Monday, January 26, 2009

36 Years of Red Sox Cards (Part VI)

Yet another trip down memory lane…

2002 Topps Chrome Carlos Baerga
Carlos Baerga was a very good player. He was a great offensive second baseman for the Cleveland Indians during the early 90’s. He had a great average, and a little pop in his bat. He was shipped to the Mets in 1996 and, for whatever reason, just fell off the map. By the time he came to the Sox in 2002 he was a banjo-hitting back-up. While his batting stroke may have vanished, his love of the game didn’t. His sunny attitude was a welcome sight on the ball field. He may best be remembered for his hugs. Anytime a Red Sox player did something during the 2002 season, there was Carlos rewarding him with a bear hug. As role players go, Carlos Baerga was a great player to have in Boston.

1983 Topps Wade Boggs
This is another card I always wanted, but never got a hold of. When Boggs was popular, the card was priced out of my range. But, it’s a great card. The 1983 Topps set is pretty important, containing the rookie cards of Wade along with Tony Gwynn and Ryne Sandberg. This is my favorite of Boggs’s rookie cards. There were three choices in 1983, and I think this has the cleanest design. I like the extra head shot on the card too. One of these days I need to hit ebay and pick up a copy of this card.

1996 Topps Stadium Club Roger Clemens
I love the photo on this card. It’s a great shot of the classic Red Sox home uniform. Roger is captured just as he is ready to fire another rocket towards home plate. The photo is cropped just close enough to eliminate anything to detract from the image. This is a picture I would hang on my wall. Of course, in 1996 Clemens was in his last year with the Sox. He finished with a sub-.500 record, and was allowed to drift off to Toronto as a free agent. It would appear that he really was in the twilight of his career.

2004 Topps World Series Champions ALCS Game 4
The Topps Company is no dummy. They knew that the Red Sox finally winning the World Series was a merchandising gold mine. They quickly produced a set highlighting the historic season. It’s actually a really nice set. There’s a card for each of the players that played a pivotal role in the 2004 World Series (with the exception of Varitek, who wasn’t included due to a contract issue). There is also a subset of cards depicting highlights from each of the playoff and World Series games. This card is one of the keys. The whole season may have turned on this swing by David Ortiz. It started the Sox on the winning streak that would close out the season. Since I was at this game, I especially enjoy this card. Any collection of Red Sox cards should include this snapshot of history.

36 Questions: Throw Days

Even though I have been watching baseball for quite some time now, there are still questions that come up while I’m watching games. Most of these are probably common knowledge for anyone actually playing the games. But, since that’s not me, I question them. One has to do with a starting pitcher’s ‘throw days”

Many times, usually during the playoffs, you’ll hear that a starting pitcher is available to come in from the bullpen. Usually, the reasoning is that, since it’s the pitcher’s “throw day” he can go an inning or two. So, I’m left to wonder how exactly a throw day works.

While I’ve never seen it specifically spelled out, I think I can guess at what a throw day is. My assumption is that with a 5 man rotation, a pitcher’s workload goes something like: start, off day, off day, off day, off day, start. There may be an extra off day in there depending on the team’s schedule. My assumption is that the day following a start is probably a light day to rest the arm. I would also assume that the day before a start is also light, to save the arm for the next day’s start. But, I imagine the arm doesn’t like having four days with no activities, so there’s some throwing scheduled to keep the arm loose. So, it would seem that one of the other two off days would be designated as a “throw day.” Judging by how long these starters pitch when the come in from the pen on their throw day, they probably throw 20 or 30 pitches on their throw day. That’s enough to keep them loose, without taxing their arms. That much I think I’m pretty close on. On one of the off days between starts, pitchers throw 30 pitches to stay loose. But, when?

Playoff games start as late as possible these days. If a game starts at 8:00, it must be 10 or so by the time bullpen help would be discussed. So, if a starter is available because it is his throw day, he must not have already “thrown,” right? Would you have a starter throw his 30 pitches in the afternoon, and then another 30 pitches that night? The pitcher must have been saving his throws in case he needs them during the game. But, what if they’re not needed? He still has to throw, right? Does he do it after the game? Some of those playoff games aren’t over until midnight. Does the pitcher hang around after the game, have a bite to eat, then head out to the bullpen at 1 AM to get his throwing in? That seems weird.

