March 12th, 2007 → 7:07 pm @ Seth Mnookin
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.
March 8th, 2007 → 4:16 pm @ Seth Mnookin
Blogging, that is: Schilling recently launched 38 Pitches, because there aren’t enough outlets for him to get his message out. (I kid, I kid!)
Why do I think Schill can best me? Well, for one thing he’s much more dedicated. Back when he was a semi-regular poster on Sons of Sam Horn*, he’d post during those times when you might expect him to be busy doing other things: after starts, right before World Series games, etc. And as the last week has shown, when things get hectic for me — multiple assignments all due at the same time; real estate insanity; a messy apartment — I post with much less frequently. Curt has also figured out one of the best ways to build up page views: force the reader to click through to see the whole post. (I care about you all too much to do that. Or I’m too lazy to set it up. You decide.) Finally, for some darned reason, there appears to be more interest in what he has to say: his inaugural post got 114 comments. Granted, a lot of them were of the “this is awesome!” variety, but still.
That said, I’d like to think I’m at least a better writer and that I’m more precise in my use of language — I’d never, for instance, refer to Papelbon as a “prospect,” as Schilling did yesterday. I also think, for some odd reason, that Schilling is far more likely to start trouble with his blog than I am with mine. After all, the only real time I got into it online was when Bill Simmons and I had it out…and we made up a couple of hours later. Just wait until Schill starts talking about steroids, or Pedro, or politics, or, well, pretty much anything.
There is one pressing question I hope Schilling takes the time to address. We all know Curt read Feeding the Monster (although shockingly, he never asked for one of the free, signed bookplates which, by the way, are still available and go wonderfully with that brand new copy of the book (available for only $17.16 on Amazon — cheap!) you’re sure to want before Opening Day). But I still don’t know if he liked it or not. Curt, now’s your chance to let me know. Don’t hold back. I can take it.
* It’s too bad the frenzy that following G38′s SoSH posts resulting in him pretty much abandoning the site — he offered up some pretty remarkable insights. Alas.
January 1st, 2007 → 2:19 pm @ Seth Mnookin
It’s been quite a year. And in these first hours of 2007, there’s not much going on in Boston, save for the never-ending search for a closer. (Call me an apostate, but I’d love to see Julian Tavarez in the role. Some guy gets a hit off him in the ninth, and bam — he’s laid out flat on his back. Good times.) Two thousand and six was another year in which the Red Sox proved they own Boston (and New England) — even the Globe ranked the signing of a pitcher who has never played an MLB game as bigger news than the death of Red Auerbach.
But let’s talk about what’s really important here: me. A lot has happened since this site went live on June 5 (the first post was about Albert Pujols and steroids). Feeding the Monster was released on July 11, and it hit #8 on The New York Times‘s best-seller list a week later, making my grandmother eternally happy. (Other people liked it too: Time said it was a “Moneyball-style triumph,” the St. Pete Times compared it favorably to The Da Vinci Code, the Washington Post said “residents of Red Sox Nation will gobble it up, as may others who are interested in the inner workings of professional sports,” and the Lowell Sun said that FTM was a “must read for members of Bosox nation.”)
In those first, heady days, I learned that Joe O’Donnell didn’t much care for the book, that the Sox were rumored to be instructing staffers to disavow its contents, and that Terry Francona hadn’t read it but knew it was inaccurate. Grant Hill, on the other hand, is a fan, and I’m still waiting to hear what Curt thought of it. Also, FTM was mistaken for a fictional account of the rapture, people tend to get excited when talking about No. 24, and (I can’t help myself) … Murray Chass.
What else? There’ve been 457 posts, the site’s had 1,530,182 page views (and 894,008 unique visitors). December was the busiest month (313,463 page views and 206,358 visitors) followed by August (309,466 and 201,182); June — when this whole party got started — was, not surprisingly, the slowest time (148,469 and 94,172).
Outside of generic pages like the blog’s home page, the most popular page (with 26,062 page views, worth 1.7 percent of the site’s total) was the one where I posted the transcript of Denis Leary’s Mel Gibson rant, proving yet again that the Jews control the media, the entertainment industry, and baseball. (The least popular had to do with race, gender, and succession battles at the Times.) Other popular posts: Nomar’s rants about Boston (16,950 page views, 1.11%) and a pair about Johnny Damon’s departure to the Yankees and Scott Boras’s role therein (16,201, 1.06% and 15,077, .99%, respectively.) Much to my surprise, the throwdown with Bill Simmons was only the sixth most viewed blog post, although it got far more comments — 56 — than anything else. (Don’t worry, folks: we made up.)
