Back on the grid…

September 27th, 2006 → 9:41 am @

Four days off the grid…and I didn’t implode. (In fact, it was surprisingly pleasant.) But I know the group of people who want to hear about how I spend my off hours includes my parents and…well, that might be it. So let’s get back into it, shall we?

There are four more games left in the season; it looks unlikely that David Ortiz will top Ruth’s or Maris’s 60 and 61 home run seasons, respectively. But if he gets to 58 (he sits at 54 currently), he’ll tie Hank Greenberg and Jimmie Foxx at 58, which would put him fourth on the all-time list (behind Maris in ’61 and Ruth in ’27 and ’21) of people who weren’t publicly shamed at last year’s Congressional hearing on steroids. That’s reason enough to watch the remaining games. (There’s also the mini-drama of whether the Sox will finish above the Jays in the rankings…)

One other quick note: after Schilling’s win last night — and how gratifying is it to see him end the season on a high note? — the verbally expansive righty was his usually classy self. When discussing the season he put the blame on his shoulders by saying, “I should have won a lot more. I should have pitched better.” That’s a little like Ortiz saying he should have hit for a higher average.

I’ll have lots more in the coming days, including season-ending report cards on players, executives, the front office, and much more…

Post Categories: Curt Schilling & David Ortiz & Red Sox

David Wells headed anywhere except to the Yankees

August 29th, 2006 → 6:47 pm @

From the “not-hugely surprising” department: the Sox are apparently shopping David Wells, who passed through waivers and can be traded to any team (although it’ll have to happen in the next couple of days for him to be eligible for the postseason). In this article, Buster Olney lists the Mets, Twins, Diamondbacks, Padres, Dodgers, Phillies, Cardinals, A’s, and Reds as possible destinations. That’s nine teams. Eight other teams have hopes of reaching the playoffs: the Tigers, White Sox, Giants, Marlins, Astros, Brewers, Braves, and Yankees. The Tigers and the White Sox aren’t in the market for starting pitching, despite recent woes. The ‘Stros have Clemens, Oswalt, and Pettitte; their problem is their pen. The Marlins would only agree to a trade if Wells paid them. The Braves’ best pitcher and its GM are too busy sniping back and forth to think about playing baseball in October, the Brewers are suffering from the curse of Bud Selig, and it wouldn’t be right if Barry Bonds got to finish his career in San Francisco with a trip to the playoffs.

That leaves the Yankees. Wells loves the Yankees. New York loves Wells (this guy notwithstanding). The Yankees could certainly use pitching: any team that’s relying on Jared Wright (9-7, 4.72), Cory Lidle (10-9, 4.64 ERA) and, um, Randy Johnson, (14-10, 4.96) can’t be totally secure about its starters. (And it doesn’t look like Carl Pavano will be helping the Yankees this year. Or ever.)

Which I guess means that while players have no compunction about jumping directly from one team to the other, the front offices still aren’t crazy about dealing with each other. Especially in the middle of a pennant race.

(Tomorrow if Wells ends up in pinstripes and this is proven wrong I’ll blame it all on Buster. No, not that one; this one.)

Post Categories: David Wells & Oblique references to Buster Bluth & Red Sox & Yankees

Soundtrack to the apocalypse

August 20th, 2006 → 11:16 am @

I’ve always relied on the Stones for apocalyptic soundtracks. There’s no one album that does the trick, although a mix that relies heavily on four albums released between 1968 and 1972 — Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street — usually works out pretty well. As far as actual songs go, nothing beats “Gimme Shelter.” That part where Merry Clayton‘s voice cracks on that second “murder”? Man. I certainly hope the rumor that the intensity of the song induced a miscarriage is false. (It seems likely to be a product of the fog of Satanism that clung to the Stones during that time.) But I’d believe it if it were true.

