Monthly Archives: July 2008

No More Manny

In Theo I trust.

If he thinks this trade will help the Red Sox win another World Series ring, then I guess it really is time for Manny to go.

That said, it’s hard to fathom that the Boston Red Sox just let one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time — a guy who helped the team win two World Series rings — walk out the door in the middle of a pennant race. The Yankees love this trade. Their fear of the Red Sox vanished at 4:20pm yesterday. Oh, and Joe Torre went to bed last night with a BIG smile on his face.

I am a fan. I am an emotional fan who loves Manny’s joyful, teddy bear personality, his majestic presence in the on-deck circle and batter’s box, and the way he wrecks pitches in the strike zone. I acknowledge that he was not the perfect competitor during his years in a Red Sox uniform. His jogging to first base sometimes drove me crazy. But in the same way a parent keeps loving his kids no matter what they do, nothing Manny ever did or said made me dislike the guy. It wasn’t blind affection. It was eyes-wide-open appreciation for a marvelous player I “knew” better than any other.

I will miss Manny and I will root for him as a Dodger. I hope he finds peace in L.A. and that this trade ends up being a great thing for him and his family.

Time to turn the page on the Manny years, one of the most amazing chapters we’ve ever experienced in Red Sox Nation. It’s Jason Bay time. The 2008 World Series MVP.

The Truth About Manny (If Only It Were That Simple…)

Is the following quotation from a book review that will eventually be written about the events that finally led to Manny Ramirez’s brilliant Red Sox career ending in a ball of flames?

“The story examines the variations a mistruth can go through when filtered through person after person and illustrates how different people can have multiple perceptions and interpretations of the same event. The various points of view the reader sees provide insight into the story that none of the individual characters possesses.”

No, this is an excerpt from a review of the book, Nothing But The Truth, by Avi, which is one of the books I read with my class when I was a 9th grade English teacher. But the lessons of this profound book apply directly to this whole Manny Ramirez situation. All of you who have read this book understand that there is NOT “one truth” in the drama that has played out over the last week — and over the last eight years. There’s Manny’s truth. There’s Manny’s wife’s truth. There’s John Henry’s truth. There’s Theo’s truth. There’s Francona’s truth. There’s each teammate’s truth. There’s Dan Shaughnessy’s truth. There’s Jerry Remy’s truth. There’s the stat-man’s truth. And there’s YOUR truth, based on everything you have read, heard, and seen — and the mindset you bring to this situation.

The book reminds us that everything you hear from a second-hand source has been distorted in some way, often a small way and and often unintentionally. It reminds us that two people can witness the same scene and describe it totally differently — and both descriptions can be accurate. It reminds us that all reporters, players, and fans perceive the things Manny does and says — and the things that are said about him — through the lenses of their own prejudgments and cultural values, so all reporters, fans, and players see and hear different things. It reminds us that we almost NEVER know the true context of the quotations we read and the actions we witness, and that reporters can tell you the complete truth — and mangle it at the same time. It reminds us that a small misunderstanding can snowball into an out-of-control mess when one warped interpretation leads to multiple responses that are even more off-base, and the original players in the drama react to these responses in ways that make the situation even worse, and on and on it goes, the downward spiral of miscommunication and misinterpretations compounding in a horrific way.

Ultimately, it’s futile for reporters (and fans) to state unequivocally what’s going on in this Manny Ramirez situation — BUT because it’s their job (and because they’re programmed to think their version of the truth is “the right” one), that’s what they do. And this often takes us even further from “the real truth.”

We should be careful about judging people based on shreds of information (from second-hand sources in the media) that barely scratch the surface of a complex scenario. (For example, Manny Ramirez and Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick have worked together for eight years – there’s a history there that we know nothing about.) The press is paid to tell us what happened — but only the BEST reporters dig below the surface to find the REAL STORY. There are conversations that have taken place that we don’t know about (Scott Boras?) and factors at play that we can’t comprehend (culture differences?) that, if we were aware of them, would shift whatever opinion we currently have about Manny Ramirez and others who have played a role in this saga.

Tom Caron stated the truth he perceives on last night’s post-game show: “”Manny has acted and spoken his way right out of this clubhouse.”

Or, maybe WE’VE acted and spoken Manny right out of this clubhouse by our tainted and sensationalized reporting of “the truth” and our lack of understanding about a unique personality who, through it all, drives in runs with a smile on his face. That’s certainly Manny’s truth. He said last night, “Mental peace has no price and I don’t have peace here.” When I put myself in his shoes, that’s a truth that’s easy to see.

Mamas, It’s OK To Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Mannys

Over at Boston.com’s “Extra Bases” blog, there were over 50 comments on Monday from fans reacting to all of this Manny business. A few of them accused Manny of being a bad role model for kids. For example, here’s what commenter “Paul W.” wrote:

“When I tell my little leaguers to model themselves after a major leaguer, I leave off Manny. I don’t want my players to think that selfish behavior is a positive attribute for a team. Follow Varitek, Pedroia, Schilling, or Beckett’s example, even Jeter’s or Posada’s. Any of these guys because they love and respect the game. But never Manny.”

I’ve taught middle school and coached a total of about 30 youth sports teams over the years, and I know where Paul W. is coming from. Yes, in ONE obvious way, Manny’s approach to the game of baseball is not what I would teach my young players. His obvious flaw is that, frequently (but not always), he fails to sprint down the first base line as soon as he has hit the ball. Sometimes, he hangs out in the batter’s box and admires the ball he has just hit, and sometimes he runs at less than 100%. This isn’t OK in the majors, but it’s a cardinal sin in little league. (I know that Paul W. is also referring to Manny’s alleged lack of “team spirit,” but no matter how confident sportswriters and fans are about the details of this most recent story about Manny’s knee, we don’t know the whole story).

