February 28, 2007

ST1: Red Sox 4, Twins 4 (10)

Watching NESN on MLBtv. Play-by-play and observations for as many innings as I can.

Twins 1st against Curt Schilling: I tuned in with an 0-2 count on leadoff batter Luis Castillo. He took a ball and then grounded out to Julio Lugo. Jason Tyner fouled out to Jason Varitek on the first pitch. Joe Mauer fell behind 0-2 before rapping a hard grounder to first. Kevin Youkilis led Schilling for the 3-1 out.

Red Sox 1st against Matt Garza: Lugo (b) grounded out third to first (hot hop, 3B in on grass). Youkilis (cfbb) grounded out shortstop to first (shattered bat, grounder up middle). Ortiz (cbf) struck out swinging, down and in. [Yook sporting a not terribly attractive goatee in the Wells/Bagwell style. Ortiz is clearly less chunky around the waist.]

Twins 2nd: Rondell White lines the first pitch on the grounder up the middle into center. X pops up first pitch to Pedroia by the 2B bag. Lecroy (b) popped out to 2B in short right. [Dice dugout sighting!] Ken Harvey (s - C throw to 1B - fb) grounded up middle, past P into CF, White to second. Luis Gonzalez grounded out first unassisted. Neither single was well hit. 19 pitches for Schilling (15 strikes) in his 2 IP. ... News: Jon Lester will make his spring debut on Monday, March 5, pitching one inning against the Twins.

Red Sox 2nd: Varitek (c) lined to right. Mike Lowell (cff) fouled out to first, down RF line by stands/tarp. Wily Mo Pena (bbc) grounded out third to first. (NESN also in spring mode, still showing a 1-0 count on Pena when the count was 2-1.) ... Remy: Matsuzaker ... Garzer. (!)

Twins 3rd against Joel Pineiro: Jason Bartlett (bcf) singled to left. Castillo popped out to left. Tyner (tc) grounded out second to first, Bartlett to second. Mauer (c) safe at first on E6, grounder up the middle/Mauer sprinting/Lugo rushes throw/off mark, Bartlett to third. White (c) singled to center, jammed/sliced over infield, Bartlett scored, Mauer to second. X grounded into force play, White out shortstop to second. ... [Don Orsillo shows he knows absolutely nothing about the real idea behind the "bullpen committee" idea. How hard is it for the media to actually understand what the philosophies of the team they cover? ... Very hard, apparently.]

Red Sox 3rd against Scott Baker: Pedroia (23 pounds lighter/still wearing #64) (cfb) singled to center, line drive. David Murphy (bt) singled to center, grounder up middle/2B side, Pedroia to second. Jacoby Ellsbury (#82) (cc) struck out looking. Lugo (bcc) singled to center, ground ball, Pedroia scored, Murphy to second. "Yoooooooook"! (bfs) struck out swinging (low outside corner, check swing, 1B ump says out). Ortiz (fcb) singled to right, Murphy scored (no handle for 2B out in RF; shift this!) Varitek (cf) struck out swinging.

Twins 4th against Brendan Donnelly; Albert Castillo C: LeCroy (?) struck out. Harvey (s) grounded out shortstop to first. Rodriguez (cc) lined to first.

8 M: That's it for tonight. Off to watch "Little Mosque On the Prairie" and the first half of Ken Burns's film on Jack Johnson.

10-inning tie (Box).
Twins   - 001 030 000 0 - 4 10 0
Red Sox - 002 200 000 0 - 4 9 3

12 Seconds

MLB has instituted a number of rule changes for this season. One of them is Rule 8.04, which now reads:
When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call "Ball."

The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.

The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.
I've bolded the new text. The rule used to stipulate 20 seconds.

The reason for the change is to help shorten the time of games. The first MLB link above also states that a strike will be called on a batter each time he violates the rule requiring he keep one foot in the batter's box throughout his at-bat, except for certain game-play conditions.

Some comments about the 12-second rule from the Sox camp:

Mike Lowell:
I know they want to quicken the pace of the game, but when we start not playing on ESPN and waiting 2½ minutes before innings, it'll be much easier. I think it's kind of dumb. ... I don't give it much merit.
Curt Schilling:
I would disagree that our games are longer. We're on TV every night and it's 2:25 between innings. If you ask us, we'd rather not be. Those games take 4½ hours to play. We're always ready to play before the TV timeout's done.
John Farrell:
If you allow a certain amount of time to pass, the change-of-speeds element almost gets taken out of the picture, so the quicker, the better. This is a game originated on defense, and we can control that from a pitching standpoint. So the more you can dictate that tempo, the more we feel we have the advantage. There's an inner struggle all the time on who is controlling the tempo of the game. Is it the guy in the box or the guy on the mound? That won't change. But now, we'll have an umpire almost mediate this to a certain point.
Terry Francona:
I don't particularly agree with these rules. I'll follow them, but when we play the Yankees, it's going to be a long game. There's a pretty good chance it's televised. In between innings is like an hour. ... But the ballpark's full. Somebody's enjoying those games.
It's clearly no secret that the main culprit of longer games in recent years has been the ever-increasing length of the commercial breaks between innings. That is something that will not change.

The good thing about the new 12-second rule is that -- even if it's actually enforced (can anyone recall a pitcher being penalized under the 20-second rule?) -- it applies only when the bases are empty. (This webpage seems to state that a 12-second rule has been in effect since 1998.)

It is also good to know that this debate has been going on for nearly 100 years. At least as far back as the 1910s -- long before TV -- the Lords of Baseball have been complaining about, and trying to reduce, the time of games. Nothing of any significance has ever really been done. (In 2001, the Baseball Crank suggested shortening games to seven innings. I like the Crank, but this is blasphemous.)

My take: I do not want a clock dictating any portion of a baseball game and if I have to "endure" delays while pitchers and batters take their time on the field, so be it. If you don't like games that last over 2:45 or 3:00 or whatever your particular limit is, when that much time has elapsed since the first pitch, get up and turn off your TV or radio. Or leave the park.

