The dean, the truth, and how to avoid looking a whole lot worse

August 22nd, 2006 → 1:08 pm @ // 11 Comments

For decades, Bob Ryan has been referred to as the dean of Boston sportswriting. Most of his renown has come from his writing on the Celtics — and deservedly so — but today he shows why he’s worth reading on almost any subject. His column, titled “Warning: These truths may hurt,” does a better job of encapsulating the disappointment with the 2006 Red Sox than almost anything I’ve read.

Ryan’s critiques can be more or less summed up as follows:

* The absence of a legitimate number 5 hitter
* The loss of Johnny Damon
* The disappointment of Coco Crisp
* The enigma that is Josh Beckett
* The failure of the bullpen
* The absence of a lefty reliever

I think Ryan’s right-on, both not only because these are obvious problems but because they’re all the result of legitimately second-guessable decisions. Unlike folks who were in favor of the Arroyo-Wily Mo deal when it happened, opposed to it when Arroyo put up ridiculous first-half numbers, and in favor of it during those first several weeks of August, Ryan’s raising serious concerns that could have (and perhaps should have) been addressed.

Ryan also points out – as Nick Cafardo did yesterday — the very real monetary difference between New York and Boston. (There are those who think that’s simply a result of the Sox’s pecuniary conservatism; I disagree, but that’s a topic for another day. Don’t worry: that day will come soon.) In spite of this, Ryan argues that Yankees are – dare I say it – a fun team. A team that, for those non-Red Sox fans out there, it’s pretty easy to root for. As painful as it is to admit it, it’s hard not to agree. Putting aside the question of buying a trip to the playoffs, the Yankees – from Melky Cabrera to Robinson Cano to Jeter to Damon to Williams to Mariano – are oddly appealing, Cabrera and Cano because they’re youngsters coming up big; Mariano and Bernie because they’re vets still plugging away; Jeter because he’s one of the fiercest competitors out there; and Damon because he’s growing a porn-star mustache and still loves his naked pull-ups. (Sheffield, Johnson, and A-Rod are most definitely not appealing; Dumbo, er Posada, is on the fence.)

But Ryan’s most crucial point comes towards the end of his column. He writes:

“The truth is that this is not a good time to be Theo Epstein. For two years running, he has been unable to construct a viable pitching rotation. (We haven’t mentioned Matt Clement, a very nice guy; no one is in a hurry to see him come back, because it’s clear he wasn’t cut out for Boston.) Theo was cut one year of afterglow slack, but overheated fans, already in a bloodthirsty mood, are downright rebellious now that the Yankees have humiliated their team with a five-game sweep. …

“The truth is that in this perverted sports climate, the other team is never just allowed to be better, even for a day, let alone a series or a season. No, no. Blame must be affixed. Heads must be severed.

“Once upon a time, losing brought a brief period of sorrow. Now it brings rage. The rest of the season, I fear, will not be much fun.

“The truth is we need to sit down and figure out what sports are all about. We’ve lost our way.”

Amen to that, brother. This is baseball, folks. This is a game in which senior citizens are asked to put on unflattering uniforms if they want to manage. The Sox have clearly made some mistakes and miscalculations; they’ve also had a lot of success. It sucked ass to lose five-straight to the Yankees. It sucked so much even my friends who are Yankees fans feel bad for me. But let’s not let a disappointing season result in hate mongering. It’s not going to make anyone feel any better. And it’ll make Red Sox fans look a lot worse.


Post Categories: Bob Ryan & Red Sox Fans

11 Comments → “The dean, the truth, and how to avoid looking a whole lot worse”


  1. greperry

    11 years ago

    I just emailed a friend telling him I was speechless about this lost weekend. But Bob Ryan says it all for me anyways.

    You are absolutely correct. Ryan’s article is not only knowledgable concerning these woebegone 2006 Red Sox, but, maybe more importantly, wise about baseball’s rightful place in life in general.

    Hey it’s only a game. Sheer entertainment. And anyways, we’ll always have 2004. Here’s looking at you, 2006.

