Sunday, July 31, 2005

Nine innings: 07.31.05

Playing nine innings while waiting for 4 p.m. to pass without Manny waving goodbye . . .

1) You're damn right I hate this proposed Manny-for-Mike Cameron-and-Aubrey Huff nonsense, and if you have anything larger than a pea in your skull, you do, too. If the Red Sox make such a move, know this: it's nothing less than a concession of the AL East to the Yankees. The Red Sox will not make the postseason without Manny Ramirez anchoring their lineup. This is not meant to disparage Cameron and Huff, both of whom are useful players - but the Red Sox have a lot of useful players. What makes them potentially special again come October is the historically productive Ramirez-David Ortiz tandem in the heart of the lineup. For all of his immaturity, quirks and peccadilloes, Manny is one of the greatest sluggers of all-time, and if you want to argue that point, pull your head out of your Steinbrenner and look at these statistics, then get back to me. Ortiz? He's merely the Reggie Jackson of his time. Breaking them up - and putting further burden on all the Variteks and Muellers and Damons, fine players who are more suited for supporting roles than center stage - would be so indisputable idiotic, so insanely counterproductive, I'd almost think a crazed Yankees fan (or owner) was making Theo do it at gunpoint. As ESPN's Buster Olney put it tonight while reporting the deal was 99.9 percent dead: "Other American League teams are weeping that this isn't going to happen. They want Ortiz and Manny broken up."

2) Couple of other thoughts on this Manny situation while wondering why he was really scratched from the lineup five minutes before tonight's game:

* I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I might become one if this deal happens. Manny's actions of the past week, as frustrating as they are, should not be enough to get him traded in the middle of a pennant race. This isn't Carl Everett here, making the clubhouse a miserable place - for all of the crap he pulls, he is still well-liked, even adored, as tonight's postgame celebration suggested. As Damon said with a bemused smile tonight, "This is four years in a row that he's asked to be traded. It's just Manny. I guess he just needs time off during the season." I'm beginning to wonder if the Sox are considering this deal because they see it as a small window of opportunity to dump Manny's salary without facing the full wrath of Sox fans. The only way this makes any sense at all is if management is putting the financial benefits of dealing him ahead of the the effects it will have on the field, because baseball-wise . . . well, you know how me and Big Papi feel. They couldn't have won it without him last year, and they won't win it without him this year .

* Anyone who compares this deal to last year's Nomar deal is either stupid, has a short memory, or is named Joe Morgan. Nomar was dealt because his production was declining, he was ticked off at management, turned into a moody loner in the clubhouse, and made it known he was physically unable to play every day. Manny is leading the American League in RBIs, is tied for the lead in homers, and is leading the team in games played. Yup, exactly the same. The only thing the two deals have in common is that the Sox would be giving up a talented player for two lesser talents in a three-way deal. That's it.

* So what do I hope happens today? I hope the Red Sox retain their quirky, gifted, goofy, happy-go-lucky, oblivious, self-centered, petulant, blessed, lazy, hard-working, simple, complex, contradictory, filthy-stinkin' rich, lovable, WORLD FREAKIN' SERIES MVP leftfielder. (Obviously.) I'd love it if they could get Huff for a couple prospects, a rumor that's bouncing around tonight. I hope Theo finds a useful arm or two at a reasonable price, though I have no idea who. Oh, and I hope the Sox GM drives down to Tampa for the sole purpose of kicking D-Rays GM Chuck LaMar right in his "devil ray" for even daring to suggest that Hanley Ramirez and Jon Lester should be a part of this Manny deal. That Kazmir heist happens once in a lifetime, jerk.

3) I can't recall if I did so here, or in a note to one of you freaks who somehow found my email address, but I am ashamed to admit that I wholeheartedly endorsed the rumored Bill Mueller-for-J.C. Romero trade. So, yeah, uh, I'd like to offer a retraction on that. Romero isn't throwing the ball nearly as well as I remember him doing a season or two ago - when John Olerud has the bat-speed to take you deep, you know there's something not quite right with the ol' heater. But the real reason I've decided I don't want this deal to happen, even as the bullpen remains in semi-desperate straits: Mueller just means too much to this team. He delivers in the clutch time and again, plays a steady and often spectacular third base - he's to these Red Sox what Scott Brosius was to those great Yankees teams of the '90s. He may not be in the long-term plans, and he probably shouldn't be - he's 35, with creaky knees - but there are few third baseman I'd rather have for the next few months.

4) So the Yankees have added Alan Embree. Sweet. Guess he'll be doing his part to help the Sox win the division after all. Can't wait til the first time he faces Papi in the Bronx with the game on the line. The mustached jackals in the right field bleachers had better stay alert. Straight 91 mph fastballs get turned around that way in a hurry.

5) How come no one suggests that the reason Trot Nixon keeps having these curiously bizarre injuries (quad, back, now his oblique) is not because the baseball gods are conspiring against him, but because he's let himself slip out of shape the last two years? He must be 25 pounds of bad weight heavier, and it's made him, in Strat-O-Matic parlance, a "3" bordering on a "4" in the field, when he used be a nice dependable "2." He's also quite possibly the worst baserunner on the team, no easy feat with Millar, Ortiz, Manny and Doug Mirabelli lumbering around. It's hard not to root for the guy - he does play hard, he has had his memorable moments in the clutch, and his hat is awesomely dirty - but why he escapes accountability in this region is something I just don't understand, and it makes me get more frustrated with him than I probably should.
6) I don't know the specifics of the story, but it was a nice gesture for the Twins to let that homeless guy pitch an inning tonight. I had no idea Terry Mulholland had fallen on such hard times.

7) The news that Jon Papelbon will make his big league debut today has me as jacked and pumped as Pete Carroll at a Trojan pep rally. This isn't a repeat of last year, when a clearly not-ready-for-prime-time Abe Alvarez was brought up for a spot start against Baltimore, then sent back to the minors before the day was through. Papelbon is ready, and making his debut against the feeble Twins lineup seems a logical way to ease in a talented kid who could and mostly likely will have a tremendously positive effect on the ballclub this season.

8) You know strange days have descended upon Fenway when Manny gets booed one night, and Gabe Kapler gets a standing ovation the next. Not that Kapler wasn't deserving - few players have appreciated being a member of the Red Sox more, something that certainly can't be said for Manny at this hour - but the juxtaposition was striking nonetheless. Kapler likes us, so we like him. Manny asks to be traded, takes his annual vacation at a terrible time, and hurts our feelings, so we boo him. Is that how it works? Because it seems to me that the latter was a hell of a lot more responsible for your most joyous moments as a Sox fan than the former. (Yes, I'm getting defensive. Full disclosure: I don't want to have to change the TATB banner.)

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

The Sox got Jose Cruz tonight? Excellent! Sure, he's a little old at this point, but nobody looked cooler in the Astros' retro rainbow uni, and anyway, how could you not dig a disco cat nicknamed "Cheo"? Wait . . . oh, they got his son? Ah, hell, never mind. The kid's no bum, but he's annoyed more than a few teammates along the way, and let's just say you don't want a flyball hit his way in playoff game.

(Oh, and scroll down this page and check out the player he is most similar to in baseball history, then try telling me again that the Manny deal is a good idea.)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Just Manny being . . .

We here at TATB are on record as wholeheartedly digging the Manny Ramirez experience. As if that goofy banner atop the page wasn't enough of a giveaway, he's probably our all-time favorite player not named Clell Lavern Hobson Jr.

So it pains us to admit that what the Sox slugger pulled Wednesday afternoon in Tampa Bay was possibly the most disheartening decision by a Red Sox since Carl Everett chose Family Day to conk an umpire.

His shorthanded team, united by their exhausting, exhilarating, and damn near tragic victory the previous evening, desperately needed him to sacrifice his pre-approved day off to pick up the slack for injured teammate Trot Nixon.

So what does Manny do? He declines, calling in . . . tired? Sore? Indifferent?

Even those of us who think Manny doesn't get his due in this town (mostly from the lowest common denominator, the talk-radio banshees, admittedly) cannot offer a defense for him today. It was utterly inexcusable, mind-bogglingly clueless, beyond the realm of everyday selfishness. I can't imagine being more disappointed in a player.

Computer issues are making us antsy about writing at any length tonight - I've lost enough type to fill an entire edition of TATB The Magazine - and besides, I surely can't articulate it as well as Gordon Edes did in Thursday's Globe.

But we promise to weigh in further on Manny's Day Of Rest during a special weekend edition of Nine Innings. Be sure to check back in. Hopefully by then, Manny will have shaken off his bad case of the Wednesdays, forgotten that he asked to be traded,, and deigned to take his usual place in the lineup. Hopefully.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

(Not only do we here at TATB believe this to be Manny's 1991 class photo from his senior year at George Washington High School in the Bronx, but we also think we've uncovered the yearbook info that accompanied the picture . . .)


"Yo, Manny"
"Where The --- Is That ---- Ramirez, The ----- Game Starts In Five Minutes"

Varsity Baseball (Grades 7, 8, 9,10,11,12 captain); Varsity Football (11,12); John Stamos Fan Club (11, 12 president); Debate Team (9, 10, 11, 12 captain).

Voted Most Likely To Succeed, Best Athlete, Best Hair, Class Clown, Least Dependable, and Most Likely To Drive In Runners In Scoring Position With Less Than Two Out.

