I will repent

September 20th, 2007 → 10:32 am @

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

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

Everybody said they’d stand behind me when the game got rough

August 29th, 2006 → 12:14 am @

To put how bad things are for the Sox right now into perspective, check out this lineup:

Crisp CF
Cora SS
Loretta DH
Youkilis LF
Hinske RF
Lowell 3B
Lopez C
Pena 1B
Pedroia 2B

Gabbard SP

There are two — that’s right, two — position players fielding the positions they played on Opening Day: Coco Crisp and Mike Lowell. The starting shortstop began the season as a utility infielder. The DH is the team’s light-hitting second baseman. The cleanup man and left fielder is Kevin Youkilis, who’s best known for taking a lot of walks. The right fielder was a disappointment and the catcher a has-been; both were picked up through waiver trades. Today is the first baseman’s first day in a Red Sox uniform; so far this year, he’s been released by the Tigers and asked for his release from the Yankees Triple-A affiliate. (When the Globe announced the signing of Pena, the headline — no joke — read “Former NU star is added to the mix.”) Oh, and the starting pitcher? The starting pitcher started the year in the minors, and is only playing today because Jon Lester, who also started the year in the minors, is now on the DL.

I could go on. Alright, fine: I’ll go on. For the first time since October 2004 (when the Sox had already clinched a playoff spot), neither Manny Ramirez or David Ortiz is in the starting lineup. On Opening Day, the starting 9 had a collected 1186 home runs; today’s lineup, even adding on five extra months, has hit 450 less round trippers. The Opening Day lineup, even with all that time on the DL, has 147 homers on the season; the team has 169, good for the sixth best in baseball. Today’s lineup has 59, good for…last. The 3-6 hitters — the meat of the order — have a combined 44 home runs on the year. (There are 20 players with more than 30 HRs so far this season.)

You still want more, you sick little masochist? Fine. Hinske’s playing right field because the team’s right fielder and its backup right fielder are injured. Lopez is catching because the team’s catcher and its backup catcher are injured. Gabbard is pitching because Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester are both on the DL (to say nothing of Matt Clement). The starting shortstop is on the DL. The DH was hospitalized for exhaustion. The left fielder’s has a knee so balky he can’t slide…or even run.

Yeah…I don’t think Bobby Abreu would have been the tonic for what ails this club. Hell, I don’t even know if Abreu and Roy Oswalt would have been enough. Sometimes everything goes your way. Sometimes it don’t. This is one of those times when it don’t. But this wheel will come back around. In the meantime, look for something good and uplifting to read (like, say — shameless plug alert — a New York Times bestseller about a happier, simpler time). Or try to figure out how to use your pasts (or, rather, my past) as a rock critic to come up with inscrutable headlines to blog posts. (Blog posts!) Or just read through a pile of magazines. Or look something good…oh, wait. I already tried that.

(I do believe I’ve had enough: it’s 5-0 in the bottom of the fourth and ESPN2 just showed a Red Sox fan with a bag over his head. I’m calling it a night. Tune in tomorrow for updates on this month’s Wired and this week’s New Yorker.)

Post Categories: Losing streaks & Obscure references to Bob Dylan lyrics

I didn’t choose the game (Don’t hate the player edition)

August 24th, 2006 → 10:53 am @

My post yesterday was divided into three main parts. Here’s a Cliff Notes summary.

Part 1:
* Manny Ramirez was freakishly good in the Yankees series
* He’s among most unsung superstars in the game
* Last weekend, Manny really was like Superman

Part 2:
* According to a Sean McAdam article, Manny had to be convinced to play Saturday’s game because he didn’t get credit for a single
* For years, Manny’s hamstrings have been what’s been cited whenever he’s needed personal days

Part 3:
* Sportswriting is unique in that it’s the only place where writers fill the roles of columnists, investigative reporters, and critics
* Omniscient sourcing is used in the sports section far more than it is in other sections of the paper
* McAdam’s column may very well have been the result of this type of situation
* Because of the fact that he reported — accurately, I assume — what happened, he gets boatloads of hatred directed at him

Here are some of the reactions I got to said post:
* I was taking cheap shots at Manny
* Nobody cares when Manny takes a day off
* I am a dork
* I am carrying water for Dan Shaughnessy
* This is a non-story because Manny is on pace to play 150 games this year
* Manny really is hurt and I’m a dick for saying that he’s not
* Sportswriters are patronizing
* Fans don’t want to know this kind of crap
* I’m a misogynist, my imaginary wife hates sex, and I don’t want to hear about Cynthia’s twins
* This is making a mountain out of a molehill
* I am attacking Manny’s approach at the plate
* I am a pissant.


