Tag Archives: Red Sox

What would life be like without baseball?

“What would life be like without baseball?”

On the eve of Truck Day, I don’t have to think too hard to answer this question… a description of what my life has been like the last couple of months will suffice.

Without baseball, I often ignore the daily newspaper. No box scores? No interest.

Without baseball, the flat screen on the wall of the family room is a shiny gray ornament. The remote is stashed deep in the coffee table drawer.

Without baseball, I have to make up things to do at night. Read a book. Clean the furnace room. Eat a big bowl of cereal. Write a blog article about life without baseball. Watch the Baylor-Oklahoma basketball game on ESPN. Strum on my guitar. Go to bed early.

Without baseball, there’s no temptation to manage my online fantasy baseball team while at work. Instead, when I need a break, I just trudge up and down the hill outside my office and think about calls I have to make.

Without baseball, I lose touch with my dad, my brothers, and my sister. The Red Sox are our family’s lifeblood.

Without baseball, talk radio is spirited noise.

Without baseball, lunch conversations with colleagues are hard to sustain for more than five minutes. There’s no game to talk about. No slumps to analyze. No standings to lament. No managerial moves to criticize. No rookies to compare to Dewey, Fisk, and Nomar.

Without baseball, my multiple Rawlings gloves lie in a bin in the cold garage. I sometimes put one of them on for a moment when I’m putting trash in the garbage cans.

Without baseball, the kids don’t beg me to play wiffle ball or catch with them when I get home from work. They don’t beg me to do anything. There are no little league teams to coach. No fungoes to hit.

Without baseball, there are no extra-inning, West Coast games to keep me up until the middle of the night. I am well rested. Yet restless.

Without baseball, the magnet that draws me to Fenway Park shuts down. No one calls with an extra ticket. I give away my Charlie Cards for the Green Line.

It’s February 11. Hot stove talk is dead. My backyard is a frozen tundra. There hasn’t been a major league baseball game in over three months.

But Truck Day is finally here. Spring training won’t start for another week, but just knowing that the Red Sox’s baseball equipment is en route to Fort Myers will improve the quality of fans’ lives in a measurable way.

Allelulia! Life without baseball is almost over! In about 50 days, they’ll be Shipping Up to Boston!

A Day In The Life of a Believer

I have two minutes to write before getting my kids ready for school, and myself ready for work. Here’s what I have to say today.

I will run into and hear from scores of people who will either say out loud, or with their eyes and body language, “I was right to doubt them — they couldn’t pull it off after all,” or, “Turns out you were wrong to believe the Sox would come all the way back, eh? ” My response to them is the same today as it would have been if the Sox had won game 7:

“Believing isn’t about being right or wrong, it’s a way of life. And life’s a heck of a lot more fun when you expect the unreal.”

Expect The Unreal

This morning, while walking my children into their school, a friend of my 6 year-old’s told me, “My dad was at the Red Sox game last night, but he left after the top of the seventh inning.”

Then, at the coffee shop, the guy at the cash register (observing the B on my sweatshirt) said to me, “I assume you stayed up to watch that game. I turned it off after they went down, 5 to nothing. But what a comeback. That was unreal.” Then another woman in line said, “What, they WON? I was there but I left after the fifth inning. They WON?”

Yes, I was at the game last night, and I could write pages and pages about what I saw and what I felt. But the morning after the greatest comeback in League Championship Series history, I’ve gotta write about Yogi’s profound quotation, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

The whole reason to attend a baseball game is to see the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. If you are leaving a game before it’s over, or turning off your TV before the game ends, you haven’t yet evolved to the point of understanding what baseball IS ALL ABOUT. (Or, you fell asleep on your couch after a long day at work…. regrettable, but understandable.)

I know that there are many reasons to attend a baseball game besides seeing great comebacks. The festive atmosphere, majestic home runs, phenomenal defensive plays, spending quality time with a child or sibling… but the core point of baseball is to remind us all that, in life, anything CAN happen, and anything WILL happen. And the decision to stop watching a game before it’s completely over nullifies a fan’s potential to personally experience this amazing truth in all its glory.

Now, I must say that only about 10% of Fenway’s seats were empty when J.D. Drew smoked that game-winning line drive over Gabe Gross’s head in the wee hours of the morning. It turns out that most of the fans who ventured out to the game last night were the kind who always stay ’til the end, and based on the LOUD noise they made when Pedroia drove in the first run of the comeback (to make it 7-1 Rays, still a bleak situation), they were a fervent band of believers. They “get it” about baseball.

To suck all the juice out of being a baseball fan, you must become A BELIEVER. You must resist the tug of logic that lectures to you, “This game is over, there’s no way they can come back and win.” You must ignore the mature voices in your head that advise, “If you leave now, you can beat the crowd and be asleep in your bed by midnight. After all, big day at work tomorrow.” To be rewarded with all that baseball has to offer, you must bet the house every game. Truly expect something spectacular to happen, and sacrifice convenient home-bound transportation, sleep, and even your reputation as a grounded human being to the Diamond Gods. Have faith in the unreal.

People who leave games early have their feet planted firmly in “reality,” and in “rationality,” and in “the odds are…”, and in “being smart,” and in avoiding life’s (and baseball’s) sublime exquisiteness! People who leave Red Sox elimination playoff games early …. well, they just haven’t learned yet that you don’t do that, despite the lesson of Dave Henderson in 1986, and the lesson of Dave Roberts in 2004, and the many other startling lessons from recent Sox history (some happy memories, some not).

“The Rays haven’t lost a game all season when leading by 4 or more runs”…. “no team since 1929 has overcome a 7-run deficit in an elimination playoff game”…. “the Red Sox are slumping and the Rays are at the peak of their game”…. all of these “facts” scream at us to “face reality,” give up, and go home. But reality doesn’t exist until it unfolds before us, and over and over again Red Sox fans have learned that in postseason play, the reality that unfolds is usually shocking!

A friend came into my office this morning and said, “Watching those hits by Coco, Papi, and Drew — it was like a DREAM.” Not only was it LIKE a dream, it WAS a dream. Reality and rationality and the odds and being smart go right out the window when the Sox have their backs against the wall. Red Sox playoff games – indeed, ALL baseball games are dreams that we get to participate in with eyes wide open. And you don’t leave dreams early.

The 2008 Season Starts Today

It’s fascinating to see how many people have given up hope for the 2008 Red Sox. Hello, don’t you realize that the season doesn’t even BEGIN for the Red Sox until they have their backs against the wall? And have you forgotten that the Red Sox have won 7 straight elimination games in the ALCS? To win those games, they had to defeat guys like Mariano Rivera, Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, C.C. Sabathia, and Fausto Carmona. Is it really that unthinkable to add Scott Kazmir and James Shields to this list?

And it’s fascinating to me to hear people say, “Yeah, but this time, IT’S DIFFERENT.” Really? So, when the Sox were down 3-0 to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS (after getting pounded in game 3), you had more faith in their potential to come back? And when they were down 3-1 to the Indians in the 2007 ALCS (after getting pounded in game 4), you had more faith in their potential to come back?

Look, when the Sox are down in the ALCS, their mojo turns around. Mark Bellhorn was 1 for 12 in the first three games of the 2004 ALCS, then he went 4-14 with 2 huge home runs in games 4,5,6, and 7. Johnny Damon was 1 for 18 in the first four games, then he went 5 for 17 in the next three games, with 2 huge home runs in game 7 in Yankee Stadium. I know, these guys aren’t even HERE this time around… but it’s the same uniform, and mojo carries over from year to year.

