Thursday, March 31, 2005

TATB Notebook 03.31.05

Touching all the bases (recovering from Florida edition) while wondering which obscure utility infielder will become Bud Selig's steroid scapegoat . . .

In case you can't tell, that's Kevin Millar in the top photo, and Manny Ramirez in the bottom. Yeah, I know, my photos stink and suck and stink, which is why I didn't post any while I was in Florida last weekend. Well, that and the fact that it's hard to take pictures while carrying a Bud Light in one hand, a Bud Light in your other hand, and a plastic vat of nachos tucked under your armpit. So there you go. Millar and Manny. I anxiously await my Pulitzer.

The official reason for my expedition was a buddy's bachelor party, but I pitched it to my dear wife as my last, best chance to fulfill a dream and go to Sox spring training. Which was true - it's something I've wanted to do since I was 8 years old, and what better time to do it than the spring after the greatest autumn in franchise history? And wouldn't you know, in between our intellectual pursuits, such as visiting museums, ancient burial grounds, and more modern curiosities with titles such as Coyote Ugly and Thee DollHouse (yes, Thee), we did manage to stumble our way to a couple of ballgames: the Sox-Pirates in Ft. Myers on Sunday, and the Sox-Phillies in Clearwater the next day.

Here are a few random notes I scribbled down in between double-fisting the Buds . . .

During my brief time in Ft. Myers, not one native told me I have a purdy mouth, and I didn't see single banjo-toting cross-eyed albino kid. Both of which come as a major upset, from what I hear from my media buddies who spend their spring stranded in the strip-mall of a town. I don't know how they survive, frankly. However, now I do understand why Jimmy Buffett never lacks for material. Florida is not for me. When I'm 93 years old, drive 12 mph on the interstate, and demand my dinner at 3:30, maybe then I'll consider migrating south. But not until then.

I always thought it a delicious piece of serendipity that Georgie Porgie and his Yankees have a general manager named Cashman. But it gets even better. According to Sunday's Tampa Tribune, one of the minions in Steinbrenner's inner circle is named Steven Swindal. Swindal. Swindle. Same name to me. Now, if only Steinbrenner could fly into a fit of rage after Bill Mueller cranks a game-winning tater off Mariano Rivera Saturday night and order Joe Torre to change his name, for the sake of logic, cruelty and corporate symmetry, to Joe Yesman. And I, for one, am not betting against it - you really think Cashman and Swindal are their real names? Rumor has it one of them used to be named Costanza.

City of Palms park in Ft. Myers is clean, modern and attractive in an art deco sort of way - in fact, I'd rank it above McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Hadlock Field in Portland, and on par with LeLacheur Park in Lowell. But the Phillies park in Clearwater blows it away. The concourse is modern and wide-open, and there is a hill behind the outfield fence where fans can sit on blankets or lawn chairs and wait for Jim Thome to hit one their way. It has a certain College World Series feel to it, but with more sunshine and babes in bikinis. (Omaha is severely lacking in all three areas - sunshine, babes and bikinis.) All in all, it might be the best small ballpark I have been to. A picture would probably come in handy here, huh?

Just when I think Johnny Damon has gone all Johnny Hollywood on us, I see the Sox centerfielder stroll down next to the box seats during the Pirates game (he was showered and dressed in his best Queer Eye-approved outfit, his day's work done) with the sole purpose of sharing some quality time with a group of disabled children and their parents. He hugged each last kid, shook every hand, signed countless autographs, and generally acted as if he had stumbled upon a group of long-lost friends. Even for a smart-ass cynic such as, oh, me, it was a heartwarming scene. It's nice to know that beneath the rock-star exterior and character-defaming literary revelations, Damon remains a sweetheart of a guy.

I'm pretty sure that new movie "Locusts" is based on spring-training autograph seekers. Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell stopped to sign for a couple of kids standing along the railing during Monday's game. Next thing you know, the basement-dwelling eBay and memorabilia junkies, carrying their cards in plastic sheets and glossy 8x10 phots, were on him like Kirstie Alley on a pack of Ho-Hos. It's a wonder any of these guys ever sign a thing for free anymore.

Have you noticed that Terry Francona is . . . well, as Phil Hartman would say . . .sassy!? He seems a lot more comfortable this spring than he did last. I imagine that whole ending-an-86-year-drought-while-managing-circles-around-Scioscia-Torre-and-La Russa thing has gone a long way toward emboldening him. But who know he was so quick with a quip? He has dropped the two funniest lines of camp. When asked on a recent ESPN broadcast if anything has changed with Pedro Martinez gone, Francona cracked, "Yeah, no one's been late." Then, on NESN's Sox pregame show tonight, he was asked by Tom Caron if he worried that the Sox would suffer a hangover from last season. "This team is pretty good at playing with a hangover," said Tito. I was a Francona guy all year last season. I like him even better now that he's a wiseass.

I love the reacquisition of Mike Myers, in part because his slow-slower-slowest slop drives the likes of Garret Anderson and Hideki Matsui to the brink of madness. Sentimentally, I also like the move simply because he was One Of The 25, as the loonies at Sons of Sam Horn like to refer to each member of The Champs. I just wish he'd stop wearing the damn freaky mask on the mound . . .

(Hey, it was either that obvious joke, or an of the even more obvious Austin Powers reference. I think I went with the less lame of the two, don't you? Nah, you're right. They both rot.)

As tempting as it is to send him off with a retaliatory single-finger salute, we should harbor no ill will toward Byung-Hyun Kim. Maybe the kid didn't take to Boston (and to be fair, Boston didn't take to him, despite his season-saving performance in '03), and his teammates had grown frustrated with his aloofness and refusal to drink from the team cup, so to speak. But the bottom line is this: the kid had it once, and then he lost it, plain and simple. He used to throw 95 mph gas that dipped and darted like a paper airplane - he was an unhittable as any pitcher in the major leagues when he was on. Then, without significant injury or any other logical explanation, he lost 10 mph and all movement off his stuff. BHK's decline remains as much a mystery as the man himself.

David Wells might be a Krispy Kreme under 270, but I'll be damned if he's not a remarkably graceful 270. We've known for years that he throws the ball as effortlessly as any pitcher in recent memory - the man's left arm is blessed. But get this: he actually runs pretty well, too. He dropped down a bunt in the Pirates game and I was stunned to see how quickly he chugged down the line. And the bunt was perfectly executed. Wells may be a load, but make no mistake, the load is an ath-a-lete.

Okay, fantasy baseball gurus, I need your help. I have the fourth pick in the Globe's fantasy baseball league, one that is weighted heavily toward power and run production for the hitters, and victories and saves for the pitchers. Steals mean about as much to us as they do to the Moneyball A's. I'm assuming the top three will be Pujols, A-Fraud, and Vlad Guerrero. So whom should I take? Beltran? He's not as valuable because the steals count for squat. Randy Johnson? It's against my religion to pick a Yankee. Johan Santana? Can he dominate again, or was he a mere flash? I'm actually leaning toward Santana, but I'm really tempted by Manny, mainly because I think he's one of the few sluggers who stats weren't swollen by a needle. Drop me a note with your suggestions. The Dirty Dozen's wisdom is much appreciated.

Anna Kournikova's designated leg shaver has the best job in the world - that's unquestioned . . .

(Curse you, Enrique, and your tone-deaf charms!)

. . . but two of the dudes I was hanging with can stake a claim to the second-best gig: they write the text that appears on the back of Upper Deck baseball and basketball cards. And to think, they probably got some more material this week after running into a few notable Tampa Bay Devil Rays at a certain night spot. The six-year veteran enjoys hunting, fishing, and dropping $20s by the fistful at strip clubs . . .

And speaking of baseball cards, it's time to introduce a new feature here in the TATB Notebook: The Completely Random Sports Card. Seems I've received quite a bit of feedback from readers who dig that I often use them instead of photos for art. (You freaks have a thing for Chet Lemon. Who knew?) To be honest, I use them mostly because it's easier to dump them into my photobucket account than to scrounge for a photo. But damned if they don't look pretty cool, too. If you've got any requests - Bombo Rivera, Pete LaCock, John Trautwein, you name it - I'll do my best to fill them. The more obscure, the better. As for today, here's a Cleveland Indians megasuperduperstar from the '70s for your enjoyment . . .

Larvell "Firing" Blanks. The Ricky Gutierrez of his time.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Nine innings: 03.25.05

As happy as Papi, I'm breezing through nine innings before I board a bird bound for Ft. Myers to check in on the champs . . .

1) Even though my, er, "hindquarters" haven't fit comfortably into a grandstand seat since I was slightly older than a fetus, I'm jacked and pumped with the news that the Red Sox will remain at Fenway for the forseeable future. My reason is simple: I want to see my daughter's awe-struck eyes the first time she walks up the ramp and becomes engulfed by the breathtaking sea of green. I imagine it will be an exact replica of the look my parents saw on this 8-year-old's mug one perfect day in the summer of '78.

