Just Do It
Boston Dirt Dogs supports
a level playing field. Nobody can justify a chemical or physiologic
advantage for the opposition, e.g. the New York ‘drug-enhanced’ Yankees,
even notwithstanding their ethereal apologies. The Red Sox and the rest of
Major League Baseball also deserve the opportunity to achieve maximum human
Therefore, I propose
alternatives. Just a few minor tweaks to enhance fan enjoyment. First,
expansion to a new ‘no testing’ MLB. Bring your chemist. Andro? Mark McGwire,
you are our American Idle. Anabolic steroids? Wonderful. Afraid of needles?
No problem, we’ve got BALCO hard at work on that one. Human growth hormone?
We’re about growth, baby. Blood doping? No way, Jose. There are enough dopes
in baseball already. Amphetamines? That’s so sixties. What about
beta-blocker withdrawal? Probably wouldn’t help to go up to the plate with a
tremor, but pitchers could explain their wildness.
While we’re at it, choose
your weapon, wood, corked or uncorked, and of course aluminum alloy. In
memory of Wally Joyner, let’s bring back the juiced ball, too. Chicks dig
the long ball. We want scoring. Move the fences in, chop down the Monster
and put in ‘outfield box seats’ (it’s the Benjamins), and lower the mound.
Rename it the ‘bump’, three inches. Narrow the width of home plate, and move
the bases in five feet, so we can have more infield hits and even gargantuan
sluggers can go from first to third.
Synthetic turf becomes
mandatory. Anyone caught pretreating baseballs in the freezer would be
subjected to felony charges. God forbid anyone tamper with our rights to see
four-hour baseball games with football scores. Glove sizes would be rolled
back to the thirties, and fielders would be required to wear hiking boots.
Still not enough for you?
How about permitting a designated hitter free substitution once a game?
David Ortiz can fly out to end the eighth, and be allowed to bat again in
the ninth. Relief pitchers wouldn’t be allowed to warm up in the bullpen
(just after they’re called in) and defensive replacements are disallowed
Now I know that you’re
reminded of those wacky MIT students in Bringing Down the House beating
Vegas at their own game, and how they didn’t change the structure of the
game, just how they played it. Of course, times change and maybe Bonds and
Giambi will make us forget Frank, Robby, Killebrew, Mantle, Mays, and Aaron.
They’re remembered for what they did, while many of today’s stars will be
remembered more for how they did it.
- Ron Sen, Boston Dirt Dogs
The Sound of Fenway
(to the tune of ‘My Favorite Things’)
We give no trade clauses with free
The World Series trophy is ours no more whining,
Bullpen with Foulke, no fear of late innings,
These are a few of my favorite things.
On base percentage to fill Bill James’ doodles,
we won’t have our hitters with bats like wet noodles
Four pitches per at bat no more first pitch swings
These are a few of my favorite things.
Damon with power and stolen base dashes,
Manny and Ortiz with their homerun smashes,
No more ‘1918’ heard in Florida springs,
These are a few of my favorite things.
When the Sox lose, when the scribe stings,
when I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad.
Pitchers with cornrows and batters with whiskers,
Fenway Park ushers who now have to frisk us,
Admission price has become cheap for kings,
these are a few of my favorite things.
Even more seating and luxury boxes,
Signage and scoreboards and aisles filled with hawkers.
Cold beer and hot dogs with buffalo wings,
these are a few of my favorite things.
Schilling addresses and Francona pep talks,
Lineups with power but also that take walks,
Hot stove league winters that melt into springs,
these are a few of my favorite things.
When the Yanks win, when Roseanne sings,
when I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember 2004,
and then I don't feel so bad.
- Ron Sen, Boston Dirt Dogs
Professional athletes tend to be long on
clichés and short on candor. So, in the Christmas spirit, and with the Red Sox
free agents rich, departed, or both, inspired by ‘Liar, Liar’ I’ll offer up some
quotes as Christmas gifts. As they say, ‘there is nothing cheaper than free
For Pedro Martinez: “I’m a legend and my career is extended in the NL. I wasn’t going to settle for a dime less than I could get. I’m happy that I took the money. People take the job that offers the most money every day. Be happy for me.”
For Derek Lowe (see Pedro Martinez): “Hey, I won three big ones in the post-season. I’m going to take the most money, whoever offers it. Pay ‘The Man.”
For Curt Schilling: “I’m friggin’ Diogenes with the lamp. I guess I won’t be hearing any of that 1-B stuff anymore, right?”
For Keith Foulke: “When are the Bruins going to start playing again?”
For Bronson Arroyo: “So I had a bad hair year. I hope it’s not ‘hair today, gone tomorrow.”
For Tim Wakefield (smiling): “I knew that if we won the series they’d name a town after me.”
For John Halama: “It’s going to be great to be going back to Tropicana Park as the opposition for a change.”
For Free Agent Signee (fill in the blank here): “Not only am I excited to play in America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, I am very excited about the generosity of the team in paying me a king’s ransom.”
For Jason Varitek (after being named Captain): “Scott, that wasn’t in the contract!”
For Doug Mirabelli: “You mean there’s a chance that Wakefield won’t be pitching every fifth day? Yippee!”
For David Ortiz: “Do I take steroids? Look at this body.”
For Doug Mientkiewiecz: “If they trade Millar, I’ll change my name legally to ‘Minky’, honest.”
For Mark Bellhorn: “I keep telling Theo that I’ve got the highest Win Shares to salary ratio on the planet, except for maybe Rich Harden. Paging Bill James.”
For Edgar Renteria: “What a country!”
For Bill Mueller: “Are you kidding me? They better trade Kevin or we’re over the two Miller limit.”
For Kevin Youkilis: “I don’t feel like a Greek God.”
For Manny Ramirez: “Compared to Mike Greenwell, I look like Paul Blair in the outfield. Ask Miguel Cairo if he’s finished the home run trot, yet?”
