Sunday, November 27, 2005

Nine innings 11.27.05

Playing nine innings while wondering if Keith Foulke ever returned the truck . . .

1) If you don't like the Josh Beckett deal, then I'm guessing you were one of those Sox fans who was too crushed by the Aaron Boone Experience to watch his star turn in the 2003 World Series. Or maybe you just don't follow the National League. Or perhaps you are Brian Cashman and your life is back to that old familiar hell since the GM-free Red Sox somehow heisted this 25-year old fireballer from the Marlins (along with third baseman Mike Lowell and reliever Guillermo Mota) for a couple of prospects and some magic beans. Those are reasonable justifications. Otherwise, there's no excuse for not being jacked and pumped about this trade.

One of our main concerns about the Red Sox at the end of the season was the state of their starting rotation. There was no ace, no real No. 2 starter even, and as promising as Jonathan Papelbon's future appears, it was a foolish leap of faith to suggest he's ready to anchor a big-league staff. It was apparent that the Sox desperately needed a young, proven potential ace. Yeah, and good luck getting one, right? Quality starting pitching is the scarcest commodity in baseball. Pitchers of great skill and success aren't available often, which is how perennial teases such as A.J. Burnett end up commanding $50 million in the open market.

So what did the Sox do? They went out and got Beckett, a five-year proven veteran with - and this is not hyperbole - as much ability as any pitcher in the game. He's fantastically talented, has low mileage on his arm (the blisters are a blessing in this sense), is younger than many current so-called prospects (such as the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang), and rose to the occasion in the biggest starts of his career, establishing himself as a Yankee killer. His best years are ahead, and the ones behind him are pretty damned good. To put it another way: If I were to draw up a list of pitchers I'd love to see on the Red Sox, his name would be second, right below Johan Santana's. I still can't believe he's actually on the Red Sox. When do pitchers and catchers report again?

Much has been made about Beckett's cockiness, as if it's is a bad thing. I'm all for the brashness so long as he can back it up. I want a pitcher who thinks he's good and acts like it. Someone who'll knock Jeter on his ass when he dangles out over the plate. Someone who'll yell at Giambi to "Sit the bleep down" after striking him out. Someone who believes he can win Game 6 of the World Series in Yankee Stadium, then goes out and does it, throwing a shutout on three days' rest.

The Red Sox have that someone now. And make no mistake, Beckett is cocky. He likes to talk, especially when the topic is Josh Beckett. In terms of eloquence, he can make Roger Clemens sound like Winston Churchill, yet he possesses the affable, aw-shucks Texas charm to pull it off. You'll rarely hear anyone describe him as unlikable, except for maybe the guy dusting himself off in the batter's box. A beat writer buddy of mine who dealt with Beckett frequently in the minors had this to say in an email after the deal went down:

"One of the times I talked to him at length, I'm pretty sure he set the Eastern League record for F-bombs in one interview. The record was previously held, from what I hear, by Lenny Dykstra of the 1984 Binghamton Mets. I was impressed. You guys in Boston are going to love him and he's going to love Boston. He's like Clemens and vintage Eckersley rolled into one."

The Rocket and the Eck? Okay, maybe that's hyperbole. But given Beckett's youth, his ability, his track record, and the sense that this is one of those perfect confluence of Right Player/Right Team/Right Time . . . maybe not. I know this much: I can't wait to find out.

2) If you're a regular (or even irregular) reader of this site, you're likely aware that I'm a charter member of the Hanley Ramirez Fan Club. I saw the kid play a handful of times, probably a dozen, during the year-and-half he spent in Portland, and every damn time he did something that reminded you that he had the brightest future of everyone on the field. The kid was absolutely electric, all grace and style and raw athleticism, whether he was sprinting down the line at Ichiro speed to leg out an infield chopper, or springing skyward as if launched off a trampoline in order to snare a liner to short, or sizzling a homer over the Plywood Monster, Hadlock's shoddy replica of the Green Monster. Everything I saw suggested the hype was justified, which is why it was so perplexing that his statistics (.271, six homers) were so pedestrian this season. Maybe he was bored and felt he belonged at a higher level, or maybe his fantastic physical ability masked fundamental flaws, or maybe he's still got some maturing to do in order to stay focused over the long season. Hell, it seems like we've been hearing about Ramirez since Lou Gorman was the GM; it's to forget he's still just 21. Ultimately, though, I think this was the appropriate time to deal him. Prospects are nothing but promises, and one more statistically mediocre season would have taken some of the sheen off Ramirez's superprospect status. I hope and believe that he will live up to his vast and varied talents with the Marlins. But by bringing Beckett to Boston, Ramirez has already helped the immediate future of the Red Sox more than he would have by playing for them.

3) Lost in all the hubbub surrounding the deal is the realization that Mike Lowell's arrival spells the end of Bill Mueller's steady three-year tenure in Boston. While the timing is probably appropriate - the adage tells us it's better to part ways with a player a year too early than a year too late, and Mueller is 35 years old with knees that need constant oiling - we're still sad to see him go. With exception of David Ortiz, he might have been the most universally liked player among Sox fans. He played a Gold Glove-caliber third base, seemed to save his hits for the moments when they were the most necessary, and constantly exuded professionalism in a rowdy clubhouse that occasionally surged past goofy and went straight for tasteless. The ledger says he hit 41 homers, drove in 205 runs, and batted .303 as a member of the Boston Red Sox. His legacy will be much greater than numbers.