So there you have it. Now shake off those hangovers, return The Seven Pillars of Health and pick up a copy of Feeding the Monster for just $17.16 (cheap!). And don’t forget: signed, personalized bookplates are still available.
Happy New Year!
December 7th, 2006 → 9:40 am @ Seth Mnookin
Jenny — if that really is her name — raised a question in the Johnny Jesus post below. To wit:
“Seth, can you clarify the Josh Beckett deal for me? The way I understand what you wrote about it in the book, it was railroaded through by Lucchino in an attempt to shift media and fan attention away from internal problems in the wake of Theoâ€šÃ„Ã´s resignation. This was done over the objection of several baseball ops guys, specifically Jed Hoyer. Given the close relationship between Jed and Theo and thus the probable similarity in their viewpoints, I have been assuming all year that had Theo still been GM, that trade would not have occurred. Is this your take? Every time I try to advance this view to others, they call me a ballwashing Theo apologist or something of that ilk. One sportswriter (Bill Madden?) even wrote in all seriousness that the trade was Theoâ€šÃ„Ã´s fault because he was â€šÃ„Ãºin the building.â€šÃ„Ã¹ Some help here? I know itâ€šÃ„Ã´s not Damon-related, but that section of the book was really self-explanatory.”
I’d say that’s an oversimplifaction, but an oversimplification that has some connection to what went down. I wrote in the book that “Hoyer, in constant communication with Epstein, had been wary about making the trade, but Lucchino had been eager to get it done”; I go on to quote someone with an ownership stake in the team to say that people with the long-term interests of the club were advocating holding off and people who wanted to shift focus away from the front office fiasco wanted it to go down.
And that’s all I said on the matter, out of both space concerns and because at the time I wrote that (back in April) it was unclear, to say the least, how that signing would turn out.* That certainly was true: Larry was the trade’s largest advocate; he got most of the credit; it occurred at a time when the daily headlines were full of “this is as bad as it has been since the days of the Duke” type stories. But there wasn’t a Larry camp that was completely gung-ho and a Jed-Ben-Theo camp that was completely opposed. Instead, it was more of a 60-40/40-60 deal, meaning those in favor of making it were in favor of it 60-40 and those opposed were opposed 40-60. What’s more, those opposed were more worried about Josh’s shoulder than anything else…and that turned out not to be much of a concern.
Hope that’s a little more clear.
* In speaking with a senior member of the baseball ops staff late in the season (i.e., well after the point at which it became clear that Beckett’s season wasn’t going to be all we’d hoped), said staff member said he wasn’t worried about Beckett’s long-term success because a. he’s young, b. he’s had big-time success before, and c. there’s a natural adjustment period for any young player. I don’t know as much about baseball as the baseball ops staff — to say the least — but I was concerned, and that was mainly because his fastball is as straight as John Wayne and he seemed perpetually concerned about throwing breaking stuff. But we’ll see.
October 18th, 2006 → 3:09 pm @ Seth Mnookin
The Gather.com chat is done and gone, but as far as I can tell, you can access the whole thing even if you’re not a member of the site. So if you’re curious about: how I write, why I write, what I write, if I’ll ever write a novel, if there’s anyone more paranoid than Nomar, if a $20-million-a-year salary affects your perspective on the world, whether or not Dan Shaughnessy and I have had any heart-to-hearts recently, the mood in the clubhouse during the ’04 playoffs, the mood in the clubhouse during the ’05 playoffs, and whether I wanted to deck Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore for making out on the field in St. Louis…well, it’s all in there.
August 17th, 2006 → 10:26 am @ Seth Mnookin
The Red Sox have lost 12 out of 20 games. David Wells — who not long ago said he wanted to blow up Fenway — has become the team’s ace. The combined salaries of Keith Foulke and Matt Clement are higher than the Florida Marlins’ payroll. Mike Timlin discovered there are not one, but two i’s in his last name. And it’s beginning to feel like any time David Ortiz doesn’t hit a ball out of the park, the Sox lose. (For anyone wondering, that’s not technically true.) It’s been a grim stretch, and one that would depress any team — the Royals, the Devil Rays, even the Cardinals. Last night’s win over the Tigers didn’t alter the fact that the Sox have the feel of a team with the wheels coming off. Remember interleague play, when it seemed as if the Sox were incapable of beating themselves? For the last month, it’s been the opposite: time and time and time again, the Sox have handed away wins because of mental lapses or stupid moves or plain old bad execution. It hasn’t been fun, and it hasn’t been pretty.
