March 5th, 2009 → 1:06 pm @ Seth Mnookin
It’s been an eventful off-season: there’s the whole A-Rod ‘roid thing, the just-completed Manny negotiations, and the Yankees $800 trillion signing of Mark Texeria. In honor of all this, let’s–as Phil Lesh used to say–take a step back…and relive some moments from years gone by.
In honor of Scott Boras’s always-entertaining deal-making: an FTM excerpt about Johnny Damon’s dishonest decamping to the Yankees.
In honor of the ever-growing PED scandal: Bill James’s stance on steroids, the possibility of Jose Canseco being a great prophet, and the sheer lunacy of the MLB Players Association stance on drug testing.
And finally, in honor of the most entertaining third-basement playing today: the oft-overlooked connection between A-Rod and Jon Lester and the union’s stupidity vis-a-vis the 2003 A-Rod contract circus.
September 24th, 2008 → 12:58 pm @ Seth Mnookin
Well, folks, it’s official – for the first time since 1994, the Yankees won’t be playing October baseball. Whatever you think about New York, it was an impressive run.
The Sox, meanwhile, will be going to the playoffs for the fifth time in seven years since the Henry-Werner-Lucchino gang took over, a stretch that includes the most exciting baseball playoff series in history and two world championships. (Read all about it in Feeding the Monster, the only all-access to the team’s current management and the ’04-’05 seasons. It’s available at Amazon for only $10.20 – cheap! And, as always, personalized, inscribed copies are still available.)
Plenty will be written about all of the above, of course. What I want to do is take a quick look at accumulated boo boos of the 2008 campaign. Everyone from Hank Steinbrenner to the sad-sack fans I work with have been whining about all the injuries those fragile souls in the Bronx have had to endure, and, to be sure, there’s a long list. But has it been all that much worse than what the Sox have faced?
Let’s go to the numbers.
The Yankees DL list includes, most prominently, Posada, Wang, and Joba, with Posada and Wang missing most of the season. They’ve also had A-Rod, Matsui, Damon, Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy on the 15-day list and Brian Bruney out for 60 days. And, of course, there’s Carl Pavano. (Hughes’ and Kennedy’s problems weren’t due to injuries as much as to ineffectiveness.)
The Sox, meanwhile, have had five of their six pre-season projected starters on the DL: Schilling was lost for the year before the season started, Colon was on the 60-day, Daisuke and Buccholz both did 15-day stints, and Beckett has been out of commission twice. (As far as pitching goes, Timlin also did two turns on the DL, but that might have helped the team more than anything else.) Offensively, Lowell has been sidelined twice, Lugo was lost for the season, and Ortiz and Drew both did their time. (Casey – twice – and Cora also got banged up enough to move off the active roster for stretches.) Oh yeah: they also had Manny mope his way out of town.
Is that worse than the Yankees? You could make a case either way; what’s certain is that the Yankees’ haven’t been snake-bitten to an unprecedented, or even all that unusual, degree. Ortiz has been considerably more hindered than A-Rod, and the Lowell-Drew injuries have been more lingering than anything the rest of New York’s offense had to deal with. Wang and Posada are obviously enormous losses, but the Sox’s rotation has had to deal with more injury-related interruptions than the Yankees. And Tek…well, yeah.
So why were the Sox wearing their champagne goggles last night while Girardi had the distinction of being the first Joe not to lead the Yanks to the playoffs in well over a decade? In a word (or three), home grown talent. But that’s a subject for another day.
March 24th, 2008 → 12:47 pm @ Seth Mnookin
This is the second half of my essay in this year’s Maple Street Press Red Sox Annual (published on conjunction with the good folks from Sons of Sam Horn), which is currently available for the low price of $12.99 (cheap!). For lots more inside dope on the Red Sox, circa 2000-2005, check out my New York Times bestseller Feeding the Monster, which you can get for the even lower price of $10.20 (cheap!). And, as always, it’s never too later to request your signed copy of FTM.
