David Ortiz helps transform the Globe into a smut rag

August 1st, 2006 → 8:44 am @

David Ortiz–the man who ends his post-game press conferences by telling reporters to “go home and get some ass”–has made The Boston Globe so giddy it’s breaking out the double-entendres: a chart that accompanies Dan Shaughnessy’s article chronicling Ortiz’s walkoff homers is headlined “Happy endings.” (There is not, alas, a graphic showing the location of Chinatown massage parlors.) The chart does not appear in the Globe‘s online edition, but is on page D5 of today’s paper.

Post Categories: John Henry & Larry Lucchino & Red Sox ownership & Theo Epstein & Tom Werner & trade deadline

Notes from Fenway, June 27, 2006: The return of Pedro and a new attitude on Yawkey Way

June 28th, 2006 → 1:47 am @

This year will be the third straight in which Fenway Park will sell out all of the Red Sox’s home games; still, there are a handful of games in which the park buzzes with a special kind of electricity. The first time the Sox played the Yankees in 2004 was one of those days as, obviously, was last year’s home opener.

Last night was another one of those games. For the first time since he declined the Red Sox’s three-year offer and signed with the Mets, Pedro Martinez—whose 1999 and 2000 seasons were the best years a pitcher has ever had in a Red Sox uniform, and arguably the best two-year performance in the history of the game—was back at Fenway.

Pedro is unquestionably one of the smartest and best-spoken players in baseball, and he rarely speaks without knowing exactly what he wants to say. During a pre-game press conference (you can see the video on NESN), Martinez said he likely hurt his negotiating position with the Sox by telling them how much he wanted to return to Boston after the ’04 season. He then sent a roomful of reporters into paroxysms of laughter. “I wish Lucchino was here,” he said. Speaking of an airport meeting he had in the Dominican Republic with Lucchino and John Henry, he went on: “I could tell Lucchino like I did before when I tilted my glasses down and tell him that I got four years and he goes, ‘No, bullshit.’ I told him I got four years, after that they were leaving for the Winter Meetings, so now you know how much time they had to work it out.”

Lucchino is an easy target, and Pedro knows it: he’s the person who takes most of the heat when there’s a controversy in Red Sox Nation, and he’s likely the least beloved member of an ownership group that has been all but sainted in New England. But Pedro’s recounting of his negotiations with the Sox isn’t fair. (For details about Martinez’s meeting with Sox ownership on that tarmac, the extent to which he wanted to stay in Boston, and specifics about the minute-by-minute negotiations that ended with Martinez signing with the Mets, check out Feeding the Monster.) In fact, Lucchino was the member of the front office most sentimental about keeping Martinez in a Red Sox uniform.

In years past, this kind of quip would have been all that was needed to drive a spike between a former player and team management. Indeed, the Sox during the Dan Duquette-John Harrington era didn’t expend a lot of energy offering olive branches. (Remember Roger Clemens’ return to Fenway?) The Boston papers had already been speculating about what the reaction to Pedro would be—with many predicting a resounding chorus of boos. Surely the pre-game press conference didn’t help his case.

But one of the many things the current ownership has done so well is make Fenway, and the Red Sox, a happier, more welcoming place. After the first inning tonight, the Fenway JumboTron aired a video tribute to Martinez. It was a wonderful montage: of Pedro dumping water on fans’ heads during a humid summer day; of Pedro bounding onto Busch Stadium’s field like an exuberant child after the Sox’s World Series win; of Pedro glaring in at Derek Jeter after striking him out with a nasty curve; of Pedro pointing to the sky. (I might not have chosen Billy Joel’s “This Is The Time” as the soundtrack, but then I wouldn’t play “Sweet Caroline” every game, either. I’d also kick out any fan who tried to start the wave…but I digress.) And the fans at Fenway cheered. The sound in the stadium grew louder until it became a full-throated roar. Martinez, sitting on the top step of the Mets dugout, watched the video with a huge grin on his face. When it ended, a message flashed across the screen: “Pedro Martinez: Welcome back and welcome always.” With that, Martinez came out of the dugout, tipped his cap, waved to the crowd, and then wrapped his arms around himself as if he wanted to hug the crowd. Fenway was as loud as its been all year. The Red Sox–these Red Sox–are too smart to drive a wedge between the team and one of the most transcendent players ever to play the game.

The Martinez tribute was just one of the emotional, bridge-building moments of the night. Before the game, the Sox had a ceremony honoring the 1986 American League Championship team. Bruce Hurst was there, as were Oil Can Boyd, Spike Owen, and Glenn Hoffman. Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, and Dwight Evans were there. Even Calvin Schiraldi, the losing pitcher in Games 6 and 7 of the ’86 Series, was there. But Bill Buckner was not. He was, as MC (and Sox radio announcer) Joe Castiglione explained, taking his daughter on a tour of colleges in Washington State. Last time I checked, most colleges aren’t in session in late June, but Buckner can be excused for not wanting to risk the wrath of the Fenway faithful. He shouldn’t have worried. As Castiglione said Buckner would always be welcomed in Boston, the crowd stood and cheered.