So, like I said, there’s probably a very simple answer. I just don’t know it. Does anyone else know?

How does a “throw day” work?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hot Stove Results

I realized that I haven’t discussed the many moves that King Theo has made this off-season. He hasn’t made many headlines, but he hasn’t needed to. He doesn’t need a completely new rotation like the pinstripers. He doesn’t need anybody else in the starting line-up. So, he’s made some subtle moves that may or may not pan out. What are they?

Trading away Coco Crisp. I don’t know what to think of this one. My first thought was, if all you can get for him is a little-known middle reliever, was it worth it? It’s not a bad move as-is. You can always use another arm to try in the bullpen. And, if Coco wasn’t going to be a starter, he was certainly expendable. But, a gold glove center fielder with a good contract can’t bring more than bullpen help? Maybe it would have been worth more to dangle Ellsbury instead? I don’t know what deals may have been out there. So, I’ll have to assume that Theo really did the best he could.

Signing Brad Penny. I like this move. The one spot of the rotation that’s a question mark is fifth starter. Buchholz could do it, although he struggled last year. One of the other kids could try it, but you never know. If Penny’s healthy, even if he’s not very good, he’s just a fifth starter. It allows the youngsters more time to develop, and the Sox don’t embarrass themselves every five games. If Penny can’t pitch, all you lose is money.

Signing Rocco Baldelli. Another move I like. His injuries have limited his playing time in recent years, but it’s a known quantity. You’re not wondering if he’ll be healthy enough to play. You know he can play, just not a lot. Again, it’s not like he’s the starting centerfielder. As a fifth outfielder and pinch runner, I like what he brings to the table. It’ll be fun trying to see a batter hit the right-center gap anytime Ellsbury and Baldelli are out there at the same time. A little speed every once in a while can be fun.

Signing John Smoltz. Just like Penny, it’s a win win signing. If his arm falls off and he can’t pitch, the Sox haven’t lost anything but money. If the Sox could pay Schilling $8 mil not to pitch last year, they can pay Smoltz $5 mil not to pitch in ’09. If he can pitch, he’s a great addition to the staff. Best case? The Sox enter the playoffs with Beckett and Smoltz in the same rotation, and CC and AJ wet their pinstripes at the mere thought of it. My one question that lingers is the Penny-Smoltz combo. I’m sure the Sox are thinking they need 33 starts from the number five spot. Worst case, all 33 are Buchholz, and that’s ok. But, if they can get 13 from Penny, 5 from Buchholz, and 15 from Smoltz, they’re living large. I just wonder, for the $10 mil they’re paying Penny and Smoltz, could the sox have gotten one healthy pitcher?

Signing Bobby Kielty. Another fine move. He fit in well here, and I’m sure he’ll be a great fit. If an outfielder (Drew) goes down for an extended time, he can fill the role well enough. He can also play first to give some flexibility to the infield, which is never a bad thing.

The Youkilis extension. Youk’s a wonderful player. To wrap him up at a fraction of the price of Teixeira is a great idea. Hopefully both sides will look back at the contract fondly.

So, looks like a good off-season so far. Hopefully, they’ll add a certain switch-hitting catcher before spring training to cement things a little more. Other than that, I can’t fault Theo on anything.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

36 Years of Red Sox Cards (Part V)

Continuing on our way…

1976 Topps Jim Rice
This card is great for a couple of reasons. Obviously, it’s an early card of one of the newest Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. In fact, much like the Fisk card from an earlier post, it is Rice’s first card where he is pictured alone. His 1975 card pictures him with three other players in floating circles. This card also has the stats on the back for Rice’s 1975 rookie season. The other interesting part is the trophy on the front of the card. Each year, the Topps company picks an all-rookie team. For a long time, they put pictures of trophies on the front of the player’s card. They stopped this practice for a while, but have started doing it again. It’s a grwat way to recognize the great young stars in baseball. While some rookie team members end up being busts, Rice certainly lived up to the hype.