2) Interesting question sent to me a few days ago by "KP," one of my 12 readers - heretofore known as the Dirty Dozen:

I think most fans would agree that not only was last year's Sox team the best we have seen in terms of talent, but also in terms of likable players that are easy to root for. Damon, Ramirez, Foulke, Mueller, Varitek. They all seem like great guys, genuine. Which made me wonder about the opposite -- what was the most unlikable Sox team of your time as a fan (i'm guessing the last 20 years) and who is most unlikable player?

Let me tell you, I had to think about this one just about as long as it would take me to say "You're damn straight I will!" if a scantily clad Jennifer Aniston . . . (thwack!) . . . c'mon, you know I'm just kidding, dear. Anyway, yeah, this one was easy to answer:

Until George Steinbrenner develops the technology to clone himself - and I have on good authority that he has a trained pack of evil monkey scientists working on it as we sleep - the 2001 Red Sox will go down in baseball history as the most despicable collection of personalities ever to share a clubhouse. Carl Everett, who was not only insane but the evil kind of insane, was the ringleader of the jerks, and the indisputable answer to your second question. I can't imagine disliking an athlete more . . . and yet he was barely the worst of the mangy crew. You also had Dante Bichette a spacey, washed-up semi-slugger who was as delusional about his own ability as any athlete I've ever encountered; Mike Lansing, a pompous, talentless ass-clown who's inflated self-image almost rivaled Bichette's; and pitching coach/manager Joe Kerrigan, who won 8 major-league games and carried himself with the arrogant righteousness of someone who won 308. The nice guys - Derek Lowe, Scott Hatteberg, Manny Ramirez - were poisoned by the atmosphere, Varitek and Pedro were injured and nowhere to be found, and Shea Hillenbrand was so influenced by it all that he morphed from a likeable, wide-eyed rookie into a standoffish, confrontational dinkus in a matter of months.

It was awful. Ugh. I feel like I need a shower now. I hate even talking about that collection of individuals. (Team is not the appropriate word here.) That season was the only time in my 27 years (nice guess) as a fan that I stopped paying attention while they were still mathematically in contention. Thank goodness those days - and those players - are long gone.

3) One of the simple perks of my job is having access to the Globe's electronic archives, which contain just about every word that was published in the paper the last 30 years. For a newspaper nerd like me, it's a treasure trove of great stuff, and during my moments of downtime lately, I've been looking up the some of the classic sportswriting that inspired Young Me to want to do this for a living: the Leigh Montville and Ray Fitzgerald columns remain remarkably engaging and relevant decades after they were published, and Will McDonough was a great read 'til his last day. But what I'm really digging are Peter Gammons's old Sunday baseball notes columns from the late '70s and early '80s, and if you read his work back when no other baseball writer could touch his fastball, you know this: The Globe could make a killing if it sold a collection of this stuff in book form. The Juan Bustabad and Mike Brown references would be worth the cover price alone.

4) If I could attend any Red Sox game this year, excluding, of course, the 19 epic bloodbaths-to-be with A-Fraud and His Greedy Band of Chokers, I think I'd pick the Friday, June 3 game against the Mighty Angels of Los Angeles/Anaheim/The O.C. I have a feeling Orlando Cabrera is going to get a wonderfully warm ovation that night, and of all the departed Sox with the possible exception of Dave Roberts, he's the most deserving of such a reception. Not only did he field his position with the utmost grace, but he handled his farewell in much the same manner, admitting that the Sox are better for signing Edgar Renteria and that he will cherish his memories of Boston without a shred of ill will. Such professionalism by someone who admitted he was disappointed the Sox didn't want to keep him is downright impressive, and in these parts, practically unprecendented. Si, Pedro?

5) Maybe you've noticed, maybe you haven't, but Nomah is smoking the ball this spring, batting near .500 with 6 homers while setting the stage for a huge redemption season with the Cubs. Most importantly, he's thus far managed to dodge all heat-seeking line drives aimed at Achilles' tendon during batting practice. Or however the alibi went.

6) All right, so Curt Schilling's not pitching opening day. Cue Arthur Fonzarelli: "I was . . . wrrr ... wrrrron . . . wrrrr . . . wron . . ." Ah, the hell with it - no "my bads" for me today. Instead, I'm going to play a little semantics game and amend my prediction: He'll pitch opening day . . . at Fenway. How's that for pulling an Ordway? "That's . . . not . . . what . . . I ... said . . ."

7) I've been to Pawtucket, Lowell and Portland, and if I had to rank the Red Sox farm teams' respective ballparks, I'd rank Hadlock Field, home of the Sea Dogs, last. It's not that it's unappealing; it's actually quite nice in a faux retro way. Hadlock just lacks the classic charm of the other two, probably because the incessant clanging of the metal bleachers inevitably has you checking to see if they sell Advil at the concession stand. But make no mistake, for Sox fans who are eager for a glimpse of the team's future, Portland is the place to be this summer. Not only will primo prospect Hanley Ramirez start the season there, but last season's top pick, the Eckstein-esque Dustin Pedroia, has been assigned to the Sea Dogs, where he'll learn to play second base. And several of Boston's most intriguing pitching prospects will begin there as well, including Jon Papelbon, the poised righty who played Sammy (Chico Escuela) Sosa a few notes of chin music a few days ago. Should make for an heck of a team, and for $6 a ticket, you can't beat the price. Just remember to pack the Advil.

8) I'm pretty sure that stoic tough-guy Jason Varitek's appearance on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is a sign of the apocalypse. After all, this is the same macho dude who was reportedly furious when A-Fraud's blush got smeared all over his catcher's mitt during their infamous rumble. No, really.

9) My Tampa/Ft. Myers itinerary, as I understand it from my buddy's bachelor-party planning committee: Sox-Pirates Sunday, followed by fine dining at Hooters. Head to Clearwater for Monday's Phillies game, followed by delicious snacks at Hooters. Try to get Sox-Yanks tix on Tuesday. After failing miserably, watch the game at a restaurant. Possibly Hooters.

Since I'm traveling sans laptop I won't have a new column up 'til at least Tuesday, but I will be hauling my digital camera along with me, so I may get some pics posted the next few days. Keep checking in, and if you need me, well, I think you know where to find me. (Hint: Hooters.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

TATB Notebook 03.23.05

Touching all the bases while wondering if Darius "Burger King" Rucker has a shred of dignity left, then realizing that someone who has spent much of his adult life being called "Hootie" probably didn't have much to lose in the first place . . .

If Danny Ainge can admit his mistakes regarding the Celtics, I'd have no right to criticize him if I didn't do the same. So here comes my mea culpa (Latin for "Finn, you bleeped up again"):

I hated the Ricky Davis trade. Hated it.

Tony Battie was one of my favorite Celtics - he played hard despite knees that were turning into hamburger, and I consider him the best clutch performer in franchise history for no other reason than he drove Paul Pierce to the hospital the night he got stabbed. I was sad to see Batman go.

Throw in Eric Williams - another key component to an overachieving Eastern Conference finalist just two years previous - and I simply could not understand what Ainge was thinking . . . especially since Davis was perceived to be the devil-horned epitome of everything "wrong" with the NBA, stereotyped right down to the tatoos, cornrows and faux triple-doubles. Bad dude, that Davis.

Fast forward a year later, and here I am, swallowing my words and offering this confession: Davis is easily my favorite player on a Celtics team full of fun players. He busts his skinny butt on defense, he has the deadly midrange game that 90 percent of the guards and forwards in the NBA lack, and he might be the most electric athlete the Celtics have had since the early days of Dee Brown. (Though Tony Allen gives him a run for his slam-dunkin' money.)

Most tellingly, Davis is the guy you want with the ball in his hands with game on the line; not even Paul Pierce can match his ability to create his own shot, and Davis is more trustworthy in those situations.

It was a great trade.

In retrospect, Ainge was doing the only thing he could to make the Celtics better - swapping aging stability in Battie and Williams for an elite but immature talent, gambling that Davis would grow up and become the player he should be. And at age 25 - he's that young - it seems he has. Ainge deserves credit for reaching for the stars, because he sure seems to have found one.

We will always admire him for his autumn heroics (yes, that is the right word), and it'll be a crime if he ever has to pay for another meal or frosty beverage in New England ever again. But man . . . could Curt Schilling please pause and take a breath once in a while? I know he prides himself on being articulate and accessible, but is he really such a blowhard that he can't help but to offer his often ill-informed opinion on every topic under the sun, from steroids to the presidential race to the future of Brad and Jen? Put down the microphone, the telephone, the bullhorn, and shut up already, Curt. You're beginning to make Kevin Millar look like a mime.

Then again, I know one thing that might have silenced Schilling real quick: a congressman asking him under oath if any of his teammates on the 1993 Phillies juiced. Something tells me he'd have had to pull a McGwire on that one. Right, Nails?