4) And speaking of legacies, I hope the rumors that the Sox are considering bringing back Dave Roberts are simply Hot Stove conjecture. His place in history here is spotless and secure - he'll be forever revered here for The Steal, and if you need further explanation as to its relevance, there will probably be statue commemorating it outside of Fenway at some point. But should he return to Boston as a replacement for Johnny Damon, his legacy could be tarnished ever so slightly by the realization that as an everyday center fielder, he makes a heck of a pinch runner. Roberts just isn't much above average as an everyday ballplayer, and the Sox can do better, The Sox should re-sign Damon (hey, it ain't my money), hang on to Boomer Wells (as a 15-game-winning lefty, he should fetch more than Roberts), and let the practitioner of the most important steal we'll ever witness remain a hero in our hearts. There's no need to have all his flaws exposed over the long season.

5) Just heard on "SportsCenter" that the Dodgers are interrupting Grady Little's annual possum huntin' expedition in order to bring him in for an to interview for their managerial opening. Now, I know there are no new ideas in Hollywood anymore, but is it really necessary to re-make the "Beverly Hillbillies" yet again?

6) The joke is so weary now, even the wind-bloated morons WEEI have picked up on it: If we knew the Sox were going to make trades like this, they should have gotten rid of Theo sooner! HARHARHARHARHARHARHAR! (Good one, Big O! You da man! We're not No. 1 for nothin'!) Recycled one-liners aside, this trade does make the post-Theo front office look splendid . . . so why do I have this tiny little nagging concern about the motivation behind the whole thing? Is it because I suspect Larry Lucchino, his approval rating somewhere below our president's at the moment, is fully capable of doing something/anything drastic to make the Sox look better, even if it comes at the expense of making them better in the long run? Perhaps. My biggest fear was that the Sox would try to make a huge splash after Theo left - say, something truly ridiculous, like throwing $57 million at B.J. Ryan - just to prove life goes on without him. I'm not trying to be contradictory here - again, I was giddy when I heard about the trade, I think it was necessary by all measures that don't involve the makeup of the 2006 PawSox, and it was a no-brainer no matter what Lucchino's true motivations. It's just that I'd feel 100 percent certain about the whole thing given more details regarding Gordon Edes's oh-by-the-way revelation that Theo had put in time at the Fenway offices five days in a row recently. What was he doing? Was he involved in this? Is he still the de facto GM? Is there a chance for reconciliation? Or was he just there to gather his leftover Pearl Jam CDs and tattered copies of old Bill James Baseball Abstracts? Until I get confirmation that Theo was cool with this, I'll continue to wonder: What Would Theo Do?

7) The acquisition of slugger Carlos Delgado during the Marlins' liquidation sale won't keep Mets GM Omar Minaya from pursuing Manny Ramirez - in fact, Minaya may have his heart set on Manny more than ever, if this story is to be believed. While TATB is on record as believing the best thing for you, me and David Ortiz is Manny's continued employment as the No. 4 hitter for the Boston Red Sox, I hope Minaya continues his pursuit right up the point of desperation. And that's when the Red Sox should say, "Why sure we'll deal you Manny, Omar . . . how's David Wright sound?" Unreasonable? Hell, yeah. Wright's the second coming of Scott Rolen, a mortal-lock superstar for the next decade - he should be one of the most untouchable commodities in baseball, and I imagine even Minaya realizes as much. But . . . but what if he doesn't? Minaya was mocked in "Moneyball" for his lack of knowledge regarding his own farm system, which explains why he'd deal the likes of Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon, then turn around and deal Colon for a heap of junk that included Rocky Biddle, Jeff Liefer, and a broken-down El Duque. Is it possible that he has disdain for young players in general, that in a moment of dreaming of a Delgado/Manny combo, he'd give up Wright's future for Manny's present? As I said, I doubt it - even a dummy, nimrod, or Joe Morgan would know enough to deem Wright untouchable. But I sure hope the Sox try to find out. (One other quick rant regarding Manny: WEEI's Steve Buckley and Pete Sheppard were discussing the hypothetical merits of a Manny for Ichiro swap the other night. While such a deal might be the best return the Sox could get for Manny, it is far from the no-brainer that Buckley and Sheppard so condescendingly suggested it was. Ichiro has devolved into a one-dimensional singles hitter, and one who had a lower on base percentage than Kevin Millar this season. In making his feeble argument, Buckley went out on a limb and suggested that Ichiro would be a Hall of Famer someday, completely ignoring the fact that Manny would be a lock for Cooperstown if he quit the game tomorrow. I usually respect Buckley's baseball knowledge - I've been reading his work since I was 13, when he was the Portland Press Herald's beat writer for my beloved Maine Guides - so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here. But Sheppard? The only thing he's an expert on is what dipping sauces go best with chicken fingers. To paraphrase Mo Vaughn: Stupid Boston radio hosts! They stupid! Okay, end of rant.)

8) I suppose I'd give the thumbs-up to that rumored Matt Clement-for-Lyle Overbay swap. But all things considered, I'd prefer the Sox continue pursuing Texas's Adrian Gonzalez, a 23-year-old former No. 1 overall pick (and yes, one of my pet former Sea Dogs) who's buried behind Mark Teixeira. Gonzalez remains an unrefined gem, and paired with Kevin Youkilis could make a pleasantly productive righty-lefty platoon at first base. I might even suggest that Gonzalez would outproduce the overvalued Overbay given equal playing time. Besides, Clement's presence in the rotation is much more tolerable now that Beckett's arrival has bumped him back to the fourth or fifth slot, rather than being miscast as a No. 2 starter. If the Sox can somehow convince him to crawl back out of the hole he dug behind the Cellular Field mound during his somewhat less than gutsy playoff performance, he might be a useful member of the Boston staff in '06.