Overfeeding the Monster: Entitlement and the Evolution of Red Sox Nation (Part II)
I went to my first Yankees-Red Sox game in the late ’70s, back in the days when Jim Rice viewed a base-on-balls as an affront to his manhood and Fenway Park still had its neuroses-inducing troughs. Over the several decades, I discovered a multitude of reasons to hate the Yankees: they were from New York, they had unceremoniously stomped on the collective heart of Red Sox Nation too many times to count, and their fans were obnoxious, self-entitled, uninformed, drunken louts. In contrast were the Red Sox’s partisans. I took pride in the fact that we were a stoic, loyal, and intelligent bunch. It was an important part of my identity at the time.Those descriptions, like all stereotypes, stuck because they had more than a bit of truth to them. Which is why I worry about our–that is, Red Sox Nation–current collective identity. In the years following the ’04 World Championship run, I’ve had more than one non-Bostonian complain about Sox fans and how they were assuming the sort of Yankees-esque sense of entitlement I’d grown up despising. I argue with these malcontents, of course, and point to SoSH, and the impressive number of stat heads and literati that follow Ye Olde Town Team.
But emails from those “Red Sox fan for decade,” as well as more than a few of the callers to ‘EEI, and yes, some of us knights of the keyboard have made these defenses more halfhearted as of late. There are times when it seems as if an immensely unappealing, I-deserve-what-I-want-and-I-deserve- it-right-now myopia has replaced the Calvinistic resignation that RSN personified for so many long years. To take but one example: a Worcester Telegram columnist actually put his name to a piece that detailed the “many bad decisions since [the World Series] – letting Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon escape to New Yorkâ€šÃ„Â¶Matt Clement, Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez, and the long-term contract for puzzling Josh Beckett, for starters.â€šÃ„Ã¹ (The headline on that gem: “Epstein to blame for Boston’s downsizing.”) As any sentient being can tell you, Josh Beckett, at $10 mil per, has to be one of the biggest bargains in the game. Pedro Martinez, who played in five games last year while collecting his $13 million paycheck, is not.
That story, of course, was written back in 2006, when a lot of those former Boston stalwarts who were allowed to “escape” looked pretty good. Pedro posted a 2.82 ERA his first year wit the Mets. With Derek Lowe’s ERA during his first year with the Dodgers coming in at least a half-run lower than any Red Sox starter that year, it was easy to forget that DL had been one of the worst starters in all of baseball in 2004. Orlando Cabrera had more than four-times fewer errors than Edgar Renteria, the man signed to replace him. And during his first year with the Yankees, Johnny Damon’s 24 home runs were more than everyone on the Sox save for Manny and Ortiz.
But taking on the Pedro Martinez of 2005 meant also having him for 2006, 2007, and 2008. Instead, the Sox got Clay Buchholz, the guy who was chosen with the sandwich pick the Sox got in the â€šÃ„Ã²05 draft in compensation for Pedro’s departure. For anyone who doesn’t remember, Buchholz, who costs around $12,700,000 less than Pedro per year, pitched a no-hitter in his second Major League start. And one of the guys the Sox got with Cabrera’s compensation pick was a left-handed outfielder named Jacoby Ellsbury. Maybe you’ve heard of him?
Baseball–real, honest-to-goodness professional baseball–isn’t like fantasy leagues, or Bill Clinton’s golf games. You don’t get to fix your bad moves 24 hours later, and you don’t get mulligans. (“Hey, Bill? It’s Lou Gorman. That Larry Anderson for Bagwell deal? Yeah, we’d actually like to take that one back.”) The best you can do is work hard, figure out the best approach, and trust that, more times than not, that’ll pay off. As we’ve seen recently, a lot of the times it does. In 2007, David Ortiz came to the plate 667 times and reached base on 297 separate occasions, good for a .445 on-base percentage, tops in the league. Included in all those hundreds of plate appearances were 35 home runs and 52 doubles. Those gaudy stats aren’t news — Ortiz accomplishments since he arrived in Boston in 2003 have truly been historic, and he’ll go down as one of Boston’s all-time great sports heroes, up there with Williams, Orr, Bird, and Yaz.