More evidence that the Rays are about to implode came over the newswire when we learned that Joe Maddon has decided to over-manage by switching up his rotation to pitch Scott Kazmir in game 5. MISTAKE. He has just messed with his team’s mojo and he’s about to learn a valuable lesson — don’t mess with your team’s mojo.  With Kazmir pitching batting practice at Fenway tonight, we’ll win game 5 and head to the Trop with momentum. The fear we saw in the Rays’ eyes in game 1 will be back for games 6 and 7, and Beckett and Lester don’t lose big games. Good luck next year, Tampa Bay.

Am I the only one who is predicting the Red Sox will win their next three games? Are people so worried about their reputations, so obsessed with statistical probabilities (the chances of winning three in a row against an equal opponent is one in eight), so ignorant of what REALLY matters (mojo) that they have truly jumped ship?

Red Sox Nation, history has shown that Boston baseball memories don’t begin to be manufactured until TODAY, when the Red Sox MUST win. Buckle your seatbelt. If you can get a ticket, get your butt to Fenway. The 2008 Red Sox season is about to begin.

Sox in 7, then it’s bring on the Phillies. Ah, the poor Phillies.

And then there were four….

Here are my thoughts as we gear up for the ALCS:

1) The day that the Mets lost and the Brewers won, on the last day of the season (breaking their first place tie), was one of the most exciting baseball-viewing experiences I’ve had in the last few years. My son and I were watching the Mets game on the TV and the Brewers game on MLBtv (Internet), and even though I’m not a Brewers fan, I could feel their hunger to make it to the postseason (for the first time in 26 years). Sabathia pitched like a God. And the pain that Mets fans feel, having lost the division on the last day of the season TWO YEARS IN A ROW, might be their payback for games 6 and 7 of the 1986 World Series. What comes around goes around…

2) The Cubs’ problems were clearly mental. You don’t finish the season with the best record in MLB and then drop three in a row in the Division Series unless you’re psyched out. And you don’t make three errors in one inning with your ace on the mound unless you’re psyched out. What did the Red Sox do after game 3 of the 2004 ALCS (down, three games to none) to gain the momentum they’ve had ever since? They didn’t suddenly get BETTER. Something clicked in their heads. Oh, what would the Cubs give for the formula for that “click?”

3) I enjoy watching the NLCS games almost as much as I will enjoy watching the ALCS games. It’s baseball. Playoff baseball. Every at bat, every pitch is one of the most important in each player’s career. This is what these players dreamed about, playing wiffle ball in their driveways growing up. The thousands of hours of practice, the hundreds and thousands of games they have played in their lives, have all led to playing in baseball’s “final four.” Every starter, every bench player, every relief pitcher, even the managers and third base coaches could be part of a moment that will define their careers — and it could happen at any time. Plus, these are great players, many of them future hall of famers — Howard, Utley, Rollins, Hamels, Lidge, Ramirez, Furcal, Maddux, Lowe, and of course, Joe Torre.

4) I sent out a new poll to the Red Sox Nation governors this evening. Here are my answers to my own questions:

a) I expect the Red Sox to win the ALCS in four games. That’s right, a sweep of the mighty, precocious Rays. Yes, it’s hard to really imagine sweeping, but I have difficulty imagining a Red Sox loss — in fact, I refuse to imagine that. So, I predict a sweep.

b) The National League team that I would prefer to face in the World Series is the Dodgers. Why? Boston-L.A. is a raucous rivalry, and it would be a blast to “beat L.A.” twice in one year. It would be a classic battle of coasts, a battle of cultures, a battle of climates, a battle of styles. It’s two teams with incredibly rich baseball traditions.  It would be a reunion of the 2004 Red Sox, with almost as many members of that Red Sox team on the current Dodgers squad (Manny, Lowe, and Nomar, though Nomar was only on the Sox for the first half of 2004). You know they’d show lots of highlights of the ’04 Series if the Dodgers were our opponent — and that would be fine with me. Even the Manny highlights. I still love the guy and what he brought our team.

c) When I can’t be at Fenway, my preferred mode of watching the Red Sox in a playoff game is to watch in my living room, sitting half the time and pacing the other half of the time, drinking a Polar Orange Dry soft drink, either alone or with my nine year-old son. (I’m not the best company during a Red Sox playoff game…. “anti-social” would describe me well during these three hours….)

5) I love that Francona is showing such faith in his pitching staff by keeping them in order… Daisuke, then Beckett, then Lester, with Tim Wakefield thrown in for good measure.

Trop time!

The Sleepless Veep

I wish I had the energy to write everything I’m thinking about the last two games of the Sox-Angels series, but like most of Red Sox Nation, I am operating today on about 5 hours sleep (and that’s the TOTAL amount of sleep I’ve gotten over the last TWO nights), and like most of Red Sox Nation, I have a full-time job that continues to demand my time and brain power regardless of how late I’m staying up, and I have a slew of young children who claim every other waking minute, around the clock. Suffice it to say, WHAT A BALL GAME LAST NIGHT. And what a gutsy call by Angels manager Mike Scoscia is for trying the suicide squeeze with one out in the ninth in a crucial playoff game that’s tied. And will the Red Sox please re-train Jon Lester to think like a nine-inning pitcher? Or at least an eight-inning pitcher? He CAN’T come out of that game. GO SOX!!

Gotta go.

11 Straight Wins, and 4 Straight Change-Ups

More evidence that the Red Sox “own” the Angels mentally: K-Rod throwing four consecutive change-ups to J.D. Drew when: a) K-Rod’s fastball is devastating, and b) J.D. Drew has played irregularly over the last month, has a stiff back, and should, theoretically, not have his timing at 100%. When K-Rod is AFRAID to throw his fastball to J.D. Drew with the go-ahead run on second base, a Red Sox win is a foregone conclusion. It’s like hoisting a white flag.

Now, I wouldn’t be saying this if K-Rod had an off-speed pitch as baffling as, say, Trevor Hoffman’s change up. But his change up is simply above-average, and he pinned his team’s hopes on that pitch.

I find this as incomprehensible as Mike Scoscia not pinch hitting for Howie Kendrick in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. The guy is clearly psyched-out at the plate and has no chance of getting a big hit in this series. You can see it in his eyes. He doesn’t think he belongs here. He has watched several fastballs buzz down the center of the strike zone without swinging, and has waved his bat at pitches that aren’t close. Advantage: Boston.

Red Sox fans’ reaction to the fly ball hit by J.D. Drew that turned out to be a two-run homer on Friday night was the SAME as the crowd’s reaction to the fly ball hit by J.D. Drew that turned out to be a grand slam in last year’s postseason. Off the bat, it looked like a routine fly ball, and even as the outfielder went back, back, back, we still expected it to be caught. Then, suddenly, it was in the seats, and it took literally a full second to believe our eyes – on BOTH home runs. J.D. Drew is truly the king of the “shocker home run” — shocking because of their timing, and shocking because of the rocket launchers that seem to kick in when the baseballs reach the apex of their flight. They just keep going, going, going…. gone!

How valuable is Kevin Youkilis? He moved over to third base to take the spot vacated by the injured Mike Lowell and proceeded to make TWO stellar plays at third base — a barehanded, running, Mike Schmidt-type stab of a grounder followed by a rocket throw to first base, and a long-armed, reach-over-the-railing catch of a pop-up that was ticketed for the camera dugout to make the peunultimate out of the game.