Little Lenny . . .

. . . and Livin' Large Lenny. I'm just sayin' . . .

Considering that Adam Hyzdu might as well change his name to The 26th Man, Theo did well to get reliever Blaine Neal in exchange from the Padres. Neal throws a flame-broiled fastball, and three years ago with the Sea Dogs he looked like a Robb Nen in the making, striking out more than a batter an inning and posting a 2.36 ERA. Unfortunately, he seems to suffer from a bad case of Schiralditis - he fastball is as straight as Carson Kressley is gay . . .

. . . and he's been unable to develop a reliable second pitch. Still, of the trio ex-Sea Dogs closers whose career paths have led them to the Sox bullpen - Matt Mantei and Hector Almonte being the others - Neal has a very good chance of being the second-best of the two. Faint praise, to be sure, but praise nonetheless.

Should we take the Patriots complete disinterest in stud free-agent linebacker Ed Hartwell to mean that the braintrust thinks Tedy Bruschi will play next season? Or should we remind ourselves that when one assumes anything about the Belichick/Pioli player procurement process, you're risking looking like a jackbooted idiot in the long run? Probably the latter, huh?

Which brings us to Bruschi, and a fan's ongoing quandry. I find myself devouring all the stories on his physical state, searching amid the medical jargon for a glimmer of hope that this was all a misunderstanding between his heart and his brain and he will be cleared to play next season. Because you, me and Peyton Manning know No. 54 might be the one guy other than the quarterback that makes the difference between 13-3 and 10-6. Then, I inevitably catch myself putting football ahead of the man, feel a tinge of guilt, and think, He's got a beautiful wife, three adorable boys and a Super Bowl ring to give each of them when they are older. How can anyone possibly root for him to put on a football helmet again?

Congratulations go out to WEEI for switching to its new format. I'm pretty sure it's now the first all-steroids-talk station in the country. Riveting stuff. (Snnnoore.) If only there were a sports-talk alternative around here with a signal stronger than a ham radio. Stephen King, are you listening?

I was saddened to hear of the passing of former Bears safety Todd Bell, who died at age 47 last week, apparently of a heart attack. A first-rate headcracker and an All-Pro in 1984, he was one of my boyhood favorites, a player very similar in style and skill to Lawyer Milloy. Unfortunately, also like Milloy, he also made a decision based on money that ended up undermining his legacy. Bell is not remembered for the two or three great years he had, but for the one great year he didn't have - he sat out the Bears' Super Bowl Shuffle season, perhaps the best single team in NFL history - in a contract dispute over what amonted to $166,000 a year. He returned in '86, but he was never the same afterward, and neither were the Bears. It's too bad. For a too-brief time, Todd Bell was one of the best.

Is anyone else worried that Johnny Damon is getting a little too caught up in being Johnny Jesus Superstar? I mean, the book, the rock-star persona, the nagging injuries this spring. . . I'm starting to wonder if he's the likeliest candidate to suffer a severe hangover from 2004. Then again, his Game 7 ALCS performance should be worth about 86 years of mulligans - he can turn into Axl Rose at this point and the Nation would still adore him.

So Barry Bobblehead tells us he may miss the season, in part because he's "tired." Huh. I would have thought there's a steroid he could've taken for that.

I'm rooting for Taylor Coppenrath to find a spot in the The Association, but my semi-trained eyes tell me Vermont's favorite son is going to have to spend a year or two adding some muscle and polish in Europe before coming back to fill some team's Token Goofy White Guy role. With his thin frame and Jamaal Wilkes-style shot, he's simply not NBA-ready at this point. The Eurotrip worked wonders for another likable New England kid, Concord's Matt Bonner, a similar if more physically developed player who has found a niche with the Toronto Raptors this season. Could work for Coppenrath too, and I hope Ainge keeps an eye on him.

I have to give Reggie Miller credit. It doesn't seem to bother him that his sister looks more like an NBA player than he does.

If there's any blessing at all in this steroid controversy, it's that players of a previous era will receive more plaudits for their accomplishments. Henry Aaron, shamefully underappreciated, will become a more beloved figure, in large part because people don't want the insufferable Bonds to break his record. Jim Rice may now get into the Hall of Fame - aren't his 382 homers are a lot more impressive than McGwire's 583, knowing what we think we know now? And superstars of this era who are clean - I'm guessing Manny Ramirez is atop this list - will be lauded for accomplishing great things without giving into temptation.

We opened this column with Celtics talk. Might as well close with some too. A few days ago, a reader asked whom Al Jefferson reminded me of among current NBA veterans. The best I could come up with at the time was Rasheed Wallace, and even as I said it, I knew the comparison wasn't entirely accurate. Wallace is lankier, and his precision from long-range is something Jefferson can only dream about right now. Plus, Wallace is rabid, and Jefferson is not, as far as I know. A better comparison, pointed out to me via email today, is Elton Brand. You can see it, can't you? The similarity is uncanny. Jefferson is two inches taller and slightly slimmer, but everything else about him is a mirror image of the Clippers star: the pillow-soft hands that magnetize every loose ball within their grasp, the instinctive and creative spins and fakes on the post, the blocky, thick shoulders, the deft touch from anywhere within 10 feet. And to think that the Celtics came up with a younger, taller version of a Brand, a force whose averaged 19.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in his career, with the 15th pick in the draft . . . well, Ainge would get my vote for NBA Executive of the Year for this alone.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Throwback teams

(Note: Just a quickie post today, since it's my little girl's first birthday, and her adoring daddy has some cakes to eat . . .)

The challenge came courtesy of my cousin Kris, a baseball junkie who happens to have the same Sox-lovin' gene I do, but with one cruel twist:

Where my Sox are lovely reddish hue, his are pasty-ass white.

Yep, I'm related to a real, live Chicago White Sox fan. Didn't think they existed, did ya? Probably figured they were an urban legend. Truth be told, it is kinda like being cousins with Sasquatch, or the Loch Ness Monster - people claim they've seen a White Sox fan from time to time, but there's not a lot of tangible proof.

Come to think of it, the only photos we have of Kris in the family album are grainy shots of a shadowy figure running through the wilderness wearing what appear to be a Chet Lemon retro jersey and shortpants. Huh.

Anyway, my point. A few days ago, Kris dropped this email on me:

"I was thinking of putting together a starting 9 or so consisting of my favorite current players that are former White Sox. I got curious about such a team of former Red Sox and thought you might be up for making said list. Kind of a "what if we kept them" team . . ."

Well, of course I was up for said list - as you've probably concluded by now, my baseball dorkdom knows no bounds. Plus, I remembered enjoying a similar Baseball Weekly feature a few years ago in which each major-league team's roster was reordered as if every player were still with the organization that originally signed him. (Note to my 12 readers: If any of you know where I might find this story, shoot me a message. I can't find the danged thing anywhere.)

Kris's idea is a neat concept, and pretty easy to tabulate thanks to the wonders of You also gain a new perspective on the moves your team has made through the years - namely, it gives you further insight to whether your GM is a personnel savant, a hit-or-miss judge of talent, or an incompetent twit named Chuck LaMar.

First, here's what my cuz came up with for the White Sox:

Starting Rotation:
Bartolo Colon
David Wells
Kip Wells
Esteban Loaiza
Scott Schoeneweis

Kelly Wunsch
Rocky Biddle
Antonio Osuna
Cal Eldred
Alan Embree
Chad Bradford
Keith Foulke

Miguel Olivo

Around the Horn:
Herbert Perry
Tony Graffanino
Ray Durham
Julio Franco

Carlos Lee
Mike Cameron
Magglio Ordonez

Charles Johnson
Sandy Alomar, Jr.
Aaron Miles
Chris Singleton
Kenny Lofton
Ruben Sierra
Sammy Sosa

Conclusion: Not bad - great bullpen, excellent outfield, decent starting pitching, and a completely rational dislike for Sosa . . .

. . . and while the infield is weak, any time 173-year old Julio Franco (below, at age 151 on his 1983 Donruss rookie card) is prominently involved, it can't all be bad. I say, without benefit of looking at other teams' former player rosters, that this club wins the AL Central.