Favorite quotes
"Baseball has been berry, berry good to me." - Chico Escuela
"I like big butts and I cannot lie. All you other brothers can't deny." - Sir Mix-A-Lot
"What, me worry?" - Alfred E. Newman

Favorite memories
You know, man . . . it was, you know, all good, man. Baseball was, you know, good, man, and watching "Full House" all those times was good, man - Uncle Jesse rules, man!!! - and, you know . . . DEBATE TEAM STATE CHAMPS, MAN! YEAH!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Turn, turn, turn

We media types just love to portray calalytic or emotional moments in a baseball season as "turning points." Sometimes we do so with good reason, other times at the expense of facts. Example: Many words were spent in recent days regarding the upcoming one-year anniversary of one of the supposed turning points of last season - the Nomar Garciaparra trade, after which the Sox went 42-18 and . . . hell, you have the DVD. You know the rest. But it's scarcely mentioned that the Sox struggled mightily in the immediate aftermath of the deal, losing five of nine games, and only started their championship run when Orlando Cabrera settled in and had all his handshakes memorized. Turning points? Sometimes there is something to them. Oftentimes, though, they are only as good as the next day's starting pitcher.

I mention this now because . . . well, because if the Sox put together a good stretch of baseball the next few weeks, tonight's ballgame will be undoubtedly (and perhaps even justifiably) be tagged with those two familiar words. Tonight's epic damn well could be a turning point, as Tom Caron mentioned .0098 seconds into the postgame show. The first-place Red Sox played their 100th game of the season - and their most eventful, for both pleasant reasons and terrifying ones. They defeated the better-than-you-think Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 10-9, in 10 innings, in a game that featured everything but Roberto Hernandez taking target practice at Brian Daubach. Because so much happened, I'll attack it in chronological order, just to make sure I don't forget one of the game's . . . ahem. Turning points.

Top of the first inning: Manny Ramirez (soon to be known as Big Manny, now that Little Manny has flashed on the scene) cranks a two-run homer off Mark (I Shoulda Stuck With Hoops) Hendrickson, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead that will soon expand to 5-0. A Manny tater (to use EckSpeak) is notable only in the context of the day's news. According to Sports Illustrated's reliable Tom Verducci, Manny has asked the Red Sox for a trade, saying he no longer has any privacy in Boston. The TATB take: We hate to join the condescending pack and dismiss his frustrations with the usual "Just Manny being Manny" refrain, but as long as he keeps hammering the baseball in his usual awe-inspiring way, we promise to quit peeking in the windows of his pad at the Ritz Carlton trying to catch a glimpse of the ridiculously lovely Mrs. Manny. Honest. In the meantime, shouldn't Millar be making sure he's happy? Isn't he supposed to be Manny's concierge? Don't tell me they're actually paying Cowboy Out to play.

Top of the third inning: Trot Nixon swings at a pitch. Trot winces in his patented gritty, gutty way. Trot leaves the game with what is diagnosed with a strained oblique muscle, a lingering, frustrating injury for a hitter. At first glance, it looks like he'll be gone awhile. Get ready for Part II of the Gabe Kapler era, with some Adam Stern and Adam Hyzdu liberally sprinkled in. Say, is it too late for Tito to kiss and make up with Jay Payton? Seems there's some playing time available now. In all seriousness, this could turn out to be a devastating injury for the Sox. While they made it to the postseason without much of a contribution from Trot last year - he missed all but 48 games with back and quad problems - he's a essential cog this year, what with Mark Bellhorn having whiffed himself out of a job and Millar posting a Podsednik-level slugging percentage. The Sox's lineup depth ain't what it used to be, and tonight it weakened even further. Adam Dunn, anyone?

Bottom of the third inning: You hear the crack of the bat, followed almost instantaneously by the most sickening sound in sports - the sound of a batted ball hitting a helpless pitcher flush in the head. As Sox starter Matt Clement slumped motionless on the mound, the victim of a Carl Crawford rocket that ended up deflecting into left field on the fly, frightening thoughts flow through your mind. Your first fear is the worst fear. You wonder if he has a wife, children. You hope they were doing anything but watching this real-time horror. You think about Bryce Florie and Dick Pole. You wish they'd just stop the game, pick it up again another day. You look for a sign, any sign, that he's alive, let alone okay. You only exhale when you see his legs kick and you realize his teammates on the scene are concerned, but not panicked. Later, after he has been carted off the field on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to the hospital, Eric Frede delivers the word that Clement is conscious and alert and all tests have come back negative. He'll be okay. Thank god. Then, and only then, do your thoughts return to the game, and your team, and it dawns on you that the Red Sox's biggest winner might not step upon a mound again for weeks, if not longer. Sometimes, a turning point arrives with the speed of a sizzling line drive, and the Sox suddenly require a starting pitcher a lot more than they did before the third inning began tonight. A.J. Burnett, anyone?

Bottom of the third inning, epilogue: While the crowd remains hushed after the 11-minute delay, still shell-shocked by what they'd just witnessed, the Devil Rays erase a 5-1 Boston lead in the span of three pitches. Aubrey Huff takes a bite out of a Chad Bradford submarine sandwich, crushing a grand slam into the top deck in right field of the Drab Dome. It's now 5-5, a new ballgame, and the Nation is demoralized. Bringing in Bradford, a righty specialist more or less, to face the lefty-hitting and scalding-hot Huff, is a curious move by Sox skipper Terry Francona, one of many he has made in recent games. (Doug Mirabelli hitting third? Alex Cora hitting, period?) But we're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. After what just happened to Clement, he can be excused for not thinking clearly.

Bottom of the eighth inning: Hmmm. Looks like we might have a Local Kid Makes Good story on our hands. Manny Delcarmen, the pride of Hyde Park, made his big-league debut tonight after getting the dream-come-true call and arriving in Tampa (minus his glove, spikes and the rest of his luggage) a few hours before game time. It was amusing to see the saucer-eyed Delcarmen, who's 23 but looks a half-decade younger, shagging fly balls and listening to words of wisdom from that sage, seen-it-all veteran . . . Bronson Arroyo. But once Delcarmen took the mound, with the Sox trailing 8-6 in the eighth, he looked like he'd been here for years. He retired the side 1-2-3 on 14 pitches, striking out the first batter he faced (Tampa Bay's Johnny Gomes) swinging at a 94 mph fastball on the outside edge. He hit 95 on the gun, showed decent command and a vicious curve, kept his team in the game, and best of all, gave us our first taste of the fruits the Sox's farm system is about to bear. Delcarmen may not prove to be the Sox's version of Anaheim's Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez, circa 2002, but just the notion that it's within the realm of possibility is cause for optimism. This kid looks like he's going to be calling Fenway home for a while - and the cool part is, he already knows the neighborhood.

Bottom of the ninth inning: The Sox are still trailing, 8-6, three outs from what would be a soul-crushing defeat. Danys Baez, whose name has been floated in Sox trade rumors, comes on to close the door, having converted his last 15 save opportunities. But (in-game turning point alert!) Jason Varitek clubs a one-out homer to make it 8-7, and Baez suddenly takes on the sheen of a young Calvin Schiraldi. Millar singles. John Olerud singles. Bill Mueller, who almost always delivers in these situations, delivers in this situation, roping a double into the right field corner. Adam Stern, running for Millar, scores easily, but windmill-lover Dale Sveum inexplicably sends Olerud, who'd have been safe if he weren't the slowest skinny guy in the history of organized sports. He's out without any debate, and instead of having a second-and-third, one-out situation, the Sox have a runner on third and two outs. Tony (Quit Calling Me Merloni) Graffanino is retired for the third out, and we have one more piece of evidence telling us that Sveum is in the wrong line of work.

Top of the 10th inning: Condensed version here, since it's 3:14 a.m, my contacts are glued to my eyeballs, and this post is turning into the world's longest chronological game story. Heathcliff Schilling enters. He retires the first two D-Rays with relative ease, gives up a single to Julio Lugo, and then Jorge Cantu (TATB's rot league steal of the year, as if you care) hammers one to deep left. Your loyal blogger spews a string of expletives, figuring it's a goner and the Sox are about to suffer the most excruciating loss imaginable, at least involving the Devil Rays. But Johnny Damon Superstar doesn't give up so easily. Tracking the ball all the way, he times his leap perfectly after a brief hesitation, and catches Cantu's blast as he bangs into the wall . . .

Bottom of the 10th inning: . . . then, after saving the game, he wins the danged thing, going deep on Baez's first pitch, bringing joy and relief to Sox fans and another smirk to Scott Boras's face. (Why Baez, whom we should never, ever wish to see in a Sox uniform, was still in the game I have no idea, but I suspect Lou Piniella, who's practically wearing a "Fire Me" sign on his back these days, had retired to the local watering hole by this point.) Anyway, the Sox added an insurance run, Schilling closed the door with an assist from Olerud's slick glove in the bottom half, and the most emotionally torturous game of the season went in the books as a victory.

The final tally: The Sox lost their best starting pitcher and their dependable (if blockheaded) right fielder, both perhaps for an extended time. They fought to win a ballgame they simply had to win, even when circumstances would have distracted a lesser team. They retained their one-game lead over the Empire. And they introduced a dazzling young pitcher whom we've heard raves about since he was schoolboy and were thrilled to finally meet tonight.

