Friday, May 29, 2009

In which a nation of journalists finds it is no longer alone in singing “Hand In My Pocket” 24/7

<a href="http://www.joost.com/0820237/t/Alanis-Morissette-Hand-In-My-Pocket-Video-Version">Alanis Morissette - Hand In My Pocket</a>
It's as relevant now as it was 13 years ago, unfortunately.

Interesting article in The New York Times this week (found via Neil Best’s always excellent sports media blog at Newsday.com) about the difficulty sports management graduates are having in finding work—paying or otherwise—in a crappy economy.

If you’re a sportswriter, a.) I’m sorry and b.) every word in this story should sound familiar, especially this passage: “The teams, leagues and others in the sports industry have taken advantage of their willingness to make financial sacrifices, and may continue to do so.”

That’s been the state of the world for journalists since, oh, 1723 or so. Media companies have never been shy about taking advantage of the goodwill of young writers who think this field is a calling (whether out of admiration for Woodward and Bernstein or the belief that there is no better way to make a living than at a ballpark) as well as the older ones who have gotten addicted to the rush of deadline and the environment of journalism and have no idea what else to do with themselves.

Such exploitation has gotten particularly bad in the last 10 years as the Internet has provided billions of words of free content generated by fans. I am not at all complaining about this opportunity fans enjoy, because without it this blog would not exist, and in fact the content generated by passionate fans in Boston is a pretty pivotal theme of two chapters in Fighting Words (A ha! How’s that for a tie-in to the book?).

But it’s a fact that entire companies have been built on the backs of people writing for nothing. Why shouldn’t the powers that be begin to think that nobody should be paid for the privilege of writing about sports? One former employer used to try and scare me by telling me it had a million bloggers willing to do my job for free, and I’ve spent more than one sleepless night wondering if I am in fact proving it correct and condoning such exploitation by writing for free here and at another blog I produce.

There are a lot of days when I wonder if journalism is a lot like majoring in typewriter repair. That’s not entirely accurate, of course: The basics of journalism and newsgathering remains much more viable than knowing how to repair a ribbon, but with newspapers perishing by the day and other paying opportunities dwindling as well, how can journalism schools continue to prepare students for a career that is all but non-existent?

We may soon ask the same questions of schools that offer the sport management major. In the Times article, Mark McDonald of the University of Massachusetts called sport management “…one of the sexy industries” and noted how “…it’s very hard to discourage students from joining the industry.

“I feel for the students who haven’t done the preparation.”

I feel for the students—young and old—who have, as well.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Next up: Mike Remlinger tries to revive his career by appearing in beer league softball

Eric Gagne is going back to the bushes to try and revive a career that is a candidate for the standing eight count. Photo from this site.

Keith Foulke has company on the Ex-Red Sox Reliever Redemption Tour. Coming to a ballpark near you sometime in the next month (as long as you live in Quebec, I suspect) is Eric Gagne, who was last seen in Boston mopping up in the 2007 playoffs.

Gagne signed a deal with Quebec of the Can-Am League earlier this week, and if Foulke thinks he has it bad in the Atlantic League, he should be thankful he hasn’t fallen as far as Gagne, who is less than five years removed from the greatest run any closer has ever had. But arm troubles as well as a starring role in The Mitchell Report have ruined Gagne, who has played just one full season since 2004.

My guess is Gagne signed with Quebec not because he’s the local boy made good but because he had no other choice. The Can-Am League, which downsized from eight teams to six two months before tonight’s season opener, is one of those independent leagues that makes it tougher for the Atlantic Leagues of the world to be taken seriously as a legitimate feeder system for the big leagues.

Unlike the Atlantic League, which has sent hundreds of players back to affiliated ball and dozens to the majors, the Can-Am League is really the island of misfit toys: According to this press release, 14 Can-Am alumni began the season in affiliated ball (that list, for some reason, did not include ex-Sox reliever Craig Breslow, who played in the league in 2004). The Can-Am’s most famous alum is probably Oil Can Boyd, who pitched for Brockton in 2005 but is 18 years removed from his last big league pitch (geez, does that make me feel old) yet still harbors hopes of making a comeback.

Gagne will attempt to buck the odds by moving back into the rotation, which does make some sense as he tries to prove his arm is sound, And the Sox did win the World Series in 2007 despite Gagne’s complete lack of effectiveness, so I imagine the reception wouldn’t be too harsh if he did show up at one of the Can-Am outposts in New England.

Still, fans in New Hampshire (where the team is co-owned by Dan Duquette and managed by Brian Daubach; apparently, Rolando Arrojo wasn’t available to serve as pitching coach), Worcester (managed by Rich Gedman) and Brockton, not to mention the two teams in New Jersey, probably won’t get the chance to see Gagne pitch. Quebec owner Miles Wolff said landing Gagne was “…a big score” for Quebec as well as the league, but if Gagne remains in the rotation, it’s easy to envision him as a Quebec-only attraction and hard to imagine him taking bus rides into the lower 48 just to pitch once every five days.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Free Clay Buchholz!

"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LET THE BOY PITCH IN YOUR HOUSE!!" Photo from this site.

I imagine this is a bit of East Coast hyperbole that could be disproved by someone with a couple hours and Baseball-Reference.com at his/her disposal, but here goes: Since Major League Baseball expanded to 30 teams, I cannot imagine there has ever been a team with more starting pitching depth than the Red Sox have right now.

I mean, Clay Buchholz just carried a perfect game into the ninth inning Monday, and he’s no better than eighth on the Sox’ depth chart. Justin Masterson certainly ranks ahead of him, since he’s in the majors, and the Sox didn’t sign John Smoltz last winter so that they could send him to the bullpen or Pawtucket once his rehab assignment ends (he made his second minor league start last night and is on schedule to debut for the Sox in mid-June).

Buchholz is 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA and a 49/12 K/BB ratio in 48 1/3 innings at Pawtucket this year and 27-12 with a 2.29 ERA and a 466/107 K/BB ratio in 392 1/3 innings overall as a minor leaguer since he signed with the Sox in 2005. At Pawtucket alone, he is 8-5 with a 2.15 ERA and a 147/42 K/BB ratio in 130 1/3 innings over 25 starts.

Nick Cafardo made a good point in his Sunday notes May 17, when he wrote that more development wasn’t a bad thing for Buchholz since he was just approaching the 500 professional innings that big league teams used to think pitchers needed before they were ready for the majors. (He’s actually at 501 after Monday) Curt Schilling had 890 1/3 innings under his belt—including 725 1/3 at the minor league level—before his first full season with the Phillies in 1992.

But still…Buchholz seems pretty darn developed right now. My guess is the Sox know Buchholz is ready to contribute at the big league level, but that they don’t mind being extra careful in light of his struggles last year.

In addition, the Brad Penny experiment has gone much better than most of us anticipated. Bob Ryan said yesterday he thinks the Sox are going to deal Penny before the trading deadline, but that still leaves them with six starters for five spots if Smoltz returns. And if Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield are all healthy, then that would, presumably, leave Buchholz in Pawtucket.

Might it be time for the Sox to go with the six-man rotation, as it appeared they might be ready to do when they re-signed Schilling in November 2007? Like then, they’ve got the optimal staff with which to try it: A pair of 40-somethings in Smoltz and Wakefield, a hurler who is used to pitching once a week in Matsuzaka and a couple of young homegrown starters whose innings the Sox would like an excuse to limit in Lester and Buchholz.

Theo Epstein said on the conference call announcing the return of Schilling that the Sox had pondered the possibility of a six-man rotation but that he didn’t want to commit to it because those things have a way of not working themselves out. And that’s exactly what happened: Schilling never threw another pitch and Sox starters were so decimated by injuries that the likes of David Pauley and Charlie Zink made starts for Boston last year.

If the Sox have better luck this season in the injury department, maybe they can unofficially go with the six-man rotation by handing every starter some “structured time off,” as Epstein called it in November ‘07. Conceivably, the Sox could give a different starter two weeks off beginning July 1—these would be like furloughs, except, you know, they’d get paid—and run through the rotation by the end of the regular season.

And with September roster expansion, the Sox would only have to come up with a DL-worthy ailment for four pitchers. Or maybe only three, since the All-Star Break provides a chance to give someone 10 days off anyway. Or maybe only one, since Lester and Buchholz can still be optioned out.

I’m just thinking out loud. Such suggestions are easier made than implemented, especially when it comes to something as radical as changing the big league rotation as we know it. But geez, somebody’s got to do something to get Buchholz up to the majors before he makes a run at Schilling’s minor league innings total, right?