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

"Now batting for Pedro Borbon . . . Manny . . . Mota." (I have no idea if Manny Mota is related to Sox newcomer Guillermo Mota. But anytime you can work a reference to "Airplane! into everyday conversation, you're doing the work of the Comedic Gods as far as I'm concerned.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

And speaking of turkeys . . .

Selected other t-shirts from the Jason Giambi fall collection at the BALCO Outlet Store:

Got Juice?

Huge Giambi Homers

Sheffield Injected, Lawton Approved

Dammit, Why Does Everyone Keep Giggling And Asking Me If I Like To Play With ShrinkyDinks?

Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut, Sometimes You Don't

Drug Policy? What New Drug Policy? What?!? Oh, #$@&!

And, apparently:

Chicks (And Jersey Meatheads) Dig The Longball

(Yup, that's a real and recent photo, from the site Either Giambi has good sense of humor about himself, he just doesn't give a damn what anyone suspects anymore, or he feels like he's 10-feet tall and bulletproof. (A side effect of HGH, FYI). Anyway, be sure to check in Friday/Saturday for TATB's overdue take on the Beckett deal, and have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving. - CF)

(Update, 12/2/05: Hmmmm. . . the photo, which features Giambi hanging out in a T-shirt that says Better Living Through Chemistry, has disappeared not only from my site, but also from VegasExposure and, among others. Either lawyers are involved, Steinbrenner has more clout that we thought, or a raging Giambi will be showing up on TATB's doorstep any minute. Better go hide under the bed just in case.)

(Update 1/6/06: The photo lives on! Thanks, dudes.

Monday, November 21, 2005

1st and 10: Patriots 24, Saints 17

1) Well, it ain't 21 straight, but two in a row is still a winning streak, right? The Pats are 6-4 now after putting together back-to-back wins for the first time this season with today's tougher-than-it-should-have-been victory over the vagabond Saints, and despite their injury-ravaged roster and the mountain of issues they have had to overcome this season, they're now two games ahead of the field in the AFC East. And so, in this moment of shiny optimism, I must ask: Is it possible that their Super Bowl dreams still are based in a little bit of reality? Is their still some hope of that historical threepeat? No? Are you sure? What if . . . Richard Seymour stays healthy and dominates and Tedy Bruschi finds his maniacal All-Pro form, making a suspect defense a stellar one again . . . what if the gifted Ellis Hobbs is the corner they've been searching for all along and the defensive backfield finally gets synchronized . . . what if Corey Dillon's calf injury is a blessing, for it allows his foot to heal in time for the crucial final weeks . . . what if Matt Light and the essential Kevin Faulk return soon from injury . . . what if Daniel Graham/Ben Watson tight end tandem continues to blossom into the Todd Christensen/Raymond Chester of their era . . . what if Todd Brady remains Tom Brady . . . and what if the Patriots continue to get better and better, a trademark of a Bill Belichick team, and suddenly, they're playing their best football of the season when they encounter Peyton Manning (or if the football gods have a cruel sense of humor, Jim Sorgi) in the AFC playoffs? What if? I'm not saying this creaky little two-game winning streak has me thinking the Patriots will win the Super Bowl again. But as I take a glance around the rest of this mediocre league, and as I remember what the Patriots were and what they very well could be again, well, I'm just not ready to say a trip to Detroit is out of the question.

2) And while we're at it, two reasons why I'm convinced the 10-0 Colts will not win the Super Bowl this season. 1) The Bengals exposed their supposedly improved defense yesterday as about as tough to cut through as sherbet. 2) I keep thinking about the one time - the one time - during the Pats/Colts game that the New England got any pressure at all on Peyton Manning. What happened? He panicked, pulled a Bledsoe, and hit a wide-open Mike Vrabel across the middle of the field. He's the same old Peyton. If these were the same old Pats, I'd be planning on the same old postseason outcome.

3) Anyone notice that Willie McGinest's inspired play the past two weeks has coincided with the return of Seymour? Coincidence? I think we know better. Seymour makes life easier for all of his teammates, drawing a double team on virtually every down. It's why we can't give much credence to the stat line when Seymour has, say, two tackles and a half a sack. His impact extends far beyond the raw numbers, and his return to dominance is one reason why I hold out hope that the Patriots defense will be much better at the end of the season that it is at the moment.

4) Man, the Patriots postgame show on WBCN is an absolute trainwreck. Host Gary Tanguay transparently tries to stir up controversy WEEI-style, never failing to search out and dwell on a negative talking point even after a victory. And co-host Andy Gresh comes across as the grating fat kid in the back of the class who seems to think the louder he gets, the funnier he is - he's Eric Cartman all grown up. Why the Kraft family forced these two All-Pro nitwits (along with Scott Zolak, who is about as nondescript at this job as he was previous one) on a listening audience that was just fine with the previous crew of Bill Abbate, Pete Brock and Tim Fox is something I'd really like explained. I've had to turn to Pete Sheppard and Fred Smerlas on 'EEI for my postgame Pats fix. In the past, I thought they were insufferable, but Smerlas has improved at articulating his tactical knowledge, and at this point they're sweet music to my eardrums compared to the shrill, contrived alternative.

5) Words to mark: Ben Watson is thisclose to pulling an Antonio Gates on the league - all he needs is a commitment to keeping him involved in the offense.