The longer the game, the more baseball you're getting for your ticket. More baseball = good.

Curt & The Yankees

Curt Schilling, on his comment about not playing for the Yankees:
People made a big deal out of that when I said it. But when Mariano Rivera says it [about Boston], no one blinks an eye. There's just way too much history there. I'm probably one of the worst hated opposing players for their fans. I doubt they'd want me there. It's got nothing to do with Brian Cashman. I love that guy. And I love Mr. Steinbrenner. But if I went to the Yankees, it would be me walking out of Boston and putting my finger up to the fans. I won't do it. And the dollar value will not tip the scales. If they gave me $25 million to pitch one season in Yankee Stadium, I'd still say no.
Craig Hansen, whose sore back had prevented him from throwing off a mound for almost a week, had an MRI yesterday. It showed no structural damage. Terry Francona said the problem was muscular, but Hansen said he was told it was a bulging disk in his lower back.

Mike Timlin suffered an oblique spasm on Sunday. "Just an old guy starting to fall apart."

Bobby Abreu strained his right oblique during batting practice yesterday and will be out for about three weeks. The Yankees hope he'll be ready for Opening Day on April 2.

The First Lineup

Against the Twins tonight:
Julio Lugo SS
Kevin Youkilis 1B
David Ortiz DH
Jason Varitek C
Mike Lowell 3B
Wily Mo Pena RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
David Murphy LF
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Pitchers: Curt Schilling, Julian Tavarez, Joel Pineiro, Manny Delcarmen, Brendan Donnelly, J.C. Romero, Bryan Corey and Runelvys Herhandez.

Manny Ramirez asked to play tonight, but Terry Francona said, "There's a difference between being in shape and being in camp and having your spikes on and things like that. I think three or four days, for me, at the earliest."

In his first BP session, Manny Ramirez "sprayed line drives to left, right and center field". For the first time in his career, Manny took batting practice five days a week beginning in December.

The Red Sox also announced the pitching assignments for the next few days:

Vs Blue Jays/Roy Halladay: Kason Gabbard, Devern Hansack, Travis Hughes, Javier Lopez, Edgar Martinez, David Pauley
Vs Northeastern University: Josh Beckett, Craig Breslow

Vs Blue Jays/Gustavo Chacin: Kyle Snyder, Hernandez, Donnelly, Hideki Okajima, Corey, Mike Burns
Vs Boston College: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kyle Jackson, Nick Debarr

Vs Phillies: Tim Wakefield, Jonathan Papelbon, Pineiro, Romero, Delcarmen, Hughes

February 27, 2007

Topps: Jeter, Mantle & Bush

Clay Luraschi, Topps spokesman:
Somewhere in between the final proofing and its printing, someone at our company - and we won't name names - thought it would be funny to put in Bush and Mantle. ... It's in the set and it's funny. It's caused quite a stir.
An eBay search of listings with "jeter bush mantle" in the title turns up a whopping 384 items. A couple of auctions are closing in on $400 (or you can "buy it now" for $999).

Meanwhile, down in Florida, Curt Schilling is sad, knowing his bff doesn't appear on his card.

February 26, 2007

Deadball Stars Of The American League

The Deadball Era Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has published its second book of biographies of baseball's greatest players from 1900-1920.

The AL volume has 136 biographies. For each of the league's eight teams, there are All-Star teams and stat leaders for the era as well as the most common lineup for each season.

I contributed lineups for 1903, 1918 and 1919, as well as biographies of Red Sox pitchers Babe Ruth and Carl Mays. (You might remember that I wrote about Jack Titus of the Phillies for the NL volume). If you've seen the NL book, then you know how beautiful and well-written these books are.

Here's my Ruth bio:

George Herman "Babe" Ruth
Left-Handed Pitcher, 1914-1919

During his five full seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Babe Ruth established himself as one of the premier left-handed pitchers in the game, began his historic transformation from moundsman to slugging outfielder, and was part of three World Series championship teams. After he was sold to the New York Yankees in December 1919, his eye-popping batting performances over the next few seasons helped usher in a new era of long-distance hitting and high scoring, effectively bringing down the curtain on the Deadball Era.

George Herman Ruth was born to George Ruth and Catherine Schamberger on February 6, 1895, in his mother's parents' house at 216 Emory Street, in Baltimore, Maryland. His father owned a saloon at 406 Conway Street, where the family also resided; the spot is now center field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. With his father working long hours in his saloon and his mother often in poor health, Little George (as he was known) spent his days unsupervised on the waterfront streets and docks, committing petty theft and vandalism. Hanging out in his father's bar, he stole money from the till, drained the last drops from old beer glasses and developed a taste for chewing tobacco. He was only six years old.

Shortly after his seventh birthday, the Ruths petitioned the Baltimore courts to declare Little George "incorrigible" and sent him to live at St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a reform school run by Xaverian Brothers on the outskirts of the city. The boy's initial stay at St. Mary's lasted only four weeks before his parents brought him home for the first of several attempted reconciliations; his long-term residence at St. Mary's actually began in 1904. But it was during that first stay that George met Brother Matthias.

"He taught me to read and write and he taught me the difference between right and wrong," Ruth said of the Canadian-born priest. "He was the father I needed and the greatest man I've ever known." Brother Matthias also spent many afternoons tossing a worn-out baseball in the air and swatting it out to the boys. Little George watched, bug-eyed. "I had never seen anything like that in my life," he recalled. "I think I was born as a hitter the first day I ever saw him hit a baseball." The impressionable youngster imitated Matthias's hitting style — gripping the bat tightly down at the knobbed end, taking a big swing at the ball — as well as his way of running with quick, tiny steps.

