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thank You Red Sox!

Even though the 2008 Red Sox season ended without a World Championship, there were still good points. With the Thanksgiving holiday nearly here, here’s a list of a few things about the 2008 season that I am thankful for.

Another ring ceremony. Those never seem to get old. After wondering for so long if I’d ever get to see one, I’ve been in the stands for two of them. Almost missed this one due to insane parking issues, but made it time for the ceremonies. The Sox have sure learned how to put on a production at Fenway. Hopefully, there’ll be several more.

Jon Lester’s no-no. His maturation this year was a real treat. He started the year as a question mark. Half of Sox fans thought he should have been traded in the offseason. (And, yes, I was part of that half.) He ended the season as the staff ace, and one of the best young lefties in baseball. He’ll be fun to watch in the years to come.

Yankee Stadium’s demise. No more endless droning from the national media about mystique, or history, or any of that garbage. No more “house that Ruth built” crud. Now the Yankees will just play in a stadium. Just like everyone else. Although, I’m sure Fox will find some hype somewhere during broadcasts.

Four months of Manny. I wish it were three more. I’ll forever think it was a bad trade. But, I’m grateful that I got to see a first ballot Hall-of-Famer live in person for so many years. He was a treat to watch.

Jason Bay’s production. He was a downgrade, but dang if he didn’t try to pretend he wasn’t. Nobody even suggested he was the player that Manny was. But, he just went out and did his job. He didn’t try to do too much. He knew he was good, and figured that was good enough. I look forward to seeing what he brings to the table during a full season.

Dustin Pedroia’s trophies. His trophy case is pretty full for a youngster…World Series trophy, ROY, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, MVP. After you do that in your first two years, is there anywhere else to go? I can’t wait to find out.

Dirty Water. Even driving in the car, if that song comes on it brings a smile to my face.

Ortiz’s Cursed Jersey. Still one of my favorite stories of the year. How crazy are New Yorkers? Wait. Don’t answer that. How a jersey buried in a concrete floor would somehow curse a team I’ll never know. Why the Yankees made it a story by digging it up is even more of a question. I’ll give credit, though, for donating the jersey to charity. They could have burned it on the pitcher’s mound. Instead, they chose to do some good with it.

ALCS Games. How spoiled are we that not winning the ALCS is a bad year? But, the Sox made it to the final game of the championship series. Once again they came back from the brink of elimination to force a seventh game. They just didn’t have enough this year.

Brewers Games. I was finally able to add the Brew Crew to my “seen live” team list. Including young sluggers Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, it was a great line-up to check out. If only Gagne had made it into the game, it would have been perfect.

Terry Francona’s candor. His “second guess” segment with the EEIdiots should be required from every pro manager or GM. When he was asked a question, he gave an answer. Even if I thought the answer was bunk, it was nice to know he was thinking it over. Usually I found that things I questioned were obvious once he explained the behind-the scenes thought process.

I’m sure there are many more things. I could list. Anyone else have any of their own to offer?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Congratulations Dustin!

The voters have spoken. As usual, they don’t care in the least what I think. Would I have given it to Pedroia? No. Can I make a rock-solid case against him? No. That’s the beauty (or problem) with this award. One writer (I won’t give him the extra pub by using his name) left Pedroia completely off his ballot, while 16 voters had him in the top spot. That’s what you get when people vote, and I really don’t have a problem with that. What is valuable to one person isn’t valuable to another. As long as it wasn’t a blanket statement like “second basemen shouldn’t count” he can vote or not vote for whomever he likes. I’m not wrong by thinking Pedroia wasn’t the most valuable, just like I don’t think any of the voters are wrong for their votes. (Well, maybe some of the votes are wrong)

My argument of a couple days ago was brought up again with yesterday’s results. I suggested that a player on a bad team might be more deserving of the award than a player on a good team. Since the player on the bad team obviously had less help, doesn’t that make him more valuable? In yesterday’s results, the first and third place finishers were on the Sox, wile second and fourth went to the Twins. Is it hard to say that Pedroia was more valuable to his team than any other player when Youkilis was on his team? The other way is even easier…how valuable could Youkilis be when he’s sharing the line-up with the most valuable player in the whole league?
I like examples, so here’s one. Say I have a baseball card collection, and you have a baseball card collection. Each collection has 3 cards. My collection has a Ted Williams rookie card, a Carl Yastrzemski rookie, and a Carlton Fisk rookie. Yours has a Carlton Fisk Rookie, a Jody Reed Rookie, and a Wilton Veras rookie. Now, each collection has that Fisk card. If we looked the value of the card up in a price guide, each of us would find the same value assigned to the card of $50 or so. But, the Fisk would be the worst card in my collection, and far and away the best card in yours. Wouldn’t that make it much more valuable to your collection? Without the Fisk, I still have a pretty good set of cards. Without the Fisk, you might as well use your collection as coasters. So, does the presence of Youkilis diminish Pedroia’s value to the Sox? How could it not?

Whatever the results, Pedroia had an amazing year. Bottom line, that’s all that matters.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What is Valuable?

The baseball award season concludes with the announcement of the Most Valuable Players of each league. While the other awards certainly can lead to disagreement, the MVP may be the most argumentative. Most of the discussion involved the word “valuable”. People often point out that it’s not a “Player of the Year” award, so it’s not just about numbers. The voters need to take into account the player’s value to the team he plays on. What exactly does valuable mean? It appears to mean different things to different voters.