6) Scott Pioli has done a better job of bringing in reinforcements during the season than he did during the offseason. While only Tim Dwight has distinguished himself among the Pats' free-agent class of 2005, two players Pioli has added in recent weeks look like they could be assets even when the roster is at full strength. Safety Mike Stone, a one-time second-round pick of the Cardinals, has made an impression with willingness to hit, and Belichick has praised him several times over for his football intelligence. The Patriots' safety position has become the doomed equivalent of being the drummer in "Spinal Tap," - Stone is their sixth different starter at the position this season - and while he's hardly reminiscent of Ty Law in coverage, he's done more to warrant a secure spot than, say, Guss Scott.

7) . . . and as far as running back Heath Evans is concerned, what can you say? That he saved the Pats season last week in Miami? That he's plowed forward with the will of Mike Alstott '01 during his two games with New England? That he has a chance to join Andy Johnson and Craig James as the most popular Pasty White Dude running backs in franchise history? Yeah, yeah . . . we're not only jumping the gun here, we're sprinting laps around the track and yelling "Wheeeeeee! Run like the wind!" But the guy has proven he can plow out the tough yards, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, and his reputation was already made as a blocker. Maybe Evans isn't as good as his early returns have suggested, but he's still damned useful for a second- or third- or fourth-team running back, and if his presence prevents us from ever having to see Seymour at fullback again, there's one more excellent reason for him to remain a Patriot this season and beyond.

8) As usual, ESPN Classic is on in the background, and at the moment of those mesmerizing old "This Week In the NFL" shows is airing. For the football fan who grew up in the era before "NFL Prime Time" and DirecTV, this weekly highlight show hosted by Tom Brookshier, Pat Summerall (and, apparently, a couple of bottles of Dewar's just out of camera range) was must-see TV in its day. This particular episode, from 1972, featured a showdown between Joe Namath's Jets and Johnny Unitas's Colts, which in my usual roundabout way, brings me to my point: Johnny U's success was amazing considering he was, you know, a hunchback. Quarterbacks nowadays are slightly more graceful than they were then, wouldn't you say? Watching him drop back and throw, all herky-jerky and awkward and Zolak-like, I'm pretty confident in saying that his passing form was the inspiration for Uncle Rico in "Napoleon Dynamite."

9) We can only imagine how proud the old coach must have been of his son.

10) As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

All right, I see a lot of Eli Manning in Young Archie, the Saints' legend and currently the NFL's most prominent stage mom. But I see no resemblance whatsoever to Peyton, which leads me toward one of two assumptions: 1) The Mannings' mailman was making some, uh, special deliveries while the Saints were on the road, or 2) Momma Manning must be one goofy looking woman.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A major award

Alex Rodriguez is the American League's Most Valuable Player. And somewhere, Derek Jeter rolls his eyes and snickers.

Rodriguez, the Yankees' richly talented third baseman, edged Red Sox slugger David Ortiz for the award by 24 points, 331 to 307, in voting conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. It was a mildly disappointing development for Sox fans, who are hungry for any morsel of good news during this abomination of an offseason. But even the most determined A-Rod basher - and we here at TATB have made it pretty clear that we consider him baseball's most prominent phony - could not argue that he is as deserving of this award as anyone. Yes, including Ortiz, whom A-Rod eclipsed in several offensive categories, including home runs.

Of course, A-Rod's candidacy was boosted by the fact that the award's definition is much broader and more open to interpretation than its simple title might suggest. The Most Valuable Player? Hell, yeah, that's our Papi - he's the greatest clutch performer in the game, and his importance on the field and off to the Red Sox is unrivaled. Common sense tells me the Yankees would have gotten a lot closer to the playoffs without A-Rod than the Sox would have without Ortiz, and I suspect even A-Rod's teammates might agree. But if you consider the MVP to be The Player With The Best Offensive Statistics Who Plays A Key Position On A Team That Made The Playoffs Award, well, A-Rod's justifiably your guy. So what if opponents would rather face him than at least two of his teammates (Jeter, Sheffield, and even Matsui) with the game on the line - the impact of his massive numbers is indisputable. He's baseball's the best player. Does that make him the most valuable? It's all a matter of the voters' perception.

For all of A-Rod's accomplishments with the bat, it's worth noting that several votes apparently tilted in his favor because of his skill with the glove. A-Rod's defensive prowess isn't exaggerated - as a third baseman, he's still the best shortstop on the Yankees, and his extraordinary range has allowed Jeter to cheat closer to second base, where his primary defensive shortcoming (going to his left) isn't so obvious anymore, particularly to the Gold Glove voters. I suppose there's some logic in giving his defense such weight, particularly when the players' offensive numbers are so similar. Then again, I can't remember another time when the defensive angle was given such consideration. Frank Thomas, Jason Giambi and Jose Canseco have all won MVP awards, and their gloves were ornaments at best.

It's almost satisfying that Papi finished a close second. (Does that make him the MVP Wild Card winner?) We were certain that some pea-brained, attention-whore of a reporter, most likely one named George King, would leave Papi off his ballot altogether in some transparent protest about the DH. Fortunately, Papi was listed all 28 ballots, finishing first or second on all of them, and our conspiracy theories about the Yankee-rumpswab New York beat writers will have to wait 'til next year.

