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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

  Odds 'n' Ends in Baseball News

The Miguel Tejada trade rumors have surfaced again (Tejada for Dominican Cry-Baby II and Matt Clement) but according to the Baltimore Sun, the Red Sox made the offer and the Orioles aren't particularly interested.

All along, the Orioles have maintained that they'd need to be overwhelmed to deal Tejada, and no team has come close to accomplishing that, according to industry sources. The Boston Red Sox, according to one source, have made one of the most intriguing offers -- outfielder Manny Ramirez and starting pitcher Matt Clement for Tejada -- but several high-ranking Orioles officials remain opposed to trading the team's best player within the American League East.

The Jeff Reardon story is just bizarre, isn't it? There appears to be no reason for the retired pitcher, who is from Massachusetts and played for the Red Sox from 1990 to 1992, to have robbed a jewelry store, but that's what he did. Reardon has suggested that his medication made him do it, and while I'm not an expert on pharmaceuticals, I suppose it's possible that the combination of his anti-depressants and other meds he has taken since a recent cardiac procedure could have caused side-effects that impaired his judgment. My mother once had an odd reaction to post-operative pain medications that had her ready to check herself out of the hospital and take the bus home in the middle of the night, and that was certainly out of character for her.

As I type, the WEEI guys are talking about whether Jim Rice should be in the Hall of Fame. Sean McAdam has a good column on ESPN.com in which he makes the case in favor of Rice:

For a period of 12 years -- 1975-86 -- Rice led all American League players in 12 different offensive categories, including home runs (350), RBI (1,276), total bases (3,670), slugging percentage (.520), runs (1,098) and hits (2,145).

[ . . . ]

Finally, there's historical perspective. Among all major leaguers, only nine players have compiled as high a career batting average (.298) and as many homers. They are: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Stan Musial.

That sounds Hall-of-Fame worthy to me.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

  Why Is Lucchino Talking to the Media about Damon?

When the Boston sports media assembled today to get the Red Sox' reaction (free registration required) to the defection of Johnny Damon, it wasn't just "co-general managers" Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington who faced them. Team president and CEO Larry Lucchino was right there, front and center.

That is the role of the general manager. If the GM faced the media alone after the trade of franchise player Nomar Garciaparra, the GM(s) should have faced the media alone to deal with the aftermath of Damon's decision.

I wonder if Lucchino's presence indicates that he is, in fact, the general manager of this club.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Francona Hits the Stage

I'm not sure how I missed Red Sox manager Terry Francona's special appearance with the Boston Pops last week.

Francona won't be quitting his day job, but he did put aside an evening to be the guest narrator of Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" at the Pops' annual Christmas benefit concert at Symphony Hall. Guest narrators of the classic Christmas story, best known by its famous first line "'Twas the night before Christmas", are a Pops tradition. Past narrators include have included local personalities from sports, media, and the arts, and evidently at least a few of them had some trouble doing a trouble-free reading, much to Francona's amusement.

He seemed taken aback when he was congratulated for not making any mistakes.

"Well, I hope [I would be flawless]. I can read," he said. "I mean, I was a baseball player, but I went to school, so, yeah, I thought I would make it."

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  More on the Free Agents

You lose some, you gain some. Johnny Damon and Billy Mueller are be the biggest Red Sox names to move in the last couple weeks, but they aren't the only ones. The free agent scorecard now stands as follows:

1 The status of Ricky Bottalico, who was acquired by the Red Sox but never played, is unclear. ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports list him as a Red Sox, but Sportsline lists him as a Brewer and MLB's free agent tracker lists him as having been released by Milwaukee. Anyone with clarification can post a comment.

2 I am also unable to determine the status of pitcher Mike Stanton, who was acquired late in the season and played in one game. He is absent from the list of those who were and were not offered arbitration, but I presume he was not.

If you are thinking that the gains are far outweighed by the losses, you aren't alone. Keep your fingers crossed for some Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year's presents.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Losing Damon Doesn't Hurt Like Losing Mueller

I admit I've been in denial about the departure of third baseman and cutie extraordinaire Bill Mueller. I posted this message on the Dodgers forum the other day:

As a Red Sox fan, I'm heartbroken to see this guy go. He plays hard all the time, has a good attitude, makes remarkable plays in the field on a regular basis, and won't be pulling a D-Lowe with any of your local sports reporters. By all accounts he is a terrific teammate and the least selfish player out there.