Ortiz’s year-end line also included 16 double-plays, which means that more than a dozen times he was an utter failure at the plate. And, of course, a .445 OBP means he didn’t succeed more than half the time. That doesn’t take away from the overall impressiveness of his accomplishments, just as the team’s ill-conceived moves, poorly executed trades, or poor signings shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Sox have been the most successful team of the 21st century. (There have been a few screw-ups, such as the four-year, $40 million contract the Sox gave to Edgar Renteria; the three-year, $25 million deal for Matt Clement; the panicked re-acquisition of Doug Mirabelli at the beginning of ’06; and, yes, this past year’s mid-season trade for Gagne, a pitcher who did his best to single-handedly sink the Sox’s chances.)
I say this not in defense of the team’s front office or the guys in baseball ops; they’re doing just fine on their own. I say this because I want us–the media and the true fanatics and maybe even some of the pink-hat bandwagoners–to look at the big picture, to remember that life isn’t perfect, to keep in mind that sometimes it takes a little while for dividends to pay out. I say this because, more than anything, I don’t want us to turn into Yankees fans.
March 21st, 2008 → 10:08 am @ Seth Mnookin
Those of you who are regular readers of the Maple Street Press Red Sox Annual (published on conjunction with the good folks from Sons of Sam Horn) know that it delivers a series of remarkably insightful articles every February. This year is no different: the 2008 edition, which is available for the low price of $12.99 (cheap!), includes a piece on the ’07 title run by the Globe‘s Gordon Edes, an examination by stat man Pete Palmer on the necessity of a lefty specialist, a ranking of Beckett among the playoffs all-time pitching greats, interviews with Director of Player Development Mike Hazen and pitching coach John Farrell, a position-by-position breakdown of the big league club, an analysis of the team’s minor leaguers, a ranking of the top prospects, the change in approach to free agents…well, you get the idea. Reading this is, without a doubt, the easiest and most enjoyable way to sound like you truly know what you’re talking about when you starting jawing off at the Cask.
I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to this year’s Annual; my contribution is an essay on the current state of Red Sox Nation. Jim Walsh, the book’s editor, has been generous enough to let me reprint it here, probably because he knows that there’s not a soul out there that wouldn’t want to read everything else the book has to offer.
So without further ado, I offer it up, here. Or, rather, I offer up the first half here – I’ll post the rest over the weekend…
Overfeeding the Monster: Entitlement and the Evolution of Red Sox Nation
On December 26–fifty-nine days after the Red Sox completed their sweep of the Colorado Rockies for their second World Series win in four years–I got an email from a self-identified “Red Sox fan for many decade.” The subject line referred to my book “Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top.” It read, “Update FTM; revise drop hed to include the word ‘dumbs.’” The email itself went on in the same vein:
“Just got FTM as a Christmas present. Suggest you update it to include the Bosox boner on Gagne. See article by Rob Neyer, ESPN.com senior writer’s story on e-mails between Epstein and scout Mark Delpiano re: Gagne, in which Delpiano warned the Red Sox to steer clear of the drug-dependent Gagne. Stupid deal cost the Sox a very good pitcher, Kason Gabbard. Also, the Red Sox will commit another blunder if they give away the ranch to obtain Santana. The Yankees have pinned a ‘no trade’ label on pitcher Ian Kennedy. The Red Sox should do the same with Jacoby Ellsbury.”
In the year-and-a-half since FTM came out, missives like this have been surprisingly common. Take this one, sent in the summer of 2006: “I would rather have Pedro with Josh Beckett.” Or this one, sent a few weeks later: “When Theo ran Pedro Martinez out of town last winter, we should have all seen that Theo was not interested in winning in the present. That was the beginning of the end. The thing I donâ€šÃ„Ã´t get, is how running good players out of town helps building for the future?” I picked those two randomly from the dozens that didn’t get caught up in my obscenity filter.