When asked in 1918 about playing baseball at St. Mary's, Ruth said he had little difficulty anywhere on the field. "Sometimes I pitched. Sometimes I caught, and frequently I played the outfield and infield. It was all the same to me. All I wanted was to play. I didn't care much where." In one St. Mary's game in 1913, Ruth, then 18 years old, caught, played third base (even though he threw left-handed) and pitched, striking out six men, and collecting a double, a triple and a home run. That summer, he was allowed to pitch with local amateur and semipro teams on weekends. Impressed with his performances, Jack Dunn signed Ruth to his minor league Baltimore Orioles club the following February.

Though he was a bumpkin with minimal social skills, at camp in South Carolina Ruth quickly distinguished himself on the diamond. That spring, the Orioles played several major league teams. In two outings against the Phillies, Ruth faced 29 batters and allowed only six hits and two unearned runs. The next week, he threw a complete-game victory over the Philadelphia Athletics, winners of three of the last four World Series. Short on cash that summer thanks to the Federal League's invasion of Baltimore, Dunn sold Ruth to the Red Sox on July 9, along with pitcher Ernie Shore and catcher Ben Egan, for $30,000.

On July 11, 1914, less than five months after leaving St. Mary's, Babe made his debut at Fenway Park: he pitched seven innings against Cleveland and received credit for a 4-3 win. After being hit hard by Detroit in his second outing, Ruth rode the bench until he was demoted to the minor leagues on August 18, where he helped the Providence Grays capture the International League pennant. Ruth returned to Boston for the final week of the 1914 season. On October 2, he pitched a complete game victory over the Yankees and doubled for his first major league hit.

Babe spent the winter in Baltimore with his new wife, Boston waitress Helen Woodford, and in 1915, he stuck with the big club. Ruth slumped early in the season, in part because of excessive carousing with fellow pitcher Dutch Leonard, and a broken toe -- sustained by kicking the bench in frustration after being intentionally walked -- kept him out of the rotation for two weeks. But when he returned, he shined, winning three complete games in a span of nine days in June. Between June 1 and September 2, Ruth was 13-1 and ended the season 18-8. However, despite his fine season, Ruth was benched in the World Series; his 2.44 season ERA was the worst among Boston's five spectacular starters.

In 1916, Ruth won 23 games and posted a league-leading 1.75 ERA. He also threw nine shutouts -- an American League record for left-handed pitchers that still stands (it was tied in 1978 by the Yankees' Ron Guidry). In Game 2 of the World Series, Ruth pitched all 14 innings, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-1. Boston topped Brooklyn in the series four games to one.

Ruth's success went straight to his head in 1917, and he began regularly arguing with umpires about their strike zone judgment. Facing Washington on June 23, Ruth walked the first Senators batter on four pitches. Feeling squeezed by home plate umpire Brick Owens, Ruth complained and was promptly ejected, after which he stormed off the mound and punched Owens, striking a "glancing blow behind the ear". After Ruth was ejected, Ernie Shore came in to relieve. The baserunner was thrown out trying to steal and Shore retired the next 26 batters for an unofficial perfect game. Ruth got off lightly with a 10-day suspension and a $100 fine. He ended the year with a 24-13 record, completing 35 of his 38 starts, with six shutouts and an ERA of 2.01. Ruth's 35 complete games have been topped only once since then, by Bob Feller in 1946.

Although Ruth didn't play every day until May 1918, the idea of putting him in the regular lineup was first mentioned in the press during his rookie season. Calling Babe "one of the best natural sluggers ever in the game," Washington sportswriter Paul Eaton thought Ruth "might even be more valuable in some regular position than he is on the slab -- a free suggestion for Manager [Bill] Carrigan." The Boston Post reported that summer that Babe "cherishes the hope that he may someday be the leading slugger of the country."

In 1915, Ruth batted .315 and topped the Red Sox with four home runs. Bobby Roth led the AL with seven homers, but he had 384 at-bats compared to Babe's 92. Ruth didn't have enough at-bats to qualify, but his .576 slugging percentage was higher than the official leaders in the American League (Jack Fournier .491), the National League (Gavy Cravath .510) and the Federal League (Benny Kauff .509).

With the Red Sox offense sputtering after the sale of Tris Speaker in April 1916, the suggestion to play Ruth every day was renewed when he tied a record with a home run in three consecutive games. Ruth hated the helpless feeling of sitting on the bench between pitching assignments, and believed he could be a better hitter if given more opportunity. In mid-season, with all three Boston outfielders in slumps, Carrigan was reportedly ready to give Babe a shot, but it never happened. Ruth finished the 1917 season at .325, easily the highest average on the team. Left fielder Duffy Lewis topped the regulars at .302; no one else hit above .265. Giving Ruth an everyday job remained nothing more than an entertaining game of "what if" -- until 1918.

The previous summer, the United States had entered the Great War; many players had enlisted or accepted war-related jobs before the season began. Trying to strengthen the Red Sox offense, about two weeks into the season, manager Ed Barrow, after discussions with right fielder and team captain Harry Hooper, penciled Ruth into the lineup. The move came only a few days after a Boston paper reported that team owner Harry Frazee had refused an offer of $100,000 for Ruth. "It is ridiculous to talk about it," Frazee said. "Ruth is our Big Ace. He's the most talked of, most sought for, most colorful ball player in the game." Later reports revealed that the offer had come from the Yankees.

On May 6, 1918, in the Polo Grounds against the Yankees, Ruth played first base, subbing for the injured Dick Hoblitzel, and batted sixth. It was the first time he had appeared in a game other than as a pitcher or pinch-hitter and the first time he batted any spot other than ninth. Ruth went 2-for-4, including a two-run home run. At that point, five of Ruth's 11 career home runs had come in New York. The Boston Post's Paul Shannon began his game story, "Babe Ruth still remains the hitting idol of the Polo Grounds." Three days later, on May 9, Ruth had one of the most extraordinary games of his career, going 5-for-5 in the cleanup spot with three doubles and a triple, while also pitching a 10-inning complete game, losing 4-3 to reliever Walter Johnson.

