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Friday, July 30, 2004

Leading by Hustling and Working - Not Shoving

The guys who deliver when the season is slipping through your fingers and the team needs to get some momentum are not always the Big Name, Big Money stars. Tonight in Minnesota - a team that has been on fire the last few weeks - Bronson Arroyo stepped up as he has done several times since the All-Star break with a strong outing. When he is "on" he is tough, even on the carpet against a very aggressive team.

And defensively, a big bow to Gabe Kapler - stepping in for Trot and stepping up the defense with a great throw to nail Morneau trying to stretch a double into a triple. Jerry Remy's comments are right on track here: Kapler could have taken his time and let Damon get the ball, but he called it, reared back, and fired. 3 RBIs too for Gabe.

While the Yankees' brawl has been pointed to by many as a potential source of inspiration for a team that has seemed listless more often than we want to admit, I am a believer that guys like Arroyo and Kapler are trying to lead this team the best way they know how - and that their way and their example will be much more effective than any shoving match could be.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

DL Devils - NY and Boston

While Theo possibly scours the available outfielders in MLB as possible acquisitions before Saturday, some DL thoughts:
- Sox DL: Nixon, Pokey, Wiliamson, Kim
- NYY: Mussina, Brown, Giambi (coming?)
- Nixon is a loss, no doubt about it....especially in the clubhouse and in Fenway's notoriously tough right field. Also, the absence of a good LH bat in the lineup weakens Francona's LH/RH decision options. But it is the defensive loss that should concern those looking to October.
- Worried about Randy Johnson in pinstripes? This should worry Sox fans: How have the Yankees kept the AL East lead, and actually increased that lead, without Mussina, Brown, and an effective Giambi?
- How good is Gary Sheffield? Carrying the Yanks right now folks.
- Sometimes you get Lucky Department: Sox and Wake get rained out in Baltimore. Tim didn't have "it" last night.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Weekend Wrap, Maybe?

- Red Sox (MLB) won two of three; probably the minimum achievement needed to keep 20,000 tortured souls from leaping off the Tobin bridge. The Good News: Lowe was gritty, almost - again - let down by his defense, but he hung on. The Bad News: lots of people hurt, including Nixon again and now Leskanic. Let's hope Varitek's wrist is a two-day phenomenon and Adams can shore up the bullpen. The really Bad News: they head out on the road, where they have played like...............all season. [How many back will they be when they return?]
- Red Sox (AAA) PawSox climbing back into the IL playoff hunt after a mediocre spring and early summer, while putting up with a not-rehabbing-very-well BY Kim. McCoy never looked better than its current post-IL All-Star Game tidyness. Neat PCL and IL team uniform display outside the front gate.
- Spinners: packing 'em in as usual - maybe the best park for a kid's First Game.
- J. Giambi: I don't like the Yankees nor the whole steroid-related culture, but looks like a few well-directed words on Jason's behalf before you retire tonight are in order.
- Question to The Nation: How much confidence would you have in the Red Sox getting to the playoffs this year if Joe Torre was managing them?
- Dennis Eckersley: a Great One, Period. Wouldn't you love to have him closing for the '04 Edition of the Sox?
- The Brawl: a distraction from the game really, and costly if 'Tek is out for a while. A-Rod needs to know that he is not the only Yankee who has gotten hit lately - and won't be the last either.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Who's On First?

Friday night, Turner Classic Movies Superstation was running a number of Abbott and Costello movies across from the Sox-Yankees game. I, for one, couldn't help being struck by the irony: while Bud and Lou made slapstick comical and entertaining, Kevin Millar/Schilling/Gutierriez were offering their own slapstick version of Who's On First - in the case of the Red Sox, No One; literally and figuratively.
I don't care if they did beat the Yanks on Saturday, and Millar is getting his bat tuned up (finally) - it really means nothing. This team is going nowhere without a steady, reliable glove at first (where the most plays are made in any game), and I think the starting pitching staff knows it.
Even if they do earn the Wild Card spot, do you give this rickety, sieve-like defense much chance in any tight game in the playoffs - where defensive lapses stick out like a giant mole in the middle of your forehead?
This team has the firepower to produce enough runs (Nomar, Manny, Nixon, Damon, Mueller, Varitek, Ortiz) to overcome having a decent glove at first (McCarty). A trade-off I would make, even though First is really an "offensive" position in baseball, especially the A.L.
The problem for the Red Sox is that the team's play at First this season has really been Offensive, hasn't it.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