Back in the fall of 2005, an impassioned Theo Epstein warned his colleagues in the Red Sox’s front office the dangers of aspiring to Yankees-esque, superpower status. [Note: this, of course, was first reported in Feeding the Monster, available for the low price of $10.20 (cheap!).] There was, of course, the monetary burden such a effort would entail, but Epstein was more worried about the instant-gratification ethos such an effort risked creating.
“Weâ€šÃ„Ã´re going to need a lot of patience, because thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s going to be a lot of failure,” Epstein said. “It could get rough. Right now, thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s a lot of hope [about the teamâ€šÃ„Ã´s young talent]. But remember, the most popular player on the football team is always the backup quarterback. When [Dustin] Pedroia”–who had just concluded a season in which he hit a combined .293 in AA-Portland and AAA-Pawtucket–”gets up here and he hits a buck-fifty, discovers he canâ€šÃ„Ã´t reach the wall and canâ€šÃ„Ã´t find his stroke because itâ€šÃ„Ã´s freezing outâ€šÃ„Ã®well, that will happen.â€šÃ„Ã¹
As it turns out, Epstein’s had it almost exactly right. Pedroia did, in fact, have trouble reaching the wall when he first took over as the team’s starting second baseman. (He finished last April with a .182 average, a figure that beat Epstein’s prediction by a mere 32 cents.) Even with the Sox spring surge, it didn’t take long for the masses to get restless. On April 23, three days after Alex Cora tripled in the go-ahead run in a come from behind victory over the Blue Jays, a Globe columnist wondered when Francona would “decide that Dustin Pedroia is simply not ready to hit major league pitching? … It’s not as if the manager doesn’t have a viable option.” A mere week after that, the fact that Cora had hit a robust .360, over a dozen or so games, the situation was dire enough that the Herald (“Cora keeps making case”) and the Providence Journal (“Cora is really making a case for himself”) ran almost identical headlines.
And what happened after that? Cora hit .232 for the rest of the year, concluding the ’07 campaign with an average (.246) that was almost exactly in line with that for his career (.244). Pedroia, meanwhile, hit .333 the rest of the way and ended the year at .317. Among his season’s highlights were smacking a leadoff homer run in Game 1 of the Series. Oh yeah: he was also the first member of the Sox to win the Rookie of the Year since Nomar snagged it a decade earlier.
Coming tomorrow: My first brush with the trough, the knights of the keyboard, and why there are no mulligans in baseball.
December 16th, 2007 → 12:18 pm @ Seth Mnookin
The presence of Clemens and Pettitte–and, to a lesser extent, of the likes of Chuck Knoblauch and David Justice–has predictably caused some people to question the Yankees ’96-’00 dominance. I’ll add myself to one of the voices for the defense. No one will ever know what the Mitchell report would have looked like had there been a strength and conditioning coach in every clubhouse that talked, on the record, about what happened while they were with their respective teams…but it’s a safe bet that more teams would look like the Yankees, with more than a dozen players named, than like the Sox, who don’t have a single major player cited for actions during his time in Boston.
October 29th, 2007 → 3:17 pm @ Seth Mnookin
If you haven’t heard yet, you will soon: Joe Girardi has been named the new manager of the Yankees. That’s all sorts of interesting; for one, I’m curious to see how a guy who occasionally acted like a drill commander while with the Marlins is going to do with the Yankees.
Actually, I’m not that curious – for the next while, I’m just going to revel in the Sox’s total domination. That’s what the rest of the baseball world should be doing too…except that Hank “Mini Me” Steinbrenner is determined to prove that he can be just as much as an egocentric prick as his dad. Seemingly thrown into a frenzied panic when the country’s attention was focused on New York’s rivalsâ€šÃ„Ã®their better, classier, and better run rivals, it’s worth pointing outâ€šÃ„Ã®Steinbrenner is proving he’s genetically incapable of being gracious and letting a team besides his own dominate the headlines for a couple of days.
