Results tagged ‘ Boston Red Sox ’

2013 Previews. AL East: The Yankees Muddlers Row.

The ball was chopped slowly and to get the out the first baseman would have to pick it up barehanded in the grass corner between the foul line and the infield dirt. The pitcher would have to hustle over but as the game’s most abused cliche reminds us every 43 minutes, that’s why they have PFP in spring training. With a speedy runner it would still be close but this was the majors and he who executes best laughs last.

The fans at Yankee Stadium didn’t think twice about it when it happened in the top of the fourth yesterday. The play was difficult, but the pitcher was CC Sabathia and his hustle and athleticism have been one of the under-publicized aspects of the franchise’s success since 2009. And of course, the New York first baseman for exactly the same length of time has been Mark Teixeira and the goaltender-like whip-lash catches he makes at the bag and his other defensive wizardry obscures the fact that if that comparatively ordinary slow chopper is hit to him 500 times over a decade he’s going to pick it cleanly at least 499 times.

Except the Yankee first baseman yesterday wasn’t Teixeira, it was Kevin Youkilis. And no offense to Kevin Youkilis, but when he reached down to scoop up the Jose Iglesias chop and toss it to Sabathia for the out he got nothing but grass and air.

An inning later Jarrod Saltalamacchia shot one into the corner in left, where Brett Gardner should have made an adroit pick-up of the ball as it rattled around. Except Gardner was in center because like Teixeira, Curtis Granderson is hurt and it was Vernon Wells. And no offense to Vernon Wells, but when he waited for the straight bounce off the fence that never comes out there, it didn’t come, and he was left to play ‘go chase’ for awhile. All things considered Saltalamacchia probably would’ve gotten a double out of it anyway but there would have been a play and every tenth or twentieth time – an out.

In neither case did the Red Sox score. But those two plays alone added ten pitches or more to Sabathia’s count and send him packing after five innings down 4-to-2, which opened things for the Yankee bullpen, which may be the least recognized problem among the cascade of them that started yesterday, and soon it would 5-to-2 and then 8-to-2 and then just as in “Young Frankenstein,” it got worse – it started raining.

The effect on the offense of the subtraction of Teixeira, Granderson, Derek Jeter, and even Alex Rodriguez is obvious. What will kill the Yankees – and I mean last place kill the Yankees; this is not the collapse of 1965, that was last year in the ALCS, this is 1966 – will be its effect on the defense. Bad defense is not only its own punishment but it makes bums out of the best of the pitchers. And to re-use yet another old joke, kid, these aren’t the best of them.

And much of this mess will never show up in the box score. The Iglesias and Saltalamacchia plays were both clearly to be scored base hits. Unfortunately this Yankee team – the Muddlers’ Row of Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay, Wells, and Youkilis – has been assembled through (in the memorable phrase of the equally memorable San Francisco baseball writer Hank Schulman) dumpster-diving. And defensively they’re just bad enough to not make the plays, but just good enough to not get the errors.

It’s hard to say how this impending disaster will be received in the Bronx. The Yankees haven’t had a losing season since 1992 and they’ve either won or been in contention every year since 1993. Hal Steinbrenner was still at the University of Florida Business School then, and the Yankees could and often did draw half of what they draw these days. A front office with no memory of the Bad Old Days never mind experience with alleviating them is likely to panic and throw some babies out with the bathwater (heck, the Yankees began panicking about mild media criticism more than a year ago). And the front-running fans who have filled the place during these later glory years will not know what that they were seeing, and never fully realize the implications of the fact that their new platoon third baseman was guy who had been released by the Red Sox exactly a week ago today.

Toronto: I’m not one of those stick-in-the-muds who looked at the Dodgers last year and tut-tutted “you can’t parachute in four new guys in mid-season and expect to form a team.” I mean, for one thing I’m an entirely different kind of stick-in-the-mud. But more importantly, that conclusion ignores the reality that the Giants have won two World Series while parachuting in four guys (last year) and five guys (2010).

So my refusal to jump on the Bandwagon going doing Blue Jay Way is nothing about team chemistry or parachuting or trying to meld a team while competing or Jose Reyes’s hamstrings on turf. I just think that the laudable effort to rebuild a once-great franchise has somewhat obscured some remaining problems – like a very average bullpen, very average production out of the DH spot, and trouble at third base until Brett Lawrie returns.

Plus there’s this little scandal from last year that sneaked in under everybody’s radar. The big trade for the noble Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey? It came less than a year after Dickey became one of a handful of major league pitchers to admit to taking painkiller injections during the season (Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz were among the others). In Dickey’s case this was 2011; I’ve seen no reporting about him and the drug – Toradol – in 2012:

Dickey is among the players who believe Toradol is more effective than taking over-the-counter pain pills. He said he believed the injections helped keep him on the field to pitch 2082/3 innings last season (2011), despite his injured foot. Some doctors, though, said athletes might believe Toradol to be more effective only because of the way it is commonly administered.

The emphasis there was mine.

Giving your starting pitcher a series of anti-inflammatory pain-dulling injections all seasons long is ok because the drug, while requiring a prescription, supposedly only has a slightly greater impact than a couple of Advil (injected directly into the source of your pain). Except, oh by the way, that pesky drug insert sheet references limiting its use to five days in pill form and two days for injections, and oh by the way in England physicians are instructed to start patients on Toradol only in a hospital, and oh by the way when Clay Buchholz was in a hospital with internal bleeding last June he said he thought his use of the drug contributed to his crisis and the fact that doctors had to transfuse him with three or four pints of blood.

Dickey is hardly deserving of being the only one with a finger pointed at him. My understanding is there isn’t a rotation in the majors that doesn’t have at least one regular Toradol, and that some of them may be in new uniforms this year in part because of their teams’ fears that the painkiller could mask necessary pain, the kind that warns you of impending injury. For as with any drug that dulls pain, or covers up muscular damage or exhaustion, or which neutralizes tiredness, the possibility is increased of sudden serious injury. You don’t know you’re hurting and you push it to far – and something snaps.

In short, if a Toradol scandal, or a Prescription Drug scandal, breaks in baseball this year the guys on the record as (past) users are few and far between. And only one of them is a defending Cy Young Winner.

Almost as an aside I also have doubts about the efficacy of Toronto’s rotation. Dickey went from 8-13 in 2011 to 20-6 last year. His strikeouts soared from 134 to 230 in only 25 more innings. His offensive support went up 8/10ths of a run. I don’t know if any of that is sustainable or repeatable this year – especially without the joy of facing pitchers every ninth batter. Tell me how much you’re willing to rely on Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, to say nothing of Ricky Romero, currently of the Dunedin Blue Jays.

Boston: The gift of Jackie Bradley being ready as much as a year early – and it is a gift, his at bats are those of a 10-year veteran who draws 100 walks every year – may hide some dubious free agent signings. When your key acquisition does so poorly on his physical that you (and he) agree to cut the deal from three years to one, that’s a problem. When you are hoping that Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, and Ryan Dempster all had ‘blips’ last year, that’s a lot of high-odds wagering.