Now, your Retro Red Sox. (The asterisk denotes those who played in the Boston organization but never made the majors here):

Starting pitching:
Roger Clemens
Pedro Martinez
Derek Lowe
Jamie Moyer
Carl Pavano*

Headed for Pawtucket:
Jeff Suppan
Aaron Sele
Tony Armas*
Tomo Ohka
Pedro Astacio
Josh Hancock
Phil Dumatrait*
Kent Mercker
Javier Lopez*
Dennis Tankersley*

Da pen:
Scott Williamson
Ugueth Urbina
Flash Gordon
Paul Quantrill
Mike Stanton
Rheal Cormier

Headed for Pawtucket:
Justin Duchscherer*
Chris Reitsma*
Jorge De La Rosa
Casey Fossum
Travis Harper*
Brandon Lyon
Rafael Betancourt*
Bobby Howry
Scott Sauerbeck
Todd Jones
Jim Mecir
Bruce Chen
Chris Hammond
Rudy Seanez
Terry Adams
Frank Francisco*
Brian Shouse
Mike Gonzalez*
Ron Mahay
Wil Ledezma*
Dustin Hermanson and his white-guy jheri curl

The prospect traded for Larry Andersen*
Todd Walker
Orlando Cabrera
Nomah (he's pulling an A-Rod here . . . uh, to clarify, I mean he's moving to third base, not slapping a pitcher, choking like a Heimlich dummy, eating a catcher's mitt, or putting on purple lip-gloss.)

Headed for Pawtucket:
Tony Clark (after I kick him in his "Manzanillo")
Freddy Sanchez
Tony Womack
Rey Sanchez

Cliff Floyd
Dave Roberts
Matt Stairs

Headed for Pawtucket:
Lew Ford*
Carl Everett (see Tony Clark)

Scott Hatteberg

Headed for Pawtucket:
Todd Pratt*

Pokey Reese (miss ya already, Pokester)
World Series Ball Thief
Shea "Queer Eye" Hillenbrand
Wil Cordero
John Flaherty
David Eckstein*

Drafted by the Red Sox, lowballed by Dan Duquette and didn't sign, and will probably win the AL home run title this year:
Mark Teixeira

Conclusion: Lousy outfield, elite starting pitching (Roger and Pedro!), a power-armed bullpen, a gaggle of lesser pitchers that should be ground into Spam, a loaded infield, and a useful bench.

All in all, though, I'd rather have the team that's down in Ft. Myers right now. The past is a blast, but for a Red Sox fan, it's tough to top the present.

Agreed, Sasquatch?

"ARRRRRRR!" (Translation: "You are correct, sir!")

Friday, March 18, 2005

Mark McGwire congressional hearing transcript *

Rep. Tom Davis: Mr. McGwire, thank you for coming today. My first question might seem an obvious one, but it must be asked. Did . . .

McGwire: "I'm not here today to talk about the past. I take the fifth."

Rep. Davis: "But I, uh, didn't finish my . . ."

McGwire: "Fifth. Takin' it."

Rep. Davis: "But I didn't . . ."

McGwire (in a sing-song voice): "Fiiiiiifth. FIIIIIIIFTH! F-I-F, fiiiiiifth!"

Rep. Stephen Lynch (in a stern voice): "Mr. McGwire . . . "

McGwire (in a duet with Sammy Sosa, who all of a sudden no hablo ingles): Uno . . . dos . . . tres . . . quatro . . . FIIIIIIIFTH!

Rep. Lynch: "Okay, that's enough. Mr. McGwire. Did you, as Mr. Canseco . . ."


(Sniff . . . )

(Sniffle . . .)

(Sob . . .)


(Sniff . . . )

McGwire (composing himself): "Um, I think I'm gonna take the fifth there."

Canseco: (Twitch.)

Rep. Davis: "All right, Mr. McGwire. I can see we're getting nowhere with this. That is all. Thank you."

McGwire: "Hey, no problem. Glad to be of help. Don't do drugs, kids. By the way, anyone seen the Maris family? Good people. We used to be tight. Thought they might be here to support me."

Rep. Davis: "Funny you should ask, Mr. McGwire, but yes, we did speak to Roger Jr. just this morning."

McGwire: "Really? And . . . he stuck up for me, right? We were tight in '98, you know. Close. Like brothers. Not Bash Brothers but . . . well, you know."

Rep. Davis: "Well, actually, interesting thing there, Mr. McGwire. When we asked him if he still felt you were a worthy successor to his father's legacy, he said something about his dad teaching him that if you can't say something nice, you don't say anything at all."

McGwire: "So in other words . . . (sniff) . . .

Rep. Davis: "Yep, you got it . . . he took the fifth."

* - Rough translation, with sincerest apologies to Dave Chappelle.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Dick Radatz: 1937-2005

If ever there were a ballplayer whose fearsome nickname belied his true personality, it was Dick "The Monster" Radatz, an oversized man blessed with an oversized heart.

Radatz, a dominant and popular Red Sox relief pitcher in the early '60s, died today when he suffered severe head trauma after falling down a flight of stairs at his home. He was 67.

If there's ballpark in heaven - and what good would heaven be without one? - perhaps The Monster arrived in time to save today's ballgame. He'll close out another Sox victory with a fastball too quick for The Mick, celebrate with Tony C. and all his pals that passed too soon, then come back and repeat the sport's sweet joy tomorrow and again, 27 years old and invincible for all eternity.

Rest in peace, Monster. A solemn Nation tips its cap to you.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Prior mistakes

Two more items for the rapidly-growing file titled: Finn, You're A Bleepin' Idiot.

First, there are these words of wit and wisdom, which I pecked out just yesterday:

(If I could have any pitcher in fantasy baseball this year) I'd go with the Cubs' Mark Prior. He's had his injuries, and Dusty Baker seems intent on annihilating his gifted young staff as some sort of perverse tribute to Billy Martin and the wasted Norris-Langford-Keough-McCatty-Kingman A's of the early '80s. But my hunch is that Prior has got one or two Cy Young seasons in that right arm before Dusty sends it off to the glue factory.

Well, so much for that optimistic prediction. From today's AP wire:

MESA, Az. - Cubs ace Mark Prior will be out indefinitely because of inflammation in his right elbow, the latest injury to one of Chicago's star pitchers. Trainer Mark O'Neal said Monday the 24-year-old Prior has some inflammation in the elbow joint and a little irritation to the ulnar nerve. Chicago general manager Jim Hendry said Prior saw elbow specialist Dr. Lewis Yocum last weekend and had a precautionary MRI on Sunday.

Yep, Prior's hurting again. Dammit, I should have known better. Why would I think he could survive the cruel and unusual punishment of pitching for Baker? How many young pitchers have?

When he managed the Giants, Baker's stubborn refusal to adhere to anything resembling a pitch count short-circuited the careers of several promising hurlers, among them Bryan Hickerson, Kevin Rogers, William Van Landingham and Ryan Jensen. (You can read about this in depth here.)

Of course Baker's going to be up to his same ignorant antics with the Cubs. The dope is validated by his two Manager of the Year awards - he doesn't even acknowledge his past mistakes, let alone learn from them. It no wonder Prior, perhaps the most precious commodity in baseball, is suddenly injury-prone, or that Kerry Wood has a sore shoulder, as if that scar on his elbow isn't suggestion enough that he needs to be handled with care. If I'm Carlos Zambrano, I'm living in fear that I'm my manager's next victim. I'm starting to wonder if Baker gets a commission from Dr. Frank Jobe.

What ticks me off is that Baker simply does not deserve the pitching riches he's been given. If there is a special place in hell reserved for idiotic baseball managers - and if there is, Grady Little is a first-ballot Hell Hall of Famer - Baker will be relegated to an eternity of managing a starting rotation comprised of Matt Young, Matt Young, Matt Young, and Matt Young, with John Wasdin occasionally taking a brutal turn as the fifth starter.

Prior and Wood deserve better than Baker. So do baseball fans who could be robbed of the opportunity to watch two elite pitching talents reach their vast potential. How many young arms does Baker have to turn into lunchmeat before people realize that he is not only an overrated manager, but a terribly destructive one, too?

Okay, deep breath. Think happy thoughts. (Mmmm . . . beer.) There. All better. End of rant.

One more thing to clear up. A few columns ago, I threw this smart-ass and slightly irresponsible comment out there:

I'm not saying Mark Bellhorn looks fat, but the Sox second baseman appears to have swallowed the entire first-episode cast of "The Biggest Loser." Okay, I guess I am saying he looks fat.

Not only was this a case of the pot calling out the kettle, but my buddy Dave D'Onofrio, an ace wordsmith for the Concord Monitor, recently had this to report this upon returning from Ft. Myers:

"Actually, Bellhorn appears to be in very good shape. Coming back here and watching on TV, he looks fat, though he isn't. Lou Gorman, however, is larger than I'd ever imagined."

My bad, Bellhornphiles. I must have been watching on a widescreen TV, though I'm not sure he's quite this trim anymore . . .

As far as Gorman's girth goes, well, what do you expect from a man whose most memorable quote as Sox GM was this: "The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I'll have lunch."

You know, it frightens me that I just used the phrase "Gorman's girth." I think I'm going to sign off now . . .

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Snow daze

I'm not saying this relentless snowfall is driving me mad flake by friggin' flake, but on my slow-speed commute from Maine to Boston today, I'm pretty sure I got passed by two Iditarod teams, Yukon Cornelius (with Bumble riding shotgun), and, most surprisingly, cross-country skiing sensation Dorcas Wonsavage. Go figure.