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Friday, May 22, 2009

America follows the lead of its athletes, stops reading the paper

Some of us preferred the newspaper to See Spot Run. Photo from this site, and surprisingly not from my parents' house.

Bad week for the newspaper business. Of course, when was the last time the industry had a good week? 1972?

Anyway, on consecutive days this week Keith Foulke and Joba Chamberlain declared they do not read the newspaper. This of course brings to mind what Curt Schilling said in September 2004, when I asked him about players who say they don’t read the paper during an interview for Fighting Words (shameless plug).

“Well, most of them are lying,” Schilling said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned: The guys who yell and scream about someone reading the newspaper or checking the stats—they’re the first ones in the morning. Don’t read the paper? They read it.”

That said, having covered the blissfully defiant Foulke, I have little reason to doubt he’s telling the truth. I haven’t covered Chamberlain, but since he’s only 23 years old, I have little reason to doubt he’s telling the truth, either.

Why would Chamberlain ever have to read the newspaper? Typing this sentence makes me feel quite old, but Chamberlain probably doesn’t remember a time when he couldn’t fire up the computer and have the entire world at his finger tips. Back in my day we handwrote letters to friends across the country whom we’d never met and had to write research papers by going to the library and thumbing through the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. And we liked it!

Unfortunately, but not without considerable justification, the rest of us old fogeys are following in the footsteps of the hippity hoppity young’uns like Chamberlain. We’re a product of our times, too, and we want all the information we can possibly absorb and we want it now. Most of us have become accustomed to having the news of the day delivered right to our Palm.

Full disclosure on the latter point: I’m not one of those folks—yet—because I spend enough time tethered to the computer. Allowing me to feed my latent case of ADD by surfing the Net from a hand-held device and looking for whatever strikes my fancy at the moment would really destroy my already tepid productivity.

Most of all, though, we’re not stupid, and we recognize that the people running newspapers into the ground are treating us as if we are in fact idiots. They’re gutting the staff and the news hole, eliminating the coverage we most want to read and then charging us more to read a whole lot less. A few weeks ago, I was in Connecticut and I finished The Hartford Courant sports section before I finished my bagel. Sad.

The powers that be have also gotten us accustomed to getting the product for free online, and it’s awfully hard to put that particular genie back in the bottle.

The demise of the newspaper as we know it is too bad, because devouring the sports section from the time I could read is what inspired me to become a sportswriter. And it’s disappointing that today’s 20-somethigns probably have no idea what they missed.

I remember being in college in 1996 and trying to avoid reading the box scores on espnet.sportszone.com (and you had to type the whole damn thing in too) on the one computer that had Internet access in the newspaper office because I didn’t want to ruin the ritualistic and daily joy of reading the box scores in the Newsday that was delivered to my dorm room. Now, I’m actually thinking about going to campus the first day of the fall semester to see if Newsday even bothers selling subscriptions to students anymore.

As for Foulke and Chamberlain, they weren’t making some grand societal statement. For ballplayers, “I don’t read the papers” is an automated response—a self-defense mechanism for whenever criticism or bad press comes up, or perhaps something they are instructed to say during media training sessions.

The medium might be dying but the message is timeless: We don’t pay any attention to what the media writes or says. Maybe it’s time to tweak the phrasing though. Then again, “I only use the Internet to check my email and my Facebook” or “I don’t subscribe to the Twitter feed of my team's beat writer” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Blue Jays endangered atop the AL East?

Bring back Jim Clancy! Photo from this site.

The Blue Jays still have the best record in the American League even after getting swept by the Red Sox this week, so picking the Cito Gaston-led Jays to finish last and predicting Toronto management would have to resort to holding post-game concerts with fellow ‘90s relics in order to lure fannies into the seats looks pretty foolish right about now. (You know what else looks really freaking horrible? Picking the Indians to win the World Series. Yeesh.)

That said, the Jays didn’t do much this week—or last week against the Yankees, more on that red-hot team in a bit—to disprove the skepticism that surrounded their fast start. The Jays have gone 26-12 against the Orioles, the AL Central and the AL West, but just 1-5 against the Yankees and Sox.

And the Jays went 0-5 in games not started by Roy Halladay, which only underscores how thin the Jays are behind their annual Cy Young contender. Scott Richmond, Brian Tallet, Brett Cecil and Robert Ray fill out the rotation, but Richmond is the only one who might be in the Jays’ optimal rotation. Casey Janssen, Shawn Marcum and Dustin McGowan are all on the disabled list and rookie Ricky Romero (say that five times fast) went on the shelf after four impressive starts and was optioned to Triple-A upon his activation.

The non-Halladay quartet had a 8.34 ERA against the Yankees and Sox. Subtract Tallet’s solid numbers—he allowed four runs in 12 innings over two starts—and Richmond, Cecil and Ray were lit up the tune of a 14.34 ERA in just 10 2/3 innings.

Fortunately for the Sox and the Yankees, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has no plans to shuffle the rotation. Of course, he also admits in the linked story that the Jays are “…making this up as we go” and that he could change his mind at any moment, so stay tuned.

Keep an eye, too, on how the Jays respond to Ricciardi’s ways if they continue to falter (and they’ll be tested plenty with 35 of their final 47 games prior to the All-Star Break against teams currently at or within a game of .500). Matthew Pouliot of NBCSports.com makes a pretty good case that the Jays have long been more interested in saving money than winning games, as evidenced most recently by the demotion of Romero despite his 1.71 ERA. Will be interesting to see if any cracks in the façade begin to appear if the Jays fall out of the running.

As for those fast-charging Yankees, who are now only a game behind the second-place Sox and 1 ½ games behind the Jays: I was shoveling dirt on the Yankees less than three weeks ago and declared not even a month ago that their approach to player development was something less than successful, but I should note that not only are they the hottest team in baseball, but that their starter and closer last night were both homegrown, as were five of the players in the starting lineup.

That said, unlike with my Indians and Blue Jays predictions, I’m not quite willing to cut bait on my original forecast of third place for the Yankees. After winning nine in a row—the last seven against the Twins and Orioles—let’s see how the Yankees fare once they resume playing the varsity this weekend, when the defending World Series champion Phillies come to The House Nobody Can Afford To Visit to begin a stretch in which the Yankees play 19 of 23 games against teams currently within a game of .500.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The drought is over

This didn't happen last night...probably. Photo from this site.

The big news from the Red Sox’ 8-3 win over the Blue Jays Wednesday occurred in the fifth inning, when David Ortiz crushed a Brett Cecil pitch over the center field wall for his first regular season homer since George Bush—the younger, not the elder—was president. Ortiz’ drought lasted 150 at-bats, the longest such streak of his career and, as I wrote last week, a particularly troubling one given he’s on the wrong side of 30.

Below is the raw data from the linked post—the longest home run droughts of the top 18 active home run hitters, along with the player’s age at the time of the power outage:

Ken Griffey Jr. (615 homers): 98 at-bats, 1990 (20 years old)
Alex Rodriguez (558 homers): 101 at-bats, 1994-95 (18/19 years old)
Jim Thome (548 homers): 85 at-bats, 1991 (21 years old)
Manny Ramirez (533 homers): 84 at-bats, 1997 (25 years old)
Gary Sheffield (501 homers): 260 at-bats, 1989 (20 years old)
Carlos Delgado (473 homers): 116 at-bats, 2006-07 (34 years old)
Chipper Jones (412 homers): 106 at-bats, 1997 (25 years old)
Jason Giambi (399 homers): 162 at-bats, 1996-97 (25/26 years old)
Vladimir Guerrero (393 homers): 124 at-bats, 2007 (32 years old)
Andruw Jones (375 homers): 101 at-bats, 2004 (27 years old)
Albert Pujols (332 homers): 73 at-bats, 2007 (27 years old)
Todd Helton (314 homers): 130 at-bats, 1997-98 (24 years old)
Jermaine Dye (308 homers): 119 at-bats, 1999 (25 years old)
Paul Konerko (304 homers): 95 at-bats, 2003 (27 years old)
Troy Glaus (304 homers): 114 at-bats, 2008-09 (32 years old)
Ivan Rodriguez (300 homers): 289 at-bats, 1992-93 (20/21 years old)
Lance Berkman (296 homers): 111 at-bats, 2009 (32 years old)
David Ortiz (290 homers): 148 at-bats, 2008-09 (32/33 years old)
Adam Dunn (290 homers): 79 at-bats, 2002 (22 years old)

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Foulke vs. Clark: The most gripping at-bat ever?


