Thursday, April 30, 2009

Twitter Patter

Homer Simpson is shocked to learn they have Twitter on the computer now.

Why I love Boston, even if I’m typing this from a recliner on Long Island: The Patriots’ decision to announce their draft picks last weekend via Twitter—before the picks were even revealed on ESPN or released to the media gathered in Foxboro—has generated a ton of comments at Bruce Allen’s site, including posts from the Providence Journal’s Shalise Manza Young and the Sun Chronicle’s Mark Farinella.

Meanwhile, the Jets did the same thing…and nobody cares. A Google News search for “New York Jets Twitter” produced 26 links, many of which were duplicates and none of which were specifically about the Jets using Twitter to announce the selection of Mark Sanchez.

Where is the uproar over who decided to Twitter first? Where is the breathless coverage over Twittergate? Why is nobody parsing the Twitter posts of Eric Mangini and Bill Belichick in search of passive-aggressive digs at one another?

Anyway, Allen’s post links to a Cold Hard Football Facts story (presumably by CHFF head honcho Kerry Byrne, who also contributed to the discussion at BSMW by explaining his interpretation of what he saw) that indicates at least a couple reporters at Foxboro were livid over the Patriots circumventing the traditional media. But I’d be a lot madder about the Twittering of the Patriots, Jets and everybody else if I was the NFL or its broadcast partners.

The NFL Draft has somehow become the second-biggest day on the league calendar (why that makes me scratch my head is a post for another day), but the golden goose would seem to be endangered by teams who announce their picks (and the Patriots and Jets were apparently far from alone) before Roger Goodell even makes it to the podium. After all, if you can learn who your favorite team selected via Twitter, why do you need to spend 13 hours in front of a TV?

Then again, how can ESPN squawk about Twitter when its saturation coverage squashed any suspense about whom the Jets and multiple other teams would take?

As it turns out, the NFL isn’t all a-Twitter about its teams Twittering. According to the sidebar to this Associated Press story, the league “…is less than thrilled with such announcements” and is determining whether or not it needs to establish a Twitter policy. Translation: Hope the Patriots, Jets and everybody else had fun while it lasted.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dog bites man

Nomar Garciaparra's iconic status in Boston, not to mention his Hall of Fame candidacy, has long been tossed aside. Photo from The Boston Globe.

The news you knew you’d read at some point in 2009 finally arrived last night, when the Athletics announced they were going to place Nomar Garciaparra on the disabled list, this time with a strained right calf.

Gordon Edes wrote an entertaining piece for Yahoo! Sports last week pondering how history would be different if the Sox completed that trade for Alex Rodriguez following the 2003 season. Nobody ever wonders what might have happened if the Sox held on to Garciaparra, which is just one way to measure how far and how fast he’s fallen.

There’s something rather sad about watching Garciaparra end his career as a utilityman who is limited to a handful of games per week even under the most optimal of circumstances—kind of like watching a band that topped the charts multiple times playing new stuff nobody wants to hear at the country fair. You figured they were headed for Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but here they are, no longer hitting the high notes as they perform in between the pie-eating contest and the cow-milking contest.

Garciaparra was a franchise icon from the moment he stepped on to the field in 1996 and seemingly on the fast track to Cooperstown by the end of the ‘90s. His numbers from 1997 through 2003, during which he played at least 130 games six times (and was limited to 21 games in 2001), are across-the-board better than the ones produced by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. during his first six full seasons from 1982-87:

Ripken 1982-87: 160 HR, 570 RBI, .284, 625 R, .350 OBP, .479 SLG
Nomar: 1997-03: 169 HR, 653 RBI, .325, 674 R, .372 OBP, .557 SLG

Of course, that’s where the favorable comparisons end. Ripken played in 2,632 straight games from 1982 through 1998 and never left Baltimore. Garciaparra, hampered by a genetic condition that leaves him particularly susceptible to leg injuries, has played for three teams since leaving Boston and has yet to reach the 130-game mark.

The biggest Red Sox superstar in decades is already an afterthought in Boston. Am I the only one who has to remind himself that Garciaparra was a member of the 2004 team? And it’s hard to imagine Garciaparra ever emerging from out-of-sight status. He’s not going to hop aboard the Fred Lynn/Carlton Fisk nostalgia tour, showing up multiple times per season at Fenway to wave to the crowd from a luxury suite as his career highlights air on the scoreboard and make thousands of men in the stands feel two decades younger.

Perhaps nobody wonders “what if” about Garciaparra because the awkward and hostile negotiations between Garciaparra and the Sox in 2003—"You turned down a four-year, $60 million offer through 2008! No I didn’t! Yes you did! No I didn’t! Yes you did and anything you say bounces off me and goes back to you!"—makes it abundantly clear neither side really wanted the marriage to continue.

To re-sign an unhappy player who was already injury-prone and showing signs of slowing down—Garciaparra hit .305 with a .349 OBP and a .526 slugging percentage in 2002-03 before he missed more than two months at the start of the 2004 season with that ever-mysterious Achilles ailment—would have required a level of constant maintenance that probably would not have appealed to the Sox.

It’s pretty darn impossible to argue the decision to move on from Garciaparra was anything less than a stroke of brilliance. The Sox have won two championships without Garciaparra, who has missed 309 of a possible 723 games since the trade. His injury-prone nature has forced him to spend most of his time since 2005 at the infield corners, where he is not nearly the plus offensive weapon he was at shortstop for the Sox. Had he stayed in Boston and been forced to first or third base, perhaps Kevin Youkilis and/or Mike Lowell—two players who have come to symbolize the grind-it-out nature of these Sox—never emerge.

But just because they’ve won it all twice without Garciaparra doesn’t mean the Sox have replaced him. Shortstop has been the weak link in the lineup for most of the past four-plus seasons, during which the Sox have employed four full-time shortstops, none of whom have been markedly better than a weakened Garciaparra. Here are the numbers for Sox shortstops and Garciaparra since Aug. 1, 2004:

Red Sox shortstops: .258 (711-2759), 35 HR, 311 RBI, 356 R
Garciaparra: .287 (430-1496), 49 HR, 237 RBI, 206 R

To assume the Sox could have figured out a way to keep Garciaparra upright, at shortstop and even moderately content half the time since August 2005 is to assume a lot. But still: could the Sox have been even better over the last four-plus years if Garciaparra was their quasi-regular shortstop?

Maybe it all would have worked out. But with the Sox in the throes of a golden era and Garciaparra playing the country fair circuit, we’ll never know.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When I said the Sox might be hungover Monday, I meant they wouldn't be

Yes, to convey one's foolishness via a posting of Homer Simpson is a bit cliched. But it was either that or posting Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again" album cover, and nothing good could have come of that. Thanks to this site for the family-friendly Homer pic.

Well, so much for THAT theory. So having misfired on last night’s projection, I will now, in the time-honored sportswriter tradition, take the opposite tack and declare the Red Sox will NEVER LOSE AGAIN!!!

OK, they’ll probably lose again between now and the end of October—maybe even tonight, when unpredictable fifth starter Brad Penny takes the mound in Cleveland—but these Sox, who won their 11th in a row Monday with a taut 3-1 victory over the Indians, look much more formidable than I envisioned earlier this month.

Indeed, in the spirit of full disclosure, with the Sox under .500 for the first week-and-a-half, I was pondering a blog entry about how this might be a transition season for the Sox much like 2006, except this time the transition would be taking place in the lineup instead of within the pitching staff.