In the meantime, we Sox fans will continue to appreciate the cosmic joke that is being played here. A-Rod and his people have long seemed intent on portraying him as America's Model Ballplayer, to the point that his entire persona falls somewhere between rehearsed and contrived. Yet, for all his gaudy statistics, blandly agreeable quotes and Pepsodent smiles, he can't control one crucial aspect of his all-important image: That when his team needs him the most, he might well be among the least valuable players.

The lingering image of A-Rod's season is the final one. With the Yankees trailing the Angels, 5-3, in the ninth inning of the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS, with the Yankees' season hanging in the balance and Jeter standing on first base after doing his job and imploring A-Rod to finally start doing his, with a chance to be the October hero he so desperately pines to be, A-Rod failed to drive one into the bleachers, and instead drove one of the final nails into the 2005 Yankees' coffin, hitting into a 5-4-3 double play. It was an appropriate conclusion to a miserable series in which he batted .133.

Fortunately for A-Rod, the voting was done before his annual playoff nosedive, and so the sport's most prestigious individual award came down to a matter of what the voters appreciated more: a phenomenally gifted all-around player cursed with an uncanny knack for strangling his bat in the biggest moments, or a fearsome one-dimensional slugger who uses his glove as a paperweight but rises to the occasion more than any hitter we have ever seen.

This year, the voters valued the former more. Fair enough. A-Rod did have a hell of a year.

Right up to the predictable ending.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

The last Yankee to win an MVP award? Donnie Baseball, way back in '85. Considering that his teammates admired him, he was far and away the most valuable player in the league, and he never to anyone's knowledge wore purple lip gloss or attempted to slap the ball out of a pitcher's hand, he really doesn't have much in common with A-Rod. Well, except for this: His teams never won anything of significance, either.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Oh, the places you'll go

With a tip o' the cap to the delightful freaks and geeks at Sons of Sam Horn, who currently have a thread going on this very topic, here's TATB's best guess at where baseball's prominent free agents ultimately end up this winter. Keep in mind that these are strictly guesses, some more educated than others . . . and some probably just plain stoopid.

We've broken it down by position, with the player listed, followed by his current team and then the team we expect him to end up with. As with everything in this dusty little corner of the blogosphere, give it credence at your own peril . . .

Ramon Hernandez, Padres:
Mets. He's not nearly as good as his stats might suggest, which makes him a classic Omar Minaya acquisition.

Bengie Molina, Angels: Angels. Mets are supposedly hot for him, but if anyone appreciates the value of a rock-solid catcher, it's Angels manager Mike Scioscia. He'll stay where he's respected.

Mike Piazza, Mets: Dodgers. Just seems appropriate, though a DHing gig in the AL best suits his declining skills at this point.

Brad Ausmus, Astros: Astros. He hasn't been an Astro his whole career. It just seems that way.

Paul Konerko, White Sox:
White Sox. Losing Konerko - the face of the franchise, at least nationally - would be a PR disaster for the freshly minted champs. Jerry Reinsdorf's cheap, but he's no dummy. They'll outbid Anaheim and keep Konerko where he belongs.

Frank Thomas, White Sox: A's. On-base percentage + a likely undervaluing in the marketplace = A low-risk bargain for Billy Beane.

Erubiel Durazo, A's: Blue Jays. I'd be intrigued if he came to the Red Sox as the lefty half of a first-base platoon, except for one problem: He makes David Ortiz look like Doug Mientkiewicz with the glove.

Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles: Blackballed. And no, that is not meant as some kind of sick Viagra joke. Perverts.

Kevin Millar, Red Sox: One of three places. The Chiba Lotte Marines (best bet), the Angels (non-roster spring training invitee), or "The Best Damn Sports Show, Period." (permanent co-host).

Joe Randa, Padres:
Padres, I guess. I just want to know why he looks like The Joker. Seriously, man, you're freakin' me out here.

(Update: It's been brought to TATB's attention that the Padres likely would have little interest in retaining Randa since they recently acquired Vinny Castilla, along with his rigamortis. Not sure how we overlooked that one - after all, the deal, which sent capable starting pitcher Brian Lawrence to Washington, is what convinced us that it's a good thing that Padres GM Kevin Towers doesn't want the Sox job.)

Bill Mueller, Red Sox: Red Sox. Word is he'd prefer to go West and latch on with a team that trains near his Arizona home. But something tells me the Sox will retain Billy Ballgame's steady services, with understudy Kevin Youkilis biding his time a little longer as the righty half of a first base platoon. There certainly are worse solutions.

Rafael Furcal, Braves: Cubs. A fine player, but one I never would have thought would be coveted at the expense of Nomar a few years ago.

Nomar Garciaparra, Cubs: Dodgers. L.A. owner Frank McCourt remembers Nomah's glory days in Boston, and the embattled owner needs to make a splash. Nomar still qualifies. Sort of.

Johnny Damon, Red Sox: Red Sox. A week ago, I would have said Johnny Jesus is a goner. But the Yankees apparently have lukewarm interest, the Sox are desperate for some positive news after the Theo debacle, and Damon has said all along that Boston is his first choice. I say he gets a Varitek contract - four years and $40 million, give or take a few thousand Benjamins - and it ends up being worthwhile deal for all involved in the long run.

Jacque Jones, Twins. Royals. Where he can play with the poor man's Jacque Jones, Terrance Long. Now if only they'd sign the poor man's Terrence Long, Billy McMillon.

Hideki Matsui, Yankees: Yankees . . . but man, that unusual deadline is creeping up. The ink isn't even dry on his contract, and I bet the bags are back under Cashman's eyes already.