Not that this is necessarily bad news. In the last month, Hank has, among other things, ripped into Joe Torre to the tune of, “Where was Joe’s career in ’95 when my dad hired him?” At least we know life in Yankeeland isn’t going to boring just because ol’ George is sailing off into the twilight…
October 24th, 2007 → 10:59 am @ Seth Mnookin
The comments section has been heating upâ€šÃ„Ã®and lots of smart people have been making lots of good points. There’s a lot I want to comment on (like Manny’s freakishly similar Indians/Red Sox splitsâ€šÃ„Ã®I’m willing to bet no player has ever had two seven-year stretches that were so remarkably alike), and hopefully I will do that in these next few days. (I doubt I’ll revisit the always shocking uninformed inanity displayed by Murray Chass…but only because I’m exercising remarkable self control.) That doesn’t mean this here blog is gonna remain dark: In advance of my heading up to Boston to catch Game 1, here’s one of my all-time favorite Feeding the Monster excerpts; this one details an at-bat Theo labeled “the greatest at-bat to end the greatest game ever played.” (It really shouldn’t need saying, but here goes: if you don’t have your copy of FTM, you’re only hurting yourself. You can buy a copy from Amazon for $10.20 – cheap! – and request a personalized, signed bookplate all in matter of mere seconds.) Without further ado…
In the bottom of the 14th, Yankees pitcher Esteban Loaiza came out for his fourth inning of work. A bust during the regular season, Loaiza had been unhittable in this game, with a devastating sinker falling off one side of the plate and a wicked cut fastball collapsing on the other. His last three innings of work may have been the best pitched innings of the series thus far. Since entering the game in the 11th with runners on first and second and one out, heâ€šÃ„Ã´d allowed just one walk. Now, Loaiza struck out Mark Bellhorn to begin the inning, and a pair of walks sandwiched around another strikeout put Johnny Damon on second base and Manny Ramirez on first with two outs. David Ortiz was due up at the plate. A base hit would likely win the game.
As Ortiz walked to the plate, he spit into his batting gloves and then smashed his hands together. As he dug into the batterâ€šÃ„Ã´s box, he tried to drown out the serenading cries of â€šÃ„ÃºPAPI, PAPI,â€šÃ„Ã¹ to ignore the adulatory signs that freckled the Fenway stands. â€šÃ„ÃºYou want to shut everything down,â€šÃ„Ã¹ he later told Globeâ€šÃ„Ã´s Chris Snow. â€šÃ„ÃºAfter you shut down all the noise and everything around you, thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s when your concentration comes. Thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s when you focus on what you want to do.â€šÃ„Ã¹
Ortiz is often described as a hitting genius, as if his talent is purely God given. Heâ€šÃ„Ã´s more comfortable than many Latin players talking with and teasing reporters, but English is not his first language, and he often plays the part of the friendly jokester. But Ortiz works on his hitting as much as anyone in baseball. While his teammates are in the field, Ortiz often retreats to the Red Soxâ€šÃ„Ã´s clubhouse to study his previous at-bats against that nightâ€šÃ„Ã´s pitcher. Ortiz had been preparing for Loaiza ever since heâ€šÃ„Ã´d taken the mound. â€šÃ„ÃºI wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t trying to go too crazy with him,â€šÃ„Ã¹ Ortiz said later. Because of Loaizaâ€šÃ„Ã´s pitchesâ€šÃ„Ã´ late movement, Ortiz said, he â€šÃ„Ãºjust wanted to stay on the ball longer.â€šÃ„Ã¹
Loaizaâ€šÃ„Ã´s first pitch looked hittable, and Ortiz took a monstrous cut, but at the last moment the ball dove down and away, and Ortiz missed. Strike one. A ball and a foul made it 1-2. The Yankees were one strike away from sending the game, which had already taken longer than any postseason game in baseball history, into the 15th inning. The fourth pitch was outside but not by enough for Ortiz to take, and he punched it foul. He hit the next pitch deep enough to be a home run, but it hooked foul into the right field stands. Loaiza followed with another ball, bringing the count even, to 2-2. Ortiz stepped out of the batterâ€šÃ„Ã´s box.