2007 Topps Updates & Highlights Daisuke Matsuzaka Japanese
The 2007 baseball season was all about Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Red Sox made big news when they paid a small fortune just for the opportunity to talk to Daisuke about a contract. The card companies were excited. Since Matsuzaka had played in Japan, nobody had bothered to make a major league card of him before. So, all the companies had a shot to make a rookie card of a popular player, and put it in their set. To set themselves apart from the pack, the companies tried different things to make their verson unique. Some put pieces of his jersey on the card. In this case, Topps decided to write the front of the card in Japanese. It’s just one more way to make a collection look a little different.

1989 Topps Rick Cerone
This was a popular card when it was released. It was probably one of the more valuable cards in the set during the 1989 season. You’d be right to wonder why. Rick Cerone wasn’t exactly the darling of the baseball card market. The reason is in the picture. Behind Cerone stands Ellis Burks. Burks was the hot-shot rookie for the Sox in 1987, and was on his way to stardom in 1989. In those days, there were only five cards sets making cards, so Burks collectors could only get a limited number of different cards of him. But, if they got this card, they could add another with Burks’s picture on it. I remember price guides at the time listing the card as “Rick Cerone (Burks).” The drive of player collectors is never ending.

1982 Topps Carl Yastrzemski In Action
This card shows how far card companies have come in a relatively short period of time. In 1982, Topps felt the need to make an entire subset showing the wonders of an action photo. I assume because of camera capabilities, many photos on cards in the early years were posed shots...headshots, players going through the motions, that sort of thing. By 1982, action shots were incorporated into the sets at a pretty good clip. So, why exactly Topps felt the need to scream “action shot” at the collector is unknown. But, it gave the company a reason to include another popular Carl Yastrzemski card in its set. As I’ve said many times in this, all they need is a reason.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A New Favorite

Over my years of Red Sox fandom, I have had several Sox players that I have called “my favorite” at one time or another. Unfortunately, the Sox have not found it necessary to treat my favorite players the way I’d like them to be. Since Mike Greenwell simply faded away, I’ve had a bit of a run of bad luck. I went with Greenwell for a chunk of time until I fell for Phil Plantier and his crazy squatting batting stance. Unfortunately, Phil was shipped out of town after season or two. I smoothly moved onto Mo Vaughn. I’ve mentioned that the sight of Mo hunched over glaring at the pitcher looked so intimidating to me. Mo and I had a good run until 1998, when he was shipped out of town. Why the Sox had to monkey around with Mo’s contract is still beyond me. Luckily, by that time the Sox had obtained Pedro Martinez. All I had to do was see him strike out one guy to be hooked. He didn’t pump his fist, or show joy. He simply walked off the mound. His body language not only said, “I struck you out” but, “I can’t believe I just had to waste my time throwing you three strikes when we knew you couldn’t hit me.” It was utter contempt, and I loved it. The problem with pitchers is they don’t play every day. That’s why I considered Nomar Garciaparra my favorite player, unless Pedro was pitching. The sight of Nomar in the box wagging that bat waiting to pounce was great. He just looked dangerous. Well, 2004 pretty much ruined that for me. First Nomar was shipped off for players worth about half as much as he was. Then, Pedro was allowed to leave at the end of the season. That left me with only Manny Ramirez. Manny was my favorite non-Sox for years, until he came to the Sox. The way he just simply hit was amazing to watch. That added him to the Nomar-Pedro combo to make a mean three-headed monster. So, Manny was my guy until last season. Once again, the Sox decided my favorite player needed to be shipped away for players half his value. So, if you’re scoring at home, my favorite players have: retired, been traded, cut loose, traded, cut loose, and traded. Which brings me to the greater issue at stake. I enter the 2009 season without a favorite player. Who should it be?

