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Saturday, January 29, 2005

  Operation TICKET: Moderate Success

I set a goal and accomplished it. I slew the beast. I passed through the valley of the shadow of death and survived to tell about it.

After 2 hours and 45 minutes in RedSox.com's virtual waiting room, I successfully purchased tickets for three regular season games in the 2005 season. Yes, I am exhausted (not to mention poorer), but I am happy.

The first thing I noticed upon opening the first of nine virtual waiting room windows (this is possible to do and many others have figured it out, but I'm not going to help those who haven't) was the notification that customers are selected at random from all those waiting online. I still don't like the system, but at least they tell you about it up front, which is more than they used to do, leaving patient customers to wait hours and end up empty handed while someone else pops in and gets tickets after 10 minutes. Not that I'm bitter.

Priority #1 was to procure three tickets in the "good seats" for my mother and me to bring my niece. We took her younger brother to two games at Fenway last year, when he was still a Red Sox fan and his father hadn't yet stolen the child's soul for Steinbrenner. This year, I'll take him to PawSox or Worcester Can-Am games, but I refuse to spend $80 (or even half that) for a ticket for a Yankees fan, no matter how adorable he is.

Anyway, we do indeed have loge box seats behind home plate for a weekday afternoon game. Granted, it's against the Devil Rays, but even if the competition is lousy, it's still worth it.

At this point I have tickets for only two other games, and they are considerably less costly than the Rays seats. I figure I'll pick up a few other games during the season—perhaps with the alumni/ae club, by invitation with friends, or even (if I'm lucky) via some sort of contest. But it's a good start.

For now, I am satisfied.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

  The Latest and Greatest

Shame on me for going more than a week without a post, and much longer than that since writing anything about the hot stove. Let's fix that, shall we?

The hot news today is the rumored pending trade of Doug Mientkiewicz to the Mets for a top minor league prospect and cash. The disposition of The Ball notwithstanding, I had hoped Theo would keep Mientkiewicz for his superior defensive ability. That doesn't appear to be the plan.

On the topic of News I Missed, the Sox picked up some speed from Atlanta in the Rule 5 draft. Adam Stern, a lefty outfielder, will battle for a roster spot when spring training begins next month. If he is going to make his mark, he had better do it quickly; Stern is already 25 and has yet to play even as high as AAA ball.

Meanwhile, changes to the team's ballparks continue at a record clip under the now not-so-new ownership. The Fenway field is getting a major overhaul designed to improve what players apparently regard as a lousy playing surface. I never knew, for example, that the field wasn't really flat:

The old Fenway infield was crowned, to encourage water to drain off. They were playing baseball on a hill. The grass around the base of the mound was as much as eight inches higher than the foul lines. So a ground ball to first or second might bounce or roll a little to the right, and one to short or third might head a little left. Or it might not.

The work isn't limited to Boston. City of Palms Park, the Sox' spring home in Fort Myers, has some new seating which is, I should add, ridiculously priced. $40 for a spring training game? There are major league parks that charge that for a prime box seat.

One more thing for those hoping to catch the Champs in person this year. Regular season tickets, for all but those select games that didn't sell out when they went on sale weeks ago, will be available this Saturday. Mark your calendars.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

  Sublimely Ridiculous

I realize Roger Clemens hasn't pitched for the Red Sox in more than eight years, but it isn't long enough to keep me from wondering out loud WHAT THE HECK HE WAS THINKING when he decided to try to pursuade an abritration panel that he should get a $22 million salary for the 2005 season, when by the way he doesn't know if he will still actually be pitching.

Roger Clemens filed for a record $22 million in salary arbitration on Tuesday, and the Houston Astros offered the seven-time Cy Young Award winner $13.5 million.

[ . . . ]

The $8.5 million spread between his figure and the Astros' was exactly double the previous high in salary arbitration [...] The midpoint of $17.75 million is just above the highest listed salary for a pitcher this season—Randy Johnson's salary with the New York Yankees is calculated at $16.5 million, including a prorated share of the $1 million personal-services contract he agreed to with the Arizona Diamondbacks before he was traded.

For reference, Roger Clemens will turn 43 during the 2005 season. Randy Johnson will turn 42 a month later. And if that isn't proof that the world has gone mad, nothing is.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Saturday, January 15, 2005

  Belated Good-Bye

As much as it surprises me, I was sad to see Derek Lowe go to the Dodgers last week. He drove me nuts with his regular season inconsistency, and I have no doubt that the 2005 rotation will be more stable without him in it.