Brian Giles, Padres: Cardinals. He'd be a perfect fit in St. Louis, especially with Larry Walker - a beer-bellied, creakier version of Giles - having recently retired.

Reggie Sanders, Cardinals: Cardinals. After playing for six different teams in six years, the classy and underrated veteran settles into St. Louis for a third straight season. It's about time he had a home.

Sammy Sosa, Orioles: Royals? Tigers? Pirates? Tokyo Giants? How the mighty have fallen . . . and shrunken.

A.J. Burnett, Marlins: Red Sox. He was reportedly wowed by a recent visit with the Blue Jays, and he already is tight with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg from his days in Florida. But if the Sox can get their front office act together, I have a feeling - or maybe it is more than that - that Burnett would be very receptive to their sales pitch.

Kevin Millwood, Indians: Indians. He didn't get much support this year despite his stellar ERA. But what right-minded pitcher would want to leave Hafner, Sizemore, Peralta and the rest of that soon-to-be-phenomenal young offense?

Roger Clemens, Astros: Astros. He's still got it. Might as well flaunt it. Anyway, the Rocket's next mission seems to be to play with his son Koby, a prospect in the lower rungs of the Houston farm system. We'll see if he can extend his so-called twilight for a couple more years to make it happen . . . but you, me, and Mr. More Days In First Place learned to stop betting against him long ago.

Jeff Weaver, Dodgers: Dodgers. I'd love to eavesdrop on a conversation between this Spicoli clone and Boston's favorite exported airhead, Derek Lowe: "Dude . . . where's my car? Where's my car, dude? Dude! No, dude, seriously . . . like where's my car?"

Matt Morris, Cardinals: Rangers. Rekindling their tradition of overpaying for an overrated arm.

Jarrod Washburn, Angels: Brewers. He's from Wisconsin. Yep, that's all I've got. Seriously, where else can you get this kind of insight?

Esteban Loaiza, Nationals: Rangers. Excuse me for a minute . . . be right back . . . I just got the urge to watch highlights from Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS for some reason . . .

Kenny Rogers, Rangers. Retirement. "You got to know when to hold 'em . . . " And while you groan at the worn-out Gambler reference, all of America's cameramen breathe a sigh of relief.

Jamie Moyer, Mariners. Retirement. And somewhere, Darren Bragg grounds weakly to second.

Billy Wagner, Phillies:
Mets. Lame Metaphor Alert: The Mets will blow away bidders like Wagner blows away hitters.

B.J. Ryan, Orioles: Yankees. He should be the Sox's No. 1 target, but the Yankees will win the bidding war due to an inside job; he's supposedly close with fellow Louisiana native Ron Guidry, who was recently named the Yankees' pitching coach and needs all the allies he can get, what with bullpen coach/slippery weasel Joe Kerrigan poised to stick a knife in his back at the first opportunity.

Tom Gordon, Yankees: Phillies. Wait 'til he coughs up a key late-season game and the Phillies Phreaks notice that he looks scared to death on the mound. Boston and New York will seem like a Caribbean vacation by comparison to Philadelphia's wrath.

Ugueth Urbina, Phillies: Venezuelan Penal League. Desperately . . . trying . . . to . . . avoid . . . fireman . . . of . . . the . . . year . . . joke . . .

Trevor Hoffman, Padres: Padres. His agent is talking tough and suggesting Hoffman may leave, but something will get done. San Diego is where the 38-year-old crafted his Hall of Fame resume - hell, he's been there so long, I think he played with Nate Colbert, Dave Winfield and the legendary Gene Richards. It's where he belongs, and where he will stay. (Betcha didn't know Hoffman was an Original Marlin. Or that he's this Red Sox legend's brother. All right, so maybe you did know. Who do you think you are, Gammons?)

Todd Jones, Marlins: Braves. I still don't believe these are his 2005 numbers. He looked finished with the Sox two years ago, and now suddenly he's a slopballing Eric Gagne? Did he cut the same deal with the devil that Aaron Small did?

Kyle Farnsworth, Braves: Orioles. They need a closer with Ryan departing, and they'll gamble on the talented but temperamental Farnsworth by giving him more money and responsibility than he probably deserves. Regrets, they'll have a few.

Theo Epstein, Red Sox:
Chillin' for a year. There's plenty of time to execute his master plan, which includes becoming a GM again, eventually bumping Bud Selig out of the commissioner's office, and preparing for his inevitable presidential run against Republican candidate Tom Brady in 2020.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

The, uh, not-so-legendary Gene Richards, as referenced in the Hoffman snippet. You know, I beginning to think I'm turning into the sports version of Dennis Miller when it comes to obscure name-drops. Just try to stop me. I'll be confusing Al Michaels on "Monday Night Football" in no time.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