There is any number of reasons why a player would obtain “favorite” status. I’ve listed a couple that made my list because of the way they stood, or the way they walked. Asking around some people I know, I found even more reasons. Josh liked Trot Nixon because he played hard. Adam liked Don Mattingly and Andy Pettitte because, well, he’s a Yankees fan. Jonathan liked Jonathan Papelbon because they have the same name. Tim liked Tim Wakefield, and Andrew liked Jason Andrew Varitek for the same reasons. Kate liked Brian Daubach because he was dreamy. So, clearly, there’s no set of rules that need to be followed. Basically, if you’re going to the game, which player would you be most disappointed not to have in the line-up? It doesn’t have to be a star player, or even a starter, just someone who you enjoy. I’m not sure which guy that would be in my case. Let’s explore my options…

I’m going to quickly exclude middle relievers. No offense to the likes of Manny Delcarmen and Justin Masterson, but it just doesn’t work. The turnover rate of that position is too great to lock onto one player. As long as we’re in the bullpen, there’s always the closer. Jonathan Papelbon is certainly someone I hope to see if I’m at a game. He has the talent I can admire, and the swagger I adore. His frat-boy attitude isn’t my favorite, but he’s still a lot of fun. Let’s put him on the short list. At the moment, the only catcher on the team I can even name is Kevin Cash, so I guess it won’t be a catcher. Kevin Youkilis is a great player, and appears to be a favorite of many fans. But, he just doesn’t excite me. It’s like the difference between a Pedro shutout and a Maddux shutout. There’s just something extra with Martinez on the mound, and I don’t get that from Youk. Dustin Pedroia is another obvious choice. The reigning MVP has the talent, and has the spunk. His “laser show at 8” attitude could get annoying, but I can’t resist the irony of also putting him on the “short” list. The Lowrie/Lugo combo at short can be eliminated from consideration, just because. I like Mike Lowell. He’s been a great player for the Sox. But, I always see him as a spare part. Maybe it was the whole “throw in” status. But, he’s just never done it for me. Jason Bay is another fine player. I feel like it would be betraying Manny a little bit to add him to my list, but he could work his way in. Jacoby Ellsbury fits the criteria. He’s exciting to watch, and I definitely want him to be in the line-up if I’m at Fenway. Plus, I was at his ML debut. But, if I call him my favorite player, does that make me too much of a “pink hat”? I’ll take the risk and put him on the list. JD Drew is out right away. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a fine player…just not quite there. As for David Ortiz…it’s too easy. The bench guys could be options, but none of them should get the playing time I’m looking for. The rotation is full of options. Beckett has the obvious skill and swagger, and I definitely want him to pitch when I go to a game. Dice-K is a little bit too much like Youkilis. I’m sure he’s a great player, it’s just hard to tell when you’re watching. He doesn’t excite me enough. Jon Lester is another great option. He might be a little too popular to latch onto at this point, but he should be fun to watch for years to come. Tim Wakefield certainly meets one criterion. Since his games are always over in 20 minutes, I always like to see him on the mound. The knuckleball still drives me batty though. Brad Penny and John Smoltz actually need to pitch a game before getting any consideration. Other than the kids who might not even be on the team, I think that’s everybody.

That leaves a list of Papelbon, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Beckett and Lester. Who should I pick? I guess I’ll give it the season, and see if anyone pulls away from the field.

Who’s your favorite Sox, and why?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

36 Years of Red Sox Cards (Part IV) we go...

1999 Topps Traded Juan Pena Autograph
I was lucky enough to be at Fenway for Pena’s major league debut. I remember discussing with my buddy on the way to the game just who this Juan Pena guy was. We had never heard of him, and weren’t expecting much. All he did was strike out ten guys on his way to a victory. Unfortunately, injuries prevented him from shining many more times than that. But, I still remember that game. Which is one reason I like this card. This if from a “Traded” set. The original idea of these sets was to produce a late in the year set to cover player trades during the season. It also included rookies who were called up mid-season, and weren’t included in the main set. After a few years, the rookies became the main draw of the set…collectors wanted the first cards they could get of the hotshot rookie. Topps went the extra mile in 1999 and had some of the rookies autograph their cards before they were released. They included one randomly selected autographed card in each set of Topps Traded. Some of the other players you could get autographs of included Josh Hamilton, CC Sabathia and Alfonso Soriano. But, the Pena is still my favorite because it’s a better story.

2003-Topps Kevin Youkilis
Youkilis just finished the finest season of his career. He came in third in the American League MVP race, and looks to be on his way to stardom. When this rookie card came out, Kevin was still fighting his way up the minor leagues in the Red Sox organization. This card combines a nice action shot of the future gold glover, as well as a close up photo of the Greek God of Walks. Looking at the photos, you’d never guess that this guy would become the anchor of a championship Red Sox line-up. My how times change.