But I can't ignore what he did for this team in the playoffs last year. The man was solid as a rock when the heat was on, and there is no question that he as much as any other player helped us get to and win the World Series. Nor can I forget how he held it together at the end of game five against Oakland in the 2003 playoffs. My son still needles me about the night he called for a ride home from his second-shift job, and I told him he had to wait because D-Lowe was on the mound trying to close it out. "I know where I stand on your list of priorities," he says. (In my own defense, he worked at a 24-hour store, so it wasn't like I kept him waiting in the dark outside all alone in the middle of the night, but I digress.) Then there is the no-hitter, one of two by Boston pitchers in my memory and by far the more exciting of the two because it was so improbable coming from him.

It is precisely because of his spectacular moments in a Red Sox uniform that he could have been expected to harbor some resentment and anger against the team because of their refusal to seriously entertain a new contract for him. Sure, he wasn't always Mr. Steady between April and September, but look what he did in October when it really counted, and isn't that worth something? Theo's relative inattention must have hurt on some level, and I for one wouldn't have blamed him for lashing out a bit. To his great credit, he did not, even when given the opportunity. Whether or not he felt this way inside, he acknoweldged it publically as a business decision which he understood.

"They made it perfectly clear right after the World Series that nothing was going to happen," Lowe told reporters in Los Angeles. "They definitely have a plan and there's nothing wrong with having a plan."

I wish Lowe good luck, unless he's pitching against my Sox, in which case it's war and I want to see him squashed like a bug <grin>.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Mission Accomplished

The Red Sox didn't make it easy, with their ticket sale schedule and procedure that require a Ph.D. to understand, but I have foiled them. I now have tickets for every Red Sox spring training game taking place in Fort Myers during my upcoming vacation, plus another up the road in St. Petersburg. To accomplish my goal, I had to buy tickets to one ticket before Christmas and two games this morning; a friend in Fort Myers included me in her group for tickets to two other games; and I picked up the Tampa Bay ticket this afternoon. It's a good thing I'm persistent.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Thursday, January 13, 2005

  Steroid Policy: One Small Step

It took leaked testimony from a federal grand jury, but Major League Baseball—in the person of both the ownership side and the players' union—is finally beginning to get serious about confronting the problem of steroids. I say "beginning" because in this fan's opinion, the new policy doesn't go far enough.

The good part (sort of), as reported by Fox Sports:

In addition to the one mandatory test of each player each season, players will randomly be selected for additional tests, with no maximum number of checks. In addition, players will randomly be selected for testing during the off-season.

The random testing provision is certainly an improvement over what was in place before, and the lack of a limit on the number of tests does mean that a player could theoretically be tested multiple times at random. The one guaranteed test is only meaningful if its timing is not known in advance by the player. Even in that case, one test per season isn't enough, especially if players use banned substances on a sporadic basis.

The not so good part:

A first positive test would result in a suspension of up to 10 days, a second positive test a 30-day ban, a third positive a 60-day penalty, and a fourth positive test a one-year ban.

Under the previous agreement, a first positive test resulted only in treatment, and a second positive test was subject to a 15-day suspension. Only with a fifth positive test was a player subject to a one-year ban under the old plan.

The lack of sanctions for first-time offenders under the old policy was obviously a joke, so it's nice to see that they rectified it. But it seems to me that a habitual offender—and four positive tests would certainly suggest a habitual offender" should be banned permanently.

The new agreement is in effect until December 2008, which means there is approximately 0% chance of tightening it up before then. The likelihood that the policy will get more stringent after that is also slim, as the current controversy will have long since passed and with it the sense of urgency about the issue. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the union tries to weaken the policy at the next opportunity.

For all those reasons, MLB needs to make hay while the sun shines, be as aggressive as the new policy allows, and keep the issue on the front burner so as to avoid the slide into complacency that could mean the end of any serious long-term drug testing program in the sport.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

  The Greatest World Series Game in History

I'm watching it right now. Obviously, I am not talking about the 2004 World Series, which ranks pretty low on the list unless you're a Red Sox fan. No, I have been tuned in to NESN's telecast of game 6 of the 1975 World Series. The game has been called by many a commentator the best in the history of the fall classic. I own the highlight tape (less than 30 minutes long, as I recall) but have never seen more than snippets of it.

