Friday, July 31, 2009

Red Sox A-Z: F is for…

Fenway Park. (What else could it possibly be for?)

Fenway Park is the long-time home of the Red Sox. How long-time? It’s the oldest major league park…ever. It’ll hit 100 years old in the near future, and I’m sure the plans for the celebration are already beyond belief. I won’t bore you with the history of the park. I’ll assume that if you’re enough of a Sox fan to stumble upon this blog, you have a pretty good knowledge of the park. But, what do I think of the Park? That you might not know.

I’m glad the current ownership group has kept Fenway, for a couple reasons. First, I hated the idea of building a new replica park. Just because a park looks the same doesn’t mean it is the same. Just because it was the same pole in right didn’t mean it was still Pesky’s Pole. I think Yankees fans are realizing that with their new stadium. Just because it looks similar doesn’t give it a similar feel. Plus, I just like history. If something old can still be functional, then I’d just as soon use it. Once the park was fixed up a bit, it made the experience all the better…even if I don’t like the new seats that automatically flip up when you stand.

Really, it’s the seats themselves that give the park its charm. I’ve sat in a variety of seats around the park. Some have been good, and some have been bad. A few places I remember sitting…

The last row of Section 39, right field bleachers. This is about as far away from the action as you can get. What made this worse was that it was an October night game. When you’re that high, the wind just beats on your back. Behind you at that point is nothing but a wall, about 5 feet high. So, sitting down you were fairly shielded from the wind. Standing up though, it cut through you like a knife. The view was nice and clean though, as long as you didn’t mind watching a baseball game being played by ants.

Right field box. These are the seats suckers get. They sound like they’re nice and close to the action, which they are. The odd part is, the seats don’t face any of it. If I sat normally in my seat, I looked directly out along the right field warning track. Very little happened on the warning track. To see any real action, I had to turn my head 90 degrees to look in at the plate. The problem with that, though, is that I had trouble convincing everyone else in the section to move so I could have a clear view. So, I spent all game with a crick in my neck, looking at the back of my buddy’s head. Not the best. I’m still not sure why, even in 1912, nobody thought to face the seats to the action.

Left Field Boxes, first row. These seats were the first row just past third base, directly behind the ballboy. The little door to the field was in front of my knees. The seats were pretty great. We could chat with the third base umpire between innings. It was a thrill to look back and see Steven King about 10 rows BEHIND me. I even got a foul ball. Ok…the ballboy handed me a foul ball, but still. The constant threat of line drive foul balls kept me on my toes a bit. The only problem with the seats? I couldn’t see a dang thing. The third baseman, pitcher, and first baseman were all perfectly lined up. So, the guy at third blocked my view of the pitch, and any play at first. The batter? The third base coach liked to block that one. Left field? Couldn’t see it around the corner. So, here I am in the front row and I can’t see the batter, the pitcher, or the first baseman. Huh? (I was reminded of people who brag about sitting behind the bench at a basketball game. I always thought the last place I wanted to sit was behind a row of seven-foot guys.)

Section 42, right field bleachers, second row. These seats wouldn’t have been too bad if they were a little farther back. But, at this row there are a couple issues. One was people crossing in front of you along the aisle blocking my view. The other was the fence to the bullpen. It was like paying to watch the game through a fence. I got used to it after a while, but it was fairly annoying. A few rows back though, and it would have been a great time.

Right Field Roof Boxes. These would have been pretty decent seats. They’re actually a lot closer to the field that I thought they’d be. It’s just a little higher than usual. Mine were before first base, so it was a great aerial view of the game. The only problem with my particular seat? It was behind the television camera…for the tigers. So, the view of the pitcher’s mound was through a camera just in front of me. It was a nice advantage that I could see replays through the camera’s viewfinder. But, it made the flow of the game a little choppy.

Section 43, right field bleachers, on the aisle. I never would have thought of being on the aisle as being a bad thing. If I want to get up for a soda, I don’t have to climb over anyone else, right? I guess I never realized, though, just how often everyone else in the park was out of their seats. It wasn’t even so bad letting people from my row out. It was everyone else walking up and down from their seats. The section is skewed slightly from the field, so I was looking almost directly down the aisle. Naturally, every time someone used the aisle, it blocked my view of the game. And, that was a lot.

Section 36, centerfield bleachers. Maybe now you’ve realized why I say the seats in section 36 have been my favorite. It was the only time I don’t think I had any complaints. The view is actually towards the field of play. (It may technically aim you at the Red Sox dugout, but just barely.) I liked being able to see the strike zone…even if from a distance. Very little of the park was blocked…maybe just the triangle. As long as you’re high enough to avoid people crossing in front of you, and in far enough to avoid the aisle, I can’t think of a better place to be.

Those are places where I remember sitting for games. I’m sure I’ve left some out. Anyone else have stories, or pictures, of places they’ve sat that they’d like to share?

F is for Fenway Park

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Team Sets: 1989 Topps

Players Included: Joe Morgan (mgr), Marty Barrett, Todd Benzinger, Mike Boddicker, Wade Boggs, Tom Bolton, Dennis Boyd, Ellis Burks, Rick Cerone, Roger Clemens, Steve Curry, Steve Ellsworth, Dwight Evans, Wes Gardner, Rich Gedman, Mike Greenwell, Bruce Hurst, Dennis Lamp, Spike Owen, Larry Parrish, Carlos Quintana, Jody Reed, Jim Rice, Jeff Sellers, Lee Smith, Mike Smithson, Bob Stanley

Best Picture: Bruce Hurst. Here we have Sox star lefty Bruce Hurst…scratching his elbow! What a great moment in the game. I’m thankful that Topps was on hand to record this instance in baseball history.