On Thursday, there’ll be an on-field ceremony honoring Pedro, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz. Ortiz had an off night–at least by his standards–but it was a good showing by Ramirez. He picked up a pair of RBIs on a gift-wrapped double misplayed by Mets left fielder Lastings Milledge, gunned down Jose Reyes at the plate in the fifth, and joked with Pedro throughout. But one of the most telling play occuring during in the bottom of the sixth. With one out and nobody on, Manny hit a routine grounder to shortstop. And he sprinted down the line.

Post Categories: Pedro Martinez & Red Sox ownership

The 2000 free agent class and why Manny Ramirez will likely remain with the Red Sox

June 26th, 2006 → 11:39 am @

It’s been five-and-a-half years since the Red Sox signed Manny Ramirez to an eight-year, $160 million contract, which was at the time—and remains today—the second largest contract in the history of baseball, behind only Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million, ten-year deal. Manny and A-Rod signed their deals within days of each other (A-Rod on December 11, 2000, Manny on December 13), and while their contracts were the offseason’s gaudiest, those two deals ended up being the smartest long-term deals given out in the winter of 2000. In one two-week span, from November 30 through December 13, seven players signed contracts worth a total of $770 million. The average annual salary of those deals was $16.7 million. Outside of Manny and A-Rod, the only other deal that worked out—and the only other deal that was really justifiable at the time—was the six-year, $88.5 million contract Mike Mussina got from the Yankees.

The other four deals would be funny if there weren’t families living in this country that can’t afford food or health care. Denny Neagle got a five-year, $51 million contract from the Rockies; that deal included a $9 million buyout for 2006. Neagle pitched a total of 370.3 innings in 2001, 2002, and 2003; over that time he had a 19-23 record and a cumulative ERA of 5.57. On December 4, 2004—exactly four years after he signed his contract—the Rockies terminated their deal with Neagle after he was busted with a hooker. (Neagle sued the Rockies and the two parties eventually came to terms. How things have changed: In 1960, both Ted Williams and Stan Musial insisted on pay cuts–Williams from $125,000 to $90,000; Musial from $100,000 to $80,000–after sub-par 1959 seasons.)

Amazingly, Neagle wasn’t the biggest mistake the Rockies made that offseason. Five days after signing him, Colorado inked Mike Hampton to an eight-year, $121 million deal. Hampton lasted two years with the Rockies before being shipped off to Atlanta, going 14-13 with a 5.41 ERA in 2001 and 7-15 with a 6.15 ERA in 2002.

At least Hampton had a decent track record. Darren Dreifort was a career 39-45 pitcher who’d had exactly one season with an ERA under 4.00 when the Dodgers gave him $55 million for five years. Driefort didn’t pitch in 2002 and likely won’t ever pitch again. For those $55 million, he went 9-15 with a 4.64 ERA, picking up approximately $267,000 per inning pitched and $6.1 million per win.

By those measures, the Mets deal with Kevin Appier—he was given $42 million for four years—looks almost rational. Appier spent a season in Queens, going 11-10 with an ERA about half a run under the league average, before being traded to Anaheim (for Mo Vaughn, of all people). Last year, with the Royals, Appier pitched a total of four innings.

In the five-plus years that Ramirez has been in Boston, one of the most enigmatic players ever to wear a major league uniform has been the focal point of any number of controversies. Ramirez was signed by former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette, and the Red Sox and Ramirez have been on the verge of severing ties on any number of occasions since John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team in 2001. (You’ll need to read the book to find out the real stories behind the various times Ramirez and the Red Sox have come close to parting company.) But with a two-and-a-half years left on his deal, it’s increasingly likely that Ramirez will finish out his contract in Boston, and perhaps even retire as a member of the Red Sox.

In the eleven years since Ramirez became a full-time player, he’s hit 416 home runs and driven in 1349 runs. That’s an average of 38 HRs and 123 RBIs a year. In the five full seasons he’s been with Boston, his production has been remarkably similar, with an average of 40 home runs and 122 RBIs. There are those odd times when Ramirez decides he needs a day off, but he’s averaged 143 games a year since 1995; since coming to the Sox, he’s averaged 144 a year. This year, Ramirez looks like he’s heading towards his twelfth straight year of 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs: as of this morning, he has 20 homers, 51 RBIs, and an OPS of 1.027. There have been plenty of times the Red Sox have been frustrated by Ramirez’s petulance, his intermittently lackadaisical fielding, and his failure to hustle. But the Red Sox realize that Ramirez is rarely a clubhouse distraction, they appreciate his consistency, and are often as awed by his hitting prowess as the rest of us. Ramirez, for his part, seems to realize how good he has it in Boston—for all the talk of the city’s voracious press corps, Manny is pretty much left alone—and he’s kept his pre-season promise to hunker down and focus on his game.