As Ortiz and Loaiza battled, Fenway was in a complete frenzy. A group of young men just behind home plate had been pounding on the dividing wall that separated the field from the stands since the eighth inning. Down the third base line, ESPNâ€šÃ„Ã´s Peter Gammons stood, poised by the entrance to the field, as he waited for the game to end so he could run out and collect a few quick on-camera quotes. Heâ€šÃ„Ã´d been standing there for a couple of hours already, ever since the bottom of the eighth, when the Yankees looked as if they were about to put away the game, and the series. Gammons, whoâ€šÃ„Ã´d seen the Red Sox beat the Cincinnati Reds in extra innings in the Sixth Game of the 1975 World Series, couldnâ€šÃ„Ã´t seem to erase the grin from his face. â€šÃ„ÃºUnbelievable,â€šÃ„Ã¹ he occasionally murmured, shaking his head.
Ortiz knew a walk would load the bases, and with Doug Mientkiewicz on deck, he also knew the Yankees would much prefer to pitch to the light-hitting defensive specialist than to the man whose postseason highlight reel seemed to grow with each passing day. At this point, the difference between men on first and second and men on every base was negligible: with two outs, the lead runner would be off on contact in either case, and a base hit would likely win the game regardless of whether Damon was on second or third. Even with two strikes, Ortiz knew Loaiza wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t going to give him anything on the fat part of the plate, and the way Loaiza was pitching, he could keep on painting the corners forever. Ortiz dug in, determined to foul off as many pitches as it took until there was one he could handle.
And so Ortiz fouled off the seventh pitch of the at bat, and then the eighth and the ninth. As he stepped out of the batterâ€šÃ„Ã´s box again, he examined his bat before seizing it by the barrel and smacking it, handle first, into the ground to make sure one of Loaizaâ€šÃ„Ã´s cutters hadnâ€šÃ„Ã´t splintered it. Satisfied, he tucked it under his arm, spat into his gloves once more, smacked his hands together again, and settled back in to hit. And on the tenth pitch of David Ortizâ€šÃ„Ã´s seventh plate appearance of the night, Loaiza threw a cut fastball in on his hands. Ortiz, no longer swinging for the fences, fisted the ball over Derek Jeterâ€šÃ„Ã´s head, where it fell in front of center fielder Bernie Williams. On national television, commentator Joe Buck exclaimed, â€šÃ„ÃºDamon coming to the plate, he can keep on running to New York. Game 6, tomorrow night!â€šÃ„Ã¹ As Loaiza walked dejectedly off the mound he spit out his gum and took a swat at it with his glove. This had been the best heâ€šÃ„Ã´d pitched all year, and still Ortiz had beaten him.
It was Ortizâ€šÃ„Ã´s second walk-off hit of the series and his third of the postseason; no other player in history had hit more than two in his entire career. Afterwards, Theo Epstein said, â€šÃ„ÃºIt might be the greatest game ever played. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´d like to hear other nominationsâ€šÃ„Â¶. That might have been one of the greatest at-bats to end the greatest game ever played.â€šÃ„Ã¹ Pedro Martinez, whoâ€šÃ„Ã´d made headlines in September after referring to the Yankees as â€šÃ„Ãºmy daddyâ€šÃ„Ã¹ after a tough loss to New York, said simply, â€šÃ„ÃºThe Yankees need to think about whoâ€šÃ„Ã´s their Big Papi.â€šÃ„Ã¹