It sure is worth watching in its entirety. As I type, it's the top of the 11th with Pete Rose having just been hit (barely) by a Dick Drago pitch. My son has been laughing at me for getting into a game whose outcome I know. Like sitting on the edge of my seat while watching Apollo 13—something I do every time I see that movie. But it isn't the ending that is so interesting. It's how it happened.

Was I ever aware of how young Fred Lynn was that season? Playing in that series, he was a mere 19 years old. Nineteen! But with the talent and poise of someone ten years older. Lynn won Rookie of the Year and MVP that year; he was just beginning what everyone was convinced would be a Hall of Fame career. A trade to the California Angels and the premature end of a career marked more by unrealized potential than true greatness were the farthest things from anyone's mind at that point.

Did I remember that Bernie Carbo's game-tying homer in the 8th inning was a pinch-hit job? Talk about clutch. Everyone remembers Fisk's game-winning dinger in extra innings, but the fact is that Fenway was mighty quiet and the assembled press preparing to head to the visitors' locker room before Carbo worked his magic.

Could Dwight Evans' run-saving catch in the top of the 11th have been any uglier—or any more beautiful? Evans has since said that he wishes people remembered more of his defensive abilities, which were considerable, rather than thinking of him as merely a hitter. Without that catch, there may not have been a game 7, Fisk homer or no.

Of course, I have to mention how blown away I am by the array of stars on the field for the Cincinnati Reds. They were called the "Big Red Machine" but I wonder how many who watched them back then appreciated just how great so many of them were. Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez sharing the same field with Pete Rose, whose fall from grace was years away, and a man named Ken Griffey who didn't have a "junior" after his name. It's a testament to the tenacity of the youthful Red Sox that the Reds had to go to 7 games to win the championship.

Not that the Sox didn't have their stars as well. Yaz patrolled left field and Pudge Fisk was a rock behind the plate, Lynn and Dewey rounded out the outfield and Rico Petrocelli anchored the infield, Luis Tiant and Bill Lee were the more colorful characters on the pitching staff. And they did their part to put together one of the all-time great World Series. Bench has since quipped that New Englanders think the Sox won that series 3-4, and in fact we do consider 1975 to be not as much a loss as a terrific matchup where one team was able to do just a bit more to capture the victory.

But back to the game. Fisk just clanked The Homer off the left field foul pole, prompting the Fenway Park organist to break into a ballpark rendition of the Hallelujah chorus. At that moment 29 years ago, the result of game 7 was unknown to one and all. That night, the Red Sox were not only winners but the dramatic winners of what would become known as the greatest World Series game of all time. Having just watched it even with the knowledge of what came next, it was a magical thing. We are lucky that it is part of our history.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

  Unit in the Bronx: Like a Square Peg in a Round Hole

Yeah, Randy Johnson is going to get along really well with the New York sports press.

Johnson got a taste Monday of how much attention star ballplayers can attract in New York. Walking along a Manhattan avenue, he put his long right arm up to block a camera from WCBS-TV after he left his Manhattan hotel.

Johnson, who was accompanied by Yankees director of team security Jerry Laveroni, made contact with the camera, station spokeswoman Audrey Pass said.

"Get out of my face, that's all I ask," Johnson said, according to a video of what occurred, which was posted on the station's Web site.

"No cameras," Laveroni said.

"Don't get in my face," Johnson then said. "I don't care who you are. Don't get in my face."

"I'm just taking a picture," said the cameraman, identified by the station as Vinny Everett.

Responded Johnson: "Don't get in my face, and don't talk back to me, all right."

News flash, Randy my boy. If you choose to play baseball in the biggest city in the country, making enough money to sustain the economies of most third-world countries, then getting your picture taken—on the public sidewalk, not in your back yard or during your kids' school's PTA meeting or at your accountant's office—is part of the package. If you don't like it, pick a different line of work. Or a different place to do it. Say, oh, Phoenix?

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Friday, January 07, 2005

  Can We Trade Shaughnessy?

Leave it to Dan Shaughnessy to find something negative to talk about from the World Series. Well, he didn't exactly find something; it would be more accurate to say he manufactured something. God, I hate him.

Doug Mientkiewicz has the ball. The Red Sox want it back. Stay tuned.

[ . . . ]

"I've got it," Mientkiewicz said from his Miami home Wednesday. "It's in a safety-deposit box with my Olympic gold medal [Sydney, 2000]. We had it authenticated by Major League Baseball the day after the World Series so no one can claim they have it. That's my retirement fund. A guy offered me 500 bucks for it, but I think it's worth more than that."