It’s difficult to imagine how diehard Cubs fans feel today….. because it brings back a memory that I really don’t like to relive….

Ten Straight

I know Jon Lester is a lefty, but tonight he reminded me of Roger Clemens during his Red Sox days. From his poise on the mound to his velocity (regularly hitting 96mph) to his mastery of the hitters, I felt like I was looking at the Sox’s next dominator.

I love Jason Bay (how can you not love him?) and his homer tonight was a shocker because Lackey was methodically ripping through the Sox lineup. I’m glad everyone’s happier with the team’s chemistry and that Tito’s blood pressure has been eased by the trade. But tonight, Manny’s absence in the lineup was extremely noticable. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Jason Bay. I want both of them.

Ellsbury’s speed was huge tonight: two stolen bases, an infield hit, taking third on the ground out to the pitcher, the great catch in the 8th. This is the guy who will haunt Mike Scoscia’s nightmares over the next several days. He’s got game-changing speed.

This makes TEN consecutive postseason victories for the Red Sox over the Angels. The chances of this kind of a streak, given that the teams are basically equal, is one in 1,024. (That’s the probability of flipping a coin ten times and getting “tails” every time.) So I guess our teams aren’t equal. And it’s the intangibles that make us better. We own them mentally.

The Angels now have to win three out of four to take this series. The likelihood of THAT is remote. The Angels will have to get through Matsuzaka, Beckett, and Lester (again), as well as TWO games at Fenway (and that’s only if they’re lucky enough to win game two or three). Not going to happen.

I thought about Dave Henderson about ten times tonight.

YES!!

Who’s Got Mojo?

If you’re known to many as a serious Red Sox fan, you’ve probably heard the following questions several times the last few days: “How do you think the Sox will do in the postseason?” and “Do you think the Sox can win it all even if Lowell and Drew are hurt?”

I would be a terrible sportscaster for a national network, because my heart and my brain always tell me that the Red Sox are going to go all the way. This was true even before 2004. And the heart overwhelms the brain when it comes to predicting the future. I can find plenty of rational reasons to pick the Red Sox to win the 2008 World Series (the best top-three starters in Beckett, Lester, and Matsuzaka and their incredible home field advantage top the list), but my feeling of expectation is purely a gut feeling, purely my genetic programming, purely a belief that the Red Sox uniform possesses more magic than any other uniform.

And I don’t put much stock in all of the analysis of different teams when trying to predict a World Series champion. Who has the best bullpen, which team is battling the most injuries, whose offense is most powerful….  Sure, it’s fun to read all of the comparative information and it makes watching the games more enjoyable to know each team’s strengths and vulnerabilities, but when it comes to the postseason, only two things really matter. If you’re thinking, “pitching, and pitching,” you’re right, but perhaps even more important are mojo, and getting hot at the right time.

Whichever team wins the 2008 World Series, it won’t be because of things you can analyze ahead of time. This is why the postseason is such a remarkable ride. We really, really, really don’t know what’s going to happen — but we DO know that several players will step up like they never have before, and several will step up like they always do. (And, unfortunately, goats will emerge, as well.) And watching human beings perform like gods on the diamond in front of a national audience of millions of people in the biggest games of their lives provides a feeling of admiration, awe, and excitement that’s unmatched.

If the Red Sox win the World Series, it will be because of a clutch grand slam by Jason Varitek… it will be because of a stunning barehanded play by Jed Lowrie with two outs in the ninth… it will be because of four innings of scoreless relief by Paul Byrd in the 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th innings… it will be because of a perfectly executed hit and run by Alex Cora… it will be because Jason Bay bats .500. None of these things is what’s being written about by those who are picking the Sox to take home the trophy, but deep down we all know that it’s mojo — both team mojo and individual mojo — that will separate the winners from the losers this postseason.

I’d prefer to have Lowell and Drew in the starting lineups, but if they’re not there, it simply means an opportunity for two other guys to rise to the challenge and define their careers by their performance in 11 victorious contests.

Analysis schmanalysis. Let the drama begin!

It’s October Again (well, almost)

Here we go again. Another long season full of ups and downs ends with a trip for the Red Sox to the ultimate professional baseball tournament. No, it doesn’t get old. No, none of us in Red Sox Nation takes this for granted. Every season is like a separate lifetime — yes, we won the World Series in previous lifetimes (2004, 2007) but this feeling of anticipation, while vaguely familiar, is always fresh and new.

The leaves are changing, it’s October again. Back to school night, it’s October again. Pumpkins on neighbors’ front steps, it’s October again. The Red Sox carry millions of the Nation’s hearts with them into the American League Division Series, it’s October again.

Which players will surprise us with their heroics? Will Lowrie hit .450 in the postseason? Will Casey get a huge pinch hit? Will Kotsay make a game-saving catch? Will Ortiz continue to be the greatest clutch hitter in history? Will Masterson throw 10 scoreless playoff innings? Will Coco Crisp steal a base that we’ll compare to the Dave Roberts theft of 2004? Will Beckett be Beckett? This much we know — winning the World Series will require some “unlikely” heroes, a-la Dave Roberts and Mark Bellhorn in 2004, and Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew in 2007. Who will step up this year? I can’t wait to find out.

The last two championship teams had future hall of famers Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling. Will we miss them? Time will tell if there’s enough magic in the bats, gloves, and arms of the current roster to carry on the tradition of winning that Manny and Schill helped to instill here. Perhaps Jon Lester and Jason Bay are at the front-end of postseason careers that will, in the end, compare to those of Ramirez and Schilling. Does that sound crazy? Well, it should. But hey, anything is possible, even the impossible. It’s October again.

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.”

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.

What Have You Done 500 Times?

So Manny finally connected for his 500th career home run (and then his 501st, 502nd, and 503rd). Only 24 people in major league history have achieved this milestone. That’s one of the marvelous things about baseball — performance is so quantifiable. We KNOW that Manny Ramirez is one of the greatest 24 home run hitters of all-time. It’s simply not debatable.

So this got me thinking — what’s the equivalent of hitting 500 home runs in non-athletes’ careers? What’s a high level of accomplishment in your field that only 24 people in history have ever reached?

I was a teacher for eight years. Perhaps the equivalent to 500 home runs in teaching is having 500 former students credit YOU with having taught them an invaluable life lesson.

For a pediatrician, how about accurately diagnosing 500 difficult-to-diagnose cases, keeping the patient and parents calm, and prescribing proper follow-up care?

For a minister, priest, or rabbi, the equivalent might be delivering 500 truly superior sermons.

For a parent of five (like me), I’d say showing up for 500 little league games, soccer games, swim meets, karate tests, dance recitals, school plays, class art shows, teacher conferences, and graduations — without missing one — would be the equivalent of hitting 500 home runs.

Probably during the season of 2011 or 2012, Manny will hit his 600th home run. I don’t even want to think about what it would require to be a 600-homer parent…..

Questions of a Six Year-Old at Fenway

As I wrote in my previous article, on Patriots’ Day I took my six year-old to his first Red Sox game, and afterwards we cheered for the back-of-the-pack between miles 22 and 25 on Beacon Street. Someday, this boy will know all the ins and outs about baseball (like his nine year-old brother). But this is the first spring that he has begun to show glimmers of interest in the Red Sox, so a visit to Fenway is different for him than for everyone else at the ballpark. And after he’d asked me a few questions during the first inning, I knew I had to write down all of his questions for the rest of the game. Classic stuff:

Can I have a hot dog? (Sure.)

