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Friday, February 25, 2005

  Lords of the Rings

When I heard from a friend that Nomar Garciaparra was getting a 2004 World Series ring, I was incensed. Don't get me wrong, I was as big a Nomar fan as the next New Englander and defended him to skeptics up until and including the day he was traded to the Cubs last summer. He was a valuable member of the team for many years, an exciting player to watch and root for, and a part of the rich history of sports in this town. It wasn't so long ago that people invoked the name of Nomah among the litany that included Cousy, Williams, Orr, Yaz, Hondo, Dewey, Bird, Bourque. People who were lifers here (even if, like Orr, Dewey, and Bourque, they just feel like lifers). But Nomar wasn't a 40-year-old ready to retire who wanted just one more season, or a young star with wrecked knees who needed to know if he truly was finished. He was by most accounts a tarnished superstar who didn't really like it here. More importantly, he wasn't a part of the team during the World Series, or during the playoffs, or during September or August, of even for practical purposes for the rest of the season prior to July 31. Did he really help the Red Sox win the World Series? Not in my estimation. The players can do whatever they want with their playoff bonus money, but why in the world would the team give him a ring?

I found an answer that makes at least some sense in the team's explanation of their ring policy.

"I think you will see there's been a philosophy of inclusiveness with respect to the players who contributed," said Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino. "Theo [Epstein] and Tito [Terry Francona], who were responsible for identifying the players who would be recipients of the rings, took a broad—and I think appropriate—view that anybody who wore that uniform last year should be included."

That, I suppose, is a different story. If they are going to draw a line somewhere other than, say, playing in the postseason or finishing the regular season on the roster, then I suppose wearing a uniform—even if only one time—seems like the next best criterion. Otherwise they would end up with lots of gray area, people like Byung Hyun Kim or Joe Nelson or Andy Dominique or Ellis Burks (who in 2004 played in 7, 3, 7, and 11 games respectively) being judged by a subjective standard. And who's to say that someone like Burks, who though injured was a steady source of moral support for his teammates, didn't contribute to the ultimate victory? Dave Roberts was a bench player, but that won't keep me from sitting my grandchildren on my knee someday and telling them about the time he almost single-handedly sparked the rally that saved the team's quest for the big prize.

It's a bitter pill for me to swallow, but I can see the rationale behind the decision about how to award rings. It is consistent with the team philosophy that there are no second-stringers as long as each person is contributing in some way. As a fan, I have to admire management's loyalty to that spirit.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Monday, February 21, 2005

  The War of the Words

On the first day the entire squad is due in Fort Myers, it is perhaps inappropriate to dwell upon the ongoing saga of Yankee Alex Rodriguez and what various Red Sox think of him. But it's just so much fun, I can't resist.

The sports pages of the New York city newspapers have been conspicuous in their coverage of which Red Sox player is saying what about A-Fraud (not to mention which Yankee player isn't jumping to his teammate's defense). Today is no different, we a quick perusal of the New York Post will show.

Had he handled this more sincerely, Rodriguez would have made the Red Sox look like the unprofessional bozos they are. Instead, Rodriguez again offered the kind of plastic, pre-packaged veneer emboldening more and more people to challenge his authenticity and what plays as a sense of superiority. He again outsmarted himself by thinking he could outsmart everyone else. He put reporters into this corner, to think A-Rod was either dumb or dishonest. And Alex Rodriguez is not dumb.

He said he was not fully aware of Red Sox comments lambasting him. But to believe that meant dismissing how media conscious Rodriguez has been during his career and that he employs a media representative to keep him sharp. Within the same conversation in which he pled ignorance about Boston's bravura, Rodriguez cited detailed elements of articles written by New York reporters that were, in some cases, months old.

Joel Sherman

We'll forgive Mr. Sherman the distorted view of things that is so typical of New Yorkers (the Bible refers to it as seeing the speck in your neighbor's eye while ignoring the plank in your own) because he probably doesn't know any better. Note, for example, that he makes no allegations that any criticism leveled by Red Sox players is unsubstantiated, nor does he point out that the New York reporters he mentions have said much worse about Rodriguez than anything the Red Sox have said this winter. He doesn't have to. One of his compatriots does it for him.