Before people get all upset again, take a deep breath look at what’s actually going on (and what I actually wrote). Sean McAdam did not write a column ripping Manny for making up hamstring injuries. His column, titled “Sox lose game, and perspective,” described “the way the team seems to be unraveling from the inside.” His main example was the situation with Manny and the phantom single. Another example was David Wells throwing up his hands in disgust when Javy Lopez pulled a Rich Gedman, circa Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. And a third example was when, in the middle of a game, one player loudly questioned why a teammate hadn’t been given an error. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a clubhouse in need of a group hug.

Finally, McAdam wrote, “It’s not much of a leap to think that Ramirez’s early exit from yesterday’s game — he pulled himself out of the lineup after the fourth inning, telling trainers he was suffering cramps in the right hamstring — was connected to the events of the previous two days.

“One player yesterday noted that while Ramirez had played hard for much of the season, the events of the last few days seemed to hint at an upcoming ‘episode’ involving Ramirez, in which the slugger takes a decidedly indifferent approach to his play — if he appears in the lineup at all.”

That’s a player, not McAdam. If, in the middle of an epic swoon, there’s a player calling out Manny, I want to know about it.

(A quick note: McAdam is not one of the Red Sox beat writers I was friends, or even particularly friendly, with. He was always perfectly polite, but I don’t think the two of us have ever had a non-professional (or even a non-recorded) conversation. There are plenty of beat writers I am friendly with, and plenty I’m still in touch with. McAdam isn’t one of them.)


I’m not sure how many times, or in how many ways, I can say that I think Manny Ramirez is a great player. I don’t know how I can be more emphatic about the fact that Manny was one of the rare bright spots in a depressingly feeble weekend.

I also don’t know how anyone finds it hard to believe that when, after the double-header loss on Friday, there were those teammates, coaches, and front office employees who found it frustrating that time had to spent on Saturday coaxing Manny into uniform because of a non-single the night before. This is frustrating — not for me, but for the team — regardless of whether Manny had gone 8-for-8 with 6 home runs and 2 triples the night before. This is frustrating regardless of whether Coco Crisp stranded 58 runners in scoring position and whether or not Javy Lopez can catch balls that don’t land directly in his mitt. Again, this isn’t frustrating to me: I was enjoying watching Manny put on another hitting clinic. This is frustrating to teammates.

One of the comments on my post reads, in part, “[McAdam’s] duty to the public is to report the facts of what happened: the team (ASIDE from Manny) collapsed.” Does that mean it’s reporters’ duty to the public to report the facts of what happened so long as what happened doesn’t include anything bad about anyone the public really, really likes? (I’m not talking about Dan Shaughnessy’s column, which I haven’t read, and I’m not talking about conjecture concerning what is or isn’t going on with Manny’s hammies. I’m talking about what actually did happen on Saturday, and I’m talking about actual reactions from actual teammates.) Because that’s not reporting; that’s propaganda. And it’s hypocritical: when Jeter and A-Rod are squabbling because of some on-field (or clubhouse tiff), or when Sheffield starts pissing about how the Yankees haven’t picked up his option year, Red Sox fans (and I’m generalizing here) want to read and hear about that. Dare I say, if the New York media didn’t report that, they’d be pilloried for papering over the reality of the situation.

Manny Ramirez was upset that he didn’t get credit for a single. People on the team were upset he was upset. Sean McAdam told us that. And now he’s the one who’s a jerk. If I was a psychologist, I might wonder if this was a case of displaced anxiety. With so much time and emotion and energy invested in the Red Sox, it’s too painful to direct our anger and frustration at the team itself. But this guy? (Or these guys?) Not so hard. In a way, that’s exactly what Bob Ryan was saying: “Blame must be affixed. Heads must be severed. Once upon a time, losing brought a brief period of sorrow. Now it brings rage. The rest of the season, I fear, will not be much fun.” The Red Sox got swept in a five game series? Well goddamn, that reminds me how much I hate Sean McAdam — who didn’t come with 100 miles of blaming Manny for the losses — and the rest of those snivelling sports columnists.


Two more quick points. For those who think the Boston sports media is relentlessly negative, open your eyes. If A-Rod (or Jeter, or Mussina, or Randy Johnson) had asked out of Saturday’s game, it would have been back page news on the tabs for days on end.