Curiously, some people link a player’s value to a team’s success. I even heard an EEIdiot say that a player who did not play on one of the playoff teams should be automatically eliminated from consideration. The similar argument is used to eliminate players from last place teams. The rationale given that how valuable can a player be on a last place team. Without the player, the team would still be in last place. Oddly, this argument isn’t used for a player on a first place team. It’s never suggested that a team would be in first place, even without the player. Let’s try a little scenario. Imagine a local high school team was playing a college team. They’d probably get beat. Right? If they played 100 times, would the high school win any? Maybe 5 flukes? So, in a 100-game season, the college team would finish 95-5, 90 games ahead of the 5-95 high school team. Now, let’s give the high school team Josh Beckett. He pitches every fifth game, so he makes 20 starts. I’d imagine it’s safe to predict a shutout almost every time out. I’d also imagine he’s a good enough hitter to account for a run or two himself in those games off average college pitchers. So, let’s say, Beckett goes 20-0 in his starts. So, now the high school team finishes 25-75. That’s only 50 games behind the 75-25 college team. So, assuming everything else was identical between the two seasons besides Beckett, would Beckett be the MVP? With him, his team was still in last place just like they were without him. But, they were a full 40 games closer than they were without him. Would he be eliminated because his team was in last by so much? The EEIdiot would say yes. The MVP of the league would have to come from the first place team. But who? In either scenario the first place team won the league by a landslide. How valuable can any one of them be? Wouldn’t it be safe to say if they replaced any college team member with any other college player the records would be about the same? I could make the argument that a great player on a bad team is even more valuable than a great player on a good team. The good team has more margin for error. Take Beckett away, and the high school team stinks. He’s the one player who even makes their season even marginally acceptable. That’s pretty valuable to me.

So, what does this mean in real life? That Josh Hamilton should get just as much consideration for the award as Dustin Pedroia. Maybe even a bit more since without Pedroia, the Sox would still have Youkilis. Without Hamilton, the Rangers might as well not even show up.
Personally? I still like Quentin from the White Sox. He’s a little bit of both arguments. He has raw numbers, like Hamilton. But, his team benefited from them even more. I could go for Morneau for the same reasons on numbers plus results. KRod? No way. Closers are the more overrated position out there. He’s no more valuable than any other bullpen guy. So, if I needed to rank the players I’ve mentioned? Quentin-Morneau-Hamilton-Youkilis-Pedroia-Krod. But, with some more research, I’d probably find some guys to stick in the middle there.

Krod would be at the bottom of just about any list I make.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Need Tickets? Got Tickets?

The Red Sox announced that, apparently for the first time in 14 years, they are freezing ticket prices for the 2009 season. I was pretty excited about that. But, listening to some of the EEIdiots, that’s not even enough. There were actually calls for the Red Sox to cut ticket prices so that more people can afford them. I know I’ve brought this up before, but why do people think they’re entitled to go to a Red Sox game?

Some of the calls mentioned the tough economic times. How, they asked, could the Sox expect people to shell out ticket money when times are so tough? That’s a good point. The economy isn’t as good as it could be. But, from the Sox point of view, there are still plenty of people who can afford to go to Red Sox games. I have no doubt that the Sox will sell out every game once again. They may make a larger dent in their seven-year waiting list for season tickets then they have in the past. But, there will still be a waiting list. People will flock to Fenway 81 times. I suspect the same would be true if they raised prices. So, why would they lower prices? The usually response from the EEIdiots is that the real fans can’t afford games. The families can’t afford games. It’s all corporations, and the rich who can afford the $125 seats. Who gets to decide who “deserves” tickets? Should there be a quiz you have to pass before they let you through the gates? I’m very sorry that some people who would like to go to a game this year won’t be able to afford to. That’s the way it works sometimes. I can’t afford a Lexus, but I’m not calling for Lexus to lower their prices this year to a level that I can afford. I’d be laughed at for even suggesting it. And, really the prices themselves aren’t that high. You can get a bleacher seat for $26, and an infield grandstand for $50. A ticket to Disney on Ice is going to cost you that. People aren’t calling in radio shows to complain that they’re not slashing prices.

The other argument that the EEIdiots like to bring up is that it’s not just ticket prices. You need to pay $50 for parking. Food and beers cost an arm and a leg. That’s all extra money. Families are hit worse. Once you’re done buying food and hats and programs for two kids, the day costs as much as rent. Of course, they ignore the fact that you don’t have to do any of that. Parking at the T is, what, $3? Plus another $3-4 for the T pass? Even a family of four gets in at less than $20 to park. As for food and drink at the game, don’t buy it. Eat at home before you go. I generally stick to a hot dog and a souvenir soda at the game. That’s around $10. I just make sure I eat well at home before I go. As for the kids, I know that I didn’t get endless food when I went to games with my parents. If I ever bring kids, they won’t get hats, and pennants, and programs. Heck, the autographs in Autograph Alley are free. What better souvenir is there?

If you want to go to a game, you can do it. Just like any other fun thing you want to do, you just need to make it a priority. Just like going to the opera, or a museum, or an amusement park. Costs come with everything. Some things you can afford. Some things you can’t. It’s the way it goes.

If you want to go to a game cheaply, I do have a couple tips that make sense to me. -Pay face value for a ticket. Don’t waste money by paying scalpers. Get your butt in front of a computer, and get them from the ticket office. You still may get shut out, but you need to try.
-Don’t pay the crazy parking fees. Even if you don’t like the T, it’s worth a bit of a walk to not pay the fees next to Fenway. If you look around town enough, you can find better deals. I still think the T is the way to go.
-Buy the kids peanuts or popcorn. It takes several innings to make your way through a bag of either. That limits the number of times you’ll need to stuff food in their face. The peanuts are nice too because they get the fun of having them thrown into the crowd. (Although, food is usually cheaper if you go down and get it yourself)
-Kids don’t need hats or shirts or bats. Programs are a couple bucks outside Fenway. Teach the kids to keep score. (This saves money by keeping them too occupied to want food as well) Autographs are free. Kids like the cheap things as much as a bat.
-Skip the beer. You’re there to watch a ballgame, not get a buzz.

Anybody else have a way to save money on a trip to the Fens?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Defensive Darlings

It’s awards season for baseball. As usual, it starts with the release of the Gold Glove Award winners from each league. Which always begs some questions. How exactly do you decide who the best defensive player at each position is? What makes the best defender better than the second best defender? Do you use stats? Are there any good defensive stats? Is it something that you can see if you watch games? Do you need to see a lot of games? Is it just guesswork? Is it just something that Rawlings uses as a publicity stunt, and we shouldn’t put too much stock into it? In order, I’ll go something like this: I don’t know, I don’t know, maybe, no, maybe, yes, yes, absolutely.