A hell of an evening, all in all. Should the coming days bring string of victories, and should the Sox eventually find their way to the postseason, there is no doubt this particular wild-and-crazy ballgame will be recalled as. . . well, yeah, you've heard.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

Sweet Lou, pre-rabies.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Things that make you go "Hmmm"

Just a quicky post to pass along this interesting snippet regarding baseball's steroid testing program, courtesy of Buster Olney's worth-the-price-of-a-subscription Insider blog:

"... Which brings us to Human Growth Hormone, which, in 2005, comprises the most enormous loophole -- the Grand Canyon of loopholes -- in baseball's current system of testing. HGH is on the list of banned substances, but there is no test for it, and everybody knows it.

"Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds, the players most directly connected to the steroid scandal, have presumably tested clean, along with virtually every player in the majors. To date, just six players have tested positive and been suspended. But it would be naïve to assume that the problem of performance-enhancing drugs has been cleaned up in baseball because human growth hormone is a clear alternative.

Two years ago, dozens upon dozens of players tested positive for steroids as they sought to gain a competitive advantage. You can reasonably assume that many players would now recognize and exploit the HGH loophole."

And in completely unrelated news, the rejuvenated Giambino has 11 homers in his last 17 games, this after looking like a sausage casing of his former self for the past year. He recently credited his turnaround to a "tip" from a certain buddy and former big shot.

Not that we're suggesting anything, for we here at TATB aren't the conspiracy-theory types . . . but we do find Olney's timing at least a little interesting.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Mel Hall of fame

Introducing our latest inductee into the TATB Hall of Fame . . .

Mel Hall batted .276 with 134 homers in 13 major-league seasons with the Cubs, Indians, Yankees (during their glorious early-'90s heyday) and Giants. While his stats are moderately impressive, they do not come close to capturing his everlasting baseball legacy.

Among our guy Mel's more special "accomplishments," all of which we will cram onto his Hall of Fame plaque:

* Was warned by Yankees management that he'd be released if he didn't stop hassling sensitive young teammate Bernie Williams. He countered by demanding a trade. Because he might have been the Yankees' best hitter at the time, they kept him, prompting Williams to cry himself to sleep a major-league record 56 straight nights during the '91 season.

* Once derided a young Yankee outfielder's baseball instincts with this joke: "How do you score Bernie Williams from third base? Hit a triple."

* Should he ever have his own "Yankeeography" - and, frankly, it is long overdue - narrator John Sterling will be forced to use the phrases "a one-man Siegfried and Roy," "dipped into Luis Polonia's dating pool," and "a Svengali-like presence in the life of one Deion Sanders." Seriously. Just check out this snippet from his bio:

"Hall's showy habits in the Big Apple were earning him a reputation as one of the game's most flamboyant characters. He rented an upper-level apartment in Trump Tower and would often sally across town with two pet cougars in tow. He dated a 16-year-old, drove her to school in flashy cars and even attended her prom. All of this made quite an impression his teammates, especially the young two-sport star Deion Sanders, who later asked Hall to be the godfather of one of his children."

* His No. 1 similarity comparison on happens to be one of Boston's most notable Irishmen.

* On growing up in poverty, Part I: "We were so poor that we ate ice for supper."

* On growing up in poverty, Part II: ""We spelled poor with only one 'o' because we ate the other one."

* Kept three batting gloves in each of his back pockets, fingers poking out of the top, so when he hit a home run, he could wave "bye-bye" to the pitcher and catcher. ("Wave, man, wave," he'd say while breaking into his trot.)

* Once had 17 motorcycles repossessed.

* Named his glove Lucille. Never explained why.

* Reportedly brought a loaded gun into the Yankees' clubhouse. (Always a good policy as far as TATB is concerned, no matter what the intention.) No word if he ever actually fired it at anyone, though a certain traumatized Yankees outfielder might be able to answer that.

* Featured the second-slickest jheri curl of the early '90s, trailing only this super-cool cat.

* When told by Yankees manager Buck Showalter to "quit being such a ---- hot dog all the damn time," replied with equal parts pride and defiance, "Skip, there ain't enough mustard in the world to cover me."

* A mainstay in the outfield for those lousy Cleveland ballclubs of the mid-'80s, he's indirectly responsible for TATB correspondent and fellow Hall of Famer Rodney "Buckethead" Craig being stranded in Triple A for the entire 1984 season.

"Mel Hall? Hell, yeah, I remember that ------. He stole my job, hit on my kid sister, swiped my Cameo cassette, and fed my entire box of delicious S'mores-flavored Wheatabix to those two damn giant cats. Tell that ------ that if I ever see him again I'm going to pop a cap in his -----. Word up."

* Missed nearly the entire 1985 season with a Gray's Anatomy worth of injuries (broken pelvis, broken collarbone, dislocated jheri curl) after driving his car into the wall of the Indians' hotel during a road trip in Texas. He claimed he was attempting to back out of a parking space, but somehow shifted his ride into drive instead of reverse. That was his story, anyway, and he stuck to it. (Other reports have him being hit by a car. The TATB Hall of Fame voters liked the first story better.)

* Could have worked as a stunt double for Michael Jackson's talent-free brother Jermaine . . .

So there it is - the unrivaled resume of one Melvin Hall Jr. A real man of genius, a true Yankee despite what poor (sniffle!) little (sob!) Bernie (wahh!) Williams (please don't shoot me!) says . . . and now, a TATB Hall of Famer.

The mustard-colored jacket awaits him at the induction ceremony - batting gloves peeking out of the pockets just so, of course.

Now if we can just convince him to leave the firearms, the Bronx Lolitas, his pal Prime Time, and the matching set of cougars at home.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Tough to tackle

I had intended to write a column tonight about Tedy Bruschi's decision to sit out the 2005 season. But after staring through cloudy eyes at the computer screen for an hour that felt like three, I had pecked out only these words:

Tell me how. Tell me how a red-white-and-blue-blooded Patriots fan supposed to feel right now. How do you settle this bizarre internal conflict?

On one hand, you sincerely, genuinely, absolutely want Tedy Bruschi to take a black permanent marker and cross football off his list of priorities. You want him to walk away without regret from this contrived little game because, thank the heavens above, he still can. You want to be happy that he has the chance to savor things far more important than stopping Peyton Manning - his health, his future, his peace of mind, his wife, his adorable children.

Yet on the other hand, the football junkie in you - you know, that Tostito-and-Budweiser-swilling loudmouth that often reigns in your brain - tells you his absence changes everything for your favorite football team. You don't need to watch Three Games To Glory again to know he was the heart and soul and spirit of the three-time champs' defense, that when the moment demanded a big stop or a turnover, it was often No. 54 who delivered it. You know his departure leaves an an enormous void, and all the Sean Salisburys and Michael Irvins searching for any reason to doubt this team now might have a legitimate point.

We wanted him to walk away.

Yet we wanted him to play.

So how in the hell do we put that into appropriate perspective right now?

The truth is, we can't. Or I can't. So I'm going to think about this a little longer, maybe figure out what exactly a Monty Beisel is, and then I'll try again some other day.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Because, hey, sometimes it really is random. And if you're curious why ol' Ellis - a truly original piece of work who used to draw a heart for an autograph, had a throwing arm equal to Dewey Evans's, and was accused in manager Dick Williams's autobiography of smuggling cocaine over the border in his hair dryer - is wearing half a football facemask, here's your explanation.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Nine innings: 07.19.05

Playing nine innings while wondering if Melky Cabrera regrets listening to Bernie Williams's fielding tips . . .

1) Tom Caron nailed the sentiments of the evening in his intro to the postgame show: "Never thought a victory over the Devil Rays would feel so good." For the first time in what feels like a long time, the Red Sox enjoyed a happy night at the ballpark. Manny walloped his 25th homer, Bronson Vedder pitched seven impressive innings and didn't once tote his guitar to the mound, Alex Cora wowed the crowd with a couple Pokey Moments in the field, and the home team may have even found a closer, what with Curt Schilling nailing down his first save in 13 years with an overpowering 1-2-3 ninth. Even better, the Yankees lost painfully down in Texas on a Hank Blalock homer in the 8th, and B.J. Ryan blew the save for the Orioles in a loss at Minnesota, meaning the Sox are back in first place after a one-day hiatus. After six losses in their previous seven games, I'd like to think this victory means order has been restored, but what's that they say about momentum? It's only as good as the next day's starting pitcher? In that case, go get, 'em, Boomer. We could use a nice, long streak of optimism around here.

A.J. Burnett? Yes, please. We here at TATB have followed his career closely ever since he was prancing and preening and throwing absolute smoke for the Portland Sea Dogs back in 1999, and we've always thought the cocky, ultra-competitive, and charismatic 27-year-old would thrive in a passionate environment like Boston. (And we think a certain ex-owner of the Marlins might agree.) But here's the catch: The three best pitchers we've seen in Portland through the years are, in order, Josh Beckett, Burnett, and Jon Papelbon, and No. 3 is extremely close to No. 2. In other words, I'd love for the Sox to get Burnett, but not at the expense of giving up one of the elite kids, meaning Papelbon, as well as Jon Lester, Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia. I know I'm not the only one eagerly anticipating seeing some primo home-grown talent on this team, and Theo has made it his mission (make that his second mission) to turn the farm system into, in his words, a "player development machine." Unfortunately, it seems it would take at least one of that foursome to bring Burnett here, especially since the Orioles are said to be offering 20-year-old Hayden Penn, their version of Papelbon. But if the Sox could somehow get it done for a package of, say, Arroyo (who reminds me of Burnett in appearance if not ability), Kevin Youkilis, and maybe a player or two from the B-List of prospects such as Kelly Shoppach, Jeremy West or Abe Alvarez, well, consider such a trade nothing less than a coup. I've long believed Burnett was born to pitch in Boston. But with so much talent finally on the farm system's horizon, I want to find out only if the price is right.