1st and 10: Colts 40, Patriots 21

1) Well, that was impressive. Tonight at Gillette Stadium, in what in recent history has been their house of horrors, the Indianapolis Colts scored on seven of nine possessions, converted 12 of 16 third-downs, and dominated the Patriots - their longtime nemesis, as I'm sure you've heard - like they haven't been dominated since . . . well, since the Chargers whupped 'em a few weeks ago. The Indy offense, led by a damn-near perfect Peyton Manning, was as unstoppable as the Air Coryell Chargers and the Vermeil/Martz Rams rolled into one. In other words, it was a performance Manning and the Colts have been dreaming about for some time, one that Manning's daddy will no doubt commemorate with a plaque or a shiny medal for his boy. After their night of sweet vindication, the Colts are 8-0, and talk of them running the table and challenging the unbeaten '72 Dolphins will commence immediately; with the Oswego School for Girls and Richard Simmons Community College coming up next two weeks on their ridiculously easy schedule, it might be possible. Meanwhile, the Pats hobble along at 4-4, a mark of mediocrity that actually seems a bit gaudy based on their performance tonight. Hey, the better team won. There's no shame in that. Of course, now we must brace ourselves for all that breathless "changing of the guard" talk this week, particularly among those who feel vindicated after picking the Colts to win the previous three or four matchups, only to look like fools in the end. The Colts will be lauded as if they are the three-time Super Bowl champions; the Patriots will be dismissed as has-beens and leftovers. But to suggest that Colts get the last word in this supposed rivalry simply because they ruled tonight is to risk looking like a fool again. While the Patriots have some major repairs to make along the way - Rodney Harrison apparently truly is irreplaceable - shouldn't we trust Bill Belichick to make them? Hasn't he earned that benefit of the doubt? Hell, as it is the Patriots remain the frontrunners in the feeble AFC East, and as an old coach named Bill Parcells once noted, all you have to do is get in the tournament, and then anyone can win. The Pats will be in the tournament, and chances are they will encounter Manning and the Colts again. And considering that the Belichick Era Patriots are traditionally better at the end of the season than at the beginning . . . and considering they started the season 5-5 the first time they won the Super Bowl . . . and considering they still own the blueprint for stopping Manning even though they lack the personnel to pull it off at the moment . . . and considering this might have been a different, shootout-style ballgame tonight if not for a crushing Corey Dillon fumble . . . and considering that Tedy Bruschi will be in shape and Richard Seymour healthy and Harrison quite possibly hobbling around the middle of the field on a peg leg and scaring the hell out of everyone . . . and considering all of that . . . well, I'm just not ready for the two-time defending champs to concede the season just yet. We'll give the Colts their due. They are better. Right now. Check back again in January for the final verdict.

2) Yeah, we all knew the Patriots would miss Harrison - I think the assumption in recent years was he was the second-most important player on the team, after the goat-cuddling metrosexual Joe Montana clone in the No. 12 jersey. But did you know they'd miss him this much, to the point where the rest of the defensive backfield has fallen to pieces? Maybe it's because they are down to the fifth-string on the depth chart (Harrison, Guss Scott, James Sanders, Arturo "Rent, Don't Buy" Freeman, and now, someone named Michael Stone) but Manning picked them apart over the middle of the field so effortlessly tonight that found myself starting to long for the stability of Victor Green. We need a solution, people. Is it possible that ex-Pat Tim Fox could ditch that silly stockbroker getup he wears on NESN, grow his '70s-style white-guy 'fro and mustache back, and come out cracking some heads next Sunday in Miami? How about Prentice McCray? What's he up to these days? Rick Sanford? You know things are bleak when Troy Brown starts looking like a reasonable alternative on defense. Unless Harrison gets a robotic knee in the next few weeks or decides to try and play on crutches (figuring he can't be any worse than Duane Starks, I imagine), I don't know how they fill this void. It might be Belichick's most difficult on-field challenge since he's coached the Patriots.

3) Which reminds me: What in the name of Fred Marion has happened to Eugene Wilson this season? The last two years, he looked like he'd become a Pro Bowl fixture, and under Belichick's tutelage, perhaps even develop into the ideal modern defensive back, one who covered like Rod Woodson and hit like Darren Woodson. Sure, that's slight hyperbole, but I think anyone who watched the Pats would agree he was a star-in-the-making, a unique talent, which makes his regression this season all the more perplexing. Is it possible that playing alongside Harrison made him look better than he was? Unless he's simply overwhelmed by the added responsibility he's taken on, that seems the logical explanation.

4) Of course, maybe the defensive backs wouldn't be charred so often if the Patriots had any semblance of a pass rush. Did Manning get even one grass stain on his jersey tonight? He usually had enough time to go through all his reads, call his daddy to ask him who he should throw the ball to, cut his hair with his toenail clippers, chant "Cut that meat!" a few times, pretend he's a mime, call his daddy again to ask him why he likes Eli better, and then throw the ball to one of his four wide-open receivers. The Pats had a built-in excuse with Seymour's injury - ever notice how much better McGinest plays when Seymour is commanding all the on-field attention? - but the results truly were pathetic. McGinest relied on his old fake-inside-run-outside-overrun-the-QB move that and Chris Slade so maddeningly patented during the Pete Carroll years. Rosevelt Colvin was active and around the ball tonight, but more so against the run than the pass, and it's sad but true that the once-fearsome pass rusher really hasn't been much more than Just A Guy since his hip injury. And as for that staunch defensive line we heard so much about early in the season, Ty Warren was invisible, Vince Wilfork is ineffective and fat, his belly practically resting on his toes, and Jarvis Green didn't play as well as his usually does when Seymour is out. The obvious solution is to get Seymour healthy and hope he makes everyone better around him. But when that will be is anyone's guess.