There’s always a chance that ends up being the case—remember, the Sox won 12 in a row in June 2006 before the bottom fell out—but this might be 2007 (when the Sox led the AL East for the final 168 days of the season) all over again instead of 2006. And how’d you like to be the Blue Jays this morning, playing far better baseball than anybody envisioned yet still looking up at the Red Sox (albeit by percentage points)?

Updating the late Friday post: Joe Girardi did not snap during his post-game interview session (I still say he’s going to look a whole lot like Michael Douglas in Falling Down by June 1) and didn’t seem to be trying to pull a fast one with the unexplained absence of Brian Bruney, who was already back in New York getting ready to have his sore right elbow examined.

Girardi said Bruney—who had been held out of the Yankees’ previous game Wednesday due to discomfort in the elbow—still felt something amiss while throwing on the field Friday afternoon. Bruney went on the disabled list Saturday and has told reporters he’ll be back when his 15 days are up, but given how cautious all teams are—especially with elbow injuries—I’ll believe that when I see it.

To borrow from the Inside Track gals: File under: Much ado about nothing.

But this stuff fascinates me, so here’s another example of how a manager handles an injury to a key player. Royals manager Trey Hillman came under some fire in Kansas City for not revealing that his ace closer, Joakim Soria (owner, by the way, of the greatest nickname in baseball), was nursing a sore right shoulder when he sat for eight straight days earlier this month. Hillman and the Royals admitted Soria—who has pitched once since Apr. 13—was hurting Friday, when they announced he would sit through at least the weekend.

Hillman explained the Royals’ gamesmanship by telling reporters he’s “…always been of the belief that the more information you put out there, the more it weakens your position, so to speak—especially when it’s your closer.”

That’s along the lines of what Terry Francona often says when he’s asked about the availability of certain players before a game (and I’m paraphrasing here): It doesn’t behoove the Sox to let the opponent know who is and isn’t available. Of course, Francona admitted before the finale against the Yankees Sunday that there would be no Jonathan Papelbon (nor Manny Delcarmen nor Ramon Ramirez) and it didn’t seem to hurt the Sox.

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Of stolen bases and serendipity, or the lack thereof

That heartburn the Yankees are feeling has absolutely nothing to do with consuming too many tacos. Thanks to this site for the photo.

Eight decades of Yankees supremacy over the Red Sox began to unravel with a single stolen base in October 2004. So it was appropriate that it was another stolen base Sunday night that further confirmed just how dramatically the rivalry has turned upside down and just how wide a gap there is between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Jacoby Ellsbury’s straight steal of home—the first by the Sox in 15 years—highlighted a 4-1 victory by the Sox that completed a three-game sweep of the Yankees and provided further proof that while the Sox may not own the best record in baseball, there’s little doubt they are the game’s preeminent franchise.

Ellsbury, running so fast he almost stumbled over home plate, symbolizes the new Sox—young, exciting, prepared and tough. Rebuilding the farm and allowing the Red Sox to annually replenish from within—instead of relying solely on expensive and risky forays into the free agent market—has been Theo Epstein’s mantra since day one. He’s done a lot more than pay the idea lip service, investing fully and remaining committed even when it didn’t pay immediate dividends and didn’t look like a good idea in the short term.

After a 2006 season in which Sox prospects had mixed results in translating their minor league success to the major leagues and in which the front office made its own missteps in player evaluation, Epstein spoke of how the Sox had to reevaluate what they were doing in order “…to create an environment where not just pitchers but players can come here and get better, players can come here and thrive…that encompasses myriad factors, but we have to take a hard look at each and every one of them and get better.”

That included Epstein himself, who expressed regret at the end of 2006 in trading a pair of 20-somethings (Josh Bard and Cla Meredith) who had struggled in brief stints in Boston in order to re-acquire Doug Mirabelli and momentarily solve the dilemma of who would catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Bard and Meredith went on to become key cogs for the NL West-winning Padres while Mirabelli was an expensive caddy for a pitcher who ended up missing most of the final two months.

The Sox had to be more patient and recognize that not everyone will succeed immediately like Jonathan Papelbon. And sometimes it doesn’t work out (hello, Craig Hansen) and sometimes there’s just no room for a David Murphy or a Brandon Moss. In addition, we learned this spring that it just wasn’t meant to be for Bard in Boston.

But Pedroia began his career with 150 or so pretty ugly at-bats…and is now the third player in history to win the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in his first two seasons. Manny Delcarmen had a 4.76 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP in his first 62 1/3 big league innings and a 2.55 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 130 1/3 innings since. Even Ellsbury followed his brilliant late-season cameo in 2007 by struggling through the middle of last season (he hit .246 from June 1 through July 31). And hey, look who is catching Wakefield, who ranks fourth in the AL in both ERA and WHIP and leads the big leagues with a .154 batting average against: Rookie George Kottaras.

The Sox have unearthed as many everyday players from their farm system since 2006 (Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Ellsbury) as the Yankees have since the dynasty ended in 2001 (Robinson Cano, Nick Johnson and Melky Cabrera). In the pipeline for the Sox are outfielders Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick, either of whom could eventually replace Jason Bay or J.D. Drew, as well as first baseman Lars Anderson, who will push Youkilis across the diamond when Mike Lowell’s contact expires, if not sooner (and that’s why I’m convinced the Sox’ “interest” in Mark Teixeira last winter was a clever ruse intended to force the Yankees to pay more for him, but that’s a blog for another time).

On the mound, homegrown pitchers recorded the first 24 outs for the Sox Sunday. With the bullpen compromised by the unavailability of Papelbon, Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez, Terry Francona called on a pair of guys each making their second appearance in the big leagues—and watched as Hunter Jones and Michael Bowden retired all eight batters they faced in bridging the gap from starter Justin Masterson to temporary closer Takashi Saito.

Jones and Bowden further represent the preparedness that makes the Sox really dangerous: Not only is Epstein’s staff able to nail the early rounds of the draft—Bowden was a second-round pick in the epic draft of ’05—but it is willing and able to mine the cutout bins searching for overlooked or undervalued talent. Jones was signed out of the Cape Cod League as an undrafted free agent in 2005 after his career at Florida State was cut short by a broken arm he suffered during his sophomore season.

That preparedness manifests itself in the short term as well. To see Ellsbury steal home was to be reminded of Jonathan Papelbon picking off Matt Holliday to end the eighth inning of Game Two of the 2007 World Series. The Sox ponder every possibility, no matter how remote, just in case the opportunity presents itself. How many teams would entrust their closer with picking a runner off first in a one-run World Series game? How many teams would try to steal home with two outs and the bases loaded in a one-run game?

It’s probably just a coincidence, but the ESPN cameras that lingered on a shocked-looking Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Joe Girardi following Ellsbury’s steal of home also managed to symbolize the Yankees, who are stumbling as well, but not nearly as gracefully as Ellsbury.

Pettitte and Posada are deep into their 30s and being paid premium prices fueled by nostalgia. Pettitte was paid $16 million in each of the last two seasons, or roughly what it cost the Sox last year to employ Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Posada turned 36 during the 2007 season, but the Yankees re-signed him that winter to a four-year deal worth $52.4 million and got just 168 at-bats out of him last season before he underwent right shoulder surgery.

And while Francona put the game in the hands of the neophytes Jones and Bowden, Girardi continues to ignore rookie reliever Steven Jackson even though the tattered Yankees bullpen—which threw 22 innings in the first six games with Jackson on the roster—can use anyone with a pulse.