I understand that people get testy when their team loses. I also understand that reality is starting to settle in; for the first time in four years, the Red Sox don’t particularly feel like they’re a team that deserves to make the playoffs. Could it happen? Sure: if Beckett morphs into the pitcher he’s shown glimpses of being; if the middle relief stops coughing up runs as if they were party favors; if Manny and Ortiz once again carry the team on their backs for the last month of the season. But last year, and especially the two years before that, not making the playoffs would have been a slap in the face: those were teams that were too good not to be playing ball in October. The 2006 Red Sox feel like a good team with some flaws and a lot of bad luck. Unless you’re in the National League, that’s usually not good enough.
What I don’t get is people insisting the Sox would be running away with the division if they’d only kept Pedro/Damon/OCab/Dave Roberts/Nelson de la Rosa. By this point, I know all too well that there’s no sense arguing facts when emotion is involved. (See: the Red Sox really are like world politics!) But there are a few things I want to remind people of:
1. This year Pedro was 0-2 with a 4.76 ERA versus AL teams; the Mets were 1-3 in his three AL starts. (Last year he was 1-1 (the Mets were 1-3) with a 3.21 ERA.*) He started the season with a toe injury. He was out for all of July with a strained hip. He’s back on the DL with a strained calf. Pedro Martinez would not be an all-purpose savior. If the Red Sox had Pedro Martinez circa 1999, they’d be running away with the division. They’d also be running away with the division if they had Nomar circa 1999, Yaz circa 1967, or Williams circa 1941. Those players are gone. (Not to beat a dead horse, but Pedro did not have a four-year offer from any team in baseball until the night he signed with the Mets. Fernando Cuza told the Sox what Pedro needed to return to Boston; the Sox gave it to him. Pedro used the Sox’s offer as leverage with Omar Minaya. If you want to read more about this, it’s in pps. 318 – 325 of my book. If you want to go to your grave thinking this was a Carlton Fisk-like screw up, there’s nothing I can say that’ll make you feel any differently.)
2. Ten million dollars a year for a 32-year old center fielder with a lifetime .290 average (.784 OPS) and a throwing arm that requires a daisy chain of cutoff men is not an insulting offer. Regardless, Scott Boras told the Red Sox not to bother making Damon any other offer if they couldn’t match his imaginary six-year, $72 million contract. Instead, the Sox ended up with a player with very similar career numbers who happens to be six years younger and $10 million cheaper. (If you want to read more about this, it’s in pps. 389 – 392 of my book.)
3. Over the past half-decade, the Sox have had a half-dozen superstar-type players, (and Johnny Damon makes this list more because of his cult status than anything else). If they’d held on to all of these players, this is how between half and three-quarters of the team’s 2008 payroll would be spent (players’ ages are in parentheses):
Pedro Martinez, $13 million (37)
Johnny Damon, $13 million (35) (also owed $13 mil for 2009)
Manny Ramirez, $20 million (36)
Nomar Garciaparra, $17 million (35)
Jason Varitek: $10 million, (36)
David Ortiz: $13 million, (32)
Curt Schilling (not under contract for 2008)
That’s six players with an average age of 35 and an average salary of $14 million, for a total of $86 million. The only one of those players who has a chance to be worth that kind of money that far down the line is Papi. I’d say it’s even money as to whether Nomar and Pedro will still be in the game. (And for those who want to exclude Nomar from this list, you can’t pick and choose which one-time greats you want to keep in town after you see how it all works out.)
Yesterday, Bill Simmons took an odd, passive-aggressive swipe at me in his ESPN column. To wit: “I could spend the next 3,000 words ranting and raving about the unacceptable performance of the Henry/Theo regime since they won the World Series…but I don’t want to ruin my chances of getting a key to the office next season. So let’s just say that everyone did a swell job and I fully support every moronic decision that was made. Now where’s my key?” I say odd and passive-aggressive because instead of just calling me out he threw in a coded reference that’d make sense only to people who not only knew about my book but knew a lot of the details about its writing. I have no idea what my access in 2005 has to do with what I write on a blog in 2006. I hadn’t written a word about the Sox when the team and I agreed that I’d write a book. And nothing I do (or don’t) write now is going to get me a key (or any access) in the future; that ship has sailed. (Another side note: Apparently, people only like complaining about the so-called negative Boston media until they get upset…and then they want to complain about the lack of negativity.) For the record, there’s plenty about the last few years I disagreed with, at the time and in retrospect. I didn’t like the Renteria signing when it happened, and when members of the front office told me last year that their scouting on Renteria indicated that he was a better defensive player than he ended up being, I felt like asking them what their eyes had told them: in 2004, Renteria looked like a good defensive shortstop the way Derek Jeter looks like a good defensive shortstop. A lot of the front office, and Theo in particular, thought a more mild-mannered team would make it easier for the players to deal with the media frenzy and fan adulation that comes with playing in Boston. I thought differently, although to be fair I’m not totally sure if that’s because it’s fun to cover — and watch — a bunch of Johnny Damons than a bunch of Mark Lorettas. And I’m at a loss to explain how a front office that is so smart and so hard-working have a seeming inability to put together a reliable bullpen.