And: a lot of the comments were along the lines of “no one cares about this crap.” But in the 22 hours after a post went up praising Bob Ryan’s column for its clear-eyed perspective, 11 comments were posted; in the 14 hours after yesterday’s post went up, 24 comments were posted. And more than 550 more readers read “Manny and his hammies” than read my post on Ryan’s column.

Finally, speaking of comments, another reminder: when you’ve made your point, there’s no need to repeat yourself. Let’s keep the level of invective to a minimum; it brings down the Socratic level of discourse. OK? Great. I’ll see you all soon.

Post Categories: Bob Ryan & Losing streaks & Oblique references to Ice-T lyrics & Sean McAdam

Yeah, I got nothing

August 10th, 2006 → 11:16 pm @

Tonight, I gave a talk in Coral Gables, Florida. Being down here has reminded me why I wasn’t all that upset to leave Florida when I headed back north in 2000: the oppresive heat, the horrendous traffic, the oppresive heat. Still, the Coral Gables event was lovely: lots of Sox fans, lots of good questions, lots of people wanting to know why the Red Sox had traded Pedro and Johnny.

On my ride back to my hotel, I started to compose an entry in my head, most likely titled “The Stopper.” I’d point out how, in 2004, Curt Schilling was 12-3 after a Red Sox loss, and how this year he was 5-2 thus far…and I was only thus far-ing it because I was totally confident he would pull it out.

A little after 10, I came into my room. Since the game wasn’t on TV (you’d think with all that PPV-porn available you’d think they’d find a way to let us overpay for the privledge of watching a baseball game), I resigneed myself to watching the MLB game cast: the one where you see a message that says “ball in play” for about 15 or 20 seconds before you find out what actually happened. It was the bottom of the eighth. The Red Sox were leading, 4-2. Schilling was under 100 pitches. Wily Mo had smacked a three-run homer. All was right in the world.

And then there was a ball hit into play. And then there was a ball hit into play, except this one was a run scoring play. Then there was another run scoring play. And then another. And then I wanted to cry.

Remember how yesterday I was all, ‘Look on the bright side, think about the future, blah blah blah blah blah.’ Well, forget it. Go back to the ledge. The sky is falling. Life sucks. I want Bobby Abreu. I mean, it’s the goddamn Royals. I would have been happy if the Red Sox had won one game against the goddamn Royals. I would have been happy if the Red Sox had merely gone 2-4 against a pair of last place teams. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Tomorrow? I get to head to the airport at 5 am so I can sit in row 27 for a flight back to New York. Right now that seems like more fun than what I had to watch unfold on my computer screen tonight.

(Note: I reserve the right to go back to being rational and sanctimoniously tell everyone how they should just chill. If you don’t like it, start your own blog.)

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster Readings & Losing streaks

Get smart: Reasons why Sox fans should move back from the ledge

August 10th, 2006 → 8:58 am @

The Red Sox have lost four games in a row, two to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and two to the Kansas City Royals. Those teams have a combined record of 87-141; their combined payrolls are $83 million, compared to $120 million for the Red Sox. This is pathetic. Despicable. Unacceptable. Right?

Wrong. Here’s why.


Theo Epstein’s resignation last October was — and usually is — portrayed as a result of a personality clash with team president and CEO Larry Lucchino. As I detail in Feeding the Monster, personal animosity had something to do with what happened, but just as important was Epstein’s frustration with the PR approach of the team. Epstein — and Lucchino and John Henry and Tom Werner and everyone associated with the team — is thankful that the Red Sox are successful enough financially to allow them to compete with the Yankees even though Boston’s payroll is only about 63 percent of New York’s. (In percentage terms, this is roughly equal to the Tigers’ payroll in relation to the Yankees’. In pure dollars, the difference between New York’s and Boston’s payrolls is more or less the same as the difference between the Red Sox’s and the Royals’ or the Pirates’.)

I’m sure some folks will say that that’s exactly the point: the Tigers, with an $82 million payroll, have 11 more wins than the Red Sox, as well as the best record in baseball. But 2006 will be the Tigers’ first winning record in well over a decade; twice in the past five years, Detroit has lost more 100 games. If that happened in Boston, there’d be riots in the streets.

