More evidence of my good karma: the J.D. Drew files.

September 26th, 2007 → 10:16 am @

In the eight games since my September 16th post about the ongoing saga (and my defense) of J.D. Drew, the Sox’s much maligned right fielder has gone 7-for-25 with 2 doubles, 2 homers, and 6 RBIs. (That’s good for a hitting line of .280, .357, .643, .1.000.) That’s actually a fall-off from what he’s done overall in the month of September, in which his line reads .323, .443, .565, 1.008 with 3 HRs and 12 RBIs. Here’s one more way to slice this pie: in about 13 percent of the season’s games, he’s hit 30 percent of his home runs and racked up 20 percent of his ribbies.

Granted, that only works out to about 20 homers and 88 RBIs over the course of a full season – but his 15 runs works out to 110 over a full 162 games…and having a guy with a slugging percentage in the mid-.500s hitting in the 5th spot offers a decent amount of protection to whoever is in there batting clean-up.

Two things I’ve noticed—both of which Remy pointed out in last night’s broadcast—were that J.D. seemed to swinging more, and more aggressively, at the first fastball he sees and that he’s using some of his opposite field pop to take advantage of the Wall in left. Whatever else is going on, if it continues it bodes well for the Sox in the playoffs.

Post Categories: 2007 Playoffs & 2007 Spring Training & J.D. Drew

I will repent

September 20th, 2007 → 10:32 am @

My last post was on September 16 — last Sunday, which, as it happens, was the day after the Sox’s 10-1 win. They haven’t won since — that’s four straight games, for those keeping track at home — and the Yankees haven’t lost since. There are two possible reasons for this: 1. I am being punished for the decrease in posting frequency, or 2. I am being punished for defending JD Drew. Drew hit a homer last night, so I refuse to believe that’s the cause. So I’m sticking with 1. Ergo, here’s a post. Now: enough of this crap. Let’s finish this thing.

Post Categories: 2007 Spring Training & Losing streaks & Oblique References to Yom Kippur

FTM post peek: A-Rod, the Sox, the now-infamous opt-out clause, the Theo ‘n’ Larry show, and the spending sprees of 2006. (Plus: Jon Lester!)

March 15th, 2007 → 11:50 am @

As previously noted, this is not the first time that an opt-out clause in A-Rod’s contract has garnered attention: it was that very clause that ended up being, in a roundabout way, the sticking point in the Sox-Rangers deal that would have moved A-Rod to Boston and Manny to Texas. Obviously, it’s way too late to be running sneak peeks from Feeding the Monster (although if you missed them, there are lots of interesting ones, as well as other excerpts from the book, over here. And don’t forget, FTM is available from Amazon for only $17.16 (cheap!) and, as always, free, signed, personalized bookplates are still available. (Virtual) operates are standing by!). So what should we call this. A post-peak? Whatever it is, here’s a section of the book detailing the breakdown of those ’03-’04 talks.

That period is especially interesting in retrospect. As you’ll see below, players union head Gene Orza rejected the Sox’s offer of those opt-outs in return for shaving about $4 mil/year off of A-Rod’s salary because Orza thought that offer was essentially worthless; after all no one had signed a $20 million deal since those crazy days of 2000-2001. Well, folks, crazy days are here again, and with Gary Matthews getting $50 million deals, who out there doesn’t think A-Rod could add to his bottom line should he actually end up doing a whole new deal after this season? What’s more, it was these negotiations that started the breakdown in Theo’s and Larry’s relationship. Good times! (And: an interesting footnote to all this: Jon Lester was the pitching prospect who was going to be thrown into the deal.) Without further throat-clearing:

“By mid December, newspapers around the country were reporting that a Rangers-Red Sox deal was all but completed. Boston would send Manny Ramirez (as well as some cash to help pay out the $98 million still owed him) and minor league pitcher Jon Lester to the Rangers. The Rangers would send Rodriguez to the Sox, and Rodriguez, in return for getting the chance to play for a contender, would reduce the annual value of the years left on his deal. A corollary deal would send Garciaparra to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Magglio Ordonez.