Read the whole column, unless you just finished dinner and don't want to toss it. In a nutshell, The Mouth portrays a player who is sitting on a gold mine while plotting how to get as much cash out of it as he can. And he's doing it, The Mouth insinuates, without regard for the organization or its long-suffering fans.

Of course Minky is going to sell the ball, implies The Mouth by putting forth a litany of baseballs used in other significant games or plays, and then quoting this morsel:

"I know this ball has a lot of sentimental value,"" he said. "I hope I don't have to use it for the money. It would be cool if we have kids someday to have it stay in our family for a long time. But I can be bought. I'm thinking, there's four years at Florida State for one of my kids. At least."

As if that isn't incriminating enough, The Mouth tosses in a barb just to make it plain that Mientkiewicz is the last person in the world who ought to have such a treasure.

Mientkiewicz did little to deserve his position as trustee. Like a woman who walks into a department store and wins a grand prize because she is the store's 1 millionth customer, Mientkiewicz's good fortune was quite inadvertent. He played for the Sox for fewer than three months and batted a mere .215 in 49 games with Boston. He won't go down in Sox history as a pivotal player in the championship run. He was simply the man who filled in as a defensive replacement in the late innings.

But wait, as is so often the case with Dan Shaughnessy columns, things are not quite what they appear to be. It turns out that The Mouth called Mientkiewicz to discuss the first base situation involving him and Kevin Millar. But Minky declined to discuss it (inadvertently foiling what was probably Shaughnessy's hope of unleashing a column that would start a small war between the two teammates). So The Mouth made small talk. Hey, by the way, what did you do with the ball? And the rest is history.

The Mouth knew that the comment about selling the ball to put the future Mientkiewicz kids through state college was a joke, but he also knew that his readership includes enough dimwits who would believe that the $100,000 or so the ball might fetch will do for the poor starving family what $3 million in salary last year just couldn't quite accomplish.

To the credit of the other parties involved, they're fighting back. Doug went on WEEI early this afternoon to discuss the issue and articulate for all the world how bullsh*t he is at Shaughnessy for having taken advantage of an honest, forthcoming person (something which Shaughnessy himself will never be accused of being). A few hours later, Doug's wife Jodi went on WEEI, a few hours after she logged on to the RedSox.com message board to set the record straight.

By 6:00 this evening, the WEEI whiner line was buzzing with anti-Mouth insults. Callers accused him variously of blowing something out of proportion on a slow news day, crafting fodder for another book about a problem that doesn't exist, and trying to drive Mientkiewicz out of town ("Hey Shaughnessy, you got the wrong guy—it's Millar we want traded!) And yes, one caller asked rhetorically why we couldn't keep Millar and Mientkiewicz, and trade Shaughnessy.

For my part, The Mouth has really stepped over the line. What he deserves is to be taken out back and shot (well, maybe not shot, but at least pelted with tomatoes). But I'd settle for his being fired. If you agree, join me in e-mailing or phoning your complaints to the following people at the Boston Globe:

If Dan Shaughnessy wanted to pick a fight, he succeeded.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

  Francona Bashers, Care for a Dish of Crow?

As is usually the case in matters where sports radio know-it-alls (callers and hosts alike) insist that it didn't happen if they didn't personally see it happen, those who picked apart Terry Francona's every move during the 2004 season should reassess their opinion of the manager. (They should, but they won't, but I digress.) It turns out that there actually were things that Francona did and said that WEEI's finest never knew about. Those with open minds may read the stories with a measure of respect they didn't have before.

Francona kept secrets, protected reputations, and prevented isolated personnel problems from mushrooming into destructive media conflagrations. By biting his tongue and stifling his ego, he fostered team harmony and played a crucial role in helping the Sox secure their first world championship in 86 years, even as he served as a season-long lightning rod for public criticism.

[ . . . ]

"But there's nothing like Boston," he said. "The Boston job is potentially overwhelming. People kept telling me, 'The place will eat you alive,' but it never got that way for me. There were a few nights I went home with a headache, but it never got to the point where I didn't think I could handle it."