Greg Maddux won his record 18th Gold Glove this season. What exactly makes a good fielding pitcher? They only get into 30ish games a year. They might make 20 or 30 total fielding plays in a season. Is there something that you can see in those kind of numbers that makes one better than another? Maddux doesn’t strike a lot of guys out. Wouldn’t that give him more opportunities to make plays, since more of his outs would be made in the field? Does Maddux get more easy come backers than other pitchers? Does that make him a better fielder?
What about the other positions? How about catcher? Jason Varitek keeps getting the reputation as an amazing defensive catcher, just not at the kind of things that show up in stats. But, which stats do we look at for a catcher? Putouts? Isn’t that mostly the number of strikeouts a pitcher has while the catcher catches? So, because Tek catches Beckett and Dice-K, he’s a better defender? How about assists? Aren’t those just dribblers in front of the mound and caught stealings? Is that the catcher’s defense that causes those?

How about the outfield? Think about how many plays an outfielder makes during a game. Last year, Coco Crisp, a great outfielder, played 144 games, made 1 error, 408 putouts, and 7 assists. Last year JD Drew, an average outfielder, played 135 games, made 6 errors, 224 putouts, and 3 assists Last year, Manny Ramirez, a poor outfielder, played 120 games, made 2 errors, 182 putouts, and 8 assists. So, Coco got to about 2.9 balls per game, JD 1.7, while Manny got to 1.6. Obviously, Coco’s speed lets him get to more balls. That certainly implies he’s a better defender. But, even though it’s twice as many…it’s about 1 per game that he’s better. So, in a given game the best outfielder on the Sox might get to one or two more balls than the worst outfielder? Is that significant? How often does the CF call off the LF and RF just because that’s the way it works. What if balls hit to left and right center were divided equally? How many plays that are made by a Gold Glove outfielder plays that at least half of the outfielders in the league would make?

Where am I going with all this? I’m not sure. I’m not saying that there aren’t good defenders and bad defenders. It’s just not the type of thing you can easily determine. You could look at stats, but you’d need mountains of stats. Does a shortstop get more assists because he plays behind groundball pitchers? How long is the infield grass? How good are the defenders next to him? What does the ballpark look like? You could be there forever. You’d need to be Bill James to really figure it out. You could try to do it by watching too. But, you’d have to watch them a lot. You’d need to be able to see if they make running catches because they cover a lot of ground, or because they run the wrong way for the first few steps. You’d need to develop an expectation of the fielder. Braves pitchers used to say they wouldn’t turn around to watch balls hit to centerfield because they assumed Andruw Jones had it. I’d say that makes him a good defender. But, where does that show up in a stat? In reality, the top ten defenders at each position are probably indistinguishable. So, they can give out awards if they want. Just don’t think a guy with two Gold Gloves is better than somebody with one. It’s just not that clear cut.

It’s a good marketing ploy by Rawlings though.

Monday, November 3, 2008

2008 Section 36 Scavenger Hunt

So, here we are. The season is over, and it’s three long months before we can even think about spring training. The Sox aren’t expected to make any hot stove headlines. There’s no more Manny to try to trade. There are no huge free agents the Sox are expected the chase. (I think that the pitchers are too expensive for their liking. The Teixeira love affair is a bit too complicated, expensive and unnecessary for my taste) The only news we can hope for is a signing of a middle reliever. How are we ever going to make it through the long winter? Luckily, I have the solution. I present the First Annual Section 36 Scavenger Hunt. I’ve always liked this kind of thing. A chance to look around and find obscure stuff. Now, since this is web-based, I obviously can’t have actual items needing to be found. So, this year I’ll do it with words. (Maybe next time we’ll try pictures.) Here’s how it works. Below you’ll find a list of 36 items (or answers?) to find. Since baseball is becoming more and more a game of numbers, I’ve made everything you need to find a number of some kind. Hopefully, most of these things aren’t things you’ll just know. They’re something you’ll have to hunt down and look for…which makes it a “scavenger hunt” and not a “Google search”. When you find all the items, list them out and send them along to me in an e-mail. Whoever sends me a list with the most items found correctly wins. We’ll make the end of the hunt be noon (Fort Myers time) on the day pitchers and catchers report for the Red Sox 2009 spring training, so e-mail me before then. This provides enough time to find the stuff, and fills all the time leading up to more baseball. Sound like fun? What do you win if you’re the best? Worldwide fame and adoration. I will post the winner’s name (and picture if one is provided) on this very site and hail them as the 2008 Section 36 Scavenger Hunt Champion!