    Reply

  2. Red Stitches

    11 years ago

    The centerpiece of the attacks is accusations the Sox are sacrificing ’06 season for the future, and subsequently much is being made of the reliance on rookie pitching to anchor the bullpen. But if you go back to the beginning of the season, it’s clear that was not the plan:

    1. TAVEREZ: Coming off two very solid seasons. A groundball specialist who could take advantage of the Sox’s greatly improved infield defense.

    2. SEANZ: Two straight seasons in which he finally stayed healthy enough to pitch consistently (46 & 60 IP), all while compiling an insanely impressive 130K/41BB.

    3. FOULKE: Prior to ’05, agruably the best relief pitcher over a five year span (statheads vote Foulke, traditionalists scream Rivera). ’05 was largely blamed on the knees Keith stupidly refused to have operated on in the offseason, and a particularly nasty divorce. WIth the divorce and operation well in the rear view mirror, a refocused Foulke reporting to camp having sufferred from leg, not ARM, problems — there was reason to believe that once the rust was shaken off he’d return to form.

    4. TIMLIN: A consistent rock in the pen for three straight seasons for Boston. Like Taverez, Timlin’s ability force grounders would be an even greater asset with Gonzalez and Lowell now on the left side of the infield.

    5. PAPELBON: The ’05 rookie was the only guy who could get anybody out in the late innings toward the end of the year. The move to the rotation was inevitable, but the FO was a clear believer in breaking in young starters by keeping their IP low by spot starting and being a jack of all trades in the pen.

    6. MOTA, who became RISKE in the Coco Crisp deal: Mota was showing signs of regaining his dominance in his return at the end of ’05. Riske continued to maintain a very low ERA, despite a declining K rate.

    With consistency in the year to year performance of relief pitchers being the worst bet in baseball, it seem safe to assume at least two of the above six pitchers could anchor the back end of a well above average bullpen, while two of the six could supply useful IP. The stable of young studs (Lester, Declaremen, Van Buren, & Hansen) were always seen as adrenline shots to give a sagging August pen. Hard throwing kids with electric stuff, unfamiliar to the league, to rejuvenate and add depth when most contenders are contemplating trading top prospects for 2nd tier relievers.

    Well… Taverez, Seanz, Foulke, & Riske all severely bombed, while Timlin pitched well until his shoulder started bothering him. Injuries hit the Boston Starters hard, and Lester was forced to make the jump to the rotation, instead of following in Papelbon’s ’05 footsteps of being called up to spot start and strengthen the pen.

    Building bullpens is a gamble, and Theo bet red nine straight spins of the wheel, needing to win three, ideally four, times… but won only once … and actually that’s not even fair. The kids did do what they were intended to — develop in the minors, get called up, and ad a spark. But when more than a spark was needed, they could no longer rely simply on their electric arms, and their vulnerabilities and baseball immaturity was revealed. To add gas to the fire, during a late August penant race the youngsters sage rock (Varitek) would be replaced by a catcher Greg Maddux found impossible to work with (Lopez).

    A baseball GM’s short term success, much like that of an investor, involves a healthy amount of luck. The long run, of course, is different. In an offseason that saw BJ Ryan sign for 5yr/47million, Farnsworth get a 3yr/18 million deal, and the Cubs commit 9 yrs/39 million to Dempster, Eyre, & Howry — the Red Sox did amazingly well to build a dynamic pen, with plenty of contingency plans, without having to commit much in the way of future dollars to relief pitching (the worse investment in baseball). In retrospect, it goes without saying Theo and crew made bets that turned out bad. Sox fans should be thankful that unlike the plethora of other bad bets place annually on relief pitching, Theo’s roll of the dice was almost entirely done with ’06 money, with an eye toward the future success of the organization — which is quite different than selling out ’06 for ’08.

    Reply

  3. gmschmidty

    11 years ago

    Now if only Sean McAdam had a chance to read that article before he put out the slanderous rant against Manny (the guy who had an .850 OBP in the series, of all people.) I typically love McAdam, but what an excellent example of two very different journalistic approaches: a professional, and thoughtful one from Ryan, and a regrettable, reactionary one from McAdam. For shame Sean! (for those of you who are unaware of what I mean, see this link: http://www.projo.com/redsox/content/projo_20060822_22sean.31fb41d.html or just listen to McAdam and his buddies self promote this nonsense on EEI.)