Yup, Manny loafs sometimes. Yup, that can be maddening and costly. However, in many ways, Manny sets a positive example for young baseball players. Here’s what I would say to players on my youth baseball teams about what to emulate about Manny Ramirez.

1. He approaches every at-bat with a clear mind. Manny’s not thinking about his last plate appearance and he’s not thinking about his latest gaffe in the field. He’s not even thinking about his contract and what his agent, Scott Boras, wants him to do. No, Manny leaves that all behind when he strides towards the batter’s box. He’s in his own MannyZone, and he’s thinking about two things: seeing a strike, and hammering it. Even with two strikes, Manny’s focus is unbelievable.

2. He expects to get a hit, every at-bat. The way Manny walks to the plate with an air of self-confidence, settles into the batter’s box, taps the plate with his bat, assumes his regal batting stance, and stares out at the pitcher… everyone in the park knows he’s already envisioned the line drive that he’s about to smash. This summer, my co-coaches and I taught our eight year-old players to chant the words, “I crush balls in the strike zone,” while standing in the on-deck circle and stepping into the batter’s box. Why? We were teaching them to think like Manny.

3. When he strikes out or grounds into a double play, Manny immediately puts the failure behind him and moves on. No frustration, no cursing himself or the baseball gods, no wasting emotional energy on “what-ifs.” (Maybe this is why Youk and Manny don’t get along.) Manny just accepts his fate, takes a seat, and starts preparing for his next at-bat. Sometimes his lack of frustration is interpreted as a lack of intensity or competitiveness, but anger just doesn’t work for Manny – and anger and frustration don’t work too well for kids, either. The play is over, now move on in as positive a state of mind as you can. That’s Manny.

4. Manny plays baseball joyfully. Just about every little league coach in the land tells kids, “Have fun out there!” But do they really mean it? The truth is, it’s simply not O.K. in our U.S. athletic culture to appear to be having fun in certain game situations. Manny is happy all the time, whether the team is winning or losing, whether he’s just hit a grand slam or grounded into a double play, whether he’s benched or facing a 3-2 pitch in a clutch situation, whether the media is writing character-puncturing articles about him or cozying up to him for “being Manny.” As a coach, I really DO want my players to have fun playing baseball, and Manny’s a tremendous role model in this way.

5. Manny works hard in the off-season to get his body ready for spring training. He takes about ten days off after the season ends, then begins a strenuous workout regimen with one of the toughest trainers in the business. All good youth athletics coaches tell their players, “You want to get good? Work hard.” In 2007, The Boston Herald interviewed Seattle’s Raul Ibanez about his off-season workouts with Ramirez in Florida:

“In between sets, everything is timed, and he would always be reminding [me] to keep working. He works his tail off. I knew he was hard-working, but he exceeded my expectations. We would start at 10 and he was coming at 9 to do his workouts. He was working out an hour more. He influenced everybody to come in and work out earlier.”

Now is Manny a perfect role model for young baseball players? No. And neither am I, and neither are you. I would tell little leaguers, “Manny does some things badly, and some things exceptionally well. Let’s learn from what he does well.” Over the last decade, the closest MLB has come to a flawless role model has been Ironman Cal Ripken. Great leader, great worker, played hard, played hurt. But to create an ideal role model for young players, I’d want to combine Cal with Manny. Mix Cal’s determination and toughness with Manny’s jubilant, expectant frame of mind, and you have a powerful, positive role model.

My idea about what to DO with Manny (keep him, or trade him?): Pick up his option for 2009 and tell him we’re NOT picking it up for 2010. Get one more productive year out of him at $20M and ensure his self-motivation by guaranteeing him free agency in 2010. I love Manny and don’t want to lose him, but his age (and the physical decline that inevitably comes with age, unless you are Roger Clemens) worries me.

Did You Expect “Manny Being Yaz?”

Everyone is furious with Manny Ramirez because he asked for a day off on Friday night (our first game of this important series vs. the Yankees) saying his knee hurts. Dan Shaughnessy captures the controversy well, writing in today’s Boston Globe, “Something’s got to give. The owners are mad. The manager is frustrated. The GM is frustrated. Teammates are angry. Even with sycophants who excuse everything, Manny may have finally exhausted his reservoir of goodwill. He quit on the team in 2006 and now it looks like he’s quitting again. Is that OK with you, Red Sox Nation?”

Well, I certainly don’t speak for Red Sox Nation, but as the VP of RSN, I have two reactions to this whole Manny situation.

1. We can believe that Manny is telling the truth about his knee, or we can believe that he’s lying about it (or exaggerating). Either way, none of us knows whether his knee is truly hurt or not, so we might as well TRUST Manny. Why? For the simple reason that there is no good that can come from doubting him. And even if his knee isn’t sore enough to miss a game, the guy obviously has SOME reason that he needs a day off, a reason big enough to ask for a day to recover (and possibly even lie about an injury), so let’s just give him his day off and move on. We’d rather not play him anyway if he’s not feeling motivated and can’t get motivated. There’s no point in doubting Manny, and since the only data we have is his word, we might as well trust that.

2. Hello, sportswriters, team ownership, front office, and Red Sox Nation, is this whole “I need a day off” stuff from Manny really still surprising you? Did you think that Manny would suddenly undergo a metamorphosis this season and beg to play 162 games? Why haven’t we gotten over the outrage at this point and just accepted him as “Our Manny” and saved ourselves from the bother of getting angry every time he acts like…. Manny.

There’s a code of athletic conduct that I grew up with, and that’s part of the culture of U.S. professional sports, that says, “The team is the most important thing,” and “When you’re hurt, you play anyway, dammit.” But guess what? Manny didn’t learn this code in his childhood, and it hasn’t grown on him during his years in the Big Leagues. He’s a different animal. Way different. We all know this about him. So why do we keep driving ourselves crazy by getting mad at him? It’s sort of like getting mad at a two year-old for drawing on the walls with a crayon. That’s what two year-olds do. All of them. And that will never change.