For Johnny Damon: “Cutoff man? What cutoff man? No cutoff, man.”
For Jay Payton: “It figures they get me after they get rid of my buddy, Nomar.”
For Trot Nixon: “Do I like to hit lefthanders? I just sent Javier Vazquez a Christmas present for keeping RJ in the National League.”
For Scott Boras (laughing hysterically): “Who’s the fairest of them all? Oh you are indeed, Scott. Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!”
For Tito Francona: “Any chance for a renegotiation, Theo?”
For Bill James: “You can’t tell everything about the player by his numbers, for example, his eye color.”
For Larry Lucchino: “George Steinbrenner can kiss my…”
For Theo Epstein: “About that left nut thing…”
For gazillionaire John Henry: “I hope this is the beginning of a trend.”
…and to all a good night…Happy Holidays! -- Ron Sen, Boston Dirt Dogs
The departure of Pedro Martinez has
empowered the common man. Teachers, nurses, engineers, dockworkers, chefs, and
sports journalists understand they deserve the love and the respect of their
employers. I work in a hospital. Today, a nurse, I’ll call him ‘Mark Tinnes’
listed the demands that he will present to his boss, the hospital CEO, on
Monday. I encouraged him to go for it.
Mark explained that his ability is State of the Art. He is simply the best.
Recently he won the Hospital Employee of the Month. Proof enough. Accordingly,
he expects the highest compensation of any nurse in the hospital. To Mark, pay
for performance is not discretionary, it shows the hospital respects and values
him as a person not just an employee. Mark gets hungry like everyone else. He
needs meal money, at least $76.50 a day to get decent food around here. Mark
also needs transportation to the hospital. He’s willing to accept a car
allowance and gasoline money. Paragon of virtue aptly describes him.
Working conditions must improve. As the consummate professional, Mark expressed
a willingness to work every fourth day. He knows that some practitioners of the
craft only have to work every fifth, but he’s always about effort. He’s willing
to show up every day during the flu season. Sure, often he’s only at his best
through the sixth or seventh hour of work, but he says that’s better than most
of his peers.
He can’t accept ‘floating’ to other units in the hospital. Were he to accept
this, he requires a suite where he could be comfortable. He won’t work ‘off’
shifts either. That would compromise his performance. In fact, the concept of
shifts is an anathema. No one can expect a professional to come at a certain
time and stay until a certain time. If you want excellence, understand it comes
at a price.
Nursing places a lot of demands on an individual. You can’t expect Mark to work
every other weekend and every other holiday. He also expects a four-month
off-season to help him recover from the grind of medicine. If he needs a
vacation, he may need an extra day at the beginning and the end. His commute is
Mark won’t be precepting any junior employees, either. They have to learn it the
hard way just like he did.
Mark enjoys excellent health. He absolutely refuses to consent to any employment
physicals, drug testing, or especially an MRI. He won’t be poked and prodded
like a piece of meat. Of course, he understands that he’ll be receiving constant
performance evaluation from his supervisors and patients. But he also knows that
his union assures guaranteed pay, regardless of whether his performance declines
or if he becomes sick or injured.
Mark knows that ownership, especially the CEO, care deeply about him. He has no
problem with them. He has concerns, however, that middle management, like his
nursing supervisor, are solely puppets of the organization. They have an agenda
to bring key players like Mark down. Mark won’t have any part of that
interference with his professionalism.
Mark’s business is with the patients and the doctors. He can’t be talking with
the patients’ families or friends either. That’s understood in the new contract
I thanked Mark for his insight into the problems he faces daily. He told me he
felt pretty confident that with the nursing shortage that the CEO would be
receptive. After all it’s about life and death.
What’s the phone number for the AMA office anyway?
-- Ron Sen, Boston Dirt Dogs
In a moment the ashes are made,
but the forest is a long time growing
Steven Covey, author of Seven
Habits of Highly Effective People, tells us ‘the hardest thing to do in life
is to understand how someone else thinks.” While we reflect on the barbs of
rejection tossed our way by Pedro Martinez, maybe we can learn something from
Studies pioneered by Kahnemann and
Tversky examined how people make decisions concerning risk and loss. They showed
that people focus on anchors (a dependence on current conditions) and loss
aversion (avoiding the pain of loss). We know the power of herd behavior and
know the importance of conditioning (learned experience on behavior). Be
patient, this is the foundation.
I recall an interview with the late
Sonny Bono (the singer, not the U2 guy) who had an oversized refrigerator
stuffed with food at all times. He remembered his childhood poverty and how
often he was hungry, and needed the security of his refrigerator. Although a
beautiful country with friendly people, the Dominican Republic has widespread
poverty. A bus tour reveals neighborhoods with tiny homes of corrugated tin with
holes cut out for windows and doors. Iron bars on windows and doors protect many
properties with valuables. The security industry has a prominent face on the
island. I don’t suggest that the Dominicans aren’t honest, rather that the
temptations of poverty and the need to survive are great for their poorest
We focus on our anchors, the
Red Sox, World Series Champions, and frown at the loss of a
high-maintenance but extremely talented pitcher, Pedro. Professional baseball
owners and general managers exhibit herd behavior, overpaying for past
performance, to secure players’ future performance. This often results in
‘the winner’s curse’ also known as buyers’ remorse.
What does Pedro Martinez focus on? I
can only speculate that growing up with very little, overcoming an
astronomically high pyramid to achieve professional baseball success, and
performing at a high level for years created a man of immense pride and extreme
ego. This allows him to demand and receive special treatment, vacations and
perks not available to his teammates. Curt Schilling mentioned the pressures of
providing for an extended family. Although Pedro probably feels powerful and
entitled to every last dollar, simultaneously he walks in the dark shadows of
insecurity concerning fragile health and performance. “I just tip my hat and
call the Yankees, my daddy.”
Moving to New York potentially
accomplishes a lot for Pedro. First, he gets the maximum guaranteed money,
security beyond our wildest dreams. People in many professions make that choice
every day. Second, he returns to the National League, absent the DH and
generally accepted as offensively inferior to the AL. Third, he escapes the
frequent confrontation with his master, the Yankees.
