Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be Yankees fans (The 2008 Maple Street Red Sox Annual, Part 1)

March 21st, 2008 → 10:08 am @

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, 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 don’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.

“We’re going to need a lot of patience, because there’s going to be a lot of failure,” Epstein said. “It could get rough. Right now, there’s a lot of hope [about the team’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 can’t reach the wall and can’t find his stroke because it’s freezing out—well, that will happen.”

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.

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Gordon Edes & Maple Street Press Annual & Yankees

Gordon Edes on evaluating the past (and predicting the future)

May 6th, 2007 → 9:13 am @

I’m in Boston this weekend (for an engagement party — my own, actually — which is why I’m going to need to split in a second), which gives me a chance to read the paper copy of the Globe with my morning cereal. I was very happy to see an article by Gordon Edes that looked at last year’s trades in the context of what’s been going on recently. It’s rare that you get this kind of retrospective look at recent history when there don’t seem to be clear cut answers, and rarer still when there’s a re-examination of moves that engendered criticism when they occurred (or soon afterwards). (I’m not holding my breath waiting for Shaughnessy to re-visit this statement: “Is anybody rethinking that Johnny Damon decision now? On a day when Coco Crisp was rested, Damon continued his Bang Bang tour through Boston…”)

As Gordo points out, things look a lot differently now than they did at various points last year: to take the most obvious example, Anibal Sanchez has just been shipped to AAA, and Josh Beckett looks like the pitcher everyone hoped he’d be. The one thing I would have liked to see: an acknowledgment that it’ll be many years still before we can fully appreciate the pros and cons of these deals…just as it won’t be until the end of next season before we’ll know whether it was a good idea for the Mets to offer Pedo four guaranteed years.

Post Categories: Gordon Edes & Sports Reporters & Trades

Can you imagine the attention this would be getting if Daisuke was back with the Lions?

December 19th, 2006 → 10:43 am @

For the first time in a good long time, there’s a simmering issue involving the Red Sox that isn’t receiving the kind of national attention usually reserved for missile treaties: J.D. Drew’s still unsigned contract. The Red Sox, according to reports that still haven’t been confirmed (at least on the record), by the Sox, Drew, or Scott Boras, are worried about the results of a physical. (Specifically, they’re worried about Drew’s gimpy shoulder.) (Drew’s public comments on the issue — that the shoulder has, as recently as last year, hurt his power production — don’t seem to help any kind of union claim he might make should the deal actually fall apart.)

The road bumps here are receiving the kind of temperate discussion you might expect in, say, St. Louis. After all the speculation that the Sox gave Drew that supposedly above-market contract in order to smooth their way to signing Matsuzaka, there haven’t been any (or at least very few) conspiracy theorists claiming the Sox are convientently backing out of the deal now that they have Daisuke in the fold. There also hasn’t been any growing chorus of concern; after all, if Drew somehow doesn’t end up in Boston, the options in right involve either everyday use of the far-from polished Wily Mo or making an effort to sign the power-deficient Trot Nixon to a one-year deal.

Anyway. This’ll all probably be worked out in the next few days. In the meantime, if you haven’t read Gordon Edes’s piece on the Matsuzaka negotiations (which I alluded to in a throwaway line in yesterday’s Chass rant), check it out. Also worth perusing is the always excellent Rob Bradford’s piece in the (still criminally inept) Eagle Tribune.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Gordon Edes & J.D. Drew & Rob Bradford

It’s official! Sort of! Almost!

December 13th, 2006 → 1:51 pm @

From Gordo’s Globe blog: “A source close to the negotiations confirmed that the Red Sox contingent in Southern California is flying back to Boston with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzka and his agent, Scott Boras, on board. ‘You can assume that a deal is done or close,’ said another source with direct knowledge of the talks.” (Who is this mysterious “source with direct knowledge’? Besides, I mean, someone who’s close enough to the actual negotiating room to know what’s what and who also has enough time to put in calls to reporters whenever anything happens.) Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but the Herald‘s Michael Silverman stresses that “negotiations are ongoing” and that “the final language of a long-term deal has not yet been struck.” In fact, “[o]ne source said it is too early to say that a preliminary agreement has been reached. However, it is safe to conclude that Matsuzaka and Boras did not board Henry’s private jet if both they and the Red Sox were not, at the very least, hopeful of striking a deal.”

I was covering Bush HQ in Austin, Texas, on election night in 2000…and honestly? I don’t think there was this level of minute-by-minute coverage back then. Of course, that wasn’t nearly as important a story.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Gordon Edes & Michael Silverman & Red Sox front office & Scott Boras

Dicegate: T-38 hours and counting. Where’s George Mitchell when you need him?

December 13th, 2006 → 10:42 am @

George Mitchell has some impressive credentials — he served two terms in the Senate, he’s acknowledged as the prime force in getting the Belfast Peace Agreements signed in 1998, and he served as a co-chairman of the U.S. Task Force on the U.N. He’s also the director of the Red Sox. If he can negotiate peace in Northern Ireland, surely he can find a way to bring the Sox and Scott Boras together on the international crises known as Dicegate.