    Geoffrey

    Reply

  4. CT

    11 years ago

    This “season” is not over for Theo Epstein.

    Less than 24 hours from now Daniel Bard may step into an North Carolina classroom and we will lose the rights to one of our 2006 first round draft picks. In fact, we would be the only team this year to not sign our first round pick.

    How exactly does that mesh with the long term plan?

    Reply

  5. CursedNoMore

    11 years ago

    I disagree with Bob Ryan on two points:

    1)The absence of a legitimate number 5 hitter
    2)The disappointment of Coco Crisp

    First of all, Trot Nixon is a legitimate number-5 hitter. Want proof? NEVER will a right-handed pitcher (Nixon only bats fifth against righties) intentionally walk Manny Ramirez to face Trot Nixon. That is just not going to happen, as it did this past weekend when both Kevin Youkilis and Javy Lopez batted fifth. Despite his reduced power numbers this season, Nixon was projecting higher than his career numbers in both AVG (.294 to .280) and OBP (.396 to .369). On top of that, he has a history of being a dangerous hitter, capable of crushing any fastball or offspeed mistake, and every manager in the game (those who decide who to walk intentionally) knows this about him. Personally, I think Nixon is better suited as a number-3 hitter, mostly due to his patience (he’s more likely to get on base than clear them), whereas Ortiz seems like a more logical number-5 hitter based on the composition of this team (and for those history revisionists who think Ortiz is a hapless slap hitter without Manny hitting behind him, I suggest you consult the 2004 playoff box scores when he had Kevin Millar and Jason Varitek “protecting” him). The point is this: if Nixon was in the lineup, Manny does not get intentionally walked. If you don’t believe that, ask Terry Francona or Theo Epstein, and they’ll tell us as much. If forcing a team to pitch to Manny, despite reduced power numbers, doesn’t make someone a legitimate number-5 hitter, than nothing does.

    Secondly, Coco Crisp is not a disappointment. Instead, he is another example of unrealistic expectations (much like Edgar Renteria, who was slightly below his career averages, at least from an offensive standpoint). Based on numbers of games played, Coco WAS on pace for his career averages in just about every meaningful statistical category until the Yankees came to town, and he still has six weeks left to make a modest surge to get there to improve his AVG (from .268 to .284), OBP (from .319 to .330), his SLG (from .386 to .418) and his OPS (from .705 to .748).

    Finally, this Red Sox team is not good enough to win any playoff series, but they might just get there yet. As of right now, they have only 13 more games (6 at home) with legitimate playoff contenders — Yankees, Tigers, White Sox, Twins or A’s — whereas the White Sox have 18 (with only 6 at home) and the Twins have 19 (10 at home).

    Reply

  6. trane

    11 years ago

    Having only read as much of the Ryan piece as is featured here, I’ve heard enough of this, “It’s only a game” reaction to this weekend’s horror (almost as much as I object to the “At least we have ’04 reaction). Was it only a game when we won four in a row to beat the ’04 Yanks in seven. Did anyone stop in mid celebration and say, “Whoa. Let’s take it down a notch, people. It’s only a game”? I watch every night. I talk about the team with friends and relatives. I go to the games, buy the swag, wear the hats. So now that they’ve been violated by the enemy, I’m supposed to stop all that? “The Red Sox? I don’t care about them anymore since the Yankees kicked the door shut on our season. It’s only a game.” Please.

    Sox fans don’t have a right to rage, but disappointment? Sure. Disappointment and shame. The losses were that excruciating. Measured, intelligent posts like the one above by Red Stitches make me feel better about Theo’s offseason moves, but still leave me scratching my head about the FO’s refusal to do ANYTHING to help this bullpen at or before the deadline. And even had these games been played in a vacuum, with all off field moves disregarded, the lack of heart and brains shown by just about everyone in a Red Sox uniform this weekend — coaches and players alike – was ugly and dispicable. If it’s suddenly unacceptable for me to have these feelings about the sports teams I follow, then it really is time to examine what sports means to me.