3) It's cool to see New England kid Chris Carpenter having such a fantastic season (14-4, 2.34 ERA), but every time the Cardinals' All-Star ace collects another win and earns another headline, I'm reminded of an opportunity lost for the Red Sox. Back in October, 2002, Carpenter was released by the Blue Jays, a transaction that was nothing short of stunning. Even though he'd missed much of the season with a shoulder injury (and would miss all of 2003 as well), he was young (27), undeniably talented (a first-round pick in 1993, he went 12-7 as a rookie), and well-regarded in the clubhouse (he'd be the starting pitcher on the Peter Gammons Very Special Person All-Stars.) Those in the know figured the Blue Jays' trash was certain to be someone's treasure, most likely the Red Sox's. Then-GM Dan Duquette (remember him?) loved gambling on reclamation projects - Bret Saberhagen and Ramon Martinez, most notably - and Carpenter seemed like he filled the bill on all counts. Heck, he's a lifelong Red Sox fan who grew up in New Hampshire and - get this - lived next door to Carlton Fisk for a time. But, surprisingly, Duquette never showed much of an interest - who knows, he might have been busy trying to reacquire Robinson Checo and Sang-Hoon Lee - and the Cardinals swooped in, signing Carpenter to a one-year, $1 million deal in December, 2002. They bided their time while he rehabbed, and after coming back to win 15 games last season, Carpenter has emerged as the best righthanded pitcher in the National League who doesn't answer to "Yo, Rocket." While injuries are always a concern - an injured biceps kept him out of the World Series last fall - it's a risk that is reaping many rewards in St. Louis. If only the Sox had taken such a gamble three years ago.

4) After enduring that new Chrysler commercial approximately 62 times during tonight's Sox telecast, I know this much to be true: no one is praying for "Seinfeld: The Movie" more than Jason Alexander.

5) Dave Jauss and the Red Sox scouting staff earned plaudits for their scouting reports last postseason, particularly during the World Series, when Cardinals sluggers Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols were made to look like scrubs for the Bridgeport Bluefish. Lately, though, I've been wondering just how effective the Sox's advance scouting really is. It seems to me that by now, they'd have found the holes in the swing of say, Reed Johnson, or David Newhan, or John Flaherty, or any of the other mediocrities who consistently and maddeningly punish the Sox. I mean, c'mon, shouldn't they know by now what the rest of the league knows about Ted Lilly? Shouldn't they have solved Rodrigo Lopez like most everyone else has? Sure, some of it is the players' fault - sometimes, you can have all the info in the world and still not execute. That's baseball. But when the same old Ordinary Joes (and Reeds, and Rodrigos) are whuppin' you time and again, maybe you're not as prepared as you should be.

6) Apparently, Sox fans aren't the only ones who react to Joe Morgan's voice in the same violent way Kramer did to Mary Hart's. In what is inevitably becoming a regular feature here at TATB, here's the Joe Morgan Is A Freakin' Idiot Link Of The Week.

7) Fifteen years after he was chosen along with Tony Clark, Carl Everett, Mike Mussina, Larry Jones Jr. (Chipper is much cooler), and the immortal Todd Van Poppel in the first round of the 1990 draft, Adam Hyzdu, is still fighting to establish himself as a major-leaguer. Traded back to the Sox yesterday for the footnote named Scott Cassidy, he's 33 now, unlikely to shed the "Quadruple A player" label. Pawtucket will be his destination once Gabe Kapler is ready, but give the guy a cheer while he's here. My moles tell me Hyzdu is one of the funniest guys in baseball, liked in every one of the 3,829 clubhouses he's been in, and you have to figure he truly loves the game to have endured so much disappointment along the way.

8) Oh, all right, why not - here's one more Joe Morgan Is An Idiot link. (Added bonus: a few verbal slaps at Harold Reynolds and Tim "Jeter Thinks This Restraining Order Is Going To Stop Me From Loving Him But It Only Makes Me Love Him More" McCarver.)

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

It had to happen. He was giving up home runs at a Wasdinian rate, his fastball had suspiciously morphed into a meatball, and on top of all that, it's hard to respect a professional athlete who looked this dorky in high school. Yes, it was time for Alan Embree to turn in his playbook, or whatever it is weary ballplayers do when they're told their services are no longer needed. But damn, I am going to miss the guy. He was One Of The 25, and a crucial one, for he was the one who accomplished something we weren't sure we'd ever witness: he got the last out against the Yankees to clinch a playoff series, and on their sacred turf, no less. As I type this, hanging on the wall to my right is a wonderful gift my father-in-law gave me: The front page of the Globe the day after the Sox won the World Series. On this day when Embree's tenure with the Red Sox came to a sad conclusion, the framed newspaper serves as a reminder that without him, our most joyous moments as a sports fan may never have happened. So happy trails, Lefty, and thank you. Should the road lead you back to Boston - and we imagine it will, because once a conquering hero, always a conquering hero in these parts - we promise that we'll speak only of the good old days, and not the recent dark ones. And you better believe the beer is on us.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Team picture

Ninety games, 50 wins, 40 losses, a precarious half-game lead in the AL East standings, and countless lost opportunities to put a canyon between themselves and the suddenly lively Yankees.

And there you have the most relevant numbers regarding your limping, laboring, but still first-place and defending World Champion Boston Red Sox.

Now here's TATB's Kinda-Sorta Midseason Review on the players that produced them . . .

Bronson Arroyo 7-5, 4.14 ERA: A slight disappointment, since I was certain he'd win 14-16 games this season. I wouldn't be bummed if the Sox swapped him in a package for A.J. Burnett - the flaky but ultra-competitive Marlins righthander would be a perfect fit with the livin'-hard, playin'-harder Sox. This may sound contradictory after the last sentence, but giving Arroyo's ubiquitous guitar the Pete Townshend treatment might not be a bad idea, either. Less strummin', more strikes, dude.

Chad Bradford 1/3d of an inning: The sorta-submariner and co-star of "Moneyball" will help if he's healthy. (Yeah, thought-provoking insight, I know. Hey, he's pitched a third of an inning. Cut me some slack here.)

Matt Clement 10-3, 4.21 ERA: Not sure if it's a good thing or bad, but The Count is starting to remind me of one of his predecessors in the Sox rotation: Yup, Derek Lowe. He's tall, goofy, gifted at basketball, has sensational stuff that he doesn't completely trust for some reason, and seems like a normal, likeable, completely level-headed human being, which sometimes isn't the best thing to be when you're trying to slip a slider past Gary Sheffield in front of 35,000 screaming lunatics. Clement has been knocked around a little bit lately, and I'm curious to see if he can repeat his stellar first-half, or will fall off down the stretch like he did a season ago in Chicago. His need for reassurance is one more reason I'm glad Jason Varitek is on our side.

Alan Embree 7.71 ERA: He got one of the two most memorable outs in Red Sox history, and you and Ruben Sierra know exactly the one I mean. Strangely enough, I can't recall Embree getting anyone out since. Whatever he did in 2001 with the Padres to morph from a journeyman mediocrity who'd had two good seasons in seven into a smoke-throwing bullpen stalwart at age 31 . . . well, he needs to do it again. Whatever it was.

Keith Foulke 6.23 ERA, 15 misleading saves: At least he got a free truck.

Jeremi Gonzalez 5.53 ERA: Kept the Sox in the game Saturday in relief of Clement, has sneaky breaking stuff, and the bullpen could do worse for a long reliever. In fact, it has . . .

John Halama 5.91 ERA: John Trautwein. Mike Trujillo. Stephen Hawking. The girl who got her arm bitten off by a shark. The drummer for Def Leppard. And off the top of my noggin, there you have five people I'd rather see coming stumbling out of the bullpen than this meatball specialist. Dump him and call up Jon Papelbon already, Theo. The kid can only be better, and he'll likely be a lot better.

Wade Miller 2-3, 5.03 ERA: The inconsistency that has plagued Miller is typical of a pitcher coming off surgery. The catch is, he actually didn't have surgery on the frayed rotator cuff that cost him much of last season in Houston, and you have to wonder if consistency is possible considering how often his complex mechanics wreak havoc with his sometimes-dazzling stuff. In other words, he could win 8 more games this season, or he could end up a patient of Dr. Jobe. Your guess is as good as mine.

Mike Myers 2.60 ERA: The second player on his Similarity Comparison on Tony Fossas. I think that says it all.

Curt Schilling 1-3, 8.24 ERA: Maybe this closing thing will work out splendidly. Maybe he'll find his way back to the head of the rotation in time for the stretch run. But the more I see him hobbling around and struggling to crank it up to 90 mph on the radar gun, the more I think he sacrificed the twilight of his career last fall in order to fulfill our baseball dreams.