But like I said, the personal swipe isn’t what really bothers me. (It’s hard not to take some perverse pride in being the only writer in America who’s disliked by both Bill Simmons and Dan Shaughnessy.) What does bother me is complaining about today while ignoring both yesterday and tomorrow. It’s that attitude that results in shortsighted moves. The Red Sox are not the Yankees. (Thank god for that — if the Yankees had made good decisions, like, say, signing Carlos Beltran instead of Randy Johnson, it’d be a hell of a lot harder to compete with a $200 million payroll. And maybe it’s just me, but I have more fun rooting for a team when it’s not so painfully apparent its m.o. is to just go out and try to buy championships; I’m into the smarts and nerve stuff, too. I love baseball because of the way it mirrors life, and sometimes life is unfair. Sometimes Matt Clement gets hit flush in the side of the head with a line drive after being named an All-Star; sometimes David Wells takes a ball off his balky knee the day he comes off a trip to the DL necessitated by his balky knee. And sometimes you break a leg just before you’re supposed to go skiing in the Alps. When that happens, you need to deal with it; you don’t get to go buy a new leg.) I wish August 2006 were more like August 2004, too. But I’m glad the Sox have made some unpopular decisions over the past few years — letting Cliff Floyd walk, signing David Ortiz, trading Nomar. I’m also glad that, come 2008, I won’t be watching a team hamstrung by a bunch of bloated contracts. Could the Sox have made a trade deadline move? Sure. Do I wish they had? Yup. When I think of Timlin, Delcarmen, and Hansen do I say to myself, as Simmons does, “ALL OF THEM SUCK!” Nope. Do I think the plan is to “go to war with a one-man bullpen for the next 10 weeks?” Nope.
Then again, when Hansen and Delcarmen are helping to nail down the playoffs in a year or two, I’ll be watching the games instead of ordering my second venti latte of the day. (How’s that for passive aggresive?)
* Edited after correction by aro13 in comment #42.
July 27th, 2006 → 8:46 am @ Seth Mnookin
About a week ago, Amazon.com, due to a “software glitch,” had my book listed as Lord’s Day Cry by Robert Harris. Harris, who runs a website called Midnight Ministries, promsised to “simplify and make plain Christ’s initial return” in his book; all I was promising was the “inside story of how savvy management turned baseballâ€šÃ„Ã´s ‘cursed’ team into world champions and how this success presented the biggest challenges of all.”
At the time, I thought this was a frustrating, if slightly humerous, mistake. And then I noticed that, in addition to all the places you’d expect (Red Sox blogs, Yankees blogs, baseball blogs, sports management blogs, etc.) Feeding the Monster was getting surprising traction on blogs written by men whose lives are shaped by their dedication to Christ.
There’s Bob Franquiz, the Lead Pastor of Calvary Fellowship, whose site is dedicated to “leadership, church, and your daily dose of vitamins and minerals.” Franquiz, who says that every year, he “like[s] to read a couple of fun, non-ministry related books,” writes about how he walked away from my book “reflecting on 3 values the team sees as part of its success: promote from within, trust is essential, and narrow your focus.” (Feeding the Monster prompted Franquiz to ask himself, “What’s my farm system? Who are the Triple-A up and coming leaders that are ready to hit the big leagues? Who are the next 4 or 5 people that God is raising up to join our staff?”)
There’s also Jim Gardner, the Preaching Minister for the Marble Falls Church of Christ, who runs a blog dedicated to “the simple musings of a man who is madly in love with his God, his life, his daughters, baseball, and turkey hunting.” Gardner doesn’t draw out any larger lessons in his review, but gives perhaps the best quote I could ever hope for: “For all you baseball fanatics, get your hands on a copy of Seth Mnookin’s Feeding the Monster. … Though I am not a Red Sox fan, I am a baseball fan and the recent history and success of the Boston franchise is impressive. From the sale of the team by the Yawkey estate to John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino to the building of the front office to the formation of organizational philosophy and the actual implementation of that philosophy on the field, it is an enlightening, behind-the-scenes tale that you’ll love.” Mr. Gardner, you may love your God, your family, baseball, and turkey hunting, but I love you. (In a totally platonic way, of course.)
Every night, I get asked at a reading what my target audience is, and every night I tell people I hope that baseball and sports fan will like it just as much as Red Sox fans. Jim Gardner and Bob Franquiz, thank you for spreading the Word.