Since when did Mother Nature become such a vindictive old bat, anyway? The way she's mistreated us New Englanders this winter, I'm thinking she's got to be a Yankees fan.

Fortunately, as I inched along I-95 South, trying to avoid become the next lucky contestant to skid into a Green Monster-sized snow drift, my radio offered the promise of sunnier days ahead. The Sox were taking on the D-Rays in Ft. Myers, Joe and Jerry sounded chipper, and damned if you couldn't almost feel the sunshine. Even on a day when the New England weather is at its worst, it's always easy to get lost in baseball.

So then, a few hardball thoughts before I head back to my igloo . . .

- Sox pitcher Matt Clement's historical comparisons on include such luminaries as Dustin Hermanson, Sidney Ponson and Jeff Weaver. Yikes. Then again, he's also statistically similar to Jason Schmidt and Bruce Hurst. Conclusion: Clement could go 20-6. Or he could turn into the modern-day John Dopson. Or he could win the Derek Lowe Award as the most aggravatingly inconsistent Sox starter. Glad to be of help.

- In the context of sports, the news that Rick Ankiel is abandoning his pitching career qualifies as a tragedy. The casual fan probably knows the young Cardinal lefty for his meltdown against the Braves in Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS, when he walked six batters in 2-plus innings, threw five wild pitches in one inning, and never quite recovered from his nationally-televised implosion. What the casual fan probably does not know is how ridiculously talented this kid was at 20 years old. In 2000, his first and last full season, he pitched 175 innings, allowed 137 hits, walked 90 (bad omen there) and struck out 194. Comparisons to a young Koufax were not uncommon. Alas, after the playoff meltdown, such heady praise seemed silly, and it gave way to comparisons to Steve Blass, a successful Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher in the '70s whose radar went inexplicably askew. Ankiel, just 25 and unable to overcome whatever demons he battles, will go back to the minors and try to make it as an outfielder. Our best wishes are with him. Dude's due a break.

- The Sox play the Cubs at Wrigley Field June 10-12, a historic series that will almost certainly drive overinflated pomposities (Ken Burns, George Will, etc.) into a hyperbolic tizzy about baseball's two most cherished and cursed franchises, encountering each other at last, and oh, how truly wonderful it would be if only it were a harbinger of a Fall Classic, and so on blah blah poetry blah big stupid word blah. Don't get me wrong, I think Sox-Cubs is quite cool. I'm just more interested in the tangible stuff, like what happens if Johnny Jesus's hair gets tangled in the ivy.

- Yep, I'm sticking to my guns: Curt Schilling will be on the mound opening night for the Red Sox. The only thing that could keep the great orator away would be if he's still fillibustering Congress.

- I'm starting to think we'll see Oil Can Boyd in a Sox uniform again before we ever see Wade Miller.

- Johan Santana, 2005, will roughly equal Ron Guidry, 1979. Eighteen wins, eight losses, 2.78 ERA. Terrific, but no longer transcendant.

- Which brings me to the fantasy baseball segment of the program, and this question: Which pitcher would you choose first if you had to take one? Santana? Makes the most sense, but what if he reverts to his previous very-good-but-not-great form, as I previously suggested? Randy Johnson? The stork's knees are shot, and besides, the Pinstriped Pituitary Problem will get very mad when we talk back to him. Schilling? The balky ankle. Pedro? The balky shoulder. If I had to take one, I think I'd go with the Cubs' Mark Prior. He's had his injuries, and Dusty Baker seems intent on annihilating his gifted young staff as some sort of perverse tribute to Billy Martin and the wasted Norris-Langford-Keough-McCatty-Kingman A's of the early '80s. But my hunch is that Prior has got one or two Cy Young seasons in that right arm before Dusty sends it off to the glue factory.

- Other than the possibility of his swollen head popping like a bloated tick any day now, I can think of only one realistic way that Barry Bonds doesn't catch Henry Aaron: his knees deteriorate to the point he can no longer play. Remember, patella tendinitis is said to be a tell-tale sign of steroid use. From what I understand, Jason Giambi suffered from it last year, and the same injury led to the rapid demise of Mark McGwire's career. Bonds's knees have relegated him to DH status this spring, and I wonder if this ailment is going to get progressively worse. An injury might be the only thing that can save baseball from this embarrassing charade of a home-run chase. I'm rooting for you, injury. Go, patella tendinitis!

- Man, I'm sure looking forward to Kevin Millar leading the American League in foul home runs again. If the left-field fair pole were moved 30 feet to the left, he'd be the greatest normal head-sized slugger in the game.

- Nick Cafardo had pleasant piece in the (gratuitous plug) Globe the other day on Sox roster fodder Josias Manzanillo, a jovial 37-year-old journeyman who, amazingly, made his professional debut in the Boston organization 22 years ago, at age 16. However, likely due to good taste and common sense, Cafardo avoided mention of the most nutwor . . . er, noteworthy moment of Manzanillo's career. Try not to cringe as you read this, fellas, and notice whom the batter was that, uh, crushed the ball in that particular at-bat. Oh, the agony this man must know.

- The more I think about "Faithful," the more ticked off I become that a ball-chasing poseur like Stewart O'Nan is now considered a relevant representative of Sox Nation.

- Gone, but not forgotten: I hope Derek Lowe loves L.A., and and the same goes for Orlando Cabrera with the L.A.A.O.A. I think Dave Roberts deserves the sunshine in San Diego and a statue in Boston, and while Doug Mientkiewicz may have stolen The Ball, he left us with enough memories as souvenirs. As for Pedro Martinez . . . I'll miss him, too . . . but I hope his right arm tears off at the shoulder on his first pitch as a Met, and Reds leadoff hitter D'Angelo Jiminez smokes the limp appendage into center field for a base-hit. I know I should be past this by now, but I'm still disgusted at his graceless, petulant departure from Boston, particularly his trashing of Terry Francona. It's hard to respect someone demands it himself, yet offers none in return.

- In parting, I've gotta give a quick Tizzle-style heart-tap/finger-point to reader MWalter, who thoughtfully and without solicitation sent along these slideshows from the ALCS and World Series. I'm sure you probably saw them sometime during the postseason's joyous, hazy aftermath - the were all over the Sox message boards at that point - but maybe you forgot to save them as I did. It's some really magical stuff. Watching the ALCS version earlier today, I felt the same surge of pure, unfiltered happiness that I felt that beautiful night. I was almost giddy again, to the point that I found myself becoming sentimental over a picture of Ricky Gutierrez. It's amazing how fond we are of each and every player on the 2004 Red Sox, and I'm beginning to realize that the fondness is only going to grow over time. (Yes . . . even for Petulant Pedro. Eventually.) No matter what happens this season, we will we always have last year.

Of course, I wouldn't mind having this year, too.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

DVD: Dynasty Video Disc

So I finally got around to buying the Patriots' Super Bowl XXXIX DVD today. A few years ago, I would have snapped up the sucker the first day it was on the shelves. Guess maybe we're getting a little too used to winning championships around here. I think I'm going to make a conscious effort from now on not to take these golden days for granted - well, I mean right after 'Toine, the Truth, GP and the green-and-white juggernaut hang banner No. 17 in a few months. Not that we're getting cocky or anything.

Anyway, my movie review. It's pretty standard NFL Films fare - lots of slow-mo game-action, a little behind-the-scenes stuff, an occasional miked-up player. Hell, you've already got two of these things, you know what to expect. They're all pretty similar, a nice little video scrapbook for the wonderful season that was. They serve their purpose well enough, as familiar as the format can seem.

As I popped in this disc and burrowed into the couch to watch, for some reason I was immediately reminded of a scene from the Super Bowl XXXVI highlight film and the words of Rams receiver Ricky Proehl as the St. Louis players prepped and preened before their individual pre-game introductions. "Tonight," says Proehl with the confidence of the truly clueless, "a dynasty is born."

I wonder if he has any idea how right he was.

With that, a few of my observations, recollections, and random rants from the third film in the dynasty's trilogy . . .

~ The best thing this has going for it is the behind-the-scenes, behind-the-curtain insights, when you actually see Belichick coaching and teaching and revealing his true personality. (Yep, the press-conference droid is not a true representation of the real man. Go figure.) His legendary emphasis on detail is apparent when he quizzes the offensive linemen on what to do if a play breaks down with 6 seconds left in a half. (Answer: scramble, because there's not enough time for another play.) He also reveals, with a touch of cruel comedy, that Marquise Hill isn't exactly a math whiz. (You'll see.) It's also apparent he has a real fondness for Corey Dillon, singling him out after the Bengals' game and seeking him out after the playoff victory over Pittsburgh, even barging in on an interview to make a point of congratulating him. It's fascinating stuff, and while there's never enough of it, watching Belichick behind the scenes is worth the purchase price in itself.