Of course, the difference between Manny and two year-olds is, two year-olds learn to modify their behavior to comply with society’s norms. Manny never will. He’s a grown-up now, this is who he is.

But please also keep in mind that the very personality flaws that some of us find so frustrating in Manny also contribute to his greatness. There’s never been a more carefree, happy-go-lucky player, and I believe that that state of mind is a big reason why he’s so cool under pressure. Two strikes, two outs, down by a run in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on second? The whole stadium might be freaking out, but not Manny, he’s just chilling out in the batter’s box, looking for a pitch he can drive. And we all know, he’s better at this than 95% of all Major Leaguers.

Am I excusing Manny’s occasionally bizarre behavior just because he’s a Hall of Fame hitter? No. But Manny is a complex package, and after eight years with the guy, it’s a package we should all know well: Manny drives in runs. In the outfield, Manny waves to fans between every pitch. Manny demands days off regardless of the game’s importance. Manny strikes fear into every pitcher he faces. Manny enjoys himself all the time, even when he’s just made a huge error. Manny stands at home plate to admire his home runs. Manny sells grills on e-Bay. Manny is always among the league leaders in outfield assists. Manny rarely breaks a sweat running to first base. Manny doesn’t talk to the media, and when he does, he says the “wrong” thing. Manny is one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time.

Oh, and let’s not forget, Manny has two World Series rings. As Terry Francona said yesterday, “You know what, we have run into bumps in the road [with Ramirez] ever since I’ve been here. And there’s been some before I’ve been here. The result, two of the times, has been a World Series ring. And how you get to the end is what counts.”

If Theo Epstein thinks the Red Sox will win more games without Manny, he should trade him or not pick up his option for next year. (In Theo, I trust.) But please, no more outrage, no more surprise….. unless you really expected that someday we’d revise our favorite Manny phrase to, “It’s just Manny being Yaz.”

In November, 2007, I posted a great story about Manny being a good guy, a story that my father received in an email from a friend of his who randomly spent 15 minutes chatting with Manny following the 2007 Rolling Rally. It’s entitled, “Manny Being Magnanimous.”

The Yankees Make Life Sweeter

The Yankees are in town for a weekend showdown, and Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen has written a well-timed article making a case for the forced extinction of the chant, “Yankees Suck!” I couldn’t agree more with Kevin, and his article reminded me of a piece I wrote in March, 2008 for the Sox and Pinstripes blog, about why Red Sox fans actually love the Yankees more than we hate them. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

I’m Vice President of Red Sox Nation, and I love the New York Yankees. Are you a Red Sox fan who’s shocked by this statement? Guess what, you love them, too. In fact, the longer you’ve been a Red Sox fan, the greater your love is for them.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a world without the Yankees. Imagine there’s no rivalry between the Boston and New York baseball teams; in fact, there’s no legitimate “rivalry” between the Red Sox and any other team. Goose Gossage was never a nemesis and David Ortiz never hit those dramatic walk-off homers. Mariano Rivera played for the Reds so we hardly knew him, and George Steinbrenner owned the Phillies so his name merely rings a bell. 1978 never happened, but neither did 2004.

Do you find this vision enticing? Nah. Like me, you appreciate the way things have turned out so far (the painful times made the jubilant times more jubilant), and you’re dying of anticipation as you think ahead to future seasons of the greatest rivalry in all of sports. You’ll never root for the Yanks, but you’ll be happiest when they’re a top-notch team that buys whatever superstar they want…. then loses to the Red Sox in games that really count. And you’ll give Derek Jeter a “standing-O” in his last at-bat at Fenway Park because, like me, you deeply appreciate what he has contributed to your enjoyment of The Game – as a Yankee.

To read the article from Sox and Pinstripes in its entirety, click here.

There IS Crying In Baseball

Yes, with (almost) all of our pro sports teams winning and winning and winning, it’s a great time to be a young sports fan in Boston. Winning feels so darn good, doesn’t it? But losing is part of sports too, no matter how good our teams are, and its potentially painful effects are most transparent in the way kids respond to losses.

When he was six, my oldest son cried and cried and cried into my shoulder as we left Fenway Park following the last out of game three of the 2005 A.L. Division Series, a loss that gave the Chicago White Sox a sweep of the Red Sox. And when the Patriots lost the Super Bowl earlier this year, his whole 8 year-old body crumpled into a weeping blob in front of the TV. Losing was clearly a concept that he found difficult to grasp, let alone deal with.

But those were losses of teams he was merely rooting for. Losing a big game in which HE had played a major role hadn’t happened to him yet…. until last week, when his 8 year-old summer travel team lost its first game of the summer (after starting with five wins).

What a scene, as our opponents piled up runs at the end of the game to complete their impressive comeback. Boys sobbing on the bench, boys sobbing into their gloves in the outfield. Deep down, each boy had believed in the possibility of an undefeated season, so to them, it felt like an elimination playoff game. As they saw their hopes slipping away, the tears flowed and their bodies shook uncontrollably. It was almost comical.

And what can a coach say to an entire team of 8 year-olds that’s bawling, down by five runs with its last at-bat coming up? Part of you wants to say, “There’s no crying in baseball! STOP IT!” Part of you wants to say, “Come on guys, focus on your next at-bat, we can still come back,” and part of you wants to just hug them all and say, “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s just a baseball game.” After the last out of the contest, the other team celebrated as though they had just won game 7 of the World Series, which made the loss even harder for our guys. Their distress was palpable.