1985-Donruss Roger Clemens
This is a card that I wished I had. The Rocket had three different rookie cards in 1985, and I wanted one of them. This, I always thought, was the best looking of the three. Back when Clemens was starring in Boston, I couldn’t afford this card. Once he was winning championships in NY I didn’t want this card. Now that Sen. Mitchell has disgraced him forever, maybe I should take the opportunity to pick one of these up. I bet I could find this former dream card pretty cheaply. It’s interesting how many people still think of cards as investments. If any card shows the danger of doing that, it’s this one. Not long ago, this was a key card of a sure bet Hall-of-Famer. Now? I wonder what it brings on ebay.

1993-Ted Williams Card Co Ted Williams
In 1993 Ted Williams put out his own baseball card set. Naturally, I doubt it was really all his doing. I got the impression he lent his name, and helped out with the player selection for the set. The selection of players was the coolest part for me. Since the company didn’t have a license to make cards of current players, they focused on retired greats. This was a rare chance to collect cards of legends of the past like Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams. Before this, an actual Ted Williams card was far beyond any budget I, or most people, had. Now though? I could grab a pack of cards and get one of my own. Amazing. The set was produced for a couple years, then faded away. But, it greatly increased the quality of players in my collection.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Congratulations Jim!

It will be all Red Sox, all the time at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this summer. Both Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were elected for enshrinement. Rickey went in on his first try, while Rice needed his last ups to join the immortals. Both players are former members of the Boston Red Sox, though only Rice will actually “go in” as a member of the Red Sox.

The voting went about as I expected it to. I had previously posted that were it up to me, I would have only voted for Henderson. While I wouldn’t have voted for Rice, I expected him to get the vote. For one thing, people who saw more of him during his playing days than I did keep saying how wonderful he was. Plus, he only ended up seven votes short last year. There was no way that seven people wouldn’t think, “I don’t want to be the guy who makes him miss out on his last chance.” So, I figured he’d collect the votes he needed. Everyone else was left out, as I thought they should be.

So, congratulations to Rickey and Jim. I, for one, can’t wait to hear Henderson’s acceptance speech. It should be must-hear.

Next up, I guess, is the long awaited retirement of Rice’s number 14.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Calls from the Hall

I’ll give baseball writers some credit. They know how to time things. In mid January, baseball is in the middle of its off-season. Most of the major free agents will have signed by now…although this year Manny is still lingering. The writers don’t have many hot stove headlines to write about. They can’t write their stories about the trucks leaving for Spring Training yet. They’re in a quiet spot of the year. So, even though the induction ceremony won’t be until July, they announce the Hall-of-Fame class in January. That way they can fill weeks of columns with Hall-of-Fame talk. Who should get in? Who did get in? Who should have gotten in? It’s pure genius. It’s much better than releasing the class during the World Series…or Super Bowl…there’s already plenty to talk about there. So, here we are in the middle of winter with lots of baseball to discuss.

This year’s ballot is a little less impressive than it has been in the past. It does include a few people who wore the Red Sox uniform at some point. What are the chances of a former Sox player getting the needed votes for enshrinement? Here’s what I think.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I have only three criteria when it comes to whom I would vote into the Hall, if they let me. I have no magic stats. 3000 hits or 500 home runs don’t make you a Hall-of-Famer. I don’t care about rings or playoff performance either. The three criteria?

1. Five Hall-of-Fame years. I need five years of your career to be otherworldly. Five years where you’re in the conversation as the best player in the game. At the very least, the best at your position. I don’t need MVP awards, or Cy Young awards. But, if somebody asked who the best player was, your name should come up at some point. (Think Ken Griffey Jr 1993-1999, Pedro Martinez 1997-2002, or Nomar Garciaparra 1997-2002)

2. Five more All-Star Years. Again, I don’t need actual selection to the All-Star team. As long as teenage girls keep voting Derek Jeter to the team, actual selections are meaningless. But, for five more years, you should be one of those guys you expect to make the team. If Fox was promoting the game in April, they should feel comfortable using your face in the commercial. There was a year that Pedro was hurt, and couldn’t make the team. But, a poll of AL managers said he deserved to be there, so they asked the League for a special spot to put him on the team. It didn’t seem right to have an All-Star team without him on it. That’s the type of player I’m talking about.