    Reply

  7. mkp

    11 years ago

    Ryan makes valid points, but I think the failure of the bullpen to pick up the starters or hold reasonable leads must be emphasized. In fact, going back to the loss to Cleveland on 8/1, there have been only 2 losses where the bullpen did not give up the eventual winning runs: the Beckett debacle on 8/3 and Schilling’s loss to KC, which occurred because Tito did not trust his middle relief after a futile road trip.

    In every other loss, including this weekend, every time a Sox starter left the game it was either with a lead/tie, or with the team within 2 runs (1 run in most cases). The relievers were not able to hold down the opposition in any of these cases. Moreover, in each case the Sox offense ended up scoring the 2 runs that would have tied or gained the lead had the relief corps done their job. If the pen had been able to come through in half of these situations, we would be 12-8 in Aug instead of 6-14. In general the offense has not been a problem, which is amazing considering the miniscule contributions by the CF and C and decline from the 3B and 1B spots during August.

    There is no mystery why the OTT is struggling: a systematic failure by the bullpen to maintain a lead or to let the offense get back in the game is to blame. That is why Timlin’s comments last week re the offense were so laughable, since not only are they pointedly false, but he in particular coughed up the ERs which led to 4 losses this month.

    While being able to pinpoint the team’s primary shortcoming is good, it is discouraging that at this late stage the only way to fix this is for the relievers to sort themselves out. If Foulke stays strong, Timlin can keep the ball down and his head out of his ass, and one other reliever (MDC, Corey?) can step up, we actually have a chance even if the starting pitching stays at its current (low) level, provided the offense continues as it has been.

    On the other hand, 2007 looks much more hopeful, since Hansen, MDC, and Lester have proven that they have good arms — they need to show that they can pitch and locate during the course of a 6 month MLB season. Funnily enough, this may be the case with Beckett also. He is 26, and coincidentally enough, his stunningly straight, yet exceedingly quick fastball is very similar to what Schilling was producing at that young age. If he can learn to spot it like Schill, well, results closer to Beckett’s first 4 starts rather than the last 4 will hopefully be the norm.

    Reply

  8. jterran

    11 years ago

    The Yankees are not profitable, but the billion-dollar stadium will bail them out in ’09…

    GM Cashman says Yankees losing money

    Wow $$

    Reply

  9. HFXBOB

    11 years ago

    Ryan’s article today was excellent, one of the best things he’s written in a while, which points out an odd paradox: the more gruesome the event the better the writing about it. In his article of the previous day Ryan closed off by saying ‘please don’t embarrass yourself by referencing 2004’. I’m not sure exactly how he meant that but I’m hearing things that suggest some people feel the current fiasco has negated the achievements of 2004. I hope that any true fan who feels that way will eventually get their perspective back and realize it doesn’t quite work that way. If they don’t realize it it’s probably because they were only one of the Nouveaux Red Sox Nation to begin with. Maybe that’s one of the good things about this, we’ll be free of the bandwagon-jumpers again.

    Personally I’m keeping a cool head and putting everything in perspective by reciting the following facts over and over:

    1) Jeter and Rivera can’t play forever.
    2) Torre can’t manage forever.
    3) Steinbrenner can’t live forever.

    Reply

  10. magnetichf

    11 years ago

    the really interesting thing about all of this is that it forces us to consider our perspective on terms like “good” and “great”.

    there are just 6 teams in baseball with more wins than the sox. the sox have scored more runs than any team in baseball except the yankees. despite an extremely large payroll disparity, the sox only had 1 win less than the yankees before this past weekend’s disasterous series. isn’t this evidence that the sox at least merit consideration as a “good” team, if far short of “great”?

    most teams in the major leagues would love to have our financial resources, our lineup, and even a few of our pitchers. the organization has used these assests to once again field a competitive team that, reports to the contrary, is not dead yet. i’m not arguing that the sox will win it all (or win anything, for that matter) in ’06. what i’m suggesting is a possible case of mis-placed expectations.