Mike Timlin 1.61 ERA: The last man standing in the Sox's charred remains of a bullpen, Francona has to be very careful that he doesn't turn the 38-year-old war horse into Paul Quantrill, 2005.

Tim Wakefield 8-8, 4.12 ERA: Live by the knuckleball, die by the knuckleball. You can appreciate him, admire him, root for him, think he's swell and groovy, but you can never, ever completely trust him.

David Wells 7-5, 4.73: At things stand right now, Boomer gets the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series. Not exactly a reassuring thought, is it?

Doug Mirabelli .217, 4 homers : The best backup catcher (and worst baserunner?) in the game, it seems he hits a home run just about every time he plays. Which, in case that arrogant fool Joe Morgan still hasn't figured it out, is when Tim Wakefield pitches.

Jason Varitek .301, 13 homers, 39 RBI: Worth. Every. Bleepin'. Penny.

Mark Bellhorn .216, 7 homers, 109 strikeouts: He sprained his thumb last night, and while it may be cold and cruel to say it, an injury could be a blessing for all involved. He's clearly pressing, particularly at Fenway, and he simply has not hit the baseball with any consistency all season. I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt - his defense, particularly at turning the double play, is stellar, and his postseason performance buys him a lot of goodwill in this corner. But those benefits have just about run out. Frankly, he could use a break, and we could use a break from him. Who knows, the Sox may now be forced to find out if they have something special in Dustin Pedroia (or Hanley Ramirez, who, curiously enough, has played second at Portland the last few nights.) Unless Pedroia (or Ramirez) reveals himself to be Arquimedez Pozo in disguise, he can't be much worse.

Alex Cora .198, no bleepin' chance: Are we sure Ramon Vazquez didn't just change his name? There's no logical reason why he was allowed to bat with the bases loaded down two runs in the ninth against Mariano Rivera, and I don't want to hear the excuse that the Sox wouldn't have had anyone to play second base. I'd rather see John Olerud trying to make the pivot than watch this guy at the plate in a crucial situation.

Kevin Millar .274, 4 homers, 33 RBI: You know that oh-so-condescending argument a couple of WEEI's baseball experts like to make, the one that says Millar (and Bellhorn, to an extent) can't possibly be hurting the Sox since they are leading the league in runs? Have you ever paused to think how utterly stupid that viewpoint is? Of course Millar is hurting the Sox. He's killing them, for heaven's sake. Just think about it for a moment. If they had a typically productive first baseman in the lineup - I'm not talking Derrek Lee here, just one who could produce more than four freakin' home runs while batting in the sweet sixth spot behind Manny, Ortiz and Nixon - maybe a few 5-3 losses would be 6-5 victories, a 10-8 heartbreaker a 11-10 thriller instead. Maybe if they had a No. 6 hitter who slugged better than .300 on the road and had more than zero-zip-nada home runs against lefthanded pitching, that half-game lead would be a five- or six- or seven-game lead, and we wouldn't be sweating out the next two-and-a-half months. And it's not like Millar is here to do anything else but hit. He plays first base and runs the bases like a drunken hippo, and while he is undeniably a good guy in the clubhouse (at least when his own name is on the lineup card), his disingenuous suggestion that the Sox need him around to babysit Manny reeks of desperation and even blackmail. He's had more than his share of chances this season, and he's swung and missed at every single one of them. I've seen enough of Cowboy Out. Oh, how I hope that Millar/Abe Alvarez/Manny Delcarmen-for-Adam Dunn rumor is true.

Bill Mueller .281, 4 homers, 36 RBI : Probably the most universally liked Sox regular among the fans, he plays a mean third base, hits in the clutch, and, unlike Damon, Millar and the despicable Jay Payton, keeps his mouth zipped about this being the last year of his contract. Even with the capable Kevin Youkilis waiting down I-95, it'll be a sad day when this guy is no longer a member of the Red Sox.

John Olerud .315:The Swing may not be as quick as it was during those heady days when he made a run at .400, but it's just as picturesque. He's too rickety to play every day, but the glove is still golden, and he's more than useful if used cautiously. If only the Sox had a league-average righty to platoon him with at first.

Edgar Renteria .272, 6 homers, 33 RBI: The errors (a major-league leading 17) are an aberration; the .332 on-base percentage and his production numbers are only slightly below with his career norms. Even if the defense sharpens up and the late summer brings a few clutch hits, this is not a $10 million-a-year player.


Johnny Damon .342, 4 homers, 44 RBI, 125 hits, 68 runs scored, 29-game hitting streak: He's only halfway to Joe D., and yet I'm already anticipating Johnny D.'s press conference that late August night when he hits in his 57th straight game: "Well, you know, uh, Mr. DiMaggio was just, uh, an awesome player, and, you know, he, uh, played for the Yankees I think, and, uh, I'll cut my sweet hair if I play for the Yankees next year, and uh, his hit streak was unbelievable and, well, you know, he, uh, married Marilyn Monroe, who was like, uh, an awesomely smokin' hot chick, and, well, you know chicks dig me so we have something to talk about if we ever meet, and uh, I hate Schilling's freakin' guts, and well, it's really awesome. You know."

Gabe Kapler .153 in Japan: Cue John Sebastian: Well the names have all changed since you hung around/But those dreams have remained and they've turned around/Who'd have thought they'd lead ya/Back here where we need ya/Yeah we tease him a lot cause we got him on the spot/Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back, welcome back/Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Welcome back, indeed. There's always a place for One Of The 25 here, particularly one who appreciated it as much as Kapler did.

Trot Nixon .295, 11 homers, 50 RBI: Steady as always at the plate, he's quietly having his typical season. He'll make a few spectacular defensive plays, mix in a few staggeringly boneheaded plays, and rub enough dirt on his hat to remind his fans more of the former than the latter.

Manny Ramirez .278, 24 homers, 84 RBI: One of the elite righthanded hitters in baseball, still, now, and until further notice. Agreed, Mr. Gammons?

Adam Stern A hit, a steal: He supposedly can scoot, and rumor is he has a missile launcher for an arm, and hell, they must like something about him, since he's on the roster at the expense of someone (read: Youkilis) who might actually help win ballgames this year. It seems appropriate to note here that when Stern got his first career hit against the Yankees Friday, Derek Jeter waved off pitcher Scott Proctor's request for the ball and was aware of the moment enough to toss Stern's keepsake into the Sox dugout. It was nice to see Captain Jetes using his intangibles for good instead of evil for once.

David Ortiz .307, 23 homers, 83 RBI: I've said it before, and I'll surely say it again. Theo's decision to sign Papi was the most important transaction in franchise history. Why the Yankees - and any other team, for that matter - still pitch to him with the game's outcome hanging in the balance boggles my mind.

* * *

As for Today's Completely Random Baseball Card(s):

The Al Leiter on the right was once traded for a washed-up Jesse Barfield, has offered more insight during his postseason guest analyst gigs than Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan ever have and ever will, and walked into Fenway off the street to emasculate the Red Sox last night. The Al Leiter on the left is really named Steve George. He probably sells pharmaceuticals or works at a car wash or something.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Nine innings: 07.11.04

Playing nine innings while wondering if Scott Podsednik is the new face of baseball . . .

1) I've rooted for Kevin Millar since he grinned and slugged his way through two excellent seasons with the Portland Sea Dogs. But after hearing Peter Gammons's report that Millar asked for a trade because John Olerud (the superior player, in small doses) is cutting into his playing time, I'm really starting to wonder if he's one more phony who's forgotten where he came from. Part of Millar's charm is that he was a Northern League refugee (and damn near a Japanese League export) who never had much handed to him along the way and thus never developed a sense of entitlement. Oh, there's obviously a certain amount of b.s. to the guy - given how he emphasizes his Son of Texas/Cowboy Up/Jack Daniel's routine, you'd never know he's from Los Angeles, would you? - but it seemed harmless. I always thought he "gets it" more than 99 percent of his peers. He seemed to appreciate everything he had, to savor every moment in the big leagues, and particularly playing in Boston. Now I'm beginning to think a) he's changed, perhaps because he's a free agent at season's end, desperate in the midst of a truly miserable season, b) I was wrong all along and he's as selfish as anyone who took a conventional path to the big leagues. Frankly, I can live with either option, just as long as he agrees to raise his slugging percentage by 200 or so points in the second half.

2) I'll save my analysis of the Sox' first half and my expectations for the second half for a day or two down the road, but I will say that it's relentlessly distressing that they didn't drive a nail into the Yankees' coffin when they had a chance. If I'm looking at this from the New York perspective - wait a sec, let me put on my bacon-stained wife beater and my Buttafuoco mask - I'm feeling pretty darned encouraged that the Empire is just 2.5 games out of first place despite all that has gone wrong. (Bernie Williams returning to his Egyptian tomb, Jaret Wright remembering he is Jaret Wright, Kevin Brown's refusal to just go away) I don't think they will catch the Sox - they are too old and too flawed - but if somehow they do, this first half will be remembered as a tremendous opportunity lost here in Boston.