To be fair to Girardi and the Yankees, hyped prospect Mark Melancon made his big league debut Sunday and threw two scoreless innings. And perhaps the Yankees will see their own youth movement begin to pay off tonight, when Phil Hughes—one of the players whom Brian Cashman would not part with in a Johan Santana trade—makes his 2009 debut. Then again, given the Yankees responded to the 0-fers put up last year by Hughes and Ian Kennedy by spending more than $250 million on CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, maybe not.

Nor will there be a tangible youth movement anytime soon among the everyday lineup. Like the Sox, the Yankees’ optimal lineup features six starters 30 or older. Unlike the Sox, the Yankees look their age—Peter Abraham, the Yankees beat reporter for The Journal News, wondered last night if there’s a more un-athletic team in baseball than the Yankees—and they don’t seem to have much impact positional talent down on the farm.

Ironically, in that it’s not ironic at all, the trio of Pettitte, Posada and Girardi were the symbol a decade ago of the dynastic Yankees. The 1996-2000 Yankees had nowhere near the sizzle of recent Yankees squads and will likely produce only two Hall of Famers (Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera), but the likes of Pettitte, Girardi (who split time with Posada behind the plate), Scott Brosius, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson infused those teams with an institutional toughness that lent them an unbeatable air, especially in the late innings of big games.

To watch the Sox—with no likely Hall of Famers at the moment, though championship-era lynchpins such as Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling are probably bound for Cooperstown—come back Friday and Saturday was to be reminded of those dynasty-era Yankees, who came back from a deficit in the sixth inning or later twice apiece in their World Series sweeps in 1998 and 1999 and three times in the 2000 ALCS. Overall, they were an impressive 13-13 when trailing after six innings in the postseason from 1998 through 2001.

The demise of the Yankees has, in New York at least, lent an additional air of romanticism to the dynasty teams, as if the struggles of the recent squads prove the 1996-2001 mix was serendipitous and impossible to recreate. But what if the Sox are proving that it’s not?

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Don't be shocked by a Yankees hangover tonight

It’s not just the law of averages that suggests the Red Sox—winners of 10 in a row—have a pretty good chance to lose to the Indians tonight. In 2007, I wrote a piece about how the Sox were prone to struggling immediately after taxing series against the Yankees. That season, the Sox were 0-3 after hosting the Yankees on a Sunday night and 1-5 overall in their first game following a Yankees series.

This weekend’s series was reminiscent of those draining ’07 sets against the Yankees—particularly the final series of the season between the teams in mid-September. Jonathan Papelbon was saddled with the blown save in the opener, the Sox unloaded on the Yankees’ bullpen to win the middle game 10-1 and Derek Jeter hit a two-run, go-ahead homer off Curt Schilling—who was pitching in the eighth inning for the last time in his career—in the finale.

The time of games that weekend went 4:43, 3:37, 3:10—or 13 hours and 10 minutes of baseball goodness. This weekend’s games went 4:21, 4:21, 3:09, or 11 hours and 51 minutes of fun.

That said: Last season, the Sox were not nearly as vulnerable after facing the Yankees. They went 4-1 in the first game following a Yankees series (the regular season ended with a series against the Yankees…at Fenway Park, not Yankee Stadium, which closed its doors for the last time a week earlier when the Yankees hosted the Orioles. Because THAT made sense)

Of course, the Yankees were on the fringe of the wild card and AL East race most of the season, and the Sox-Yankees games were downright swift by their standards. Five games took less than three hours, only four took longer than 3:30 and only one reached the four-hour mark. Having exceeded that mark twice in the last three days, don’t be surprised if the Sox are feeling the effects tonight.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Hey Joe...

A quick mid-game post to wonder just what the hell Joe Girardi is doing at the moment at Fenway. My guess: Trying to hide a Brian Bruney injury. Bruney, the Yankees' top set-up man, hasn't pitched since Tuesday and isn't even in the bullpen as the Yankees try to close out a 4-2 win. Mariano Rivera, 39 years old and eight months removed from shoulder surgery, is in for a four-out save.

The penultimate chapter in Fighting Words discusses how much more careful the Red Sox have become in disclosing injury information. I've grown more curious, as well, as to how other teams handle injury information, and Girardi has had a tough time straddling the line between bluffing and lying about Yankees ailments. So it'll be curious to see if anything is wrong with Bruney, and how Girardi handles the post-game questioning.

Edit #1: Jason Bay hits a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth, turning a near-certain win into disaster for the Yankees. This post-game will be very interesting. Girardi isn't nearly as comfortable with second-guessing or questioning as Joe Torre was.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

O Henry, are you going to save the Globe?

Illustration courtesy of this site.

This is almost certainly not a news flash to you: The New York Times Company—which owns The Boston Globe—has a nearly 18 percent stake in the Red Sox, which makes it the second-largest shareholder in the franchise.

This relationship is one of the most polarizing issues among those who work in and follow the Boston sports media. Is the Globe’s investment in the Sox just good business? Or does it come at a heavy price for the Globe? Does the partnership between the Sox and the paper influence the Globe’s coverage and is the paper encouraged, either directly or indirectly, to go easy on the hometown team?

To read what writers and analysts alike have to say about the Globe-Sox relationship, check out Chapter Six of Fighting Words, coming soon to a bookshelf near you. And that’s the first-ever plug for the book here. Awesome. Was it good for you?

Anyway, if you think the current relationship is fraught with potential conflicts of journalistic interest, can you imagine the debate that would ensue if John Henry bought the Globe from the Times?

The Times and the Globe are in the midst of a potentially bloody standoff, with the Times threatening to close the Globe—which it says is hemorrhaging money—within the next few weeks if the Globe’s union doesn’t make concessions. The Boston Herald reported Monday that Henry floated the idea of buying the Times’ piece of the Sox from the company as well as the Globe, but that the negotiations didn’t get far.

Sports teams owning media companies, and vice versa, is nothing new. And Henry wouldn’t even be the first owner of a sports team to buy an endangered newspaper in this terrible market. Last year, Long Island cable giant Cablevision—which owns the New York Rangers and New York Knicks—bought Newsday from the Tribune Company and newspaper killer Sam Zell.

While Henry wrote eloquently of the importance of the newspaper for the baseball fan and New Englanders in general (he wrote an email to the Herald that read “Baseball fans rely heavily on newspapers. No one wants to see a newspaper with a great, long-term history go away. Losing the Globe, the Herald or any New England paper is a big loss for the Red Sox.”), the Cablevision-Newsday transaction was one bereft of romantic verbiage.

Buying Newsday was the last piece in Cablevision’s plot to monopolize Long Island media. Why, wireless service presented by Cablevision makes this it possible to post this blog. And the soundtrack for this blog was late-night television transmitted via a Cablevision box. In the morning, my wife will tune into Cablevision-owned News 12 to see the traffic report before she heads to work. I for one welcome our Cablevision overlords!

Nor did Cablevision have any interest in even paying lip service to journalistic integrity—the Knicks under Cablevision are recognized as the least media-friendly team in sports—or using Newsday as anything other than a vehicle to blow sunshine about the Knicks and Rangers up the derrieres of its readers. Surprisingly, the editors outlasted the Dolan family in that battle.

Coincidentally, it was Cablevision’s multiple media interests—as well as the fact that Larry Dolan, the brother of Cablevision head honcho Charles Dolan, already owns the Indians—that convinced John Harrington to award the Red Sox to Henry’s group in 2001 even though Cablevision made a higher bid.