I recently heard the famous, veteran Channel 4 sportscaster, Bob Lobel, say that that over the years, he learned a lot more from Boston’s biggest losses than he did from Boston’s biggest wins. I have no doubt that my son and his teammates learned a lot more from that loss than they did from any of their wins. And since it was my son who came in to “close” the game (after doing so successfully in two previous games) and ended up allowing the eventual winning runs, then striking out to make the final out of the game, I suppose he had the greatest learning opportunity!

I’d love to know the content of other parents’ conversations with their demoralized children on the long drive home from the game, but here’s how ours went:

Me: “Son, you should be proud, you did what we asked you to do – you threw strikes. That’s the only thing you could control. You did your job.”

My son: “All the coaches said the same thing. You did great, Crawford, because you threw strikes. But I know they really don’t mean it. What they really wanted was for me to get outs, not just throw strikes. I mean, it’s better if I throw balls out of the strike zone and the batters get out, than if I throw strikes and they get hits and score runs.”

Me: “But if you throw pitches out of the strike zone, you’ll walk batters and those always turn into runs. All you can do is throw strikes, and you did that.”

My son: “Daddy, the bottom line is that a pitcher is supposed to get people out. I mean, I don’t care if I strike out a kid or if he lines out to center field, an out’s an out. Just like it doesn’t matter if we win 20-0 or 2-1, a win is a win and the score doesn’t matter.”

Me: “Well, I won’t argue with that. But listen, it’s not your fault that the team lost. There were some errors behind you and the umpire made a questionable call. You had to pitch much longer than was necessary to get out of that inning. And give the other team some credit – they won the game by getting some key hits. It’s not your fault.”

My son: “You can say it’s not my fault, but the bottom line is that it IS my fault. I had control over how the game ended up. I could have made different pitches at different speeds and at different locations that would have made them not hit the ball or not hit it hard. And I also made the last out. If I had gotten a hit, maybe it would have started a five-run, two-out rally. So it IS my fault, Daddy, no matter what you say to try to make me feel better!”

Amazed at his mature sense of ownership and responsibility, I just told him, “Well, I’m proud of you – for how you played, and for having the guts to pitch in that situation.” We drove on in silence.

And as he drifted off to sleep in his booster seat, clutching his blankie, I said to myself, Losing a close game just stinks – whether you’re an 8 year-old in little league or a 28 year-old in the Major Leagues, and there’s nothing a mom or dad can do to help his/her child avoid losing, nor anything he/she can say to eliminate losing’s sting. A good night’s sleep and another game to play, it turns out, is the only remedy. Children, welcome to the wonderful world of competitive baseball, the most spectacular roller coaster ride ever invented…

To read a classic series of poignant articles chronicling a father’s observations of his 12 year-old son’s little league season (by Mark Kramer, featured in The Boston Globe), click here.

All-Stars Under the Stars

No, the Vice President of Red Sox Nation did not get a ticket to the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Old friend Hank Steinbrenner never called. Neither did any of my other pals in New York. And as the day of the game approached, I dreaded the possibility of sitting on my couch and experiencing another baseball game on TV with the third grade-level commentary of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. (Why doesn’t Remy ever get these national gigs, like he should? And doesn’t it make you laugh the way Joe Buck looks at the camera and smiles in precise 6-second intervals when McCarver is speaking?)

But my prospects brightened when I received an email from my son’s summer day camp: “Come watch the All-Star Game on an eight-foot screen under the stars — 7:00pm Kids’ Candy Ball, 7:30pm Kids’ Home Run Derby, 8:30pm Game Time. Popcorn, hot dogs, watermelon, and lemonade will be served. $5 per person.” Frankly, this sounded even better than a long trip to and from New York. And with all due respect to The House That Ruth Built, I’d have paid more for this “camp” baseball experience than for a front row ticket to Yankee Stadium from a scalper.

When I arrived at the All-Star event with my nine and six year-old sons, about 40 kids had gathered on the field for a game of “Candy Ball” — a game I had never heard of until then, which is odd because it’s just about the most enticing game for kids that’s ever been invented. The way this works is, one adult holds a tennis racket and whacks a tennis ball high into the air above a crowd of kids. All the kids gather under the ball as it dives towards Earth, smiles on their faces, then they all leap at the same moment to try to catch the ball. The player who DOES catch the ball (before it bounces) runs in and digs a piece of candy out of a big white bucket. (It’s a fabulous game for tall kids, and a really demoralizing one for short ones.)

Then came the Home Run Derby. With visions of Josh Hamilton in their heads, all kids got to take seven swings at slow lobs, and while most didn’t come close to hitting a baseball over the stone wall (perhaps 100 feet to the left and right field poles, and 150 feet to center), a few hit one to two dingers. My favorite moment was when my six year-old son took his whacks. He was (by far) the youngest kid there, but he stood up there and swung a heavy aluminum bat with all his might, and on his fifth swing he hit a line drive right back at the pitcher’s head (see photo). Pride and dignity swept over his face after that frozen rope.

The All-Star Game itself, the main event, was pretty cool. The kids and their parents gathered on a small grassy hill that looked down on a soccer goal, onto which a huge white sheet had been duct taped. A small silver box projected the game onto the sheet, and as the sky got darker and darker, the image on the sheet became sharper and sharper. A crowd of kids gathered at the very front and cheered loudly when Sox players were introduced. Of course, Yankees players were booed vociferously.

Three moments from the player introductions stand out. After the boos for Derek Jeter died down, I overheard one child wearing an Ortiz t-shirt say to the kid sitting next to him, “He’s my favorite Yankee, and I still hate him.” And when Kevin Youkilis was introduced, the whole crowd on the hill howled “YOOOOOOOOUK!” (What a stroke of luck for a player when he has a name that rhymes with “boo.” Remember the way we cheered for Lou Merloni? And when the fans ARE booing you, you can remain happily ignorant.) The most surprising moment during the team introductions was when Terry Francona trotted out of the Yankee Stadium dugout. He got the loudest cheers from the kids and adults assembled there — louder than Manny’s, louder than Youk’s, louder than Pedroia’s. The man is a true rock star.