Anyway, sometime around the seventh inning of yesterday’s game, I gave up and went for a run. And was probably listening to Merry scream and shout at about the exact time when Tim McCarver said he’d read my book and thought it was marvelous. Which is sad: that would have been pretty cool to hear. (I was still watching in the fourth, when a discussion of pitch counts and a shot of Jon Bon Jovi resulted in this: “Wonder what singers think of pitch counts. What are they on when they go on stage? A word count? Or a song count, perhaps?”)

Anyway. Merry, darling, I do love your voice. And I hope I’m listening to you shriek at any point tonight.

Post Categories: Merry Clayton & Red Sox & Yankees

Who’s your daddy? (1959 edition)

August 18th, 2006 → 12:13 am @

The Yankees played in every World Series from 1955 through 1964…except for 1959. That was also the last time the Red Sox and the Yankees played a five-game series at Fenway. And the Sox swept.

Post Categories: Red Sox & Yankees

I’m not worthy

August 3rd, 2006 → 10:34 am @

In the course of researching, writing, and promoting Feeding the Monster, I’ve had a chance to meet, talk to, and learn from many amazing people. Last night stood out as a unique, wonderful experience. Doris Kearns Goodwin–Pulitzer winner, political commentator, baseball fanatic–spoke with me about FTM at the escalator-challenged Union Square Barnes & Noble.

There was a certain surrealness to the whole experience: the author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, as well as brilliant books about FDR, LBJ, the Kennedys, and growing up with the Brooklyn Dodgers, spent an hour in 100-degree heat talking to me about my book. My own parents could not have been more gracious or complimentary. Even more incredible: Doris managed to seamlessly work in references to both “tits” and “balls.” And I did not.

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster Readings & Red Sox & Smoky Joe Wood

The Red Sox’s rookie pitchers, Dee Brown, and the development of minor league talent

July 24th, 2006 → 11:03 am @

In Sunday’s Kansas City Star, Joe Posnanski–one of the truly great baseball writers out there–has a feature on Dee Brown, a former Royals can’t-miss prospect who, in 1999, at age 21, was a minor-league sensation, hitting .331 with 25 homers, 30 steals, and 107 runs. At the time, Baseball America ranked Brown the #11 prospect in the country. Today, seven years later, he’s playing for the AA Witchita Wranglers. He’s been released five times.

Posnanski’s story is heartbreaking, a tale of talent, character, and maturity colliding with spectacularly disastrous results. It’s also a tale of how to mishandle young talent, and might help explain why the Royals have remained mired in the cellar when other teams with low payrolls have had some success. It might even help explain why the Red Sox’s pitching staff has been propped up by a trio of rookies who’ve shown surprisingly consistent poise and confidence.

In his story, Posnanski recounts how, in 2000, Brown got news that his mother had breast cancer. He spent the night in tears, and in the next day’s game, he didn’t run out a fly ball. His manager benched him, made a throat-slashing gesture with his pencil, and told Brown he was “done.” Brown swore at his manager and took off from the stadium–an immature reaction, to be sure, and one that likely signified a player not only struggling with a personal crisis but also in need of some nurturing and patience.

Brown was promptly suspended. And, as he tells it, he was never forgiven. “I was a kid, man,” he tells Posnanski. “And they decided I was a bad person.” (This account is backed up by a former Royals employee, who told Posnanski, “I’ve never seen any organization fuck with a player the way the Royals did with Dee Brown. They ruined him.”)

So what does this have to do with the Sox? A lot. Theo Epstein and the team’s baseball operations crew have been proud of the fact that they’ve held on to their prospects. But they’ve done more than that. They’ve tried to figure out the effect coaches have on developing players. Instead of letting prospects get by on their talent, they’ve tried to teach them good habits. (Take, for instance, the “Red Sox Minor League Quality Plate Appearances Award,” which is given out every month.) And they’ve taught the team’s minor leaguers how to deal with the media, how to deal with success, and how to deal with failure.