3) Terry Francona has no qualms with throwing someone off the bus (good riddance and good luck lugging your overinfalted self-importance to Oakland, Jay Payton) but the Sox skipper is loathe to throw people under the bus, preferring to take the blame for situations that aren't entirely his fault. I'm speaking specifically of the criticism he received for leaving Matt Clement and Mike Timlin off the All-Star team at the expense Bartolo Colon. (Clement is going after all, as an injury replacement for Roy Halladay.) It's obvious that the selection was not entirely his call - Phyllis Merhage from the commissioner's office admitted as much - yet Francona refused to place fault elsewhere even as he was getting criticized within the Sox clubhouse for not choosing his Own Guys. Here's what he should have told his team: "Geez, fellas, I'd have loved to have taken Matty and Mike, and I fought like hell for them. God knows Torre took every damn Yankee but Mel Hall and Oscar Azocar back when he was winning the thing. But it seems that the constipated doofus of a commissioner caught on to what Torre was up to - I mean, besides picking his nose every time the the camera finds him - and now Selig has final say in who gets to go and who gets the shaft. It stinks, I know, and I'm sorry, guys, I did my best. If you want to get revenge, how about plucking that God-awful $5.99 rug off ol' Bud's head the next time he comes around Fenway. Millar, sounds like a job for you since you're outta the lineup again today. Whaddaya say?"

(And because this seems as good a place as any, my wife, who not only wears the pants in the family but the steel-toed boots as well, demanded that I throw this so-called Separated At Birth in this post. As I bid farewell to my last shred of dignity, here you go:)

Matt Clement from Yawkey Way

Count Von Count from Sesame Street

(ONE whipped husband . . . HA HA HA)

4) I'm not saying gritty, gutty Trot Nixon gets a free ride among the faithful, but if Manny Ramirez got picked off second base with the bases loaded down two runs, or, for that matter, had a ball deflect off his glove for a home run, the WEEI banshees and their hare-brained callers would still be screeching about it two weeks after the fact. But when Nixon screws up - and his list of boneheaded plays through the years is approaching Manny's in length - nary a word is heard. Gotta be the dirty uniform and the intense, look-how-much-I-care scowl, right?

5) I'm on record as saying Dennis Eckersley is the best baseball studio analyst around, certainly including the prime-time twits on ESPN, and I'd love to hear an Eck/RemDawg broadcast just for the guaranteed humor and candid comments. But I have to wonder what the heck The Eck was thinking when he said on the postgame show that, "Keith Foulke looks scared out there," after one of the deposed closer's recent meltdowns. I apologize for forgetting which Foulke stinkbomb he made the comment after - the losses all run together, you know? - but no matter how miserably he is pitching, the one thing Keith Foulke is not is scared. I think he proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt in the final eight games of the past season. And if you disagree with me, I suggest you buy this, watch it beginning to end, and get back to me with your mea culpa.)

6) He always adamantly denied he used any illegal performance enhancers, and I was inclined to believe him simply because he was such a nice guy. But in this Season of the Shrinking Slugger (the new math: Sammy Sosa < Brian Roberts), only the naive among us aren't curious to see if the Gabe Kapler that inevitably rejoins the Red Sox in a few days/weeks is noticeably downsized from the jacked and pumped version that seems to have his own unique following on the Internet.

7) Gimme Big Papi in the Home Run Derby tonight, you get the rest of the field, and well, I like my chances. (Unless Luis Matos suddenly shows up in center field with his glove, that is.) And by the way, who let Hee Seop Choi into this thing, anyway? Did 486 other players turn it down? I understand the format has changed so that it's US and Asian countries against the rest of the world . . . but still, Hee Seop Choi is the best they could do? I'd rather watch Ichiro, whom a colleague tells me puts on a remarkable power display during batting practice when he's so inclined. (No kidding.) Hell, I'd rather watch a 55-year-old Sadaharu Oh than Hee Seop Pop-Up. (Now watch him go and win the thing.)

8) I've been critical of Peter Gammons in the recent past - I still think his condescending bashing of Manny on WEEI six weeks ago was shortsighted and petty - but I gripe only because he can be so damn engaging and insightful when he wants to be. At his best, he remains peerless. I've said it before, but its worth repeating since Gammons will finally be honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame this week. He is one of the main reasons I chose the profession I am in and am proud to work where I do. The first summer I was engulfed by baseball - '78, gawdammit - I have wonderful memories of reading his legendary notes column over my dad's shoulder on Sunday mornings and peppering my old man with questions. (I'm sure "Why is ----- such a special person, Dad?" was one.) Occasionally, in my downtime at the Globe, I'll open up the electronic archives on my computer and randomly read one of his old Sunday notes columns just for the joy of it. They are, as you might imagine, as fun to read 27 years later as they were the first time around. It's easy to forget in his current role as a supplier of "Baseball Tonight" soundbites and shabbily edited Diamond Notes, but he was a superb writer back in the day. His features were top-notch, and his book "Beyond The Sixth Game" should be required reading for membership in Red Sox Nation. But the best thing about him to me is this: In a business that turns idealists into cynics far too often, his passion for baseball and love for his job remains apparent. You might say this makes him a very special person.

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

A premature congratulations to Orioles ageless wonder Rafael Palmeiro, who is two hits shy of 3,000 after pounding out roughly 1,328 against the Red Sox over the weekend. Considering that he previously reached the 500-homer milestone, he's a shoo-in for Cooperstown despite his under-the-radar (four All-Star appearances) career. Which, if you believe the urban legend, will automatically make him Ryne Sandberg's least favorite fellow Hall of Famer.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Closing time

Timlin in the eighth, Schilling in the ninth? Sounds like a plan to me.

I'm sure you've heard by now. Curt Schilling - he of the 373 career starts and 185 regular-season victories - is going to "pitch out of the bullpen" for the defending World Champions once he returns from his minor-league rehab stint.

And by "pitch out of the bullpen," is there any doubt that the Sox braintrust means precisely this: Schill's our closer until we make a deal or convince the injured and transcendently awful Keith Foulke to quit his new gig manning the flamebroiler at Burger King and get his freakin' act together.

Schilling-as-closer? It's a brilliant idea, and on a few different levels. You have to admire the creative thinking, both by the Sox honchos and by Schilling, whose ego must be immensely satisfied that he's found another original way to be hero.

Further, it generates even more excitement about the team, something we weren't sure was possible. The moment I heard about this - WEEI is good for something on occasion - I immediately caught myself looking forward to the next series with the Yankees, coming up not long after the All-Star break. Fenway's rickety foundation may not survive the raucous, rocking moment Schilling opens the bullpen door and begins ambling toward to mound to face Jeter, A-Rod and Sheffield in the ninth inning of a one-run game.

But make no mistake, this is a temporary solution. Even if Schilling does a passable Mariano Rivera imitation (as passable an imitation that a 280-pound white oaf can do of a graceful 165-pound Panamanian), he'll eventually return to the rotation once his stamina and velocity have returned.

The Red Sox simply will not repeat as World Champions if Schilling hasn't rediscovered his workhorse, No. 1-starter form. Which means the Red Sox still need to get some arms, pronto. Here's my short list of candidates, some serious, some not so much . . .

Billy Wagner, Phillies: The flamethrowing lefty is the best of the possibly available solutions, with a couple of caveats: 1) He's a free agent after the season, and Theo likely would be reluctant to give up any of the jewels from the farm system in order to acquire what would likely be a four-month rental. 2) Unless the Phillies lose, say, 12 of their next 14, they're close enough in the NL East race to consider themselves contenders, especially since Washington is a mirage. (The first-place, feel-good Nats have been outscored by their opponents.) When push comes to shove - and it always does in Philly - I bet Wagner remains in the City Of A Lotta, Lotta Culture.

Eddie Guardado, Mariners: A longtime Red Sox killer, the 34-year-old lefty is quietly have an outstanding year. He boasts a 1.55 ERA and 20 saves, and he's allowed just 18 hits in 29 innings. You have to figure the sinking ship known as the Mariners will move him - c'mon, what use do they have for an aging closer? - and you also have to figure that Everyday Eddie is Theo's most likely target. He's due $4 million next year, a reasonable rate for what he brings, and if he could be had for a couple of prospects outside of the Papelbon/Ramirez/Pedroia/Lester/Moss realm, let's hope the Sox do it. Ask me, he's exactly what they need.

B.J. Ryan, Orioles: A pipe dream? Probably. But Ryan is a free agent at season's end, the Orioles are losing players (Javy Lopez, Erik Bedard) and games (2 wins in their last 13) at a rapid rate, and it's looking more and more like they'll be far enough back by July 31 that they'll be sellers instead of buyers. Ryan has 18 saves and a 2.58 ERA in his first full season as a closer, and at 29 he's in the prime of his career. He's exactly the kind of player the Orioles should be building around, but you never know what Peter Angelos and his two-headed GM will do. If the Orioles keep falling, it's worth an inquiry.

Bronson Arroyo, Red Sox: Yeah, I know, he's already on the roster. But think about it. He's got the ideal, smirky, what-me-worry? makeup to handle the role. Schilling said last postseason that Arroyo has "(baseballs) the size of Saturn," and Francona did not hesitate to use him in crucial situations in relief during the postseason. Heck, he even survived a vicious on-field slapping by a purple-lipped bandit. It's certainly within the realm of possibility that Arroyo could end up with the job. It's just that the ballclub would be better served by Schilling returning to the rotation, Arroyo going to the 'pen to act as a late-inning bridge while taking some heat off Timlin, who is so overworked that he's in danger of being Quantrilled . . . oh, and of course, trading for a closer.