3. Don’t embarrass yourself. For the rest of your career, don’t be a fourth outfielder. Don’t be a washed up hanger-on. Continue to play at a high level, and be a top player on your team.
So, would any former Sox make the cut if it were up to me? Let’s see who’s on the ballot.

David Cone – Cone was with the Sox during the 2001 Red Sox season. By then, he was just hanging on trying to squeeze an extra year or two out of his career. Cone won the Cy Young with the Royals in 1994, although his best season may have been in 1988 with the Mets. Cone practically invented the “hired gun” position, joining two teams midseason to carry them to the playoffs. He threw a perfect game with the Yankees, and was in the Bronx long enough to collect a couple rings. He was a mighty fine pitcher that any team would be glad to have on their team. But, he’s short of being a Hall-of-Famer. I can’t find many superstar seasons in his career. He’ll go down as a great pitcher, just not an elite one.

Andre Dawson – Dawson played with the Sox in 1993 and 1994. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, by then he was a shell of his former self. Injuries to his knees had sapped him of the skills he once had. Admittedly, I’m probably not informed enough to rate Dawson’s career. Looking at the numbers, however, I just don’t see the otherworldly stats. He won the MVP award in 1987, but the rest of his years look above average. He ended up with some nice career stats, collecting 438 home runs and 2774 hits. He just looks to fall short of my first two criteria. He’s close, and a contemporary of his might say otherwise, but I couldn’t put him in.

Rickey Henderson- He played for the Red Sox in 2002, at the end of his career. I remember seeing him on base one game and just marveling. The pitcher couldn’t take his eyes off him. The whole game had changed from pitcher vs. batter to pitcher vs. runner. The pitcher was off his rhythm and out of sorts. Clearly the batter now had an advantage. The whole inning turned to the Red Sox favor, just by having this old guy on first. It was unbelievable. I remember thinking, “My gosh. If he can do this in his forties, how did he not win every MVP award in his prime?” As it turns out, he only won the award once, finishing second once and third once. But, that’s why I don’t care about awards. Awards don’t tell the whole story of his dominance. A quick look at my Total Baseball shows Henderson leading the league in their Total Player Rating six times. (For comparison, Joe Dimaggio did it twice, Hank Aaron three times, and Ted Williams seven) So, he met my fist criteria with six years he was considered among the best in the game. He had the other five all-star years to meet criteria two. And, while he sure shopped himself around at the end of his career, he met criteria number three. He may have hung around getting some career records, but that day at Fenway proved to me that he was still a star…even as a fourth outfielder. Put him in the Hall.

Jim Rice – Rice played his entire 16-year career with the Red Sox from 1974 to 1989. He was the obvious successor to Yaz in front of Fenway’s left field Wall. It would be nice to say he continued the string of Hall-of-Famers at that position following Williams and Yaz. Instead, he looks like part of the steady decline at the position. From Williams ( all-time great) to Yaz (Hall-of-Famer) to Rice to Greenwell. I want to say Rice deserves to be in the Hall, I really do. I just can’t get there. If I look over his career, I see about 4 career years in ’77-79 and 1983 that he was at the top of the league leaders is all kinds of categories. I could even be convinced to give him “otherworldly status” for those four. After that, I just see “really good” and not enough of it. People who saw him play more than I did swear he had the cache I want to see in a Hall-of-Famer. That may be. I just can’t support it. He’s the definition of borderline and, for me, just below the line.

Lee Smith – Smith was with the Sox from 1988 to 1990, collecting 58 saves as the Red Sox closer. My problem with Lee’s Hall-of-Fame eligibility is I don’t know where closers fit in. There are ten starting positions in a ballgame, including the DH. Smith wasn’t any of those. He was brought in at the end of the game when the starter couldn’t finish. How is that different than a defensive replacement? Or a pinch hitter? Do we need to start looking at Doug Mientkiewicz as a Hall-of-Famer because he plays great defense at first during the ninth inning? Or Dave Roberts because he runs well in the ninth inning? Smith pitched pretty well, although his career 3.03 ERA seems high for a closer. Since closers are prevented from giving up big innings, they need to have much better numbers than starters. Smith doesn’t have them. I can’t put a guy with his numbers who averaged 71 innings a year into the Hall-of-Fame.