Barrow also wanted Ruth to continue pitching, but Babe, enjoying the notoriety his hitting was generating, often feigned exhaustion or a sore arm to avoid the mound. The two men argued about Ruth's playing time for several weeks. Finally, after one heated exchange in early July of 1918, Ruth quit the team. He returned after a few days and, after renegotiating his contract with Frazee to include some hitting-related bonuses, patched up his disagreements with Barrow.

"I don't think a man can pitch in his regular turn, and play every other game at some other position, and keep that pace year after year," Ruth said. "I can do it this season all right, and not feel it, for I am young and strong and don't mind the work. But I wouldn't guarantee to do it for many seasons."

Ruth then began what is likely the greatest nine- or ten-week stretch of play in baseball history. From mid-July to early September 1918, Ruth pitched every fourth day, and played either left field, center field or first base on the other days. Ruth's double duty was not unique during the Deadball Era -- a handful of players had done both -- but his level of success was (and remains) unprecedented. In one ten-game stretch at Fenway, Ruth hit .469 (15-for-32) and slugged .969 with four singles, six doubles and five triples. He was remarkably adept at first base, his favorite position. On the mound, he allowed more than two runs only once in his last ten starts. The Colossus, as Babe was known in Boston, maintained his status as a top pitcher while simultaneously becoming the game's greatest hitter.

Ruth's performance led the Red Sox to the American League pennant, in a season cut short by the owners because of a work-or-fight order and dwindling attendance. All draft-age men were under government order to either enlist or take war-related employment -- in shipyards or munitions factories, for example -- which led not only to star players being lost to the war effort, but also to paltry turnouts of less than 1,000 for many afternoon games that summer.

Ruth opened the World Series on September 5 against the Chicago Cubs with a 1-0 shutout. He pitched well in Game Four, despite having bruised his left hand during some horseplay on the train back to Boston, and his double drove in what turned out to be the winning runs. However, Ruth was used almost exclusively as a pitcher during the Series. In order to neutralize Ruth, the Cubs started only left-handed pitchers against the Red Sox; manager Barrow responded by inexplicably benching baseball's best hitter.

Still, Ruth's pitching performances, together with his extra-inning outing in 1916, gave Ruth a record of 29.2 consecutive scoreless World Series innings, one of the records Ruth always said he was most proud of. His streak was finally bested by Whitey Ford of the Yankees in 1961. Ruth established a record as the first pitcher in baseball history to pitch in at least 10 regular seasons and post a winning record in all of them.

While with the Red Sox, Ruth often arranged for busloads of orphans to visit his farm in Sudbury, Massachusetts, for a day-long picnic and ball game, making sure each kid left with a glove and autographed baseball. When the Red Sox were at home, Ruth would arrive at Fenway Park early on Saturday mornings to help the vendors -- mostly boys in their early teens -- bag peanuts for the upcoming week's games.

"He'd race with us to see who could bag the most," recalled Tom Foley, who was 14 years old in 1918. (Ruth was barely out of his teens himself.) "He'd talk a blue streak the whole time, telling us to be good boys and play baseball, because there was good money in it. He thought that if we worked hard enough, we could be as good as he was. But we knew better than that. He'd stay about an hour. When we finished, he'd pull out a $20 bill and throw it on the table and say 'Have a good time, kids.' We'd split it up, and each go home with an extra half-dollar or dollar depending on how many of us were there. Babe Ruth was an angel to us."

To management, however, Ruth was a headache. His continued inability -- or outright refusal -- to adhere to the team's curfew earned him several suspensions and his non-stop salary demands infuriated Frazee. The Red Sox owner had spoken publicly about possibly trading Ruth before the 1919 season, when Babe was holding out for double his salary and threatening to become a boxer. However, Ruth and Frazee came to terms and the Babe's hitting made headlines across the country all season long. He played 111 games in left field, belted a record 29 home runs, and led the major leagues in slugging percentage (.657, 127 points better than runner-up George Sisler), on-base percentage (.456), runs scored (103), RBIs (114) and total bases (284). He also drove in or scored one-third of Boston's runs. But while Ruth also won nine games on the mound, he slumped badly there, going from a spectacular 6.8 hits allowed per nine innings to a decidedly pedestrian 10.0. The rest of the staff fell victim to injuries and the defending champs finished in the second division with a 66-71 record.

The sale of Ruth to the Yankees was announced after New Year's 1920 and although it was big news, public opinion in Boston was divided. Many fans were aghast that such a talent would be cast off, while others, including many former players, insisted that a cohesive team (as opposed to one egomaniac plus everyone else) was the key to success.

"[T]here is no getting away from the fact that despite his 29 home runs, the Red Sox finished sixth last year," Frazee said. "What the Boston fans want, I take it, and what I want because they want it, is a winning team, rather than a one-man team that finishes in sixth place." Frazee also called Ruth's home runs "more spectacular than useful."

He also intimated that the Yankees were taking a gamble on Ruth. It was a statement he would be later ridiculed for, but at the time the Yankees felt the same way. The amount paid ($125,000, plus a $300,000 loan) was astronomical, Ruth ate and drank excessively, frequented prostitutes, and had been involved in several car accidents. It would have surprised no one if, for whatever reason, Ruth was out of baseball in a year or two.

Amidst this speculation over his future, on February 28, 1920, Babe Ruth left Boston and boarded a train for New York. He was still just 25 years old.

Manny In Camp - Questions Remain

Manny Ramirez arrived at the Red Sox camp this morning. A few hours later, he stepped into the batter's box against Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Extra Bases has several reports from this morning -- scroll down.

Manny is in camp a few days earlier than recent reports -- which is great -- but later than most of his teammates. How will he get ready in time for the season? He has only 34 days! He didn't swing at any of the three pitches he saw from Dice. Doesn't he care? He's way behind schedule. Our playoffs chances are surely doomed. Who will start in LF on Opening Day?

This is a huge problem. And the media seems to be ignoring it.

February 25, 2007

Papi's Puppy

Thursday's Herald:
Ortiz arrived with a tiny terrier puppy named Mikey, who peacefully watched proceedings from the shade of a golf cart.
He's brown and black. Gotta find a picture!