The Dodgers' gain is unquestionably a big loss for us, and not just because he posed for me at the 2004 Boston Baseball Writers dinner.

Mueller's contribution to this team over the last three years cannot be quantified with mere statistics. Yes, he won the batting title in 2003 and helped turn the tide in 2004 with that memorable walk-off homer against Mariano Rivera in the late-July series against the Yankees. But what was more important in my view was the attitude that he brought onto the field when the team wasn't doing so well. His demeanor, his approach to the game, doesn't change when the chips are down. He is, to use an oft bandied about cliché, the consummate professional.

I wish him every success and can't wait to see him face the Red Sox in spring training. I'm sure I won't be the only fan giving him a standing ovation.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Johnny Reb

Just yesterday, I told a co-worker who asked my opinion that I figured Johnny would stay in Boston if they offered him something reasonably comparable to what he could get somewhere else. $40 million for four years isn't comparable to the $52 million he ended up taking from George Steinbrenner. But it is reasonable. If I were GM, I might have offered him $12 million, but not with a guaranteed fourth year as part of the package. Perhaps a vesting option that kicks in if he is healthy in year three, but no more than that. Too much of a gamble.

The Yankees took that gamble. It should pay off for them at the plate; Damon is one of the best leadoff hitters in the game today. He has great defensive range, getting to balls that most of his peers can only dream of. That ability will serve him well in Yankee Stadium's gargantuan center field, but I doubt it will make up for his weak arm. Catching that deep fly ball will keep the batter off first base, but it won't prevent that guy on third from going home. New Yorkers should prepare themselves to see lots of tagging up and running from opposing baserunners, even the slow ones.

They should also expect his offensive production to dip, as ESPN.com's Rob Neyer explains (Insider subscription required):

In Damon's four years with the Red Sox, he batted .295/.362/.441 (that's batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) and played excellent defense in center field. That's almost the very definition of great value.

But Damon, like virtually every other Red Sox hitter since the 1930s, has benefited from his home ballpark. In Damon's four seasons at Fenway Park, he's batted .310/.383/.442. Away from Fenway, he's batted .281/.342/.440.

Does that mean Damon is fundamentally a .281 (etc.) hitter? Not necessarily. Players typically enjoy a home edge, regardless of their home ballpark. But it's not just the natural home edge that's caused Damon to hit for a higher batting average and draw more walks in his home games; generally speaking, everybody hits for a higher average and draws more walks at Fenway than elsewhere. [...]

And of course, Fenway Park is just one half of the equation. Over the last three seasons, Yankee Stadium has apparently been neutral (roughly speaking) in terms of batting average, but it has knocked down the walks more than any other park in the American League (and perhaps more than any in the major leagues).

What does this mean for Damon? He's not going to bat .300 in 2006. He's going to bat in the .270 to .290 range, with an on-base percentage between .320 and .340 ... hardly the numbers the Yankees and their fans are expecting from a $13 million leadoff man.

Meanwhile, New Englanders have to prepare ourselves a new look in the Fenway triangle and at the top of the order. I know that's a tall order for Damon-holics, but it might help to remember that there was no Cult of Johnny before 2004 when he looked like this:

So while we're awaiting further announcements, let's get our arms in shape in preparation for throwing stuff at Pinstripe Johnny when he visits Boston in 2006.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Monday, December 19, 2005

  Crowded at Second Base

Here's a question no one thought about before today: If Tony Graffanino returns to the Red Sox in 2006, where will he play?

In a move that surprised just about everyone, Graffanino accepted Boston's offer of arbitration. That means that unless he signs with another team, he will probably remain on the team at a salary to be either negotiated or, barring an agreement, determined by an arbitrator. If it does go to arbitration, the Red Sox would be able to cut him during spring training, but I don't see that happening. The team would thus have two full-time second basemen now that Mark Loretta is on board, with Dustin Pedroia almost ready to come up from the farm (though probably not before late 2006).

Perhaps either Graffanino or Loretta could play at another position. In ten major league seasons, Graffanino has done limited duty elsewhere in the infield (129 games at third base, 93 at shortstop, 26 at first base) and only three games in left field. In 11 seasons, Loretta has played 328 games at shortstop, 171 at third base, 160 at first base, and one in left field. Since I've heard that the Sox need a shortstop, Loretta would be the fall-back solution if it comes to that, leaving Graffanino at second.