What does he lose by going to New
York? Realistically, although he will have pressure to perform for the dollars,
Pedro isn’t likely to single-handedly turn around the mediocrity there. He will
certainly generate some additional interest (fannies in the seats) and the Mets
can probably space out his starts to capitalize on that and get him the extra
rest that improves his performance. He may not win as often as he did in Boston,
but he has not only the statistics, the Cy Young Awards, and the championship
ring to validate his greatness.
Can we really get inside another
man’s head? Maybe not. Pedro’s needs belong to Pedro. “As the twig is bent,
so grows the tree.”
We’re from Mi$$ouri
12.14.04: Sports fans love to play the games on
paper. Because ‘hope springs eternal’ simulation games like Strat-o-matic,
Diamond Mind, and APBA give fans a way to play the game during the off-season,
Baseball’s Hot Stove League is entirely different than any other sport, because
even casual fans believe we have the insight and experience to identify winners
from losers. Who can compare the special teams of Kansas City and the Rams or
wants to talk about Len Dawson versus Roman Gabriel? We sit around and debate
the value of D-Lowe and Matt Clement although very few of us have any rational
basis to compare them or what they can do for the Sox.
As the Winter Meetings (does it feel like winter in Anaheim?) are winding down,
it looks as though the Mets showed Pedro the money, Randy may be headed to the
Yankees, and the Red Sox account is flush thanks to the savings. Visions of
sugarplums dance in Scott Boras’ head.
During the past season, after acquiring front and back end pitching, Sox GM Theo
Epstein identified a ‘fatal flaw’ in his construction of the team, mediocre
defense. He corrected it through the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera and Doug
Mientkiewiecz (I before E, times number three) along with Dave (the Stolen Base)
Roberts. The rest is history.
An unchallenged adage in sports and games is the importance of ‘strength up the
middle’. Whether it’s football, basketball, checkers, chess, or baseball strong
positions emanate from the center. Not coincidentally, Red Sox nation
figuratively sits on tenterhooks (anybody seen a tenterhook?) wondering how the
Sox intend to secure the catching, shortstop, and the rotation.
It appears that the Red Sox have determined the best way to remain competitive
is by trying to keep an element of fiscal discipline (no snickering please) by
seeking pitchers likely to average over one win share per million dollars spent
over the length of the contract.
Win Shares is the title of one of Bill James’ books analyzing
player performance. They are easily calculated by anyone with an IQ over 180 or
a mainframe computer. For simplicity sake, we can think of All-Star performance
at about 20 and 30 or above is terrific. In the ‘steroid aided’ category, Gary
Sheffield led the AL in 2004 with 31 and Barry Bonds led the NL with an
astronomical 53. In the ‘not currently known to be steroid aided’ A-Rod, Matsui,
and Tejada all had 30 and Albert Pujols had 40 followed by Scott Rolen with 38.
The results can be
Last year David Wells had 10 Win Shares for the Padres and John Halama had 6 for
Tampa Bay. Pedro Martinez was second among Sox hurlers (17) after Schilling’s
22, Keith Foulke had 15, Bronson Arroyo had 11, Tim Wakefield had 8, and Derek
Lowe had 6. A few other pitchers with 6 included Kyle Lohse, Jamie Moyer, and
Ryan Franklin. One would presume that Borassian pleas for ten million dollars
annually for any of these gentlemen would raise suspicion of one’s sanity.
GMs play the game on paper, too. We can be sure that the Red Sox have some
method to quantify the ‘contribution margin’ of their prospective free agents,
not only in absolute numbers, but also in trends, and in dollar figures. An
owner who became wealthy analyzing trends and is among the 400 richest people on
the planet can’t afford to be too sentimental. Matt Clement had 11 win shares,
compared with D-Lowe’s 6, but D-Lowe gets a ring, for coming through when it
counted. Many of us are counting on Theo Epstein to do the right thing.
-- Ron Sen, Boston Dirt Dogs
Cheating: Our National Pastime
12.04.04: I had some nicks and some aches. I used the clear and the cream. The
only problem was that bacitracin and generic Ben-Gay didn’t make me bigger,
stronger, faster, or younger.
Sports fans express outrage that sports celebrities (let’s omit the heroes for
now) use performance-enhancing drugs to set records. Sure the commercial reminds
us that ‘chicks dig the long ball’, but in an era of sport salaries that Middle
Eastern princes only dream about, can we be shocked let alone surprised?
At least for today, we are sanctimonious about revelations that home run king
Barry Bonds ‘juiced’ or that ‘hated’ Yankees Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi had
corked forearms. The Yankees talk about voiding Giambi’s contract, but never
complained while the ‘BALCO Bomber’ launched two dingers in ALCS Game 7 to bring
them to the 2003 World Series. Would Giants fans pack SBC Park absent Bonds’
booming bat and pursuit of Aaron’s record?
Cheating has become not only the national but the international pastime. Voter
fraud was legendary in Chicago. Have we forgotten our two most recent
presidential elections, stained by efforts to suppress voting or vote counting
by supporters of both candidates? Has the Ukranian election debacle gone
unnoticed? With the resurrection of stock prices, the Enrons, Worldcoms,
Adelphias and so many more are just memories? Bringing Down the House
chronicled the successful efforts of the MIT blackback team to exploit
inefficiencies in Vegas gambling, ripping off millions from the casinos. The
Eternal Dig, formerly known as the Big Dig, may ultimately become the Damp Dig,
thanks to contracting corner cutting.