Why do we have our gloves on? (In case a foul ball comes back here, we’ll be ready to catch it.)

Why is that screen there? (To protect the fans behind home plate from dangerous foul balls.)

But how do the balls come back here? (When the hitter swings his bat, sometimes the bat doesn’t hit the ball squarely and the ball flies in back of home plate.)

Can we do something besides just sit around? (Sure we can walk around a little bit.)

(We were walking past a concession stand.) Can I have some pizza? (Sure.) Can I have a big cup of Coke? (Sure.)

(Back in our seats.) Can I have a foam finger? (Sure, let’s go catch up with the foam finger vendor.)

(The crowd suddenly cheered after a Rangers player popped out for the third out of an inning.) Is that good Daddy? (Yes, that’s good, now the Red Sox get a turn to hit and to try to score some runs.)

(The crowd suddenly cheered after Ellsbury stole second base.) Is that good Daddy? (Yes, Jacoby Ellsbury just stole second base.)

Who’s winning Daddy? (The Red Sox are winning.) Yay, the Red Sox are winning!

Why did they turn on the lights? (Good question, I really don’t know why they turned on the lights on a sunny day.)

What’s the score? (Six to nothing.) Is this normal? (No, this is really good.) I mean, are they major leaguers? (Yes.) This is stupid. (Why?) I thought that major leaguers were supposed to be good. (They are, but our pitcher, Clay Buchholz, is pitching so well, the Rangers can’t get very many hits.) Oh.

Is it almost nighttime? (No, it’s 1:20pm.) Is the game almost over? (Well, we’re in the fifth inning and the whole game lasts nine innings.) So there are four innings left? (That’s right.) Will it be nighttime when the game is over? (No, there’s a lot of daytime left.) Good, ’cause there’s a show I really want to watch on TV tonight. (What show is that?) I forget the name.

Is a trillion more than a billion? (Yes.) How many trucks would you need to carry a trillion dollars? (Um, a hundred.) No, you’d just need one, because you could have one bill with a trillion on it.

Daddy, I made up a number. (Really? What is it?) A killion. And it’s so big, the dollar bill would be as long as Fenway Park. It’s as big as a trillion billion dollars.

(Look, here comes the wave.) What’s the wave, Daddy? (That’s the wave.) Why do they do the wave? (Because it’s fun.)

(We were on the sidelines of the marathon and I had cheered for many runners by reading the names on their shirts. My six year-old was incredulous.) Daddy, how do you know all these people?

What’s Really Buried is Yankees’ Pride

When I first heard that a Red Sox jersey had been buried in the cement under Yankee Stadium, it never occurred tAP photoo me that the Yankees would: a) Make a big deal out of it, or b) Even consider digging into the foundation to exhume the shirt. But that’s because I was still thinking about the proud Yankees of pre-2004, who would have simply laughed at the story, then ignored it. (Dominance over a team gives you that privilege.)

The Yankees of 2008 are a different lot –- they have become the Red Sox of pre-2004! What better evidence is there that the Red Sox are “in the heads” of the Yankees than the fact that the Yankees’ front office went to the trouble and expense to unearth the Red Sox jersey, and that they made such a public spectacle of the whole issue. Like Hank Steinbrenner’s pathetic, naive denial of the existence and magnitude of Red Sox Nation in March, this is just another clear sign that the Yankees are frustrated and demoralized, forced by the Red Sox’ superiority to worry about curses and jinxes and garbage like that. A proud Yankees franchise wouldn’t have roared at such a clever, funny stunt.

If the Red Sox fall to the #2 spot behind the Yankees in the rivalry again (perhaps about 86 years from now?) we need to take a cue from these misguided Yankees executives and remember not to act so obviously and obsessively inferior.

And anyway, it seems to me the noble jinxing effort of Gino Castignoli (born and raised in the Bronx) had an effect opposite its intention: Big Papi, whose shirt spent several months under the new Yankee Stadium, has been mired in the worst slump of his career this April. Now that that darn jersey is out of its tomb in the Bronx, I expect him to explode…

An 8 Year-Old’s Fantasy Baseball Draft: Emotion vs. Analysis

fantasy-baseball.jpgI started playing online fantasy baseball in about 1995 or so, and it’s now an annual tradition. Draft day has become a holiday on my calendar and is as eagerly anticipated as any day of the year. This year’s draft — my son’s first — will go down in history as my favorite of all-time, for it demonstrated the emotional hold that our beloved Red Sox players have over us, especially when we’re kids.

A Co-Manager Comes of Age

The last two years, my almost-nine year-old son has “co-managed” my fantasy baseball team with me (I’m in a 12-team Yahoo! league with my brothers, sister, father, and several close friends). The main impact of his co-management has been the reliable presence of Nomar Garciaparra on the roster and also in the starting lineup whenever he has been healthy. (“Daddy, put Nomar back in the lineup!”) Although my son was only five years old when Nomar was traded, #5 remains a god in our house.

backyard-and-hes-off.jpgThis past fall, my son managed his own fantasy football team against his dad, uncles, aunts, and grandparents and WON the league. He established himself as a draft wizard, grabbing Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, and Adrian Peterson with his top three picks. So, riding a wave of pride and optimism, in February he asked to manage his own fantasy baseball team. Confident that he was ready to compete with the big boys, we expanded the league to 13 teams.

The Draft: Peavy or Beckett? Sizemore or Ramirez?

We bought all the fantasy baseball magazines and studied them closely for a month. The day of the draft (7:30pm start time), I hurried home from work to be sure he was ready, and when I arrived, I was treated to a wonderful sight. He had created an information cockpit for himself at the computer. Surrounding his seat on all sides were stat sheets, handwritten draft lists for every position, articles about sleepers and busts, and various pages ripped out of magazines. “Daddy, I know who I’m going to pick if I get the first pick,” he proclaimed eagerly. “Jake Peavy!” (Peavy scored the most points in our league last year — so he was a logical choice.)

A few minutes later, the draft order was revealed on our Yahoo! draft site. My son had pick #3, and I had pick #4. “I really hope Peavy will still be there at number three!” he prayed. I set up shop at my laptop in a room adjacent to his cockpit.

jake-peavy.jpgAt 7:30pm sharp, the draft went live. Suddenly, A-Rod was gone. “Yes! He took A-Rod!” The second pick was… Jose Reyes. And the clock started ticking on my son’s pick, number three. He had 90 seconds to click on Jake Peavy. But he froze. Pick Peavy, I urged. “I don’t know, Daddy,” he said, struggling with a decision. “Maybe I want Josh Beckett.” Peavy’s a great pick, Beckett’s a great pick, I told him. 20 seconds left. Make your pick! “I want Josh Beckett.” Click.

Emotion trounced Analysis. How great is that??

Fast forward to the second round. My son had spent the rest of the first round studying his notes to figure out who to take next. “If he’s still available, I’m going to take Grady Sizemore with my second pick,” my son announced. Good choice, I assured him. Then came his turn to draft. And he froze. Pick Sizemore, I urged. “Daddy, do you think I should take Grady Sizemore or Manny Ramirez?” he asked. You’ll be able to get Manny in the next round, I assured him. Go for Sizemore this round. “Don’t tell me what to do!” he said curtly. And suddenly, Ramirez was Beckett’s fantasy teammate.

Emotion 2, Analysis 0.