Hall of Famers: Wade Boggs, Jim Rice

Future Hall of Famers: Roger Clemens

Reason the buy the set: While the player selection isn’t exactly stacked, there are several quality players in the set. With Lee Smith and three (future) Hall-of-Famers, the star quality is there. This set also contains the core of the fun teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Excitement was riding high in those years with the young group of homegrown talent the Sox were playing on a nightly basis.

Overall Reaction: I like the design of the ’89 Topps set. It’s an artistic yet simple way to display the basic elements of a card. It’s a set, and a team, I think of fondly.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Collecting the Sox: Autographs

Autographs are an old hobby that has become quite a business these days. While it may seem odd to some to collect something just because someone wrote on it, there are many collectors out there who do just that. As with any collectable, it’s a matter of what you enjoy.

In the old days, autographs served as proof that you met, and had an encounter with, a famous person. It didn’t matter whether it was an athlete, entertainer, or politician. If you met someone, you had them sign a piece of paper, or autograph book. That way you could take it home, and show off to your friends. For that reason, many old autographs are found on index cards, or blank sheets of paper. It didn’t much matter what the autograph was on, as long as you had it. Somewhere along the way, instead of bragging rights, autographs turned into collections. People started getting specific things signed, which made for nice displays. Babe Ruth could sign a baseball. Judy Garland could sign a script. When pictures became plentiful, those started to get autographs as well. Once the signatures became collections, it became less important to have actually met the person. It was ok to trade an autograph you had for one you wanted. Or, you could write a letter to a famous person, and ask them to send back an autograph. This made the autograph simply a collectable, to be traded, bought, or sold as seen fit. This led to the big business of today. Athletes get big buck to make personal appearances at shows to sign their name hundreds of times. Baseball card companies have players sign cards to insert into packs. Players are hounded at hotels and ballparks by people demanding piles of autographs. It sometimes looks like a big mess.

The bright side, though, is that autographs are easier to collect. Ted Williams made several appearances at shows before he died, leading to many more autographs than there would have been otherwise. Celtics great Bill Russell realized that he really enjoyed going to shows to sign autographs. What was once an impossible autograph in person has become much easier. So, as an autograph collector, you need to take the good with the bad.

One of the more important decisions when it comes to autographs is what to have the autograph signed on. This decision could be based on something you already collect. If you collect baseballs, or pictures, adding an autograph to one of those would add to the collection. Those also make attractive displays for an autograph. An autograph on a picture of your favorite player hangs nicely on a wall. Another option is a simple piece of paper. While these might not look like much on their own, they can be added to other collectables to improve the look. I’ve seen people collect autographs of entire teams on index cards, and then mat them together into a nice collage. I remember reading an article once about someone who collected autographs on squares of fabric. The squares were then sewn into a great looking quilt. As with any collectable, the only limit is your imagination.

Autographs can be an easy collection to store. Obviously, if you’re getting motorcycles signed, that could take up some room. But, a binder of signed index cards, or baseball cards fits rather nicely just about anywhere. It can be a challenging hobby to collect as well. Tracking down the players to get a signature can be a lot of fun, and adds a personal story to each item in the collection. Which is really the whole point of any collection.

Anyone have a favorite autograph story?

Friday, July 24, 2009

36 Questions: Seeing a pitcher

Question: How does Seeing a Pitcher Help a Hitter?

The Sox have hit a little snag recently against pitchers they have no business hitting a snag against. They often find themselves struggling against young pitchers who haven’t been around very long. The reasoning usually given is that the batters haven’t seen the pitcher before, so that presents problems. What exactly does that mean? I’ve also heard that term used when talking about closers. It’s been said that closers can get away with fewer pitches in their arsenal since a batter only sees them once, as opposed to a starter. Is that the same thing?

I can almost understand the young pitcher part of the equation. It takes a while to know what sorts of pitches the pitcher throws, and maybe even which arm slot those pitches come from. Scouting can tell some of that. A decent scout can tell you which pitches the guy can throw, and probably even when he likes to throw them. But, knowing exactly where the ball comes from every time probably takes actually facing the pitcher. So, when a patter faces a pitcher for the first time, I can see it taking a pitch or two just to see where the ball is coming from. But, does that mean that the batter remembers where the ball comes from for every pitcher he’s ever faced? When David Ortiz digs in against CC Sabathia, does he know instantly where to look? Does he have in his head that a curveball should come from 2 inches above his cap, or whatever? I know some golfers who remember almost every detail of golf courses they’ve only played once, a few years ago. They know which holes have doglegs left, or clumps of trees in the fairway. Are batters like that? Do they just have this photographic-like memory of every pitcher ever? If so, how do pitchers stay around? Hasn’t every batter in the majors seen Jamie Moyer by now? Don’t they all have that picture of where the ball comes from? How does he not get hit hard every time out? (Ok, maybe Moyer’s not the best example?) I assume he survives by changing things up. If so, aren’t all those mental pictures out there wrong? So, how are they helpful?

How does that apply to the difference between starters and closers? I remember people saying Derek Lowe might make a good closer since he always seemed to pitch 3 great innings at the beginning of a start. But, once the batters got a second look at him, he was hit pretty hard. So, apparently, the mental picture the batters had of Derek Lowe needed some fine-tuning, and it took a plate appearance to remember exactly wheat Lowe looked like on the mound? Why doesn’t that apply to these rookie pitchers? After an at-bat, don’t they now know what it all looks like? And, what about long-time closers like Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman. Haven’t all the batters faced them enough to have the mental picture all ready to go? Is that why Rivera has so much trouble with the Red Sox? Do all the Sox have great mental pictures ready to go right out of the box?

Is “seeing a pitcher” one of those things that’s different for every pitcher and hitter? Does Manny Ramirez just need one pitch to figure it all out, while Nick Green might need three at-bats to just get a clue? Did Pedro Martinez have so much working in his favor that batters never really figured it out, while John Wasdin never fooled anybody?