Everyone knows you need an attorney to protect you from other attorneys. A
lawyer told me his prominent adversary would do anything to win, suggesting to
his clients to report facts that didn’t exist to support his cases. The Candy
Mossler trial of 1964 was to the sixties what the Simpson trial was to the
Sports cheating didn’t suddenly appear on the scene. The Chicago ‘Black Sox’
scandal of 1919 involved a World Series fix. Everybody knows about ‘sports
mechanics’, those guys who fix boxing matches and basketball games. We still
recall the Boston College point shaving scandal. Should we omit Albert Belle’s
corked bat, and be amused at Gaylord Perry loading up the baseball. My college
coach in the seventies taught first basemen to interfere subtly with runners
rounding first base. Many people feel the Cleveland Indians used cameras
illegally to try to steal pitches.
Can we reminisce about Olympic judges collaborating to deliver skating titles to
their favorites? Before Tanya Harding was a video star and professional boxer,
she solicited the ‘hit’ on Nancy Kerrigan. Golfers are rumored to use drugs,
beta-blockers, to suppress the yips while reducing hand tremor.
What about the agents, professional negotiators and attorneys? How many ‘bluff’,
fabricating terms of contract length and dollars in order to get general
managers to ‘show me the money?’ When does negotiation become lying, cheating,
Politicians write the book on cheating. The slogan for the governorship of
Maryland, the state that brought us Marvin Mandel and Spiro Agnew was ‘forty
thousand dollars and all you could steal.’ Meanwhile on Capitol Hill our
legislators craft changes rules to allow leadership to remain in place even if
they are indicted.
Senator John McCain threatens to impose legislation forcing drug testing on
Major League Baseball. The Senator, admittedly an American icon and hero,
was a wild man in his Naval Academy youth, and classmate Admiral John Poindexter
was convicted of five felony charges only to have them overturned based on
So far no Red Sox have been implicated in the doping scandal. Will Sox fans be
so vindictive if our heroes come under the mass spectrometer? So for all the
harrumphs and ‘I told you sos’ going on today, I’ll take a pass and consider it
business as usual. Tomorrow will be another day and the cheating will go on.
-- Ron Sen, Boston Dirt Dogs
An Open Letter to Curt Schilling
12.04.04: Curt, I praise your support of and care for Jason. I would be honored
to have a friend like you.
However, in my opinion, your statement on steroid testing under whelmed me.
You were quoted on BDD as saying "As a player I will side with the union on any
program that supports a more stringent policy, but at the same time is done
within the framework of our constitutional rights. I don't want someone knocking
on my door Christmas morning asking me to pee in a cup, but I am all for
something stricter, something that will assure the players we are all on a level
playing field, and the fans that the game they are watching is pure on the field
Well Curt, that just does NOT cut it with me. Fehr and the union have proved
incapable of policing their members. Actually, I believe the union appears to be
unwilling to police its members. So to say "I will side with the union" infers
to me that you will continue to support the inaction of your union on this very
important issue. In my view, it is time for strong-willed people with the
"integrity" of the game in the balance to stand up and take control of a union
that has done everything in its considerable power to avoid this issue.
While you may be totally with in your "rights" to ensure that a strong and fair
drug testing program is put in place, However, to say that "within the framework
of our constitutional rights" seems more than a little "over the top" to me.
Further to say "I don't want someone knocking on my door Christmas morning
asking me to pee in a cup," is not worthy of you under the current
circumstances. Does the program with the minor league players demand that?
It is time to stand up, make a difference and make sure that your union SOLVES
Thank you for hearing me out. My continued prayers are with you for a full and
Red Sox Nation
Liberating a Nation
10.26.04: (Hello, My husband is a HUGE Sox fan, currently stationed in Central Baghdad, Iraq. So of course the year we're going to win it all, he isn't home to enjoy it. I sat down this morning to email him, to let him know why this was the year the Sox were going to win it all. For real. My letter to him ended up being more a of a summary of the season, a story of 25 men. Now that I have it, I'm not sure what to do with it. Hopefully you'll find the time to read it, and offer any suggestions. Thanks in advance.)
After watching the post game press conference after game 2 last night, I had one immediate thought. We are going to win the World Series. Suddenly it was all clear. This is destiny. This is finally The Year.
We were never going to win game 7 last year. Pedro could have come out in the 6th, and we still would have lost. We weren't meant to win. It wasn't time yet. The manager was wrong, the clubhouse was wrong, even the NL team was wrong. The Red Sox were not going to play their first world series in 17 years against the Florida Marlins. No way, No how.
Oh, but the Joy that is 2004. Everything adds up, all the pieces are in place, all of the signs are there. This is it. 86 years ago we won the World Series. 86, a number that'll live in the bowels of Sox history forever. 100th World Series, a new Century of baseball. A year in which no other 2 teams have the right to play in, except the Sox and The Cards.
It all started on an October night in 2003. Wakefield's tears on the mound after that fateful homerun didn't signify the end of a dream, instead it was the beginning of one. His tears soaking into the ground at Yankee stadium set the wheels in motion.
Grady never stood a chance. MY Boys Of Summer needed more than a coach, they needed a father. A man that could see past the hair, the uniforms, the antics, someone who understood that behind the aloofness they were warriors. Battle scarred, weary, but not yet broken. Men who wanted to play baseball in it's purest form. For the love of the game, the thrill of it. These boys don't always perform like Champions, running into outs on occasion, throwing to the wrong base once or twice. Even with their faults, you can see their happiness, their desire, their passion. New York can have discipline, we have Joy. They needed someone who "got it", and Theo went out and found him. From that, The Sons of Francona were born.
A Thanksgiving dinner was about to once again make history in New England. Theo Epstein sat down and broke bread with Curt and Shonda Schilling. Come heal these hurt and heartbroken men Curt, pick up the pieces and give them faith in themselves. Take them to the World Series. Lead them into battle. Right all the wrongs of old, and deliver us from "The Curse"
Even with Tito and Curt on board, something was still wasn't clicking. We saw it and felt it, but couldn't put our finger on it. We weren't winning. Falling farther and farther behind the Yankees, hopes and dreams quickly fading away. 10 and a half games behind the Yankees on July 31st. Once again, you could hear sighs echoing through a Nation in Despair.