Assuming Ramirez doesn’t get dealt before the July 31 deadline, there’ll be two more years on his contract. This year, he’s one of 18 major leaguers making $14 million a year or more. Is he overpaid? Sure. Are there cheaper options out there? Not really. (It’s worth noting that that hasn’t always been the case in the last several years.) The league’s exuberant revenue sharing policy means more medium- and small-market teams are signing their young stars to long-term deals before they hit free agency, and even the Mets finally seem to understand it makes sense to hold on to prospects who can be cheaply controlled for the first years of their careers. If Ramirez maintains his production—and he shows no signs of significantly slowing down—paying a premium for that kind of power (and that kind of protection for David Ortiz) isn’t the worst thing in the world. The Red Sox–who have one of the smartest front offices in the game–realize that.

Post Categories: A-Rod & Manny Ramirez & Red Sox ownership

Rudy Seanez, the Boston Red Sox, and process versus results

June 19th, 2006 → 1:24 am @

In the bottom of the seventh inning of tonight’s Braves-Red Sox game, Rudy Seanez came in to pitch to Jeff Francoeur with two on, two out, and the Sox leading 3-2—and Francoeur hit Seanez’s first pitch over the left-field wall to give the Braves a two run lead. Which means Seanez screwed up, right? Well, not exactly. Jason Varitek gave a target on the lower left-hand corner of the strike zone, and Seanez hit his spot almost perfectly with a nice slider…or he would have, anyway, if Francoeur hadn’t deposited the ball into the stands.

There’s plenty to second-guess here, to be sure. Francoeur is a free swinger—he has only five walks on the year, to go along with 57 strikeouts, 15 home runs, and 52 RBIs—and Seanez’s pitch was obviously hittable. But with two men on, the Red Sox didn’t want to give Francoeur a 1-0 count, on which he’s hitting .481 this season. And Seanez didn’t throw a hanging slider or leave a pitch out over the heart of the plate—it just nipped the outside corner.

Francouer’s 3-run shot certainly won’t be one of the turning points in the season. The Sox scored six two-out runs in the eighth and went on to win the game, 10-7. And Seanez’s role in the game probably won’t be remembered for long, either, except for those fans who’ve already decided they hate the man. But it is a good example of how baseball offers up numerous daily illustrations of how a good process doesn’t always lead to good results. The Red Sox—with a front office that has a well thought out reasons for virtually every decision they make—offer almost daily illustrations of this. After the 2002 season, the Sox let Cliff Floyd walk rather than pay him the eight or so million he likely would have gotten in arbitration; then, in a move that was criticized at the time, they signed Jeremy Giambi, Bill Mueller, David Ortiz, and Todd Walker for a combined $8.8 million. Before this season, the Sox traded Bronson Arroyo to the Reds for hard-hitting outfielder Wily Mo Pena. That move was, for the most part, treated as good news: with the Red Sox’s outfield in flux, the injury-prone, left-handed Trot Nixon manning right, and the need to start turning over a veteran team that was in danger of rapidly aging, picking up a 24-year old power-hitting outfielder who had a couple of years left before he reached free agency made a lot of sense, especially when the cost was a pitcher who threw up a 4.52 ERA last year. Of course, now that Pena’s on the DL, Arroyo’s 8-3 with a 2.51 ERA, and the Red Sox starting rotation appears to be in danger of falling apart, that move is drawing plenty of criticism.

Hindight, of course, is 20-20, and baseball fans (and sportswriters) have a rich history of knee-jerk reactions in response to whatever happened last night (or last inning). But indulging that tendency, especially in regard to a Red Sox team owned by John Henry and Tom Werner and run by Theo Epstein, would mean missing out on a lot of opportunities to think about and learn why a given decision was made. During spring training this year, Epstein told me the reason he loved working for Henry was that both men believed in making decisions based on carefully articulated processes. That doesn’t mean never paying players more than they might be worth according to a strict statistical analysis—there are some decisions that need to be made for stability, or because of excessive turnover. But it does mean coming up with a plan and sticking to it. And if the team decides certain players are only worth risking three years on, well, that’s what they Sox will offer.

“It doesn’t always work out perfectly,” Epstein said that day. “That’s life. But we believe that if we come up with a plan and stick to it, it’ll work out more often than it doesn’t.”

There’s more–lots more–about the Red Sox’s management philosophy and all the roster moves and in-game decisions of the last several years in Feeding the Monster, out July 11.

Post Categories: Baseball & David Ortiz & Jason Varitek & Red Sox ownership & Sports Reporters & Theo Epstein