"Who cares, let him talk all he wants," closer Keith Foulke said of Rodriguez [after Rodriguez referred to Bronson Arroyo as "Brandon"]. "Just ask him who's got the bleeping ring."

This was raw, competitive emotion speaking. For A-Rod, there is no comeback to that comment. Until Rodriguez wins a championship with the Yankees he will not win this fight.

Kevin Kernan

The recent escalation of hostilities is a result, as those who read the sports pages and listen to talk radio know, of Rodriguez' latest verbal diarrhea which he intended, one supposes, would make himself appear superior to the team who humiliated the Yankees last October. This was my personal favorite:

"This is still Jeter's team because he's the captain, but my approach is not to be everyone's best friend," Rodriguez told the paper. "My approach is to win championships. The only way to do that is to be myself, and to take care of my world. With my talent, people will follow naturally."

To which I thought, Yeah, that approach has worked so well for you in your career thus far. And don't you think you ought to win "championship" (singular) before you declare yourself a natural leader?

This is not what got the Red Sox players jawing, though. Rodriguez' petulant on-field antics did that. But more recently, these remarks added fuel to the fire:

A-Rod has spent the winter immersed in football-like workouts six days a week at the University of Miami, where he trains with the Hurricanes' strength coach, Andrew Swasey. There, Rodriguez lifts weights, runs 200-yard sprints and pushes sleds in 100-yard intervals with the school's varsity players, working out for three hours at a time before breakfast.

It's a massive, if not masochistic regimen. But Rodriguez is proud of the fact that while he's out of his house by 7 a.m, "there are 650 or 700 other players who are sleeping, or taking their kids to school. But there's no way they're going to be running the stairs or doing what I'm doing."

In response, the usually unflappable Trot Nixon, whose approach really is to win championships, decided that someone had to knock the prima donna back down to reality, and he might as well be the person to do it:

"Like Rodriguez says," Nixon said, "he's running stairs at 6 in the morning while I'm sleeping and taking my kids to school. I'm like, well I'm not a deadbeat dad, Alex."

[ . . . ]

"He's got a kid now, too, so I guess he'll have his limo driver take her to school," Nixon said.

And that was when I realized that this is going to be a really fun year, and that if the New York sportswriters want to criticize the Red Sox for calling Rodriguez on his inane statements, they'd better keep it vague because the more Alex talks, the worse he looks.

I regret that I will not be at spring training this year until after the Yankees come to City of Palms Park, because A-Fraud has given us lots of poster material this off-season. Not that we needed any, what Gary "S Is for Steroids" Sheffield putting his foot into his mouth on a regular basis and Jason Giambi, his partner in banned substances, trying unsuccessfully to excape his leaked Grand Jury testimony. I hope the spirited banter is still going on by the time I get to my first Red Sox-Yankees game of the season in July. I'm itching to make some good game posters.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Monday, February 14, 2005

  New Player Profile — Edgar Renteria

OK. This guy isn't Nomar. He isn't nearly as good a hitter as Nomar. He isn't enormously better than Nomar defensively, though he is somewhat of a defensive upgrade and was consistently better in the last three seasons.

So why did we get Edgar Renteria, and why is he considered the Red Sox' biggest free agent signing of the 2004-05 offseason?

Renteria has three things in his favor. He is two years younger than his not-quite-immediate predecessor, with roughly the same major league experience. He cost us considerably less than what Nomar was asking. And he has been virtually injury-free throughout his career.

Let's begin with that last point. And a significant point it is. In nine major league seasons, Renteria has averaged 142 games a year to Nomar's 111. If you remove the 1996 season, the first for both players (in which Nomar played only 23 games) Renteria still has the edge at 146 games a year to 122 for Nomar. While Nomar had two season in which injuries prevented him from playing in even half the games, Renteria has never played fewer than 130 games since his rookie season.

Renteria comes to us for an average of $10 million a year—big money to be sure, but only two thirds of what Nomar turned down at this time last year. And while there are never any guarantees, the chance that Renteria will be healthy for the four-year duration of that contract is considerably greater than what we could reasonably have expected from the injury-prone Nomar.