~ The narrator is the always-reliable Harry Kalas, the John "Frozen Tundra" Facenda of his generation. Kalas's voice is so distinctive and authoritative, he could make even his own name sound cool.

~ I shouldn't admit this, but I completely forgot the Patriots played the Cardinals in Week 2. I think that must have been the lovely Sunday I spent as a hostage at Bed, Bath and Beyond, smelling pretty soaps while discreetly trying to fashion a noose out of a plush velour blanket.

(Note: Not suitable for noose-fashioning.)

~ I also had forgotten the Patriots had the incredible good fortune of playing both McCown brothers this year, Josh (Arizona) and Luke (Cleveland). (Or is it vice versa?) Man, they are terrible. When playing catch as kids, I bet they broke a lot of windows. I'd say their parents are the anti-Mannings when it comes to breeding quarterbacks.

~ If you didn't realize how important Daniel Graham is to this team, you will after watching this thing. He's all over the place, catching touchdowns during the early-season games and demolishing defender after defender later in the year. You can keep your Kellen Winslow Jr. If you're want the total package, there aren't many tight ends in the league better than Big Dan.

~ Bethel Johnson's full-speed, full-extension, game-clinching fingertip catch against the Seahawks is one of the 10 or 15 best catches I have ever seen. It's straight out of the John Jefferson highlight film, and if you don't remember the meteoric J.J. from the Air Coryell San Diego Super Chargers heyday, you missed out on some fun . . .

(In my best Harry Kalas voice: "Like a bolt of lightning across the blue-gray sky, for a brief moment there was none better than the begoggled J.J. Jefferson . . .")

(Okay, I'll let it go now.)

~ Hey, remember when certain experts told us Tom Brady couldn't throw deep? Seems kind of silly now, eh? Yep, sure does. To put it into words his critics might understand: If Brady's predecessor - Drew-what's-his-name - threw the deep ball with as much accuracy and effectiveness, Shawn Jefferson would have averaged about 200 more yards per season.

~ And so we come to the Steelers game, the day the music died. Ty Law limps off the field with a broken foot, the great corner's last on-field act as a Patriot. Brady plays like Bledsoe. Pittsburgh's O-line pummels New England's D-line like Lionel Richie's wife . . .

. . . pummels Lionel Richie. Cowher's jaw protrudes in all it's freakish glory. The streak ends at 21. Just a gruesome day for the Patriots. And you know what? We can watch it with a smirk and a smile now, reveling in the knowledge that cold, cruel payback is only a few months away. Hang onto those towels, Steelers fans. You'll need 'em later.

~ Maybe I read too much into it, but Belichick seems genuinely sad after the Pittsburgh loss, particularly when he says, "It's pretty clear the Steelers were better than us today." Being an enthusiastic student of his profession's history, I wonder if The Streak meant a lot more to Belichick than he let on.

~ If a single game defined the Patriots' season, it was the victory over the Rams. Remember how dire circumstances seemed? Law was injured, Ty Poole was out, Asante Samuel had a bum shoulder . . . and they had to deal with the pass-first, ask-questions-later Rams? Two losses in a row seemed likely, if not certain. Looking back, how silly we were to think so negatively. At one point during the game, Brady implores his offense: "Hey, rise up. Take it to another level." Boy, did they - the offense, defense, coaches, everyone. Belichick again revealed Mike Martz to be an egomaniacal dunce, Adam Vinatieri threw a TD pass to Troy Brown, and Brown made his debut on defense and shadowed the Rams' slot receivers with surprising effectiveness. It was as satisfying - and as fun - a regular-season victory as one could imagine. "That was the greatest team victory I've even been around," Belichick said afterward. And one that convinced them that all obstacles could be overcome.

~ Tully Banta-Cain earns some quality screen time after collecting a sack and an interception against the Bills. (He was only credited with half-a-sack and half-a-pick since they came courtesy of Bledsoe. Rimshot!) While Dan Klecko gets much of the "Next Bruschi" hype (not that there is such a thing), I think it's Banta-Cain who, like Bruschi before him, will make the transition for collegiate pass-rusher to stud NFL linebacker. I expect him to slide smoothly into Roman Phifer's role next season, a development that will make the Pats' Warren-Wilson-Johnson-Klecko-Samuel-Koppen 2003 draft crop look even more spectacular.

~ Three completely random notes related to the Baltimore/Cleveland/Cincinnati late-season AFC Central three-pack:

1) The Ravens can sign all the Derrick Masons and Samari Rolles they want, but as long as Kyle Boller is prominently involved, they are not going to get anywhere near Detroit in February.

2) Of all this year's free-agent receivers, the one that I thought would be an ideal fit for the Patriots was the Bengals' T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who's tall, tough and talented. Alas, he re-signed in Cincy and should help Marvin Lewis's up-and-comers to the playoffs next season.

3)It's going to be a looonnnnnggg first season for Romeo Crennel. The Browns have nothing.

~ Onto the playoffs, and you know Belichick means business when he busts out the blue headband. It's the Auerbach Victory Cigar of the new millennium.

~ One of the cooler things about these DVDs is that the NFL Films gang works in some audio from the hometown broadcasting teams. Not only do we get a nice helping of Gil and Gino, who are superior to any national crew I've heard, but we get to hear opposing announcers say such things as:

"The humiliation of Manning is again complete. (Gah!) He's just snakebit here." - Indy's radio rednecks, post-game.

And, my personal favorite:

"New England maxed out last week (against the Colts). The left it all on the field. They don't have the same hunger. The Steelers are VERY hungry." - Pittsburgh radio idiot, obviously blitzed on Iron City, pre-game.

~ His Super Bowl MVP performance is still fresh on our minds, but it was nice to be reminded how dominant Deion Branch was against the Steelers as well - two deep catches, including a 60-yarder, and two long runs on end-arounds, including a touchdown that iced the game. If the Patriots enter next season with less depth at receiver, I expect Branch, if healthy, to pick up the slack. He's got an 85-catch, 1,300-yard, 10-TD season in those hands and legs . . .

~ . . . and the other guy isn't half-bad, either. Watching David Givens snatch a Brady pass for the Pats' first Super Bowl touchdown, he reminds me of Terry Glenn, the way he catches the ball so elegantly, with his magnetic hands, and not his body. Fortunately, that's about the only thing Givens and Glenn have in common. I'm sweating out this restricted free-agency thing with him. Sign him already, please.

~ The DVD does Donovan McNabb no favors. He looks dazed in most close-ups, and they show more than a few of his atrocious throws. Heck, even his successful passes were very high risk - he just plain played a terrible game. At one point, after he air-mailed one over L.J. Smith's head, Eagles coach Andy Reid asks him, more than a little sarcastically: "Did that one slip, too?"

~ As you might expect, Tedy Bruschi has a lead role, and yes, of course it makes you a little sad, a little melancholy. On one hand, I do want him to play next season if he gets medical clearance, if only for my selfish reasons as a fan. While I am certain the Pats can overcome the loss of Ty Law (that mangled foot is costing him big bucks right now), Joe Andruzzi (valuable, but overpriced), David Patten (is Joe Gibbs trying to re-enact the Smurfs?), Roman Phifer (a personal favorite, but aged by years last season) and even Troy Brown (Ray Bourque will miss him), I think Bruschi is irreplaceable in so many ways, and his departure may well mark the beginning of the end of the Patriots' reign. On the other hand, if the last day of a man's career entails playing with your children on the field before the game, intercepting a pass to help secure victory, then dumping a freezing bucket of Gatorade over your stoic coach's head to celebrate your third championship in four years, well . . . I can't think of a better way to say goodbye.

Should Bruschi retire, at least we'll always have the memories. All we have to do is cue up the DVD.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Nine innings: 03.07.05

Playing a quick nine innings while waiting for the Sox to make it five Ws in a row against the Yankees tonight . . .

1) I'm sure Lobel or that vacant, grinning suit-mannequin named Burton told you all about it at 11:30, but Hanley Ramirez turned a pretty sweet 6-3 triple play against the Phillies today, snaring a liner that looked like a sure single to start it all. I suspect it'll be the most memorable contribution the superprospect shortstop makes to the big-league ballclub this season - his progress through the minors has been gradual but not forced, and I don't expect Theo and his player personnel peeps to suddenly rush the still-maturing 21-year-old now. I'm guessing Ramirez starts this year where he finished the last - in Double A Portland, with the Sea Dogs. In fact, I'm hoping he does, because while he still needs to polish his collection of physical tools, I can say this with no hesitation: Of all of the fine players who have passed through Portland on the road to the big leagues - Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Kevin Millar, Mark Kotsay, Charles Johnson, and a scrawny kid named Renteria, to name a few - none, with the possible exception of Beckett, stood out as a mortal lock for stardom the way Ramirez does. Call it what you will - in my vocabulary, "charisma" or "duende" come the closest - but the kid has that elusive, hard-to-define characteristic only the great ones are blessed with. I know I sound as silly as a Yankees fan blathering about Captain Jetes's intangibles, but you'll see, just you wait. Better yet, don't. Zip up to Portland this summer, or cruise down to Pawtucket, and watch this kid play. You'll understand. Hanley Ramirez has "it."