It's because I listened to the game

Yup, I am the reason the Sox suck. If I had just stayed off MLB.com and not looked at the pitch-by-pitch visuals on CBSSportsline.com, they would have played better and won.
If I had just had the sense to watch something, anything, on TV, other than the game, they would have won.
Hell, why not blame me -- and the rest of the fans -- for the way they play? It's just about the only constituency left that could be at fault.
Oh, wait a minute. Perhaps it IS the players' fault. I get it: players play and we watch, so how can I be at fault? Whew! What a relief!
Is that also the way the players feel. Whew! It's not my fault tonight. It's Damon's and Manny's and Pedro's, not mine.
The bumbling continues, huh? I expect some mental and physical errors from the U15 AAU team my son plays on: they are, after all, still learning, are just kids, and can get distracted by one another's mistakes, their own, and anything that makes them feel bad about themselves. BUT they are 15.
Last night, I finally admit that I have lost all confidence in this team contending for anything this year. I wonder how Theo, et al., feel now?
And, please, Terry Francoma (I have succumbed to talk-show vocabulary), no excuses. Just say, "We are awful and deserve to lose."
Time for, "Go, Marlins and Devil Rays! The Sunshine State Series!"

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Real Reason(s) Why.....

It's because the fan expect so much......
It's because the media pressure and scrutiny is so intense...
It's because their star players are all in the free-agent contract years....
It's because the Yankees spend more than we do...
It's because the Manager is too soft on the players...
It's because the team doesn't play "small ball"...
It's because they don't play solid defense.....
It's because the lineup changes every day....
It's because the lineup is too fixed in stone....
It's because talk radio* [or choose one: An Internet Site, local TV station, ESPN, Sporting News, Fox Sports, Other media source] criticized me.....
It's because the front office is focused on stats and not how the game is played...
It's because the team has no clubhouse leadership....
It's because Pedro leaves early for the All-Star break.....
It's because Manny [fill-in this space].....
It's because Francona [fill-in this space].....
It's because Nomar [fill-in this space].....
It's because the ballpark [fill-in this space].....
It's because [fill-in this space].....

Don't you ever get sick of it?
Would the customers of Your business continue to patronize that business if you performed as poorly as this edition of the Red Sox have?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Cape League update from Gammons

This from Peter Gammons' column today on espn.com:
It's a strong summer in the Cape Cod League for pitching, led by 6-foot-7 North Carolina freshman LHP Andew Miller of Chatham. Not only does he throw 91-96 mph now, but he hasn't begun to fill out. If he is healthy, he could be a top-three pick in '06. Rob Ray, a power reliever from Texas A&M pitching for Wareham, at one point fanned 22 of 24 batters he faced. Three other names of note: Matt Goyen, a left-hander with a good curveball and feel from West Georgia (27th round pick by Tampa Bay), has been lights out for Brewster; ditto Vanderbilt LHP Ryan Mullins (Chatham), Oregon State RHP Dallas Buck (Falmouth), Baylor RHP Mark McCormick (Wareham) and Virginia RHP Matt Avery (Brewster). The Red Sox signed Chatham's and Central Florida's Kyle Bono, an eighth-round pick who hadn't allowed a run and had a 22/2 K/BB ratio in 15 2/3 innings. The Red Sox didn't have a first-round pick and are trying to fill their organization by signing lower picks with higher value: Bono, South Carolina 3B-1B Steve Pearce (10th round), Georgia LHP Mike Rozier (13th) and Harvard infielder Zak Farkas. The latter was a draft-eligible sophomore with two years remaining at Harvard, but grew up a diehard Red Sox fan on Beacon Street a half-mile from Fenway and can sign and report after classes end in May.
Can't wait to see one, maybe two or three games down on the Cape the first week in August!

Monday, July 19, 2004

A Comer in the AA EL

Saturday Night I saw a whale of a pitching performance by Patrick Misch, a left-handed pitcher for the Norwich Navigators (SF Giants). On a beautiful summer night (bat night and Cub scout sleepover for the kids), Misch, from Northbrook, IL, struck out seven batters and did not allow a walk in a complete game five-hit shutout against the Bowie Baysox (Orioles) at Dodd Stadium (Norwich fans were happy with the 11-0 win). While not overpowering (86mph), Misch had pinpoint control, changed speeds on command (including a very deceptive change-up), and has a wonderful curve ball. [My take: reminds me of Tom Glavine, even to his delivery.]

Misch, according to the team’s web site, currently has a league-best three shutouts this season, including two nine-inning complete game shutouts. He is also currently ranked among the league leaders in innings pitched (116), ERA (2.48) and strikeouts (92). He was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 7th round of the June 2003 draft out of Western Michigan University.
If you get a chance to see him at an EL stadium near you - Go.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Francona, Ortiz, and Mike Scioscia - The Difference?