The Red Sox probably did themselves a favor by sacrificing the stability that was Adrian Gonzalez in order to offload the franchise-sinking contracts of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. But as has been noted elsewhere, they were left with a lot of contract room and not that many people to spend it on. Instead of a Josh Hamilton they went for “Clubhouse Guys” – which is great for long road trips, flights, bus rides in traffic, rain delays, etc. – but rarely seems to be the corrective folks assume insomuch as the last time I checked the game was still played out on the field and very rarely in the clubhouse.

Bradley, of course, is the real deal (though I’ve never seen a player whose Dad didn’t reach the majors use the “junior” on his uni – his reads “BRADLEY JR.”). Will Middlebrooks is legit too. If Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia stay healthy that’s four of nine positions that will excel offensively and defensively. But with David Ortiz hurt and presumably waning there is no longer a feared hitter in this line-up and given the depth of this division that’s a serious impediment to contention.

Baltimore: As mentioned in the AL Central preview the Orioles could’ve easily offed the Yankees in the ALDS last year even though they were relying on two outfielders – Lew Ford and Nate McLouth – who had been released earlier in the same season (Ford, by a team in an independent league). The O’s were reshaped by two guys who were largely viewed as having been bypassed by the proverbial parade, Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, and featured the contributions of only a couple of homegrown guys (Markakis, Machado, Wieters, Jim Johnson).

What becomes of the Orioles when the revivified farm system begins to contribute? Dylan Bundy was arguably the game’s top pitching prospect, until this spring when he was bypassed by his teammate Kevin Gausman. Will they step into the rotation or be used out of the bullpen a la David Price? Could WBC-tested infielder Jonathan Schoop help out? Or outfielder L.J. Hoes? Could any American League team add more key parts from its own farm system as 2013 rolls along?

Tampa Bay: Well, yeah, actually.

Even while trading off Wade Davis and James Shields, the Rays still have a complete back-up rotation (Jeff Niemann in the bullpen, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Alex Colome in the minors) to say nothing of a Cy Young Winner (David Price) and two possible future candidates (Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore) at the front of Plan A.

And if the primary bounty in the Shields trade, Wil Myers, is not summoned into the Tampa line-up it will only be because of injury, or because the traditional small-ball line-up is producing satisfactorily and there’s no need to squeeze out James Loney or the platooners at second or DH.

The key Tampa weakness would seem to be behind the plate. They kept Jose Molina intact enough to appear in 102 games last year and one wonders if that can be done again, or if Jose Lobaton is a satisfactory alternative. There isn’t a catching prospect in the system and despite the sense that the Rays hit the bullseye with every one of their very few economic darts, the minors are thin generally in terms of position players (2009 was a bad draft, and every year that passes makes the 2008 selection of Tim Beckham as the overall number one pick instead of some kid named Posey look that much sillier). But the arms keep appearing, the down-market free agent signings keep producing (you realize that Loney could out-hit his predecessor Carlos Pena by a hundred points and still not hit .300?), and the veterans get transformed either into more draft choices (or guys like Wil Myers. Good grief, the team with the thinnest tightrope in the sport was somehow able to trade for Wil Myers). Marc Topkin has a superb and concise explanation of how the Rays keep the machine turning here and I offer the usual disclaimer here that I went to college with the future Mrs. Stuart Sternberg and their oldest son was an intern for me one summer.

The Division: I know this is viewed as a three, four, or even five team race. I just don’t see anybody seriously challenging the Rays, especially when Myers comes up. I’m not certain on whether the Orioles’ Tampa-like structuring and youth flood can overcome the value of Toronto’s mass additions in the race for second place; either way it’ll be close. The Red Sox are not likely to compete but also not likely to be challenged by the Yankees who – even in the disaster of last place – will still be the division’s lead story.

Tomorrow we’ll finish it up with the Tarot Card reading that those one-game wild cards make trying to predict the playoffs six months in advance.

What I Saw In Arizona. Part Two: Photo Album

I have a few more things gleaned among the cacti to report (besides the fact that Billy Hamilton is the fastest ballplayer I’ve ever seen, and seems to be going faster than freeway traffic).

But first, the photo album from a week in the incredibly convenient Cactus League:

IMG_4449No, this is not the world’s oldest, saddest boy band. Nor, despite the angles, are Manager Terry Francona of the Indians and President Theo Epstein of the Cubs actually resting their heads on my shoulder (they’d join me in saying ‘thank goodness’). I was privy to witness the reunion of the Men Who Made The Red Sox Great at HoHoKam Park, two weeks ago tomorrow. They’re both among my baseball friends and typically we spent almost no time talking baseball. Also got to see Billy Williams, Dale Sveum, and Brad Mills that day, too (“Nice to see you back with a Major League Team,” I said to Millsy. He smiled and was respectful enough to say nothing, but he looked 10 years younger – as did Tito).

IMG_4523

This is not Jackson Browne, though I’ve seen them both in the last 18 months and if the gentleman spotted at Peoria during a Brewers-Mariners game dyed his hair, they’d look like brothers.

That’s Ted Simmons, now an advisor in the Seattle front office, and simply put one of the smartest men in the sport. When Pirates fans harken back to the last winning Pittsburgh team they invoke the names of Jim Leyland and Barry Bonds (and occasionally even Stan Belinda), they don’t mention the last winning GM: Ted Simmons. He was just getting into the rebuilding of the post-Bonds Pirates when he suffered a heart attack during the 1993 season and retired. He’s been a coach and executive since – and that was after his 46.5 WAR (greater than Hall of Famers with careers of similar length like Nellie Fox, Kiki Cuyler, Orlando Cepeda, Ernie Lombardi, and the just-elected Deacon White). Narrow that down to catchers (Bill Dickey 52.5, Gabby Hartnett 50.7, Simmons 46.5, White 44, Lombardi 43.6 – and you occasionally hear Jorge Posada’s name mentioned at 39) and it’s obvious that “Simba” is a Hall of Famer. Despite a career line of .285/.348/.437 and seven .300 seasons, his work was overshadowed by being Johnny Bench’s exact contemporary for 15 years, and then spending nearly all of his last five at DH or 1B.

IMG_4543Here’s another should-be Hall-of-Famer.

Dale Murphy returned to the game last season in the Braves’ tv booth, and returned to uniform this spring as the first base coach for the USA team in the WBC. One of the older arguments for the Hall was the “wozzy” test – “was he considered for any length of a time one of the top five players in the game?” After two MVPs and a decade as one of the most feared hitters/least feared people in the game, Murph kinda flatlined starting with his 13th season in the majors. But again, WAR puts him in historical context. Lou Brock’s a 42.8, Jim Rice a 44.3, Chuck Klein a 41.5. Murphy: 42.6 – and in this time when one element in the Cooperstown ballot has suddenly taken on added importance (“character”), his was and is impeccable – and generous.

IMG_4697Here’s another one of my favorite baseball people. This one unexpectedly showed up with the visiting Royals on a frigid night at the Rockies’ facility, Salt River Fields.