And that was supposed to be that. Garciaparra’s teammates readied themselves for a new shortstop, a prospect that they were frankly looking forward to. ‘When you’re talking about a guy who’s going to be a leader and be the face of the organization, that’s Alex Rodriguez,’ Kevin Millar said on December 16th on ESPN. ‘Manny leads in the batter’s box and Nomar prepares himself to play hard everyday but you’re talking about a leader in Alex Rodriguez…. I mean, A-Rod’s the best in the game.’

Because of the high profiles of the players and the enormous sums of money involved, officials at Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association, the union for professional baseball players, had joined in the discussions even before a deal had been finalized. Gene Orza, a top union official, had given Rodriguez the requisite permission needed for Rodriguez to discuss a restructuring of his contract with the Red Sox. According to an article by The Boston Globe’s Gordon Edes, Orza also called a top official in Major League Baseball’s central office and said, ‘I want you to get word to Larry [Lucchino] that we’ll do everything within our power to get this thing done—it’s great for baseball and we love Alex—but I hope Larry doesn’t abuse the process, as he is wont to do.’ Soon after, Lucchino and Orza had a conversation in which Orza reminded Lucchino that any reduction in the average annual value in a player’s contract needed to be offset by some other ‘added benefit’ which the player received.

The Red Sox and Rodriguez ended up working out a deal in which Rodriguez would cut approximately $4 million a year off the last seven years of his deal in return for some licensing rights and the ability to declare free agency at different points during the remaining years of his contract (emphasis added for the purpose of this post). When the two sides presented the deal to Orza, he was dumbfounded. No one had signed a contract for as much as $20 million in years, Orza said. The made the offer of free agency essentially worthless—there was no way Rodriguez would ever sign a more lucrative contract again. Orza made a counter-proposal he said the union would be able to accept, in which the Red Sox would save a total of about $12 million instead of $28 million. The Red Sox initially rejected Orza’s figure, but both sides assumed they’d keep working towards a compromise.

Then, on the same night in which Orza had presented his proposal, Larry Lucchino issued a statement. ‘It is a sad day when the Players Association thwarts the will of its members,’ Lucchino said. ‘The Players Association asserts that it supports individual negotiations, freedom of choice, and player mobility. However, in this high-profile instance, their action contradicts this and is contrary to the desires of the player. We appreciate the flexibility and determination Alex and Cynthia Rodriguez have shown in their effort to move to Boston and the Red Sox.’

The move was typical of Lucchino’s career. Despite his unprecedented record as a CEO and despite the high esteem in which his many admirers held him, Lucchino had a hair-trigger sense of being slighted and often seemed to be spoiling for a fight. He’d been a union adversary for years. If Orza was being difficult to spite him, Lucchino wasn’t going to back down. But by trying to create the impression of a rift between the union and Rodriguez, baseball’s highest paid player, Lucchino actually made it less likely Rodriguez would make a stand about the issue. And now, not only was Orza angry, but Rodriguez, according to people close to him, was upset, both that Lucchino would give the impression he was speaking for Rodriguez and that Lucchino would draw Rodriguez’s wife Cynthia into the picture. Rangers’ owner Tom Hicks was annoyed as well, and within days, the Boston newspapers were reporting that Lucchino had been pulled off of the A-Rod negotiations and that Tom Werner had taken over.

Lucchino characterizes what happened differently. ‘I was frustrated,’ he says, talking both about the union negotiations and his efforts to get Hicks to reduce the amount of money he was asking for to augment Manny Ramirez’s salary. ‘At one point, I was talking to Tom and John and I said, ‘One of you guys should try to talk to [Hicks], maybe you’ll have better luck.’ And Tom said, ‘I’ll call him.” John Henry agrees with Lucchino’s assessment. ‘Larry went for Christmas to see his mother in Pittsburgh,’ Henry says. ‘We didn’t send him out of town. Tom still tried to get the deal going, but it wasn’t like we’d lost faith in Larry.’ In the coming weeks, there would be various attempts to resurrect a deal—all to no avail. By January, the Rangers and the Red Sox had ceased discussions.”