The Sox had another game to win, but the Yankees empire was toppled when Keith Foulke whiffed Tony Clark to end Game Six of the 2004 ALCS. Photo from this site.

As noted Wednesday, Keith Foulke will forever be known as the guy who recorded the most anticipated out in Red Sox history when he induced Edgar Renteria to ground back to the mound at 10:40 p.m. CST on Oct. 27, 2004. Foulke fielded the ball, jogged a couple steps towards first base and tossed it to Doug “Mine Mine Mine oh boy this is all mine!” Mientkiewicz to set off a celebration 86 years in the making.

But that’s not Foulke’s most memorable out, at least as far as I’m concerned. I figure he got the most pressure-packed out in the history of baseball to end Game Six of the ALCS.

East coast hyperbole? Maybe. But I can’t imagine there’s ever been more on the line in a single at-bat.

The Sox had an avalanche of momentum as Foulke came on in the ninth inning to try and preserve a 4-2 lead. They were, of course, three outs away from becoming the first baseball team to force a Game Seven after falling behind three games to none and on the verge of an unimaginably unique opportunity to end eight decades of torture at the hands of the Yankees.

The Yankees were trying desperately to hang on to their aura of invincibility and already quite possibly aware there was no way they were going to win a Game Seven (in The Yankee Years, Mike Mussina says the Yankees knew the afternoon of Game Seven they were toast because they had no faith in starter Kevin Brown).

But Foulke, running on fumes after throwing 72 pitches the previous two days and getting no favors from the small strike zone of home plate umpire Joe West, issued a leadoff walk to Hideki Matsui and a two-out walk to Ruben Sierra to bring up Tony Clark.

And it felt, as Clark ran the count full, that the rivalry would forever be defined by the result of this at-bat. Either Foulke would retire Clark and allow the Sox to send the Yankees’ empire toppling towards ruin…or Clark would homer to win the pennant, rob the Sox once again of blissful redemption and hand them a defeat inconceivable even by Boston standards.

I know the concept of a Curse makes Sox fans wretch, but had Clark homered, I imagine even the most rational Royal Rooter would have wondered if the Sox really were hexed. Aaron Boone was bad, but losing the pennant on a walk-off blast for the second straight year—this one off the bat of Clark, who hit .207 with three homers in 275 at-bats in 2002 for a Sox team that missed the playoffs by five games—would have been a devastating Job-like blow. How much suffering can one team and its fan base endure?

Somewhere inside Yankee Stadium, Theo Epstein was wondering the exact same thing. “I’m thinking ‘the guy basically ruined our 2002 season,’ now he’s going to ruin our 2004 season,” Epstein told WEEI in January 2005 (click on the link for more candid comments by Epstein). “After Aaron Boone the year before, I think that would have made me jump. But yeah, you figure you gotta throw him a fastball, he doesn’t have a good change-up, the strike zone’s really small. Clark, if he runs into one, is going to hit one out to end the season, and that would have been the worst possible way.”

Of course, it didn’t happen that way. Foulke, with his 100th pitch in a span of about 48 hours, struck Clark out swinging, and with Brown going for the Yankees in Game Seven, the Sox could have begun preparing for the Cardinals right then and there.

“That was probably the at-bat that I was the most nervous for during the year,” Epstein told WEEI. “And I still kinda cringe when I think about it, because I could just see him running into one and ending our season.”

Foulke doesn’t cringe when recollecting the at-bat, nor, in keeping with his uncomplicated approach to baseball, does he really recollect it at all.

“Nah, not really,” he said Monday when I asked him if he thinks about the pressure of the confrontation with Clark. “When you’re there and you’re working in it and it’s your job—fans see it a lot different [than] me. It was just exactly where I wanted to be, you know?”

And all he did was finally send the Sox exactly where they wanted to go.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oh Lord, please don’t let Keith Foulke be misunderstood

The celebration won't be quite this wild if Keith Foulke wins a title in the Atlantic League.

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y.—This doesn’t make any sense.

What is Keith Foulke, whose gutsy pitching in October 2004 made him perhaps the most valuable player of the Red Sox’ epic world championship run and who recorded an out 86 years in the making, doing pitching in an independent league?

What is a guy who famously said his favorite part of closing was the first and 15th of each month and declared he’d talk more to the print media if he was rewarded with a truck—like he received for his weekly appearances on WEEI—doing in the Atlantic League, where he’ll have to pitch more than three months to make as much as he made per pitch for the Red Sox in 2006?

What is a guy who said he looked forward to retiring when his Sox contract expired in 2007 and created controversy by saying it was uncomfortable to fly cross country aboard the Sox’ charter plane doing in a league in which teams travel by bus and stay in hotels that are nice, but not big league caliber? And for goodness sake, what is a guy who ticked off anyone who has ever walked into a Burger King doing in a league that prides itself on running a fan-friendly and accessible operation?

“It’s not like I turned down other jobs,” Foulke said in his typically frank fashion Monday, an hour before his new team, the Newark Bears, played the Long Island Ducks in an Atlantic League game. “I just didn’t have any other opportunities.

“I still want to be back in the big leagues, so this is a stepping stone to get me back to where I want to be.”

That Foulke—who emerged from a one-year retirement to go 0-3 with a 4.06 ERA with the Athletics last season despite missing three months due to neck and shoulder injuries—is going to such lengths to return to the majors at age 36 might come as a surprise to those who remember him as the guy who hated baseball (enter the words “Keith Foulke hates” in Yahoo and the search assist function adds the word “baseball”). That’s one of many misconceptions Foulke admits he generated during three eventful and outspoken years with the Sox.

“I’m definitely not a media darling,” Foulke said. “I say what I feel and what I think. I don’t speak to please everybody. I speak my mind and I’m not going to lie to you. I’m not going to try to trick you. There’s probably a lot of people that don’t understand [him].”

It doesn’t bother Foulke that he’s probably remembered less than fondly in Boston, where he had perhaps the shortest honeymoon period of any member of the ’04 champions despite his yeoman work that season: After recording 32 saves, a 2.17 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP in helping the Sox win the wild card, he allowed just one run and struck out 19 in 14 innings while appearing in 11 of the Sox’ 14 playoff games. He threw 100 pitches during Games Four, Five and Six of the ALCS as the Sox mounted the most shocking comeback in baseball history before he recorded the final out in all four World Series games.

But Foulke’s knees were hurting before he even showed up to Ft. Myers the following spring—“I still say the biggest mistake I made was trying to fight through it in ’05, should have just taken the year off and gotten healthy”—and he gave up a game-winning homer to Derek Jeter in his first appearance of the regular season. He bottomed out June 28, when he blew a save opportunity against the Indians by allowing five runs in 1 1/3 innings.

Afterward, Foulke made the infamous “Johnny from Burger King” comment in which he said he was far more concerned with what his teammates thought of him than the fans. Foulke said he uttered the words out of defiance and self-confidence, not a disregard for the working man.

“I said I wasn’t going to invite Johnny from Burger King to my World Series party,” Foulke said. “It had nothing to do with the people going out and having to get jobs. The point of the whole statement was I thought we were still going to be good enough to win the World Series. I thought I was still going to be able to be there to help. That’s what it was.”

Declaring he wouldn’t be quick to welcome those who criticized him was just one of the many times Foulke voiced what his teammates were thinking, albeit in his own uniquely acerbic way. Kevin Millar had many of the same thoughts about the doubters in 2005.

Nor, in 2004, was Foulke the only Sox player to believe the team could have found a more efficient way to fly a bunch of 30-something players around the country (note: Foulke’s comments are in the May 17 entry). “I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true,” Foulke said. “I just said it’s hard to go coast to coast sleeping in coach, laid across three seats. It’s one of those deals where I wasn’t trying to get anybody in trouble. Somebody asked me about it, I told the truth.”

And he played with Curt Schilling and David Wells, among others, so Foulke certainly wasn’t the only player to find he liked talking a whole lot more when his pockets were lined.
There are no paid radio appearances in the Atlantic League, and the few reporters that make their way to Newark and the league’s other outposts are far more interested in asking him about 2004 than why he’s pitching for the Bears.

“I answer a lot more questions about [2004] than I think about it,” Foulke said. “But to me, ’04 is ’04. If I retired after that year, yeah, [shoot], things would be peachy. But I still want to go out and play for another couple years.”