Mere moments before the trade deadline on that seemingly hopeless July day, a Nations sorrow turned to Rage. How dare Theo Epstein. Has he lost his mind? Along the crawl screen on ESPN, millions of viewers saw the words...Nomar Traded To Cubs. Surely there was a mistake. Nomar is an icon in Boston. Even worse, we traded him for nothing, 3 nothings to be exact. Dave Roberts, Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera. WHO?? Our season was all but dead and buried. Or so we thought.
Click.Click.Click. Pieces started falling into place. Click, no errors. Click, moving over runners. Click, turning double plays. Click, playing small ball. Click, Francona and his boys.Click, Minky, Cab, Roberts. Out of the ashes, slowly The Sox started to rise. And as they rose, we began to see one of the most beautiful teams in the history of baseball.
Quietly Jason Varitek orchestrated the men on the field. Steadily Curt lead a Bullpen of fighters, scrappy warriors willing to leave their hearts on the battlefield and their fates in the hands of the men behind them. Mannys crack of the bat woke up the sleeping giants. Ortiz, Damon, Kapler.Click. Slowly the injured soldiers trot back on the field, one by one. Their bodies bruised and beaten, ready to fight another day. Click. Suddenly the Sox had the best record in baseball in August. They were down, but never out. 10 games, then 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4,3....Be Careful Yankees, The Boys are ready for another round.
The past has never been kind to Boston. Instead of fighting History, this rag tag brand of warriors decided to change it. The Sox clawed their way into the wild card, facing the Angels. 4 games later the Angels were gone and history was altered. The Angels had never been swept in the Post Season. Until they were faced with men determined to right the wrongs of 2003.
New York Yankees vs. The Boston Red Sox for the Pennant, part 2. Curt Schilling takes the mound for Game 1 and the Nation knows we'll win this night. How can we not? The plight of the Sox struck again as we realized immediately that whoever was on the mound, it wasn't Our Curt Schilling. This was 3 horrible innings of batting practice for The Yankees. Mussina was throwing the ball like he was getting paid per pitch, and our boys looked as though it was day 1 of little league. 7-10. We lost 7-10. That's ok, Pedro pitches tomorrow. Same story, different night. Pedro pitched well, Lieber pitched better.1-3 Yankees. It's ok, tomorrow we're at Fenway. 9 innings and 19 Yankee runs later, The Red Sox are down 3-0. No team in history has come back from a 3-0 defecit. Curt Schilling is out for the season, Derek Lowe is starting game 4 and our hitters have left the building. Hopeless. Not only are we going to lose the series, but we're going to do it in humiliating fashion.The curse rears it's ugly head again.
Let the game begin, quickly, lets get this over with so I can look forward to next year. But wait...something is different this time....Somehow we managed to pull off Games 4 and 5 with stellar performances by 2 unsung hereos. Derek Lowe, a star in the playoffs of 2003, had become an emotional, unpredictable pitcher, banished to the bullpen, brought back to a starting position in a leap of Faith by Tito, and Tim Wakefield,the knuckleballer whose tears stained the ground as he watched his dreams fly over the left field wall in game 7 last year. These men took the mound, and with each pitch, chased their own demons away. Each strike eased the burden they've carried this year, each out lifting the hearts of a nation, each inning laying to rest the doubts they had in themselves. The grit and determination from both pitchers allowed this story to go on. They forced a game 5, as well as a game 6...and that game 6 my friends, is where this story takes on a life of it's own. This is when I began to realize that forces greater than you and I were at work.
The fog swirled around the mound at Yankees stadium on Oct 19th. The mist drizzled down and dampened the spirits of so many fans. Until we saw what seemed to be unreal. Curt Schilling walking to the mound. His ankle bloodied and bandaged, his face tired and determined. Visions of Roy Hobbs were inevitable. Across new England, a sense of surrealness descended, we knew something was coming, and we were ready for it. With the first pitch it was obvious that this was our Curt. Our Warrior, Our Hero, Our Deliverance. Here was a man who had dug down inside himself and found what he needed to get him through this night. For us. For his team, for himself. Curt Schilling stood on that mound, head held high, defiance in his eyes. He stood in The House That Ruth Built, bleeding for a Nation, onto that Yankee soil, the same soil that swallowed Tim Wakefields tears one year ago. Blood and Tears together washed away 86 years of baggage. Blood and Tears exercised the ghosts of our past. The battle the Sox waged that night came not from Money, or Discipline, or pretty uniforms. No, it came from the hearts of men who had found their home, found their brothers, and found their place in a clubhouse filled with 25 of the strongest men in baseball. The 2004 Boston Red Sox don't play for Glory, they don't play for money or rings. They play for each other. They play baseball because they have to, because it's who they are, and what they believe. They fight and win and soldier on because they love each other as much as they love the game. No man wants to let down his brother in arms . Leave no man behind. If you stumble, your brother will pick you up. If you fail, he will succeed in your name. There is no curse on Boston. The pieces just hadn't been in place until now.
Guts, Bravery, and determination got them back to Yankees Stadium and Respect won them the game. Those men, those beautiful boys of summer, gave everything they had that epic night, they laid it all at the feet of Terry Francona. They gave him their trust, their respect,and their hearts. Tito understood these men and loved them anyways, for that his sons delivered him a win in a bloody 14 inning battle for the history books. Game 7 was merely a whimper from the Yankees. The Dynasty had crumbled without even a fight. The Sox had liberated a Nation. The past has been washed away in blood, sweat and tears. It couldn't happen any other way. This is our destiny, fulfilled by 25 men who banded together and refused to lay down and die.
The Sox took the field in Fenway for game 1 of the World Series. They walked out there a different team then we've ever seen. The Nation has always believed in the Red Sox, but it is only now they believe in themselves. They believe in each other. They have been to War and they came home changed men.
I feel blessed to watch this team play. They are the embodiment of baseball, and a team like this we will never see again. A team whose history together has entitled them to the 100th World Series Ring.