Post Categories: 2007 Spring Training & A-Rod & Feeding the Monster Outtakes & Gene Orza & Jon Lester & Larry Lucchino & Manny Ramirez & Theo Epstein

A-Rod and Kobe: A peculiar form of foot and mouth disease

March 15th, 2007 → 9:00 am @

In case you missed it, A-Rod did a radio interview of Def-con 5 proportions with WFAN’s Mike and the Mad Dog. (I kid. But I almost drove off the road trying to imagine what would happen if Manny tried this kind of crap.) For those who missed it: A-Rod seemed to almost threaten fans by saying he’d leave town unless they gave him a big ol’ wet kiss:

“It’s a do-or-die situation. Either New York is going to kick me out of New York this year. … Listen, at some point, either New York is going to say, ‘I’ve had enough of this guy, get him the hell out of here’ — and we have an option — or New York is going to say, ‘Hey, we won a world championship, you had a big year, you’re a part of it, we want you back.'”

Rodriguez was, of course, referring to the opt-out clause he has after this year (the same opt-out clause the players association essentially said was worthless, which was one of the reasons the whole A-Rod/Manny deal didn’t go down; time permitting, more on that later today), essentially (to paraphrase Steve Winwood*) telling New Yorkers to love him or leave him alone. It was, all in all, an impressively stupid thing to say, and, coming on the heels of his “what I really want to do is fan the flames of controversy” statements about his non-friendship with Jeter, makes you wonder if he’s actually trying to make fans (and teammates) hate him more than they already do.

And maybe that is what’s going on, but I don’t think so. A-Rod’s awkward ramblings remind me of the rough draft of an essay I read by Kobe Bryant a couple of years back. I won’t get into specifics, but Kobe was writing something for a publication I was working for. To his credit, he actually wanted to write it himself. Not to his credit, he thought the mere fact that he was writing it meant it would actually be, you know, good. Or even vaguely comprehensible. It was almost as if you could see the wheels turning in Kobe’s head. He’d been touted as being a sort of scholar-athlete for years (multi-lingual, blah blah blah). He went into the NBA right out of high school and even without any higher ed, he was still better spoken — and I’m sure he felt smarter — than a lot of league’s other players. And he’s insanely insecure: he doesn’t just want to be great, he wants you to think he’s great. This combo — inflated ego, preening insecurity, too much attention, too much money — is deadly, and when the Kobes (and the A-Rods) of the world discover they’re not universally loved, they feel the need to go out and prove to everyone that, goddammit, they should be. (Or at least that’s my theory, based on nothing except my random conjectures after a night of four hours sleep.)

There are plenty of preternaturally good players (and plenty of young stars) that don’t try to win over the public, don’t try to prove they could have been lawyers or CEOs if they weren’t multi-millionaire athletes (Jeter, Clemens, Pujols, um, Manny.) But A-Rod has been annoying and alienating teammates and fans alike for years, and a lot of it’s been because he’s under the misapprehension that it’s a good idea to go and try to, say, go one-on-one (er, two) with the likes of Mike and the Mad Dog (or impress the cool kids over at Esquire). So look, Slappy: you’re never going to be loved. You gotta realize that. And then, finally, some people might actually start to like you.

* Actually, as an astute reader pointed out, Traffic’s Jim Capaldi both wrote and sang “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone.”

Post Categories: 2007 Spring Training & A-Rod

Baseball…get your baseball here.

March 12th, 2007 → 7:07 pm @

It’s true: it’s been a couple of days since my last Sox-related post. That hasn’t, as some of you have pointed out, kept me from spellchecking the Times.

And certainly there’s been plenty going on lately: Daisuke-san got shelled (and apparently didn’t mind…although he did look a little mopey); the Yankees are coming to town tonight; Beckett nailed Sheffield and started a new Boston-New York-level rivalry (or so the papers would have you believe); Mike Timlin surprised absolutely no one and came up lame before the season started; and Jon Lester appears to be back on track. (Also, anyone notice how much DeMarlo Hale looks like Papa Jack in this picture? Just wondering.)