Let’s jump to the third round. “I think I’m going to take Jonathan Papelbon,” he said. “Do you think that’s a good pick, Daddy?” He’s a great player, I told him, but no one’s going to pick a closer until the fifth round at the earliest. You can get him in a later papelbon-wins-series.jpground. “Don’t tell me what to do!” Click. Papelbon joined his Red Sox teammates on a roster that was looking more and more like a tribute to the posters on my son’s walls.

Emotion 3, Analysis zilch.

Fourth round — analysis had been totally abandoned and emotion had taken over. He wanted to pick Dustin Pedroia but I convinced him that Mike Lowell would be a better pick. And in the fifth round, he picked his first non-Red Sox player: Torii Hunter. By the end of the draft, his team included Tim Wakefield, Johnny Damon, and of course, our favorite player of all time, Nomar Garciaparra (secured with his 24th, and final pick).

Clearly, my son drafted a good team. With Beckett, Ramirez, Papelbon, and Lowell anchoring his roster, he’s got as good a shot as anyone to win the league. But I’ll always remember all the research he did, all the logical planning and rational reasoning his left brain performed, and how the loyalty and emotion of his right brain – the side that loves the Red Sox – swooped in at those moments of truth and buried his analytical, stat-focused left brain. He’s eight. What a fantastic age to be a Red Sox fan!

And for the record, my first pick (#4 overall) was Johan Santana, and the only Red Sox player I secured was Coco Crisp. (My left brain is counting on him being traded, batting leadoff for a National League team, and winning the N.L. batting title…..)

Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, and the Red Sox

jackie-robinson.jpgOn Friday night, February 1, the day after Jackie Robinson‘s would-be 89th birthday, I attended the Red Sox’s celebration of his life in the EMC Club at Fenway Park. The event featured a panel of speakers, the star of which was the legendary basketball hall of famer, Bill Russell (who, on February 12, celebrated his 74th birthday). Russell, one of the greatest Celtics of all time, shared some memorable stories and insights (transcribed below), but first, panelist and author Steve Jacobson reminded us about Jackie Robinson’s own connection to Boston – one that is painful for members of Red Sox Nation to hear.

pumpsie-green-1960-baseball-card.jpgIt is fitting and ironic that the Red Sox are the only team that formally celebrates Robinson’s birthday, for while the Red Sox were the last team to field a black player (Pumpsie Green in 1959, three years after Robinson’s baseball career ended), the Sox were the first team to give Jackie Robinson a major league “tryout” – in April 1945, two years before he was named Rookie of the Year as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Of course, the tryout was a sham, and it only happened because of public pressure that was thrust on the Red Sox by Boston city councilman, Isadore Muchnik, who threatened to revoke the Red Sox’s permit to play Sunday games at Fenway Park unless the Red Sox offered a tryout to three black players. Those players were Marvin Williams, Sam Jethroe, and Jackie Robinson.

tom-yawkey.jpg“The workout was supposed to be supervised by four Red Sox hall of famers,” writes Jacobson in his new book, Carrying Jackie’s Torch. “Joe Cronin, the manager; 78 year-old Hugh Duffy, a coach; owner Tom Yawkey, a South Carolina lumberman; and Eddie Collins, the general manager. Cronin refused to give an evaluation of the players he’d seen. Duffy said one workout wasn’t enough. Yawkey said any judgment had to come from his baseball people. And Collins said he couldn’t be there because of a previous engagement. Don’t call us, we’ll call you — and the Red Sox never did call.”

It’s mind boggling that the Red Sox had “first dibs” on Jackie Robinson. Can you imagine how different Red Sox history would be — indeed, Boston history — if Jackie Robinson had played second base at Fenway from 1945 to 1956? Writes Jacobson: “The Red Sox, who won the American League pennant in 1946, the last year of the all-white major leagues, did not win another pennant until 1967. The effect was clear.”

I didn’t know the whole story of Robinson’s bogus tryout with the Red Sox until Jacobson retold the tale. And when he was finished speaking, it was Bill Russell’s turn. I took notes of everything Russell said, and I’ve done my best to represent his words below.

bill-russell-2-2-1-08.jpg“I’m proud to be here tonight, and I’m so glad the Red Sox are honoring Jackie Robinson on his 79th birthday, and anytime the Red Sox want me to be part of something honoring him, I’d be glad to do so, even though I live in Seattle and you can’t get here from there.”

“I remember Jackie liked to bunt the ball down the first base line – that meant the pitcher would have to run over and field the ball as Jackie ran past, and Jackie was a football player….” Bill Russell smiled. “Slight collision!”

“The day after Jackie died, I got a call from Rachel Robinson, and she asked me to be one of the pallbearers in Jackie’s funeral. And I asked her, ‘Rachel, why would you ask me?’ And she said, “Bill, you were Jackie’s favorite athlete.” And when I hung up the phone, I remember thinking, “How does a man get to be a hero to Jackie Robinson?

“There were people along the way who tried to discourage me. But I lived a charmed life, because there were many people – black, white, Jewish, Christian – who pushed me forward, too. My high school basketball coach was one of those people. [Russell mentioned that Frank Robinson and Curt Flood attended his high school in Oakland at the same Russell was there.] He just looked at kids and saw baseball players or basketball players. And that’s what I encountered in Boston with Walter Brown and my coach – and my friend – Red Auerbach.”

bill-russell-and-red-auerbach.jpg“Now I came to Boston believing I was the best player in the land. But I didn’t get along with my college coach [at University of San Francisco] for one single day – yet we managed to win 55 straight games and two straight NCAA championships. And my Olympic coach was from Tulsa, and we didn’t get along at all, either – but we won the gold medal. So when I came to Boston, I expected not to get along with the coach. But the first time I met Red, he said, ‘You’re among friends.’

“I was with a friend of mine in an airport and a stranger came up to me and said, ‘You’re tall. Are you a basketball player?’ and I replied, ‘No.’ Then another person came up to me and asked, Are you a basketball player?’ And I said, ‘Nope.’ So my friend asked me, ‘Bill, why do you keep telling them no?’ And I told him, ‘Because basketball is what I do, but it’s not who I am.’

At one point, a woman stood and asked a question about what Bill Russell thought about urban kids all wanting to become athletes or entertainers, like the heroes they most admire. Bill’s response:

“I think it’s a myth that black kids today all just want to be athletes or entertainers. And my view is, we shouldn’t discourage kids from wanting to be special. I teach that we have to make changes inside-out rather than outside-in. I tell kids if you do work hard and use your intelligence, there are people who will give you a helping hand. But just giving help all the time [outside-in] can become a negative.”

“I don’t see any problem with a kid wanting to be an athlete or an entertainer, and I reject that the only thing all these athletes are teaching kids is to be athletes and entertainers. That’s just not true. You know, almost all of the best players in the NBA have foundations and are doing a lot of work with kids in the community – almost all of the best players – and we rarely hear about that, but it’s true. And these players are teaching kids a lot more than how to be a professional athlete or entertainer.”

russell-ali-brown-jabbar.jpg“In schools across the country, physical education programs are being cut as budgets are slashed. And this is a big problem. P.E. programs aren’t about creating pro athletes, they’re about creating healthy people. In my case, I have a mild case of diabetes, and my doctor tells me that the only reason it’s not severe is because of the active life I led in my youth and young adulthood. Mind and body are both important in a child’s education.”

“I remember the first time my mother said we could play in our front yard. Until that time, we had only been allowed to play in our back yard, but then one day my mother said we could play in the front. But she said to us, ‘Now people may walk by on the sidewalk, and some of them may say things to you. Some of the things they say may be good things, some of them may be bad. But whatever they say, don’t pay any attention to it. Remember, they don’t know you. And when they say bad things, that’s their problem, and they’re wrestling with their own demons.’ So, growing up, I was determined that no one would stop me. Particularly no one I didn’t know.”