Mo Vaughn – Mo played for the Sox from 1991 to 1998, and he was my favorite player on the team for most of those years. His grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in the 1998 home opener is still one of my favorite live memories. Unfortunately for Mo, after he left the Sox injuries never really let him continue a Hall-of-Fame path. His years in Boston were pretty good, including an MVP award. But, not enough of them were at the elite level needed for enshrinement. He was a 2008 inductee to the Red Sox Hall-of-Fame, and that will have to be enough.

It look like just Rickey this Year. Do you agree?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

100th Post!

This post marks the 100th in the history of Section 36. While it’s not exactly at the same level of Seinfeld’s 100th episode or anything, it’s pretty cool. For my reader(s?) I want to thank you. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it, and you keep coming back…and bring friends!

Also, with the new year, we’re on the downhill side of time remaining for the Section 36 Scavenger Hunt. The deadline for entries is the day pitchers and catchers report to Red Sox Spring Training. So, we’re down to a couple months. If you’ve lost you list of items to find, check the link on the right. We’ve had some interest in the hunt, but nobody’s found all 36 items so far.
Keep looking!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fixing the Baseball Economy

OK. Here’s my plan to fix everything. If Bud Selig is listening, he can feel free to take notes. It’s all based on television money, and it’s all fair and even. It’s great. I should point out that I don’t have any actual facts or numbers to use in support of my plan. But, heck, this isn’t the New York Times or anything. So, here we go.

The basis of my plan is this. I think the football salary cap works pretty well. Teams in Green Bay and Indy can compete with New York very easily. Much of the football salary cap is based on the money the NFL gets from television contracts. So, I think baseball should do the same. I’ll admit that I don’t really know what MLB does with the money it currently gets from its Fox or TBS contracts. Nor do I know where monies from the recently launched MLBTV channel goes. I also don’t want to do away with the regional broadcasts. One of the reasons watching Patriots games makes me want to throw up is that they’re all broadcast for the national audience. The hype and ignorance involved with every broadcast is too much to handle. I’d hate to give up my NESN coverage of Sox games. But, I don’t see why the money NESN pays for the rights to cover the games can’t go right into MLB pockets. (I know that NESN is owned by the Sox, so there may not be an actual payment to cover the games. But, there must at least be a numbers used internally for accounting purposes) How much are team’s regional contracts to cover the games? I have no idea. Can I guess? I can try.

If I remember correctly, at the end of its run, the cast of Friends was making $1 million each per episode. So, six stars for 20 episodes brings us to about $120 million that NBC was paying the stars per season. So, the revenue they brought in through ads must have been more that that, right? So, if I were paying for the rights to broadcast Friends, wouldn’t it be a contract in excess of $120 million? Now, I know that baseball games don’t get the ratings that Friends got per episode. But, if you add the ratings that Friends got for 20 episodes, and compare it to the total ratings baseball games get for 162 episodes, aren’t we in the same ballpark? (I know, clever pun) For number’s sake, could we say $100 million would be a number to use for broadcast rights to baseball games? How about if we included radio as well? Can I use $100 million for the sake of this plan? Thanks.

So, let’s say each team or television station pays MLB for the rights to regionally broadcast baseball games. Just like it does now, the rights could go to the highest bidder. (We can work out some arrangement for team-owned stations like YES or NESN. Either use some industry number to charge the team, or just let them bid along with everyone else. If FOX25 wants to pay more than NESN to broadcast the games, so be it.) Teams in major markets would bring in more money than teams in smaller markets. But, it would all go into a pool at MLB. Then, it would all be split up back to the teams to use for their salaries. So, if the total pool ended up at $3 billion, each team would get $100 million for salaries. That would be the salary floor. Every team would be required to spend that much on salaries for the year. The Pittsburgh owner wouldn’t profit from the NY television contract. So, every team starts with an equal chance. Pretty good start.