Then there is the possibility of using one of them in a trade. That may be a more likely scenario. Who goes may be influenced by salary. Loretta made $2.75 million last season compared to only $1.1 million for Graffanino, but he has also been a better fielder and hitter over his career than Graffy.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Monday, December 12, 2005

  Red Sox Announce (yawn) Co-GMs

In the most anti-climactic moment of the offseason so far, owner John W. Henry announced today that former General Manager Theo Epstein will be replaced by an executive duo of assistant GM Jed Hoyer and player development director Ben Cherington, half of the GM-by-committee that has taken the team through the last month and a half of roster maneuvers.

"Between them, Ben and Jed have intimate knowledge of every player in our organization, from top to bottom," team president Larry Lucchino said Monday. "They complement each other well with their varied experiences."

This is exactly what has been reported to be coming since last week. What is apparently not certain is how long they have the job for.

A meeting at work kept me away from the radio during the press conference, but based on the current discussion on WEEI's Big Show, the front office situation is still very much up in the air. The speculation is that Henry is still trying to lure Theo back, ostensibly as a consultant, but with the intention of transitioning him back into his former role or some reincarcarnation thereof. That plan/hope would appear to be the reason why the team didn't go for one of the more experienced applicants who have interviewed for the job these last few weeks.

So once again, we seem to have as much instability and as many (or more) questions as before. While Cherington and Hoyer may do an excellent job—there is no doubt about their baseball knowledge or their commitment to the team—the shadow of Theo Epstein may ultimately hamstring their collective ability to settle into the job and make it their own. I fear the damage that will arise between now and spring training.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Friday, December 09, 2005

  Who's at Shortstop?

Yes, I know—Who's on first. But he might as well be the Red Sox shortstop. At the moment, they don't have anyone else.

Since the trade of Edgar Renteria, speculation abounds on talk radio, in the sports pages, and around water coolers throughout New England about who will take his place. While I personally am hoping for the return of Orlando Cabrera, that looks unlikely. Instead, different player (free registration required) has his eye on that particular patch of the Fenway field.

Baltimore Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada said Thursday he's unhappy with the team's direction and wants to be traded.

A source close to Tejada, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Tejada would like to be traded to a team on the East Coast, and specifically mentioned the Boston Red Sox as his choice destination.

The obvious problem is that Tejada makes even more than Renteria, having four years left on a six-year, $72 million contract. That's probably more than the Sox want to spend.

The front office may have backed themselves into a corner, though, by dumping Renteria before lining up Plan B. They don't even have the long-touted Hanley Ramirez in the farm system any more. If I'm another team's general manager, I know that places the Red Sox in a weak position, and I'm going to take full advantage of it. There sure aren't a lot of strong possibilities on the free agent market:

That isn't a list that inspires much confidence in this fan. Maybe Tejada will get his trade to Boston after all.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Thursday, December 08, 2005

  Edgar Era Ends

On WEEI's Dennis & Callahan show yesterday, former Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler said there are some players who just cannot be successful in cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago but thrive elsewhere. In 2005, we learned that shortstop Edgar Renteria, acquired last winter and signed to a four-year contract, is one of those players. Rather than wait around and hope that changes, the Red Sox are shipping Renteria to Atlanta for highly-rated third base prospect Andy Marte.

The move leaves the team without a shortstop for the time being, but that won't last long.

Mark my words, Renteria will win a Gold Glove with Atlanta in 2006. I can feel it.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Checking Up on the Free Agents

With the passing of yesterday's deadline for offering arbitration to free agents, it's time to check on the status of the Red Sox' players who filed for free agency after the World Series:

1 The status of Ricky Bottalico, who was acquired by the Red Sox but never played, is unclear. ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports list him as a Red Sox, but Sportsline lists him as a Brewer and MLB's free agent tracker lists him as having been released by Milwaukee. Anyone with clarification can post a comment.

2 I am also unable to determine the status of pitcher Mike Stanton, who was acquired late in the season and played in one game. He is absent from the list of those who were and were not offered arbitration, but I presume he was not.

Free agents not offered arbitration cannot be signed by their former team until May 1, so they are essentially gone. Those who were offered arbitration—Damon, Graffanino, and Mueller—have other options under the following process, but if they sign with another team, the former team receives draft picks as compensation.