Yeah, it would have been amazing to be in Yankee Stadium for all the farewell fanfare, to cheer for our hometown guys, and to see a great all-star game in person. But I was even happier being right where I should have been — with my kids, along with a herd of young Sox fans and their parents, sitting on a blanket about two miles from Fenway Park, under the full moon, watching the game on a bedsheet while munching on popcorn and watermelon, after a game of Candy Ball and a Home Run Derby.

“Is this Heaven?” Kevin Costner’s character asks his father in Field of Dreams. “No…. it’s Red Sox Nation. The heart of Red Sox Nation.”

Why Kids Love Josh Hamilton

All of us have read or heard about Josh Hamilton’s incredible story, and last night, many of us were lucky enough to witness on TV his stunning home run exhibition in the first round of the Home Run Derby (in which he hit an amazing 28 home runs, a record).

Personally, I’m deeply inspired by Josh Hamilton’s comeback from drug and alcohol addiction (as is Peter Gammons, who writes so eloquently about the meaning of Hamilton in his blog) and I’m rooting hard for his continued success. I only wish he were on the Red Sox, so I could watch him play and cheer for him every day.

But what I want to write about tonight is the impact that Hamilton has had on my 9 year-old son. This kid is a fiercely loyal Red Sox fan, and in his four years as an “aware” fan of the game, Josh Hamilton is only the third non-Red Sox player he has rooted for with passion (the others are Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra). Why does he like Josh Hamilton so much? Two reasons:

1. On Patriots Day, April 22, I took my two sons and a friend of theirs to the Red Sox-Rangers game. Afterwards, they spotted a Rangers player signing autographs near the Rangers dugout. “Daddy, can we run over there and get his autograph?” Sure, you can try, I replied. I hadn’t seen a player sign autographs after a game at Fenway Park since I was a kid, in the late ’70s or early ’80s, and I could feel their excitement about scoring a major leaguer’s autograph. They were at the back of a large line of people, but the unknown Rangers player signed and signed and posed for photos with anyone who was interested. By the time my oldest son and his friend reached the front of the line, the player had been signing for perhaps ten minutes, and he seemed to be in no hurry to go take a shower.

He signed my son’s hat, then politely and calmly posed for a photo with my son and his friend. What do you say, I whispered. “Thank you,” my son said. You’re welcome, buddy, the player replied. As we walked away, the player continued to sign autographs and pose for photos. “Who was that?” I asked my son. “Josh Hamilton, see?” he replied, showing me the autograph on the white brim of his Red Sox cap. The kids glowed all the way home, their Fenway experience having ended in a magical way.

2. Last night, Hamilton won our hearts forever with monumental shot after monumental shot, his 71 year-old former high school baseball coach pitching to him, and his proclamation to FOX sportscaster Erin Andrews that he had dreamed the exact scene, including being interviewed by her. “Mommy, come in here if you want to see history being made!” my son yelled after HR number 25. He was mesmerized. So was I. (Weren’t you??)

Today at my son’s day camp, the kids were given t-shirts and invited to decorate them with markers. When I picked him up in the late afternoon, he was wearing a homemade all-star team replica shirt with the word “American” scrawled across the front and the name “Hamilton” written in block letters across the top of the back of the shirt. (Oops, Hamilton isn’t #21, he’s #32…. details…) He wore the t-shirt the rest of the day, even while we watched seven Red Sox players compete in the All-Star Game.

Hamilton’s improbable transformation makes him a fascinating figure to the media and all of us adult fans, but that side of the player means almost nothing to young baseball fans out there. They love the guy for simple reasons — he’s a phenomenal, graceful, exciting ballplayer, and he takes time to talk with them, sign an autograph, and pose for a photo. With 750 major leaguers, it’s remarkable that so few comprehend the profound influence they can have on young people in this way.

Disconnected, But Still Connected to the Sox

I found out that the Sox have seven all-stars in the Monday morning Boston Globe, which I had to drive six miles to buy. And I heard Manny Ramirez tie the game in the 8th inning with a home run on Tuesday night via a small, black transistor radio, the AM station maddeningly fading in and out during the most crucial pitches of the game.

I’m on vacation deep in the woods of Northern New England in a non-winterized cabin that has a section 25 sign hanging from the rafters (commemorating my family’s favorite standing-room-only location). Without Internet, cell phone, or TV access, following the Red Sox is a whole different ball game up here. Down in Boston, it’s all about NESN and your couch. You watch the pre-game show, you watch the game with Remy and Orsillo, and you fall asleep either during or right after the post-game show. The sports sections in the morning papers are read more out of habit than anything else, and few new nuggets show up there that weren’t shared by Tom Caron, Eck, Lou Merloni, or Kathryn Tappen on Sportsdesk after the game.

But up here in the woods, following the Sox is all about two things: 1) Getting good reception on your radio (and having a backup station that carries the Sox in case your #1 choice fades out), and 2) Driving to the nearest gas station soon after waking up in the morning to buy the Boston papers, and hoping they’ve been delivered to the gas station before you get there, and then hoping that the late scores made it into the local editions.

When I’m in a remote place like this, it seems like a miracle when I can find the game on the radio. There’s something about hearing the familiar voice of Joe Castiglione crackling over the airwaves that gives me goosebumps and plasters a big old smile on my face. And I get the feeling that Joe KNOWS he’s broadcasting all the way up here to my distant location, that he KNOWS how important his responsibility is: to bring the pictures of the game to life for all of us fans who are stranded miles and miles from Fenway Park (or even from a town with a stop light).