It would be interesting, on multiple fronts, if Henry bought the Globe. It’d be ironic, and maybe in the real definition of the word and not in the Alanis Morrissette way, if a guy who made his fortune on the futures market ended up investing in a relative relic. Yet the fact he made his fortune in futures leads me to believe he’ll probably stay away from a newspaper industry whose future appears bleak beyond description.

Anyone who used to work in newspapers—or still looks forward to digging into the Sunday paper—has to appreciate Henry’s words Monday, even if the impact of the actual newspaper declines by the day and the true value in buying the Globe lies in and not in the print product. The advertising that keeps the newspaper afloat is going and it’s never coming back, but there’s still plenty of value in newsgathering and a website that is updated around the clock.

Of course, how do you reinvent the wheel and make money in selling the product that the Globe and thousands of other newspapers have been giving away free for well over a decade? If Henry buys the Globe and comes up with that answer, he’ll be the man who saved journalism as well as Fenway Park.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fighting Words Q&A: Mike Timlin

Mike Timlin has bagged his last batter. Photo from The Boston Globe.

Mike Timlin visited his old haunts Sunday, when he threw out the first pitch prior to the game against the Orioles at Fenway Park and admitted he was all but officially retired. Such news makes me feel very old. I remember being a 19-year-old hanging out in my friend Dan’s basement, eschewing the usual Saturday night shenanigans in favor of watching Timlin get the last out of the 1992 World Series and realizing he may have been the most unlikely guy to ever earn the Series-clinching save.

Now I’m 35 and my Saturday night shenanigans consist of my wife and I watching TV or going to the bookstore. Oh yeah. We’re hip. We’re happening.

Anyway, well over a decade later, I came to consider Timlin one of the most interesting, candid and accessible people on the Red Sox. I understand the disdain some people have these days for the idea of intangibles and clubhouse leadership, but Timlin—who pitched for four World Series winners—was a valuable mainstay and mentor in a bullpen that underwent a youth infusion under Theo Epstein as well as a player who came to personify the stoic professionalism that defined the 2004 and, particularly, the 2007 champions.

He had the best and busiest seasons of his career with the Sox, for whom he pitched six seasons. And he threw most of those pitches with a chip on his shoulder, always feeling as if middle relievers such as himself were overlooked and underappreciated.

After Alan Embree was released in 2005, Timlin said he thought middle relievers were viewed as the “ugly stepsister” of baseball players. “We realize that middle relief is kind of the bastard child of the major leagues,” Timlin said. “Most teams feel that’s where they need to save money. It’s kind of like an ugly stepsister—a lot of families have them, but you don’t really want to talk about it.”

The morning of the 2006 regular season finale, I saw Timlin putting baseballs in a sock. I asked him why he was doing this and he said, in his familiar no-nonsense drawl, that the baseballs were from the saves he’d earned that season and that he was saving them in case the Sox got rid of him and he never got another save.

Timlin was similarly wary and distrustful of the media, and I presume he would have been perfectly content to never utter a word to any of us. But he felt it was part of his job to speak to the press and had a perfectly professional relationship with reporters, many of whom sought out Timlin when seeking the pulse of the team.

Of course, a first encounter with Timlin could be abrupt, as I learned when I approached him for this interview before a home game against the Yankees in late September 2004. This meanders a bit, because I was trying to get replies beyond the one- or two-sentence variety. It took a little while, but I think his reply about the assumptions made on both sides of the player-reporter relationship not only summed up how a lot of people feel about the media but was also one of the most interesting things anyone said to me during the interview process. Enjoy.

Do you guys find you receive more attention when you play the Yankees?

Yeah, it gets a little ridiculous. I just think some of the New York reporters want to get out of the city of New York, so they come stand in our locker room and mess our stuff up.

Did you grow tired at all of the questions about a possible feud between you and Derek Jeter after he bunted with the Yankees up 7-1 [in the sixth inning of a game Sept. 19, 2004]?

Not tired. It’s just the media makes a really big thing out of [nothing]. It doesn’t matter what happens between our teams. I could have a really good friend on that team and say something during the game and the guys in the media are gonna make it sound like or play it into something that it’s absolutely not.

Does it bother you when people proclaim the Red Sox are out of the race?

It doesn’t bother me. A lot of things you guys say don’t bother me. But if you say something that’s completely out of the realm and you don’t really know what you’re talking about, why say it? We don’t say things about you guys and make stuff up or just take part of a fact and play it as far as we can. Because you guys can walk up and challenge us.

How different is the media here than in Philadelphia?

It’s not different than Philly. It’s the same thing in Philly. Philly is just as bad as here.

What’s it like watching the locker room on a day like today?

Best part about my locker right now is that I have these [temporary] lockers here to block the view of you guys standing there watching TV.

What was your perception of what happened between you and Howard Bryant in 2003, when he wrote a column about the bumper sticker hanging in your locker that said the peace sign was a symbol of the American chicken? (Note: I couldn’t find a link to Bryant’s original story, but the gist of what transpired is in the above link, which is an opinion piece from a publication with a political bent. Such a link is not intended to convey the thoughts or opinion of management at Fighting Words The Blog, which has no interest in talking politics on either side of the aisle)

It kind of goes along with my [earlier] answer: It was taken, part of the facts, by a guy [who] ran with it not knowing the complete facts and not knowing completely who I am. And he based a lot of his article on my assumptions of me and how I view the world. We talked about it and worked it out. No big deal.

Everybody does it, it’s not just media. We all make assumptions. That’s why they have that little saying that goes with assume.

Did you ever have to attend any sort of media training seminar?

Major League Baseball has a small class, they bring two or three of the players—or probably up to five—that they considered the [top] rookies coming in that would probably be in the big leagues in the next year or two and they have a rookie training seminar to deal with the media, deal with the pressures of the game, off-field stuff, on-field stuff. Took care of it all.

What was your conception of the media before that?

I had a conception of the media that they dealt in facts, they dealt in truths and they dealt with a non-biased mind. And now I know completely differently.

What changed your mind?

I can’t—I’m not going to paint any such person. I’m just saying, unfortunately, there’s a line drawn between the media and the athletes and that a lot of assumptions [are] made on our side. There’s a lot of assumptions made on their side. Our assumptions don’t get printed. Our assumptions don’t get television coverage. Your assumptions, as in the media, are printed. They’re put on TV and people see it. If you have a problem and you’re wrong, say, in print, where are you gonna write a retraction? You’re gonna write a retraction on the last page of whatever magazine or newspaper you have, or you’re gonna walk up and apologize personally. The apology is relatively accepted, most of the time, because you’re talking about me so I’ll throw myself in there. If you said something about me, I’ll accept your apology and that’s great.

But for the 40,000 people that read the article are not going to see you apologize to me, nor would you write a complete article on why you should apologize or who you apologized to. You won’t do that. There is not a media guy out there that will do it, unless the television person—your editor or your producer says you’ve gotta go on the air and do exactly as in the case of Dan Rather. He had to go publicly apologize. No one wants to do that. That’s the problem that we have with a lot of you guys. If you make a mistake, you will walk up and apologize to us. You will not walk up and say ‘Look, I wrote this article and this is what I’m going to print in the paper and it’s going to be in the same spot where my normal article’s going to be, because that’s where everybody reads it.’ It’s going to be in this itty bitty box way in the back and no one’s going to see it.

I sound disgusted and I sound fed up. I’m not. Just, you know, it’s a fact of life.

Are you surprised to hear that so many stars in Boston have had problems with the media over multiple generations?