Update: On Sunday, in his second session facing batters, Curt Schilling threw 51 pitches and worked on his changeup. David Murphy: "He was keeping the change down, and it was nasty."

Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to throw about 50 pitches in his second BP session tomorrow. He may pitch against David Ortiz, Julio Lugo and Wily Mo Pena. ... Gordon Edes was told by a reporter who covered the Seibu Lions that in one bullpen session last season, Matsuzaka threw 333 pitches.

Julian Tavarez would rather be a starter; Mike Timlin would like to close. ... Rich Garces, 36 in May, has signed with the Nashua Pride of the Canadian-American League.

Mariano Rivera on possibly pitching for the Red Sox:
I don't think so. I respect the players and I respect the organization, but we've had so much happen between us. I don't think I could do it. There's too much between the teams.
Damn, I was hoping he might make Yankee fans sweat a bit more this season.

CHB in Friday's Globe:
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Covering this team is like doing layup drills on an 8-foot rim.
And that's about the level of effort Dan puts into his columns -- with his outdated cultural references (Procol Harum?!?), unamusing nicknames, well-worn catch phrases ("Young Theo", "Franconamen", "big lug"), fear of intelligent analysis, and disgust for any fan who does not share his biases.

John Henry to CHB: "You need to start paying attention to baseball."

Rob Bradford of the Eagle-Tribune is down in Fort Myers and is blogging like a madman. Bookmark him!

Starting Pitchers

For the first five exhibition games:
Wed 0228 v Twins: Curt Schilling 
Thu 0301 v Blue Jays: Kason Gabbard
Thu 0301 v Northeastern: Josh Beckett
Fri 0302 v Blue Jays: Kyle Snyder
Fri 0302 v Boston College: Daisuke Matsuzaka
Tim Wakefield and Jonathan Papelbon will both pitch against the Phillies on Saturday, March 3.

All starters will work two innings or 35 pitches.

Ater Schilling on Wednesday night, Mike Timlin, Julian Tavarez, Joel Pineiro and Brendan Donnelly -- the four guys being considered for the closer's job -- will head to the mound.

Matsuzaka pitched batting practice to four hitters on Saturday. He threw 22 fastballs and 20 off-speed pitches to Bobby Scales, Jacoby Ellsbury, Luis Jimenez and Kevin Cash. Dice hit about 92 with his fastball; he'll throw another BP session on Monday.

Good decision by the Red Sox to not offer Schilling a guaranteed contract for 2008 before this season begins. Schilling says he will file for free agency (for the first time in his career). Theo: "Age was a pretty important factor in the determination. ... He's going to be 41. At that age we get a little more conservative. ... It doesn't mean we don't want him back."

Craig Hansen has a back sprain and has not thrown for a few days. ... Jon Lester threw batting practice yesterday and Francona said he "looked tremendous". ... Pitching coach John Farrell on Manny Delcarmen: "He has good command of all three pitches. It's only the bullpen and BP, but the first impressions have been very good."

David Ortiz has added some muscle. "It feels good, even a little more powerful. ... If I hit less home runs (this) year, I'm going to go back to being super fat."

February 23, 2007

Catching Up

I was in Vermont for the past week and have not had a chance to check out the papers. Hopefully, I'll comb through them on Saturday.

Matsuzaka threw 103 pitches the other day?!!? Eep.

There is the usual MUMS™ (Made Up Manny Shit). Has the Boston media written about every single substantial topic already this spring and so have time for this crap? Jesus, he'll be in camp by the reporting time mandated by the CBA (which, by the way, is not related to the CHB (who has not answered an email I sent him last week). :<(

No one cares about this shit! Jere and Red and Mike Lowell have it covered.

MUMS? I need a better nickname. Suggestions?

February 18, 2007

I'd Like To Have An Argument Please

The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions For Die-Hard Boston Fans by Jim Caple and Steve Buckley (Sourcebooks)

Sports fans love lists. Making them, reading them, defending them. Best this, worst that, Top 5 those ... It's in the DNA of most sports fans.

There are two ways to go about writing a book like this: a serious, analytical approach that runs the risk of being dry and boring (quite the opposite of a heated argument) or as a series of short takes written in a breezy, humorous style. Caple and Buckley opt for the latter.

The book (which was sent to me by the publisher) includes debates about the Celtics, Bruins, Patriots, and Boston sports in general. However, since I'm a one-sport guy -- and more than half of the questions involve the Red Sox -- I'll stick to the baseball portion.

While some of the questions are of a very recent vintage -- Is Johnny Damon A Traitor? Did The Red Sox Give Nomar Garciaparra The Bum's Rush? -- most of them involve the standard historical debates: greatest clutch performer, biggest villain, most important season, best pitcher, all-time team, most memorable pitch, greatest game, lowest moment, most bonehead front office decision, etc.

The "answers" to each of the 100 questions are no more than 2-3 pages (and some of the questions are not answered definitively at all). Caple and Buckley write as one voice; space limitations probably prevented them from disagreeing with each other in print.

The book is entertaining -- Did Don Zimmer Have It Coming?, Who's Had A Better Career, Ben Affleck Or Lou Merloni?, Was Freezing Ted Williams All That Crazy? -- but it doesn't offer much actual analysis (or give you much ammo to argue your case).

When asking "Who Was The Best Pitcher In Red Sox History?", Caple and Buckley base their argument almost solely on wins -- a horrible way to gauge a pitcher's importance. They barely mention ERA or the time period in which the various pitchers pitched and how that affected their numbers. In the end, they admit their top choice "may not have been as dominant" as the runner-up.

Caple and Buckley get cheers for Question #45 -- which is presented as a statement: "Why 'The Curse' Is The Biggest Joke In the History Of The Universe". However, they also call the CHB's error-filled book "a must-read" and try to convince us that he's not to blame for the Curse's popularity. When it comes to whether Shaughnessy milked the Curse and pimped his book in his columns and TV appearances for more than a decade, there is no debate.