And reading The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald sports sections takes on a whole new meaning when I’m up here. Driving to the nearest gas station at dawn to buy the newspapers is as much a part of my morning routine as a cup of coffee. It’s pure joy when I see the pile of crisp Globes and Heralds sitting there next to the counter as I walk in the gas station convenience store’s door. The cash register lady charges me a buck-fifty for the pair, and I’m grateful that she has no idea she could charge me twenty bucks. Sitting in my car in front of the gas station reading about the Red Sox, and the box scores of other games, is truly one of the day’s highlights.

I do love this “information era,” where news comes at us moments after it has occurred and we can follow every baseball game simultaneously on Baseball Tonight, ESPN.com, or MLBtv. I mean, I REALLY love the information era. But for this Boston baseball fan, there’s a singular pleasure that comes from getting away from TV and the Internet (and the chattering argumentativeness of our sports radio talk shows) and being a baseball fan in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees at the end of a mile-long dirt road.

I guess it forces me to become an even more active fan. Listening to the games on the radio requires more attention and involvement that watching the TV. Every three minutes, the radio voice of Castiglione or O’Brien or Arnold rises in excitement and we all yell Shhhhhhhhh! and lean our heads towards the radio, holding our breath, “seeing” the game in our heads and hanging on the announcer’s every word. Likewise, gleaning information and analysis from the NESN pre-game and post-game shows – or from the newspaper sitting on your front step — is passive compared to the deliberate act of driving six miles to the newspaper store and the active process of reading Masserotti’s and Shaughnessy’s and Ryan’s columns – I mean, really reading and savoring them, in the same way one would savor a hot meal cooked over a campfire after hiking 20 miles in the rain.

It’s almost like I came all the way up to this cabin in the woods to enjoy the sublime experience of following the Red Sox in the “old school” way.

(So, how did I post this blog article if I’m disconnected in the north woods? The public library across the street from the local gas station has wireless Internet access…. as I write this, it’s nighttime and the library is closed… I’m parked on the street in front of the library, listening to the Diamondbacks-Nationals game on the radio, heading into the 11th inning…. it’s an off-night for the Red Sox, and the A.M. signal from D.C. is strong ….)

Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer?

When I first heard that Schill would be out for the season because of shoulder surgery, I felt a cold shiver go down my spine. Deep down, I was expecting him to return just in time for the playoffs and play a key role – even if it meant pitching one important inning in the ALCS. Curt Schilling in the postseason is like Michael Jordan in the Finals and Tiger Woods in the Majors. Think that’s an exaggeration? Check the stats (or just trust me, he’s MONEY when the games are big — even when his body is broken).

Over the last two weeks, there have been several opinions expressed about Schilling’s case to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. My gut tells me he’s Hall-worthy, but one of the main lessons of Michael Lewis’s excellent book, Moneyball, is that you can’t always trust your gut — you’ve got to do the analysis. So, I did the analysis and now it’s obvious to me that my gut isn’t lying to me — Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame. So, here are my rebuttals to the three most common arguments against Curt Schilling’s candidacy:

The Bert Blyleven Argument: Several writers and commentators have pointed to Bert Blyleven’s failure to garner 75% of the vote, reasoning that since Blyleven isn’t in the Hall, Schilling shouldn’t be in the Hall either. But an in-depth look at Blyleven’s career makes it clear that he, too, belongs in the Hall of Fame and that the sportswriters who vote have really blown it by not electing Blyleven. Only Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens have more career strikeouts, and when he retired, Blyleven was third all-time in this category. All-time! Can you imagine if the guy who’s #5 in career hits wasn’t in the Hall yet? (That’s former Red Sox star outfielder, Tris Speaker, with 3,514 hits). It would devalue the Hall to leave out Tris Speaker (who, like Schilling won three World Series, two of them with the Red Sox). Blyleven’s also top-ten all-time in career starts, and his 60 career shutouts rank 9th on the all-time list. Every other pitcher among the top-20 in shutouts is in the Hall. Why not Blyleven? Beats me. He’s 13th all-time in innings pitched (4,970) and all twelve of the pitchers ahead of him in this category are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, as well. And while he didn’t have 300 career wins (which seems to provide a ticket to the Hall), he came damn close with 287. Plus, Blyleven was excellent in the postseason too — in three postseasons, he was 5-1 with an E.R.A. of 2.47, and his teams won the World Series TWICE. Both Blyleven AND Schilling belong in the Hall of Fame. So let’s stop using Blyleven as a barrier to Schilling.

And anyway, it’s just as easy to find players whose inclusion in the Hall of Fame support Schilling’s case — Phil Rizzutto (in 13 seasons, his lifetime B.A. was .273, but he won 7 World Series with the Yankees), Ozzie Smith (.262 lifetime B.A. and 94th all-time with 2,460 hits, but won 13 Gold Gloves and played in 3 World Series, winning one of them); Tony Perez (in 23 years his lifetime B.A. was .279 and he had 2,732 hits, which places his 50th on the all-time list; but his real claim to fame is that he played in five World Series and won two of them as an integral member of the Big Red Machine). I believe that all three of these guys belong in the Hall of Fame, but none of them has a case that’s stronger than Curt Schilling’s.

I know, those are hitters and you want to compare Schilling’s career to other pitchers who are in the Hall, right? OK. Here are four great comparisons: Hal Newhouser, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, and Catfish Hunter.

Hal Newhouser won only 207 games in his 17-season career (with an E.R.A. of 3.06), but during the seven year span of 1944 to 1950, he was dominant, going 151-80. He won the MVP award in 1944 and 1945 (the only pitcher in history to win the award in consecutive years), and he was second in MVP voting in 1946 (this was before the dawning of the Cy Young Award, in 1956). For his career, Newhouser pitched 212 complete games, and during his dominant seven years, he completed 136 of the 240 games he started (57%). Newhouser pitched in two World Series, winning one of them, but his performance wasn’t Newhouser-esque — he went 2-1 with an E.R.A. of 6.53 in 20.2 innings. And during his long career with the Tigers, he had a winning record in only seven of his 17 seasons. Take away those seven winning years, and his record during the other ten seasons was a mediocre 56-70. Still, all baseball historians know that Hal Newhouser belongs in the Hall of Fame. And if Newhouser’s a Hall of Famer, then so is Curt Schilling.