- Kristine Favreau
Ballpark Frank (Part One)
9.26.04: Last night I had the rare opportunity to make the pilgrimage to a boyhood shrine, Fenway Park, sanctimoniously billed ‘America’s most beloved ballpark’. The opponent, our archrival if not archenemy, the New York Yankees. My daughter had forked over 88 dollars of her hard-earned money to give dad an extremely thoughtful Fathers’ Day present, an evening with his daughter, amidst a fading pennant race.
Maybe Wolfe was right, “you can’t go home again.” The return to Fenway embodied the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sox ownership seems to have tried to make the ballpark experience friendlier, while maintaining the tradition that purists adore. Entry occurs after ticket scanning and courteous security guaranteed to stop anyone from bringing a grenade launcher into the park. Having the entire ticket allows for a better memento, should historic action follow.
The trek to the grandstand brings one an atmosphere just north of a trip through a slaughterhouse, shoulder-to-shoulder passage with other beefy patrons, through still narrow concourses. A faint odor of beer, hot dogs and pizza entices fans to their seats. Of course, the prices of concessions, above even what Disney would consider outrageous, stopped nobody from loading up on their favorite beverage and nobody mentioned the words ‘South Beach Diet’ last night.
You emerge from the concourses with the familiar glow from the lights, the brilliant green of the field, organ music, and a literal barrage of signage. In the era of competitive free agency, I’m not nostalgic for uncluttered space, just overwhelmed by the combinations, auto companies and Bud, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, BankAmerica, John Hancock, Blue Cross and Blue Shield. You’ll need the insurance, banking, and medical treatment if you consume the calories, cholesterol, and the booze. Signage certainly helps pay the freight, but how long can it be before the uniforms sport ‘Vito’s Bail Bonds’ or ‘Fidelity Investments’ on the back?
My seat had two limitations, first, obstructed view by one of Fenway’s numerous stanchions and second, an aisle location that assured me of the opportunity of competing as a jack-in-the-box look-a-like as I sprang up 717 times during the game (I counted). Only one time was it worth it.
The Sox have catered to fans need for information, with a variety of statistical and Sabermetric enhancements. They display pitch counts, speed, and type as well as OPS components (on base average, slugging percentage) as well pitcher-versus-hitter data that could have triggered managerial strategy. For many baseball stat junkies, this upgrade carries added value.
Seatside vendors hawk their wares at stunning prices. Was that water selling for $4.25 cents? Who can complain about gas a two bucks a gallon when they’re shelling out almost half a sawbuck for water? I wolfed down a dog for four bucks, and passed on Cracker Jack at $4.50. Dentists gotta eat, but what’s the limit? The peanut vendor obliged fans by tossing the delights with greater distance and accuracy than Michael Vick could. That’s entertainment.
Sox fans remain as passionate as ever. The fans applauded long and loud for Sox production and at times even tolerated the visitors. I fear the long season has dulled their imagination. One leatherlung nearby shouted ‘hit ‘em in the head’ as most Yankees approached the plate. It appeared that somebody must have done him that favor. Periodically chants of ‘Yankees suck’ broke out, hardly discrediting the Bombers and mostly shaming those who consider themselves intellectually superior to the New Yorkers.
Even worse, Fenway and other Boston sports venues attract loud, rude, obnoxious, arrogant, and drunken folks willing to spend money, embarrass themselves, and annoy their fellow citizens of Red Sox Nation. I’ve always found that one is never more than six seats away from disorderly conduct (six degrees of separation as it were) and last night halved the distance. A group of Sox apparel-attired fans cursed, drank excessively, and stood obstructing views of nearby fans for most of the game. Fans pleaded for them to sit down (they declined) and stop abusing their neighbors (they refused) and in the eighth inning, security finally came, and after police arrived, the violators left the building. That’s when it was worthwhile for me to stand and allow the miscreants exit.
Should management care? With the trio of John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino ushering about 2,800,000 through the turnstiles and total revenues likely exceeding 175 million dollars, ownership doesn’t have to seek improvement. However, successful businesses always try to improve the quality of their business and the quality of their customers. The Patriots have begun to offer www.patriots.com and their weekly video highlights in Chinese. They want to be the World’s Team not just America’s Team.
The Sox have solicited ideas from their fans before and here are a couple more ‘suggestion balks’. Post an announcement on the message board about what behavior is unacceptable, not just interference with play on the field. Post a number to allow fans to call or text message security about problems before trouble breaks out. You can’t legislate etiquette but you can enforce civility. Security could come by (giving notice or a warning, call it as you see it) and ask fans to comply voluntarily with park etiquette. If security needed to return, it would mean automatic ejection.
Yes, a few hundred fans (fewer I hope) might be inconvenienced by being required to act like human beings, but thousands of other fans might enjoy the experience and return even more willingly to unseat the unruly. The Sox probably don’t care whether people like me return, or if they do, they had a strange way of showing it last night. Do we want the fans to enjoy the games with the same sobriety as those attending the symphony or the opera (not that I would know from personal experience)? Hardly. But do our children and we need to accept harassment when trying to enjoy this great pastime on a beautiful fall night?
As for the ugliness, the game ending spoke volumes, but that’s baseball.
Moo-vin' on up
8.30.04: Beau Vaughan and Jon Papelbon have a lot in common. Each is a 23-year-old right hander taken by the Red Sox in the 2003 draft -- Vaughan in the 3rd round out of Arizona State, Papelbon in the 4th out of Mississippi State. Stocky, 6-4 230 lb. power-pitchers, both are one-time relievers now dominating opposing hitters in a starting role.
Vaughan is 7-3, 3.30 at Low-A Augusta despite missing time with a shoulder ailment; Papelbon is 12-6, 2.69 with a league-leading 149 strikeouts at High-A Sarasota. And while each takes a bulldog approach to the mound, off the field is another story.
"Along with being good competitors," said Farm Director Ben Cherington, "each is what could be called a different personality."