Foulke is not in the Atlantic League to pen the easy feel-good story about the one-time All-Star who yearns to play one more summer for the love of the game and to travel the nooks and crannies of small-town America. Foulke says he is motivated to return to the majors “…everyday I walk into a bad hotel. My wife just says ‘Hey, it’s another reminder.’”

Yet pitching at perhaps the purest level of professional baseball is also another reminder that Foulke enjoys baseball a whole lot more than his reputation suggests. The most obvious hint was buried in the agate copy of the transactions in February 2007, when Foulke—whose knee woes in 2005 ruined his mechanics and eventually led to an elbow injury—announced his retirement the day before he was to report to the Indians, who signed him to a $5 million deal to be their closer. He liked payday in the big leagues, but not enough to keep pitching hurt.

“My elbow was killing me,” Foulke said. “After spending the two previous years on the DL, I didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t good for me. The Indians, I’m sure, [were] a little chapped at me. But I’d have been miserable. And dealing with the injuries and the DL in Boston, I was already miserable enough. That’s no way to live life. It was an honorable thing to do and as soon as I made that decision, I felt 100 times better.”

Foulke spent 2007 recovering from elbow surgery and traveling the country with his family. He is still trying to regain his mechanics at Newark and his fastball-changeup combination isn’t as dominant as it once was (he’s still 1-0 with an 0.75 ERA and seven saves in 11 games). But he said he had fun again coming to the ballpark with the Athletics last season and is enjoying his time with the Bears, where his teammates include Carl Everett, another famously controversial ex-Sox player.

With a laugh, Foulke said he’s “…probably not nearly as worried as my wife” that he’ll never get another shot at the big leagues. So for now he’ll keep riding the buses up and down the east coast and participating in the type of grip-and-grins that he’d never have to endure in Boston or anywhere else—he’s signing autographs before each of the Bears’ games this weekend.

And, perhaps, along the way, he’ll be able to convince people that it actually does make plenty of sense for him to continue playing even though the pay is as low ($3,000 a month) as the odds of resuming his big league career are long.

“The part I don’t like about baseball, I guess you could call it the business side of it—I’m at the ballpark 3:30, 3:45 everyday, but yet I don’t work until 9:30, 9:45,” Foulke said. “That’s a lot of time to kill. I don’t like that part of it. But that’s a part of your job.

“But I love pitching. I love to pitch. That’s all there is to it. That’s why I’m still standing here.”

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There's nothing in sports like a Game Seven...well, except Sox Opening Day

The original outline for Fighting Words—way back in aught four—included a chapter on how the Patriots, who built a dynasty in a league designed to destroy dynasties, were not even the most-covered sports team in their own market. For a variety of reasons, that chapter ended up on the cutting room floor, but I’d like to post it as well as some of the interviews I conducted for it as the NFL season approaches.

I mention the Patriots chapter that never was because of the news Monday that the Celtics and Bruins drew huge ratings for their recent Game Seven losses—but still did not match the numbers the Red Sox got Opening Day. That surprised me, because like most clichés, it’s the truth: There’s nothing in sports like a Game Seven.

As Bruce Allen notes in the link, the Patriots regularly draw in the 20s, but because the paucity of NFL games make them appointment viewing. I imagine it’ll take more sustained success by the Celtics and Bruins to get a thorough Sox-like grip on Boston fans. The Celtics are two years removed from finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA and won three playoff series in the first 15 years following Larry Bird’s retirement. And the Bruins finished last as well two years ago, had one playoff series win in the 13 years prior to this season and haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1972.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Friday, May 15, 2009

No Mo, No Mo...No Mo, No Mo...

David Ortiz only wears the uniform no. 42 once a year, but he's looked a little too much like Mo Vaughn lately. Photo from boston.com.

Even the most optimistic Red Sox fan has to be concerned today about David Ortiz, who had about the worst game imaginable in going 0-for-7 and stranding on base a team record-tying 12 runners in the Sox’ 5-4, 12-inning loss to the Angels Thursday. Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald notes that Ortiz was quite likely the difference between victory and defeat: Ortiz advanced just one runner in his seven at-bats.

Ortiz is hitting .163 in May and .208 overall and hasn’t hit a regular season home run (he homered in Game Five of the AL Championship Series) in 144 at-bats, one at-bat shy of the career-worst drought he endured from Sept. 12, 1998 through June 7, 2000 while he was in the Twins organization (he spent most of 1999 at Triple-A, where he hit 30 homers). This time, it only feels like it’s been 21 months between homers for Ortiz, whose slump is clearly beginning to wear on him.

He uttered just 14 words to reporters after the game Thursday: “I’m sorry guys, I don’t feel like talking now. Just put down ‘Papi stinks.’”

Even before the power went out, there were concerns Ortiz was entering his decline phase at age 33. Of course, there was nowhere to go but down after a monster 2006 in which he led the AL with 54 homers (a Sox record) and 137 RBI. But missing nearly two months last season with a torn tendon in his left wrist and finishing with just 23 homers and 89 RBI—the first time in his six-season Sox tenure that he fell short of 30 homers and 100 RBI—served as a reminder that bulky, one-dimensional power hitters don’t age well.

Ortiz is most often compared to ex-Sox slugger Mo Vaughn, who put up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers with the Sox but faded away after signing with the Angels following his age-30 season. And it’s sure interesting that their reactions to potentially career-turning slumps are strikingly familiar. Earlier this week, Ortiz told reporters that he thinks about his home run drought “…every day. Sleeping. Eating. Having breakfast.”

He then colorfully added he also thinks about the slump while he’s going to the bathroom. “It’s bad,” Ortiz said.

Vaughn began 2002—his first and only full season with the Mets—by hitting .234 with four homers, 18 RBI and 41 strikeouts in 145 at-bats through May 31. “Nothing’s right when you don’t play well,” Vaughn said (I’d link the story, except I wrote it for a website that no longer exists—story of my life). “The food don’t taste right. The drinks don’t taste right. Everyday ain’t right. It just ain’t right.”

Ortiz is still on pace to better the numbers Vaughn put up in the four seasons beginning with his 31st birthday (Vaughn missed his age-33 season, 2001, with a torn biceps). Vaughn hit .267 with 98 homers, 312 RBI, a .356 on-base percentage and a .481 slugging percentage over his last four seasons with the Angels and Mets. Since turning 31, Ortiz has hit .293 with 58 homers, 221 RBI, a .404 on-base percentage and a .543 slugging percentage.

But here’s an alarming note to sound about Ortiz: Among his peers, at least, this slump puts him in unchartered territory.

Ortiz is tied for 18th among active big leaguers with 289 homers. Of those players, only three—Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and Ivan Rodriguez—have endured home run droughts longer than the one Ortiz is mired within. But Rodriguez (289 at-bats as a 20- and 21-year-old with the Rangers in 1992-93), Sheffield (260 at-bats as a 20-year-old with the Brewers in 1989) and Giambi (162 at-bats as a 25- and 26-year-old with the Athletics in 1996-97) and were far younger and at the beginning of their careers when they slumped.

None of the players with 289 or more homers have endured a drought like Ortiz’ in their 30s. Rodriguez (171 at-bats last season at age 36) comes closest. Five others have had homer droughts of at least 100 at-bats following their 30th birthday: Vladimir Guerrero (124 at-bats at age 32 in 2007), Carlos Delgado (116 at-bats at age 34 in 2006-07), Todd Helton (112 at-bats at age 33 in 2006-07), Lance Berkman (111 at-bats at age 32 in 2008) and Chipper Jones (101 at-bats at age 30 in 2002).

Vaughn’s longest power outage following his 30th birthday, by the way, was 62 at-bats at age 33 in 2002. His longest homer drought occurred as a 22-year-old rookie in 1991, when he went 109 at-bats between blasts.

Vaughn did recover from his slow start in 2002 to finish with a .259 average, 26 homers and 72 RBI—decent numbers, but also the worst of his career up to that point. He hit just .190 with three homers and 15 RBI in 2003 before going on the disabled list in early May with what turned out to be a career-ending knee injury.

At this point, the Sox would presumably be thrilled if Ortiz had the type of season Vaughn had in 2002 (and ironically, in that it’s not ironic at all, Ortiz is on pace for 71 RBI as of this typing). They’d be even happier if the similarities stopped there

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I’m beginning to think Jamie Moyer’s not going to get to 300 wins

Jamie Moyer regales reporters with tales of playing baseball without a glove, walking uphill both ways to a doubleheader and World Series games that ended before sunset. Photo from this site.