Jim Bunning was 224-184 with an E.R.A. of 3.27 during his 17-year career. He won 20 games only once, never won a Cy Young Award (though he did place second in the voting once), and he never pitched in the postseason. He did play on nine all-star teams, and he led the league in strikeouts three times (he’s 17th on the all-time K list with 2,855, which is 261 less than Schilling, who is 14th on the career list with 3,116, one shy of Bob Gibson’s 3,117). Jim Bunning belongs in the Hall of Fame, but his stats reveal that he was a lot like Curt Schilling – without the rings. So if Bunning’s a Hall of Famer, then so is Curt Schilling.

Don Drysdale was 209-166 during his 14-year career. He won 20 games twice, won the Cy Young Award once, and like Schilling, played in five postseasons, winning the World Series three of those times (he, too, was a winner). During his five World Series, Drysdale was 3-3 with an E.R.A. that mirrored his career E.R.A. of 2.95. He played on eight all-star teams and led the league in strikeouts three times (his 2,486 career strikeouts place him 30th all-time). Drysdale’s career was relatively short, so his career numbers don’t rank him among the all-time leaders in any category. But he was GREAT during the period he did play, and he played a major role on THREE World Series-winning teams. Does Don Drysdale belong in the Hall of Fame? Yes. And his inclusion means Schilling belongs in the Hall, as well.

Jim “Catfish” Hunter was the ace pitcher of the A’s dynasty, compiling a career won-lost record of 224-166, with an E.R.A. of 3.26 in fifteen seasons. His 2,012 strikeouts place him 60th on the all-time list. He won 20 games five times (in consecutive years, 1971-1975), was an all-star eight times, and he pitched in SIX World Series, winning FIVE of them (three as a member of the A’s, and two as a Yankee). His World Series record was 5-3, with an E.R.A. of 3.29, and his overall postseason stats are 9-6, 3.26. Hunter won one Cy Young Award and placed second in the voting once, third once, and fourth once. He pitched one of only 15 9-inning perfect games (ever, including Don Larsen’s WS perfect game) on May 8, 1968. And even with fellow Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage as his team’s closers, Hunter still completed 181 games, or 38% of the games he started. Schilling’s Hall of Fame case is very similar to Hunter’s — their collection of World Series rings and their individual impact on these teams lead their resumes, and when their career stats are added to their postseason success, you just can’t keep them out of the Hall.

Here’s a summary of how Schilling compares with these four pitchers, plus Bert Blyleven, in various statistical categories:

Wins

1. Bert Blyleven – 287 (27th all-time)

2. Jim Bunning – 224 (67th all-time)

2. Catfish Hunter – 224 (67th all-time)

4. Curt Schilling – 216 (79th all-time)

5. Don Drysdale – 209 (95th all-time)

6. Hal Newhouser – 207 (99th all-time)

Winning %

1. Curt Schilling – .597

2. Hal Newhouser – .580

3. Catfish Hunter – .574

4. Don Drysdale – .557

5. Jim Bunning – .549

6. Bert Blyleven – .534

Postseason Record and E.R.A.

1. Curt Schilling – 11-2, 2.23

2. Bert Blyleven – 5-1, 2.47

3. Catfish Hunter – 9-6, 3.26

4. Don Drysdale – 3-3, 2.95

5. Hal Newhouser – 2-1, 6.53

6. Jim Bunning (no postseason appearances)

World Series Championships

1. Catfish Hunter – 5

2. Don Drysdale – 3

2. Curt Schilling – 3

4. Bert Blyleven -2

5. Hal Newhouser – 1

6. Jim Bunning – 0

Strikeouts

1. Bert Blyleven – 3,701 (5th all-time)

2. Curt Schilling – 3,116 (14th all-time)

3. Jim Bunning – 2,855 (17th all-time)

4. Don Drysdale – 2,486 (30th all-time)

5. Catfish Hunter – 2,012 (60th all-time)

6. Hal Newhouser – 1,796 (95th all-time)

20-win seasons

1. Catfish Hunter – 5

2. Hal Newhouser – 4

3. Curt Schilling – 3

4. Don Drysdale – 2

5. Jim Bunning -1

6. Bert Blyleven – 1

Placing Top-5 in Cy Young Award Voting, and Cy Young Awards

1. Catfish Hunter – 4 (1)

1. Curt Schilling – 4 (0)

1. Bert Blyleven – 4 (0)

4. Hal Newhouser – 3 times top-5 in MVP voting (2 MVPs)

5. Don Drysdale – 1 (1)

6. Jim Bunning – 1 (0)

All-Star Teams

1. Don Drysdale – 8

1. Catfish Hunter – 8

3. Hal Newhouser – 7

3. Jim Bunning – 7

5. Curt Schilling – 6

6. Bert Blyleven – 2

200-Inning Seasons

1. Bert Blyleven – 16

2. Jim Bunning – 13

3. Don Drysdale – 12

4. Catfish Hunter – 10

5. Curt Schilling – 9

6. Hal Newhouser – 7

Strikeout to Walk Ratio

1. Curt Schilling – 4.38 (2nd all-time, behind Tommy Bond, who pitched from 1874-1884)

2. Don Drysdale – 2.91 (39th all-time)

3. Jim Bunning – 2.86 (43rd all-time)

4. Bert Blyleven – 2.80 (47th all-time)

5. Catfish Hunter – 2.11 (200th all-time)

6. Hal Newhouser – 1.44 (643rd all-time)

Walks and Hits Per Inning Pitched (WHIP)

