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Saturday, January 24, 2004

AL East: Grind'em Up

East Patsies Got Much Tougher This Winter
The Yankees won 101 games last year, the Red Sox 95 - a six game advantage. In AL East Division games, the Yankees went 47-29 while the Sox went 41-35 - ah, er, a six game differential within the division. Can you see where this is going, folks?

If you have been watching the trade and free agent signings, you have seen that apparently the Yankees are weaker (maybe) than last year and the Red Sox are probably stronger with Foulke and Schilling. Agreed.

But, just one minute. The Red Sox play 19 games each against a much improved Blue Jays team (including newly-signed Cy Young Winner Roy Halladay, plus Ted Lilly, Miguel Batista, Pat Hentgen, Justin Speier in the bullpen, and other young players), and a tougher Tampa Bay group with Tino Martinez, Jose Cruz Jr., Rey Sanchez, Danny Baez, Geoff Blum, Todd Jones, and Mike Williams - and Don Zimmer too. Baltimore, now with Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmiero, and Javy Lopez to buttress their payroll and RBI totals, will probably be at least as competitive as last year.
So, if the Red Sox lose one more of those 19 games each to Baltimore, Tampa, and the Jays, then they will win only 92 games.
If the Red Sox only win 92 games, is Terry Francona then a better or worse manager than Grady Little? The Bottom Line is - it doesn't really matter if it is 92 or 95 wins, or 98 - as long as it is enough. What does matter is how well the possibly pitching-challenged Yankees play against this better-hitting AL East lineup, and, whether the Sox can dig in against them and the NL teams they face this year and make a better showing than last year.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Warm Up: NH BB Dinner, and, PawSox Annual Hot Stove Party

The Tim-Master and I went to the annual New Hampshire Baseball Dinner last week - a great take and a Hot Stove League miracle considering it was 20 below zero outside that night in Manchester. On the dais and for the autograph session was Jim Rice, Rico petrocelli, Johnny Pesky, Butch Hobson, Rick Wise, Bill Momboquette, several red Sox prospects, and the folks running the Pride, the Fsher Cats, and other NH baseball folks. What a great time - the food (Chicken Parm) was actually good and the speakers, led by Rice and Pesky, were both fun and informative. Rice, running a Q&A session with the audience, showed how knowledgeable he is about the game and how serious and professional he was in his approach to playing the game. Just a great time folks, and just what the cooling Hot Stove needed.

NOTE FREE, um Yes, FREE: The Paw Sox will be hosting their Annual Hot Stove Party on Saturday, January 24th, 12:00 Noon at McCoy Stadium. Admission is FREE and the PawSox say Hot Dogs will be served!!! On hand for the festivities:pitching coach Mike Griffin, catcher Kelly Shoppach (recently named by Baseball America as the #2 prospect in the Red Sox organization), Trace Coquillette, Massachusetts native Ryan Cameron, and newly-signed LHP Phil Seibel and RHP Josh Stevens.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

More Days in First Place? Western Mass. Baseball Bonanza

According to the AP and the Berkshire Eagle, Dan Duquette's Sports Academy has received approval to buy the New England Collegiate Baseball League
(NECBL) Thread City Tides of Willimantic, Conn., and move them to Duquette's Sports Academy in Pittsfield, MA. The Willimantic (Conn.) Chronicle reported last week that Duquette purchased the Tides, who have been in Willimantic for 10 years. The team will apparently be called, ah,........the Dukes.

The Berkshires and surrounding areas are setting up to be a strong base for collegiate-level ball as the NECBL's Middletown (CT) Giants, recently moved to Holyoke, and the NECBL's North Adams SteepleCats were an expansion team in the league last summer, drawing an average of 850 fans per game. While the moves are too bad for Connecticut fans, they already enjoy an abundance of AA franchises, Independents from the Atlantic League and now a NE League team - heisted from Pittsfield. Turnabout is fair play?