I can’t imagine anybody thought Jamie Moyer was beginning one of the most remarkable transformations in recent memory during his lone season in Boston in 1996, when he went 7-1 with a 4.50 ERA and uninspiring peripheral numbers (a 50/27 K/BB ratio and a 1.53 WHIP) in 23 games as a swingman for the Red Sox.

Moyer was dealt at the trading deadline to the Mariners, who became his sixth big league team. It took another decade for him to add a seventh team to his resume. Moyer went 180-108 with a 4.04 ERA from his first pitch with the Mariners through the 2008 season, when the 45-year-old Moyer won his first World Series ring with the Phillies and was subsequently rewarded with a two-year contract that would take him to the edge of his 48th birthday.

Moyer pitched 160 innings just three times prior to age 34 but has done it 11 times in the last 12 seasons (and missed by six innings in 2000). He won a career-high 13 games in 1996, a total he has matched or exceeded 10 times since—including in 2001 and 2003, when he won 20 and 21 games, respectively. He’s done it all with a variety of slop that features a fastball that couldn’t get pulled over on the Mass Pike.

Alas, Moyer’s magician act may be nearing its conclusion, if the first seven starts of this season are any indication. Moyer gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings last night in a loss to the Dodgers as his ERA soared to 8.15. Let’s not count Moyer out yet—I’m sure he was dismissed as done when he posted a 5.49 ERA in 2000 and a 5.21 ERA in 2004—but each eyesore of a start makes it less likely he’ll create one helluva Hall of Fame debate.

Laugh if you must, and I realize Moyer has none of the characteristics of a Hall of Famer. He’s never been the best in his league at any time—he’s been named to one All-Star team and has never finished higher than fourth in the Cy Young balloting—and will almost surely fall well shy of 3,000 strikeouts. And all the caveats apply about how Moyer is in nearly unprecedented territory as a guy taking a regular turn in the rotation in his mid-to-late 40s and how the bottom can fall out at any moment.

But still: Moyer won 54 games in the preceding four seasons and began this year with 246 wins. Yup. You do the math.

Chances are Moyer will end up well shy of Tommy John, another soft-tosser who pitched more than a quarter-century and ended up with 287 wins, and that just like with John, nobody will spend much time bantering about Moyer’s Hall of Fame chances. But the long shot “what if” is a fun one to ponder nonetheless: How do you keep out of the Hall of Fame a guy who won 300 games during the Steroid Era, even if it took him 25 years or more to get to the mark?

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It’s the same damn song, the DJ sucks…makes…me…sad


A perfectly sane Roger Clemens calmly offers his broken bat back to Mike Piazza in this 2000 file photo from this site.

May is the month when aging acts that once topped the charts emerge from months of seclusion and go back on tour to play their old hits to appreciative audiences that don’t want to hear any of that new crap. REO SpeedwagonJourneyMotley CrueForeigner…Roger Clemens.

That’s right: More than a year after his appearance before Congress and on the same day a book branding him a steroid-using philanderer hit the shelves, Clemens restarted his Grand Delusion tour Tuesday when he appeared on ESPN Radio.

Clemens sang the same damn song, telling Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg that the excerpts he’s read of American Icon are “…completely false” and that former trainer Brian McNamee never injected him with steroids or HGH. Of course, he had multiple chances to, you know, say that to the authors of the book, but declined to do so.

You gotta feel for the guy. To hear him speak, he’s the victim of the most carefully orchestrated screw job in history. McNamee never injected Clemens, yet Clemens’ DNA is in the syringes. I mean, shoot, Jack Bauer’s got better luck than Clemens.

Clemens says he was speaking Tuesday because he felt he was criticized for going into hiding following the debacle with Congress. But as Jon Heyman of SI.com notes, there’s a pretty good chance that Clemens’ chirping gave the feds—who are already investigating him for perjury in front of Congress—even more reason to pursue him.

In the meantime, it was hilarious to listen to the appearance and hear Clemens conduct himself as if he’d just read the Cliffs Notes to “PR For Dummies.” Call the hosts by nickname? Check. (Golic was twice called “Golie” and Greenberg was called “Greenie” three times) Paint yourself as a casual dude by referring to the hosts as “guys?” Check. (Six times) Portray yourself as a pious person who cares only about others? Check. (Clemens mentioned his charity work and twice referred to the speeches he says he gives to students and young players in which he says steroids are bad)

We can assume “PR For Dummies” did not recommend Clemens butcher the English language (he once again said his “friend” Andy Petttite “misremembered” their conversations about steroid use), nor say he was at risk for a heart attack because his stepfather died of one.

Clemens’ grandest delusion may have been his dodging a question about whether or not he’s really retired. “It’s going to be a competition between myself and Brett Favre,” Clemens said. “If he comes back again, then I’m gonna get out on the streets and start hitting pavement.”

Hmm, let’s see, he’s going to be 47 in a little over two months, was breaking down at the end of his last season in 2007, likes to show up only on the days he pitches and has the feds—to borrow a Clemens phrase—running up his back. Favre has a better chance of starting for the Patriots in September than Clemens does of pitching for anyone ever again. But getting out on the streets while he still can might be a good idea

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fighting Words Q&A: Ellis Burks

As someone who played for the Red Sox from 1987-92, Ellis Burks doubly appreciated the chance to hold aloft the World Series trophy in 2004. Photo from Boston.com.

I thought Ellis Burks provided one of the best stories on the 2004 Red Sox, despite the fact he recorded just 33 at-bats due to multiple knee surgeries. He remained with the team throughout his arduous rehab, probably because he knew better than anyone else in that locker room what kind of demons those Sox were trying to exorcise. Burks joined the Sox in 1987, four years after he was drafted by the club in the first round and one season after the painful World Series loss to the Mets introduced “The Cures of the Bambino” into the American sporting vernacular.

Burks was quite an asset in the locker room, winning admirers for his work ethic as well as his ability to provide leadership even though he wasn’t able to contribute much on the field. He did, though, manage to make it back as a pinch-hitter in late September and notched a hit as a pinch-hitter in his final Fenway Park at-bat Sept. 23. Terry Francona rewarded him with a start on the penultimate day of the season Oct. 1 and Burks recorded a double and a run scored in the 2,000th and final game of his career.

Burks had no regrets over his career but did wonder late in 2004 what kind of numbers he would have put up if he didn’t miss so much time with knee, back and elbow injuries. He played 100 or fewer games five times in his 18-year career and still finished with a .291 average, 352 homers, 2,107 hits, 1,206 RBI and 1,253 runs scored.

In seasons in which he played at least 100 games, Burks averaged 140 hits, 24 homers, 82 RBI ad 83 runs scored. Five more seasons like that and he would have finished with 2,520 hits, 432 homers and 1,472 RBI and 1,494 runs—numbers comparable to those of Andre Dawson, who will likely enter the Hall of Fame in the next couple years.

There will be no Hall of Fame for Burks, who is eligible for the ballot next year, but that World Series ring is a pretty good consolation prize.

And on a personal level, Burks—who is currently an executive with the Indians—was one of the nicest athletes I’ve ever met. We hit it off during this interview in September 2004 and continued to chat regularly over the next several weeks. When I told him my credential request for the ALCS and World Series was turned down, he gave me his cell phone number and said to give him a call if there was anything he could do to help me out. (Ex-Sox PR chief Glenn Geffner ended up landing me the credentials, for which I told him I’d name my first-born after him)

Burks’ relaxed demeanor was a marked contrast from earlier in his career. He admitted in this interview he interacted as minimally as possible with reporters during his first stint with the Sox (ex-Sox general manager Lou Gorman also noted this, without prompting, in a separate interview in 2005).

That wariness was still present, if not bubbling at the surface: At the end of our interview, Burks asked to see my credential so he could remember the outlet for whom I worked.

This interview was conducted early in the book-writing process, so it’s not as thorough and a little more general than those conducted later in the project. Hope you enjoy it anyway:


What was it like dealing with the media during your first stint with the Red Sox?

At that time there were no courses of any kind. My whole theory was the questions that were asked, I answered. I didn’t elaborate any further on anything extra. It was simple: A and B, you ask, I answered. That’s it. Next question. Later on, I realized that things you might say may be taken and twisted certain ways, so I was very careful of what I said.

That was just a learning experience—I saw a lot of negative things happen to players like Jim Rice, Oil Can Boyd, Todd Benzinger, Mike Greenwell. It was just a total learning experience, man. And I learned to joke around with the media quite a bit, so that sort of took the edge off it somewhat.