Those personalities came out last season when they were teammates at short-season Lowell. In a pre-game attraction, Papelbon won a cow-milking contest, much to the delight of his teammates -- especially Vaughan.
"He handled it like a champ," said Vaughan, "and was probably the only guy on the team with the courage to do something so outrageous. I told him he looked almost a little too good."
Papelbon, who refers to Vaughan as "a jokester," took a lot of ribbing for his exploits, but did so with a smile.
"Having never milked a cow before," he explained, "I had to ask what to do. They told me: 'Just yank on them!' Hey, I love to work hard, but you can't be serious all the time -- especially in baseball -- so it was a lot of fun.
Life is more than just fun-and-games for the two emerging prospects.
"Off the field Jon is a free-spirit," explains Vaughan, "but he turns on a switch and gets serious when it's time to work."
"We became workout partners last year and pushed each other," said Papelbon. "Some days I'd push him, others he'd push me. I've always prided myself in my work ethic. If you have the same talent as someone you can always work harder than they do -- that's your edge."
Each has the talent to back up their hard work, and their similarities on the mound are striking. Both come right after hitters with a plus fastball and quality breaking pitches -- notably an effective change-up.
"Vaughn has a heavy sinking fastball," said Cherington, "along with a quality curveball and slider -- both with late action. Importantly, he understands how to use both. He also has a good feel for his change-up and has gotten numerous swings-and-misses on this pitch."
"Papelbon has a plus fastball with good command and the ability to pitch to all four quadrants of the zone," adds Cherington. "He has good feel for a change-up and a developing breaking ball."
They also share a love of the game and an appreciation of what baseball means to Red Sox Nation.
"I'm happy to be in an organization with such an amazing fan-base," said Vaughan. "Players love playing for fans. If we weren't playing we'd have the seat next to yours."
"I don't want to play for a team where the fans don't care if you win or lose," adds Papelbon. "I want be in a place where they lose sleep over it. Boston is like that."
Right now they're the hottest pitchers in the system, and they're enjoying every minute of it -- including the work.
"Baseball needs to be fun," said Vaughan, "and I'm going to do everything I can to succeed at it. Jon and I both have a shot at the big leagues, and we're milking it for all we've got."
- David Laurila, Cambridge, MA
The Mild Card
8.12.04: The Marlins and Angels have won the Series with "backdoor entry", while the Sox have only rare post-season play by any other avenue since its inception, but there is something particularly unsatisfying about groveling for a wild card with this team and it's not even my $120 million.
Certainly, all will be forgiven if a playoff and October white-wash emerges, but looking at it from the investment and return perspective of...say...a billionaire options trader, a finish equivalent or worse than last season seems money poorly spent, with heads to roll in consequence.
Start with the talent brain trust, which added one of the best pitchers and relievers in the game, re-signed one of the best power hitters cheaply, but botched a mega-trade that left bridges burned and ultimately necessitated a trade, further undermining any sense of this team's development relevance.
In that, there are a mere handful of Sox players who actually worked for the club in the minors and while this may be par for the MLB now, i.e. you trade to success, this year's result may again indicate such a temp staff road is also paved with nothing more than good intentions.
The mid-season discovery that the Club lacked gloves, omitting a fix for the still questionable 3-4-5 slots and relief woes, struck me as disingenuous from the molders of this team and possibly worse -- cheap. While it's nice to see double-digit ass-kickings of late and a fire lit under a previous offensive underperformer, whom do you trust to start in game three of any playoff series -- Wake, Lowe or Arroyo? Depending on the day, you could get a no-hitter or softball game.
I see little chance Lowe will be resigned, which may preclude postseason starts should it happen, but that digresses from the view that somebody -- in a suit -- gets whacked for this season if the fund does not show better returns on year.
After all the navel-gazing about ALCS Game 7, was the managerial selection a tremendous step up from Grady or a trump card in placating new acquisitions on the future Fenway house approach?
Close games still are not going the Sox way, which means either strategic, talent or motivational weaknesses or likely all three. Our closer had 43 saves last year, while at this point in August has 18; is this just the nature of how the current team wins or the fact that it is not in a position to win too frequently? Rising E.R.A. for all starters indicate more latitude extended to get the W, but at what cost? Yippee, Wake gives up six bombs and wins, but the decision to keep him out there in a wildcard race, regardless of middle relief woes, boggles the mind. Francona is managing to win player trust, not games, and that is a liberty the Sox do not have.
Similarly, the traders of John Henry's account must continue to execute whether a deadline has passed or not, using the same arbitrage that brought starters and relievers late last year. Just getting to the dance, as noted, is not enough, and the fund managers should expect termination or worse - comparison to their predecessors - if returns are not up on year.
What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted
(adapted from Jimmy Ruffin)
As I walk this land with broken teams
I have visions of many things
Lowe's happiness is just an illusion
Filled with wildness and confusion,
What becomes of the broken-hearted
I’m the shortstop now departed.
Theo I've got to find
Defensive peace of mind
The money tree grows all around
But for me it comes a tumblin' down.
Every day heel aches grow a little stronger
I can't stand this pain much longer
I walk at shortstop
Searching for light
Cub all alone
No Fenway in sight,
Hoping and praying for someone to care
Always moving and going nowhere
What becomes of the broken hearted
With my glove I’m now departed
Theo you've got to find
Defensive peace of mind
I'm searching though I won’t sign now,
But someone look, there's a growing need.
Oh, I am lost, there's no place for beginning,
All that's left is an unhappy ending.
Now what's become of the broken-hearted
With my bat I’ve now departed
Theo I've got to find
Some kind of peace of mind
I'll be searching everyday
Just to find someplace to play.
I'll be looking, Doc fixed me,
I’m worth the millions, Sixty.
Nothings gonna stop me now
I'll find a way somehow
I'll be searching everywhere
No Crying in Baseball
Who smiles through life –
except when crossed?
Who knows, or thinks he knows the most?