I liked their choice for the one Boston game they would go back in time to attend (it's a Red Sox game). They also explain what the Red Sox really meant by what became known as "closer by committee", though they fail to mention the Shithead who couldn't figure out this simple theory.

According to Caple and Buckley, Wade Boggs is the 2nd best hitter in Sox history, Carlton Fisk deserves more blame than Ed Armbrister, .406 is more impressive than 56, Dent hurt worse than Boone, the greatest Sox game also included the greatest Sox home run, John Goodman's "Babe" is the 5th best Boston sports movie, and the biggest hit in team history was a bunt single.

Of those seven conclusions, I strongly disagree with at least four of them. Let the arguments continue!

(Sourcebooks has also published similar books for New York and Chicago.)

Who The Hell Is Jason Jaritik?

Daisuke Matsuzaka threw in the Red Sox's first bullpen session of the spring today. He threw 40-plus pitches at what he said was 60-70% of his normal velocity.

Throwing alongside Dice were Tim Wakefield, Jonathan Papelbon, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Hideki Okajima.

In the caption to one of its camp photos, the Herald refers to Sox catcher "Jason Jaritik".

Jon Lester got the go-ahead from the club to take part in all of the pitchers' drills. "That's all I ask, really. Even if they did hold me back, I wouldn't want to be held out. If they do three (running) laps and I do two or whatever, I just want to be a part of the team. I didn't want to be excluded completely."

Gordon Edes writes about Curt Schilling's Hall of Fame chances. ... Tony Massarotti chuckles at the rough start to the Yankees' spring. ... Hey, have you heard that the Red Sox pitchers trust Jason Varitek? It's true! Not sure how they feel about Jaritik.

February 17, 2007

Nowhere To Go But Up For Beckett

The main story in today's papers is Josh Beckett.

He led the club with 16 victories last year, but that was a fairly hollow achievement. While Beckett stayed healthy and pitched a career-high (and team-high) 204.2 innings, he also allowed a career-worst 74 walks and 36 home runs (his previous HR high had been 16) and ended the season with a bloated 5.01 ERA. (On the plus side, he had a 1.286 OPS!)

In the papers, Beckett talks about telling Daisuke Matsuzaka to trust Jason Varitek, but for long stretches last year, Beckett seemingly did not trust Varitek at all. He was uncertain about throwing his breaking stuff, and relied too heavily on his fastball. Which was often knocked all over the lot.

Wily Mo Pena and the Sox agreed on a $1.875 million contract for 2007. Theo Epstein said they "reached a last-minute settlement on the courthouse steps" before the arbitration hearing. Francona: "He can play left field, center field and right field, so every time someone needs a rest or is nicked up, he's going to get at-bats."

Francona said he was surprised to hear the news of Keith Foulke's retirement. Beckett was not:
He was so miserable last year. ... My locker was right next to his last year. I knew he was dying inside. I think his elbow, I think his back, and his knees [were hurting him]. I think his knees were just killing him. He couldn't walk, he couldn't run. And pitching was just a pain in his butt.
Manny Delcarmen tried to dye his hair blond, but it ended up orange.

February 16, 2007


Tim Brosnan, MLB's vice-president of business:
We offer the following assurances to our fans: Any deal for the Major League Baseball's Extra Innings subscription package, when concluded, will in no way affect a single fan's ability to watch games of his home club in his home market. ... a subscription package of out-of-market games will continue to be available to a broad segment of our fan base through either MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV, its broadband counterpart.
Hey, Tim: Fuuuuuuuck you.

The whole idea behind subscribing to EI is to watch out-of-market games. Red Sox fans in Massachusetts don't worry about getting EI because they watch NESN. Red Sox fans in New York City need EI and they don't give a damn about being reassured that the Yankees and Mets will be on local TV every night.

How fucking dumb can MLB get?

(As SoSHer Joe D Reid put it: "It's as though someone complained to the police that their car had been stolen, and the cops responded by assuring the person that they still had their house and their bike.")

And yes, Tim, we are well aware of MLB.TV and that we may purchase it if we desire. But the quality sucks and we don't like watching games on our computers. Plus, as I have pointed out before, a Red Sox fan living in California will be SOL with MLB.TV.

Games at Fenway will start at 4 PM PST, while said Red Sox fan is at work. The games cannot be recorded. So Red Sox fans on the west coast -- assuming they get home from work at 6 PM and head straight to the computer -- will miss the first 6-7 innings of well over half the team's games all season. If they have dinner with their family first, well, there's always the final box score to look at.

Very reassuring.

Keith Foulke Retires

Only one month after signing a one-year deal with Cleveland, Keith Foulke has decided to retire. He pitched 10 seasons years for the Giants, White Sox, A's and Red Sox.

Almost everyone on the roster helped in some way to the 2004 World Series championship, but few stood higher than Foulke. Back on December 8, I posted this:

Without his amazing bullpen work, that glorious October would have been yet another Yankee nightmare. In the process of bringing us what we wished for all our lives, he likely ruined his career:
                IP  H  R  BB  K  PIT
ALDS 1 10/05
ALDS 2 10/06 - 1.1 0 0 0 2 14
ALDS 3 10/08 - 1.2 2 0 1 3 37
ALCS 1 10/12 - .1 0 0 0 0 5
ALCS 2 10/13 - .2 0 0 1 1 17
ALCS 3 10/16
ALCS 4 10/17 - 2.2 0 0 2 3 50
ALCS 5 10/18 - 1.1 1 0 1 0 22
ALCS 6 10/19 - 1.0 0 0 2 2 28
ALCS 7 10/20
WS 1 10/23 - 1.2 2 0 1 3 36
WS 2 10/24 - 1.1 0 0 0 2 19
WS 3 10/26 - 1.0 1 1 0 2 14
WS 4 10/27 - 1.0 1 0 0 1 14

11 of 14 gms 14.0 7 1 8 19 256 (0.64)
In ALCS 4-5-6 -- a span of only 48 hours -- Foulke pitched 5 innings and threw 100 pitches.