When I tweeted this photo I believe I said that I first interviewed George Brett in 1980. In fact, that was when we were first “introduced.” I actually interviewed him in 1976, 1977, and 1978 during the A.L. Playoffs – the “nice to meet yous” came during the 1980 World Series during a memorable and scatological interview about the hemorrhoids that plagued him during the post-season. This might have been the same day I met a mid-level Royals’ executive named Rush Limbaugh (how would you ever forget a name like that). He and Brett remain best friends, and George and I laughed our way through 15 minutes in the KC dugout, which no matter how you diagram it means baseball trumps politics every time. George remembered that ’80 interview of course, but also (to my surprise) recalled that I got to interview him – for Fox – after his election to Cooperstown in ’99.

Photography by Jon SooHoo/©Los Angeles Dodgers,LLC 2013

This, of course, is Wash.

All the other guys on the photo tour are Hall of Famers, or should be, or might very will be (Terry Francona needs one more measurable success in his managerial career to cinch a spot – and he’s only 54 – while if Theo Epstein also turns the Cubs around, he’s a lock).

The first person to tell you he’s not getting to Cooperstown – surely not as a player – is the ever-affable skipper of the Rangers, Ron (.261/.292/.368, ten years, one as a starting player) Washington. But few figures in the sport are greeted with greater affection, by his players and rivals alike. Just to amp this shot up a little bit, check out the copyright. That’s Jon SooHoo, who I’ve known ever since I was a local sportscaster in LA and who has shot 30 years of incredible images on behalf of the Dodgers.

There were many other men I’m proud to call friends who I didn’t trouble for photos: Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, Bruce Bochy, Bob Melvin – the average was about three a day, and it emphasized that while we get swamped by scandal and controversy and stats and new-age stats and boasting and showboating, the game is about good people whom you get to know and cheer for, for a very long time.

But occasionally, even in middle age, you make new acquaintances. While I summarize my thoughts for a future post, take a look at this, which might be – pound-for-pound – the best baseball stadium built in this country at least since 1962:IMG_4547

 

So Could They Actually Fire Bobby V?

On May 23, 1993, the Cincinnati Reds stunned the baseball world. Just 44 games into a season in which they were only four below .500, they fired first-year manager Tony Perez and replaced him with Davey Johnson.

I’m not claiming this is the definitive record for the fastest blowout of a new skipper but those of us sitting around the press box at CitiField tonight think it is. We knew the Reds’ Hall of Famer went out even faster than had poor Les Moss, finally given a shot to manage in the majors after 20 years’ apprenticeship as a coach, only to be cashiered by the Tigers in favor of Sparky Anderson on June 11, 1979.

Is it possible? Would anybody – let alone the Red Sox – off a high-profile skipper 40 games into his tenure? Or 30? The question certainly seems increasingly less like science fiction with every passing day. Now we hear Valentine won’t put Daniel Bard back in the bullpen because he doesn’t want to go.

Man alive, if that’s the real reason, there’s no need to fire poor Bobby. If third-year ex-set-up men get to dictate their roles on a pitching staff we can expect Valentine to just slowly vanish like the Cheshire Cat.

The Red Sox have done some goofy managerial things, and in recent memory. In mid-August 2001, in second place and just five games out, they fired manager Jimy Williams and made pitching coach Joe Kerrigan the skipper. The Sox proceeded to go 17-26 and end up 13-and-a-half out. As the new ownership group took over, they fired Kerrigan and put in coach Mike Cubbage as a spring training caretaker. When the John Henry gang was given formal control of the franchise, Cubbage was fired without ever managing a regular season game. Were that not bizarre enough, this was all done so they could make the ill-fated Grady Little the skipper.

By the way just to clarify – Perez is not the manager fired fastest. We’re limiting this to guys in Valentine’s shoes: newly hired to start a season (and in the cases of Moss and Perez, quickly fired). The overall fastest record either belongs to Cubbage or Wally Backman, hired and fired in the same off-season by the Diamondbacks. Or if you’d prefer the quickest in-season exit, that has to be Eddie Stanky. Lured back to the majors after eight years coaching in college, Stanky took the reins of the Rangers on June 22, 1977. Stanky’s new team beat the Twins 10-8, whereupon Stanky told the startled media that he’d made a huge mistake – and was resigning.

End Of Story: The 1912 New York Yankees.

This post contains new material and much reworked from Friday’s.

I thought we had cleared this up yesterday, but evidently not. Now my old friend Joe Buck has repeated a mistake that has unfortunately attained the aura of official history. Simply put, when the Boston Red Sox opened Fenway Park 100 years ago Friday, the faithful would have called the visiting team “The New York Yankees” – not “The New York Highlanders” (we’ll leave out any more troublesome things they might’ve called them).

The April 12, 1912 edition of The New York Times wrote of the club’s home opener: “The Yankees presented a natty appearance in their new uniforms of white with black pin stripes.”

Below you’ll see the 1911 baseball cards issued with the brands of the American Tobacco Trust, labeling the New York players “Yankees,” plus a newspaper supplement from 1907 showing a team picture of the New York Yankees.

My friend Marty Appel is just out with his comprehensive history of the franchise, Pinstripe Empire. He has some succinct insight into the etymology of the New York American League club’s name:

“Today we think the field was commonly called Hilltop Park, and the team commonly called the Highlaners. But in the first decade…the team was also better known as the New York Americans or the Greater New Yorks. On opening day (1903), the Telegram called them the Deveryites. Sam Crane in the Evening Journal was determined that they be the Invaders. In those days, team nicknames were far less formal. It was, for example, more common to say the Bostons or the Boston Americans than to call them the Red Sox or the Pilgrims.

“Hilltoppers was also used on occasion, and as early as April 7, 1904, the Evening Journal used YANKEES BEAT BOSTON in a headline. (“Highlanders” didn’t even appear in the New York Times until March 1906).”

Appel also quotes a piece from the legendary writer and historian Fred Lieb, from Baseball Magazine, in 1922:

“(Highlanders) was awkward to put in newspaper headlines. Finally the sporting editor at one of the New York evening papers exclaimed ‘The hell with this Highlanders; I am going to call this team ‘the Yanks’ that will fit into heads better.’

“Sam Crane, who wrote baseball on the same sheet, began speaking of the team as the Yankees and Yanks. When other sporting editors saw how much easier ‘Yanks’ fit into top lines of a head, they too (decided against) Highlanders, a name which never was popular with fans.”

The further back you go before the rust formed around the official history, the further it becomes clear that until the owners officially christened the team in 1913, they were known informally by many names. “Yankees” seems to have been an early favorite, “Americans” being the default second choice (just as it would’ve been for the Cleveland “Americans” or the Detroit “Americans” or – translated to the other league – for the Philadelphia “Nationals”). “Highlanders,” “Hilltoppers” and “New Yorks” brought up the rear.

It’s also pretty clear that the New York team we know as the Yankees was never formally called “Highlanders.”

I first heard the story of the slow evolution from “Gordon’s Highlanders” (the name of a famed British army regiment of the time, which stuck because the first team president was named Joseph Gordon, and because their ballpark was at one of the highest spots in New York) to the Yanks in Frank Graham’s first version of The New York Yankees in 1943. At that time, a lot of people who had seen the full 40-year history of the franchise were still alive – Graham, who became a sportswriter in 1915, included. I read the copy my father had had since childhood, either in 1967 or 1968.