“My daughter was one of Professor Ogletree’s students [at Harvard Law School - Ogletree moderated the evening], and her mom and I went our separate ways when she was 12 years old. So there I was, a single parent with a 12 year-old girl, and to this day, it’s been the single greatest adventure of my life. And back when she was 12, I made two promises to my daughter: 1. I will love you ’til I die. 2. When you leave this house, you’ll be able to take care of yourself better than any many you’ll ever meet. And I told her that because I wanted her to feel the same way my parents made me feel. And that’s what I’m trying to do today with kids – to teach them to have confidence in themselves and not to be afraid. Jackie Robinson was never motivated by fear. He didn’t see obstacles, he only saw opportunities, and he saw every challenge as a chance to show what he could do.”

“I’m looking forward to the next great baseball player, but I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t care what color he is.”

red-sox-retired-numbers.jpgThe Red Sox will never shed the facts of the team’s racist history; but the birthday party at Fenway for Jackie Robinson, featuring Bill Russell — not to mention our two World Championship teams featuring players from a variety cultural backgrounds – shows that those facts truly are history. History to be remembered, but never to be repeated.

Roger Clemens: Fascinating Theater, and That’s All

roger-clemens-1984.jpgI remember the first time I ever heard about Roger Clemens. It was the early ’80s, I was around 14 years old, and my dad was sitting at our kitchen table reading the Boston Globe sports section aloud, telling about the excitement surrounding a pitcher the Red Sox had drafted out of the University of Texas. The article said Clemens threw heat and that he had Hall of Fame potential. I still remember how that name sounded the first time I heard roger-clemens-big-guy-at-the-plate.jpgit. It sounded like raw talent. It sounded like an ace of spades. It sounded like hope for a franchise desperate to win a World Series. Today, the sound of Roger Clemens’ name has a different ring to it.

Like everyone out there, I have a gut feeling about whether or not Roger Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs. And my gut feeling has been the same for several years, since long before I ever heard of Brian McNamee. The ridiculous improvement of Clemens’ statistics as he got older (especially after his mid-career demise between 1993-1996) says a lot.

But the current public grilling of Roger Clemens serves only one purpose, really. It’s great theater. Riveting entertainment. Clemens is arguably the greatest right-handed pitcher of all-time (his 7 Cy Young Awards are a record) and we all find it fascinating to watch him fight desperately to save his reputation — and his wife’s — with the same competitiveness and bullheadedness that made him a superstar. Yup, it’s fascinating in an O.J. Simpson kind of way.

clemens-hits-manny.jpgYet I can’t think of one reason why it makes any difference whether we ever learn whether Clemens used something, or not (other than to save the credibility of whichever of the two is telling the truth). We already know that performance-enhancing drugs have been part of the culture of baseball in the sport’s recent history. Every team had users. The outcome of every game over the last ten years was probably affected in some way by steroids or HGH. That’s all that really matters to me as a passionate fan of the game. Baseball needs to be cleaned up. Period.

The objective of the Mitchell Report was not to implicate players, it was to reveal the degree to which performance-enhancing drugs have infiltrated the game and to recommend steps to recover the game’s integrity. So can someone tell me how the conversation has degenerated into this made-for-TV-ratings soap opera that has nothing to do with the Mitchell Report’s original intention?

And why does Congress care so much about whether Clemens or McNamee is telling the truth? I don’t get it. Aren’t there many, many more important things for our elected government officials to be worrying about than whether or not Roger Clemens stuck neroger-clemens-red-sox.jpgedles in his butt? Have these U.S. representatives been sucked into this story for the same reasons we’ve all been sucked in — by a fascination with the potential meteoric downfall of one of the most famous athletes of our time, and by the magnitude of the story? How did that hearing today help the people of the United States of America?

So, either Clemens or McNamee is lying. None of us can help but have an opinion about this debate. But unless you make your living from tabloid journalism or you happen to be closely related to Clemens or McNamee, the issue is really irrelevant. Let’s move on. After all, Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers TOMORROW (Thursday, February 14). Rejoice!

Behind The Scenes at Fenway

yawkey-way-at-game-time.jpgLast week, the Red Sox invited me to visit the team’s offices on Yawkey Way. “Why don’t you come by around noon on Wednesday and sit in on a bunch of meetings?” And so I did. Between noon and 4pm, I attended four meetings:

1. A bi-weekly meeting of the team’s vice presidents and directors (I counted 28 of them), led by team president, Larry Lucchino. Each VP/director gave a brief update on his/her area of responsibility and fielded a question or two from Lucchino. Even yours truly was asked to say a few words. (“I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Rob,” said Larry, “but what’s the state of the Nation?”)

2. A meeting led by senior vice president sales/marketing, Sam Kennedy, to discuss the status of the Red Sox Fellows Program’s recruiting efforts.

3. A meeting led by Sam Kennedy and director of client services, Troup Parkinson, with executives from a company that currently spends about a half-million dollars per year in advertising with the Red Sox. The purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm ways to reconfigure the deal going forward.

4. A meeting led by manager of community marketing, Mardi Fuller, on “Marketing to Women.”

Rather than give you the blow by blow on these meetings, I thought I’d share with you the most striking take-aways of my afternoon at Fenway:

1. Larry Lucchino has the entire organization under his thumb, and he seems to enjoy being president and getting involved in the details of every aspect of the organization. He ran the VP/directors meeting like an emcee, sprinkling in anecdotes from time to time, quizzing VPs on facts about their area, and handing out praise generously. He is clearly well-liked and highly respected by his charges.

2. Out of the 28 team VP/directors who spoke at that first mfenway-at-sunset.jpgeeting, only two mentioned actual baseball players: Brian O’Halloran, director of baseball operations (he attended in Theo Epstein’s stead), who gave a brief update on minor transactions that had occurred in the last two weeks, and Dick Bresciani, the team’s historian and archivist, who gave a spirited presentation about “this week in Red Sox history.” As a fan, it was striking to see that 95% of the meeting focused on issues that would bore most fans to tears.

3. At lunch, following the VP/directors meeting, I had a chance to talk with Ron Bumgarner, who runs the ticketing operation. “The Yankees and every other pro sports organization laughs at us for the lengths we go to to try to make tickets accessible to regular fans,” he said. And after 20 minutes of hearing about the thought process behind their ticket operations, I believed him.

He confessed that sometimes the lengths to which the Sox go to make things fair have a negative effect on their efforts to make the experience easy. For example, when tickets are available online, some people wait ten minutes to purchase tickets, while others who have waited hours and hours and were “in line” first get nothing. He explained that if the Sox did not pluck folks out of the “virtual waiting room” randomly, the agencies/resellers would chew up all the tickets – because they have the manpower and, more importantly, the programmer power to dominate the “front of the line” and proactively “mole” their computers to butt in the queue. He said that they could sell out Fenway’s 81 games in one day if they wanted to, and that would make their job easy, but they don’t do that because it would not be fair to the “average fans.”

4. I assumed that the Red Sox Fellows Program would cater to the grandchildren of owners and nieces of senior vice presidents, but the meeting on the Fellows Program made it clear to me that the Sox are truly looking for a robust, diverse pool of applicants. Just as the baseball operations people are looking for talented players, the business operations people are looking for talented, capable “fellows” to inject the organization with energy and to develop executives of the future. (For more information on the Red Sox Fellows Program, click here. Applications for the 2008 season are due January 4, 2008.)