    i heard a lot of talk about the sox getting a “grace period” after ’04. i scoffed then and i scoff now. i knew as a new england-native, life-long fan(victim) of this team that there would be no grace period. sure, maybe among the more casual fans who don’t pay that much attention to begin with. but the die-hards? forget it. winning it once means you can (should) win it again. weren’t we just spoiled for 4 years by the patriots? oh, and how happy do you think pats fans were the season after the first super bowl victory, when the team failed to make the playoffs? about as happy as sox fans are now.

    we’re sox fans because we don’t want to be marlins fans. we don’t want to root for a team that strikes gold every few years, interspersed with fire sales and losing records. we want a team we can get behind year in and year out.

    here’s the thing about that: we share a division with the freest-spending franchise in american pro sports. it sucks, but there’s no point whining about it. and i think we as fans underestimate the impact that has on the sox organization. yes, the sox still have one of the largest payrolls in the game. but let’s not forget that the disparity between our payroll and NY’s is about the same as the disparity between our payroll and pittsburgh’s.

    could the front office spend more money than they do? could they match the yankees dollar for dollar? maybe. perhaps even probably. but they’ve made the decision not to. they’ve made the decision to operate within a budget, a budget that, no matter how much smaller it may be than NY’s, is still sizable by any other measure. and it shows; we’ve been to the playoffs the past 3 seasons and won it all one of those years (that’s one more than the yankees have managed since ’00, i might add).

    so you think the sox should have “gone all out” this year? mortgaged the farm? as we’ve all seen, the yankees have demonstrated this century that attempting to buy your way to a championship every season is far from a sure thing.

    eric wilbur actually said something insightful in his column today, talking about the sox not pulling the trigger on abreu and his hefty contract at the trading deadline:

    “To make a deal that will cost that much is to be handcuffed by the Yankees, the exact problem this team is trying to get away from by developing its own core of talent.”

    why would this team get into a spending war with a franchise that has already shown us the capriciousness of trying to buy a championship? i believe in a combination of veteran talent and home-grown kids. that too, however, is a recipe that does not always guarantee success. because there is no guarantee of success in sports. maybe the problem is with our definition of “success”.

    Reply

  11. Retire_Number_14

    11 years ago

    Sox pitchers, young and old. A layman’s report card:

    Craig Hansen: Few young pitchers straight out of college make it to the majors just two or three months after being drafted in June, which is what Hansen did in 2005 with marginal success. The fact is, most pitchers with his raw ability at his age who lack a genuine set of three Major League pitches are ready to pitch in the majors. A 96-mph fastball is one thing. Hansen lacks a second, God forbid a third, pitch that can get hitters out consistently. The slider has shown improvement, but Hansen will need another offspeed pitch to augment his repertoire, which quite frankly is AA material. He needs more time in the minors, and could have benefitted from a whole year in Portland or Pawtucket. Injuries and ineffectiveness prevented that.

    Manny Delcarmen: See Hansen. Raw stuff is good but Manny is a year away. Judging by his poise, he should be a contributing member to the bullpen in 2007, but I would like to see better consistency from the curveball to go along with his hard stuff.

    Jon Lester: Another young pitcher thrust into the rotation too soon, however the decision to do so was made for the team due to injuries to the regular starters. Lester has the makeup and the repertoire to compete at this level, but needs to develop a little more strength and endurance, because 89-90 mph is very hittable. He does, however, have secondary pitches that can get hitters out, but has not consistently thrown them for strikes. If he can overcome his allergy to the strike zone and lack of aggressiveness, he should be able to consistently go seven innings per outing. Remember that this is the pitcher who the teams envisions as its future, and was the main reason no big trades were done. If you threw Lester into the Crisp and Hansen for Andruw Jones, to be flipped to Houston for Oswalt, would that have been so bad? Have you ever seen Oswalt pitch? Has Theo?

    Jonathan Papelbon: Closer? Starter? Papelbon has the stuff and the fortitude to fill either role admirably. After an unconscious first half, he’s come down to Earth, but remains the top option in the Sox ‘pen. Would he and the team be better served with him in the rotation? Which role is most important? This will be one of the biggest decisions for the team this offseason, perhaps more than any acquisitions on the free-agent market.

