Free-agent signing of the year

April 19th, 2007 → 9:11 am @

It’s true: Rob Bradford, who’d been toiling in the purgatory of the Eagle-Tribune, has been hired by the Herald. I’ve long been a fan of Rob’s — he’s one of the best guys on the beat, and goes out and reports out new stories with new angles, an especially difficult task in Boston. (This isn’t a slam on anyone else covering the Sox: I’m a big proponent of newspapers dedicating staffers to reporting on sports as opposed to asking the same guy/gal who’s writing up game summaries and doing a Notes column to also come up with enterprise stories. It’s no accident that the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Balco reporting came from the work of two investigative reporters and not the paper’s Giants beat writers.)

This is the second Herald poach of an Eagle-Tribune staffer in the past year: John Tomase, who preceded Bradford as the E-T‘s Sox writer, was hired by the Herald last year to cover the Pats (and pinch hit when needed on baseball). That’s two good guys coming out of the E-T and two great hires by the Herald. For all the talk over the last several years about the Herald‘s tenuous business situation (and it’s purported $2 million a year in operating losses), they’ve an impressive investment in what’s long been the most profitable beat in Boston. (For the papers, that is…not the reporters.)

In other Red Sox-media news, it’s nice to see that Schilling not only agrees with me about Bradford, he also shares my opinion of my favorite punching bag, the ineffable Murray Chass. From a Q&A Schilling posted on his blog yesterday:

“Boston, like any other city, is what the player makes it, period. Every city has it’s CHB* to some degree. That miserable curmudgeon who will be the ‘anti-opinion’ guy because that’s the only niche he can fill. You come to realize that most times that person, or those people, are just bitter unhappy people and it has nothing to do with you in the end. If you allow people like that to skew your perspective on guys like McCadam (sic), Bradford, Browne, Buckley, Maz, then you can miss the boat. … [When] you read weekly sludge from the Murray Chas’ (sic) of the world it gets easy to let it roll off your back. There are going to be bad people with rotten agendas in any workplace, you just laugh and move on.”

I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from reading Chass; I was, frankly, worried about my blood pressure. I’m sure that’ll end soon…

* CHB=Curly Haired Bastard/Curly Haired Boyfriend=a Carl Everett-coined nickname given to Shaughnessy, although Simmons gets credit for the acronym.

Post Categories: Curt Schilling & Murray Chass & Rob Bradford

The Schilling files

April 5th, 2007 → 11:08 am @

I gots to run, and there’s been several full days of baseball to mull over with nary a peep out of me. There have been some nice developments: last night Beckett didn’t seem afraid to throw his curve, and while KC probably isn’t the best indicator of what the season’s going to be like, on a night when Mike Lowell seemingly wasn’t able to hold onto the ball, it was nice to see the rest of the Hanley Ramirez trade bait step up to the plate, as it were. Tek finally got a hit (although I’m increasingly less confident we’ll see a lot of those this year…to say nothing of ’08). J.D. “Don’t call me Nancy” Drew is stroking the ball. And Youkilis is showing he’s ready to take Manny’s mantle as the premier slugger in the game.
But the real thing to wonder/worry/think about right now is Curt Schilling. Yes, it was only one start — one Schilling himself acknowledges was a sucky one (or, as Gordo puts it, dismal). But it was also exactly the type of start you’d expect Schilling to excel in — Opening Day (lifetime 3-1 record), pitching for a team that just went all-out to acquire the most heralded new pitcher in all of baseball. So what do we have here? A 40-year-old fastball pitcher who’s trying to learn a change-up and has said publicly that he wants to pitch to contact more (which he sure did on Monday).

The best piece I’ve read on this subject is Tony Mazz’s column in Tuesday’s Herald. Tony doesn’t recommend anyone line up, lemming like, at the nearest bridge, but he does make some excellent points. Such as:

* The only reason a potential Hall of Famer who has lived for upwards of 20 years off of his fastball decides to learn a new offspeed pitch is because he’s worried said fastball doesn’t have the zip it once did, and…

* “The truth? This really is not about one game, particularly in a 162-game season that undoubtedly will feature a succession of peaks and valleys. This is about Schilling wanting to pitch another season, about the Red Sox’ reluctance to give him a contract extension, about Schilling now being 2-5 with a 5.34 ERA in his last 10 starts dating back to last season.”

This will be an interesting story to follow. I’d never doubt Schilling — he’s shown time and time again that’s a loser’s bet. But right now, I don’t know how much I’d wager on him either.

Post Categories: Curt Schilling

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

This very well may be one more thing Curt Schilling can beat me at.

March 8th, 2007 → 4:16 pm @

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.