Oil Can Boyd, Brockton Rox: Could he be the modern-day Satchel Paige? Not a pound over his playing weight of - what, 135? - he's pitching and pitching well for the independent Rox at age 45. And much to TATB's delight, in recent years The Can has gone from Banned in Boston . . .

. . . to Beloved in Boston. He was - and is - a showman who arrived in the city 15 years too soon and departed much too early, if that makes any sense. Sure, I'm kidding about The Can's chances - El Duque is the AL's designated 45-year-old, after all - but I'll betcha he throws harder than Foulke.

Bret Boone, free agent: I'm not saying this suspected . . .

. . . well, you know . . . has flipped his last bat, but he has a better chance of helping the Sox as a pitcher than he would as a second baseman. Man, I hope the Yankees sign him and trade Robinson Cano.

John Franco, free agent: I apologize if this seems like I'm stereotyping here, but the Brooklyn-born Franco, who was recently released by the Astros, always looked to me like he should be wearing a Budweiser-stained wife-beater and a green-tinted gold chain while sitting in the Yankee Stadium cheap seats with a few thousand other Joeys who look exactly like him. He should have retired three years ago. No thanks.

Jose Mesa, Pirates: He has 20 saves, but his other statistics - 0-5 record, 4.46 ERA, 31 hits and 24 strikeouts in 30 innings - suggest he's more of a problem than a solution. But check out his other notable stats: Mesa's bio on tells us he was born in 1966, meaning he's 39 years old at the moment. Then it goes on to tell us Mesa was signed by the Blue Jays in 1981 and - prepare to snicker - has a son who was born in 1979. If you're doing the math, that would make Mesa a ripe old 13 when he became a dad, and an ancient 15 when he signed his first pro contract. Call me skeptical, but I'm guessing he's closer to Oil Can's age than he cares to admit.

Ugueth Urbina, Phillies: Only if he's sufficiently tranquilized before getting on any flights.

Curtis Leskanic, Huntin' an' Fishin': You think I'm kidding? I am . . . I think. Leskanic (known around the TATB offices as Let's Panic, we admit) got some huge outs in the playoffs last year, most memorably the Artist Formerly Known As Bernie Williams with the bases loaded in ALCS Game 4. And his arm must be feeling better - the scarred old thing was a hanging by a string of yarn by the end of last season, which is why he walked away. If he did come back, Johnny Pesky would be obligated to greet him just the way he did at the ring ceremony: "Leskanic, you sonofab----!" That alone makes it worth signing him, I say.

Cla Meredith, Pawtucket: Bobby Sprowl, 2005. If he's ever heard from again, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Jon Papelbon, Pawtucket: It may be as a starter. It may be as a long reliever. It may be as a set-up man. But mark these words: This former college closer-turned-hell-of-a-starting-pitcher will contribute to the cause before the season is through.

Byung-Hyun Kim, Colorado/Exile: Hey, you just flipped me the bird, didn't you?

Keith Foulke, ?????: We'll always have St. Louis, man.

Other possibilities, wannabes and suspects: Brian Fuentes, Rockies (lefthanded, funky arm angle, total jerk of a human being); Danys Baez, Tampa Bay (hard thrower, but better off as a setup guy; has blown 6 of 19 chances this season, perhaps in a clandestine attempt to kill Piniella); Miguel Batista, Blue Jays (electric stuff, erratic as hell, but pitched well as a starter in 2001 World Series); Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Mariners (not a bad idea); Ron Villone, Mariners (bad idea); Ramiro Mendoza, Yankees (just seeing if you were still paying attention).

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

So that's what became of Larry Bird's mustache.

Days gone by

As most Red Sox fans know, Mark Teixeira, the Rangers first baseman and future winner of, oh, five home run titles and an MVP award or two, was drafted by Boston out of high school. As I recall the story, he wanted to sign, but his family was so put off by Dan Duquette's take-it-or-leave it negotiating tactics that, disgusted by the whole process, he decided to attend Georgia Tech instead.

Well, figuring I should refresh my memory since it seems this guy plans on tormenting the Sox for the next decade or so, I punched in these keywords on Google tonight: "Mark Teixeira" "Dan Duquette" "Red Sox.'

So what comes up first? A Peter Gammons column - what else? But it wasn't just any Gammons column. This one doesn't praise a few Very Special People, tout some acne-faced kid in the Schenectady Babe Ruth program as "the next Cal Ripken", or even give the requisite weekly verbal backrub to Indians GM Mark Shapiro.

No, this one, written in Sept. 2001, has a far more serious tone. Gammons takes on the dysfunctional Boston Red Sox of Dan Duquette and John Harrington - and completely and justifiably eviscerates them. It's a terrific piece of work, a reminder that while Gammons throws a lot of junk nowadays, he can still bring the fastball when so inspired.

Also worth noting is that Gammons wrote this during the darkest of Carl Everett's days in Boston, and Everett does not escape his wrath. This is relevant at this moment in light of Gammons's highly questionable praise of the combustible outfielder in his column a few days ago. Either Gammons has a short memory, or Everett has mellowed in four years. I suspect it's solely the former.

(And for Sox fans who claim it's time to cut Everett some slack - the TATB mailroom has been hearing from you in recent days - this is required reading, because you need a reminder of how truly destructive Everett was to your Boston Red Sox.)

Oh, yeah. There are also a few words about a kid named Teixeira in the piece. Check it out. After reading it, I guarantee you'll come to this conclusion:

Things sure have changed around here in four years.

Thank Theo Epstein. Thank John Henry.

Thank goodness.

* * *

Here's one more link to a Gammons column that contains Teixeira/Red Sox info, not to mention some more Everett bashing. Turns out Teixeira was chosen in the ninth round by the Sox in 1998, then taken by the Rangers fifth overall three years later after an outstanding career for the Yellow Jackets. Boston's loss, Texas's gain, unfortunately.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

Hey, does this mean he's a True Yankee?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Keithcliff Foulkum

To: Heathcliff Slocumb
From: The Desperate Citizens of Red Sox Nation

Dear Mr. Slocumb,

Hello, old friend. Hope we are finding you well in your post-baseball career. We'll keep this correspondence short, since you're probably a very busy man nowadays. Wait, let us guess - you're a fireman now, right? Yeah? It so suits you. Anyway, we write you this letter for two reasons:

1) Know how us folks here in Boston were so mean to you before? Calling you the Human Gas Can? Or Firestarter? Four-Alarm Slocumb? Not so nice of us. So please, consider this our sincerest apology. Really, we're sorry. Seems we've been reminded on a nightly basis lately that . . . well, maybe you weren't so bad back in '97 after all.

So whaddaya say? Clean slate? You forgive us? Oh, wonderful. Because, uh, you see, we were wondering . . .

2) . . . um, are you really busy these days? Because we here in Beantown could really use some help in the bullpen if you're available. Sure, that Foulke cat should have been the World Series MVP last year, but at the moment - and all season, to be honest - he has been atrocious. Just awful. Dude couldn't close a Burger King at this point. It's like he sold his soul to the devil in order to strike out Tony Clark or win the World Series or something.

Frankly, we can't imagine anyone being worse than he has been. Which for some weird reason inspired us to contact you. As you probably remember, the gig pays great - and sometimes you can even get a free truck out of the deal if you can sucker those radio fools - but people in this position tend to have a short shelf life. It's easy to get burned out. So to speak.

Anyway, think it over. We promise to be nicer this time.

Anxiously awaiting your reply,

Red Sox Nation, TATB Branch

P.S. - Thanks again for bringing us Varitek and Lowe in that deal with Seattle. Best deal in Sox history not involving someone named Pedro. Uh, no offense.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Nine innings 07.03.04

Playing nine innings while wishing MLB's umpires would put as much effort into the getting the call right as they do baiting players and managers into unnecessary confrontations . . .

1) George Steinbrenner has lost his fastball. The old George Porgie - or should I say the former Georgie Porgie, since he turns 75 tomorrow - would never have allowed the Yankees to have played this listlessly for this long. He'd have fired Joe Torre, sent Bernie Williams to the glue factory, and had Howard Spira follow around Jason Giambi to dig up dirt in hopes of voiding his contract. Hell, he might have had Derek Jeter spayed/neutered just for the fun of it. But now, we keep hearing stories about how Steinbrenner isn't going to stand for it much longer, that heads will roll . . . but nothing ever comes of it. All he does now is issue vaguely threatening, quasi-inspirational missives from his bunker while watching his Tae-Bo tapes.

Nope, not the same. Since he's too busy Sweatin' To The Oldies to do anything about his Titanic-sized disaster of a team, and since I really hate seeing the poor little pinstripers struggle, I'll do it for him.

Three suggestions that would help fix the Yankees:

1) Call Billy Beane. Tell him you want Mark Kotsay - a center fielder with range, a patient hitter, a dependable, unsung ballplayer who'd have fit right in on the '98 team, a Bill Mueller-type, really - even if it means giving up one of your phallically named pitchers. You've got enough Wangs on your team. You can spare one.