What does it really mean to have seen a pitcher before?

Thursday, July 23, 2009


The Sox made a couple moves yesterday. While they both improved the team, they weren’t exactly the blockbusters I keep hoping for.

One move was to trade Julio Lugo to the Cardinals for Chris Duncan. It’s amazing to me that a team would actually give up a player to acquire Lugo and his salary. I assume part of the deal was for the Sox to pick up a chunk of the salary themselves, but still. It seems like an odd deal. Maybe Lugo’s a better fit for an NL team with his speed. We’ll have to see. Since the Red Sox sent down Duncan to AAA, it doesn’t really affect the big club, other than to save some amount of money.

The other, slightly more important deal was picking up Adam LaRoche. Again, this move improves the team, although not in a Halladay way. It does do a couple nice things for the Sox flexibility-wise. First, it lets them rest Mike Lowell. At the very least, when Mike takes every fifth game off, they have a decent replacement now. That’s assuming that Youkilis is ok bouncing over to third once or twice a week. Obviously, he wouldn’t make a stink about it, but I wonder if it would affect his game at all. I know he seems to make a lot more errors over at third. I wonder what the numbers would show. Along the same lines, the move would appear to help late-inning defense. LaRoche is apparently an excellent first baseman. With Mike Lowell so hobbled by his hip, getting him out of the hot corner every once in a while is probably a good thing. LaRoche at first and Youk at third has to be better than Youk at first and Lowell at third in a close game. And, if things go sour and Lowell’s spot in the order comes up in a key spot, LaRoche isn’t enough of a downgrade to cause too much concern. It’s not like having Pokey Reese come to the plate.

The big question comes up whenever a starter comes to a new team as a bench player. How will he handle it? Will his attitude allow him to accept a new role? Common thinking around here is that any player would do whatever it takes to get out of Pittsburgh and play in front of the Fenway crowd. That’s not always the case. Will his game be affected by a sudden lack of flow? Will one game a week be enough to keep him sharp? When I made the post about the Blaylock schedule, it was assuming that a starter like Blaylock (or LaRoche) would need to keep seeing regular playing time to stay focused. It’s going to be up to Francona to come up with some sort of rotation to keep everyone happy and fresh.

It was a nice pick up. The Sox only had to give up a couple minor leaguers. That makes it a better deal than the Victor Martinez or Hank Blaylock rumors. It improves the bench, so maybe they’ll be a pinch hitter around for Lowrie in the late innings. Over all, the Sox are an improved team over the way they started yesterday. That’s always a good thing.

Still a week left for the Buchholz Showcase to lead to a blockbuster.

Happy 36th!

Today, we wish a Happy 36th Birthday to Nomar Garciaparra!

Nomar’s career in Boston was interesting, to say the least. I don’t think I’ll get much argument when I say he’s the best shortstop the Red Sox have ever had. For a while there, he may have been the best shortstop in the game. (At the very least, the best one east of the Mississippi.) It all started to go downhill, thanks in large part to injuries and contract squabbles. Finally he was unceremoniously shipped west just before the Sox ended their championship drought. It was an unfair ending to a spectacular Red Sox career.

When Nomar joined the team, he was the lone bright spot on a 1997 team that finished in fourth place, 20 games out of first. Nomar won the unanimous Rookie of the Year award that year, and put up numbers you’d never expect out of a shortstop. The next Year, Nomar teamed with Pedro Martinez to lead the Sox to the second best record in the American League (although, oddly enough, they finished 22 games out of first). That continues for another five years or so. Nomar was the star of the team…at least four out of five games. He won a couple batting titles along the way to a sure-fire Hall of Fame career.

Then, the wheels came off. Injuries robbed him of most of the 2001 season, and he was never really the same again. A nasty contract dispute took some of the luster off his star. He wanted to be paid as an elite player, and the Red Sox just don’t like spending that kind of money…even when it’s deserved. When it leaked that he was practically on his way out of town to make room for ARod, there was no turning back. The EEIdiots did their best to turn public opinion against Nomar. This allowed Theo to ship him off for a bag of balls, and the shortstop position in Boston has never been the same.

Nomar was king, as far as I was concerned. Any day that Pedro wasn’t pitching, he was my favorite player on the team for a long time. Nobody looked as menacing at the plate. He was like a wound spring ready to strike. I loved that he took his cuts at the plate and tried to get things done. I still wish Theo would take a do-over and put him back at short.

Happy Birthday Nomar!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What to Do?

The Sox have stumbled a bit coming out of the break. Some of it can probably be expected. A loss to Roy Halladay in Toronto is hardly ever a cause for concern. The other two losses were from your number four and five starters. That’s probably nothing to write home about. So, while they’re sitting at 1-3 since the break, it’s not exactly time for panic in the streets, is it?

The fact that they got their one win from Buchholz is both interesting, and encouraging. It’s still interesting that he pitched even after both Beckett and Wake sat out the All-Star game. Why did they need extra rest if they didn’t pitch? I’m sticking by the idea that Buchholz on Friday was to show everyone else what he can do. It’s looking less likely that the Sox will listen to me (they never do) and push for Halladay. What else is there? A blockbuster deal doesn’t look to be out there. As I’ve said, the only spots in the starting line-up they really have to play with is pitcher and shortstop. If you’re not going to get Halladay, pitcher’s not the option. Unless talks open up with Florida or Philly for their shortstops, it looks like no big deal. What are their plans for the young pitching then?