And yet…the two best stories I’ve read as of late on the Sox have both been in the Onion. OK, fine, the “Manny Ramirez Has Weirdest Feeling He Should Be Somewhere While Watching Spring Training” piece was predictable, but it does have the best Manny-related line (“Wait, is that guy there on the TV… is that Big Papi? But why would he be in Florida now?”) since Bill Simmons was comparing Vlad and Manny for his ’04 playoff preview and gave Manny the edge simply because it was unclear if Manny was even aware what the playoffs were. And only a heartless grinch could possibly resist the allure of “Excited Red Sox Fans Eagerly Await Debut of Matsuzaka’s ‘Ultimate Galactic Dragon Gyroball Pitch Power Explosion,'” a story that gives Bob Ryan the honoring of uttering this gem: “His Ultimate Galactic Dragon Gyroball Pitch Power Explosion breaks three feet inside before cutting sharply toward the dugout, where falsehood and cowardice are forced to shrink before it!”

So what’s the problem? There’s the aforementioned wedding and real estate madness, some of which has worked itself out. (The real estate issue seems to be resolved, at least until something else goes haywire at the last minute; the wedding band — and I know this will disappoint some of you — isn’t going to be an ’80s cover band, and it isn’t going to be Journey (although really, how much could Steve Perry be charging for personal appearances these days?) (and yes…there’s another parens within a parens); I ended up going with these guys, for a whole bunch of reasons, not the least of which is the possibility of having a ’50s noir theme wedding and getting this guy to do the invitations). But perhaps even more importantly, I’ve been having a sort of existential crisis surrounding the Sox and my involvement therein. To wit:

* I think the 24/7 frenzy surrounding the team is insane, annoying, and at least occasionally detrimental.
* While I definitely feel the media is doing nothing so much as responding to the needs of the populace — giving the people what they want, etc. etc. — I do think they (we) collectively add to the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere.
* Until J.D. Drew’s arm falls off or until we learn that ‘gyroball’ is Japanese for “giant bags full of steroids,” I’m not sure there’s much to be said about spring training.
* Ergo, I feel…I dunno, I guess a little soiled by documenting every pitchback and every Julio Lugo error.

I love baseball. For the most part, I think it’s silly when people talk about the lost days of yesteryear when men were men and baseball was romantic and pure. But spring training is supposed to be a time for fantasies and saccharine nostalgia. That’s almost the whole point: fans can admit players don’t mind signing autographs; double-A pitchers can pretend they have a chance at making the Show; Terry Francona can pretend he’s not going to need to spend another year juggling egos; and Manny can pretend he’s never, ever, even considered asking for a trade.

You’d be right to wonder whether this is hypocritical coming from a man who has spent the last two years of his professional life chronicling every move of the team. And yes, I hope that Feeding the Monster (now only $17.16 at Amazon! free signed, personalized bookplates still available!) reads like more (much more) than the collection of a couple of years worth of anecdotes (certainly the reviewers thought it was); my goal was to take what felt — to me, anyway — like the most incredible half-decade in the history of American sports and add new reporting and behind-the-scenes access to create a narrative that added context and drama and a sense of completeness to a truly remarkable period in the life of my favorite team. And maybe it is; I really have no idea. But back in ’05, when I was at spring training and when the frenzy surrounding the team was likely at an all-time high (I assure you that year’s pre-season Yankees games topped tonight’s in terms of sheer spectacle), I remember being simultaneously charmed and a bit taken aback. We were a far cry from the time when my mom and my little brother drove down to Florida and my brother got to do a stint as a batboy. A far cry.