Free agents offered arbitration by their clubs have until Dec. 19 to accept. A player who accepts is locked into his team, and the two sides can continue negotiations toward a one-year or multiyear agreement before reaching a hearing. Those declining the offer face a Jan. 8 deadline to be re-signed; thereafter, they cannot sign with their old teams until May 1, just as free agents not offered arbitration.

If a player goes to arbitration, both player and team must file between Jan. 5-15 with figures exchanged on Jan. 18. Hearings begin on Feb. 1.

Besides re-signing their own free agents or cutting them loose, the Sox obviously continue to look at acquiring others. So far, they have made only one such move.

Expect signings aplenty throughout the winter, though I believe the Red Sox will do more through trades than via free agency.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

  So Long Doug

Participants on WEEI's "Big Show" just confirmed as a done deal what the Herald's Tony Masserotti reported as nearly complete—a trade between the Red Sox and Padres to swap catcher Doug Mirabelli for infielder Mark Loretta, straight up.

Loretta is under contract for 2006, so his acquisition doesn't seem to jeopardize Dustin Pedroia's place as the Sox' second baseman of the future. The loss of Mirabelli leaves a hole that will have to be filled, and the team apparently has the same concerns I expressed recently about Kelly Shoppach's ability to step in.

While playing behind Jason Varitek in recent years, Mirabelli also has served as the personal catcher for knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who holds the catcher in high regard. To replace Mirabelli, the Sox likely would venture onto the free agent market in pursuit of someone like John Flaherty or Ken Huckaby, veterans whom they believe could handle Wakefield.

Catching prospect Kelly Shoppach does not seem like an option to replace Mirabelli as Wakefield’s battery partner given his relative inexperience. The Sox also may need Shoppach in another deal this offseason.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

  Edgar Out, O.C. In?

The Globe's Gordon Edes is reporting that the Red Sox GM team is actively pursuing a possible trade of shortstop Edgar Renteria. An old friend, Orlando Cabrera, may end up being Renteria's replacement.

Renteria, Boston's prize free agent acquisition last winter who has fallen out of favor after a 30-error season, could be headed to the Atlanta Braves as part of a three-way deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in which the Sox would receive Devil Rays shortstop Julio Lugo while the Devil Rays would get prospects from Atlanta, presumably highly regarded third baseman Andy Marte and another player.

Two sources with direct knowledge of negotiations Tuesday night confirmed the proposed deal. The Braves just lost their shortstop, Rafael Furcal, who agreed to a three-year, $39 million free agent deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers last weekend, and have always held Renteria in high regard. The Sox, meanwhile, would either play Lugo at short or at second base, depending on two other deals they had on the table. They asked the Angels about Orlando Cabrera, and also are trying to persuade the San Diego Padres to take catcher Doug Mirabelli in exchange for second baseman Mark Loretta.

The veracity of this rumor obviously can't be known at this point. Even if the discussions are taking place as reported, it takes much more to finalize a deal. But if it goes through, this could be a bigger deal than a potential trade of You-Know-Who.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Foretelling Johnny's Return?

In the heat of a free agent negotiation, it's sometimes hard for us on the outside to tell how much of the player's demands are really those of his agent. With Scott Boras, Johnny Damon's agent, we can safely conclude that it was he and not his client who came up with the numbers that have been floated around. The only question becomes how much, if at all, Damon will go to rein in his overly zealous agent.

Last year, catcher Jason Varitek kept tight control on his negotiations because he wanted to stay in Boston. Apparently Johnny may have similar sentiments, according to Michael Silverman of the Herald.

Boras, who feels a seven-year deal is reasonable, is trying to generate interest in Damon from other teams, but there are indications, just as there were with Jason Varitek last year, that both the Red Sox and Damon want to get a deal done.

That does not make a deal imminent, but so far, no other team has been identified as being in the running for Damon.

This must be driving Boras crazy, she said with a big grin.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 1

Hi Kelly. I want to talk to you about your blog. This is not spam. I can't find an email address anywhere on the site. Please drop me a line at david@spidersplat.com and delete this comment after you have. Thanks very much.