Enough with the introductions. Here are the things you need to find:
1. The number of commitments in the Red Sox Mission Statement:
2. The first number mentioned in Chapter 1 of Mike Lupica’s book Wild Pitch:
3. The uniform number of the Cardinals player sliding into Mark Bellhorn on the November 1, 2004 cover of “Sports Illustrated”:
4. The postal zip code for Fenway Park:
5. The number of games played by Jim Rice during the 1978 regular season:
6. The number of deleted scenes included on the “curse reversed” edition of the Fever Pitch DVD:
7. The number of cups of “large curd sour cream” that are needed for Darren Lewis’s Potato Romanoff recipe, featured in the 2001 Red Sox Wives Cookbook, Crowding the Plate:
8. In W.P. Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe, Ray Kinsella takes J.D. Salinger to Fenway Park in order to “ease his pain.” The section in which he gets tickets:
9. The number of runs scored by the Red Sox in the bottom of the seventh inning of the game chronicled in Steve Kettermann’s book One Day at Fenway:
10. The lot number of the Mookie-Buckner baseball in Leyland’s Charlie Sheen auction of April 2000:
11. The lowest section number of the Fenway Park bleachers:
12. The number of stars on the state flag of the state in which Curt Schilling was born:
13. The number of fans whose stories are chronicled in the movie Still, We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie:
14. The number of Calories that were in one quart of “Curse Reversed!” flavor Brigham’s Ice Cream:
15. The number the player liked by Trisha’s brother Pete, in Stephen King’s book The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, usually wore:
16. The number of Red Sox players pictured on the cover of the April 11-17, 2004 issue of TV Guide:
17. The number of runs scored by the Red Sox in the first night game at Fenway Park:
18. The number of pitches Manny Ramirez saw in his first at bat in Fenway Park as a member of the Red Sox:
19. The approximate running time, in minutes, of the 2001 DVD: Boston Red Sox, 100 Years of Baseball History presented by Verizon:
20. The number of grams of sugar in a 2 oz box of Necco Sweet Hits Baseball Classic Candy, featuring John Valentin:
21. Cost, in dollars, of the raffle ticket sold in Fenway Park that gave you a chance to win an official 2004 Red Sox World Series Championship ring:
22. The row number in which Joseph Boucher was sitting during the June 9, 1946 Sox game against Detroit at Fenway:
23. Number of US Senators from the home state of Jon Lester:
24. The year in which the movie Fear Strikes Out was released:
25. The number of ounces of Wheaties in the 2007 World Series commemorative box, featuring Josh Beckett:
26. The number of times Kevin Youkilis is pictured on the front of his 2003 Topps baseball card:
27. The number of Chapters in Mike Vaccaro’s book, Emperors and Idiots:
28. The 2008 Fenway Park seating capacity for a day game:
29. The number of dogs Shea Hillenbrand is pictured with for the month of May in the 2003 “Pups in the Park” Red Sox Calendar:
30. The batting average of Nomar Garciapara shown on the front of card number 391 of the 2001 Upper Deck Vintage baseball card set:
31. The number found in the name of the Wade Boggs candy bar circa 1990:
32. Mike Timlin’s lifetime TPI, as listed in the sixth edition of Total Baseball:
33. The card number of Frank Viola’s 1993 Topps Stadium Club baseball card:
34. The property value, in dollars, of Fenway Park in the Red Sox Collectors Edition Monopoly game:
35. The number of players lost to Colorado in the 1992 expansion draft:
36. The number of people to whom Tony Massarotti dedicated his book A Tale of Two Cities (written with John Harper):

There they are, all 36 of them. Those look simple enough, don’t they? So, take your time, look around and find them all. Don’t think too hard. There are no tricks. Just track down the numbers and send them along. If you have any questions, other than what the correct numbers are, ask away.

Most importantly, have fun!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Does Bud $elig want to ruin baseball?

I can’t blame Bud Selig for the rain. It’s a risk that’s run whenever you hold a sporting event outdoors. Frankly, I’m amazed it isn’t a factor in more showcase events than it is. But, while the rain isn’t his fault, the way this World Series has been handled around it certainly is.

First off, I will say that he made the right call in ruling that the World Series can’t end on a rainout. Can you imagine a rain delay with Philly up 2-1 in the seventh? When do you decide to actually call it? Does Tampa get a vote on whether or not the game could continue? Would that mean that the commissioner of baseball would basically award the championship? Not a good idea. Would you wait out an hour delay? Two hours? After they finally decide to call the game, does Philly rush out of the clubhouse and pig pile on the mound? A World Series deciding game absolutely has to go the full nine innings.

My main problem with the rain-destroyed game 5 is that it was still played at night. Let’s say it’s mid August and the Red Sox are scheduled to play a Saturday night game against the Twins. The forecast calls for rain to start about 7, and just pour for the next two days without letting up. Chances are very good that the Sox move that game up. Play it at 2 so they can fit the game in. Especially if it was the Twins last trip into town for the season. Why couldn’t the same logic be used here? When they looked at the forecast, why wasn’t the decision made to move the game up earlier in the day? An afternoon game would have been high and dry. Even a seven o’clock start probably would have let them get the whole nine innings in. That even would have let them get most of the game into the coveted prime time viewing session.

And, that’s really most of the problem here. The Fox network needs their ratings. I can’t really blame them. They paid a lot of money to MLB in order to carry the games on their network. They need to have the advertising money come in to pay for that fee. The only way they can do that is to get the advertisers the ratings they need. If they can get the advertisers their ratings, they can afford to bid even higher for the next contract. It’s a little bit of an endless loop. But, there is one way to end it. Just start with lower expectations.

Let’s say Fox makes an offer to MLB and says this is what it can bid if it gets these ratings. In order for that to happen, they need complete control over the start times so they can fit the games into the best ratings slots. What if MLB just said, “Nah.” How about instead, you give us half of your bid, and Game 1 will start Friday at 7:00, Game 2 Saturday at 3:00, Game 3 Monday at 8:00, Game 4 Tuesday at 7:00 and so on. If Fox doesn’t like it, there are several other networks that would. Fox would make out the same. They’d get less money for ads, but they had to pay MLB less so it’s a wash. MLB might not get as much money, but it would retain control of its signature event. Maybe the ratings wouldn’t be as high as they might have been right away. But, imagine if games were shown at the times that made the most sense for baseball fans, instead of the times when random people happen to be watching TV. If the World Series were on slightly out of Prime Time, would fewer people watch it? Would the increase of diehard kid viewers be worth the loss of indifferent adults? If you treat a World Series game like must-see TV, it will be. If you treat it like something you have to trick people into watching, it will be that instead.

Let’s pretend that baseball fans matter for once.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What went wrong?

Tonight the World Series could be over, and Boston will have no part in it. Tampa Bay earned the right to represent the American League by thumping the Sox in what should never have been a seven game series. As a Sox fan, I’m left wondering what happened. How could the defending champs have prevented this? I’m not really sure. But, there were a few problems with the 2008 Sox that could be addressed.

First, they weren’t as good as the Rays. It’s that simple. The Red Sox team that played in the ALCS was not as good as the Rays team. The Rays have built themselves a nice little organization there. Anyone who thinks it’s just because of the high draft picks they have received should let me know when we should expect the Pittsburgh or Kansas City pennant winners. They built a good team, and made some shrewd free agent signings to fill in the gaps. Kudos to them, they were the better team.