Matsuzaka Meets The Press

From Daisuke Matsuzaka's first spring training press conference (which included more than 120 Japanese journalists):

I'm not sure if my expression shows, but I am very proud of where I am right now. My training in Southern California was very fruitful. It worked out very well. That is a contributing factor. The atmosphere is making me feel like I can have fun.
I would love to pitch a fastball, that will be my first ball. I would like my first batter, if he is listening, please try not to hit the ball.
When Nomo started playing, I was in junior high. For me, who wanted to play in the big leagues some day, the first game was very shocking, very impressive. I remember it clearly. For that I will be playing my best so all young players in Japan who are dreaming of being professional can look up to me.
I have received a lot of expectations all my life, but I always remembered the most important thing is to play ball and have fun. ... The scale of the contract does not determine how I play baseball. I feel responsibility, but I am not pressured.
I knew this question was coming today [barely suppressing a giggle]. And I was preparing some optional answers for this particular question. Should I say I can pitch that ball? Or I could say, which particular ball are you referring to? Or which ball are you calling a gyroball? Overall, if I have the chance, I will pitch that ball.

Rivera Asked About Sox

A New York Post reporter asked Mariano Rivera if he might be the Red Sox's closer in 2008.

"You never know."

Derek Jeter: "Mo ain't going nowhere. Mo will be right here next year. Where is he going to go? I am just kidding. I really don't know his situation."

Jeter may have been joking, but he might want to have a quick chat with David "Pedro Ain't Going To No Mets" Ortiz.

In other MFY news, Steve Swindal, George Steinbrenner's son-in-law and designated successor to run the EE, was arrested at 4:26 AM on Thursday for suspicion of driving under the influence.

February 15, 2007

Drew On Roster; DiNardo Claimed By A's

J.D. Drew was finally added to the 40-man roster -- and lefty Lenny DiNardo was claimed off waivers by the Oakland A's and added to their major league roster.

DiNardo, 27, was on the DL last season for three months with neck problems and posted a 7.85 ERA in 13 games for the Red Sox. Boston has three lefties on its roster (Javier Lopez, Hideki Okajima, J.C. Romero) and DiNardo was never much of a LOOGY anyway. He should many more opportunities to pitch in Oakland.

Goodbye and best wishes to another member of the 2004 Red Sox. (More here.)

February 14, 2007

Dice In Camp

Daisuke Matsuzaka has arrived He drove a black Cadillac Escalade into the parking lot at City of Palms Park yesterday at exactly 12:01 p.m.


And now I'm off to shovel out my driveway again. We got about a foot of snow last night and it's still coming down.

February 13, 2007

Dice's Arrival, Pap's Curve, Lester's Bubble

Daisuke Matsuzaka was mobbed at the Tampa International Airport yesterday by 17 photographers, 10 TV cameras and about a dozen reporters -- nearly all from Japanese outlets.

Jonathan Papelbon is resurrecting his curveball. He threw 35-40 pitches yesterday.
Last year it was fastball, slider, split and I'm going to incorporate the curveball this year to give hitters another look. ... Nothing feels out of whack, so I'm going to keep it going. ... Right now, [closing] is not really a possibility. All I'm focused on is getting ready to be in the rotation, getting my arm strength back and getting my pitch count back up.
Jon Lester also threw yesterday:
Just getting out of the house was good. I was kind of in a bubble there for a while, but it's kind of nice right now to kind of live life and not worry about where I go, who I'm around, if they have a cold or not, or washing my hands all the time. ... I think once these guys show up and see the weight is back on, I'm in shape, I'm doing all my work, I'm running, I feel good, then I think everything will be back to normal. But until that happens, I think they're going to talk about being cautious.
I didn't expect him to look that good. It's amazing, man, after all he went through [six rounds of chemotherapy]. He looked like the same old Jonny.
Tidbits from Tony Massarotti's Monday Herald chat:
Lester will likely start at Triple AAA - Sox will bring him along slowly ... bet on midseason

Sox are planning between 400-500 ABs for Wily Mo

Timlin is a middle reliever now - will have to regain status as setup

Dice man should start as no. 3 starter ... will pitch second Fenway game - on April 11

I'd bet on [Delcarmen] over Hansen, but we'll see

Clement done for year, probably

Exit Sandman?

Mariano Rivera, 37, will be a free agent after this season. When asked about a possible contract extension, he said:
If they want to talk, we're willing to listen. ... Definitely I want to finish my career here, but if they don't give the respect that I deserve, I have to move on.
Sounds familiar. (A few years back, Rivera talked about retiring after this contract and becoming a preacher.) It'll be interesting to see how this plays out in the New York media.

Letting Rivera get to the free-agent pool could drown the Yankees. Especially if the Red Sox haven't figured out their suspect closer situation before the end of the World Series. And it's not like the Yankees have a closer-in-waiting.
John Harper of the Daily News calls Rivera the Yankees' "most indispensable player throughout the Joe Torre era, more vital to their four championships than Derek Jeter or anybody else" (I agree):
This doesn't seem like a tough one. Until there is some solid evidence that age is stealing the late life from Mariano Rivera's famous cutter, he gets whatever he wants, right? ...

The old adage in baseball has always been that it is better to trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late, and it has come to apply to handing out multiyear contracts in the free agent era.

But if ever there was an exception, it's the guy the Yankees endearingly call "Mo." ... They need to write him a check, whatever the amount, and be happy he didn't ask for more.
Joel Sherman, Post:

[T]he Yankees are more than ever applying cold logic to the decision-making process. They are not going to give up 25- and 40-man roster spots as thank yous for greatness in the rearview mirror. They are not going to dole out millions for appreciation of championships past. ...

Rivera missed more than three weeks late last season with a muscle strain near his elbow. In general, closers usually have very short shelf lives, and, thus, Rivera is way beyond his expiration date anyway. ...

The Yanks have the leverage of knowing Rivera - like Williams - does not want to play anywhere else, regardless of what he might say. They also know, if they must, they can always outspend any competitor to retain Rivera.