The lower level deal looks more likely. I think getting somebody like Victor Martinez is still too expensive for their tastes, but it could work. A deal for someone like Hank Blaylock would probably be cheaper, and almost as good. Say you get Blaylock. If you set up a rotation that goes something like… Day 1: Youk at first, Ortiz DH, Lowell at third. Day 2: Youk at first, Blaylock at third, Ortiz DH. Day 3:Youk at first, Lowell at DH, Blaylock at third. Day 4: Blaylock at first, Ortiz at DH, Lowell at third. Lather, rinse, repeat. Obviously, they wouldn’t hold a strict rotation like that considering match-up and whatnot. But, that gives a scenario where Youk plays 80% of the games, as does Ortiz. Lowell and Blaylock get around 70% of the games. That’s nice because most of the rest goes to the back-up in Blaylock, and Lowell who could use it. It’s also assuming that Blaylock remembers how to play third base. If he doesn’t, or the Sox get a strict first baseman, like Nick Johnson, it means bouncing Youk to third in order to keep the ratios. That’s probably less attractive, but an option. Trading for V-Mart would add an element of spelling Tek once in a while as well, assuming he remembers his catching gear. Looking it over though, I think I could endorse something along the lines of the Saito-Blaylock deal that was floated around a month or so ago. I think I can see a way to provide enough playing time to make the trade worthwhile.

In the Glutton for Punishment category, I sent out a few more autograph requests through the mail this week. Even though I am sitting on 0-8 or so, you have to keep trying…right? This time I took a chance with some former All-Stars. Tim Wakefield, JD Drew and Jason Varitek. How can a Red Sox fan not want to grab those guys? (I’ve heard that Wake only signs for charity, so I only really hope that he’ll send me information on how to do that) As always, I’ll let you know if it actually works.

It’s nice to have a losing streak, and be able to throw Josh Beckett.

Team Sets: 1988 Donruss Team Set

Players Included: Marty Barrett, Todd Benzinger, Wade Boggs, Oil Can Boyd, Ellis Burks, Roger Clemens, Dwight Evans, Wes Gardner, Rich Gedman, Mike Greenwell, Sam Horn, Bruce Hurst, John Marzano, Al Nipper, Spike Owen, Jody Reed, Jim Rice, Ed Romero, Calvin Schiraldi, Jeff Sellers, Bob Stanley, Oil Can Boyd

Best Picture: Oil Can Boyd. For some reason, this picture reminds me of the wackiness that was Oil Can. He’s showing the high leg kick, and peering over his shoulder at the batter. It just looks like fun to me.

Hall of Famers: Wade Boggs, Jim Rice

Future Hall of Famers: Roger Clemens

Reason the buy the set: The three stars from the set are, obviously, Boggs, Rice, and Clemens. They would drive the set. Also included are the rookie cards of Ellis Burks, Todd Benzinger, Sam Horn, John Marzano, and Jody Reed. While not much of an issue these days, rookie cards are always nice to have. And, Burks made a nice little career for himself.

Overall Reaction: This is a fun set. I like the design of the Donruss cards this year, looking a little bit like a ribbon wrapped around a package. It’s also a fun set to remember a great group of Red Sox players. The Sox made the playoffs this year, thanks to some Morgan Magic and a collection of homegrown stars. It’s a nice snapsot in Red Sox history.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Red Sox A-Z: E is for…

Ellsbury, as in Jacoby

Jacoby Ellsbury was a top prospect in the Red Sox organization for some time. I didn’t know much about him other than that. I knew he was a practically untouchable minor leaguer, and would someday show his stuff in the major leagues. Frankly, that was enough for me. At the time, we had an aging centerfielder in Johnny Damon. It was nice knowing that something was in the pipeline for a replacement. Once Damon left, perhaps a little sooner than the Red Sox would have liked, they went out to trade for Coco Crisp. So, I wondered what was going on with that Ellsbury guy I had heard about. Apparently, people felt Ellsbury needed another year or two to season before coming up. He finally came up to the bigs during the 2007 season.

I was lucky enough to be at Fenway for Ellsbury’s major league debut. As I said, I didn’t know much about him, or his skill set. I just knew he was an up and comer. It was with some amusement that I watched his first at-bat, which ended up as a groundball to catcher. We wondered in the stands just how many players had gone “2-unassisted” in their first major league plate appearance. Probably not exactly what he was looking for.

In his next at-bat, he hit a routine groundball to short. Again, not the start he would written up. I was about to mark the “6-3” in my scorebook, but looked up just to be sure there wasn’t an error. My jaw dropped when I saw him beat it out for an infield single. This wasn’t a ground ball to the hole, or up the middle. This was an easy hopper to shortstop. I’m not sure if the shortstop had to take more than a step or two to field it. Ellsbury just flat out beat the throw. That’s fast! Speed can help you in many ways and degrees in a baseball game. There’s simply being able to run. Fast enough to score from second on any base hit. There’s Johnny Damon fast. That’s where it’s hard to double you up, and just about any ground ball hit in the hole doesn’t even draw a throw. This was more. This was game changing, Ichiro-like, speed. If he was beating out grounders to short, it was all different. Why hadn’t I heard about this before? Why didn’t I know about the guy in the minors with the blazing speed? This could be fun.

So far, it’s been a blast. Ellsbury’s speed has changed everything. He can bunt for base hits. He has scored from second on both a wild pitch and an infield single. He had a straight steal of home. Going first to third isn’t a question. It’s going first to home that teams need to worry about.

Whenever he’s up, I always wonder what exciting thing he’s going to do this time. Really, as a fan, that’s all I can ask for…right?

E is for Ellsbury, Jacoby.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And it Counts!

Once again, the managers of the All-Star game did their best to make it as horrible of a viewing experience as they could. It’s hardly worth watching the whole game anymore, unless it’s for general curiosity to see if the AL will keep winning.