2) Forget Johnny Pesky, and Tedy Bruschi too. If the Sox want a truly beloved Boston athlete to throw the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day there is only one choice: 'Toine, Savior of the Green, Revivor of Celtic Pride! You're not sure if I'm kidding, are you?

3) I'm not saying Mark Bellhorn looks fat, but the Sox second baseman appears to have swallowed the entire first-episode cast of "The Biggest Loser." Okay, I guess I am saying he looks fat.

4) It's been a controversy-free spring so far, but I predict the peace and quiet will screech to an end April 4. That's the scheduled release date for Johnny Damon's book "Idiot," touted as an insider's chronicle of the 2004 Sox season. Why am I wary of this guaranteed National Book Award winner? Two reasons: Damon's co-author, Peter Golenbock, has a reputation for writing controversial tell-alls, including the memorable "The Bronx Zoo" with Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle, and Damon has always been more forthright than your average cliche-spewing jock, sometimes to his detriment. Something tells me this collaboration will reveal some stuff that might have been better left behind clubhouse doors. Consider this excerpt from the book's dust jacket:

I’ll give you the straight dope, including who’s got the biggest mouth (hint: his first name is Kevin); what Pedro Martinez was doing all those times when you couldn’t find him on the bench; what game David Ortiz should never play; and why I sometimes question Curt Schilling’s sanity. Memo to Curt: the statue of you is being erected.

Gulp. This thing's going to be trouble.

5) It's no "Sweet Caroline" . . .


. . . and of course we love that "Dirty Water." And I realize the song was shoved down the collective throats of the fandom by Charles Steinberg and his roving pack of public relations elves. But . . . dammit, I like the Dropkick Murphys' "Tessie." A lot. I commute from Maine to Boston, and the tune usually finds its way into the CD player sometime during the trip. Sometimes I even sing along. (That was me in my chick-magnet Toyota Matrix rockin' out next to you in the Tunnel the other day. You didn't have to point and laugh, you know.) I like the bagpipes, the piano part, and how it reminds me of Bill Mueller's game-winning homer off Mo Rivera in the "I'm Jason Varitek, b*tch" game. (The song was featured in a NESN commercial along with that season-turning game's highlights.) So, yeah, it's me, I admit it. I'm the one Sox fan who likes "Tessie." And just because I know you will mock me for this, I hope it plays on an endless loop in your head for the rest of the day. ( "You are the only-only-oohh-OHHHN-LEEE!")

6) It's this simple. My tolerance for David Wells will grow in direct proportion to how many games the rubber-armed pantload wins. If he stays out of traction and somehow goes the whole season without getting punched out by some liquored-up Southie goon at 4 a.m., I say it's reasonable he wins 16-18 games and makes us all proud to call him an Idiot. But if he or his troublesome back acts up and this season ends up being an $8 million washout, I'm going to think of him as I've always thought of him up until the day he signed with the Sox: as a bloated, loudmouth $&*#& who rubbed the Curse of the Bambino nonsense in Sox fan's faces every chance he got, particularly after Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. I'm ready to forgive, but it's up to Boomer to make me forget. Seventeen wins should do the trick just fine.

"Way Back! Er, scratch that . . ."

7) First sign of spring: Flipping on the car radio and hearing the smooth vocal stylings of Jerry Trupiano (and of course, the nasally yet oddly reassuring tones of Joe Castig.) Second sign of spring: Trupiano attempting an inane play on words ("BuckTROT is facing TROT") followed shortly by a horribly botched call: "There's a DRIVE. Deep left. Way back! WAY BACK! . . . (pause) . . . and it's caught on the edge of the warning track by Burrell. (Pause.) He got that one down by the end of the bat.") Three exhibition games in, and Troop's already in mid-season form. The man misjudges more flyballs than anyone since Gator Greenwell.

8) I found out the hard way that the "Baseball Prospectus" isn't a useful tool for fantasy baseball geeks. Using it as my prime draft-day resource last year, I put together a juggernaut that escaped last place for exactly one day in the Globe rot league. (Friggin' Roy Halladay killed me. I hope his rotator cuff tears all the way down to his spleen. Not that I'm bitter.) That said, it makes for fascinating - and often humorous - reading, and I was pumped and jacked to receive my 2005 copy via Amazon a few days ago. (It will not be accompanying me on Draft Night 2005, rest assured.) A few of BP's more interesting observations regarding the Sox:

~ They paid too much for Edgar Renteria and would have gotten more bang for the buck with a Julio Lugo-type. (Disagreed.)

~ They paid too much for Jason Varitek but simply had to do it because of how much he means to the fanbase, calling it a "political" move. (Agreed.)

~ Orlando Cabrera wasn't much of a defensive upgrade over Nomah at short, and in fact O-Cab's defense has "been in decline for several seasons." (Did they actually watch any games, or did their calculators tell them this nonsense?)

~ Johnny Damon played "great" defense in center field. (Damon was good, but not nearly as good at tracking flyballs as he was pre-Damian Jackson head-butt.)

~ Bronson Arroyo should be "an above-average performer at a bargain price." (Agreed, and he should be in the rotation over Timmy Knuckleball when/if Wade Miller comes back.)

For what it's worth, BP also predicts a bounce-back, Cy Young-caliber year for Halladay. Uh-huh. Fool me once . . .

9) Red Sox 11, Boston College 5. Yep, looks like the Sox are the favorite in the Big East again this season. Gotta be the 10th straight year I've used that joke, and damned if it's still not funny.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Celtic pride

This relentless friggin' cold has me at the point where I'm seriously considering freebasing Vicks Vapo-Rub. But the Bubonic Plague followed by a quick-strike locust attack couldn't have kept me from watching the triumphant return of my man 'Toine tonight.

In between hits on my Vicks pipe, I pecked out a few observations. Here yer go:

~ Well, that was some homecoming, huh? Jumaine Jones, Chris Mihm and Chucky Atkins - so great to see you again! I keed, I keed - of course I'm talking about Antoine Walker, whose first game at the FleetCenter upon being traded back to the Celtics last week went pretty much as I expected. Some good, some bad, some ugly, but in the end, he walked off the court with a victory and a smile. Short synopsis of the evening: 'Toine, wearing his old familiar No. 8, received a rousing ovation in pregame introductions (more on that in a sec), set-up the Celtics' first bucket with the ol' lob-to-Pierce-in-the-post play that was their trademark connection the last time around, came out a little too enthusiastic and committed some 'Toinesque turnovers (dribbling off his foot on the break, stumbling and losing the ball out of bounds), scored on a couple of his patented unorthodox post moves, planted his butt on the block and grabbed 13 boards, including 6 offensive, sacrificed his own shots because Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis were so hot (29 points each), bricked a stick-a-dagger-in-'em 3 up four with a minute left, hugged Davis and beamed after the final buzzer, and possibly even got a wet smooch from a love-struck Willie Maye as he floated to the locker room, arms raised, elated and victorious. All in all, a good night to be a Celtics fan, and a great night to be 'Toine. Yeah, you bet I loved it.

~ This was the most anticipated regular season Celtics game in years, the one Fox Sports New England has been praying for ever since - well, when, the beginning of the Rick Pitino era? CyberToine's homecoming was a guaranteed ratings bonanza compared to the puny fractions and decimal points Celtics telecasts are used to, and you can bet a hell of a lot of televisions were tuned into the network at precisely 7:30 p.m. to watch the pregame introductions. I know I wasn't the only one getting chills thinking about the ovation 'Toine would get. So what happens? Fox, as is the network policy, blows it. They cut to a commercial, then hurried through a replay of Walker's warm welcome a few minutes and about three Foxwoods commercials after it actually happened. The moment was totally diminished. I'm convinced that the only two qualifications you need to run a sports network is that you are a pompous ass and that you don't have a stinkin' clue about what a sports fan wants. At the least, FSNE qualifies on the latter count, I'm now certain.

~ It remains, however, a joy to hear FSNE's Mike Gorman call a game. Is there a more underrated play-by-play guy in the history of Boston sports? He's got great pipes, has a few clever but never cloying catch phrases ("Paul takes it . . . makes it!"), and he does it all while keeping Tommy Heinsohn from committing Murder One on a referee (reportedly with the help of elephant tranquilizers). I'd say Gorman is the best broadcaster we've got in Boston sports right now, with the possible exception of Gil Santos. That he isn't a relentless self-promoter like so many others in the business only makes me appreciate him more.