Is there more or less media now?

This is more now, I guess, because of the added hype with New York. New York had always been one of the teams that the Red Sox always wanted to beat because of the Bucky Dent thing and history of it all—losing the Babe to New York. So you still had a lot of added hype for that. Since 1918 the Red Sox haven’t won a championship, and they weren’t going to let us forget about it.

Are players reminded more of the franchise’s past here than in other cities?

It’s definitely one of those things where you’re reminded constantly about the last time you won a championship. But whichever team wins here is gonna go down in history, they’re gonna be remembered forever and the media’s going to portray them as gods because it’s been so long. For the most part, that’s something that we as players don’t think about. We’re just trying to be the best we can be and bring a championship to this organization.

Is the press more or less negative here than in the other cities in which you’ve played?

Well, to my experience, there’s three or four places that can be pretty negative. Philly. New York, of course. And Boston’s not negative. Losing streaks, something negative said in the paper, [reporters are] going to harp on that. But it seems like in New York and Philadelphia, they just come to the ballpark wanting to say something to get you going. It gets tough. But when you’re a professional ballplayer, that’s just going to happen. People are always going to try to look for something to add to something someone else said. I don’t bother [or] involve myself in [that]. If you have something negative to say, don’t step to me.

When the Red Sox do well, is the coverage here more positive than it might be if the home team was doing well somewhere else?

That’s the case everywhere. If you’re on a streak like this—and this is what we’ve all been waiting for, this is what all the writers have said this team is capable of doing—when we fulfill that, everything is lovely. That’s great. That’s the way it should be. But, of course, when we lost two in a row, things panic—especially if New York’s won two in a row. It’s like, oh geez, the roof’s caving in. And you just have to really put things in perspective. You’re not going to win every game, you’re not going to lose every game.

How has the space in the locker room changed since your first tour here?

A little more space. Just the one room back there and a small weight area and the video room. You’ve got a media room back there. It’s definitely improved.

Are there more places for players to have some privacy now?

No. I prefer the washroom. That’s where I go [laughs]. You guys better not come back there.

Do you read the papers?

Sometimes. I didn’t even know Kevin Brown broke his hand. I don’t make it a point to read the papers, because I don’t need to know what people are talking about. I know what’s going on, so I don’t need to know what somebody else’s opinion is.

How about teammates? Typically, do they read the papers?

Some guys do, some guys don’t. Some guys are into that—they’re into knowing. They want to know what you guys are saying about them.

Is Boston harder on its stars than other cities?

I don’t know if you’re harder, but you tend to make yourself known. Players are aware you’re around. Certain articles that are written stand out. I’m not saying [the media is] negative, but it’s definitely noticeable at times, some of the articles or headlines or whatever.

That goes back to a lot of things. Like if you’re not media-friendly, you’re the enemy. If you don’t talk to the media, you’re a troubled guy, you don’t want to be bothered…you’re subject to ridicule or any type of unnecessary things. Ted Williams wasn’t [media-friendly]. Barry Bonds was not. Albert Belle wasn’t. Eddie Murray. You know, that really has nothing to do with the team.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Bard, Bard, Bard, Bard is the word



Rhode Island's own Peter Griffin has been calling for the Red Sox to recall Daniel Bard for weeks.

Unlike Hunter Jones and Michael Bowden, who had one big league appearance apiece under their belts when they were entrusted with a lead against the Yankees during a national TV game Apr. 26, there was no dramatic emergence on the big stage last night for Daniel Bard. But that didn’t diminish the pride felt by an organization that patiently oversaw Bard’s transformation from a potential draft bust who couldn’t find the strike zone as a starter to an almost incomprehensibly dominant late-inning reliever who could someday replace Jonathan Papelbon as the Red Sox’ closer.

“It’s exciting, obviously, and I’m really happy for Daniel with everything he went through that first year back in ’07 just to see how he responded to that situation,” Red Sox director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod said Sunday night. “And really, from that time and the time leading up to that winter, [he] really stepped into this new role with both his feet. And it really has just been a lot of fun for us to watch, when you see the hard work that he’s put into it get rewarded in terms of performance at the minor league level and then obviously with a call-up today. It makes everyone in the organization very proud.”

Theo Epstein probably had no idea in October 2006 that Bard would one day serve as the poster child for his re-commitment to player development. Bard, a first-round pick by the Sox that June out of North Carolina, signed with the Sox weeks earlier following a summer of negotiating. He made his professional debut the following spring at Single-A Lancaster, where he didn’t exactly provide the Sox an immediate return on their $1.55 million investment.

Bard, pitching in one of the most extreme hitter’s parks in minor league baseball, walked 22 and allowed 21 hits in just 13 1/3 innings over five starts. After a stint on the disabled list, he was demoted to Single-A Greenville, where he improved only slightly pitching at sea level: Bard walked 56, allowed 55 hits and posted a 6.42 ERA in 61 2/3 innings over 17 starts.

After the season, the Sox suggested he go to winter ball in Hawaii and pitch in relief. At the time, the Sox weren’t necessarily committing to him as a reliever: Management just hoped he’d be able to end the year on a positive note.

Bard continued to battle his control in Hawaii, where he had a 1.08 ERA and struck out 15 but also walked 15 in 16 2/3 innings. But McLeod sensed an increased confidence in Bard at the end of the season in Hawaii and believed he might have found a home in the bullpen.

“One thing I know we discussed that off-season was I know a lot of times when we saw Daniel as an amateur really dominate was in short stints, whether it be on the Cape or with Team USA,” McLeod said. “When he came out of the bullpen, you just kind of saw a different demeanor from him. He was much more aggressive in the strike zone and I think it just suits his personality a lot better.”

Nobody expected it to suit him as well as it did last season, when Bard—armed with a modified delivery he’d begun working on in Hawaii—began the season by striking out 43, walking just four and posting a miniscule 0.64 ERA in 28 innings at Greenville. He continued to impress at Double-A Portland, where he struck out 64, walked 26 and posted a 1.99 ERA in 49 2/3 innings while recording seven saves.

Bard performed well during spring training this year and was almost unhittable at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he earned the promotion to Boston by striking out 29, walking just five and posting a 1.13 ERA in 16 innings. He notched six saves and pulled off one of the rarest feats in baseball Apr. 22, when he struck out the side on nine pitches against Rochester.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that Bard’s minor league success will translate—instantly or otherwise—into similar results at the big league level. But if Bard does emerge as a quality reliever for the Sox, it’ll be another organization-wide victory for a franchise that is committed to nurturing its prospects, even through multiple hiccups in the most demanding market in the game.

Manny Delcarmen is one of the Sox’ top set-up men now, but he had a 7.30 ERA in his final 23 appearances of the 2006 season and opened 2007 by posting a 7.24 ERA in his first 10 outings at Pawtucket. Clay Buchholz hasn’t gotten his second extended shot with the Sox yet, but he’s responded to a rough 2008 with the Sox (2-9 with a 6.75 ERA in 16 games, including 15 starts) by going 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA and 26 strikeouts over 27 innings in five starts thus far at Pawtucket.

“What [vice president of player personnel] Ben Cherington and [director of player development[ Mike Hazen are doing on the player development side and the system that they put in place over there, the minor league coaches and the staff that we have over there,” McLeod said. “Getting to go see first-hand how these guys work with our young players, watching these guys in the Rookie Program when they come in and the things that they put them through—not just the physical but the mental. I think when guys come up here, they’re mentally prepared to handle it.

“And also, it’s just the kids and the types of players that we’re drafting, all the way down to our area scouts that are trying to find out what players have the right mental makeup to perform in Boston. I really do believe it’s just an organization-wide accomplishment when these guys come up and do good.”

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

If George Mitchell was a Dodgers board member, none of this ever would have happened

"You got busted last, so that means you've got to drive us to Cooperstown and pay for our visit to the Hall of Fame." Photo from this site.

So I was away for a couple days. Did I miss anything?

Manny Ramirez is busted, and my first thought is he can forget about the Hall of Fame. And that’s too bad, because I don’t care if he was on the stuff by accident or by design or for 15 days or 15 years. The guy was on the very short list of the best of the best during the most offense-friendly era in the history of the sport.