Late in the game, the NL walked Victor Martinez intentionally with the go-ahead run at third to set up a possible inning ending double play. Nothing wrong with the move really…although it may have been too early in the game to put insurance runs on base with one out. But, it was the reaction of the announcers. They were convinced, or at least trying to convince me, that this was proof of how much the game mattered. Using such a strategy was proof that the teams were really trying. I guess that just left me with one question. If the NL was really trying to win, why did it take its best player out of the game? Why was Pujols on the bench? Don’t insult me by saying that the teams are playing to win when they don’t keep the best players in the line-up. The managers need a new directive. The starters are starters for a reason. The pinch hitter for the pitchers can be whomever you want. Keep everyone else in the game.

Even beyond the “trying to win” angle, taking Pujols out of the game was practically a crime. MLB uses this game to showcase its stars, and let everyone see the best players out there. Wouldn’t they want Pujols to be seen as much as possible if he’s the best player around? To make it worse, the game was in St Louis! So, they cheated the home fans the chance to see their best player just to get more players in the game? That’s ludicrous. They even did the “replacing him after warm-ups” routine, so Albert could walk off to an ovation. I’m thinking that the fans would have rather seen him take another whack at the plate. It reminded me of when Joe Torre sent Jeter out to replace Nomar after warm-up so Nomar could walk off to applause in Fenway. After the game, Torre commented that it was the only way he could think of to get his guy into the game without being booed. Doesn’t that just about sum it up? It wasn’t about having the best player in there. It wasn’t about giving the fans who they want to see. It was about getting everyone a chance to play. Torre had to come up with a way to try to fool the fans, rather than give them what they want.

Bud Selig needs to figure out what he wants the All-Star game to be. MLB insists on using the moronic fan balloting with the line that it gets the starters that the fans want to see. If that’s the case, why are they all replaced after 5 innings? What amazed me especially last night is that Josh Hamilton was the last AL starting outfielder to be replaced, and he was the one who got the fewest votes. Huh? He was the one who said he probably didn’t really deserve to start since he’s been on the DL. So, what’s the deal Bud? You can’t have it both ways. If you want to make an argument that people deserve to see Adam Jones play, even if they don’t know who he his, then take away the fan voting to stop putting people in the game who don’t belong. Otherwise, let the best players finish the game.

The fact that Tim Wakefield didn’t pitch is a little curious for a few reasons. He should have been rested enough to allow it. It’s not like Beckett who pitched Sunday. With all the moves being made to get players in the game, it seemed odd not to play the 42-year old in his first game. He couldn’t have pitched in place of, say, Mark Buehrle? Does that mean that the AL was really trying to win? Apparently Joe Madden decided early on that he was the extra innings guy? Was that his role when Wake was selected? Did Madden decide he wasn’t going to run out of pitchers, so he pitched the guy with the rubber arm over Kevin Millwood? If the game went extra innings, the AL would have the advantage throwing Wake as long as they needed. It also makes a Buchholz start on Friday more interesting. The reasoning given for the call-up was that Beckett and Wake would need rest from the AS Game. But, neither one pitched, so neither one should need rest. If Clay still gets the nod, does that confirm that it’s to showcase him to Toronto?

I still enjoy watching the MLB All-Star game. The pre-games are starting to drive me batty, but the game is still great. I just wish that MLB cared as much as I do about making it an enjoyable game.

They should just follow my guidelines, I guess.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Better Before the Break

Remember the old days when the Red Sox would catch the Yankees after a long time of being in second. They’d drop the gap from 5 games to 1, or even 0. Without fail, it would be back up to 5 again within the week. Yet another example of how times have changed. It was the Yankees who finally caught the Sox just before the break. New Yorkers were back to their old selves. It was assumed that once again, the Yanks had caught the Sox from behind on their way to a title. Not this time. This time, the Sox pulled it together and closed out the half with three straight wins. The Yankees, meanwhile, fell back to earth. By the time the weekend was over, the lead stood at three games once again. It sure is fun.

Speaking of the weekend, the starting pitching looked great. I’d have preferred another inning out of Smoltz, but if that were my only complaint, I’d say things are going well with the rotation. Lester once again dominated the Royals at Fenway. He’s been pitching great lately, rounding back into a top of the rotation guy. Beckett proved he belongs there too. His complete game yesterday was another in a long line of dominating starts this season. Smoltz did his part with five innings of one-run ball on Saturday. Pretty impressive indeed. I know it’s against Kansas City. The opponent isn’t the pitcher’s fault. You can say they were supposed to pitch well against KC. That’s exactly what they did, in dominating fashion. If Beckett pitched 6 innings yesterday, giving up 4 runs in a win, it wouldn’t be all that great of a sign. But, he dominated when he was supposed to. That’s really all I can ask.

From the dominating when you’re supposed to department, Clay Buchholz will get the start on Friday in Toronto. Clay was doing everything he was supposed to do, by mowing the opposition down in Pawtucket. As a reward, he gets a spot start with the big club. It’s interesting to see a spot start for no good reason though. Francona said it was because Beckett and Wakefield are both supposed to pitch in the All-Star game Tuesday, and needed the extra rest. Although, simply starting the schedule after the break with Penny, Lester, Smoltz would have given them each at least an extra day of rest. It makes me wonder if it really a coincidence that this random call-up is against the Blue Jays. Is this a chance for the Jays management to see Clay up close and personal? Is this a showcase so the Jays can see what they’d get for Halladay? Is that too much for me to hope for? Maybe if Lars Anderson gets a call-up as well so Youk can rest up from the All-Star game too. Maybe Bard gets a save because Pap’s “resting.”