Who loves good things: baked,
boiled or roast?
7.25.04 - In A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks reminded the ladies that "there’s no crying in baseball." After watching the first two games of the Red Sox – Yankees weekend confrontation, it reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, "I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then."
Although some might argue that these games had entertainment value, that exists only in the same sense that NASCAR collisions serve to amuse the patrons. Once again, the Red Sox proved themselves totally incapable of playing professional defense. This week’s atrocities included Johnny Damon staggering around in centerfield, infielders doing soccer imitations on ground balls, and pitchers simulating drunken sailors throwing to bases. Not since Matt Young have such defensive indiscretions appeared at Fenway.
Enough about the results, can plausible causes exist? First, since it’s a homestand, that eliminates the most heinous boozing and womanizing rumored so rampant on the road in MLB. Any sensible players would have long adapted the military’s slogan ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, or remained single, although not celibate in the tradition of the clergy. Just kidding. They can't have exhausted themselves with early tee times, because frankly, the weather hasn’t cooperated.
What about some legitimate, logical possibilities? Of course, some terrific new movies have hit the big screen, and with luck, players can catch the late showings. I’ve heard that some players wouldn’t go to the movies for fear of damaging their eyesight. Health problems? Can’t be that, as Ramiro Mendoza has just come off the DL, and the return of Nomar and Nixon hasn’t exactly been nirvana. Aside from bad haircuts, the local nine appear hale, although not hearty.
Maybe it’s a management problem. Sox skipper Terry Francona was born April 22, 1959, making him a Taurus. “Taurus personalities tend to be ruled by their affections.” Darn, another players manager. "Taurean people tend to be slow, practical, methodical, and reserved." That sounds like exactly the ticket for robo-organization. Could it be biorhythms? Terry’s intellectual biorhythm has mostly been down in July and his ‘mastery’ rhythm is just coming off a low.
Must we consider the most invidious possibilities? There may be no crying in baseball, but gambling certainly exists. No, with the cheese these guys pull down, we need not consider that. Could the Sox fortunes coincide with the stock market? We know about the relationships between skirt lengths and Super Bowl winners and the stock market, but could the stock market somehow be linked to the Sox mediocrity. Herald beat writer Tony Massarotti argued the Sox were like a Fortune 500 company, making a fortune and playing .500. Clearly contemporary players don’t have to throw nickels around like manhole covers. I can’t picture Manny Ramirez on his cellphone all day long to some Merrill Lynch guy asking about semiconductors.
Gotta listen to the players, Derek Lowe citing Dire Straits,
Now look at them yo-yo's that's the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain't workin' that's the way you do it
Money for nothin' and chicks for free
Now that ain't workin' that's the way you do it
Lemme tell ya them guys ain't dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb
All of which brings me to my two greatest fears about the Sox. First, Alien Abduction. You must remember the Betty and Barney Hill story. That would explain how the April start vanished when substitutes replaced the originals. At least according to ESPN, I, Pedro does bear a resemblance to I, Robot. We are the closest franchise to the global alien landing zone, Exeter, New Hampshire. Although I’m not aware of an entire team being spirited away, it could happen. Sports precedent exists. Have you taken a look at Sam Cassell?
Of course our biggest concern has to be the simplest. Schilling and Pedro are the alpha and the Omega, as in Schill and Pedro and pray for snow. The bullpen wears thin from constant usage. The Sox have proven for four and a half decades that hitting alone can’t get it done, and as they say in court, ‘the defense rests.’
Blame Francona, blame Theo, blame John Henry, blame the grounds crew. Player accountability doesn’t exist. Never has in this town. Probably never will. They’re our boys.
The Sox just aren’t that good, and if they are, to paraphrase Billy Beane, "if they’re so good, how come they don’t play better."
Can't Take a Joke
7.21.04: Abe looks like someone just woke him up from under a bridge. I can't believe the Red Sox organization would post this picture of this guy... this is embarrassing.
How can we (the fans) "Keep the Faith" with half assed efforts, gangsta getup, and managerial/organizational mis-steps??? What the hell is going on over there?
As a fan, I want to see a sincere effort from all levels of the organization... I'm getting sick and tired of the enabling and listening to the manager and Larry make weak excuses for the $130 MILLION mediocre cry babies.
These guys really need to suck it up and play baseball... crooked dirty hats are not helping any of them play better. How about getting back to the basics and focusing on the fundamentals of the game.
(In fairness Michelle, Abe is legally blind in his left eye, and the tilted cap keeps the glare off his good eye and gives him better peripheral vision.)
"Nothing you could do could change
anything now..." If the New York series and the midseason
break are catalysts for major personnel changes on the Bosox, at
least the heartbreak isn't waiting until autumn this year. After
extra-inning losses in which run production seemed like attempts at
unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions, the team was so adept
at leaving the lonely at third (and other bases) I barely could keep
my eyes on the meter.
A "Killer Instinct", if it ever existed,
has morphed into a "Victim Mentality" with the wait before losing
and recriminations on "Oprah" unbearable. And that is the point.
Even truly mediocre teams that jumped out to April leads in the
early 1980s only to flounder by June created at least the desire to
watch. This squad, with huge payroll and marquee off-season
acquisitions, cannot make a double play (it certainly can hit into
them), cannot win by a run (it certainly can lose by one) and shows
all the gutlessness, poor management and indifference that have
ended seasons of lesser Boston nine.
Calling anyone out runs the risk of
omission, while hacking just for the sake of renovation is not
enlightened policy either. With Nomar, the depths this relationship
has sunk to would only be measured by an idiotic trade that in one
version adds Carlos Delgado; here is a 2003 softball star with bad
wheels joining a team stacked with DHs. Solve the riddle of why this
squad doesn't work, Theo, but don't bullshit us for three months
with occasional homerun fireworks and bandaged wounds. Despite years
of conclusions to the contrary, we are still stupid enough to want
to believe, but taking us for fools will not be tolerated.