Renteria is, after all, just over two years younger than Garciaparra. So we are getting a younger, sturdier, cheaper shortstop than what we had at the beginning of 2004.

But how do they stack up as players?

Truthfully, there really is no comparison at the plate. Over his career, Renteria has hit .033 lower than Nomar; only in 1996 and 2003 was Edgar's average the higher of the two. Nomar also hits roughly 3 times as many homers. But Renteria walks more and steals more bases, so he isn't a total loss offensively.

Defensively, Edgar's career fielding percentage is barely a sliver (.0005) better than Nomar's. But Renteria has been significantly more reliable over the last three seasons, successfully fielding .976 of his chances compared to .968 by Nomar. And Renteria's zone rating (percentage of balls fielded in the typical defensive range of a particular position) is better.

What I believe will tell the story with Renteria is his ability to work with Mark Bellhorn up the middle, his overall physical condition and durability, and the stabilizing influence he has on the rest of the infield defense. If he can pull off those three things, we'll forgive him the batting average.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 1

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Friday, February 11, 2005

  Déjà Vu

As he did last season, third baseman Bill Mueller had arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this week. The timing isn't great, with position players due to report in a mere 10 days, but it's better than last year, when Mueller missed a full month of the regular season.

He is expected to be sidelined for a month once again, but the club is confident he'll be ready for action midway through the Grapefruit League schedule, putting him in line to start the season opener at Yankee Stadium on April 3.

"You never like to see (surgery) happen but given the circumstances, it's a good time to happen," Sox general manager Theo Epstein said.

Unlike years past, we don't have to worry about spring training surprises from the injury-prone Nomar Garciaparra (who missed what turned out to be most of his remaining time with the Red Sox) or A Certain Former Red Sox Pitcher Who Shall Not Be Named (who managed to stay good and healthy all year, but you always held your breath). Among 2004's other major injuries was right fielder Trot Nixon, who is reportedly already in Fort Myers starting light workouts. Let's hope that slow and steady wins the race, and that Trot's back problems don't come back to haunt him—or us.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

  Now I Can Die in Peace

No, I am not planning on dying anytime soon. That's just the message on the shirt I wore to see the World Series trophy this morning. "Now I Can Die in Peace."

The Triumphant Red Sox Fan with the World Series TrophyBefore today, I had seen The Trophy three times, but never up close and personal. I saw it at the victory parade in Boston, at the Wang Theater for the premiere of the World Series film, and in front of Worcester City Hall as part of the original trophy tour. But this was different. This was better.

The occasion was a trophy appearance at one of the local public schools. I had planned to attend anyway, but when I mentioned it to the producer from MLB Productions who interviewed me the other night (did I mention that I'm going to be on ESPN?) he saw an opportunity for some great B-roll. I was able to jump to the front of the line ahead of all the school children and senior citizens, enter the restricted area where mere mortals were not permitted to tread, and have my own personal moment with The Trophy.

The Triumphant Red Sox Fan prepares to kiss the trophyIt was a moving experience. It's much more substantial than I thought it would be; all those flags look quite fragile in pictures, but they are actually pretty thick. The base is the top of a giant baseball around which the flag poles rise. And no photo does justice to the way it sparkles. I was captivated. And yes, I kissed it, and I'm not ashamed of it.

Sara, a Red Sox employee who shot me with The Trophy (and me talking to others who were there and me talking about this fan forum), said that in addition to providing the footage to MLB Productions for the ESPN program, she is also going to use some of it in a segment the Red Sox are doing for UPN38. I utterly neglected to ask her when it would be on, but such details were of no concern to me as I gazed upon The Trophy.

And The Ball, did I mention that The Ball was there too? After Doug Mientkiewcz was kind enough to loan it to the team for a year, they put it in a nice case with a plaque and a photo of the moment immediately after he fielded the throw from Keith Foulke to seal the Championship. It was nice to be able to see it, but frankly I almost didn't even notice it, mesmerized as I was by The Trophy.

A frail old man on oxygen, upon seeing my shirt, approached me and said, "You don't want to do that (i.e. die) because they might do it again this year." I agreed, commenting that it was so much fun that I thought we should do it again, a la the Patriots. But if I absolutely had to die before then, I could indeed do so in peace.