There is also quite a bit of fodder about A Certain Former Red Sox Pitcher Who Shall Not Be Named, but for reasons of principle, I will not quote them here. Suffice it to say that if you're a Francona fan, you'll enjoy reading the whole thing. If not, you should read it all the more.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Boggs In, Rice Out

The Margo Adams/sex addiction fiasco forever, though I will admit unfairly, tarnished my image of Wade Boggs. So it is through that distorted lens that I express a bit of surprise that Boggs has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He was on an impressive 91.86% of all ballots cast. Only Ryne Sandberg received more than the required 75%, and that just barely.

Coming in fourth in the balloting but with nowhere near enough votes to get in was the Susan Lucci of MLB, Red Sox lifer Jim Rice. Having been voted by 59.5% of the writers, he got more than enough votes to make it onto the ballot next year, which will be his 12th appearance. There are those who say that Rice would be in the Hall by now if he hadn't treated the press, who do the voting, so shabbily during his playing career.

As an aside, it's interesting to compare Rice to another well-known player who also stayed with the same team for his whole career, and whose fans believe he should be in the Hall too—Don Mattingly. Rice beats Mattingly not only in terms of longevity (seasons, games) but also in (per 162 games) runs, triples, homers, RBI, slugging percentage, and total bases. Mattingly beats Rice in hits (barely), doubles, walks (barely), stolen bases, and batting average. Mattingly drew more intentional walks, but Rice got hit by pitches more often.

I'm not making a judgment either way on Rice or Mattingly, but I know enough Yankee fans who think "Donnie Ballgame" is a Hall of Famer but would never give Rice a nod. (Mattingly, incidentally, was voted on 11.4% of ballots.)

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  The Quick and Dirty on Recent Moves

It isn't that nothing has been cooking on the hot stove; it's just that the Christmas/New Year period leaves little time to delve into it all. Here's a taste of what's done and still simmering.

A little more about the players acquired in the December 20 Dave Roberts trade. Jay Payton is expected to be the fourth infielder, but being able to play all three positions will likely get him out there more often. He is an adequate hitter off the bench and has defensive skills on his side:

The 32-year-old Payton is a .285 career hitter with 77 homers and 300 RBIs in 715 games for the Mets (1998-2002), Rockies (2002-2003) and Padres (2004). He had 11 outfield assists in 2004 and hit .260 with eight homers and 55 RBIs in 143 games.

Randy Vazquez gives similar depth to the infield, and he bats lefty. Theo expects he'll be a fill-in for Mark Bellhorn at second and, occasionally, relieve Edgar Renteria at short.

And to sweeten the deal, San Diego threw in a minor league pitcher, right-hander David Pauley, so I would say that Theo did well in getting two reliable utility men and a prospect for a mid-season pick-up who didn't really play that much.

On the same day, the Sox tendered contracts to Bronson Arroyo and Mark Bellhorn. I couldn't be happier with the flexible Arroyo, who can be a reliable fourth or fifth starter or work out of the bullpen with occasional spot starts. The return of Bellhorn and the acquisition of Vazquez pretty much guarantees that Pokey Reese is gone, though we'll know for sure on Saturday when the negotiating deadline passes with no action.

The signing of pitcher Matt Clement became official on December 22. In count-your-chickens behavior more characteristic of the New York Yankees front office than Red Sox followers, I and many of the beat writers had been talking about this like it was a done deal. Now it is.

Theo signed yet another pitcher on December 23. This one was non-tendered free agent Wade Miller, late of the Astros. MLB.com's Ian Browne sees is as a no-lose signing for the Sox:

If Miller isn't healthy, he'll earn a salary of $1.5 million, which is equivalent to what you pay a bench player. If he is healthy, the Red Sox feel they have a top-notch starter for around $4.5 million, which is what Miller will make if he reaches his performance incentives.

I did take a moment on Christmas day to do the blogger's equivalent of a happy dance about the contract agreement reached with a now clean-shaven Jason Varitek. That was the last notable deal made by Theo, and that was a week and a half ago, prompting me to wonder what the heck Our Boy Wonder has been doing with all his time.

In a couple other moves, Lenny Dinardo signed a one-year contract on December 22. Lenny was a Rule 5 pickup, and I'm sure some relevent clause in Rule 5 made it all but necessary to re-sign him. Not that I mind. He's adorable, and he signs a ton of autographs before just about every game. Minor league free agent catcher Andy Dominique, on the other hand, not only doesn't sign tons of autographs but is also no longer in the Red Sox system, having signed with the Mets during one of Omar Minaya's recent contract binges. There was really no room for Dominique, who is second in line for Varitek's job after top prospect Kelly Shoppach, who ain't going anywhere.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

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