As far as things under the Sox control? I’ll bypass the obvious problems that occurred thanks to the happenings of July 31. That’s been well covered I think. Beyond that, it would have been nice if everyone was healthy. But, by the numbers, Lowell absence wasn’t devastating. In 7 games, his production probably wouldn’t be dramatically different than Kotsay’s. But, it did hurt some of the flexibility of people coming off the bench. It would have been nice to have Kotsay sitting there ready to come in, instead of having him already in the line-up. But, that’s a minor thing. It also would have been nice to have someone one the roster better than Mike Timlin. I could count that as a fault of Theo, but I’m not sure it was. Chances are that Timlin would have been on the roster as a lifetime achievement award anyhow. If the last man in your bullpen is the reason you don’t win a series, you obviously have other problems.

The big question is, was the lack of offense because the Sox were slumping, or because the Rays were pitching so well? Did the Sox need better or hotter batters, or was it inevitable? It’s the age-old question of which came first. When Cardinals fans suggested that the Sox got lucky in 2004 to get the Cardinal attack when they were all slumping, I protested. It seemed that the rotation of Schilling-Pedro-Lowe might have been the cause, as opposed to a sudden universal slump. Same held for the super hot Rockies last year. Sure the layoff might have cooled them down a little. But, Beckett-Schilling-Dice-Lester can cool down some bats on their own. So, in this case, I should give similar credit to the Rays rotation. My only problem is, I don’t think the Rays rotation is that good. I don’t look at the list and see pitchers I’d rather have in Boston. Maybe in a couple years, I’ll look back and see this as the start of the rotation establishing itself, much like I now look back at Lester’s ’07 game 4 start. At the time, it was a youngster getting lucky. Now, it’s when a youngster turned the corner. For the Sox’s sake, I hope the ALCS wasn’t the Rays rotation all turning the corner at once.

Going forward? Hard to say. A couple tweaks here and there. I don’t see the need to go crazy for a Teixeira or Sabathia. I admit, a Peavy trade idea is interesting, but I don’t know enough about Peavy to fully endorse it. Just fill in a hole here, and a bench player there, and hope to play better next year.

We just can’t count on beating up on Tampa next year.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders - by Rob Neyer

This is not a book about baseball bloopers. Neyer goes to great lengths to explain this is a book about blunders. This book discusses some of the worst decisions ever made in baseball history. A couple Red Sox examples include selling Babe Ruth, and leaving Pedro in game 7. In all, over 45 decisions throughout baseball are discussed in depth to see if they really are the blunders history has made them out to be.

I’m a Rob Neyer fan. I was a regular reader of his ESPN.com columns before they made you pay for them. I like the way he looks at everything with a clean slate, and doesn’t let emotions get in the way of analysis. This book could have been much better, however. It didn’t appear that he put his usual effort into the analysis. It looked like every blunder was rated as so-so, once the numbers were worked out. If we’re to believe this book, just about every decision in baseball history was a coin toss, with neither side really losing out. He also tended to quantify success or failure strictly in terms of championships won. So, if adding a player cost a team 15 wins, but the team lost the pennant by 16, it wasn’t a bad decision to add the player. They wouldn’t have won anyway. I’m more of the mindset that even if you lose a pennant by 50 games, it wasn’t a good idea to add a player that costs you 15. The book left me with a “blah” feeling, and I had to push myself to get through the whole thing.

Rating:2 bases.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Out of Miracles

Remember the Super Bowl? Remember those last few seconds? The Pats had just fallen behind on a cheapo play, and some inept defense. But, Brady had the ball in his hands, and was about to unleash a heave in the direction of Randy Moss. How often in a football game does a 50-yard pass go for a touchdown? How often does it happen when the defense knows it's coming? But, even with all that I just expected that it would happen. Of course. The Pats fell behind, but of course Brady would throw the bomb. And of course, just like in game 16, it would be a game winning 50 plus-yard TD to Moss. There's no other way it could end. And, when it didn't, I was shocked. What do you mean the impossible didn't happen? Where's the flag that would give the Pats another chance? Really? It's over?

That's exactly what happened to me last night. The Rays clearly had more talent. (Especially healthy talent) Time and time again, the Sox didn't have the weapons they really needed. Their hitters weren't hitting. The pitchers weren't pitching, and the bench never seemed to have the guy they needed when they needed it. But, even down in the series 1-3, I really thought they'd come back. Granted, during game 5 I had serious doubts. But, once the series went back to Tampa, I was back to assuming the impossible. Of course Beckett would be back. He may not have been vintage Beckett, but he was what they needed. Of course Lester would come back. He'd pitch his heart out and reclaim his ace status. Of course, when trailing by only two runs late in the game, the Sox would come back. They did it against the great Rivera. Who did the Rays possibly have that could stop it? It was inevitable. Of course the kid rookie who won the ALDS would come though. Then there was the groundball to second. And he didn't boot it. And he didn't trip on the way to the base. And the game was over. And I thought to myself, really? It's over? What do you mean?

What has happened to me? I'm a long time fan of the team that would only win today to make it more crushing when they lost tomorrow. Here I was expecting the miracle. I've always said that the big difference between the 2004 world championship and the 2007 version is that I could enjoy the 2007 version. In '04 I was in constant fear that that wouldn't really be the year. When the Sox took a 3-0 lead against the Cardinals, I was worried. I knew that the only reason they came back from 0-3 against NY was so they could blow a 3-0 lead in the very next series. That'd be crushing. But, the didn't. They finished it off, and I had the title I always worried wouldn't come. Then, along came 2007. The Sox had the best team. They had the swagger. And, I actually enjoyed the games. I didn't hide my eyes when the Indians were up. I expected the best, and got it. Which is what set me up for this year. The bar had been raised. I'm not sure it can be lowered again for quite some time.

That's just the way I like it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Calling Kenny Lofton!