Which isn’t to say there’s not a lot of good stuff out there (or that any of us should feel guilty for getting our fix). (Not that kind of fix. You should feel guilty about that.) On SoSH, Mike F. captures some of what I like to imagine spring training still feels like. You all know I’ve been a big fan of Rob Bradford’s, and his new blog is a good read. (I do disagree with Rob — vehemently, in fact — that it’d be a good idea to bring Tek back when his contract expires in two years, unless he’s coming back as a coach.) There is, of course, Schilling’s new blog. (I’m still hoping to get an official, printable answer to this question; in the meantime, I’ll take solace in the fact that the first listing in a Google search of “Curt Schilling blog” turns up…this. Curt, you haven’t beaten me yet!) But I’m hoping that my baseball-related entries will focus more on those times when I actually have something to say.*

* I reserve the right to change the definition of “having something to say” at any time and without warning.

Post Categories: 2007 Spring Training & Curt Schilling & Feeding the Monster reactions & The Onion

The latest contender for worst free-agent signing of the offseason

February 28th, 2007 → 6:03 pm @

Gary Matthews Jr. This whole to-do is a shame: $50 million can buy a lot of juice these days.

Post Categories: 2007 Spring Training & Gary Matthews Jr. & Steroids

Sheffield backs players union’s right to drive that bus right off that cliff, dares Congress to step into the fray

February 28th, 2007 → 11:50 am @

Back in June, when Paxton Crawford, who played for the Crimson Hose back in ’00 and ’01, copped to using speed, ‘roids, and HGH during his time at Fenway, I wrote about how the mini-maelstrom illustrated nothing so much as how moronically power-hungry the players association was:

“Right now, that doesn’t seem likely, mainly because the power-drunk players union refuses to allow blood testing (or actual random testing, or storing of samples) because any of those steps would be an “invasion of privacy.” That’s a load of crap. Playing professional baseball is not a right afforded to citizens under the Constitution; it’s a privilege. Workplaces implement all sorts of policies–regarding drug testing or dress codes or proper language or decorum–that aren’t (and can’t be) mandated by the government. Unless the players union takes off its blinders and starts to see the big picture, a lot of its members are going to find themselves in a world of hurt.”

And here comes said world of hurt! George Mitchell — former US Senator, current member of the Red Sox’s board, and head of the MLB steroid investigation — is, to absolutely no one’s surprise, being stonewalled at pretty much every turn. He’s said that if that continues, it was likely Congress would take up the issue. There’s an implied threat there, sure. But more than that, there’s a recognition of reality. In the absolute joke of a Congressional hearing a couple of years ago — and to give you a sense of just how farcical it was, it seems as if Jose Canseco was just about the only person who told the truth — Senators said that if baseball didn’t clean up its act, they would. Thus far, the only real aftershock of those hearings was the assurance that Big Mac ain’t ever gonna sniff the Hall.

But now, thanks to Gary Sheffield, we know that the players association is doing everything they can to make sure that’s not the case for long. Sheffield recently told USA Today he wouldn’t cooperate with the Mitchell probe because it is a “witch hunt”; he then told the Detroit Free Press pretty much the same thing. Or, rather, he said that’s what his union had told him: “The [players’] association told us this is just a witch hunt. They don’t want us to talk to them. This is all about getting [Bonds]. If this was legitimate and they did it the right way, it would be different. But this a witch hunt. They’re just trying to collect a lot of stuff that doesn’t make any sense and throw the [expletive] against the wall.” (I’m pretty sure the expletive was “poopy.”)
It’s not surprising that Sheffield’s the guy who spilled the beans on the union’s behind-the-scenes campaign, just as it was no surprise that it was Sheffield who told SI that Barry was a snake who gave him “flaxseed oil,” just as it was not a surprise that it was Sheffield who told New York Magazine about the problems in the Yankees clubhouse: Sheff is known not only for being a prodigious hitter but someone who you can get to say pretty much anything. (Johnny Damon will now fill that role for the Yankees.) Nevertheless, it’s revealing. Once again, rather than work to take steps that will help convince the public the game is trying to clean up its act, the players association is doing everything it can to make it seem as if they’re defending their members’ right to use PEDs…which may very well be what they’re doing. Don’t be surprised in Congress does decide to step in before this is all over.

Post Categories: 2007 Spring Training & Gary Sheffield & Paxton Crawford & Players associatio & Steroids