Perhaps we will see the development of some good local Berkshire rivalries this coming summer, and great baseball for Western Massachusetts fans in the wake of the loss of the NE League Black Bears to New Haven. The franchise purchase by Duquette is a positive development for the NECBL: it will generate publicity for the MLB-supported league, especially in the influential Boston media, and add further credibility to the decade-old league by the addition of yet another veteran major league executive to its management ranks. Good Luck to Dan and the fans of Western Massachusetts - let's hope the Dukes spend some days in first place.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Rose, Baseball Writers, and the Hall
Though the air has been filled this week with the praises of Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor, the Pete Rose controversy has overshadowed the latest HOF election announcement and dredged up - again - all the oft-stated arguments for and against his reinstatement and HOF election. Only one of those topics actually matters.
While I respect the Baseball HOF, what it intends to stand for, and the names of the players enshrined in its halls, the Baseball HOF means nothing to the game itself. As with the Oscars, baseball's HOF election process, debates over the eligible candidates - mostly over those slighted, and induction process are merely more overblown, self congratulatory ritual processes allowing a money-making business to publicize itself through the promotion of its now-retired but beloved "talent." The Oscars mean absolutely nothing, yet legions of not-so-serious and some serious journalists spend countless words speculating and reporting their nomination and outcome.
I am aghast at the gaggle of self-important baseball writers who tell us how earnestly they struggle with their votes, and then explain the "gut-wrenching" process they endure annually to make the "right," HOF selections based on numerous (but completely and thoroughly ambiguous, and often capricious and pararochial) criteria.

We hear that, yes, Mr. So-and-So's numbers look good, as good as other HOF'ers, but he was surly with the baseball writers so that hurts their election chances. [I thought it was about their baseball achievements? Tell me again about the voting angst of the baseball writers!] And a look through past HOF elections - dominated by NY media in the mid-20th century - reveals a number of questionable chad counts among the Gods rightly elected. Everyone enshrined in Cooperstown is, essentially, equal regardless of your actual achievements. You are simply a HOFer or you are not; all HOFers are created equal; they have no lesser Gods. Paul Molitor is on the same pedestal as Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays.
Like the Oscars, the Baseball HOF is just ceremonial fun - no more meaningful than the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. No matter how eloquently baseball writers try to raise it to a ritual akin to a Papal election (and thereby also elevating their own importance), voting for the baseball HOF has no more social value than the vote I cast for last year's (also meaningless) All-Star Game - and far less real value than the vote I cast at the polls last fall for School Committee.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

To all Pete Rose apologists:
My two-bit bet (that is all he is worth): Bud Selig's spine turns to jelly and he lets Rose become eligible for the HOF and, worse, the baseball writers flinch and let him in.
That would be scandalous: The man bet on baseball, bet on baseball from the clubhouse, bet on his team, did not bet on his team (tipping other bettors off), made what now may be viewed as deliberate managerial "mistakes" during games (such as sending up hitters out of order, making them ineligible -- source: Ralph Wiley on ESPN), sold drugs to get money to pay bookies, scouted for information on other teams from their managers to make betting decisions. Is this list not enough to keep a man out of the HOF when every player must sign an agreement not to bet on baseball? Is this list not enough when Rose lied for 14 years about his actions, on the flimsy pretext of a 14-year-old that people would be mad at him and ban him forever? Is this list of offenses indicating a pattern of behavior not enough to lock the door to Cooperstown for a man who apparently conspired with, or coerced, the so-called Commissioner of Baseball, aka Stooge for the OTHER Owners, to keep Rose's admission of gambling quiet for 14 months, so Rose could make money on his book by "announcing" his confession in it? Is this not enough that Rose unveiled his admission -- not his apology -- right as other worthy players were being selected to the HOF?
Come on, people, this is not a single mistake by a man, but a lifetime of lying, stealing, and whoring of baseball that potentially indicts the entire sport. The man is a slug, but worse, he pulled baseball under the rock with him.
Envision this: Pete Rose giving his acceptance speech at Cooperstown. If that does not disgust you, and does not send chills down your spine and perhaps make you vomit, you do not love baseball, you love baseball statistics and they are not the same thing.
Tim