It’s not just Boston. You can’t just put it on Boston. It’s not just Boston. It’s everywhere. And that’s why a lot of people don’t talk. One of the best guys I’ve met in the game, Eddie Murray—I mean, a tremendous human, one of the best players I’ve ever seen, best human beings I’ve ever seen, quality in and out—wouldn’t talk to you guys. Why? You get fed up with it.

So why haven’t you said the heck with it and stopped speaking to the press?

Most of the guys, we’re dealing with facts. Most of the answers that I have to give—why’d you throw that pitch?—and you get sick of saying why, why, why. The reason is, most of the time, I’m trying to get the guy out. I may make a mistake. It’s just part of my job, the speaking part.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Bird-brained schedule also a Sox-friendly one

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, the Orioles were not just the Homecoming opponent for the Red Sox. Photo courtesy of this site.

Major League Baseball has absorbed the usual (and well-deserved) criticisms for the quirks and hiccups and burps and—since I already mentioned two bodily functions, let’s go for three and be brutally honest here—farts of the early-season schedule. But the Red Sox tonight probably don’t have much issue with the computers and the people who churn out the schedule, since a well-timed visit from the Orioles was the perfect tonic to an atypically slow start.

The Sox routed the Orioles 12-1 today to complete a four-game sweep of the Orioles. The final margin of victory in the series (30-14) is a bit misleading, since the Sox won the first three games by a combined five runs, but that the Sox broke out the brooms should be no surprise.

Basically, the Orioles are the Washington Generals to the Sox’ Harlem Globetrotters. The Sox dribble the ball around and around and off the Orioles and use the head of Nick Markakis to make a trick shot and send out a 23-year-old making his second career start to no-hit the O’s. Only a fool, or Krusty the Clown, would bet on the Orioles, particularly when they pop into Boston.

Since 2006, the Sox are 43-15 against the Orioles, including a robust 25-6 at Fenway. The Sox haven’t lost a home series to the O’s since Baltimore swept a two-game set in April 2005. Not saying that sweep was a foreboding sign of things to come or anything, but, well, a bunch of guys mentioned in this article weren’t in Boston by Opening Day 2006 (and you could make a case that Keith Foulke suffered an even worse fate by remaining in Boston in 2006).

The sweep allowed the Sox to surge past .500 and past the Orioles in the standings, two places I presume they’ll stay for the next 149 games. Bruce Allen wrote last week that he was tired of people assuming Sox fans were panicking over the slow start, but the truth is it would have been hard to blame Sox fans if they had little idea how to respond to the Sox’ 2-6 start against the Rays, Angels and Athletics.

How consistently competitive have the Sox been under Theo Epstein and during the final few years of the Dan Duquette era? The last time the Sox were as many as three games under .500 more than a week into the season was 1997, back when the Spice Girls were topping the charts and making most of our ears bleed.

And the last time the Sox started 2-6, it was 1996 and Roger Clemens had presumably not yet learned super duper workout secrets from Brian McNamee. 1996 was also the season the Sox stumbled out to a 7-19 start in April and were 14 games under .500 July 6 before a red-hot second half lifted them over .500 and put them back into the wild card race (but did not save Kevin Kennedy’s job).

No other team in baseball can match the Sox’ feat. Even the Yankees fell as many as four games under .500 multiple times in the previous 13 seasons: Five games under as late as May 20 last year, eight games under as late as May 29 in 2007, eight games under as late as May 6 in 2005 and five games under as late as April 17 in 1997.

And if the Sox stumble again this season? Well, the Orioles will show up to bust the slump July 24-26 and Sept. 8-9.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tim Wakefield still has more Opening Day starts than no-hitters

Tim Wakefield had a close shave with history Wednesday. (Booooo!!! Terrible pun!!) Thanks to this site for the photo.

Tim Wakefield, already the architect of a career as fascinating as it is unlikely, nearly authored another unexpected chapter Wednesday, when he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of the Red Sox’ 8-2 win over the Athletics in Oakland.

Watching it on NESN in upstate New York (bless you, Extra Innings, bless you), I couldn’t help but think after seven innings that Wakefield was going to make the history that ever-so-narrowly eluded the grasp of Curt Schilling in Oakland June 7, 2007. Wakefield threw just 54 pitches through six innings and got the Dustin Pedroia Special, albeit courtesy of Nick Green, when the journeyman shortstop made a lunging, over-the-shoulder catch in the seventh inning.

I was also impressed by how Wakefield, so often the picture of unwavering stoicism, seemed to be enjoying the hell out of his latest flirtation with a no-hitter (it was the fourth time he’s carried a no-hitter beyond the seventh inning). He flashed a huge grin after Green’s catch and mocked superstition by sitting around teammates in the dugout even as the no-hitter progressed. At 42, he seemed to realize the serendipity of the moment.

There was a certain sadness when Schilling lost his gem with two outs in the eighth. He was no longer the dominant workhorse of his youth or even of 2004, and it seemed unlikely he’d ever pitch into the ninth again, never mind carry a no-hitter that far.

It was still a bit disappointing when Travis Buck ended the no-hitter with one out in the eighth (thou shalt not root, but thou shalt not mind seeing a no-hitter, either), and sure, the odds are against Wakefield ever throwing a no-hitter, especially with the injuries beginning to pile up as he approaches his mid-40s. But he’s also a knuckleballer whose livelihood depends on the unpredictability of his signature pitch. So who knows? Maybe he’ll join the no-hitter club before he hangs up the spikes.

Wakefield’s impressive second start gives us a second chance to make a post I intended to make last Friday, before the Easter weekend and computer issues sent me to the sidelines for a few days (apologies for that, and hope you liked the segue). Wakefield, of course, is synonymous with the back end of the Sox rotation, and in 15 seasons with the Sox has never made an Opening Day start. He’s only made one Opening Day start as a big leaguer—way back in 1993 with the Pirates.

Of course, he has also been surrounded by some pretty outstanding company—Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling have combined to make 10 of the 14 Opening Day starts since Wakefield’s first full season with the Sox in 1996—and has been a solid, dependable pitcher far more often than not in Boston: He’s thrown at least 180 frames and won at least 10 games in nine of his 10 seasons as a full-time starter.

Yet Wakefield is also making a run at the franchise record for wins shared by Cy Young, the guy for whom the award honoring pitching excellence is named, and Clemens, the guy who has won more of those awards than anyone else. So I got to thinking: Is it unusual for a guy as decorated as Wakefield to have so rarely toed the rubber on Opening Day?

Short answer: Yes. Wakefield entered the season sixth among active pitchers with 178 wins. Yet his one Opening Day start ties him for 24th among the 30 active pitchers with at least 100 wins entering the season (active defined as those in a big league organization, which disqualifies the likes of Pedro Martinez, who is not retired but is not playing).

The five guys ahead of Wakefield—Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Andy Pettitte and John Smoltz—have combined for 31 Opening Day starts. The only players among the active 100-game winners to not make an Opening Day start are Jon Garland, Kelvim Escobar and Darren Oliver, the latter two of whom have spent a chunk of their careers as full-time relievers.

In one of those fun facts that’s surprising at first but not so much at a second glance, it turns out Pettitte (215 wins entering the season) is the Wakefield of the Yankees with one Opening Day start. Pettitte’s teammates over the years, of course, have included the likes of Clemens (four Opening Day starts for the Yankees), Roy Oswalt (three Opening Day starts for the Astros), Johnson (two Opening Day starts for the Yankees) and David Cone (two Opening Day starts for the Yankees).