Is there any chance we could convince the Rays to sign Kenny Lofton sometime in the next 24 hours? He may be the only thing that can save the Red Sox season. This is the Kenny Lofton who was on the Indians team that blew the 2-0 lead in the 1999 ALDS to the Sox. He was on the Giants when they blew the 2002 World Series after having the chance to win in 6 games. He was on the 2003 Cubs as they blew the NLCS after being within 5 outs of winning the series. He was on the 2004 Yankees that were the biggest chokes in the history of sports. He arrived in Cleveland last year just in time to be on the team that blew the 3-1 ALCS lead to the Sox. If anyone can bring a curse large enough to sink the Rays, it’s Lofton. Come on Rays, he’s your type of player. He’s fast, and can cover ground in the outfield. Welcome him to Tampa Bay.

In reality, I don’t even know if Lofton could save the Sox. I’ve never seen anything quite like their performance the last few games. Usually, when a team struggles in the playoffs, you can point to something. The Angels lost the ALDS because they ran the bases poorly. The White Sox lost the ALDS because they had to use their best pitchers just to get to the playoffs. The Red Sox lost the last three games of the ALCS because they’re just playing awful. Every single player is simply awful. It’s nothing specific. They’re not striking out too much. They’re not walking too many hitters. (OK, maybe Delcarmen is walking too many people) They’re not playing poor defense. They’re not getting the shaft from the umpire crews. They are just doing everything equally poorly. Pathetic is the word for it. I’d like to be able to say something like, “If Ortiz snaps out of it” or, “if Ellsbury can slap a couple hits” or, “if Beckett finds his mojo” they’ll be ok. The problem is, if one of those things happen, there are still a hundred other things that need to be fixed. They look old. They look complacent. They look sad.

How do they fix it? I have no idea. Francona could juggle the line-up like he did last night. But, I’m not sure the value of switching one guy who’s not performing with another player who’s not performing. Even going to the bench seems pointless. Did bringing in Coco, who can’t hit, to replace Jacoby, who can’t hit, do much? Anything in that area would simply be change for change’s sake. If you’re going that route, you may as well have the players wear different underwear to try and break things up.

There are a couple things I would suggest trying. First, the Sox need to start bunting. Jacoby needs to get on base. Start dropping down bunts and get some baserunners. You can’t disrupt the pitcher’s rhythm from the dugout. The same goes for David Ortiz. Twice in game 4 Ortiz led off an inning trailing by at least four runs. At that point, the Sox need baserunners any way they can get them. The Rays were giving Papi the ENTIRE left side of the field. I know that one of those times in game 4 he hit a triple. But, the rest of the series he was making outs. I agree that the Rays would rather have Ortiz bunt for a hit than rip a double or a homer. But, at this point the Sox would rather have Ortiz bunt a single than ground out to short right.

Second, Daisuke needs to put some hitters on their backs. In 2004, after the 19-8 pasting the Yankees delivered, the Sox had Pedro starting game 5. Good ol’ Pedro thought some of the Yankee hitters were looking a little too comfortable. So, he went high and tight to Matsui and put him on the ground. It may have been a coincidence, but the Yankee hitters didn’t get it going again after that. It seems to me that if Upton and Longoria don’t need to dust off their uniforms during their first at-bats, something’s wrong.

Other than that? The Sox just need to remember that they’re the defending World Series champions, and start acting like it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

That’s Why They Play the Games

-So, does it still matter if Lester started Game 1 or Game 3? I know I’m a little late to the game on the whole rotation argument, but I thought I’d offer my opinion anyway. From where I stand, as long as each pitcher pitches the same number of potential games in a series, it really doesn’t matter the order. If you’re convinced that Dice-K is a sure win in both his starts, does it matter when he gets those wins? Somebody else has to win two other games at some point in the series. I saw a lot of people arguing that Lester shouldn’t pitch game 7. He should have gone earlier because if the Sox lose in 6, it would have been awful to only have him pitch once. But, would it matter if he won game 6? You still need to win other games that he’s not pitching in. Let’s say it’s magic world, and Lester could have pitched game 1 and game 2. Does that help? You still need two guys to win games. Is it any different than if magic Lester pitched game 6 and 7? Nope, still need two guys to win. If two other guys get the job done, it doesn’t matter. If they don’t get it done, it doesn’t matter. Of course, Lester threw a wrench into all of that by getting himself blown out last night.

-Three games so far. One each started by DiceK, Beckett, and Lester. If I told you before the series that one of them would take a no-hitter into the 7th, would you have picked Matsuzaka? How about the one who would have thrown 96 pitches over 5 innings? There’s only one Soxtober.

-The radio broadcast of game 2 mentioned that of the last ten teams to lose game 2 of the ALCS, eight of them lost the series. That’s fairly discouraging…until you remember who the two teams were that won the series.

-Being down 2-1 in a seven game series doesn’t scare me. I’d rather be up 2-1, but so be it. And, it goes without saying that I’d rather be 2-2 than down 3-1. Even then, however, the rays would still have to beat Dice-K, Beckett, and Lester to win the series. It’s not bridge jumping time quite yet.

-OK…maybe with a series lead in the ALCS, the young Rays will finally feel the pressure and collapse? Maybe?

-I hate to say it, but I’m glad Rocco Baldelli was able to homer last night. Since, it didn’t matter in the game at all, I can be happy for him. After suffering through all the Devil Rays pathetic seasons, he was hurt most of their only good one. It’s nice to see him be able to get that postseason homerun. He deserved it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Playoff Time!

-OK. Everyone who predicted, before the season, that the final four would be the Dodgers, Phillies, Red Sox and Rays raise your hand. Anyone? How about at the All-Star break? September 1st? Last Thursday? Gotta love playoff time.

-So, I’ve got it. When the runners are safe you’re aggressive. When they’re out, you’re reckless? Is Mike Scioscia a genius or an idiot? I can’t keep track. Personally, I like the squeeze. I’ll give Scioscia the benefit of the doubt that Aybar should have been expected to get the bunt down. If it was Guerrero or Teixeira I may have questioned it more. I like the idea of pushing the envelope. I like the idea of forcing the other team into mistakes. My only problem with the move is that it was in Fenway. If the game’s in Anaheim, and the Angels get the last ups, I don’t mind a potential tie score. But, they had to know that if it didn’t work, it would ruin their scoring chance and give the Sox a golden opportunity in the bottom of the ninth. The question is one that really only someone who follows the Angels can answer. Were Aybar’s chances of hitting a flyball better than his chances of getting the bunt down? With my season riding on it, I’m not sure I would have done it. Which, of course, is exactly why Scioscia did it.