No, I don't think Ortiz should have thrown the bats - a very dumb move. But, possibly the real culprit was Terry Francona - who did nothing all night long to protect his starter and his hitters as the home plate ump either missed strike calls when Pedro was on the mound or squeezed the hitters when the Sox were at the plate. It was obvious, and even Jerry Remy made a clear point of it.
However, it was the same ump who made questionable calls against the Angels as well - and you'll remember that Mike Scioscia came out of the dugout early in the game to make the ump aware that he was watching what was going on. Scioscia didn't get tossed because he didn't try to make the ump look bad, but his team saw what he did. And the Red Sox, with no visible defense from Francona, did what players do in that situation - stand up for themselves.
Ortiz was still wrong. But maybe he wouldn't have reached that frustration level if Francona had made his presence felt and stood up for Pedro and his team. Part of the manager's job, plain and simple.
And this "minor" point may cost the Sox the services of Ortiz for 5 or 10 games - and that is a problem.
Thanks, Terry.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

What baseball teaches kids, cont'd

Since the first installment on this topic, my son's AAU team has gone 10-3 and gained some composure, a measure of confidence, and a sense that they can influence the outcome of the game by being in it -- consciously. They are understanding the difference between focus and anxiety.
Going on a road trip helped them become a team. Seven games in six days helped them become a team. Spending nearly every waking hour, meals, swimming, and even playing laser tag brought them together. (Oh, yeah, laser tag also sparked some disagreements, but none was permanent; it was a desire to beat each other and not personal animosity that caused some big talk.) Getting contributions from everyone -- literally, everyone -- raised their awareness that it can be anybody's day. A bunt when it counted, a caught liner at third leading to a double play with the bases loaded, a complete game pitched with a knuckleball featured as the main pitch, picking each other up after failure with fist-to-fist recognition. And a pre-game circle without the coaches, where what was said remains in the circle, brought them together. All these things they did on their own, decisions they made sometime, someplace that changed their approach.
Yeah, it's amazing with some wins will do and they still need to be really tested playing against teams that beat them (soundly in at least one case) this weekend, but they decided to take responsibility for themselves and each other and have played with the intention of winning.
It's the steps not the finish line that mark progress, and they are learning that the steps are their own.
One thing is for sure: baseball is a learning experience, every day.

Hey Babe – Stars on the Horizon!

Had a chance to watch the Central Mass. Senior Babe Ruth All-Star Game this week, here’s a look at talent standouts:
- Jeff Tardiff, RHP, Framingham: a big, strong kid; has command of several pitches including a good fastball and a big, slow curve he throws for strikes; very aware of the field around him. Got fooled in AB though - on breaking balls.
- Dan Rudzinsky – 1B/P, Marlborough - stocky and not tall, but nicely turned a 3-6-3 DP while at first; has good throwing arm; in an AB slammed an opposite field gapper for 3RBI. He was called out at third trying to stretch the double into a triple, but it was the 3B coach’s fault not Dan’s. In the next AB, he earned a BB with an eight or nine pitch AB, fouling off several. Dan also pitched an inning, gave up a BB and a little flare for a single, but he looked sharp with good velocity. This Kid is a Player.
- Chris Vine, Milford, OF-1B; lefty batter - good plate presence, nicely controlled swing with power, aggressive.
- Matt Perry, SS/2B/P, Sudbury; good command of the strike zone on the mound; drove a 3 up and down including a K and two weak ground ball outs. Bats L, and beat out infield grounder, so has some speed.
- Jamie Thorndike, SS, Dover-Sherborn; nice moves at SS, good range.
-          Mike Russell, IF, Bellingham; Web gem – from the SS position, a hot grounder on a very bad hop came to him, deflected the ball with his body as a backboard towards toe second baseman, to get a force 2nd. Nice play!!
-          More: www.eteamz.com/cmsbr
[Disclosure: I know none of these players, their parents, or anyone in the league. Just an observer.]