It’s a bit of a tired cliché, but for me, when it comes to judging who is and isn’t a Hall of Famer, I use the same standard Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used for judging pornography: I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it. (Bully for me: That and 50 cents…err, wait a minute, 75 cents…err, wait a minute, 100 cents will get me a newspaper, for now anyway, since I’m not in the BBWAA and don’t have a Hall of Fame vote) But as Terry Francona—no card-carrying member of the Manny Ramirez Fan Club—put it to Sean McAdam last year, nobody ever went for a beer or to the bathroom when Ramirez stepped to the plate.

Ramirez’ flaky behavior already made him far from a sure thing despite his first ballot-worthy numbers. Add into the equation this stain and the reluctance of many writers to vote for confirmed or suspected cheaters (the tally among Fanhouse writers with a Hall of Fame vote is 6-1 against) and we’re almost surely going to be robbed of Manny Being Manny: The Hall of Fame Speech. Which sucks, because whether he spoke for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, it’d be the most entertaining address ever.

My second thought is nobody should ever again write gushing prose about a player’s work ethic or his workout regimen. Because no matter what you thought of Ramirez and his antics, the one thing I think everyone had to acknowledge—even grudgingly—was the dude worked. We all heard and read stories of his early morning workouts and the hours of cage work before a game and his savant-like approach to hitting.

How much of it was true? We just don’t know. And that four-word caveat should apply to everyone, from Albert Pujols to David Eckstein. It’s unfair to those who are clean, and it’s too bad that the willful ignorance of the union and the owners, both of whom were only too happy to get fat off the golden goose following the strike of ’94, has forced us to wonder about every player we see.

But while it’d be nice if everyone was au natural, let’s stop pretending we live in a world that doesn’t exist. Let’s stop demonizing players for having the audacity to try to keep up with the Ramirezes and the Rodriguezes. It would be nice if everyone could be like Chad Mottola, who was drafted one spot ahead of Derek Jeter in the first round of the 1992 draft, got a grand total of 125 big league at-bats during a 16-season professional career and resisted the urge to take steroids the entire time.

I’d like to think I’d mimic Mottola if I was in his shoes, and I’d love it if everyone else followed in his footsteps (that’s probably too many walking analogies for one sentence). But theory and reality are entirely different things. What would you do if a needle could provide the difference between lifelong benefits for you and financial security for your family…or a career in the bushes preceding the hunt for a Real Job in your mid-30s?

As my favorite Bruce Springsteen lyric goes: “Well, you may think the world’s black and white and you’re dirty or you’re clean. You better watch out you don’t slip through them spaces in between.”

Be more upset that these fringe guys are the ones who are most severely punished by the arrogant hypocrites who run Major League Baseball and its teams. (Count me among those who think it's a joke that MLB not only believes we should take seriously its own report on steroids but one overseen by a guy on the board of one of the 30 franchises)

Don’t worry about Manny. He’ll be fine, and if he decides to re-enter free agency after this year—and you can forget that now, but let’s just say he does for the sake of the argument—you can bet someone will throw a crapload of money at him.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Jay Gibbons kicks a garbage can. Hooray for making an example of someone! (Of course Gibbons has also made $27 million as a big leaguer, which makes my point yet also makes it a little tough to feel bad for the guy, all at the same time)

Most of all, I try not to waste any pixels blasting steroid users because it’s been my experience that the vast majority of fans just do not care. Nobody’s going to wring their hands over Ramirez getting busted outside of people who already hate Ramirez. I know a lot of Yankees fans down here who reveled in Ramirez’ demise, chortled about the Red Sox’ two tainted titles and enthusiastically welcomed back Alex Rodriguez, all in the same day and without any sense of irony. That’s fandom though. It’s not supposed to be rational and reasoned.

And hey, maybe this brings together those Yankees fans as well as any Red Sox fans who are mad at Ramirez for his bizarre exit. Manny Ramirez: Bringing peace to the world, if not the Red Sox clubhouse.

After Deion Branch’s messy exit for Seattle, Bob Ryan wrote a really good column in which he compared professional football to a sausage factory: The only way to enjoy it is to not think too much about what goes into it.

Really, though, all professional sports are a sausage factory of some sort. It’s difficult to enjoy sports if you think about what players go through to get on to the field. The beauty and purity of baseball is wonderful, and also not at all consistent with the coldly businesslike approach of most executives and players.

For all the righteous indignation and Helen Lovejoy-like caterwauling the steroids issue has inspired, it took the worst economy in more than 70 years for MLB to see a decrease in attendance. And that football players die at a rate far faster than other athletes in order to entertain us every Sunday hasn’t diminished the popularity of the NFL one bit.

And hell, art is imitating life. Mickey Rourke hasn’t exactly denied he took method acting to a whole ‘nother level while filming The Wrestler. Sylvester Stallone admitted he took testosterone and HGH to bulk up for Rambo IV.

Nobody disqualifies actors from awards consideration and moviegoers still fill multiplexes. Why should we demonize ballplayers and wish for fans to bolt stadiums? Too bad for Manny he’s not an actor. Even so, after last week, he’s still got a better shot at winning an Oscar than making the Hall of Fame.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Remy takes leave of absence

It was revealed yesterday that Jerry Remy, the ex-Red Sox second baseman and incredibly popular analyst on NESN games, has taken a leave of absence to deal with complications from lung cancer surgery he underwent last year. Best wishes to Jerry in his recovery and here's hoping he gets back to the booth soon.

Pavano, Class of '04 a cautionary tale

Most biting tabloid-inspired nickname ever. Thanks to this site for the photo.

Exhibit 1A of why it’s usually a bad idea to sign free agent pitchers to long-term contracts was on the mound at Fenway Park last night, where Carl Pavano tossed six solid innings to earn the win as the Indians beat the Red Sox 9-3.

It was the first appearance at Fenway for Pavano since he was the poor sap who started for the Marlins when they fell to the Sox 25-8 June 27, 2003. That he’s gone nearly six years between starts at Fenway is just one way to measure how off-the-charts badly his tenure with the Yankees unfolded.

Pavano seemed like a pretty good bet to make a lot of starts at Fenway back in the winter of 2004, when both the Sox and Yankees were hotly pursuing him as a free agent. He chose to go to the Yankees for four years and $39.95 million, which was about the best thing that could have happened to the Sox and the worst thing to happen to the Yankees.

Pavano threw just 145 2/3 innings for the Yankees as he battled numerous injuries, most of which appeared skeptical to inside and outside observers alike and at least one of which was self-inflicted. The Yankee Years, the book that Joe Torre didn’t write even though his name is splashed across the front cover, spells out in jaw-dropping detail just how much Pavano’s teammates despised him.

Yet the really frightening thing about the free agent class of 2004-05 is that Pavano wasn’t even its biggest bust. That honor, such as it is, goes to Russ Ortiz, who signed a four-year, $33 million deal with the Diamondbacks and provided them a grand total of 28 starts, during which he went 5-16 with a 7.00 ERA, before he was released in June 2006. ESPN.com’s Keith Law had an interesting take on Ortiz’ release and the misguided perception that the Diamondbacks were eating the contract when they cut him.

Matt Clement, whom the Sox signed to a three-year deal worth $25.5 million after they lost out on Pavano, was a bargain compared to Pavano and Ortiz, but his pockmarked tenure in Boston—Clement went 18-11 with a 5.09 ERA in before he underwent what turned out to be career-ending shoulder surgery at the end of the 2006 season—made the Sox more determined than ever to develop their own pitching and avoid the major league free agent market whenever possible.

Such tales of woe were common for the class of ’04. The nine free agent starting pitchers who signed multi-year deals that winter—Pavano, Ortiz, Clement, Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Odalis Perez, Brad Radke, Kris Benson and Eric Milton—were paid a combined $277 million to go 199-207 with a 4.63 ERA.

Only three of those pitchers—Perez, Radke and Lowe—did not undergo arm surgery at some point during their lucrative deals. Perez (21-27 with a 5.49 ERA for the Dodgers and Royals, the latter of whom acquired him during the second year of his three-year deal with the Dodgers) pitched as if he should have gone under the knife while Radke (21-21 with a 4.17 ERA with the Twins) had such a ravaged shoulder by the end of his two-year deal that he couldn’t brush his teeth or pour milk with his right arm.

Clement, Martinez and Benson all underwent shoulder surgery while Pavano, Ortiz and Milton all had Tommy John surgery. Of those six, the only one not to miss an entire season recovering was Martinez, who went 11 months between starts after his operation.