The relevant passage is on Page 16:

“With 1913 coming up, there was an almost complete new deal. Jim Price, Sports Editor of the New York Press, had been calling the team the Yankees because he found the name Highlanders too long to fit his headlines; and by 1913 the new name had been generally adopted.”

So the Yankees were the last people to call themselves the Yankees and as Graham wrote nearly 70 years ago, the nickname had been generally adopted before the club went through the formality – in 1913.

The key to all this is Appel’s observation that nicknames were informal until the clubs began to realize they were marketing and merchandising opportunities, which probably didn’t take place until the 1920’s. Official MLB history and fans have totally reversed the team name equation. It used to be all about the cities (the 1889 World Series was “The New Yorks versus The Brooklyns”) and this is something that just does not compute to the modern mind. In fact, think of the Dodgers, who began as a new franchise in the then-major league American Association in 1884 with the uninspired nickname “Grays.” By 1888, after a spate of players got married in the off-season, they were the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. In 1899 when Ned Hanlon took over as manager, there was a famous vaudeville troupe called “Hanlon’s Superbas”- thus they became the Brooklyn Superbas. The name outlasted Hanlon, and only faded when Wilbert Robinson took over as manager in 1914 and the name changed again: Brooklyn Robins. Throughout this whole time, the fans and sportswriters used, as a kind of alternative nickname, the term applied to Brooklyn fans who were in constant danger from the labyrinth of streetcar lines throughout the city: “The Trolley Dodgers,” or, simply “Dodgers.” So when Robinson left after the 1931 campaign, the club formally declared themselves “The Dodgers” (but didn’t put the name on the uniforms until 1938). How did the Dodgers treat this confusing history? They declared their 100th anniversary to be 1990, which wiped out the 1884-89 time frame and the team’s first trip to the World Series.

And just think, we can go through this entire history controversy year after next. 2014 will be the 100th Anniversary of Wrigley Field. Only it wasn’t called Wrigley Field in 1914 and the Cubs didn’t play there until 1916.

First, back across the country and the Yankee photographic evidence.

Tip of the cap to my fellow SABR member Mark and this evidence-filled blog on the issue. He gives prominent attention to headlines from the New York Sun about the 1912 “Highlanders.” Getting lesser play? This clip from the New York Tribune, which echoes the aforementioned Times headline:Interestingly the Sun folded in 1950. The Tribune was still breathing (after a series of mergers) in 1966. The Times is still in business.

Then there’s this from 1907:

That is a postcard advertising the following Sunday’s edition of The New York American newspaper, which was to include a full-sized version of the 1907 Yankees team picture. This was just after 1907’s opening day, five years before the christening in The Fens.

Below, the 1911 baseball cards. In some of the biographies (as shown in the lower left hand corner) there are references to “Highlanders.” But the fronts tell the story:

By the way, “Quinn” in the top row? That’s Jack Quinn, whose oldest-victory mark was just broken by Jamie Moyer. These are 1911 cards. Quinn is also in the 1933 set.

In point of fact, the Yankees were the Yankees before the Red Sox were the Red Sox. Created in 1901 when the American League was founded, the Boston team was known variously as the Pilgrims, and simply “The Americans” (as opposed to “The Nationals”), the new team drew much of its talent from the successful, but eminently cheap National League team in Boston. From its earliest days in the National Association (1871) and N.L. (1876) that team had worn red stockings, and were once formally known by that name.

In 1907, the N.L. team’s manager Fred Tenney became worried about the threat of blood poisoning supposedly posed by the red dye in the socks getting into spike wounds. By year’s end, he had convinced owners John and George Dovey to eliminate the color from the uniforms. A block away, where the nascent A.L. team was struggling to gain a foothold in what was still a National League town, owner John I. Taylor immediately jumped on the opportunity and announced his team would don “the red socks” in 1908 – and a name was born.

The Yankees were the Yankees by 1906. The Red Sox weren’t the Red Sox until 1908.

Parenthetically, the N.L. team’s next nicknames – the Doves, for the Dovey Brothers, and, in 1911, the Rustlers (because Doves increasingly sounded stupid) – didn’t catch on. The Doveys sold out in 1912 to a bunch of New York politicians from Tammany Hall. Since that organization had a Native American for its logo, its operatives were known as “braves” – and thus the Boston N.L. club adopted that name, and have carried it since. In fact, a week ago Wednesday was the 100th Anniversary of the first appearance of the Braves.

Update: Wonderful Ceremony, But They Weren’t The Highlanders

Kudos to the Red Sox for taking the concept of the mega-ceremony to a new level. Whereas the Yankees closed the old Stadium in 2008 by putting a comparatively small group of all-time greats on the field at their old positions, the Olde Towne Team went the egalitarian route, and for once, bigger really was better.

The ovation for Terry Francona was terrific, and the scene of Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek pushing the wheelchairs of the long-ago doubleplay combo of Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky was indelible. But to me, just as important was seeing Bobby Sprowl and Billy Rohr and Wayne Housie and Jim Landis and those other dozens of the 230 in attendance whose Red Sox tenures were more cameos than careers.

This is the essence of the difference between the franchises. The Yankees are about an elite, and a sense that only the best even matter. The Red Sox – at least until ownership went crazy last fall and cut off its nose to spite its face – have always been predicated on the idea that everybody, great or trivial, has contributed something to the heritage.

I will protest, however, on behalf of historical accuracy, the continual references right now to how the opponents in both today’s game and the first ever at Fenway exactly a century ago were the New York “Highlanders.” This is one of those misunderstandings of history that never seems to get straightened out. Yes, the New York American League team was colloquially known as “The Highlanders” when it was moved from Baltimore in 1903. And yes, the name “Yankees” wasn’t formally adopted until 1913.

That does not mean the 1912 New York team wasn’t known as the Yankees. In fact the name was in common use no later than 1907. Evidence?That is a postcard advertising the following Sunday’s edition of The New York American newspaper, which was to include a full-sized version of the 1907 Yankees team picture. This was just after 1907’s opening day, five years before the christening in The Fens.

They were the Yankees. Not the Highlanders. Stop saying it.

Update: Yes, I understand that the Yankees’ official history identifies the pre-1913 teams as the Highlanders and doesn’t assign the “Yankee” name to the teams until after the 1912 season. But this isn’t about a simplified record for people who don’t really care about historical accuracy (another example: the Dodgers claim their franchise began in 1890, when in fact the 1890 team was the same one that represented the old American Association in the 1889 World Series). This is about what the fans at brand new Fenway Park, a hundred years ago today, would’ve called the visiting team from New York.

Second Update: As those who never question “history” continued to push back on this idea that because the team didn’t officially call itself the Yankees until 1913 it wasn’t the Yankees in 1912, I decided to go back to where I first heard the story of the slow evolution from “Gordon’s Highlanders” (the name of a famed British army regiment of the time, which stuck because the first team president was named Joseph Gordon, and because their ballpark was at one of the highest spots in New York) to the Yanks. Frank Graham wrote his first version of The New York Yankees in 1943, when a lot of people who had seen the full 40-year history of the franchise were still alive – Graham, who became a sportswriter in 1915, included. I read the copy my father had had since childhood, either in 1967 or 1968.