2) If Beane says he's keeping Kotsay, inquire about Eric Chavez. He's a fantastic third baseman, a Gold Glove winner with a lefty swing made for Yankee Stadium, but his contract may be too rich for Oakland's blood. What's that you say? You already have a third baseman? Well, yeah, you do. Pretty decent one, too. But he's really a shortstop, and he's a better shortstop than the guy you have playing there, dontcha think? It makes sense, moving your shortstop-playing-third-base back to shortstop, because then you can move your current shortstop to center field, where he'd surely fill that gaping void left by Bernie Williams's untimely fossilization. I mean, you're always saying how spectacular your shortstop is on pop-ups - well, let him chase a few more of those in the outfield, and maybe fewer groundballs up the middle will get through the infield, know what I'm sayin'? Putting him in center would make the defense better all around, and voila, your pitching's better too. What's that? You think he'll resist? His identity, his Hall of Fame hopes, are tied to playing shortstop? Well, I'm sure he'll get over it. He is the captain, after all. He puts the team first, right? Makes his teammates better, etc., etc. Well, this would make his team better. And besides, he's 31, and this guy did it, at age 29:

And George, really, I think we all know that Derek Jeter is no Robin Yount. Don't we?

3) Have one of your minions - Smithers, Constanza, Jim Leyritz, whomever - listen to WFAN around the clock. And whenever a Camaro-driving, Buttafuoco-looking Yankees fan calls in with some ridiculous trade proposal - and trust me, this is a full-time job - you have your minion get his name, number, and address, go to his house/trailer/mom's basement, and read him this form-letter, since chances are he can't read it himself:

Dear Joey,

Thank you for your recent trade suggestion to Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN. Unfortunately, we have no use for (Sammy Sosa) (Ken Griffey Jr.) (Larry Walker) for we have abandoned our mission of assembling the entire 1997 All-Star Team in pinstripes. Also, your suggestion that we trade (Carl Pavano) (Mike Stanton) (Kevin Maas) (Horace Clarke) for (Albert Pujols) (Vlad Guerrero) (Johan Santana) (Pedro Martinez) was a pleasant one, but once again you forgot one thing. THE OTHER FREAKIN' TEAM IS TRYING TO GET SOMETHING DECENT IN THE TRADE. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE???

Good luck with the court case,

George Steinbrenner
"The Boss"

All right, while the last one doesn't really "help" the Yankees, it does seem necessary nonetheless.

In the meantime, I'll be waiting for Steinbrenner's call. I keep hearing he'll have some openings soon.

2) The TATB staff took a field trip to lovely Hadlock today to catch the first game of the Sea Dogs' doubleheader and finally see top pitching prospect Jon Papelbon in person. The verdict, hammered home by six no-hit innings in which he occasionally hit 95 on the radar gun and threw his curve and change for called strikes at will: He will help the Red Sox. This season. Perhaps very soon. To put it another way: After Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett, he is the most impressive pitcher I have seen in 11 years of watching the Sea Dogs. I'll be furious if he is included in any trade that doesn't bring back a Grade A player - someone no worse than Burnett - though I imagine Theo has him listed in the "untouchable" category. Yeah, he's that good.

3) I also was appropriately awed by Hanley Ramirez, but that's nothing new. If Edgar Renteria is driving the kid's bandwagon - and that seems to be the case, considering he made the unprecedented-by-a-Sox-shortstop gesture of offering to move to a new position once the kid is ready - then I'm glad to be aboard. Ramirez homered over the chintzy Plywood Monster in left field while doing something only the truly gifted can pull off: he adjusted midswing, hesitating slightly because he was out in front of the pitch, then absolutely unloaded on the helpless baseball. While it was just the fifth homer for Ramirez - he's been hampered by injuries and his numbers are fairly pedestrian - it strikes me as funny and a little curious that a certain segment of Sox fans is quick to anoint Dustin Pedroia the superior prospect simply because he has accelerated past Ramirez to Triple A. Pedroia, an All-America at Arizona State, was drafted by the Sox in part because he was nearly a finished product, a player who was already peaking in terms of getting the most out of his ability, and they were desperate for prospects at the higher levels in their organization. They knew he would climb fast, and he hasn't let them down. But that by no means suggests he will be even close to the player Ramirez is five years from now, and I guarantee Theo would graciously dismiss any suggestion that he will be. Pedroia projects to be a Jody Reed-type, a scrappy, physically limited doubles hitter who bats around .290 and connects with all those fans who bought Darren Bragg rookie cards and admire players who remind them of themselves. For Ramirez, who is actually four months younger than Pedroia despite seeming like he's been on the prospect radar for a decade, the words "future MVP candidate" always seem to slip into the Baseball America scouting reports, and there's a reason Pedroia has moved from shortstop and the big-league incumbent has offered to move: Hanley Ramirez has the talent to be the next superstar shortstop. I don't know about you, but I'll take the potential of future greatness over the guarantee of future adequacy every time.

4) I'm beginning to wonder if the Sox are using NESN and The Boston Globe Pre-Game Show as some sort of taxi squad. Dave McCarty, just a few weeks after being given his release, is getting a shot as a studio analyst, and I'd bet you dollars to creme horns that he'd rip off that three-piece suit and put the uniform on again before Theo could finish saying the word "comeback." (Come to think of it, he may be a better lefty option out of the 'pen than Alan Embree at this point.) And who would argue if useless utility infielder Ramon Vazquez were dropped in favor of Gary DiSarcina, who no doubt can still wield the leather at age 36? Or if The Eck suddenly switched gigs with, say, John Halama? Or if Kevin Millar finally realized he's a better talker than hitter, and told Sam Horn in his own unique way that, "Gosh dang diddly, Sammy, even you'd have more than four dingers at this point . . . . so Cowboy Up, big fella, and lets pull the ol' job switcheroo! Yeeeee-hooooo! Psst, hey, wanna swig of Jack?" I think I'm on to something here. If Eric Frede is hitting cleanup today, I'll really be suspicious.

5) I suppose one can question Keith Foulke's common sense for throwing that snide "Who cares what Johnny from Burger King thinks?" wisecrack out there when asked if the fans' booing bothered him. Insulting the paying customers certainly isn't going to make things any easier for the mushballing closer. But if you're pretending to be up in arms about the comment, well, you need to lighten up, Francis. Who among us wiseguys hasn't used "You want fries with that?" as a punchline at one time or another? And the self-righteousness on WEEI about the whole episode just blows me away. Am I wrong, or isn't there a certain multi-chinned host on that station who dismisses disagreeable callers by telling them to "go back to flipping burgers"? Hypocrites. Bloated, sports-ignorant hypocrites . . . oh, and that goes double for the shrill co-host - we'll call him Larry here, to protect the innocent - who said these exact words today: "Everyone remembers Lou Gehrig's quote: "I'm the luckiest man in the world." And you, Larry, have to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth to have the job you do. You should be asking me if I want fries with that. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

6) Remember a couple years ago - I think it was near the trade deadline in 2002, if memory serves - when the Sox were said to be considering trading Casey Fossum to the Rangers for Kenny Rogers and a prospect? (Cameramen are shuttering at the thought. Get it? Shudder? Shutter? Dude, it's late, okay?) Well, anyway, the prospect in the deal was none other than Travis Hafner, whom Theo Epstein coveted and the Rangers were willing to move because he was blocked by Mark Teixeira. Hafner, who was eventually traded to Cleveland for pitcher Ryan Drese and catcher Einar Diaz, had it his way with a grand slam against Foulke a few days ago, and he's been hammering Sox pitching all season. I'm not saying the deal should have happened - Fossum did eventually bring Curt Schilling, after all - but can you imagine the Sox lineup with Hafner instead of KFC Kevin? The Sox would score 1,000 runs this year.

7) Pedro would have put one in Reed Johnson's ear by now. Hillenbrand's, too. And Gregg Zaun's. O-Dog Hudson's, also. And Frank Catalanotto most certainly would have been sent ducking for cover . . .or to the emergency room. Dammit, when are these mediocre Blue Jays hitters going to stop treating Fenway like their personal playground? And when are they going to realize they're the freakin' Blue Jays and start rolling over for the Sox like their supposed to? (Just sounded like a Yankees fan there, didn't I? I was trying to. Honest.)

8) Heaven knows I've spent enough words in this space moaning about Peter Gammons's habit of ripping a player, then once that player starts hitting/pitching/smiling for the cameras better, reversing field like Gale Sayers and bestowing upon him praise, and maybe even his patented Very Special Person honor. True to form, Ol' Gammo was on the 'EEI airwaves this week, blathering on breathlessly about Manny Ramirez's renewed passion, not more than a month (and 10 home runs, it should be noted) after he snidely and irresponsibly trashed him for not caring. It's part of the Gammo package, I suppose, part of his rumor-mongering charm, even if it diminishes what's left of his journalistic credibility. But this . . . this is something even more inexplicable. I can't believe he wrote this, considering how tuned in and passionate he is regarding Red Sox history:

Carl Everett does not get credit for what he means to the White Sox, not only as their only legitimate lefthanded threat against righthanded relievers, but for the edge and energy he brings to that team.

I've got my thesaurus right here in front of me, and strangely enough, nowhere does it tell me that "edge" and "energy" are synonymous with "divisive lunatic who does not believe in dinosaurs but believes whole-heartedly in head-butting umpires on Family Day." At least he hits righthanded relievers well, though.

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

Carl Pavano: The embedded Red Sox, perhaps?