Now, what about the reward for teams doing a good job? Well, since that number was the floor, there will be a ceiling. Say we cap it at some amount higher than that floor. $20 million seems about right, either as a flat amount, or as a percentage of the floor. So, if teams want to use the money they get from other marketing or ticket sales to improve their teams, that’s great. They should be allowed to do so. But, it keeps everyone within the same $100- $120 million range of salaries. It’s the best of both worlds. The small market teams get to compete. The well-run teams get rewarded. Nobody is on baseball welfare. Plus, the system improves itself. As teams like Kansas City improve their teams using the minimum payrolls, their fans will return. This in turn increases their television bids, which increases the floor, and so on. As for the biggest hurdle…how do we get the union to buy in? Aside from the whole improving the game improves everyone argument, there’s a straight monetary argument as well. The 2008 Opening Day payrolls had the Yankees at the top with $210 million. The Marlins were at the bottom with $21.8 million (wow). In total, there was $2.6 billion in MLB payroll…or $87 million per team. This plan would put even more money into play. The alpha dogs like ARod may not make as much, but every other member of the union should have more money out there to gobble up. It’s a win-win.

Yes, I know that there is a lot more to it than that. Like I said, I don’t know how the money is split up presently, or how much TV revenue would really bring in. But, I bet there is some way that MLB could provide the $100 million I used to the teams. Whether it’s through broadcast rights, or internet revenues, or trips to Japan. I also know it’s not exactly a plan you could just start next year. There would have to be some easing in period. Maybe a Kevin Garnett-type exception for players already making too much for the caps. But, considering all that, I think this may be the start of the answer.

Anyone else have a better idea?

Friday, January 2, 2009

36 Years of Red Sox Cards (Part III)

Let’s keep looking at some Red Sox baseball cards from years gone by.

2008 Upper Deck Season Highlights Clay Buchholz
One way card companies like to fill up their sets with popular players is with highlight cards. This gives them an excuse to put even more cards of players people want into their sets. In this case, the play is Red Sox bright star Clay Buchholz. Clay started the trend of young Sox starters throwing no-hitters by firing his gem in only his second major league start. I like the look of this card showing both his celebration, and the scoreboard in the background. It’s one of the things I said I like about collecting cards…it transports me back in time to an important event. Clay may turn out to be a bust, but his no-hitter will always stare me right it the face.

1973-Topps Carlton Fisk #193
I like this card for a couple reasons. For one thing, I’ve always liked Fisk. His battles with Munson alone are enough to move him up on any list of favorite Sox. Plus, our paths always seem to “cross”. I was at the All-Star game in ’99 when he was honorary captain. I was at the game where they retired his number. I happened to visit the Baseball Hall-of-Fame the year he was inducted. That sort of thing. This card is his first card where he’s pictured alone. His ’72 rookie card shows him with two other players crammed onto one card. It’s just a classic looking old card for a classic old ballplayer.

1991-Donruss Phil Plantier
I thought Phil Plantier was great. I loved the squatting batting stance he used. I could recognize it on a t-shirt from across a store. When he came up at the end of the 1991 season he was super-exciting. He was getting hits and smacking home runs left and right. He was sure to be a star. I wanted as many of his ’91 rookie cards as I could get my hands on. Donruss must have been listening to me. I seems that every pack of Donruss cards I opened that year had this card in it. I think I ended up with 11 of them by the end of the year. Of course, he never really became the star he was destined to be. So, all 11 of these Donruss cards are pretty much worthless. But, I still keep then, along with the other 100 or so of his cards I amassed during his two years with the Sox, to remember the excitement he brought.

1978 Topps Bill Lee
OK. I’ll admit it. I’ve never even seen this card. But, any discussion of the 1978 Red Sox has to include Bill Lee. If you’re making a set of 1978 Red Sox cards, this would be the first one to go after. He was one of the most colorful characters the Sox have ever employed. His battles with Don Zimmer are legendary. (Despite him being a certified Yankee killer, he wasn’t used late in the year while the Sox were collapsing. He was shipped off to the hole that is Montreal the next season.) While we may never know what actually happened in the clubhouse, any player who calls his manager a gerbil when he deserves it is OK in my book.

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