The relevant passage is on Page 16:

“With 1913 coming up, there was an almost complete new deal. Jim Price, Sports Editor of the New York Press, had been calling the team the Yankees because he found the name Highlanders too long to fit his headlines; and by 1913 the new name had been generally adopted.”

So the Yankees were the last people to call themselves the Yankees and as Graham wrote nearly 70 years ago, the nickname had been generally adopted before the club went through the formality – in 1913.

Some of the less in-the-know fans at Fenway at its christening might have referred to the visitors as “The Highlanders.” The vast majority would’ve said “Yankees” – as the New York Times had after the 1912 opener in New York: “The Yankees presented a natty appearance in their new uniforms of white with black pin stripes.”

More evidence? In the biographies on the back (as shown in the lower left hand corner), there are occasional references to “Highlanders.” But the 1911 baseball cards refer to them – unofficial or not – as the Yankees:By the way, “Quinn” in the top row? That’s Jack Quinn, whose oldest-victory mark was just broken by Jamie Moyer. These are 1911 cards. Quinn is also in the 1933 set.

In point of fact, the Yankees were the Yankees before the Red Sox were the Red Sox. Created in 1901 when the American League was founded, the Boston team was known variously as the Pilgrims, and simply “The Americans” (as opposed to “The Nationals”), the new team drew much of its talent from the successful, but eminently cheap National League team in Boston. From its earliest days in the National Association (1871) and N.L. (1876) that team had worn red stockings, and were once formally known by that name.

In 1907, the N.L. team’s manager Fred Tenney became worried about the threat of blood poisoning supposedly posed by the red dye in the socks getting into spike wounds. By year’s end, he had convinced owners John and George Dovey to eliminate the color from the uniforms. A block away, where the nascent A.L. team was struggling to gain a foothold in what was still a National League town, owner John I. Taylor immediately jumped on the opportunity and announced his team would don “the red socks” in 1908 – and a name was born.

The Yankees were the Yankees by 1906. The Red Sox weren’t the Red Sox until 1908.

Parenthetically, the N.L. team’s next nicknames – the Doves, for the Dovey Brothers, and, in 1911, the Rustlers (because Doves increasingly sounded stupid) – didn’t catch on. The Doveys sold out in 1912 to a bunch of New York politicians from Tammany Hall. Since that organization had a Native American for its logo, its operatives were known as “braves” – and thus the Boston N.L. club adopted that name, and have carried it since. In fact, a week ago Wednesday was the 100th Anniversary of the first appearance of the Braves.

2012 Previews: A.L. East

AMID all the curiosity and nostalgia about the sudden unretirement of Andy Pettitte, there rested one question that is absolutely fundamental to understanding the 2012 American League Eastern Division race.

Why?

I heard people ask Pettitte about how it happened, when it happened, why he wanted it to happen, how his arm was, how his legs were, how his head was. I heard questions about when Brian Cashman called him and how often and how much he was offered and how much he eventually signed for and why it took him so long and when he’ll be ready.

What I did not hear was a question about why – in the wake of trading the best hitting prospect they’ve produced since Robinson Cano for a starting pitcher, and in the wake of signing a free agent starting pitcher, and with a training camp full of young starting pitcher prospects – why did the Yankees feel they needed Pettitte?

Even at the point when Cashman traded Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda (and then incongruously compared Montero to Miguel Cabrera), the Yankees had a surfeit of starting pitchers. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes were all back (and Bartolo Colon could’ve been). Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Hector Noesi were awaiting opportunities. And then Pineda was added. And then Kuroda. And then Pettitte.

I understand no team divides its 162 starts evenly among five men and if you go through a year with only two rotational changes it’s been a blessing from above. But to add so much is to suggest not that you’re worried about injury or attrition, but about the quality of what you already have. I don’t think the Yankees trust Nova, I think they feel Hughes’ moment is passed, I presume they have no faith that the moment will arrive for Banuelos and Betances. And after his flaccid spring, I’m sure they’re wondering if the Pineda thing was a disaster too.

It was.

Jesus Montero probably can’t catch a lick and the Yankees didn’t have first base open for him to move to. But a player like him, with that kind of high ball opposite field power, is far more scarce than a Michael Pineda at his best, let alone a Michael Pineda who didn’t gain velocity in the off-season, only weight. The Yankees seem deliberately intent on ignoring the reality that they are aging dangerously on offense. I realize that part of the solution to that is to free up the DH spot that Montero would’ve filled, by a rotation of the wheezing Alex Rodriguez, the unpredictable Nick Swisher, the aging Derek Jeter, and the calcified Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez. But it would seem those guys, and the offense, would’ve benefited a lot more from taking days off and letting the kid get 600 plate appearances and 30 homers.

And while my theory of Cashman getting as much pitching protection as he can speaks well to his preparedness for the ever-growing chance of injury or unreliability among his hurlers, there is no similar cushion being built for the line-up. This is a dreadful bench, from Francisco Cervelli (no power), to Eduardo Nunez (no glove), to Jones (no future). And there’s nobody in the farm system to fill the deficiencies before Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams arise during the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. There was a guy but they traded him for a starting pitcher so good that they had to talk a 39-year old out of retirement to replace him. Lord help the Yankees if Curtis Granderson hits like he did last September, or if Rodriguez (“he’s in great shape; oh yeah, he was in great shape last year before he broke”) or Teixeira or Russell Martin get hurt. Or Cano. No Cano and they might not be even a factor in the pennant race.

That’s why I’m picking TAMPA BAY in this division, and handily. This is still a popgun offense, although I giggle every time I read somebody rip them for bringing back Carlos Pena to replace folk hero Casey Kotchman. Casey Kotchman had 560 plate appearances last year in Tampa and drove in 48 runs. A first baseman almost has to try to achieve a statistic that pathetic. In any event, Andrew Friedman has upgraded the offense from anemic to serene, improving by small measure at first, at DH, and at short (where Jeff Keppinger is bound to supplant the .193/.223 boys, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac). Desmond Jennings is clearly blossoming into a star, and if B.J. Upton can hit merely .275, he will finally become one as well.

And the Rays have the best pitching staff in baseball. Even if Matt Moore is hyped and James Shields returns to earth and David Price keeps underachieving, they can pull Wade Davis back from the bullpen, and bring up Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and half a dozen other guys from Durham. If the magic spell that made Kyle Farnsworth a top closer suddenly snaps, they have Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta and Jake McGee and J.P. Howell to give it a try. The Rays probably have not just the best staff, 1-through-14 in baseball; they may have the best staff, 1-through-28. Who knows: if everything doesn’t go wrong maybe they dangle some of those prospects at mid-season and get some hitting?

The problem in BOSTON last year was pitchers drinking before the games were over. The problem in Boston this year could be fans drinking before they begin. Outside of Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury there isn’t a player on that 25-man roster about whom there is not one huge question. How soon will Kevin Youkilis’ crazy grip finally irreparably damage his hand? Can Carl Crawford actually face a pennant race? Is Buchholz healthy? Or Lester? Or Beckett?