Epstein and the Sox’s baseball operations crew have focused, over the last several years, on developing the team’s minor league talent. That’s meant not only holding on to prospects but teaching developing players how to deal with success and failure, how to handle the media, and how to develop (and maintain) good working habits. “We’re going to need a lot of patience,” Epstein told a meeting of the team’s senior staff last October, “because there’s going to be a lot of failure. It could get rough.” Epstein warned about telling fans the Red Sox were an “uber-team.” “Sooner or later we might need to take half a step backward in return for a step forward. … What if we win 85 games [in 2006]? We’re bringing up some young players that are going to be better in ’07 than they will be next year. And they’ll probably be even better than that in ’08.”

Right now, the Red Sox have three players — Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, and Jason Varitek — whose combined salaries ($41 million) is greater than the payrolls of the Colorado Rockies, the the Devil Rays, and the Florida Marlins. That kind of spending power is both a blessing and a curse. Players that get huge contracts — the Jeters, the Randy Johnsons, the Pudge Rodriguezs and Barry Bonds and Miguel Tejadas — are players who have reached free agency (and therefore have six years of MLB experience), and demand long-term contracts. It’s rare for players to break into the majors before they’re 22; it’s therefore safe to assume that most players who reach free agency are at least 28…which is more or less the age, historically, at which players reach their peak. That means that those same free agents will likely see a decline in their performances at the exact moment they seem an exponential increase in their salaries.

The entire Red Sox organization thinks (and hopes) that by using the money the team does have judiciously to pay for high-priced free agents and also developing its own talent, the Sox should be one of those rare teams that can compete for the playoffs year after year after year, and not just once a decade, like the Tigers. But that won’t always happen. Some years, a team with a lot of older players will also have a lot of injuries. Some years, the young players will have growing pains. Some years, the free agents who pushed the team to success one year (like Keith Foulke in 2004) will be salary drains another year (like Keith Foulke in 2005 and 2006). And some years, fans need to be patient enough (and smart enough) to realize this.

A few weeks back, at a game in Fenway, I sat next to someone who spent most of the game griping about how much the Sox sucked. He was jabbering on to anyone who would listen: Fuck this, screw that, this team is awful, the front office is stupid, I’m a better pitcher than Matt Clement. When Jason Varitek tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt in a late-inning situation, this guy starts telling all his buddies how that move demonstrates how stupid Terry Francona is. “See, if he’s going to have Jason Varitek bunt, he should just send in Willie Harris.” His friend was impressed: “I don’t even know who Willie Harris is.” “He’s our best bunter,” the guy said. “And he’s fast.” He also was playing for Pawtucket that day. He also isn’t a catcher, and the Sox would still need someone to receive pitches. (And no, it wouldn’t have been a good move to put in Doug Mirabelli.) Losing is painful. Part of the reason rooting for the Red Sox can be so wonderful is because our emotional connection to the team is incredibly strong. But let’s not become knee-jerk naysayers.

These last few weeks have been frustrating. Without David Ortiz (or without their 16-2 record in interleague play), it’s frightening to think where the Sox would be right now. While it’s possible the Sox will sack up, come back, and rip off a string of wins reminiscent of their late-August, early-September run in 2004, it doesn’t seem hugely likely: there are a lot of injuries, a lot of older players, and a lot of pitching woes. Red Sox fans have been cited as the most passionate fans in baseball; it’s a good time to show we can be the smartest ones as well.


I watched a couple of innings of last night’s game from a sports bar in Delray Beach, Florida. It made for grim viewing: even though the Red Sox were leading, the team looked dispirited, exhausted, and overwhelmed. It’s hard to imagine that Javy Lopez ever knew how to catch a baseball; last night, he seemingly was unable to get to any ball more than a couple of inches out of the strike zone. Even Gabe Kapler, a player Terry Francona loves for his hustle and attitude, looked miserable after he got caught in a rundown.

Last year’s August series with the Royals was pretty brutal, too: Schilling got shelled in his return to the rotation, and the Sox lost 2 out of 3. And plenty of good teams go through miserable stretches: the Yankees, remember, started last year 11-19. Let’s hope that, whatever happens this postseason, the Sox can get back to making games fun to watch. That, at least, is not too much to ask.

Post Categories: Fans & Losing streaks & Preparing for the future

Suddenly, losing 4 in a row to last place teams doesn’t seem that bad

August 10th, 2006 → 7:45 am @

There’s nothing to put baseball into perspective like a trans-Atlantic terrorist plot designed to cause “mass murder on an unimaginable scale.”

Post Categories: Fans & Losing streaks & Preparing for the future