Sal DeAngelisThis post is dedicated to the memory of Sal DeAngelis, a long-time Red Sox fan and dear family friend who passed away earlier this week. My first thought upon hearing the news of his death was, Thank God he got to see the Red Sox win the World Series.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Monday, February 07, 2005

  Program Your VCRs Now

Wake the kids and call the neighbors! The Triumphant Red Sox Fan Forum will be featured in a MLB production to be televised on ESPN on opening day.

The program (title unknown, at least to me) is about how experiencing a World Series victory has affected Red Sox fans. Telecast is scheduled for Sunday, April 3 at 6:00pm—two hours before game time. [UPDATE: Note the corrected time, which I verified with MLB Productions.] The game itself, Red Sox at Yankees, will be ESPN's Sunday night game at 8:00.

We'll all have to see how it turns out, but I was interviewed for a little less than half an hour and then did some surfing around the Forum for another half hour or so. I'll do some additional shooting this week when the World Series trophy makes a stop at one of the schools here in town. Once they do their editing thing, I'll probably be lucky to get 2 minutes. I don't know who else they are interviewing (except Theo, I know they're interviewing Theo) so the program will be almost as much of a surprise to me as it will be to everyone else.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  New Player Profile — Matt Clement

First things first: Let's get the pronunciation right. It's not "CLE-ment" (that sounds too much like "Clemens")—it's "cle-MENT."

Second: Don't blame him for the lousy 2004 win-loss record. With an ERA of 3.68 in 30 starts, he sure deserved to win more than 9 games. His strike out numbers were quite good too, with 9.45 per 9 innings compared to 3.83 walks. To put it in perspective, last season Derek Lowe got 14 wins in 33 starts with 1.74 higher ERA, and as a sinkerball pitcher Lowe was much more reliant on the fielders behind him that a strikeout pitcher. If Clement pitches as well this year as he did last year, he should do fine with the Sox' offense.

Third: His career numbers are misleading. His 4.34 career ERA is deceiving because he has been better in recent years than he was in his first few full seasons. Each of the years 2002 through 2004 were better than 1999 through 2001, so he's getting better as he goes.

Fourth: He won't be putting extra strain on the bullpen. Clement's innings pitched in 2004 were a bit low at just 181, but he was over 200 in the previous two seasons. That's not far off from where A Certain Former Red Sox Pitcher Who Shall Not Be Named was in the last few years.

Fifth: For a pitcher, he doesn't stink too badly at the plate. He hit .145 each of the last two seasons, which as I recall may even be a bit better than the pathetic start A-Rod had with the Yankees.

No, Clement isn't The Certain Former Red Sox Pitcher Who Shall Not Be Named, but he looks to be a solid starter who has made 30 or more starts in each of his six full major league seasons. He is fairly young—he'll turn 31 in August— and so doesn't bring the health concerns that, say David Wells does. Look for him to have an early season adjustment period dealing full-time with American League hitters, but by May we should see the real Matt Clement.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  The Pats Repeated — Can the Sox?

Now that the New England Patriots have successfully defended their championship title, Red Sox fans are naturally hungry for the 2005 Sox to do likewise. But historically, what are the chances of that happening in Major League Baseball?

The answer is: not great, and it's getting harder and harder to do. After 100 World Series played since the contest officially began in 1903, only 21 teams have won in consecutive seasons (one every 4.76 years). Since the leagues split into divisions in 1969, only seven teams have accomplished the feat (one every 5 years). The most recent expansion, in 1998, brought the total number of teams vying for the ultimate prize to an all-time high of 30. And the advent of the Wild Card format in 1996 meant that winning the division was no longer a requirement of even getting to the World Series; three of four 21st century champs have been Wild Card teams.

The teams that have successfully their World Series titles are:

It is worth noting that the Boston's total team salary (only about 2/3 of that of the New York Yankees, but still higher than almost any other team in baseball) is not a guarantee of repeat success. The ever-spiraling payrolls of Yankees teams have not brought them a World Series title in the last four years, nor have low payrolls prevented the Diamondbacks, Angels, and Marlins from winning it all since 2000.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

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