Most importantly, to paraphrase long-ago skipper Joe M. Morgan, “who is running this nine?” New manager Bobby Valentine, showing my earlier criticisms of him may have been extreme and unfair, wanted Jose Iglesias at shortstop and hard-hitting, rapidly-improving Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate (Lavarnway being the only Red Sox player who didn’t panic down the stretch last year). He was overruled – and he certainly wasn’t overruled by newbie GM Ben Cherington. Years ago Terry Francona, John Farrell, and Theo Epstein came to the realization that Daniel Bard didn’t have the emotional chops to be a starting pitcher, and was best served firing gas out of the pen. They’re all gone, Bard was shoved into the rotation, is flailing just as the former bosses knew he would, and now presumably staggers back to the bullpen as broken goods behind the physically sketchy Andrew Bailey (Mark Melancon might close for them yet).

It’s a mess. It’s a mess that could almost accidentally come together in triumph and bolt into the pennant race, but – and heaven help me I’m agreeing with Curt Schilling – it looks like it is going bad quicker than he and I expected it to.  Ah well, maybe they can hire Francona back at some point and he can sift through the ashes and rebuild The Olde Towne Team with an eye towards 2014.

The question in TORONTO is: could it be going good quicker than anybody expects it to? Seven spots in the Jays’ lineup don’t particularly startle you, until you reach the conclusion that the guys occupying them could all, realistically, hit 20 homers apiece this year. This does not include Jose Bautista, or the first full year of The Brett Lawrie, who might become Canada’s first true homegrown baseball hero since The Larry Walker. The Blue Jays might be good for 250 home runs – Adam Lind could easily jump from one of the “other seven” to All-Star status – and the only defensive liability of the bunch, catcher J.P. Arencibia, could soon be supplanted by uber-prospect Travis D’Arnaud.

The Jays will hit and field. Their bullpen – fresh-armed Sergio Santos, protected by the underappreciated Coco Cordero, joining the incumbent Casey Janssen – with Darren Oliver actually finding a team he hasn’t previously played for – is newly solid. The questions are all among the starters. Only Ricky Romero has a resume, but during Toronto’s remarkable spring in dreary Dunedin (I know, I know, spring training stats, but they are 22-4 as I write this), Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow, and even Deck McGuire and Kyle Drabek have looked sharp. Dustin McGowan is, in a tradition as old as time itself, hurt again – but perhaps only for a few weeks. If there’s one thing John Farrell knows it’s how to translate pitching potential into success. Just slight success out of the rotation and the Jays could vault into contention.

As to BALTIMORE they seem to be planning to use Wilson Betemit and Nick Johnson as part-time Designated Hitters. End Communication.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST FORECAST:

Faint heart never won fair predicting contests. I’m convinced about the winner, and taking a flier on the runners-up. It’s possible one of the Wild Cards comes out of this division but I’m not convinced any more. The Yankees and the Red Sox are not locks, and they are so not locks that I will assume New York will finally suffer the kind of position-player calamity that accelerates its decrepitude. TAMPA BAY is your champion, TORONTO second, NEW YORK third (close), BOSTON fourth, and BALTIMORE should’ve been relegated already.

NEXT TIME…I don’t know, I haven’t written it yet.

The Night I Realized Bobby Valentine Was Clueless

The world remembers Game Two of the 2000 World Series for one thing, and one thing alone: Roger Clemens throwing the shattered bat of Mike Piazza at, or near, Mike Piazza.

But for me, standing at the far end of the Yankee dugout, covering the Series as part of the Fox telecast, the bat event was an asterisk to the real headline. Because that was the night that I became convinced Bobby Valentine didn’t have the slightest idea what he was doing.

Lost in the Clemens saga still churning more than eleven years later, was a) the eight innings of two-hit ball he fired at the Mets (the back half of consecutive starts in which Clemens threw 17 playoff innings, gave up no runs, one hit batsman, two walks, three hits, and struck out 24 of the 58 batters he faced); b) the Mets’ incredible ninth inning rally that almost gave Clemens a no-decision; and c) Valentine’s decision during that inning, that might be the dumbest World Series managerial move since Casey Stengel completely messed up his 1960 pitching rotation.

Again, the context. Mostly because of their own baserunning lunkheadedness, plus the fact that Todd Zeile’s fly ball missed being a home run by maybe eight inches, the Mets had lost the Opener of the Subway Series the night before. Now, in Game Two, Clemens had made them look nearly as bad as he had made the Seattle Mariners look eight days before. Oh, and even though Piazza thought Clemens had thrown a bat at him, neither he, nor Valentine, nor anybody else in a Met uniform had even retaliated, let alone charged the mound or anything.

So as the Mets came up in the top of the 9th, down 6-0, they were as dead as Jacob Marley’s ghost in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Clemens had exited, stage right, to go let the adrenalin drain out of his system (along with whatever else was in there). Coming off his best major league season, Jeff Nelson was brought in to face the heart of the Mets’ order, and Joe Torre even took out David Justice for the slight defensive upgrade Clay Bellinger would represent in left.

But it did not exactly go to plan. Edgardo Alfonzo led off with a sharp single to left, and Piazza promptly got some delayed revenge by putting a Nelson pitch off the pole in left to cut it to 6-2. By this point, Torre had hastily gotten Mariano Rivera up. When Robin Ventura singled to make it three straight hits to start the ninth, Rivera was summoned, and nearly blew the game on the spot. Zeile hit another one to the wall in left, with the wind holding it up just enough to reduce it to a nice jumping Bellinger catch at the fence.  But Benny Agbayani singled, and with Lenny Harris up, Jorge Posada lost a Rivera cutter and the runners moved up to second and third. Harris tapped back to Rivera who got Ventura at the plate, and the Mets were down to their final out – which was when Jay Payton walloped a massive three-run bomb off Mo and all of a sudden the Yankees’ insurmountable 6-0 lead was now a 6-5 heart-stopper, with the Mets just a baserunner away from turning over the line-up and sending up sparkplug Timo Perez with the tying run on.

Please remember this specific fact: the Mets were down to their last out, but having scored five in the ninth and rattled Mariano Rivera, they now had a chance – no matter how small a chance – to pull off a split at Yankee Stadium with three coming up at Shea. You may also remember that in midseason they had lost their other-worldly defensive shortstop Rey Ordonez, and had been forced to trade utility wizard Melvin Mora to Baltimore for Mike Bordick. Bobby V had already pinch-hit for Bordick an inning earlier with Darryl Hamilton, and went to his back-up shortstop, Kurt Abbott. If for some inexplicable reason Valentine now chose to leave Abbott in to face Rivera, he would be sending a lamb to the slaughter. Abbott had never seen Rivera or his cutter before. He was a lifetime .256 hitter with a .304 on-base percentage. After this night, only fourteen more major league at bats awaited him, and that was mainly because despite a pretty good glove and a deceptive slugging percentage, Kurt Abbott just wasn’t a major league hitter.