The full list of Opening Day starts by active pitches is below. Wakefield’s spot on it is interesting, at least to me, and a pretty neat summation of his career. He’s not a Hall of Famer, but he’s proved that consistency and reliability is, in its own way, almost as valuable.

Opening Day starts by active pitchers (through 2009)
Randy Johnson 14
Tom Glavine 8
Roy Halladay 7
Roy Oswalt 7
Mark Buerhle 7
Bartolo Colon 6
CC Sabathia 6
Livan Hernandez 5
Tim Hudson 5
Kevin Millwood 5
Jamie Moyer 4
John Smoltz 4
Jeff Suppan 4
Barry Zito 4
Derek Lowe 4
Johan Santana 4
Chris Carpenter 4
Mike Hampton 3
Jason Schmidt 3
Javier Vazquez 3
Freddy Garcia 3
Chan Ho Park 2
Shawn Estes 2
Andy Pettitte 1
Tim Wakefield 1
Tom Gordon 1
Russ Ortiz 1
Jon Garland 0
Kelvim Escobar 0
Darren Oliver 0

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Fighting Words Q&A: Tim Wakefield

Thanks to this site for the photo.

Tim Wakefield is scheduled to make his season debut for the Red Sox tonight, so who better than Wakefield to lead off our series of Q&As that were conducted during the writing of Fighting Words?

But it’s more than just good timing that makes Wakefield a perfect choice to start us off. The interview we did—in January 2005, the afternoon of the annual BBWAA dinner in Boston—was one of the most interesting of the entire project. Wakefield was expansive, talkative and revealing throughout a 30-minute interview that went as smoothly as our first encounter months earlier went awkwardly awful.

I’d post that first interview we did in May 2004, except I don’t want to subject you to something that had me ready to curl into the fetal position and head back to college to study accounting. I was interested in doing a harmless magazine feature on Wakefield, but he eyed me with suspicion as I introduced myself and responded to almost all of my questions with abrupt one- or two-word answers. Thank goodness for Doug Mirabelli and Alan Embree, who filled in a lot of space on that feature.

Subsequent meetings with Wakefield that season went a little better, and he uttered one of my all-time favorite quotes after Game Seven of the ALCS, when I reminded him of his quote after the Sox fell behind three games to none (“We’ve been in this situation before—not in a championship series, but in a division series, and we’ve come out smelling like roses”) and asked him what a history-making comeback smelled like.

“Eleventeen thousand roses,” he said with a laugh as he held hands with his wife Stacy.

Still, I didn’t expect our interview in January to go as well as it did. Upon further reflection, I figured Wakefield was so wary at first because he’s a guy who learned quite fast and quite often how fragile a career can be for a ballplayer, particularly for someone whose livelihood relies entirely on a pitch as unpredictable as the knuckleball. Wakefield was drafted as a first baseman out of Florida Tech in 1988, but converted to a knuckleballer after hitting .189 and .235 in his first two professional seasons.

He went from Double-A to big league stardom in the blink of an eye in 1992, but then went 6-11 in 1993, spent all of 1994 in the minor leagues and was released by the Pirates in spring training 1995. He was signed by Dan Duquette, and a confidence-boosting tutorial with the knuckleballing Niekros helped turn Wakefield back into the best pitcher in the game for several months that season. The next nine seasons were a series of ups and downs for Wakefield, who bounced between the rotation and the bullpen and between periods of dominance and periods of abject hittability.

So he had plenty of reason to be perpetually serious and stoic, particularly around those whom he didn’t recognize or know all that well—which is why I found this interview to be so interesting and rewarding. I hope you agree…and I hope you come back later today for another Wakefield-themed post.

How aware of the media were you when you arrived in 1995?

I had no idea what it was like. I just learned by experience, by being around.

Given that there are so many media covering the team, is this a tough place for somebody to be reserved and to keep to himself?

No, I think it’s easy to be reserved here in Boston. I may be saying that out of the experience of the last couple of years. Being here so long, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the guys by first names and they respect my privacy and I respect their jobs. But I think the biggest thing is to be honest with people. And I’ve tried to do that my whole career. I think it’s the best philosophy to take, not only in our sport but also in life.

Has the design of the locker room changed at all while you’ve been here?

Yeah, it has, a lot. Technically speaking, probably not. But they’ve done a good job as far as using the space that we’ve had there—moving things around. I think some additions—a food room, I remember we used to have the food catered in and it sat on top of our travel trunks inside the clubhouse. That’s where we ate, just grabbed a plate of food and went to your locker and sat down and tried to eat your food. Now, you can go and have a little bit of privacy and we have a food room. The new additions that they’re making now, I can’t wait to see.

Where were you located originally in the locker room?

You know the pole that the TVs are on? On that pole directly across from Curtis [Leskanic’s] locker? There used to be a locker that sat there by itself. They actually bring one in in September when rosters expanded, put a temporary one there. But that’s where my locker used to be.

Was it hard to avoid attention sitting there?

I think the biggest thing that was hard about that locker spot was when guys would do their postgame interviews, they would happen right there in front of that pole. So I was getting media guys and camera guys trampling over me, trying to get a shot. But you learn to live with it.

What’s the player’s perspective as he observes reporters in the locker room?

[Pauses] It’s difficult at times, especially during times that are supposed to be meant for downtime. Maybe you’re trying to get up for the game, mentally, and you’ve got so many people walking in and out of the clubhouse. But for the most part, I’ve learned that you try to share space with not only your teammates but the guys like yourselves that are there to do a job too. Sometimes, it can get hectic. It’s a battle for space, but that’s part of dealing with people on an everyday basis.

In terms of media attention, did you feel like you went from zero to 60 mph during your first season here in 1994 [in which Wakefield, who was signed early in the season following his release by the Pirates, went 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA in his first 17 starts]?

It was more like zero to 100—quickly. I won my first three games, I won three in a week, My first start was against Anaheim, then they took me out early and I started two days later against Oakland and then I took my regular start back at home and won three in a row. I was kind of thrust into the limelight, so to speak.

I still even today get the questions of ‘how did you get started throwing that pitch?’ And I’ve answered that question probably a thousand times. But it’s just part of our job, you know?

Was the attention ever overwhelming during that first year?

Not really. I was just glad to be in the big leagues again after making a splash in ’92 with the Pirates and then struggling for the next two years and then getting released. I can remember getting released and driving home thinking I was done, I wasn’t going to play anymore, then I got a second opportunity and a chance to work with both Joe and Phil Niekro and kind of got my confidence back to where it needed to be. And I’ve been here ever since.

What’s the worst period of player-media relations that you can recall?

I can’t recall of it ever getting bad. I can recall just certain players and certain members of the media—maybe a relationship got bad and it might have just been the opinion of the writer that may have said something wrong. Sometimes it’s hard to stay away from the negative. We deal with it everyday. A majority of the guys are very objective as far as their writing skills. And sometimes it can get a little bit personal. But other than that, I can’t recall any other relationship really getting too bad.

A lot of writers have said things were especially tense in 2001 and Dante Bichette said the season was a very difficult one.

You’ve got to understand, too, that we’re under a lot of pressure every day to perform, especially in a market like Boston. So you add a little of that fuel to that fire sometimes and things may get out of hand once in a while. I think Dante was right: Dealing with the frustrations of the season, the way the season was going, the tragic thing that happened on Sept. 11, the change of managers. Our travel home from Florida [following the terrorist attacks], that was kind of ridiculous—we bussed and trained and flew, then bussed. It was a 36-hour trip for us to get back to Boston. The emotions run high sometimes, you get frustrated with the way things are going. It’s tough to stay on an even keel at times.