Unfortunately, a few players didn’t dominate this weekend when they were supposed to. The bullpen, which was the best in the league, couldn’t buy an out on Saturday. The most painful part was that I was at the park to witness it firsthand. It’s bad enough when the opposing pitchers give up hit after hit to lead to long innings. It’s downright lethal when the Sox do it right back. After the collapse against the Orioles, I wonder what was running through Smoltz’s mind as he saw his win almost float away. Even worse than all the runs? It started to rain, no wait…pour, for the top of the ninth. So now, not only has the game gone on much longer than it should have, but because of that I’m getting soaked. And, just for the kicker, Youk hits a meaningless homer in the 8th to eliminate the save situation. So I’m frustrated, tired, and wet and don’t even get to see Pap enter to a blaring “I’m Shipping up to Boston.” Thank goodness they won.

Let’s hope nobody gets hurt during All-Star festivities. It’s really the only thing wrong with the game, if someone goes down. It would be nice if the AL pulled out another win as well. After all, the game counts.

At least there’s no beach flag football.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Collecting the Sox: Baseballs

As far as Red Sox collectables go, there may not be anything as basic as baseballs. They are a pivotal part of the game, and have made a wonderful collectable for generations.

These days the ease of collecting baseballs is growing. They’re available in lots of places they might not always have been. Obviously, they’re available at ballparks, and sporting goods stores. I’ve seen them as give aways at gas stations and fast foot restaurants. They even pop up at Wal-mart and Target with regularity. That all makes the decision of which ones to collect all the more important.

One category involves “official” baseballs. These are the ones they actually use in games. They could be actually “game-used” or just up to those specifications. In addition to the standard issues that they use in every game; they sometime create commemorative baseballs for use in specific games or series. Some Red Sox related versions might be the World Series balls, or the 1999 All-Star ball from 1999. Or, in 1999 they used a special ball at all regular season games at Fenway. That made another unique official ball. The game used versions can be general. It could simple be a ball that was used in a game. Or, very specific. Collect foul balls hit by Kevin Youkilis, or home runs hit by David Ortiz. Obviously, those might be harder to find and verify, but it can be done.

The other section of baseball collecting is the commemorative balls. If you stop by Fenway, the souvenir stands are full of novelty baseballs. Maybe they have a special ball for Opening Day, or an interleague series. Maybe a ball featuring a specific player. There are balls that celebrate Fenway itself that make a nice addition to a collection, especially if you add it to balls from other parks. The possibilities are almost endless.

One thing many collectors like to do with their baseballs is to get them autographed. The ball makes a perfect display for a signature. It makes an ordinary collectable into something special with the stroke of a pen. Just about any variety of baseball would be great to get an autograph, although the official ones are the most popular. (I wouldn’t recommend using a game-used ball for a signature though. The mud they use on the balls tends to not work well with the autograph)
In addition to the variety, one of the things I like best about baseballs is their size. They’re just a few inches in diameter. A simple bookshelf or bureau top can hold 15-20 balls nicely displayed. A simple wooden washer is all you really need to keep them in place. A plastic case will allow you to stack them, and prevent them from rolling around. But, again, you don’t need a whole room to house the collection.

Baseballs are also relatively inexpensive. An official version may run you $15 at Target. A novelty ball will fall in the $10-20 range. Obviously, an autographed Ted Williams ball will probably push most budgets. But, otherwise, it’s a pretty cheap way to collect your favorite team.

Baseballs are one of my favorite collectables. Their size and colors make for an attractive display. I have several options available to choose from, and can tailor the collection any way I see fit. If I were going to choose a collectable to focus on, I’d probably pick baseballs. They’re that cool.

Anyone collect baseballs?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What’s Up Doc?

I wrote a while ago about a question I had once when it came to making trades. I wondered how teams knew when certain players were “available.” Did teams call every day just to see, or does a GM call others and advertise. It looks like Toronto recently did the latter. They let everyone know that Roy Halladay was on the block, and waited for the offers to roll in. Hopefully, the Sox called up with a substantial bid.

If you’ve read anything from me, you know that I want the Sox to get Halladay. I’ve been begging the Sox to use all their chips to make a splash. I will forever be in favor of trading potential for actual. I see the farm system as having two roles. One is to fill needs at the major league level. The other is to trade away to fill needs at the major league level. It’s time for the Sox to explore role number two.

Let’s look at the Red Sox pitching staff. Jon Lester is 25, and signed for a long time. He’s going to me a mainstay for the near future. Josh Beckett is 29, and signed through next year. I can only assume the Sox would make a big push to keep him for another three years or so after that. Daisuke Matsuzaka is 28, and signed through 2012. Love him or hate him he’s here for a while. So, there are three rotation spots “locked-up” for the next 3-5 years. Wakefield is an all-star this year. I know that at some point he’s going to retire. But, it’s not this year. It’s not looking like next year either. Penny and Smoltz are year rentals I can’t imagine will be wearing a Red Sox uniform next season. So, there is one rotation spot available next season, another one perhaps the year after.

The Sox have a couple options as to how to fill those two spots. They can keep all the youth. They can hold on to Buchholz, Bard, Bowden, and Masterson along with anyone else I forgot. Buchholz can have the rotation spot that frees up next season. The best one out of the other three has to wait another year plus and takes Wakefield’s spot. What’s the plan for the other two? Once your rotation is Beckett-Lester-Daisuke-Buchholz-Bowden, what happens to Bard and Masterson? Do they sit and stew wondering if Beckett walks after next season? Bard can replace Papelbon when he reaches free agency. Masterson waits and sees? How many back-up plans do the Sox need?