-I’m happy for Jason Bay. I’m glad he’s having a solid series. I know that if he struggled, people such as myself would by screaming that he’s no Manny. The fact that he’s keeping pace with Man-Ram is keeping the focus on the team and not what could have been. He’s still not Manny, but it hasn’t mattered yet.

-On a related note, if you haven’t read Bill Simmons’s article on ESPN.com about the Manny saga, you should. You can agree or disagree, but you should read it either way.

-Once again, a team that won 100 games during the regular season will not win the World Series. Since the introduction of the wild card, only the 1998 Yankees won both 100 games, and the title. Why exactly? It’s what everybody always says. The playoffs are different. In the regular season, depth is rewarded. Teams with five quality starters, deep benches and solid bullpens are well built for the long haul. In the playoffs, you don’t always need any of that. A fourth and fifth started hardly pitch. You may never use the long man out of your bullpen in a short series. Generally teams stick to the best guy or two out of the pen, and run them into the ground. Heck, the Sox didn’t even see the need to bring Mike Timlin along in the ALDS. Derek Jeter once said that the best teams make the playoffs, and the hottest teams win the playoffs. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad. It seems to me there should be a way for the same team to be good in both seasons.

-The Sox are off to Tampa for game 1 at the Trop. Which team will show up? Which Beckett will pitch in this series? Will the line-up remember how to hit? So many questions, so few answers. Once again, the two teams look about even. Once again, Beckett’s the huge x-factor. With ’07 Beckett and ’08 Lester, the Rays don’t stand a chance. Without them? Flip a coin.

Sox in 6.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Beat LAoA! Beat LAoA!

So, I listened to the last Red Sox game of the season on the radio last night. Well, ok, I listened to enough of the game to realize that I hadn’t heard of any of the players on either team. They were discussing the playoff series against the Angels. LA had released its roster, the Sox would at some point. Wakefield didn’t figure to get a start since the Sox would go with Beckett-Lester-Dice-Beckett-Lester. I turned off the game, which ended up being a thrilling ending when some guy drove in another guy. (Imagine being the Yankees for a moment. They’re not going to the playoffs. They have to just play out the string in Boston. The games are rainy, and yucky. Then, they actually postpone a game so they have to stay in Boston even longer. Then, that game goes extra innings. My goodness. It’s a wonder they didn’t just walk in the winning run in the 9th ) So, anyway, I wake up this morning, turn on the news and am blasted with the headline “Beckett Injured”. How did this happen? He didn’t pitch in either of yesterday’s games. Then, I find out he strained something a few days ago. How bad? Hard to be sure. According to Tito, his start is pushed back until Sunday’s game 3. Apparently, they considered Friday’s game but thought it best to wait. So, naturally, the one question on my mind is, what exactly does this mean?

It depends on how optimistic I feel like being. Hey, I’m a Sox fan. I can build my hopes up with the best of them. The new pitching rotation looks like Lester-Dice-Beckett-Lester-Dice. The Red Sox have gone into a playoff series with worse rotations. (Would you rather have Clement-Wells-Wakefield like the ’05 ALDS? How about the ’99 ALCS rotation of Mercker-R Martinez-P Martinez-Saberhagen?) Beckett hints that he’ll be ok come Sunday’s start. If he’s anywhere near normal Beckett, I’ll take him at home over any other teams third starter. So, that means they need to go 2-2 in Lester and Daisuke’s starts. Is that out of the question? Not really. First, we need to ignore the elephant in the room. I know the Sox are 1-8 against Anaheim this season. You can throw the regular season right out the window. First of all, all those games were with Manny on the team. If you listen to Curt Schilling as much as he hopes you do, the fact that Manny was hitting home runs and driving people in was hurting the Red Sox chances. In fact, six of those games were played within two weeks of The Trade. That was the period when the rest of the team was so consumed by the fact that Manny was effortlessly carrying the offense that they started making errors in the field. So, clearly, without Manny the Sox should steamroll right over the hapless Angels. Even without the Manny factor, there are too many variables in a playoff series to care too much about regular season results. Were the pitching match-ups the same? Did the teams have the same amounts of rest as they will in the playoffs? Were the line-ups the same? How often did the fourth or fifth starters match-up? So, while I’d prefer the Sox were 8-1, I’m not concerned about the head-to-head. What I am concerned about is the players themselves.

Lester’s a great game one starter. He’s already pitched meaningful playoff games on the road. He pitched a fantastic game in last year’s World Series game in Denver. I don’t see the LA crowd as the type that would rattle anybody. I know he’s a tad inconsistent, but can he take one of two potential starts? I don’t see why not. As for Matsuzaka, he’s a whole different animal. Will he wilt under the pressure? Absolutely not. Is he capable of pitching a gem? Absolutely. Is he capable of stinking up the joint? You better believe it. But, can he go 1-1? That’s what he did in the ALCS last year, including a win in game 7. So, certainly looks reasonable to me.

Basically, the teams look pretty evenly matched. They both have solid pitching with postseason experience. They both have quality line-ups. Are the Sox healthy enough to score more runs off Angel pitching than the Angels score? Possibly. I think Beckett’s the ace up our sleeve. I see the Sox winning the series, with Lester, Dice, and Beckett each winning once. Whether it takes 3 games to do that or 5, I’m not sure.

I’m sure hoping for 3.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Juiced - By: Jose Canseco

This book started it all: The Mitchell Report, the steroid scandal,
the Congressional hearings, everything. This is book zero, if you will. While it plays out as an autobiography, its main intent is to list names. It’s a collection of events in Canseco’s life, mostly involving other major league players, and mostly involving steroids. It shows how and why he started using steroids, and how he was able to pass his techniques on to others. It contains several references to how major leagues baseball has it out for him, whether it’s because he’s Cuban or because he’s an ex juicer. By the end the reader is supposed to realize that Jose has just been misunderstood and misrepresented over the years. That’s he’s a great guy, and deserves our respect.