    Julian Tavarez: A well-documented headcase, Tavarez has been one of the biggest disappointments for the team this year. His deadly moving fastball has been more of a hindrance than a weapon, and his control issues are evident with walks and hit batsmen. What the team will do with him should be interesting, given that he signed a two-year deal before this season. His stats said take a chance. Common sense should have said take a pass.

    Rudy Seanez: Injuries have prevented any team from getting an accurate read on Seanez, and when he put up monster numbers for the Pads last year, the Sox weren’t the only team to come calling. But how fat can a fastball get? Seanez has really grooved some 88 mph straight balls into hitters’ wheelhouses and I’m sure Francona sweated like a father giving his 17-year-old son the car keys each time he walked off the mound with Rudy set for warmup tosses. No longer the Sox’s problem, but he sure caused enough while he was here.

    Jermaine Van Buren: Sweaty Jermaine has had some good innings, some bad. He’s been about as good as the middle relief has had to offer this year, which is to say, bad. At least he’s got two pitches, a fastball and a breaking ball, which showed some glimpses of hope. Seems to work awfully hard for each out though, and with that delivery, expect him to ride the DL Express more than the T to Kenmore Square.

    Kyle Snyder: When you pick up Kansas City’s castoffs, your staff is either depleted by injuries, completely ineffective, or both. Despite this fact, Snyder’s actually been pretty good, has shown the ability to compete, and looked best in a long-relief role. He has pitched well enough to warrant an invitation to spring training next year.

    Jason Johnson: When you pick up Baltimore/Cleveland’s castoffs, your staff is either depleted by injuries, completely ineffective, or both. You had to like the fact that he wore number 18, though.

    Keith Foulke: If Theo activates the option year on his contract, then nothing I’ve written so far can be trusted. Foulke is on his way out of the door, friends. His heart isn’t in it, and hasn’t been since he flipped the ball to Mientckiewiecszski 22 months ago. Neither have his knees.

    David Wells: I think he can pitch another year. He’s obviously upset at going out like this, and his arm’s certainly fine. Can his knees bear the brunt for 30 starts? Will the Sox want to find out? Will any team take on the cantankerous Fat Man? I’m 50/50, and I never thought I’d ever say that.

    Mike Timlin: It was a good run, Mike. You were dependable for a long time for a lot of teams, but not everybody can pitch into their forties. Grady and Terry have worn him out, but one becomes a victim of one’s own success when one works in a bullpen. Enjoy the duck hunting next year, Mike.

    Tim Wakefield: Rubber-armed Tim finally acts his age and gets injured. Wake’s been a soldier for a long time, and his contributions of innings, quality innings, is desperately missed. But how long can you honestly say that the knuckleball is part of the business plan? Because that’s what it is: 20 percent of all games are left up to Wakefield’s manicure and the laws of physics. How long the team and Wake tango with their perpetual contract will be telling.

    Matt Clement: I can safely say that a line drive off the head might make me gun-shy. Is it still in his thoughts when he goes out there? Oh, sorry, he hasn’t pitched for months because of his, uh, what was that again? Oh yeah, his biceps. Clement is actually on the DL for a torn SOC (sense of confidence). What in the world will become of Matty next year, the last of his ill-fated 3-year deal?

    Javier Lopez: Are you telling me Mike Myers would not have signed with the team if given an offer? Seriously? I thought David Riske was nothing special either, but the team trades him for a guy they then stash in Pawtucket? Because the rest of the bullpen was doing the job and there was no room for him? Uhhh, this move was questionable.

    Curt Schilling: Old Man Schill’s got one more year humping on the mound before he becomes the most outspoken soccer daddy in Greater Boston. Winning the Series in 04 automatically gave him a raise and the fourth year option. Curt will compete, no doubt. And he may still remain the team’s ace unless ….

    Josh Beckett can come around. Whether it’s stubbornness or just stupidity, Beckett needs to learn how to get his $30 million arm to learn how to pitch and not just throw as hard as possible. Beckett’s solution lies within his head, he has the tools but not enough patience or knowledge to use them effectively.

    Kason Gabbard; David Pauley; Abe Alvarez; Craig Breslow; Bryan Corey; Lenny DiNardo: Thanks for playing! We have some lovely parting gifts for you in the lounge.

    Reply

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