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  Mueller's Popularity

The list of teams interested in the services of third baseman Bill Mueller is impressive indeed, according to a multitude of reports coming out of the winter meetings in Dallas. The Pirates, who may increase their team payroll by up to $15 million in 2006, have offered a two-year contract for unknown money. The Dodgers are also said to be very interested. Those are reportedly Mueller's top choices, but the Cardinals may try to convince him to play second base, where scouts have said he could play. The Giants are also interested. The Twins were pretty hot for Mueller but now don't believe they have a chance given the other suitors.

Really, what team (besides the Red Sox, apparently) wouldn't want this guy playing for them?

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Moving More Prospects?

Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sánchez may not be the only big name prospects dealt by the Red Sox in this off-season. The St. Petersburg Times reports that the Red Sox are among the teams presenting trade possibilities to the Devil Rays, and some names we all know might be involved.

The Red Sox have interest in [shortstop Julio] Lugo (who would play second) and [outfielder/first baseman Aubrey] Huff (with starter Bronson Arroyo, catcher Kelly Shoppach and/or infielder Kevin Youkilis to offer)...

The inclusion of Shoppach in any trade and the absence of any discussion about the Sox' pursuing backup catchers reduce the likelihood that Doug Mirabelli will be dealt, yesterday's post notwithstanding. As for Youkilis, the writing has been on the wall since the Beckett/Lowell trade. Both these guys have waited long enough for their chance to do or die in the major leagues, and if it isn't going to happen with the Red Sox, they should be dealt elsewhere.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Monday, December 05, 2005

  And Now, for Something Completely Different

New York Yankees owner George $teinbrenner may have to reconsider his traditionally high payroll in the very near future, as his team is losing millions.

It isn't maddening enough for George Steinbrenner, in this era that has become chronically maddening for King George, that he has spent a billion dollars over the past five seasons, in payroll and luxury taxes, on Yankee teams that could not win him another World Series. Now we learn that in a season when the Yankees drew more than four million fans to Yankee Stadium, Steinbrenner's team - the team, not the TV network - lost at least $50 million and maybe even as much as $85 million.

[ . . . ]

The baseball team generated around $337 million in revenue in the 2005 season. It still couldn't cover the team's operating costs, payroll, revenue sharing, luxury taxes.

[ . . . ]

Understand: Even if the Yankees cut payroll by $30 million, they're still spending more trying to win than anybody in professional sports.

I have nothing to add. I'll just sit here and smirk.

(Hat tip: ESPN.com)

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Simmering on the Hot Stove

With the winter meetings officially underway, the rumor mill is in high gear. ProJo's Sean McAdam pretty much covers it, including the possibility that Doug Mirabelli, a.k.a. Tim Wakefield's personal catcher, may be part of an eventual trade of the cry-baby left fielder.

Ramirez isn't the only Red Sox veteran who could be dealt. Pitcher David Wells, like Ramirez unhappy in Boston, has requested a deal. Wells would prefer to return to his hometown of San Diego, from whence he came last winter.

The Padres' initial offer of Sean Burroughs and former Boston outfielder Dave Roberts didn't do much for the Sox, but the teams have recently talked about an expanded deal that includes Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli. The Padres are about to lose catcher Ramon Hernandez to free agency.

In return, the Red Sox are seeking one of two relievers -- Scott Linebrink or Akinori Otsuka -- and second baseman Mark Loretta.

No word on who would catch Wake. To have Varitek do it would be a disaster, for two reasons:

  1. Game 5 of last year's ALCS and all those passed balls in extra innings, and
  2. Varitek's working 20% more = more injuries and less production.

The departure of Mirabelli could be minor leaguer Kelly Shoppach's big chance, but his offense hasn't measured up to Mirabelli's in limited major league action so far.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  The Unfortunate Fall of Nomar

The Providence Journal's Art Martone has a column today that broke my heart. It makes me sad for what Nomar—and the Red Sox—had and lost. (Free registration is required.)

The fall of Nomar Garciaparra, unfolding before our eyes over the last two years, has been one of the strangest -- and saddest -- stories in baseball. Injuries and time have eroded his skills, and suddenly a player who could have become one of the richest in history had he hit free agency in the early 2000s is in the market at the relatively young age of 32 1/2, hat in hand, seeking work. Any work.