Or, how about this option? The Sox offer Toronto something like Buchholz, Bard, and a prospect that they get from a third team for Penny. (Theo always needs a third team in deadline blockbusters) They can even have their choice of Masterson and Bowden if need be. The Sox cleaned out the farm. But, did it hurt the future? They still have Lester, Beckett, and Dice for years to come. They still have Wakefield next season, and maybe the next one. Then, they’d have Roy Halladay the rest of this year, and the next one. So, for two more seasons, the rotation is Beckett-Lester-Halladay-Dice-Wakefield/Bowden. After that? Beckett and Halladay could walk after 2010. But, dang, what a fun two years it would have been. If they both leave? You have Lester-Dice-Bowden-?-? for another couple years. I’ll give Theo the chance to fill in a number 4 and 5 starter if he has two years to look. I also imagine that he finds a way to keep Beckett around. That sounds pretty good to me. What if Buchholz, Bard and a prospect is enough? Even better.

Do I give up some back-up plans? Yes. If Lester blows out his arm, is it more troublesome? Yup. But, if that happens, it’s pretty troublesome no matter what. Why hold onto potential when you don’t need it, and you can turn it into the real thing?

Plus, can you imagine a playoff rotation this year of Beckett-Lester-Halladay-Smoltz? Isn’t that worth a gamble on the future?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Team Sets: 1991 Topps Team Set

Players Included: Larry Anderson, Marty Barrett, Mike Boddicker, Wade Boggs, Tom Bolton, Tom Brunansky, Ellis Burks, Roger Clemens, John Dopson, Dwight Evans, Wes Gardner, Jeff Gray, Mike Greenwell, Greg Harris, Joe Hesketh, Daryl Irvine, Dana Kiecker, Dennis Lamp, Mike Marshall, John Marzano, Rob Murphy, Tim Naehring, Tony Pena, Phil Plantier, Carlos Quintana, Jeff Reardon, Jody Reed, Luis Rivera, Kevin Romine, Joe Morgan (mgr)

Best Picture: Tony Pena. A perfect picture for a defensive marvel such as Pena. It looks to be a spring training picture, due to the blue uniform top. Nevertheless, Pena has apparently blocked a ball in the dirt, and is ready to gun down a runner if he tries to advance. It just screams pure baseball.

Hall of Famers: Wade Boggs

Future Hall of Famers: Roger Clemens

Reason the buy the set: As the lone-Hall-of Famer, Wade Boggs is the key card to the set. Even Post-Mitchell Report, Clemens is a huge draw, but he’s dropped a bit. Back in the day, the Phil Plantier rookie card would have driven the set. The set also includes Larry Anderson, the man the Sox acquired for Jeff Bagwell.

Overall Reaction: This is a nice clean set. I enjoy the design, simplistic as it may be. While, the set is lacking in true stars, there are several players who would be memorable to Sox fans. That is especially true since most of the players that were swept out of the 1990 ALCS appear in this set. While it doesn’t highlight the prime era for the Red Sox, they’re a nice grouping of cards. The combination of horizontal and vertical images is a nice change of pace, and allows for some unique photography.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Not exactly what I had in mind.

You shouldn’t have to rally late to avoid being swept at home when you’re playing a .500 team. The Sox better pick things up a bit for the rest of the homestand.

One brighter spot over the weekend was the starting pitching. Wakefield had a tough outing on Friday, but didn’t embarrass himself. It’s something that just happens every once in a while. Penny had another fine start on Saturday. At what point does he not get traded because the Sox actually want him in the rotation? Lester got bit a bit by the unearned runs yesterday. While I know they’re called unearned for a reason, the pitcher could do a little more to prevent them. I know Pedro always used to say that if a guy made an error it was still his fault, since he let the batter hit the ball in the first place. But, overall, if the Sox could get those three outings over and over, it wouldn’t be too bad.

The line-up needed some help. They can’t be shut down by Mariner pitching like that. I know Lowell’s hole is bigger than it might seem at first. It’s even worse when Papi takes a rest at the same time. It reminded me of the sort of thing Jimy Williams used to do. Whenever Pedro pitched, he’d rest every starter figuring they didn’t need many runs with Martinez on the mound. The problem is, he always forgot that they needed at least one run. Hopefully Francona wasn’t looking past the Mariners in the same way.

With the best bullpen in the history of mankind, how did the Sox lose two straight games late to the Mariners? What is with baseball?

Does it say anything about closers that David Aardsma, of all people, is practically an elite one this year? Just how volatile are closers anyway?

Speaking of elite players, hearty congratulations should go out to the Red Sox all-stars. Jason Bay, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, and Jonathan Papelbon will be representing the Sox as they try to gain home field advantage in October. While I’m not sure how many of them would have made it if MLB used the selection method I proposed (check out the Bud Selig category on the right), it’s great to have a large group to watch during the game. It’s especially nice to see Tim Wakefield make a team. While I can’t say he has been snubbed in years past, he certainly deserves some national recognition for all he’s done. Over the years he has sacrificed many a personal stat for the good of the team. If Papelbon were that selfless, he wouldn’t make many all-star teams either. I wonder if Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez will draw straws to see who has to catch Wake. I bet there are a couple NL baserunners absolutely drooling at the thought. Maybe the AL should find a way to give Kottaras an honorary spot. I guess in theory, if “this time it counts” Wake shouldn’t pitch. In an important game, I can’t imagine throwing a knuckler out there to a catcher who’s never caught one…even in practice. Maybe he’ll be saved as an extra innings fallback plan. If the game’s tied after nine, Wake can pitch the next nine if needed.

First things first, though. The Sox still have two series to play before the mini-break. Hopefully they can remember that they’re not playing very good teams, and coast into the all-star break on a good long winning streak. Throwing Smoltz and Beckett is a pretty good start. Of course, I said that last week too.

Hopefully, everybody’s ready to give Nomar a much-deserved standing ovation tonight. For all he did for this team, he at least deserves that.

No-mah’s bet-ter!