I first read this book as a paperback. It had been out for a while, and all the juicy details had long since been splashed over the news. So, I wasn’t reading to book to see what it said, more how it said it. I also wasn’t skeptical like early readers might have been. By the time I opened it, most of the information in it was assumed to be true. So, instead of reacting, “McGwire? This guys NUTS!” I was more “McGwire…that’s how”. Naturally, this book isn’t going to win a Pulitzer. And, at this point, it’s not going to reveal any new information. But, it’s an easy read. It gives a lot of insight into a baseball player’s life. If you’re going to talk about the steroid era, you should probably read book. It was hard to put down when I picked it up. That has to mean something.

Rating: 3 bases.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Retired Numbers

It would appear that the Red Sox are thinking about revising the criteria they use to retire uniform numbers. It looks like this will be done to retire Johnny Pesky’s number this Saturday. While I admire the sentiment, I don’t like the “watering down” of the retired number.

For whatever reason, the Sox decided on three criteria for retiring a number. That the player be a member of the Baseball hall of Fame. That the Player played at least 10 years with the Sox. That the Player finished his career with the Sox. As far as I’m concerned, those are great criteria. It requires that the player be great, by making Hall of Fame enshrinement mandatory. It makes the player have a long Red Sox career of at least 10 years. That eliminates the rental Hall of Famers that some other teams may honor. The ending of the career with the Red Sox is nice, but a little harder to hold anyone to. It would be like the Bruins not retiring Bobby Orr’s number because he played that last year in Chicago. In fact, the Sox themselves fudged it with Fisk by including his front office work as a career ending. But, by and large, those are great criteria. When the Yankees started retiring numbers, it was a pretty big honor. I can never remember if Ruth or Gehrig was first, but it doesn’t matter. The idea being, that the player was so magnificent, it would be a shame to see their number worn by a lesser player. It was especially significant for those two Yankees because they were the first players to ever wear those numbers. In fact, Gehrig is the only person to have ever worn number 4 for the Yankees. That’s a pretty big deal, for a pretty big player.

I don’t think I’m insulting anyone to suggest that Johnny Pesky is not Lou Gehrig. He’s not Babe Ruth, he’s not Ted Williams, or Carl Yastrzemski. He’s a wonderful player. He’s been the heart of the Red Sox for more than a half-century. He deserves to be honored. But, he doesn’t quite meet the criteria set for a number retirement. I did not feel that Bill Buckner sullied the awesome reputation of number 6 by wearing it on his back. (Ok, maybe that was a bad example) Besides, since number 6 has been worn countless times over the years, it’s not like they’re retiring Pesky’s number. It’s also Buckner’s number, and whoever else wore the number over the years. They’re simply retiring number 6 “in honor” of Johnny Pesky. There must be another way to do something “in honor” of Pesky.

I always liked statues, and don’t think the Sox have enough of them. Other stadiums have statues littered about of their great players. Fenway has the one of Williams, but wouldn’t it be great if there were more? Imagine statues of Rice and Yaz and Pesky clogging the sidewalks of Van Ness St. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to meet your friends at the Pesky statue? I know the concourse underneath the stands is pretty crowded, but that’s another place to throw some monuments. If they can fit in a plastic Wally sitting on a bench, a nice statue to Tony C should be easy. They don’t even have to be big things. The Red Auerbach statue in Quincy Market doesn’t take up much room. Imagine Fred Lynn sitting at one space at one of the picnic tables? How about a simple statue of Bill Buckner’s high-top spikes, similar to Bird’s shoes.

Retiring a uniform number is a huge honor. Just because other teams have weakened it by retiring the likes of Harold Baines or Don Mattingly doesn’t mean the Sox have to. There are other ways to honor a player, and say how much they mean to a team and it fans.

I like statues.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

September Baseball

OK. Clearly, the Sox could have helped themselves out by at least winning one more game against the Rays. But, they’re not exactly in bad shape, and things are just starting to get interesting.

LA is sitting pretty in the West with 92 wins and 12 to play. The Rays lead the East with 90 wins and 12 to play. The other Sox lead the Central with 84 wins and 11 to play. Boston leads the wild card with 89 wins and 10 to play. Minnesota is the only other team with a real playoff shot sitting with 82 wins and 10 left to play. Phew. Boston currently leads Minnesota by 7 games. That means the Twins elimination number sits at 4. That places the Rays and the Red Sox almost assured of making the playoffs. If the Sox can’t win four of their next 10 games, including 7 at home against bust teams, they don’t deserve a spot anyway. Even the Mets couldn’t blow this lead. Especially since just about all the interested parties play each other.

The Twins visit the Trop for four starting tonight. The Rays are even in better shape than the Sox for a playoff spot. The Twins, however, need ever win they can get. Does that come into play? If the Rays sweep all four, the Twins are out, the Sox are in, and the Sox would have a tough time catching the Rays for the division. If the Twins sweep, they still trail the Sox by at least three with 6 to play. But, the Sox would, hopefully, be in great position for the division. After that series, the Twins play Chicago. At the moment, they trail Chicago by 2.5 games, so all things being equal, a three-game sweep puts them in the division lead and could remove Chicago from the playoffs. So, if the Twins win out, they’d have a good chance of catching Boston. But, they’d certainly pass Chicago, so it wouldn’t matter. Having fun yet?

Then there’s the best record. LA leads the Rays by 2 and the Sox by 4. I’d rather not have to play LA early if I don’t have to. Which set-up favors the Sox with their big-3 pitchers? The long series? The short one? Is it the same format that favors LA?

The Sox have the fewest number of games remaining. So, they get to do a lot of watching the other teams. But, since they’re all crashing into each other, it should be great to see. Not to mention that the Sox get to finish with the Yanks. So, even if it’s all decided by then, at least we can rub their noses in it a little. That’s always fun.

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