What happened next was explained at the time as a simple proposition. Bobby Valentine was out of shortstops, and, after all, Abbott had hit six homers during the regular season, in only 157 at bats. That none of them had been off a righthander since August 7, and that righthander was Jason Green (18 career minor league innings), and the other dingers had come off Terry Mulholland, Brian Bohanon, Jason Bere, Alan Mills, and Jose Mercedes, and that Abbott was carrying a 7-for-37 slump, seemed to have been left out of the equation.

More over, Valentine might have been out of slick shortstops, but he was hardly out of shortstops. He had at least seven defensive moves left. Joe McEwing had played four games at short for the Mets in 2000 and was still on the bench. McEwing, Matt Franco, and that night’s DH Lenny Harris had all played third during the season, and Robin Ventura could’ve easily slid over to short if the Mets had pulled off the miracle of forcing a bottom of the 9th. If that move sounded too risky, McEwing and Harris had also played second, and could have gone there with Alfonzo switching to short. Still not comfortable with pinch-hitting for Abbott? Bubba Trammell had produced a pinch two-run single the night before off Andy Pettitte. Valentine would trust Trammell enough to start him in right in the Series’ decisive game – he could have gone in to the outfield and Agbayani or Payton played first, with Todd Zeile going to third and Ventura to short. Or the same ploy could have been used with Harris, who played ten games at first for the ’00 Mets.

But, no. Bobby V knew he didn’t have any shortstops. So, having scored a remarkable five runs in the 9th – three of them off the greatest reliever the game would ever know – he sent up Kurt Abbott  to try to finish the miracle. Imagine if the Mets had tied that game? Regardless of the outcome – even if the Yankees had promptly won it in the bottom of the inning thanks to an error by McEwing or Ventura at short or Bubba Trammell somewhere – the invincibility of the Yanks would have been punctured. Instead of a near-miss utterly overshadowed by the affair of Clemens And The Bat, it would have been the greatest ninth-inning comeback in World Series history.

Instead, inevitably, Kurt Abbott struck out. Looking.

The Mets lost the Series in five games, and until you just read this, it was unlikely that you remembered that “The Clemens/Piazza Game” ended with such an unlikely rally, cut short by a manager who wouldn’t pinch-hit for his good-field no-hit back-up shortstop.

But Bobby Valentine is supposed to be a great in-game tactician. Just like he’s supposed to be a no-nonsense skipper who’ll instill discipline into a flabby Red Sox team – presumably teaching them to respect authority by returning to the dugout in an embarrassing disguise after he had been ejected by the umpires. Like you have to listen to the umpires or something. And don’t tell me the Abbott decision is ancient history. As far as his major league managerial career goes, the decision to let Rivera eat Abbott alive was just 326 games ago.

Good luck, Red Sox fans.


							

NL Central 2012: Ryne Sandberg Versus The Cubs?

Fascinating that the St. Louis Cardinals have asked the Phillies for permission to interview their AAA manager Ryne Sandberg – and received it.

For the second consecutive year, Sandberg will not get the managing job with the team for which he starred. When new Cubs’ President Theo Epstein outlined his minimum standards for the next manager (experience as a major league skipper or coach) it essentially eliminated Ryno from consideration because his stints with the Phils last spring and last September do not formally rise to that level.

Yet oddly, the Cardinals are happy to at least kick the Sandberg tires. I’m not sure what it proves, but it would seem to suggest that the division of thought on Sandberg’s managerial potential may now split into those who have seen him, the Hall of Famer, willing to ride the buses of the Midwest League, and those who have actually employed him to manage their bush leaguers. Everything I heard as of March, 2010, was that the Wrigley Field job was likely to be Sandberg’s whenever Lou Piniella left. But by August, when Piniella really did leave, the Cubs had soured on Sandberg and no longer thought him viable. Off he went to the Phillies, and now they are willing to let him talk to a National League rival, and there hasn’t been a peep about Sandberg even getting a promotion to the Phillies’ major league coaching staff. Even stranger, is that before he took the Phils’ offer last winter, Sandberg interviewed for the equivalent job in the Boston system – with Theo Epstein, the same man who’s ruled him out in Chicago.

I’m reminded of Babe Ruth’s quixotic hope that the Yankees would make him their manager (they’d seen him do that with his teammate, Bob Shawkey, who had only one season managing in the minors before he got the job in New York in 1930). Perhaps the more apt comparison is Gary Carter’s campaign to get the Mets to consider him for any of their last few managerial openings.

If Sandberg doesn’t get the St. Louis job, the Cubs-Cards rivalry might still be ratcheted up by the inclusion of Terry Francona in the mix. While Epstein has said a few polite things about possible Chicago interest in Tito, the Cardinals are scheduled to interview him tomorrow. I still think St. Louis is leaning towards LaRussa’s third base coach Jose Oquendo (although I would have considered it more than “leaning” if they had brought Oquendo back into the dugout as bench coach), but it would be a fascinating dynamic if Francona got the Cardinal job and was pitted against his old cohort Epstein in Chicago.

Besides the headline names, the Cards and/or Cubs seem interested in a lot of the same men the Red Sox are interested in: Rangers’ pitching coach Mike Maddux, former Brewers’ interim skipper Dale Sveum, and Phils’ bench coach and ex-Reds and Pirates’ interim manager Pete Mackanin. If you want to follow all this on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis, your best resource is the terrific MLBTradeRumors.Com site, which is a clearinghouse for every local newspaper story, every significant radio interview, and every last damn tweet on anything moving in the majors. It puts the ESPN’s and SI’s sites to shame.

So stay tuned to the prospect of Sandberg or Francona in St. Louis, and if you’re a Cub fan again tearing out your hair about Ryno, consider this Cooperstown fact. These are the Hall of Fame players who, since 1900, went on to manage “their” team: Honus Wagner (Pirates), Ty Cobb (Tigers), Walter Johnson (Senators), Tris Speaker (Indians), Nap Lajoie (Indians), Eddie Collins (White Sox), George Sisler (Browns), Rogers Hornsby (Cards and Cubs), Fred Clarke (Pirates), Jimmy Collins (Red Sox), Frank Chance (Cubs), Johnny Evers (Cubs), Joe Tinker (Cubs), Frank Frisch (Cardinals), Pie Traynor (Pirates), Mel Ott (Giants), Bill Terry (Giants), Gabby Hartnett (Cubs), Ted Lyons (White Sox), Joe Cronin (Senators and Red Sox), Lou Boudreau (Indians), Dave Bancroft (Braves), Yogi Berra (Yankees), Eddie Mathews (Braves), Red Schoendienst (Cardinals), and Tony Perez (Reds). That’s 26 guys, who managed a lot of years, yet won only 18 pennants among them — and 13 of the 18 were as player-managers and four of those were by Frank Chance. In other words, of the other 25 hometown heroes who later managed, they could collectively amass only five pennants as non-playing skippers.

Theo? Your Bus Is Here!

My prediction is that by this time next week, one of the Red Sox owners will have come out and announced “Fenway Park sucks! It’s the reason we didn’t make the playoffs this year! I never wanted to move the team  out of the Huntington Avenue Grounds in 1912 anyway! It was all J.D. Drew’s idea!”