If he’s not holed up in Southern California yet, it might be too late. Today’s Herald reports the deal has to get done by this morning, Pacific Time, when the Trans World Henry heads back to Boston. If the Diceman ain’t on the plane with plans to take a physical, there won’t be a deal. (Of course, the parties could negotiate throughout the day and Matsuzaka could still, conceivably, be on a plane tonight. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that MLB tells the Sox and Boras that if they have a deal by tomorrow’s midnight deadline, it’s alright if it’s conditional on a physical.)

Meanwhile, the Globe‘s indefatigable Gordon Edes has a three AM update from his ubiquitous “source with direct ties to the negotiation” saying the “dialogue continues.” “That would appear to leave open the possibility that a deal could still be struck before the Sox make their scheduled departure this morning,” Edes writes. “But nothing appeared imminent.”

I figure the next updates will come around noon or 1 EST, when the business day starts out in L.A. Of course, I’ve assumed lots of things that’ve turned out to be wrong.

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Gordon Edes & Red Sox front office & Scott Boras

What’s that saying about imitation and flattery again?

December 11th, 2006 → 9:21 am @

Remember that “Tumblin’ Dice” headline in yesterday’s Herald? Gordon Edes does, too.

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Boston Herald & Gordon Edes & Sports Reporters

The cartel: at war with itself! (Even the Globe is shocked at Chass’s shoddy work)

December 9th, 2006 → 1:17 pm @

Much is made in Boston of the way the connections between the Globe and the Red Sox influence coverage of the team. (The New York Times Co. owns the Globe as well as a minority stake in New England Sports Ventures, the holding company that owns the Red Sox.)

At least we know the Globe and the Times aren’t all lovey-dovey. In today’s Globe, Gordon Edes gives the Times‘s Murray Chass a little lesson on what, exactly, it means to be a responsible journalist. (For some reason, I don’t think Chass is real open to these kind of constructive criticisms when they come from me.)

“Epstein had little to say about a column by Murray Chass in yesterday’s New York Times that raised the issue of whether the Sox were guilty of tampering in their pursuit of free agent outfielder J.D. Drew,” Edes writes. “In a story headlined, ‘Talk of Misconduct Swirling Around the Red Sox,’ Chass, relying primarily on anonymous sources, suggested that the topic was a popular one at the winter meetings, and that it was possible the Dodgers would file a charge of tampering with the commissioner’s office.” And then Gordo goes on to lay out who exactly hasn’t heard anything about the subject that Chass says was “a hot topic of private conversation at the general managers’ meeting” as well as the winter meetings: Bob Dupuy, MLB’s president and CEO, who told Edes he “has not heard of anything” about possible tampering. (Of course, if Chass had bothered to check with Dupuy it might have poked a hole in his anti-Red Sox fervor.) If there was a tampering charge, Dupuy’d be the guy to handle it.

Gordo also quotes — on the record — a number of people who directly refute the entire contention of Chass’s article, including:

* Scott Boras, Drew’s agent: “I did my due diligence. There were a number of teams that need ed a 3, 4, or 5 hitter, and J.D. was the only center fielder. I went to the Dodgers a week before the opt-out date and had lunch with Colletti. I had not yet met with J.D. I said if you want to talk about it, we are prepared to talk because J.D. has enjoyed his time in LA.”

* Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, who, through a spokesman, “refuted Chass’s allegation that there was a rift between Colletti and Epstein, and that he refused to take Epstein’s phone calls in Orlando. ‘They probably talked about 20 times last week,’ said spokesman Josh Rawitch. Indeed, when Colletti arrived at the meetings late last Sunday night from the Dominican Republic, one of his first orders of business was to conduct an hourlong face-to-face meeting with Epstein on a possible deal for Manny Ramírez.”

* Edes also points out that, in the silly world of tampering charge threats, the Red Sox could hypothetically charge Dodgers manager Grady Little of tampering when he told a reporter Manny would “make a nice Christmas present” for the team.

* And finally, “one other component of the Dodgers-Red Sox relationship not mentioned in the Times article: Sox owner John W. Henry and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt have a relationship that Henry in the past has described as close, and while Henry would not comment on the Times piece, it is known that he and McCourt have spoken on several occasions since Drew left the Dodgers and did not raise the issue of tampering with the Sox owner.”

I’m not saying Chass made this story up out of whole cloth. But he sure as hell seemed pretty determined not to do a lick of reporting that might uncover anything that would possibly go against his thesis (Theo is bad, the Red Sox suck), which he seems to have come up with about, oh, three years ago.

There aren’t any corrections about Chass’s story in today’s Times; I wouldn’t hold my breath for any in the next couple of days either. I doubt, too, that Barney Calame, the Times independent, internal policeman, is going to be launching an inquiry anytime soon. But maybe he should. Let him know what you think: his contact info is below…

Barney Calame
Phone: (212) 556-7652
Address: Public Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd St.
New York, NY 10036-3959

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Gordon Edes & Murray Chass & New York Times