Only Lowe (54-48 with a 3.59 ERA) provided a quality return on the investment. He pitched 850 1/3 innings over his four years with the Dodgers. The only pitcher among the Class of ’04 to pitch even half that many innings during his deal was Martinez, who had an excellent first year with the Mets and might have helped them to the World Series in 2006 if he didn’t miss the postseason due to his shoulder surgery. Think the Mets might have liked to have Martinez start one game in the NLCS instead of Steve Trachsel?

Today, Clement and Radke are retired, Perez and Martinez are unsigned, Milton is playing in the minor leagues and Benson and Ortiz are barely hanging on to roster spots with the Rangers and Astros, respectively. Lowe pitched so well in Los Angeles that, at age 35 and in a rotten economy, he actually got a raise when he signed a four-year deal with the Braves last winter.

That means Pavano, who signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Indians and slid into the middle of their rotation, is in the second-best situation of the Class of ’04 hurlers. How’s that for a summation of how badly the entire group fared? But on the bright side, after last night, he’s only 114 1/3 innings away from reaching his total with the Yankees!

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fringe benefits for the Sox, not the Yankees

About the only thing J.J. Abrams isn't doing these days is making a movie or TV show about the Yankees. Thanks to this site for the photo.

The Red Sox are 5-for-5 (Hey! That’s almost Carl Crawford-esque!) against the Yankees this year after last night’s 7-3 win in The House That Nobody Can Afford To Visit. By any measurement, the Sox’ dominance of the Yankees thus far is not a mirage: The Sox have outscored the Yankees 38-23 and have trailed the Yankees for a grand total of one-half inning in the last three games.

Peter Abraham, who authors a must-read blog about the Yankees at The Journal News’ website, wrote early this morning that the Yankees might actually have overachieved in recording a 13-13 mark thus far. He theorizes that nearly half the Yankees’ current 25-man roster—11 players, to be exact—could be defined as borderline big leaguers.

Here’s what should scare the Yankees: You could make a case that a pretty good percentage of the Sox are place-holders, too.

Hunter Jones has been in the bigs for less than three weeks. Javier Lopez only pitches when the Sox are desperate, and his last action was in right field. He was replaced on the mound that night in Tampa by Jonathan Van Every, who has 25 big league at-bats at age 29. Backup catcher George Kottaras is 3-for-21 this season and is a .238 hitter with almost twice as many strikeouts as walks in 808 at-bats at Triple-A. Nick Green entered this season with 121 big league at-bats since 2006 and spent last year with the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate. Jeff Bailey has hit .273 with 68 homers and 229 RBI since 2005…at Pawtucket.

That’s six players—basically one-quarter of the roster. If you’re feeling particularly critical this morning, you could throw into the “not quite ready for prime time” discussion the likes of Julio Lugo (in the process of losing his starting job for the second time in 12 months), Jason Varitek (who is hitting .219 with 138 strikeouts in 498 at-bats since the start of last season) and Brad Penny (battled shoulder woes all of last season and has allowed 43 baserunners while recording a 7.61 ERA in 23 1/3 innings this year).

In addition, not all of the Sox’ core players are clicking. David Ortiz is starting to get annoyed at all the questions about his home run drought that extends back to Sept. 22. And the Sox’ bullpen is overworked, just like in New York.

That’s a lot of question marks and a lot of areas that could be shored up, yet the Sox are already 3 ½ games ahead of the Yankees. What happens if they fix some of those flaws?

“They outplayed us,” the always-candid Johnny Damon told reporters last night. “They outpitched us. At this point in the season, they are a better team than us.”

He’ll probably be able to say that in August, too.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

The Globe: Back from the brink?

Has The Boston Globe been saved at the stroke of midnight? Thanks to this site for the photo.

Boston.com reported mere minutes ago that a tentative agreement has been reached between the New York Times Company and the Boston Newspaper Guild that will allow The Boston Globe to continue publishing.

Times management said last month it expected to lose $85 million this year and needed $20 million in concessions from the unions in order to stay in business. Agreements were reached earlier this week between the Times and the three other unions at the paper. The breakthrough in negotiations occurred after the Times threatened late Sunday to officially notify the state that it planned to close the Globe in 60 days.

There’s a special section at Boston.com with the Globe’s coverage of its fight to stay alive (meta, but necessary). For coverage and analysis from those outside the Globe offices, check out the media blogs at The Boston Phoenix as well as the Herald. The Herald’s blog has an interesting post detailing how much better the Globe reporters are treated at Sacred Heart School in Weymouth (site of the negotiations) than the rest of the reporters. Surf those sites today for the latest news.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Girardi's getting grumpy

Yup that pretty much sums it up.

Poor Joe Girardi. He’s channeling Michael Douglas in Falling Down faster than any of us could have anticipated. In the fourth inning of the Sox’ 6-4 win last night (last night being a relative term, since the game didn’t end until after 1 a.m., hooray for baseball teams not sticking it to their fans!), Girardi started hollering at Red Sox first base coach Tim Bogar. Of course, both men went into Las Vegas mode after the game when asked what happened, though The Journal News reports Girardi thought Bogar was stealing signs.

The fun was just starting for Girardi, who was tossed an inning later when he stepped in between Derek Jeter and home plate umpire Jerry Meals, the latter of whom took quite literally the unofficial rule that a manager cannot argue balls and strikes and tossed Girardi as soon as he opened his mouth.

(Along those lines, what’s Jeter got to do to get tossed from a game? Has that guy ever met a called strike he liked? He’s like a slicker Paul O’Neill)

I was going to say you’ve got to like Girardi’s chances of making it two ejections in a row tonight, since Joba Chamberlain starts twitching when he goes more than one game against the Red Sox without trying to kill Kevin Youkilis. But Youkilis is sitting due to a sore left side so Chamberlain may have to wait until another month to get his head-hunting fix.

Of course, who can blame Girardi if he’s losing his mind? His week began with him jumping to the defense of Alex Rodriguez, and that’d be enough for anyone to slip into madness.

Along those lines, if I’m Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, John Henry or any member of the Red Sox’ PR staff today, I’m sitting down and penning a nice thank you note to Gene Orza. Because if Ozra hadn’t declared the proposed restructuring of Rodriguez’ contract unacceptable in late 2003, Rodriguez would be a member of the Red Sox right now and it’d be Francona, Epstein, Henry and the PR staff cringing as A-Rod: The Many Lives Of Alex Rodriguez, the Rodriguez biography penned by Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts, is released.

Technically, we can’t assume that Rodriguez’ life would have unspooled in such tawdry fashion if he’d been traded to Boston instead. But we can have a pretty good idea that he’d be a wreck right now regardless of where he is and that there’d be plenty of interest in his salacious biography.

Fortunately for the Sox, the restructuring was a hurdle impossible to overcome and the Yankees swooped in and traded for Rodriguez in February 2004. And so today it’s Girardi, Brian Cashman, the Steinbrenner family and the Yankees’ PR people dealing with A-Rod’s latest soap opera while the Sox are just, you know, trying to win their third World Championship since Rodriguez landed in New York.

Girardi didn’t do himself any favors Sunday in his defense of Rodriguez, during which he gave the Roberts book tons of free publicity by criticizing the timing and content of Roberts’ books and others of its ilk. This of course brings to mind the Seth Meyers/Amy Poehler Weekend Update bit “Really?”

You really thought mentioning the book wouldn’t generate more interest in it? Really? You don’t understand why a book like this would be written? Really? You don’t want Rodriguez to be a target? Really? You thought mentioning Rodriguez wants to be a father too wouldn’t remind everyone the guy is gallivanting around with Madonna and strippers? Really?

My favorite part was the militaristic Girardi mentioning he’s done things he’s not proud of and that he’s made mistakes. It reminded me of a square parent trying to curry favor with his or her rebellious child by saying he got into trouble as a kid too. Why do I picture Joe wracked with guilt over the time he had two scoops of ice cream even though he didn’t eat his vegetables?

In Girardi’s defense, he was asked multiple times about Major League Baseball’s possible investigation of Rodriguez and said the Yankees were “moving on” three times before he finally spoke at length about the topics. And he’s just doing his job by trying to protect his player, though given that Rodriguez’ popularity in the Yankees locker room is somewhere between tepid and non-existent, I’ll bet getting the hook Monday did more to inspire his team than Girardi’s actions Sunday.

But still, the Yankees would be better off if Girardi had swallowed his words Sunday. Not as well off as the Yankees would have been if Cashman had hung up on the Rangers five years ago, of course (which brings to mind the whole debate about how can the Yankees be better off without a Hall of Famer in the heart of the lineup, but that’s a topic for another time).

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.