1. Catfish Hunter – 1.13 (42nd all-time)

2. Curt Schilling – 1.14 (44th all-time)

3. Don Drysdale – 1.15 (59th all-time)

4. Jim Bunning – 1.18 (92nd all-time)

5. Bert Blyleven – 1.20 (125th all-time)

6. Hal Newhouser, 1.31 (488th all-time)

The “He Was Never a Dominant Pitcher of his Era” Argument: This is the most frustrating argument of all, because Schilling has been a dominant pitcher during his era. True, he has never won a Cy Young Award, but he has placed second in the voting three times (in 2004 he placed second behind Johan Santana, and in 2002 and 2001 he placed second behind future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. In 1997, he placed fourth in the voting behind Pedro Martinez of the Expos, Greg Maddux, and Denny Neagle). Schilling has been selected to six All-Star Teams (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004) and has had three 20-win seasons (2001, 2002, 2004). His career ERA of 3.46 is better than that of Tom Glavine (3.53, and Hall-worthy), Roy Halladay (3.58, and on-track for the Hall), and Josh Beckett (3.75, and on-track for the Hall). He’s 13th all-time in strikeouts (one behind Bob Gibson) and his strikeout to walk ratio (4.38) is the lowest of any pitcher since 1900! And, of course, Schilling is one of the most dominant pitchers in postseason history… more about that below.

The “216 Wins Isn’t Enough” Argument: Now I understand this argument, and taken all by itself, it does have some merit. Schilling is 79th all-time in wins, and there are 30 pitchers with more wins who are Hall-eligible and have not gained enshrinement. These include Tommy John (288), Bert Blyleven (287), Jim Kaat (283), Jack Morris (254), Frank Tanana (240), Luis Tiant (229), Jerry Koosman (222), Joe Niekro (221), and Mickey Lolich (217). There are several active pitchers who are in the same zone as Schilling: Jamie Moyer (237), Kenny Rogers (215), Pedro Martinez (211, and Hall-worthy), John Smoltz (210, and Hall-worthy), Andy Pettitte (209). Like I said, if career wins was the sole indicator of Hall worthiness, Schilling probably wouldn’t make it.

But it surprises me when writers say, “He needs one more 15-win season to make it,” or, “Forty more wins, and he’d have my vote.” Why does this surprise me? Because I would expect educated sportswriters and historians of the game to understand that two more 15-win seasons wouldn’t change the monumental impact of Schilling’s career. Yes, they would help him compare more favorably with other greats on a list of career statistics, but that’s all. All the things that make Schilling a Hall of Famer have already occurred in his career. Anything he does from now until he retires is just stat-piling (unless, of course, he wins another World Series — which is possible). Some guys are in the Hall because their longevity and consistency helped them amass amazing career stats. And some guys are in the Hall because of the undeniable impact of their careers on Major League Baseball (Newhouser, Drysdale, and Hunter are the best examples among pitchers). If Schilling heals and pitches a couple more seasons, he’ll rise in the “longevity” category, but he’s already an elite force in the “impact” category.

The Greatness Factor: The evidence that pushes Schilling into Hall of Fame territory is the key role he played on three World Series-winning teams. THREE. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, without Schilling on those three rosters (2001 Diamondbacks, 2004 Red Sox, 2007 Red Sox), NONE of those teams would have won it all. We all know about his clutch performance in the “bloody sock” game – the critical sixth game of the ALCS in Yankee Stadium, when he pitched with fresh sutures holding together his ankle. But let’s not forget that Schilling was the co-MVP of the 2001 World Series (as a Diamondback), in which he pitched 21.1 innings, striking out 26 Yankees and walking only two. His World Series E.R.A. that year was 1.69. All in all, during the 2001 postseason, Schilling was 4-0 with a 1.12 E.R.A., and he had 56 strikeouts and 6 walks in 48.1 innings.

“So that’s only one postseason,” you say. “Lots of guys get hot in one postseason. That doesn’t make you a Hall of Famer.” Fine. So let’s look at Schilling’s performance on the 2004 and 2007 World Championship Red Sox teams. During these two postseasons combined, Schilling went 6-1 with an E.R.A. of 3.20. He won the critical sixth game of BOTH ALCS series (2004 vs. Yanks, 2007 vs. Indians) with the Sox facing elimination, and in BOTH games he won with heart more than velocity. In the 2004 and 2007 World Series combined, Schilling started two games (remember, both series were four-game sweeps) and went 2-0 with an E.R.A. of 0.79. In total, Schilling’s postseason record is 11-2 with an E.R.A. of 2.23. He played in the postseason five times, and his team won the World Series in three of those appearances (amazing, given that in the Wild Card era, each playoff team should have a one-in-eight chance of winning it all).

Curt Schilling is one of the greatest “winners” in the history of Major League Baseball. Sure, he won less than half as many regular season games as Cy Young won (512), but he’s among the elite in terms of winning BIG games. And when it comes right down to it, isn’t winning BIG games what it’s all about? Isn’t winning the World Series what it’s all about? Pitching greatness has several forms, and not all of them include 300 career wins. Hall of Fame members would be diminished by the omission of Curt Schilling. Not everyone loves the guy’s schtick (personally, I love his honesty and his determination to be himself), but no one can deny that he pitched his guts out every start, that he was among the most prepared and cerebral pitchers in the game’s history (who else returns to the dugout and immediately takes notes on the inning he just pitched?) and that he was one of the all-time greats when the pressure was most intense and the stakes were highest.

So, baseball writers, do your job and cast a Hall of Fame vote for Curt Schilling. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to put a check next to Bert Blyleven’s name, too.

Curt Schilling spent eight years as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies (1993-2000), and it was as a pitcher for this team that he showed the first signs of greatness. For a Philadelphia Enquirer writer’s take on why Schill belongs in the Hall of Fame, click here.