Did you ever sense there was a negative atmosphere in Boston because it had been so long since the team had won?

Like I said before, the majority of the writers are very objective when they write. But there is some negativity, a little bit, and I think a lot of that stems just from the broadness of media coverage. I think maybe 10, 15 years ago, there was only a handful of writers and it was only a couple of major publications that were out there. Talk radio wasn’t really very big. I can remember talking with a friend of mine who played football and the only thing that the football players had was Sports Illustrated. ESPN wasn’t really around. They had Sports Illustrated and I can’t remember the other sports magazine, it might have been The Sporting News. That was basically it, and your local beat writers.

Now, times have changed, to the point where there is so much information that’s out there via the Internet, via different kinds of newspaper print media, electronic media, talk shows, radio. I think it’s gotten to the point where the competition between you guys has really [pauses]…as a writer, I would think, you have to search for a different angle to try to get your story read or get people to buy the paper that you write for. I think that’s where the negative—not the negative image, but I think a lot of the lack of objectiveness has come in. But you have to understand that. I’ve understood that ever since more and more writers are coming in and there’s more and more people to talk to. It’s hard for me to know people by name. Just so many of them.

Are you wary whenever you’re approached by a writer you’ve never talked to before?

Yeah, because like I said before, there’s some writers that are trying to dig. They’re not very objective, they’re trying to do a story that really isn’t there. And if I don’t know the person, it takes a little bit for me to warm up to you, because I’m not going to volunteer a whole lot of personal information to somebody that I don’t really know. That goes in my general life skills, I would say. I’ll answer all kinds of questions about the game and about stuff like that, but some questions are hard to answer when I don’t know somebody, because I don’t know where they’re going with the questions.

Do you think a lack of space in the locker room can create some tensions between the media and the players?

I think some tension comes from that. Some of the tension may come from some of the negative that’s written about the team or about a certain player, because we’re a family in there. And when something bad is written about one of my teammates, regardless of whether it’s warranted or not, I take offense to it a little bit. And sometimes it’s hard to control that.

Did you ever worry you’d be painted as a goat, for lack of a better term, after you gave up the home run to Aaron Boone last year?

A little bit. But, you know, one thing that I’ve learned over my career is, one, to be honest. Two is to stand up and take responsibility for your actions. And I think sometimes that can be a good thing. And it can be a bad thing sometimes. I see too many players—I don’t want to say make excuses, but you know what I mean? [They] talk around it. I don’t know where I learned to do that, but I was always taught, if something good happens, to give credit to your teammates. Something bad happens, stand up and be accountable for your actions.

Do you think being the longest-tenured member of the Sox helped?

I think from a fan’s perspective, yeah, I think so.

How about from the media’s perspective?

I did get some tough questions that night, even from our local media. But I think, for the most part, the fact that I stood there and answered questions—I think [it] helped. I think a lot of the guys know what my character was about and they understand that I was giving 110 percent out there.

I wasn’t worried about being portrayed as a bad guy from the media, from that standpoint I was more worried about the fans’ reactions to me.

You got a stirring standing ovation at the BBWAA dinner a few months later. Did you know then that the fans weren’t going to punish you for the home run, or did you realize it before that?

Before that. Like a week afterwards, I think. I stuck around for a little while, my wife and I were trying to get things packed up and go home to Florida. I was out to dinner or the grocery store or something and people would pat me on the back [and] say ‘Don’t worry about it.’ So I knew before that.

Are you surprised to hear so many stars have had rough relationships with the press?

Am I surprised? No, because like I said before, for the core of guys that are in our clubhouse everyday, the core of our team, all it takes is one guy—I’m talking from a teammates’ perspective—[to] ruin the chemistry of a team. And I think for you guys, it might be one guy that’s not very objective, that’s very negative in his writing that may ruin it for the rest of you.

Did you have some empathy for how Nomar Garciaparra in terms of how uncomfortable he was with the press?

I felt particularly bad for Nomar because he was thrust into the limelight so quickly. It’s that superstar status—sometimes you just want some quiet downtime in your locker. That’s like our office, you know? And sometimes it can get too crowded in there and sometimes you have to answer the same question over and over again and it gets frustrating after a while. And I think that’s why he tried to establish a routine, to where he would talk to you guys at one time [so] he wouldn’t have to answer the same questions from the previous days.

How do you think current ownership has helped to change the relationship between the team and the press?

I think since the new regime has taken over, we’ve tried—and it’s an effort not only from the organization’s standpoint but also from the player’s standpoint—we’ve gotten together and tried to create a more friendly atmosphere to work in for both of us. Because we both understand that everyone has a job to do that’s in there. And I think if we open u the communication—were you around when Tony [Massarotti] came in and we talked [during] the first team meeting [in 2002]? I thought whoever thought of that idea was pretty good, for us as players and for him representing the rest of you guys, to be able to start a communication thing there, to understand what we as players were looking for and also what the media’s looking for at the same time.

I think it’s just a relationship that’s built on time. I’ve known Tony for a long time and Sean McAdam. I’ve been here for enough time to build those types of relationships with those guys, to talk off the record about life. They obviously look at me as, OK, baseball’s my job, but I’m also a person and you guys are writers, but you’re also people too. So why can’t we set aside our jobs and talk as men or talk as friends or whatever about life, about our kids, other sports, or whatever?

Have you seen more guys have those type of relationships with writers over the last few years?

It’s tough to say for guys that haven’t been here as long as I have. I don’t know if they’ve really established relationships with anybody.

Did you hear a lot about “The Curse?”

That’s been said for a long time—ever since I’ve been here. You take it with a grain of salt: ‘Yeah, OK, whatever.’ I never really gave it much thought. I just think it was a nice cliché to be able to write about for such a long period of time.

Do you think things will change now that the Sox have won it all?

[Laughs] I think it’ll be a little bit easier for everybody involved.

Email Jerry at

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Everybody else is doing it, so why can't I?

True story: The Cranberries were singing about baseball predictions way back in 1993. Photo from this site.

I love predictions. They remind me of the halcyon days of my youth, way back when neither the Internet nor ESPN as we now know it existed (Australian Rules Football, anyone?) and geeks like me had to rely on preview magazines to prepare for the season.

I’d devour those publications until they were dog-eared and eventually would compile my own predictions. Sometimes I was right on, like when I predicted the San Francisco 49ers to win Super Bowl XIX. Most of the time, I was not. Like in 1987, when I picked Curt Young to win the Cy Young and Tony Fernandez to win the MVP. Fernandez might have won it if he wasn’t hampered by injury the last several weeks, damnit.

I haven’t gotten much more accurate as an adult, but these crappy times invite nostalgia. So along those lines, here are my predictions—even though I’m a couple days late and absolutely nobody at all, outside of my friend and fantasy baseball rival Rob, has wondered what I think about the upcoming season. Enjoy, and laugh at me in October.

1.) Rays: Always a bit wary of picking last year's Cinderella to repeat, but I think they've got the depth--particularly on the farm--to do it.

2.) Red Sox: Best and deepest pitching in the league, so much so that Clay Buchholz will win many more games than Brad Penny and John Smoltz combined. Just a little unsure of the offense beyond the top of the order. Can someone among the aging trio of Mike Lowell, David Ortiz and Jason Varitek have a classic season?

