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!

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