Post Categories: Bill Simmons & Curt Schilling & Feeding the Monster reactions

But seriously, folks

February 2nd, 2007 → 10:50 am @

Speaking of Shaughnessy, lord knows he and I are not the best of friends. I called him out in Feeding the Monster; he called me something along the lines of a two-bit, gutless coward. (My standard and stupid quip about this when asked is that “I don’t think the Shaughnessys are going to invite me over for Thanksgiving dinner anytime soon.” Seriously. Listen the next time I’m asked about Dan on the radio.)

That said, there are things I respect enormously about Shaughnessy. One is his fearlessness and his consistency in showing up to take his lumps after coming down hard on a player. (Unlike, say, Jay Mariotti.) Another is his (not quite as consistent) proclivity to go out and actually ask questions when mailing in a snide column would be far easier route.

Today’s piece on Schilling’s contract ultimatum is a perfect example. Schilling doesn’t get along with Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy knew that Schilling knew that Shaughnessy was going to get on him about his “sign me before the season starts” bit. And he called to get comment, and in doing so, got some gems.


Is Schilling negotiating through the media?

“That’s the way everything happens in this town, but they know I’m not doing that. Perception outside of the Red Sox and myself is uncontrollable for us. I’ve talked to Mr. Henry and Theo and we talked on this before it got public. We’re all in a good place.”

I call BS on that one; there’s nothing uncontrollable about telling people you need to be signed before the season starts, just as there’s nothing uncontrollable about telling WEEI that you’re going to play in ’08. For an example of how contract extensions can be done without media attention, take a look at Ortiz, David, circa 2006.

There’s also this gem:

“The media is the hardest part of this. There’s so much of it and there’s a lot of bitterness and jealousy here that doesn’t exist in other places. You guys have an immense impact on the ebb and flow of the fans and their take on things. It’s an ingrained part of culture here.”

I agree; the media is one of the hardest parts about playing in Boston. But it doesn’t seem to me that Curt is someone who shrinks from that spotlight. (Seriously, how did he keep a straight face while saying, “I don’t enjoy talking to the media. I don’t look forward to being in front of you guys . . .”?)

I love watching Curt pitch. (Most of the time; I didn’t love watching him come in as the newly annointed closer in ’05 to the strains of Guns ‘n’ Roses immadiately after a red-eye flight from California (necessitated because of an appearance on an ESPN awards show) only to get tattooed by the Yankees. But I digress.) His performance in the ’04 playoffs is rightly celebrated as one of the greatest of all time. I also think that it was totally unnecessary, and totally predictable, to cause this kind of mini-firestorm. Curt is too smart not to know this was going to be the result of his going public; to claim differently is disingenuous.

Post Categories: Curt Schilling & Dan Shaughnessy

Meet the new ace…same as the old ace: The big Schill pulls a Pedro

February 1st, 2007 → 10:06 am @

Let’s see: in the months since the ’06 season ended, the Sox were seconds away from trading Manny, until they weren’t. They were about to lose the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka, until they didn’t. They signed J.D. Drew to a five-year deal, until they didn’t, and then they did. And in just the last week, the Red Sox were thisclose to a deal to bring Todd Helton to Boston, and then they weren’t. In the midst of all this, the New York Times has been waging a bizarre jihad against Theo Epstein, who, oh, by the way, happened to get married. (Don’t worry: he nuptials did not really feature Coney Island’s Nathan’s hot dogs.)

It’s been a hectic offseason. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for a calm couple of weeks until spring training starts.

It shouldn’t be too much to ask, but it is. With Curt Schilling in danger of being supplanted as the team’s top pitcher by Dice-K, Schill pulled a Pedro and picked up the gun #45 had pointed at the Sox’s front office before the ’04 season. Less than a year after saying ’07 would be his last season in the bigs, Schilling announced — on WEEI, naturally — that he would pitch in 2008. Oh, and he sure as shit better get a deal before April 1. “There won’t be any distractions in questioning because if I don’t have a contract before the season starts, then I’ll get a contract after the 2007 season, as a free agent,” Schilling said last night. What if the Red Sox want to, you know, see how a 40-year old whose last two years could generously be described as up and down was doing once the rigors of the season started? “That’s not going to happen,” he said. “I think I’ve earned the right to do one or the other. If they don’t think the risk is worth the reward, or vice versa, I get that.”

That language might sound familiar to readings of Feeding the Monster. Here’s how I described the situation as it stood in spring training 2004…a couple of months after the Sox signed Schilling:

“Pedro Martinez, meanwhile, who was paid $14 million in 2002 and was signed for $15.5 million in 2003, said he felt disrespected by the fact that the club hadn’t picked up his $17.5 million club option for 2004. If the Red Sox didn’t act by the time the 2003 season started, Martinez said, he’d assume his career with the club was over. ‘It’s bye-bye once the year starts,’ he told reporters. ‘I’m gone. I’m just going to pitch. I won’t wait until the All-Star break to talk to them.’ …