3.) Yankees: Yes, everything went haywire last year and they still won 89 games. But A.J. Burnett is French for Carl Pavano, there should be serious doubts about the ability of C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira to handle the glare of New York and this aging, bloated team of mercenaries is a dinosaur in baseball’s New World Order. Cuddly Joe Girardi should be a barrel of laughs by May 15.

4.) Orioles: A meager pitching staff shouldn’t conceal the fact that, for the first time in more than a decade, they really seem to be building something solid here. Too bad they’re stuck in the East.

5.) Blue Jays: The window slams shut. Roy Halladay is a goner at midseason (darkhorse contender: his hometown Rockies) and the Cito Gaston-led Jays are so bereft of hope by midseason that they go all-in with the early ‘90s nostalgia and begin holding post-game concerts featuring the likes of the Gin Blossoms, Snow and Firehouse.

1.) Indians: Hard to pick a winner in a division as balanced as it is mediocre, and Cliff Lee is already displaying signs that last year was the biggest fluke of all-time. But the offense is loaded and a fertile farm system should generate enough pitching reinforcements to give the Tribe the flag.

2.) White Sox: Easiest predictions of the year: A.J. Pierzynski will make countless enemies and Ozzie Guillen will say something that makes his bosses cringe.

3.) Twins: Missing Joe Mauer for an entire month could be the difference for a team that has little margin for error.

4.) Royals: Seriously, people are picking these guys as sleepers? With Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez in the rotation and Kyle Farnsworth serving up fat flat fastballs?

5.) Tigers: Only one Detroit-area team is going to make its residents forget that they’re neck-deep in the Great Depression II. True confession time: I picked these guys to win it all last year.

1.) Angels: No pithy comment here, not for a team that, three days into the season, has gone through more than any team should ever have to endure with the tragic and senseless death of rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart. Awful.

2.) Rangers: Just loaded with young talent. Unfortunately, some of it won’t make its way to a big league mound until next year.

3.) Athletics: Going with third-year hurler Dallas Braden and four first- or second-year players in the rotation. Presumably, this is Billy Beane’s way of proving he’s smarter than all of us.

4.) Mariners: Better than they were last year, when they were the biggest flop of all-time, but still a long way off.

1.) Braves: They won so often that it’s old habit to pick them to win it again. Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez add some priceless (ok, not exactly priceless) durability to the rotation and Tommy Hanson is the next great homegrown arm. Key is keeping Chipper Jones intact for 140 games.

2.) Phillies: Just a hunch that this is a team that’s not going to age well, particularly on offense, and any absence by Cole Hamels will be tough to overcome.

3.) Mets: Sure, the bullpen is improved, but it couldn’t be much worse. And who feels comfortable with that rotation beyond Johan Santana?

4.) Marlins: Imagine if their management tried.

5.) Nationals: Egads.

1.) Cubs: The new Red Sox. No matter what they do over 162 games, it all comes down to winning 11 games in October.

2.) Cardinals: Questions up and down the pitching staff, but Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan annually get more out of less than just about anyone. Plus, that Pujols guy is OK.

3.) Reds: To those touting the Reds as a potential contender: Their manager is Dusty Baker. Good pitching, though, at least until he ruins it.

4.) Brewers: Ken Macha left NESN for this?

5.) Pirates: Seventeen straight losing seasons. That is really hard to comprehend. And the amazing thing is, outside of a fluky run at a pennant in 1997, the Pirates haven’t even flirted with respectability since Sid Bream chugged home ahead of Barry Bonds’ throw.

6.) Astros: Check out their Pythagorean (I can never spell that unless I cut and paste it) numbers from last year. This team is headed for a steep, drastic fall.

1.) Diamondbacks: Brandon Webb’s shoulder issues are a big worry, but the staff is still loaded and there’s not a more exciting young team west of Florida.

2.) Giants: My favorite darkhorse. Just a little offense and they could win the division. Alas. that's probably too much to ask.

3.) Dodgers: Can Manny pitch? Or help Joe Torre not destroy a bullpen?

4.) Rockies: That World Series run will go down as one of the all-time odd occurrences.

5.) Padres: Yikes. Why do I picture John Moores nursing a drink at a local watering hole and pumping the quarters he has left into a jukebox that plays “End Of The Road” on a continuous loop.


ALDS: Indians over Rays in 5, Red Sox over Angels in 3
ALCS: Indians over Sox in 7. Just like in '97, the Indians get hot at the right time and win the pennant despite being the worst team in the field.

NLDS: Cubs over Braves in 4, Cardinals over Diamondbacks in 5
NLCS: Cubs over Cardinals in 7. It’s just like the Red Sox vs. Yankees, except not as tasty to Fox and ESPN.

World Series: Indians over Cubs in 6. Kerry Wood closes it out—seriously, how delicious would THAT be?—and 792 reporters spend the Series trying to track down Steve Bartman.

AL MVP: Grady Sizemore, Indians
AL CY YOUNG: Josh Beckett, Red Sox
AL ROY: Travis Snider, Blue Jays

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. May as well name it after him.
NL CY YOUNG: Matt Cain, Giants
NL ROY: Tommy Hanson, Braves

Email Jerry at

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Who am I? Why am I here?

Josh Beckett says read my blog, or else. (Note: This does not constitute an endorsement from Josh Beckett. Thanks to Boston Dirt Dogs for the photo.)

I’d like to make an interesting entrance here and declare my arrival with equal parts white-hot rage and vinegar, a la Josh Beckett in the 2006 home opener. But Beckett foil Shea Hillenbrand is running a rescue shelter for animals in Arizona, so polite and old-fashioned will have to do.

I’m Jerry Beach, the former managing editor of Diehard Magazine and the author of Fighting Words: The Media, The Red Sox And The All-Encompassing Passion For Baseball In Boston, the first-ever book about the Red Sox and the media. This blog is intended to promote Fighting Words, which is finally coming to bookshelves near you in the next month, a mere five-and-a-half years after I came up with the idea while sitting in the right field press area at Yankee Stadium during the ALCS. (Before I go any further, many, many thanks to Bill Nowlin, the founder of Rounder Books and a tireless supporter of this project, even when the many delays were driving him nuts)

This idea originated with a single thought: Why do so many Red Sox players have contentious relationships with the press? Over the subsequent five seasons, I learned there were many more layers to the story, one of which was the passion Boston-area fans have for the media that covers their favorite teams.

I’m hopeful I can feed some of that interest by posting many of the more than 100 interviews I conducted for the book and posting some of the material that got left on the cutting room floor. The book evolved over the five years and what I asked someone and what I wrote about in 2004 was a whole lot different than what I asked and wrote about in 2008. I think the metamorphosis was interesting and I hope you do too.

I'll also try to provide some analysis of the Red Sox as well as the issues facing the media that covers the team world from my perch here in sunny Long Island, in the shadow of the Evil Empire and its less successful, wannabe kid brother.

What am I doing here? Well, I lived on Long Island with my wonderful wife and our cats even as I covered the Sox, which is a whole ‘nother interesting blog post in and of itself. As for the present, I am that rare species: The out-of-work sports journalist. (Or, as the Latins call us: “Homo sportus nonlaborans”) Despite the industry’s inability to return my faithfulness and devotion (warning: sales pitch coming!), I still harbor hopes of trying to get back in and get back up to Boston. With that in mind, please find on the lower right-hand side of the page some links to my Red Sox clips.

Thanks for reading and please stop back every weekday for original content about the book and the BoSox. I look forward to writing this blog and to receiving your feedback at Thanks again.