~ Gorman gave a shout-out tonight to Al Jefferson's mom, wishing the mother of the Next Great Celtic a happy birthday. No word as to whether or not her nickname is Weezie. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

~ This one's for the amateur psychologists out there: Is it possible that Kobe Bryant doesn't actually have a personality of his own? I watch him on the court - I said on, not in - and everything he does - and I mean everything - is straight out of the Be Like Mike handbook. The smirk/shrug combo when he hits a big shot. The lip-licking sticking-out-the-tongue thing (a habit also cribbed from LL Cool J.) Every last one of his moves, right down to the unstoppable fadeaway jumper. I'm thinking Jordan could someday have a Single White Female situation on his hands, especially since Kobe seems increasingly desperate by the week.

~ Justin Reed, the Celtics' second-round pick who has spent much of the season stashed on the injured list with a bad case of dust mites (or something equally improbable), saw 10 minutes of meaningful playing time tonight and was impressive. He knocked down a pair of pictureque jumpers - teeing them up without hesitation, a good sign - and hassled Bryant to the point that Kobe shook his head and smiled at the kid. (Like Mike . . . if I could be like Mike . . .) I'm jumping the gun, but is it possible Danny Ainge found four fantastic rookies this season? Red must be proud of ol' No. 44.

~ My wife, upon seeing Delonte West: "What a weird-looking guy. Is he the leprechaun?" Kinda makes me think maybe he was destined to be a Celtic.

~ It's becoming common for the 'EEI nitwits to say that Ricky Davis is the Corey Dillon of the Celtics. I can see where they get that theory - both guys have cornrows, resulting in many frightened white people, and both have earned a reputation as a malcontent along the way. But there's one notable difference: Dillon, before buying into the Patriots program and rehabbing his reputation, often came across as dour and detached during his Cincinnati days, a point he drove home by chucking his pads into the stands after the final game of the 2003 season. Davis, on the other hand, was perceived as more of a goofy space cadet, a player who could be a severe detriment to his team - he couldn't play with LeBron, for heaven's sakes - but smiled through his screw-ups and never seemed to actually mean any harm. There is one other connection between them: obviously, both have thrived upon coming to New England. We know how much Dillon meant to the Pats; without him, this year's Lombardi Trophy probably resides in Philly. And Davis? He has matured to the point that he is the Celtics' most consistent player, a hard-working defender who can dunk with the best of the skywalkers. And he might be the best pure scorer on the ballclub, No. 34 included, although Pierce is sure to light it up now that his buddy and protector is back. Davis, more than any other player, may determine how far this team goes in the playoffs. He's the third scoring option they desperately lacked the last time around - and maybe even the first option.

~ If you are a regular visitor to my place in CyberSpace, you know I commandeered the wheel of the Gary Payton bandwagon some time ago. Well, after watching West (and to a lesser extent, Marcus Banks) sparkle against the Suns, I began thinking that it may not be the best idea to bring GP back. I mean, West looked so good, and GP was slumping, and he and Walker's strong personalities may clash and . . . maybe he just wasn't a good fit anymore. Well, I'm thinking rationally again after tonight, and I want him back today. West, hertofore known as the Leprechaun, struggled mightily trying to contain the usually mediocre Atkins (29 points), and Banks still doesn't know what to do other than put his head down and dribble really, really fast. Besides, a starting five of Payton, Tony Allen, Pierce, 'Toine and Raef LaFrentz, with Jefferson, Davis, and West coming off the bench, is very intriguing, wouldn't you say? I'd say.

~ Let the record show that I was opposed to giving Mark Blount anything more than a coupon for free chicken wings at Hooters when he became a free-agent last summer. He was a lifelong stiff who had a decent half-season on a dead-in-the-water team during his contract year. Is it any surprise that he's back to being a stiff, albeit one with a six-year, $42-million contract in his pocket? No surprise here. Blount has hands like trash-can covers and brings nothing to the table now that he's taken a I-got-my-cash-why-should-I-hustle? approach to rebounding. During Walker's previous tenure, he used to get on Blount something fierce if the big guy wasn't busting his dopey butt, to the point that Blount had a perpetual dog-that's-been-beat-too-much look on his face. Well, get out the beatin' stick, 'Toine. I want to see that look again, because it will at least be a signal that Blount is trying. We have no other evidence right now. Oh, and maybe you can get Jefferson to teach him some post moves while you're at it.

~ All Celtics loyalists have asked this question at some point this season, and dammit, we're going to keep asking it until we get a satisfactory answer: How in the heck did Jefferson slide all the way to 15th in last summer's draft? The kid has skills - readily apparent skills, skills that would cause the most jaded coach to slobber all over his free Nike sweatsuit, skills you just can't teach. Magnetic hands. An instinct for rebounding. The post game of a 10-year vet. (The baby hook is just plain gorgeous.) He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, just a nice, quiet kid who is both teased and mentored by the veterans. ('Toine already adores him.) So I don't think any off-the-court stuff was a factor. There's a lot to like about the Celtics right now, but nothing is more fun than watching Jefferson figure it out. It just makes no sense how he ended up here.

~ I'd like to write some heartfelt prose about Walker's return, for it makes me incredibly proud (and a little bit smug) that the vast majority of Celtics fans have finally realized how much this guy, a polarizing figure during his seven seasons, really did for the franchise. Through all the highs and lows, through the picturesque 25-14-9 stat lines as well as the gruesome 4-for-18 shooting nights, I was a steadfast and undeterred 'Toine guy, for this reason: 'Toine cared, passionately, always, every single night, whether it was a playoff game in East Rutherford, N.J., or a mid-January second-game-in-two-nights backbreaker in Toronto. Sure, sometimes he was misguided, but he never failed to give his all. How anyone could so easily dismiss that character trait in the man, I'll never know. Or maybe I just don't want to.

But I'll hold off on the heartfelt prose - any more of it, anyway - for my sentiments about Walker were captured perfectly by Bill Simmons of today. I recommend you check it out. After you read Sports Guy's piece, you'll understand better than I can articulate why I was so happy for Antoine Walker tonight.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Tuna's helpers

He reunited with Terry Glenn, his favorite female receiver, a year ago.

He reunited with Drew Bledsoe, the gifted, indifferent quarterback who blossomed under his tough-love coaching style, a week ago.

I'd bet my bobblehead he soon signs Ty Law to a contract for lots of years and lots of money, and now ol' reliable Troy Brown is there for his taking too. (Don't fret, those of you with No. 80 jerseys: I suspect that Brown will return to do his fourth-receiver/emergency-DB/security-blanket thing for the Pats at a cheaper rate next season. He belongs here, he's still wanted, and he knows it.)

So yes, it's long been established Bill Parcells has a soft spot for his former players. The man demands to shop for the groceries, yet you know exactly which ingredients he will buy.

So many of Parcells's favorites end up with career itineraries remarkably similar to his. With the Pats, he collected ex-Giants. With the Jets, he hoarded ex-Pats. And now he's luring ex-Pats to the Big D.

Makes sense, sort of. It's human nature that in pursuit of his past success, he pursue his past stars, the ones who made him a coaching legend. But sometimes I think it's a wonder he doesn't have 46-year-old Lawrence Taylor lining up as a third-down pass-rush specialist. He does get blinded by loyalty to "his guys," which why Patriots fans had to watch this guy . . .

. . . get scorched like an albino at the beach for one long season.

Yet I do hope Law ends up in Dallas. While I like the Cowboys about as much as I like head lice, I realize that one of my all-time favorite Pats is perfect for them, and vice versa. I'm sure Parcells realizes it too.

Dallas is desperate for a capable cornerback to take the heat off young Terrence Newman, a talented Kansas State product who, frighteningly, played too much like another K-State DB last season. (Initials: Chris Canty.)

Law needs to go to a high-profile franchise where he can have three or four more excellent seasons and enhance his borderline Hall of Fame credentials. If he helps turn Dallas around - and if he joins the Tuna Brigade, they will be a playoff team next season - he'll get much of the credit. It's a natural match.

Parcells will get Law, mark these words. He'll chase Brown. He might chase Phifer, a favorite during his HC of the NYJ days. And then, before we know it, we'll open up the Globe sports section (gratuitous plug) to see this line in the transactions:

DALLAS COWBOYS: Signed cornerbacks Ty Law, Ricky Reynolds and Maurice Hurst, safeties Willie Clay and Terry Ray, tight end Ben Coates, tackle Bruce Armstrong, wide receivers Shawn Jefferson and Ray Lucas, guards Todd Rucci and Max Lane, center Dave Wohlabaugh, punter Tom Tupa, defensive ends Ferric Collons and Mark Wheeler, linebackers Roman Phifer and Todd Collins, and quarterback Scott Secules

And a few days later:

DALLAS COWBOYS: Signed linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

(Note: I should have a Nine Innings Sox column up tomorrow, even though I'm coated in Vicks-Vapo-Rub and apparently dying of what WebMD diagnoses as whooping cough. Don't ever say I'm not gritty, gutty and scrappy.)