With Schilling on board, Martinez wondered if the Red Sox were planning on keeping him around beyond the 2004 season, and without a contract, he was both hesitant to risk further injury and worried about giving the impression he was less than totally healthy. Martinez’s anxiety about pitching during one season before he knew if he’d get paid for the next had been apparent since 2003, when, during spring training, he began agitating for the Red Sox to pick up his 2004 option. Now, when he spoke of Grady Little’s decision to leave him in Game 7 of the previous fall’s American League Championship Series against the Yankees, he talked not of the fact that the game was on the line but of the risk to his arm. “I was actually shocked I stayed out there that long,” he told Sports Illustrated. ‘But I’m paid to do that. I belong to Boston. If they want me to blow my arm out, it’s their responsibility.’ …

The same fragility that made Martinez anxious about securing a long-term deal made the Red Sox concerned about giving him one. ‘The arm angle Pedro had in spring training was very worrisome,’ says John Henry. When Henry asked one of the team’s top baseball operations executives what kind of season Martinez would likely produce, the answer stunned him: ‘I was told, ‘He’ll win 12 or 15 games, have a 4.00 ERA or a 3.50 ERA.’ And I was like, ‘Fuck.’’ Despite this prediction, the team wanted to re-sign its star. ‘I thought he should finish his career in Boston,’ says Henry. …

On April 30th, as the Red Sox sat in the visiting clubhouse in Arlington, Texas, waiting for a thunderstorm to pass, Martinez decided to chat with the Herald’s Michael Silverman, his favorite reporter on the beat. Martinez told Silverman he was cutting off all negotiations with the Red Sox until season’s end. ‘I’m just really sad for the fans in New England who had high hopes that…I was going to stay in Boston,’ Martinez said. ‘[The fans] don’t understand what’s going on, but I really mean it from my heart—I gave them every opportunity, every discount I could give them to actually stay in Boston and they never took advantage of it. Didn’t even give me an offer.’ His contract status, he said, wouldn’t be a distraction for him or the team ‘because I’m not going to allow it.'”

It’s no secret that Pedro and Schilling were not the best of friends, and it’s no secret that Pedro was wounded that Schilling overtook him as the Sox’s best pitcher. It turns out the two pitchers might not be that different after all. Negotiating in the media? Check. Playing on fans’ emotions and Boston’s tendency towards soap operas? Check. Needing the attention focused on himself? Check.

On the upside, 2004 — another season with its fair share of drama — ended up okay when all was said and done.

(Obligatory FTM plug: The reviewers love it, it was a New York Times bestseller, and it’s available for only $17.16 on Amazon. Oh, and, of course, signed, personalized bookplates are still available free of cost. And How can you resist?)

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & Curt Schilling & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Pedro Martinez & Red Sox front office & Theo Epstein

And now for something completely…summarizing

January 29th, 2007 → 11:30 am @

In other news:

* Schilling wants to see how many up-and-down years he can tack on to the end of his career, declaring he’ll play in 2008. He also says, “”It wouldn’t be in New York. No. I could not make that move.” I love when Red Sox folk heroes lay it on the line and say they’ll never play for the Yankees.

* Phildaelphia Inquirer columnist Jim Salisbury makes the point that revenue sharing is having some not-so-great effects on player salaries and small-market spending. Weird. I feel like I’ve heard something like that before.

* The world of baseball writers can be a pretty clubby place; it’s why I love guys like Keith Law, who think nothing of spanking colleagues for voting for Justin Morneau for MVP: “The reality of baseball is that a great offensive player at an up-the-middle position is substantially more valuable than a slightly better hitter at a corner position. And when that up-the-middle player is one of the best fielders at his position in baseball, there’s absolutely no comparison. Joe Mauer was more valuable than Justin Morneau this past season. … I have a hard time fathoming why any voter would put Morneau at the top of his ballot with so many obviously better candidates — Mauer, Jeter, Ortiz, Jermaine Dye, unanimous Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana or the criminally neglected Carlos Guillen (the best player on the AL pennant winner) — and in reality, more than half the voters did just that.”

Along those same lines, Sunday provided me with a reminder of why I love Bob Ryan. His column about the boneheads who left Ripken and Gwynn off their Hall of Fame ballots is a true classic; it’s not every day a sportswriter calls out his brethren for being, well, retarded. Some choice quotes:

“What if someone actually thought I were one of the eight who didn’t deem Cal a legit Hall of Famer or the 13 who didn’t think Gwynn had done enough to get in? I may not leave the house without a bag over my head.”

“Can you honestly look me in the eye and say that this man should not be in the Hall of Fame? Yes or no?”

“The primary reason, we are often told, is that some members of the voting body have a personal policy not to vote for someone the first year he is eligible. I cannot begin to comprehend the depths of such idiocy.”

“But please don’t think I’m one of them. I did the right thing. I swear.”

Awesome: the man is actually embarrassed that someone might confuse him for someone else from his profession.

Post Categories: Bob Ryan & Curt Schilling & Keith Law & Slate & Sports Reporters