5. It was fascinating to me that 80% of the 90 minute-long meeting with the corporate sponsor was spent “developing the relationship” — talking about the 2007 season, catching up on how business is going, talking about mutual friends and acquaintances. Only 20% of the time was spent exploring the future of the company’s business relationship with the Sox, and no actual financial terms of a deal were discussed.

6. The Red Sox have a gigantic “home field advantage” when meeting with potential corporate sponsors at Fenway Park. Sam and Troup probably didn’t notice the awe twinkling in the eyes of the three guest executives (two of whom had flown in from D.C., and one from New York) as they walked down the corridor to the conference room, gazing at the posters and photos of Red Sox greats on the walls. What was perhaps ‘just another meeting’ for Sam and Troup was clearly one of the most exciting business meetings of the year for their guests. When we sat down for the meeting, a snow-covered Fenway Park loomed in the background through the window wall. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you can’t help sprouting goosebumps in that room.

remy-and-orsillo-bobbleheads.jpg7. One question that was raised at the “Marketing to Women” meeting was, “With every game sold out and TV ratings high, and with a broader female fan base than any other major league baseball team, why should the Red Sox care about appealing to women more than they already do?” The two big answers were: Because an organization that appeals to women as well as men will thrive even when the team isn’t winning, and because women represent half of the potential customer base/audience.

Other interesting points raised included: a) Women (and men) spend more time directly experiencing the Red Sox through NESN (and their team of Jerry Remy, Don Orsillo, and Tina Cervasio) than through personal trips to Fenway Park. Therefore, any marketing efforts targeting women need to examine the effectiveness of this channel. b) Men (whom are the default targets of existing Red Sox marketing efforts) have young daughters they want to bring to Fenway Park; they have girlfriends and wives who sometimes accompany them when they attend a game or watch on TV; and certainly “baseball” can compete with all these women for “quality time” in the life of a male fan. Therefore, the more broadly the team appeals to women, the more broadly it will appeal to its default audience of men, as well.cubicles.jpg

8. In the end, the Red Sox offices are still offices where people go to work every day (most are crammed into small cubicles), and the nature of their work is not unlike the work done in other organizations: finance, marketing, customer relations, sales, advertising, public relations, etc. While all Red Sox employees have highly coveted jobs, they don’t walk around exuding excitement and gratitude for their good luck; in fact, I’d say they all looked pretty worn out after a long, strenuous 2007. (I assume the office atmosphere is slightly different in May, during a Yankees homestand, the day after an Ortiz walk-off home run…)

I want to thank the Red Sox organization for welcoming me into their offices for a few hours. Their hospitality rates a ten out of ten, and I appreciate their high hopes for the new roles of President and Vice President of Red Sox Nation.

Rich Gedman, a Clutch Single, and a Balk… 21 Years Ago

rich-gedman-and-roger-clemens.jpgAfter the triumphant ride through Boston on duck boats, I followed Red Sox personnel into a post-parade reception at Fenway. The place was crawling with familiar faces, but the one I was most eager to meet belonged to former Red Sox catcher, Rich Gedman. Gedman played for the Sox from 1980 to 1990, right in the prime of my Red Sox childhood, when I was between the ages of 12 and 22. I walked up to Gedman because I wanted to tell him that he had had the key hit in the greatest baseball game I’ve ever witnessed in person – and to ask him what he remembered about it. Rich was happy to talk.

After introducing myself, I told Rich that I remember attending an extra-innings game at rob-and-rich-gedman.jpgFenway in my youth and, when it was over, I proclaimed, “I will never see a game more unbelievable than that for the rest of my life,” and I recall that the opposing team made a couple of big blunders in the last inning to aid a Sox comeback, and that Gedman had the game-winning hit. But that’s all I recall.  

Rich said, “Yes, that was 1986, and it was against California, and we fell behind by three runs in the 12th or 13th inning, and I didn’t get the game-winning hit, I got the game-tying hit – a line drive to right field - then we won the game on a balk.” YES! I said, THAT WAS THE GAME!

We then recalled that Angels 3B Rick Burleson dropped a pop-up that, if it had been caught, would have ended the game. Rich tried to remember the name of the pitcher who balked, but he could not. (Further research reveals that his name was Todd Fischer… more on him later.) And Rich said that part of the reason he remembers the game is that, when the Sox made their miraculous comeback against the Angels in game 5 of the 1986 ALCS (thank you, Don Baylor and Dave Henderson), everyone in the Sox dugout was saying, “This is just like that game we played against them back in July!”

Thanks to Google, I discovered that the game took place on July 10, 1986 (I was 17 years old), and the Red Sox won, 8-7. The entire box score and play-by-play detail is available here. And after reviewing how the game ended, I see why I knew I’d never see a more exciting game. In the 12th inning, the Angels and Red Sox scored a combined total of 7 runs with two outs. Here’s how it happened.

In the top of the 12th inning, with the score tied, 4-4, Sox pitcher Steve Crawford retired the first two batters of the inning (Ruppert Jones and Gary Pettis) and then gave way to lefty Mike Brown to face left-handed hitting Wally Joyner. Mike Brown proceeded to implode. Joyner stroked a triple, then scored on a wild pitch. Unnerved, Brown then walked George Hendrick and Brian Downing in succession and gave up R.B.I. singles to Rick Burleson and Bobby Grich. Tim Lollar relieved Mike Brown and got Dick Schofield to pop out to Gedman, but the damage had been done: three two-out runs for California and an almost certain loss for the Sox.

As a kid, whatever tickets I got my hands on were almost always standing room (which was fine with me). I remember that after that three-run burst, Fenway emptied and my little brother, Ben (16 at the time), and our friend, Sam (13 at the time), and I moved down to the front row behind home plate. We didn’t stay to see a comeback, we stayed because we wanted to experience even a half-inning of Red Sox baseball from the good seats. We were sad the Sox were about to lose, but we were jacked to be sitting in the best seats in the house.

rick-burleson.jpgMarty Barrett led off the bottom of the 12th against Angels pitcher Mike Cook with an infield single to the second baseman, Bobby Grich. In the box score it’s called a single, but in my memory, it was a botched play – perhaps it was a bad hop, I’m not sure. Wade Boggs then did something he almost never did – he struck out looking. And after Bill Buckner flied out to left field, with the Sox down to their last out, Jim Rice did something he did frequently – he hit a ball into the screen above the Green Monster for a two-run homer. But when Don Baylor followed with a pop-up above third base, it looked like the game would end — until the ball bonked off of Burleson’s glove and Baylor ended up on first. I remember that well – and I remember that Ben, Sam and I went nuts. Are we going to win this game?? And when Dwight Evans walked, putting the tying run on second base, the 1,000 or so of us left at Fenway jumped and screamed with anticipation. Number 10, Rich Gedman, shook the donut off of his bat and strode to the batter’s box with an expression of total calmness.