Last September, a little over a month after his big league debut, Jonathan Papelbon told me, “In January, I did the media development program. A lot of the subjects we went over in that time period are coming up now, and I’m able to go back to that and rely on it and say, ‘Hey, what did I learn and how can it help me?’ So in terms of dealing with the press and everything else that comes with playing major league baseball, yeah, it’s helped.” Papelbon is clearly an incredibly poised, confident pitcher. But I’d bet it’s not coincidental that he’s dealt with his incredible success in stride and has shown such steely resolve while mowing down opposing teams in the ninth.

Brown’s failure likely doesn’t come as a big surprise to Bill James. “A highly successful player is supported by a ‘network’ or ‘scaffolding’ that must be built up gradually over time,” he told me last year. “To play successfully in the major leagues requires a great deal of athletic ability, but also a great deal of knowledge of how the game is played, training habits, self-motivation habits, self-confidence, and a wide variety of skills.” To explain his point, James referenced Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox’s infield propsect. Last year, with Mark Bellhorn limping through the beginning of the season, there were plenty of fans who wanted Pedroia to take over second base. After all, he couldn’t be any worse than Bellhorn, right? Well, if Pedroia came up, fell on his face, and was scarred by the experience, the Sox not only would have had a hole in their infield, they would have had a freaked out prospect on their hands. “Obviously, [Pedroia] has a lot of things going for him beyond talent,” James says. “But then there is a danger of relying too much on that. … [You want to] give the player the opportunity to succeed, but hold back as much as you can on the pressure to succeed.”

(An aside: Last May, the Red Sox called up pitcher Cla Meredith. Meredith made his major league debut in the 7th inning of a tie game against the Mariners with two outs and a man on second. Meredith walked the bases loaded before giving up a grand slam to Richie Sexson. When Epstein stopped by John Henry’s suite later in the game, he seemed at least as upset about the effect the experience might have had on Meredith as he did about the loss. Meredith, who pitched two more innings that year and was traded to the Padres this May, looked absolutely shell-shocked in the Red Sox clubhouse after the game.)

I’m certainly not arguing that the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Mets, the Dodgers and all of the game’s other big revenue teams don’t have a huge advantage over teams like the Royals, the Brewers, and the Marlins. But in sports, money doesn’t equal success (see Knicks, New York) and the absence of a $100 payroll doesn’t equal failure (see Athletics, Oakland). In the past four years, the Red Sox have had the dough to add players like Curt Schilling and they’ve been smart (and lucky) enough to pick up players like David Ortiz. They’ve also, as Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmon, and Jon Lester can attest, given their young players the chance to succeed. I bet Dee Brown wishes he’d gotten that, too.

Post Categories: Joe Posnanski & Kansas City Royals & Minor leagues & Red Sox

I’m not worthy

July 20th, 2006 → 10:05 am @

Another fun reading last night, this one at Keene, New Hampshire’s Toadstool Bookstore. I shared the floor with Dave Clark (no, not that Dave Clark), an invaluable resource for all things knuckleball. But the highlight of the evening was unquestionably the fact that the son and grandson of Smoky Joe Wood came out to hear me talk. That’s a little bit like someone writing a commentary on the Bible and then having Cain (or Abel, for that matter), stop by for a chat.

Wood, for you apostates out there, was the proud owner of the right arm of god long before Pedro came on the scene. In 1912, when he was 22-years-old, Wood went 34-5 for the Sox. He started 38 games, finished 35 of them, and racked up 10 shutouts. His ERA was 1.91 in a year in which the league average was 3.44. That, my friends, is a season for the ages. The next year, Wood suffered an injury that all but ended his pitching career; he never started as many as 20 games again, and by 1918 had transitioned to the outfield. (Still, Wood’s lifetime winning percentage of .672 is the 11th-best all time.) Wood’s son and I discussed whether Ted Williams was actually the greatest hitter who ever lived (we agreed that while perhaps he wasn’t, we’d allow him the moniker) and who else had a history with Yale’s baseball team (George H.W. Bush, for one).

It’s going to be hard for tonight’s reading in Manchester, Vermont to top that. (Anyone know where Tris Speaker’s family lives?)

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster Readings & Red Sox & Smoky Joe Wood