I told you it was ownership that trashed Terry Francona early in the week to The Boston Globe. Now the Excuse-a-Thon has apparently grown so urgent that the Boston moguls aren’t even bothering to go off-the-record any more. John Henry went on local radio this afternoon and absolutely trashed Carl Crawford and whoever signed him. Can’t remember the guy’s name exactly, used to work there. What was it again? Epstein? Juan Epstein?

…anyone involved in the process, anyone in upper management with the Red Sox will tell you that I personally opposed that. We had plenty of left-handed hitting. I don’t have to go into why. I’ll just tell you that at the time I opposed the deal, but I don’t meddle to the point of making decisions for our baseball team.

OK, John, who does meddle then? Who could overrule Theo Epstein? Any ghosts or deities?

And if you’ve set up a system in which the VP/General Manager is accountable to nobody every time he wants to spend $142,000,000, if you’re not responsible when it’s spent badly – who exactly is accountable for that systemic unaccountability?

What’s more, what exactly do you think is going to happen when you trash Carl Crawford before the second year of his seven year contract? Do you think Stu Sternberg is suddenly going to say “We want him back! Here are Matt Joyce and Matt Moore for him, and we’ll soak up the $140 million in the difference in their salaries”? Do you think, John, that the Yankees will suddenly come back and say “We know he proved himself the absolute opposite of a clutch player, and down the stretch he looked like he was terrified, even in the outfield, of making a mistake, but any Red Sox enemy is a friend of ours – here’s Montero for him”?

So the longer we go into this, between the massive disaster of the last month, the startling admission to the Globe that the owners didn’t know anything about their more dysfunctional players (hell, they never met Josh Beckett?), the inept handling of the Francona departure, and the now glacier-length negotiations to off the most successful executive in club history, the more it becomes obvious that the success of the Red Sox for the last ten years was the result of a couple of geniuses, a lot of good luck, and in spite of the Three Stooges who own the shop. And just as obvious, it’ll be back to Boston’s glory days, like the winter of 1980-81 when Haywood Sullivan forgot to send contract offers to Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn and had to watch both of them leave, virtually without compensation.

That’s the true heritage of Kenmore Square. That and things like one owner (Buddy LeRoux) co-opting Tony Conigliaro Night to announce he was suing the other owner (Jean Yawkey) for control of the franchise. So that’s why within a week they’ll be blaming Fenway.

 

 

The Curse Of The Lucchino

On Friday afternoon, September 30th, less than an hour after  Terry Francona – the only man to manage the Boston Red Sox to a World’s Championship in the last 93 years – announced more in sorrow than in anger that he would not be returning to the job next season, a trusted baseball friend told me “now a lot of crap about Tito is going to come out.”

This morning –  just as the architect of the Red Sox dynasty of the last decade, General Manager Theo Epstein, was finalizing his own  departure to take over the Chicago Cubs – my baseball friend’s prediction came true. The Boston Globe has printed a remarkable hatchet job on Francona, and to a lesser degree Epstein, cobbled together from a series of anonymous sources that appear to mainline directly back to Red Sox ownership.

March 4, 2007 - During Sox-Dodgers Exhibition Game

Francona and Epstein were not merely scapegoated  in the story. The newspaper essentially printed an ownership implication that Francona had a prescription drug problem, that he was distracted by worry over the safety of his son and son-in-law, serving overseas, and that he lost focus because of marital problems. With the caveat that I consider both Francona and Epstein friends – and my assurance that neither has been a source for what I write here – the story is one of the more remarkable smear campaigns in baseball (or business) history. And it merits explanation and exposure.

There is blame for everybody in that article except the stadium P-A announcer, two or three hot dog vendors – and the Red Sox owners, John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Tom Werner. Incredibly, the Globe writes, as if this is the way brands with hundreds of millions of dollars operate:

“The owners also indicated in postseason remarks they were generally unaware of how deeply damaged the Sox had become until after the season. They denied being distracted by their expanding sports conglomerate…”

In a 2500-word article implying incompetence by the General Manager, inattention – possibly caused by inappropriate drug use – by the Manager, that’s all the criticism owners Henry, Lucchino, and Werner, get; even when they admit, in the article that “they were generally unaware of how deeply damaged the Sox had become until after the season” — even when other baseball people were talking about that damage in early September. If you ever need to de-construct a newspaper story based on anonymous sources – especially one printed in one of the so-called “more respectable” papers – all you need to know is who the writer savages and who he lets get away with it. Follow the blame. Whoever doesn’t get it, is probably the source.

“In the ugly aftermath the Sox owners privately vowed to correct any lingering problems.”

The Sox owners are the sources. And if their childishly simple promise is to be fulfilled, the first thing Henry, Lucchino, and Werner need to do is find out which of them, or which of their minions, was so ethically bankrupt as to trash the men who made the team’s success possible, as they went out the door.  They need to know which of them decided to scapegoat a universally-respected baseball man like Francona by dragging in his marriage, his health, and the fact that he himself volunteered to double-check his own use of pain medication with the team doctor to make sure it wasn’t excessive.

Incidentally, if a ballplayer was in such pain from 30-year old knee problems that he had to have blood drained from one of them hours before a game, on the road, by the visiting team’s doctor, **in** the stadium, and he still played that night with only mild medication, the owners wouldn’t imply he was abusing painkillers – they’d deify him. They did so when a pitcher named Curt Schilling pitched a World Series game in 2004 even though blood was supposedly leaking from surgery on a tendon sheath in his right ankle. He’s a legend. But Francona’s option wasn’t picked up and he was portrayed as having a problem.

Yet there was one more detail about Francona, revealed to the newspaper, that elevates this particular hatchet job to the level of making one hope it is another 93 years before Boston wins, that they go from the overwrought “Curse Of The Bambino” to “The Curse Of The Lucchino.”

“While Francona coped with his marital and health issues, he also worried privately about the safety of his son, Nick, and son-in-law, Michael Rice, both of whom are Marine officers serving in Afghanistan.”

To drag into this, the service to this country of Francona’s son, and son-in-law, is not only beyond any pale. It isn’t even new. They didn’t just get there this year. But publicizing where they are is something Francona has asked even his friends not to do. It actually might materially affect their safety.

But a large corporation, needing to scapegoat the departing geniuses whom they will replace with malleable mediocrities, doesn’t give a damn about anybody but the three clowns at the top, who have mistaken the success and effort of others, for something they somehow created. Not even the one thing those owners did bring to the equation – cash for a large payroll – earns them any credit. The principal owners of the Red Sox only became such, via a sweetheart deal engineered by the Commissioner of Baseball a decade ago. They have been playing with house money ever since.

And they have now shown themselves to be truly good at only one thing: blaming others.

In short, the wrong executives are leaving Boston.

UPDATE: I left out another relevant morsel in this unpleasantness. The Boston Globe is still owned by The New York Times. And The New York Times still owns 16.6 percent of New England Sports Ventures. And New England Sports Ventures still owns the Red Sox, Fenway Park, and much of NESN, among other stuff.

(Don’t normally do this, but I’ll have more on this extraordinary slime job on tonight’s TV show)


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