And this is what I remember most about that game: seeing Gedman walk to the plate and thinking, “When this half-inning started, there is no way Gedman thought he’d need to walk out onto this field again tonight.” And I remember just praying, praying, praying for Rich to get a hit and continue this amazing comeback. And he did! Line drive, base hit to right field. Baylor scores! YES! YES! YES! TIE GAME! TIE GAME! Again, the loyal few of us left at Fenway, all crammed into the front five rows, romped and cheered like lunatics. RICH GEDMAN IS CLUTCH became a new fact in my baseball-encyclopedic head. And the winning run, in the person of Dwight Evans, stood at third base with two outs.

gene_mauch_autograph.jpgAt this remarkable juncture, with the ever-dangerous Rey Quinones (lifetime batting average of .245) coming to the plate for the Red Sox, Angels manager Gene Mauch removed pitcher Mike Cook from the game and replaced him with rookie reliever, Todd Fischer. It was Fischer’s 9th major league appearance, and it turned out to be his last. And what a way to end a career – before even throwing a pitch, Fischer balked, Evans scored, and the Red Sox won. As Evans ran down the third base line, most of us in the stands didn’t know what had happened for a few seconds, but as the news spread, bedlam ensued. Gene Mauch argued vociferously while the Sox players and fans reveled all around him. As Ben, Sam and I walked out of Fenway that night, we all said to each other, that game will never be topped.

How rare is it for a winning run to cross the plate as the result of a balk? According to Jayson Stark, it’s only happened three times in the last 33 years.

Another interesting postscript to this story: soon after Mike Brown pitched like dog doo vs. the Angels and Rey Quinones stood there and watched the game-winning balk, the Mariners traded 1986 heroes Dave Henderson and Spike Owen to the Sox for Rey Quinones and Mike Brown!  (And the immortal Mike Trujillo.) Thank you, Rey and Mike! And thank you, Rich Gedman, for the chance to reminisce about an extraordinary moment we both witnessed and participated in 21 years ago…. and that we’ll never forget.

Watching Game 4 In The Dark

Asleep_on_couch I’m sitting here in the dark in my living room watching game 4 of the World Series – potentially the clincher for the Red Sox. Why is it dark in here? Because my wife and I caved in to my 8 year-old son’s begging to stay up to watch the first three innings. He’s lying on the couch, under a blanket with his head on his favorite pillow. It’s a school night, so this really isn’t model parenting. But the kid has rooted for the team every day since spring training, and they way he said this evening, “Mommy, it isn’t just a baseball game, it’s the World Series!” made us realize that, while he’s only in third grade, he’s as big a Red Sox fan as any grown-up we know. Of all the Sox fans out there tonight, this kid deserves a chance to see some of this game.

Earlier today, my son made me promise to wake him up in the ninth inning if the Red Sox have a chance to win the game, so he could witness the final moments and see the celebration on the field. “Wake me up if they’re down by ten runs or less in the last inning,” he said, implying that even a deficit that large is not too big for this baseball club to overcome. No, I told him, I’ll wake you up in the ninth inning if the Red Sox are leading, or tied, or if the tying run comes to the plate.

He’s been loquacious all night, asking me his customary impossible baseball questions, such as: “Daddy, if a game is suspended and they schedule it to be continued at a later date, but then one of the players who was in the lineup for one of the teams gets traded to another team before the game can be resumed, can that team substitute any player for the traded player?” I don’t even know where to find the answer to that question. All of a sudden, he’s quiet. He has fallen asleep before the end of the third inning. I’ll get him up later if necessary…

If this were a day game, or if it started earlier in the night, my son would be able to see every moment live. And he wouldn’t be lying under a blanket on the couch, struggling to stay awake – he’d be watching the way he normally does: bounding around the room, playing his own baseball game in his head, making diving, game-saving, ESPN-highlight plays on the couch over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It really is a sight to see. When he’s watching a game, our living room becomes a gymnasium and the whole house shakes. He actually becomes a participant in the drama that’s unfolding on the TV, burning hundreds of calories while I sit there eating nachos.

My brother just called me from his home outside of D.C. He is the most rabid, passionate, loyal Red Sox fan I know. He drove to Cleveland for game 5 of the ALCS and drove all the way back to D.C. immediately following the game, to get to work. That’s right, he drove something like 450 miles through the wee hours of the morning on an adrenaline high. He’s 37 years old, but the Red Sox make him (and all of us) behave like a college kid…

When he called, I asked him how his feelings about this Series are different from 2004. “I’m not as elated as I was then. And I just feel more confident about our chances. Even in the 9th inning of game 4 vs. the Cardinals in 2004 (with the Sox up, 3-0), I thought they could come back. But even if we lose tonight, we have Josh Beckett as insurance.”

We need to finish these guys off tonight. The Rockies have magic in their back pockets, as we saw over the last month. And this is baseball, after all. Anything CAN happen and anything DOES happen in this game. You can have a commanding 3-0 lead in a series, and a 3-0 lead in the 7th inning of game 4 (as the Sox do now), then one poor defensive play later (or one walk and stolen base later, as in game 4 of the 2004 ALCS), it can all start to slip away.

Off to focus on the conclusion of this one…

“Real” Red Sox Fans’ New Identity

A funny thing is happening in Red Sox Nation. Some of the people who were “real fans” prior to 2004 – who attest to having experienced the frustration, the agony, the exasperation of at least some of the 86 years of futility – are getting irritated with the consequences of the Sox becoming a winning franchise. The effect most discussed is the explosion of new Red Sox fans. Sometimes they’re referred to as the “pink hats.” Naturally, the team is irresistible, so new fans have been drawn to the Bosox like a magnet over the past three years. (I call these people “Stage 1 Fans” in my article about the 4 stages of being a Red Sox fan.) And I think it’s great. Come on down and join the Nation. We’ve been waiting for you.

But I find it fascinating that some Red Sox fans consider themselves “more worthy” than other Red Sox fans because they’ve been paying attention longer, or because they were fans when the Sox always found a way to lose, or because they know more trivia answers about 1967, 1975, and 1986. It’s so interesting that a Red Sox fan walking down the street would scoff at another Red Sox fan walking down the street because of the Sox shirt he/she chooses to wear, or the color of the baseball hat he/she chooses to wear. I mean, come on, aren’t we all pulling for the same group of guys?

I do agree that most “new” Sox fans are easy to spot, and even easier to identify when they open their mouths. But why do so many long-term die-hards loathe them so much? Is it because, deep down, they liked it better when the Sox were trying to break the “curse” and the cameraderie we all felt revolved around a shared masochistic obsession? Is it because they feel a person must “pay his dues” before he can be called a Red Sox fan? Or is it just because they find it sickening when people flock to the winner?

Legendary sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy wrote an article in today’s Boston Globe that expresses this “I’m a real fan, and you’re not” mentality well. Read the article here.

It’s ironic — all the “real fans” of the Red Sox crave another World Series victory, but many of them feel a sense of loss about our identity as valiant, perennial losers. (See an interesting article about this concept here.) Some harbor an unusual longing for the good ol’ days when the Sox were on an endless quest for a world title, and new, naive Sox fans were welcomed with open arms and admired for their willingness to join the fellowship of the miserable.

Prior to 2004, it never occurred to many “real fans” of the Red Sox that winning it all would fundamentally change the meaning of Red Sox Nation and alter forever the message that a “B” hat sends to others about the cap’s wearer (we didn’t dare to dream about such outrageous notions). And as we become the best team of this century (which is also what we were at the beginning of the 20th Century), many long-term fans want the world to know, “Yeah, we’re the best now, but we weren’t for a long time and I was loyal during the tough times too.” Can you imagine how popular a cap or t-shirt would be that communicated unequivocally about it’s owner, “I was a Sox fan during the painful years”?

Of course, one option for these people would be to wear a Cubs cap. There’s something familiar and strangely appealing to many “real” Red Sox fans about the image at right….