Friday, July 3, 2009

List of 36: Players and coaches from 36 years ago (1973)

1. Ray Culp
2. Mario Guerrero
3. Reggie Smith
4. Orlando Cepeda
5. Don Lenhardt
6. Eddie Kasko
7. Sonny Siebert
8. Rico Petrocelli
9. Bob Veale
10. Bob Bolin
11. Bob Montgomery
12. Buddy Hunter
13. Carlton Fisk
14. Ben Oglivie
15. Bill Lee
16. Marty Pattin
17. Rick Miller
18. Don Newhauser
19. Luis Tiant
20. Doug Camilli
21. Dwight Evans
22. Eddie Popowski
23. Lynn McGlothern
24. Carl Yastrzemski
25. Dick Pole
26. Tommy Harper
27. Danny Cater
28. John Kennedy
29. Ken Tatum
30. Mike Garman
31. Roger Moret
32. Cecil Cooper
33. Craig Skok
34. Doug Griffin
35. John Curtis
36. Luis Aparicio

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What goes around…

It was great to see that the Sox still had the needed fire yesterday. After blowing htat huge lead on Tuesday, and trailing big on Thursday, it would have been easy to give up. It would have been easy to just lament over blowing the series, and limping out with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. The Sox didn’t do that though. Like a good team should, they kept plugging along and ended up stealing the series back. That’s a pretty good sign.

I know that most stats involving relievers are laughable. Saves aren’t saves anymore. ERAs get held in check by pitching less. But, nothing is as funny to me as the hold Saito got in Tuesday’s game. He got a hold…and a loss. I wonder which one he’ll bring up during his next contract negotiations. Bill James needs to come up with a couple meaningful stats for relievers, and fast.

Lost in the craziness of the last couple games is the gem pitched by Jon Lester on Monday. He’s starting to get a hold of a few key factors to good pitching. He’s starting to get a lot more consistent with his outings. After a few awful starts to begin the season, he’s clamped down and strung together a run of solid performances. I’m not wondering what I’m going to get out of him anymore. He’s also cutting down on his walks. I’m sure the two go hand in hand. When he’s not walking guys, he’s not getting in so much trouble, and he’s going deeper into games. He’s becoming a strikeout pitcher too, which is nice. Nothing gets you out if a jam better than a quick K. While I’m not quite ready to say that I’m glad he wasn’t traded for Santana, he’s great to have in the rotation.

It’s also great to have John Smoltz in the rotation. His great performance was also lost in the rain and collapse Tuesday. If he’s going to be pitching like that the rest of the way, the Beckett-Lester-Smoltz combo could be fun in a division series.

Since the bullpen came back less than 24 hours after the collapse, I’m willing to chalk it up to the rain delay. I can imagine a bullpen with an 8 run lead, sitting through an hour-long rain delay. I’d have been amazed if they didn’t mentally check out at that point.

A nice homestand is on the way leading up to the break. I don’t think 7-3 is an unreasonable expectation.

With all the injuries, and below average performances, I can take being up 2.5 going into the break. A little more would be even better though. The Yankees and Rays are playing about as well as they can right now, and the Sox have a lot of scrubs filtering through. Keeping their head above water is a great benchmark.

Does Seattle have an advantage playing in wet weather?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Red Sox A-Z: D is for…

DiMaggio, as in Dom

I’ve often wondered what it’s like to be Dom DiMaggio. Imagine being a ball-player. Pretty cool, right? Now, imagine being a very good ballplayer, borderline Hall-of-Famer even. That’s just amazing. You have a brother who plays in the majors, and you’re better than him. Wonderful. That has to be a dream of some sort. But, then, you have another brother, Joe DiMaggio. You could cure cancer, and not quite get out from under his shadow. You could even convince yourself that you’re a better outfielder than he is, but it wouldn’t help. Then, to make matters worse, you find yourself a best friend on your team and pick Ted Williams. Why would you do that? No matter where he went, he was the second best part of the duo. If you went out with your best friend and your brother, you’d be that other guy getting in the picture. Amazing.

Obviously, I don’t remember seeing Dom DiMaggio play. He retired before my parents were born. But, I have stumbled upon him here and there. For me his recent passing cut yet another link, maybe a last link, to the past glory days for the Sox. I know Pesky is still around, but I always thought of DiMaggio as the elder statesman for the Sox. Maybe it’s because Pesky is around so much, I think of him as a current Sox. But, since Williams’s passing, I always thought of DiMaggio as the link to the great teams of the 40’s.

There have been a couple instances when I’ve been at Fenway, and they’ve had greats of the past on hand. One I remember was the Red Sox 100th Anniversary celebration. They had a ceremony before a game that year where they invited all kinds of players. Each player took his position in the field. From the bleachers, my closest view was of DiMaggio in center. You could tell he moved a little slower than the others out there. It just cemented the fact that his attendance was just a little bit more special than Mike Andrews or Luis Tiant. It was pretty cool to see the distinguished “little professor” in his old position.

Another time I saw Dom at Fenway was during Ted Williams’s memorial celebration. Once again, DiMaggio was there as a link to the glorious past. Again, he was slower than some other players as we went about honoring Ted. I also remembered that his speech was the most passionate. Every speaker spoke of how wonderful Ted was, and how lucky he was to know him. But Dom was really speaking from the heart. He spoke out against the way Ted’s body was being handled with the energy of a man much younger than he. It was moving to see a good friend take his chance to right what he felt was a great wrong. It made me hope to one day have a friend like Dom DiMaggio.

It’s one of the things that I always loved about being a Red Sox fan. There was a history there. It wasn’t a group of people that stopped by to play for a ring. To be a Red Sox player meant something to people, and Dom DiMaggio always seemed to define that for me. I’ll miss seeing him at the park.

D is for DiMaggio, Dom

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