So the Yanks are going to use the leverage. They are going to make their most vital player of the last decade prove that he is healthy and still dominant.

February 12, 2007

Dave Roberts

Why Dave Roberts? Why not Dave Roberts?

Red at Surviving G*%@y wonders:
Is there anyone who has been on the Red Sox for a shorter period of time yet is more beloved than Dave Roberts? If the guy was kept in Boston for the 2005 season and beyond, he'd have been living in a world of "free rounds for life." Seriously, what kind of a man would ask Dave Roberts to pay for a pint of beer? No kind of man at all.
He's a permanent citizen of that world if you ask me. He's in my Top 5 Sox players -- easily -- maybe Top 3.

A few days ago, Mike at Inside The Monster (who loves Manny like I do) posted video of Alex Cora's 18-pitch at-bat against Matt Clement (!) a few years back. Even with all the between-pitches stuff edited out, it's still over three minutes long.

Video Bonus: seeing the future thief of the Greatest Stolen Base In History on the Dodgers bench.

Blue Skies, Green Grass, Golden Dirt

Charles Steinberg:
To me, anybody who lives in a cold weather climate looks forward to any sign of spring. If you're a little bit more southern, it might be the first robin. But up here, when you see that truck marked Boston Red Sox and you allow yourself to still feel like you did when you were 10 years old and you know that in a couple of days you're going to see pitchers and catchers throwing under blue skies and on green grass and with golden dirt. ...

For the 10-year-olds and for those who used to be 10 years old, this is a big day. It's a legitimately big day, because it lifts your spirit.
Truck photos here and here. The Globe has shots of Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Josh Beckett, who all threw today in Fort Myers. Also in camp is 23-year-old catcher George Kottaras (from nearby Scarborough, Ontario!).

Papelbon also shared his duck recipe with Amalie Benjamin -- something to try on the grill this summer before one of his starts, perhaps. Benjamin has posted two reports to Extra Bases.

It's a game of numbers: Lester will wear #31 this year, Manny Delcarmen switched to #17, and Kyle Snyder is now #39. On MLB's roster page, J.D. Drew has been assigned Nixon's #7.

February 11, 2007

Not Much Uncertainty About Roster

Even before the Truck leaves Yawkey Way, the Opening Day roster is pretty much set. Barring injuries, here are 24 of the 25 players who will be in Kansas City on April 2:
Julio Lugo, SS
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
David Ortiz, DH
Manny Ramirez, LF
J.D. Drew, RF
Mike Lowell, 3B
Jason Varitek, C
Coco Crisp, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B

Alex Cora
Eric Hinske
Doug Mirabelli
Wily Mo Pena

Josh Beckett
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Jonathan Papelbon
Curt Schilling
Tim Wakefield

Brendan Donnelly
Hideki Okajima
Joel Pineiro
J.C. Romero
Julian Tavarez
Mike Timlin
The last spot in the pen will likely be either Manny Delcarmen or Craig Hansen.

I wonder if there is any chance of the Sox playing Ortiz at 1B every so often to give Manny a chance to DH and help his knees (Yook to 3B, Crisp to LF, Pena in CF)?

Gordon Edes asks: "What are the spring's 10 most compelling story lines?" ... Ian Browne poses nine questions.

Pitching coach John Farrell: "We feel initially the closer will emerge from four right-handers" -- Pineiro, Donnelly, Timlin and Tavarez. ... Terry Francona would love to have kept Papelbon as the closer, but "we have to respect the medical people's advice."

Tavarez suffered a mildly sprained right ankle (or maybe only a minor bruise) last Monday while pitching for the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean World Series.

Pedroia: "Right now, I'm about 172 [pounds]. Last year, I was 195 at the beginning of camp. ... I haven't been this excited in my whole life. I just want to get to spring training and let out all the hard work I have put in. I can't wait for it."

The Globe's Amalie Benjamin checked out the Red Sox's baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.

February 9, 2007

Monday Is Truck Day

The Red Sox's equipment truck will leave Fenway Park on Monday at 1:00 PM.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is expected in Fort Myers on Monday, but his workouts will be out of public view until Thursday.

Don Orsillo has signed a multi-year contract extension with NESN. While Announcer Boy does a fine job, I wish he did a little more than repeat the tidbits from that night's press notes and act as Remy's straight man.

The Globe's Nick Cafardo writes that "Manny Ramirez's frame of mind" is something the team needs to address and adds:
Though Ramirez came to spring training in a good mood last year after potential deals with the Orioles, Mets, and Angels fell through, Francona will likely have to contend with Manny being Manny again.
Why? If it wasn't an issue in 2006, why would it "likely" be an issue in 2007? Cafardo doesn't come close to answering that question.

On The Newsstand

The first sign of spring.

S&S predicts the Red Sox (after a first place finish in the East) will win the 2007 World Series, defeating the Dodgers. (FU, Gump!)

Also purchased today were preview magazines from Athlon, Lindy's, and The Sporting News. I'll be posting some nuggets soon.

February 2, 2007

Jon Lester In Camp

Jon Lester arrived in Fort Myers on Wednesday.
I'm going to take it slow for a couple of weeks as I transition from the cooler weather up at home [Seattle] but after that I should be ready to go. I'm aiming for as soon as possible.
Other early arrivals in camp are pitchers Kason Gabbard and Chris Smith, 1B Ian Bladergroen, 2B Jeff Natalie and SS Jed Lowrie.

Here is some spring training info: Pitchers and catchers will report on February 16. Position players are due on February 20. The first full-squad workout is February 22.

Boston's first Grapefruit game is against the Twins on February 28. Opening Day is April 2 in Kansas City and the Fenway opener is the 7th game of the season, April 10 against Seattle.


An exception to my anti-advertising-on-blogs stance:

According to SoSHer mpjc: "The slogan that comes on screen means: 'I want to fight against the nemesis I have not met.'"

Matsuzaka says he will be at camp in Fort Myers on February 12.