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Kim Missing from this Roster Too

ESPN.com's Page 2 has a list of the 10 Most Overpaid
Players in MLB:

with such luminaries as Chipper Jones ($15,333,333), Kevin Millwood, Philllies ($11,000,000),
Carlos Delgado, Blue Jays ($19,700,000), and Mike Hampton, Braves ($12,975,288) to name a few.
We have a few local names to be considered for that list:
- Byung-Hyun Kim: $3,425,000
- Ramiro Mendoza: $3,600,000
oh, and BTW: Mo Vaughn: $13,333,333

Nomar for Randy: In a [NY] Minute

Nomar for Randy (Mr. K) Johnson?
Yeah, I would do it in a minute. Why?
- Which scenario is more likely to win a Championship? The Red Sox with Nomar and his offense but with the current pitching staff (and maybe Randy in NYY pinstripes), or Red Sox with Randy Johnson? No brainer there, folks. We probably have enough offense to win it - as much as anybody else, except maybe St. Louis.
- How would you like to enter the playoffs with Randy, Curt, and Pedro as your top 3 starters? With Wakefield and Arroyo to fill-in in middle relief, and Foulke closing? Wow, period.
- Folks, Nomar's probably gone anyway at season's end, so............
- Randy's got a few good years left, even at $16M a pop.
- Defense: Pokey's here. No problemo.
- Are you confident (after last year) that Nomar will hit in September?
- Nomar turned down $15M/year for 4 years last season. J. Henry won't offer him that this winter....you can bet on it.
Some things in life are easy to decide. This is one of them.
But will Randy come to Boston? Probably not.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Report Card at the Break: C

- Red Sox: C-. Yup, 7 games back at the break and they should be better. Why are they were they are? That is the question. My answer is: injuries; bad managing (not just weak, but bad -- giving up games they could have won, for example, to rest players); and some poor performances from pitchers, which leads me to . . .
- D. Lowe: D. Every bit a D. Head case is irrelevant -- he cannot locate pitches he needs to and he has also had some bad defense at times behind him (if he does throw that sinker well, EVERYONE needs to be able to catch it and make the plays). Does he need a shrink? Probably. Is there one in the clubhouse? Schilling ("Get over it" is my guess at Schilling's advice).
- Schilling: A. Cannot fault him on anything other than -- perhaps -- being unable to shut up when he should. Gives it his all every time out.
- Pedro: B+. Now, a very good Number 2 starter -- and let's be very damn happy about that. Find me another Number 2 with his history, his pedigree, his combativeness on the mound, and his stuff. If he recognizes what he has and does not pine for what he does not have anymore - high speed - he can be as good as anyone in baseball because he has the brains.
- Nomar: I. I cannot rate him yet, but here are some interesting offensive #s vs. Alex from Manhattan: Alex: 86 games, .270 average, 337 AB, 61 R, 91 H, 22HR, 58 RBI, 172 TB, 73 SO, .361 OBP, .510 SLG, .871 OPS; Nomar: 26 games, .327 average, 107 AB, 16 R, 35 H, 4HR, 16 RBI, 56 TB, 10 SO, .365 OBP, .523 SLG, .888 OPS. Run the comps for yourself -- Nomar is better, based on relative games played. Pokey is also better than Nomar, hands and feet down.
More Alex vs. Nomar stats: With runners in scoring position: Alex = .217, with two outs: .100, bases loaded: .000; Nomar with runners in scoring position = .333, with two outs: .385., bases loaded: .400.
- Francona: D-. But no point in comparing him to anyone else in the league because we have no idea how Buck or Lou would actually do here. I have to question whether he a) knows what he is doing with the players he has or b) is doing what he knows (i.e., is he the REAL manager or is Bill James, et al.)?
- Manny: A. The Numbers say it all.
- Ortiz: A+. A true steal.
- Foulke: B. Needs more work. Has an ERA of 1.53 AND 4 blown saves AND 2 losses? Could the signing of Leskanic mean something more than it appears? Let's be glad we have them both.
- Theo: I. The jury is still out -- although it came back with a resounding affirmation during the offseason. But baseball is played on the field not in the management offices and I question whether the James Gang works. Looking at averages and data from whole seasons may say to them, Never run, Never give up an out, but game situations may demand deeper thinking than their data analysis. On paper, the Patriots should not be SB champs, but leadership got them there.
- Ownership: C. Blah, except for Lucchino on the radio -- he's topical. Has anyone actually seen Henry, Werner, et al., anywhere near the team?
- Bottom Line: Forget the $ invested. You win with the right people, top to bottom, and good leadership. They have the right people, I believe, on the team, but everyone else is suspect.