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Days Happen
Harry O once said, Days Happen - yes they do.
In baseball today, though winter here in New England, we note the following:
- Dennis Eckersley gets into the Hall; former Sox (twice), tough competitor, a bit of a flake, great 70's hair and moustache, and a good guy. We wonder with his newfound HOF status, will he still appear in Sox Post-Game shows? Congrats Dennis, well deserved.
- Once again, Jim Ed Rice didn't get into the Hall. One of the most fearsome hitters of his era - look at his numbers folks. Maybe next year.
- Rose says he's come clean, others say BS! What should baseball do with a figure that fans clearly have affection for, but who is - apparently - a compulsive liar?
- let him in the Hall; not to honor his achievements on the diamond is a sin.
- let him work in baseball; if you understand Pete, banishment from the one thing he loves for the past 13 years must have been torture.
- but, don't let him manage or be in a position to affect the outcome of a game unless he agrees to stop all betting, legal or otherwise;
- so be a batting coach, hitting instructor, minor or developmental league manager, scout, you get the idea.
- Some murderers have gotten less than 13 years for their crimes. Rose's only life, and love, is baseball. Yeah, I wouldn't want my daughter to marry him, but he was a great baseball player.
- In Pawtucket, they are celebrating, and rightly so. The PawSox earned the 2003 Bob Freitas Award from Baseball America for franchises that show sustained excellence in the business of minor league baseball (The PawSox also won this award in 1990). Been to Pawtucket lately? If you have, you will know why they won this award. If you haven't, why not?
- And a moment for Tug McGraw: despite being seriously ill, Tug closed out Veteran's Stadium recently with a re-enactment of his strike out of Willie Wilson, winning the 1980 World Series for Philadelphia. Tug died today after a struggle with brain cancer.
- Finally, the Market Correction continues: Juan Gone accepts a mere $4.5M (not $10M) to sign in KC; Robbie "Spittoon" Alomar accepts a $7M pay cut to $1M and signs on with Arizona. Juan Gone can help KC by adding some power they were missing last year, and I am sure Mr. Tony Pena will not put up with much BS from Juan - he'll earn that $4.5M. And Alomar: it is the end of the line perhaps.
- Finally the new New Haven Northeast League franchise (with a Name to be named later)opens its season on May 31 against Allentown.

Hey! Hey! Hey!
We are going to the NH Baseball Dinner and Show. Hot stove sufferers are we!
Let's hope the guest of honor -- unnamed as of today -- is someone worthy of the title, but even if he (maybe she?) is not, we get rubber chicken and a baseball fix for just $60!
This weekend, I'll be getting another mid-winter fix for a spring-summer-fall addiction: the first motorcycle show of the winter in Wilmington. I know, who reading a baseball blog cares about this, but don't be surprised when I start pointing out the similarities between these addictions, including the spending of money on things that have limited value: case in point -- I gave my son a baseball autographed by Curt Schilling for Christmas, one that he did just after signing with the Sox. It does not start my car or pay my mortgage, but it sure was fun buying it and it sure is fun looking at it -- just like the new handlebars and hard bags I'm buying this winter for my motorcycle, but I will use those.
Tim