I believe we are witnessing the Fred Lynn of this generation, and it's a shame.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Friday, December 02, 2005

  Trot Out?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Todd Zolecki, the Phillies are unlikely to go for a recently rumored trade featuring right fielder Bobby Abreu for the Red Sox left fielder What's-His-Name. Such a deal doesn't make sense for Philadelphia salary-wise, and it doesn't give them the pitching they need. What they might prefer in return for Abreu are Trot Nixon and Matt Clement.

This would also seem to make more sense for the Sox who, the Triumphant Red Sox Fan pointed out here yesterday, would have an awfully crowded right field if Abreu were to suddenly show up. Abreu would be an upgrade over Nixon both in terms of offensive production and physical sturdiness. But Nixon is the last of our 1990s homegrown players. Trading him would signal the official end of the old Red Sox—which may be the point.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Thursday, December 01, 2005

  Rumor Mill: Latest Edition

The Mets and Angels may not be the only suitors for the services of a certain big bat, big mouth, Red Sox left fielder. The New York Post is reporting that Boston is discussing a trade (free registration required) with the Phillies that would send Dominican Cry-Baby #2 to Philadelphia for the significantly cheaper Bobby Abreu. But Abreu and Sox manager Terry Francona have a bit of a history that raises questions about how the heavy-hitting right fielder will get along in Boston. The trade would also leaves left field uncovered (Abreu has played only 16 games there in his ten-year career) while encroaching on Trot Nixon's territory. Abreu has two more years left on his contract and may, some are speculating, demand that his 2008 option be exercised before he will waive his no-trade clause.

Meanwhile, with Paul Konerko returning to the White Sox, the Los Angeles Angels are renewing their efforts to obtain the services of the Red Sox left fielder. The Boston Herald article reports that the Red Sox may be asking for some combination of pitcher Ervin Santana, first baseman Casey Kotchman, second base prospect Howie Kendrick, and/or first base prospect Kendry Morales.

Finally, I don't think I have mentioned today that the winter meetings start in four days and we still don't have a general manager? Looks like the team is not going to meet their goal of having a new GM signed before said meetings.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Mientkiewicz Should Never Have Believed Them When They Said It Was a Loan

The Ball Scandal is back. After catching a throw from closer Keith Foulke and recording the final out of the 2004 World Series, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz kept the ball. The next day, he had it authenticated by Major League Baseball officials. He put it in a safe deposit box.

That was at the end of October 2004. The team never asked about or for the ball until Boston Globe pot-stirrer Dan Shaughnessy wrote a column about it in January. A public scuffle ensued before Mientkiewicz and the Red Sox agreed that Mientkiewicz would loan the ball to the team for the year for display throughout New England. The team did in fact display the ball, as shown above, with the World Series trophy; I saw it at a Shrewsbury school in February.

Now that 2005 is coming to an end, the team is refusing to give up the ball and has sued Mientkiewicz (free registration required) for ownership.

The suit [filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court by Red Sox lawyer John G. Fabiano] asks the court to place the ball in a "secure location" until ownership is decided.

The club's legal team said that Mientkiewicz had gained possession of the ball only because he was a Red Sox employee and that the ball remained the team's property. He played for the Mets last season, then was released, and is now a free agent.

One wonders why the Sox didn't take this position months ago. Could it be because they didn't want the confrontation to cast a shadow on the ongoing celebration of the championship, so they agreed to the "loan" arrangement to trick Mientkiewicz into turning over the ball?

It is also reasonable to wonder, in light of another recent situation that hit the fan following a Shaughnessy column, about the circumstances under which the January column was written. How did Shaughnessy know Mientkiewicz had the ball, anyway? It is possible that certain Red Sox executives wanted Mientkiewicz to give the ball to the club but didn't want to look petty by going to him directly? If so, didn't having Shaughnessy bring up the topic and ask for a comment from the team give them the perfect excuse to have their say ("Now that you mention it, Dan...")? Does anyone really believe that the team didn't think about the ball until after Shaughnessy wrote about it? Keep in mind that Mientkiewicz had the ball authenticated by Major League Baseball officials on October 28, 2004, so it stands to reason that the team would have heard about it almost immediately.

Who should own the ball is a legitimate question. But it seems to me that the Red Sox, by their lack of so much as a mention of it until more than two months later, tacitly acknowledged that they had no legal claim on it. Yesterday's legal action reeks of dirty pool. We'll soon find out if a judge or jury agrees.

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