Report Card at the Break: D

- Red Sox: D- or worse, 7 games back at the break. Yeah, it could be worse (could be 10 games) , but at this pace they will finish 13+ games behind the Yankees by season's end. If you think that's acceptable - even if they Do win the Wild Card - then you and I are on different wavelengths.
- D. Lowe: D, Insists he's not a head case, but he's swimming up that river in Egypt called DeNial.
- Schilling: B+, everything he was advertised to be, including rabble rouser and chief critic. Worth the signing, willing to say No to WEEI.
- Pedro: B, Now, a good Number 2 starter. Not the old Pedro, but seemingly easier to live and deal with (we'll see as the contract thing plays out). Also: who cares if he took off for the AS Break. That's just 'EEI Talk Radio Masturbation BS.
- Nomar: C, Has got it really good here in Boston and needs to recognize that, or maybe doesn't care. Also: Excellence of Pokey with the leather highlights Nomar's weaker defensive side.
- Francona: D- The underperforming record speaks for itself, especially compared to the managing performances of Buck Showalter and Lou Pinella; guys who got more out of what they were given than could be expected. Can Terry say that?
- Manny: A, The clear MVP so far, and the Manny-Schilling babble: More 'EEI Talk Radio Masturbation BS. Who cares about this hammy thing? The guy's done it consistently - leave him alone and focus attention on those who have not performed.
- Foulke: B Great first two months, but last few weeks have been shaky. Hope the second half is not shaping up as a disappointment.
- Theo: B- The Jury's Still out, though management's relationship with Francona is confusing: Just how much is Terry actually deciding by himself, or are strings constantly being pulled somewhere else? (If they are, shame on you Theo!). Plus points: signs Nixon and Ortiz, picks up Leskanic on the cheap. Minus: None of the Big Guys signed, Burks a bust, Kim and Mendoza are a waste of millions, and getting ready - again - to trade the farm system for another rent-an-arm (Freddie Sanchez for Suppan, remember?)
- Ortiz: A - Does the job, shows up, great clubhouse guy. Wish his defense was better so we could solve this first base issue; only team in baseball with 4 or 5 first baseman on the roster?
- Ownership: C, None of the Big Guys signed, more crass commercialism surrounding the franchise, mixed messages coming from the Front Office, even higher ticket prices. Pluses: Monster seats a hit, right field roof seats should come with binoculars though. And no publicly-announced stadium plans.
- Bottom Line: $129M team built to win it all is still trying to win consistently enough to make the post-season. Outlook: shaky at best, and pray that Manny doesn't slide head-first into home anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Worthwhile Reads

Here is something to occupy your time while Francona makes pitching changes, the official scorer assigns E's to the Sox infield, and the Sox practice LOB-RISP, from our MagPortal feed below:
- The Motley Fool (June 30, 2004) takes Dominican stars Pedro, Ortiz, et. al to task for their real dollar contributions to the recent relief campaign efforts (don't read this if you keep athletes on a pedestal!):
- Wired magazine (June 2004)has a great article on the science of pitching, The Ultimate Pitching Machine, starting off with, "It's the fastest human movement ever measured in a laboratory: the violent forward rotation of a baseball pitcher's shoulder as he whips the ball toward home plate. To the batter, or anyone watching on TV, the motion is merely a blur. But not to biomechanical engineer Glenn Fleisig. "The arm flips forward at the shoulder joint with an angular velocity of 7,200 degrees per second," says Fleisig. "If a pitcher's arm kept up that velocity for a full second, it would make 20 full revolutions. It's just phenomenal."
- this month's Fast Company looks behind the curtain of aging Fenway Park,
[fastcompany.com/magazine/83/lifeofwork.html] to reveal bass in the outfields, helicopters, and sawdust. You will never look at it the same way again.

It's Still About the Baseball

For my part, I generally feel sorry for most Red Sox fans: this year's swoon started in May, and it looks like they'll be out of the AL East title hunt by the All-Star break despite a $129M payroll. The sub-head of this blog says that baseball in New England is about more than just that overpaid bunch on Yawkey Way, and that still holds true - especially now.

Don't go into a funk over the sad state of affairs with the Sox, there's plenty of great baseball left this season in Pawtucket, Lowell, New Britain, Norwich, Portland, Nashua, Brockton, etc........played by kids not making $10M, who hustle, don't whine, ride buses, and field as well as what we have seen from most of the high-priced talent at Fenway (except the not overpaid, ever-graceful Pokey Reese).

Make a Decision: Are you a baseball fan or a fan of a (specific) Team? Do you like and enjoy the game itself - or are you a slavish devotee of a given team, regardless of how well they play, how much heart they show, how much they charge for tickets, or how well they reward your devotion?
If you are a real [Red Sox] Team fan, ask yourself, does that make any sense? How's that working out for you the last 80+ Years or so?

I like the Game of Baseball - and the Boston Red Sox only get in the way of that enjoyment sometimes. Change the station; watch the Cubs or Braves or Dodgers. Go watch Babe Ruth ball.
Some would say that makes me a purist. Others would say that I am simply not a masochist. What about you?