Sunday, January 04, 2004

January 4, 2004
The Boston Globe, page F1
Tim Wakefield explains it all. His words should put an end to all conversation about Game 7 against the Yankees re: Little's responsibility to make a decision:
"Do I understand why he didn't take him out? Yes. I mean, that's your No. 1 guy out there. As an athlete, I'm not going to tell him I'm tired. I want to compete. But sometimes, management has to make a decision for us."
From a respected athlete and person like Wakefield, this, to me, is the final answer to that event -- why it happened and why it shouldn't have.
And this, also from Wakefield, on the importance of chemistry -- something only the most cynical fans refuse to acknowledge as a critical element in a team's success: "I've always said you can't buy chemistry. It takes a special person to understand that. When you're adding and subtracting people, you've got to take a hard look at that. The organization -- Theo [Epstein, the general manager] and whoever else was involved, did a very good job of getting the right people.
"Our chemistry was unbelievable. I've never been a part of a team that was a team. When I first got here the saying about the Red Sox was 25 players, 25 cabs. That's gone out the window. We all hang out together."
Also, Wakefield credits Little's sitting Manny down after the Philadelphia game and Kevin Millar's comments about the team going ahead and winning the whole thing without Manny as the turning point in the season.
Screw the cynics and the complainers and The Fellowship of the Miserable. They won't buy Wakefield's remarks, but he speaks for me and, it seems, he speaks for the Red Sox players of 2003 as well. Let's hope he speaks for next year's team as well.
Tim

Friday, January 02, 2004

Steaming into Norwich
Great Take Dept: If you are a Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun fan, on your next spring or summer visit, be sure to check out the nearby Eastern League Norwich Navigators (AA, SF Giants). The Navigators play in a really great park (Dodd Stadium) with great views, food (try the sausage sandwich!), friendly staff, and pretty good promotions for a AA franchise - especially the fireworks. And, unlike New Britain or Portland, parking is free. Now that Norwich is no longer a Yankee affiliate, RSN citizens ought to feel more comfortable there.

And go for another really important reason: Steaming into Norwich as the pitching coach is Bob “The Steamer” Stanley - a coach in the Giants’ organization last season with the Single-A Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League. Stanley replaces Ross Grimsley on the 'Gators staff. (Grimsley has been promoted as the pitching coach with Triple-A Fresno.)

[Brother Tim...........Amen! If I never hear about the A-Rod deal again, I'll be a happy man.]

Whew!
This is one fan who will be very happy not to hear any more about Alex Rodriguez, et al.
Yes, baseball is a business, but it is not like any other business, in that the employees are more important than the owners or even the managers because they produce a very public product that engages the public like nothing else the public "buys" -- including their hearts and souls, if not their wallets per se. It is also subject to emotion like no other product (except perhaps a motorcycle, but that's personal and another story.)
The emotional roller coaster Boston Red Sox (and Texas Rangers) fans were on for what seemed like much longer than a month did more than upset stomachs and jangle nerves -- it also exposed the desperation many, many Sox fans feel about not owning a world championship for more than eight decades. The fans -- and the Red Sox owners, it seems -- want to do anything they can to win the series right now, next year, no more waiting, and they were sure that Rodriguez was the last piece of the puzzle and that it was okay to throw away the Nomar and Manny pieces and that someone would simply materialize to play (and hit) better at second than Todd Walker and play and hit pretty well (no one coming here for shorter money was going to outhit Manny) and play better in left (Manny's fielding percentage for the year, in Fenway and away, was .982, with four errors in 222 chances, 11 assists, and 1 double play).
Let's assume that all was true. No team is more than one injury to one key player away from coming in second or worse. Let's assume the Red Sox with Alex had no major injuries. Is that really going to be enough, or is there something else needed -- like managers and coaches who can lead the team AND make correct game situation decisions most of the time and never make a fatal one in a critical situation.
All I'm saying is that there are no givens in baseball or any other sport. Some can't-miss paper teams have sucked in the past and other also-ran paper teams have far exceeded expectations. Cliche it is, but that is why they play the games. Whatever team takes the field next year for the Red Sox, let's hope it plays the game well; championships come on the field, not in December. Frankly, I am more interested in and concerned about Terry Francona, and will be looking into what makes him the right guy -- or the wrong guy -- for the team after the team is THE TEAM.
Tim