5) Did anyone catch the Brady interview on "60 Minutes" the other night? It was the standard fluff piece, where he gives just the answers an All-American Boy should give, and he's portrayed as some combination of Derek Jeter and Richie Cunningham. I didn't know whether to smile or groan when he said that if he could be doing anything on Earth at the moment, he'd like to be playing golf in Scotland . . . with his mom and dad. (Okay, I groaned.) Not that Brady isn't genuine - the fact that his teammates rave about his leadership while also delightfully busting his chops tells you that he's somehow managed to remain one of the guys in spite of all the fame and fortune - but his answers do sometimes seem rehashed if not rehearsed. The piece ended with a question that was as familiar as his answer. "What's your favorite Super Bowl ring." "The next one," he answered for the XXIVth time. Yawn. But at least there was one telling moment. When Brady was asked if he planned on getting married some day, he said sure, and mentioned wanting to have kids and the whole nine yards. But when the interviewer, Steve Kroft, followed up with, "To Bridget Moynahan?" the actress Brady's been linked with for some time, well, for a brief moment he looked as rattled as I've ever seen him before stammering a non-answer. "That was a look of horror," my wife said. "I don't think she'll be getting a ring anytime soon." So much for the next one being his favorite, huh?

6) Okay, time to deep-fry Duane Starks: I'm not saying Scott Pioli deserves a pay cut for the colossal blunder of trading a third-round pick to Arizona for this slow-footed shrimp masquerading as an NFL cornerback. I'm just saying that Starks is the second coming of Antonio Langham (Pats washout, Class of 2000), and the only reason I'm not comparing him to Chris Canty is because at least Starks has enough dignity to avoid breaking out his "Saturday Night Fever" moves after making a tackle. It appeared that he was finally benched in the second half tonight, which is good considering I was starting to hope one of those dudes on the sideline who play dress up in their Revolutionary War costumes and carry a musket might do us all a favor "accidentally" pick him off. And yes, that's the first time "Starks" and "pick" have been mentioned in the same sentence this season. In conclusion: Duane Starks stinks. (You know, in case you missed the point and all.)

7) Grasping for a positive here, at least rookie tackle Nick Kaczur appeared to do a commendable job on Colts pass-rush specialist Dwight Freeney, keeping Brady from getting clobbered. So he had that going for him, which is nice. Now if he can just keep Moynahan from killing Brady after she sees that interview.

8)Nothing makes me lunge for the mute button faster than the appearance of Michael Irvin on the TV screen. Why is he always yelling, why is he relentless in defending T.O. when you, me and Donovan McNabb know that T.O.'s behavior is indefensible, and what the hell is he putting in coffee that gets him so jacked and pumped? Actually, don't answer that last one. ESPN should be ashamed for employing someone so biased and unprofessional as a so-called analyst. Then again, it seems I write that last sentence fairly regularly these days. Boo-yeah, Mike! Keep up the good work!

9) Edgerrin James isn't the toughest running back in the league, but he might be the toughest to tackle. The few times the Patriots seemed to have him hemmed tonight, he'd somehow slither for three or four (or five or six) yards, and whenever they do wrap him up, he has the uncanny knack of falling forward for another yard or two. After LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander, he's right there among the premier backs in the league, and maybe the national media can stop giving Manning verbal backrubs long enough to suffiently recognize James's immense contributions to the Colts' offensive juggernaut.

10) As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

With apologies to Ty Law, Hall of Famer Mike Haynes is the greatest defensive back in Patriots history. He's 52 years at this writing, and I'm pretty damn sure he could cover NFL receivers better right now than a couple of defensive backs who wore the Patriots jersey tonight. Turn in your playbook, Duane.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Better man

A little more than a year ago today, there we were in baseball heaven, still picking the confetti out of our hair, basking in the afterglow of the Red Sox's first World Championship in 86 years and raising a glass or three to the boy wonder general manager who helped make our dreams a joyous reality.

This morning, here we are back in that old familiar baseball hell, the one that so often comes with the territory of Red Sox fandom. The architect of the what Curt Schilling so memorably toasted as "the greatest Red Sox team of all time" is gone, the Nation has taken a collective wallop to the gut, and the magical autumn of 2004 couldn't feel longer ago.

Theo Epstein should have been an enduring icon in this town, the general manager of the Boston Red Sox for seasons to come if not decades, the Red Auerbach of his time. Instead, he simply walked away from the job he'd dreamed of holding since he was a boy, stunningly rejecting a three-year, $4.5 million deal late Monday afternoon, his longtime boss and one-time mentor apparently too overbearing to tolerate longer at any price.

And the fans, so satisfied just a year ago, are left shocked and saddended and clinging to the thin hope that it was all a terrible misunderstanding, that he'll have a change of heart, pull a Billy Beane and decide he wants to stay. But deep down, in our scarred little hearts, we know better.

Theo's gone for good. And so too is the modern golden era of the Boston Red Sox.

It is not an exaggeration to say that is the most devastating personnel news to hit Sox fans since . . . well, when? Clemens heading for the Dallas suburb of Toronto after the '96 season? Fisk changing his Sox in '80? The sale of Babe Freakin' Ruth to the You-Know-Whos eight-plus decades ago?

Theo is arguably the greatest general manager in the history of the franchise, and I say arguably only because he was on the job for but three years. In all honesty, I have no doubt he was the best. He was progressive and respectful, open-minded and articulate. He gave an ear to both the sabermetric pencil necks and the old-school call-'em-as-I-see-'me scouts. He was the ideal general manager in this time and place in baseball history, in this time and place in this city. For the first time in a long time, the Sox had the right man for the job. That he was one of us only made the Brookline kid's ascent all the sweeter.

We don't need a copy of his resume to recite his accomplishments. He was fearless, trading Nomar Garciaparra, the face of the franchise, in the midst of a pennant race, and he dared to challenge protocol if it meant securing a player he coveted, which is how Kevin Millar ended up as a media darling/team leader/occasionally productive hitter in Boston rather than Hanshin.

He vowed to make the long-barren Red Sox system into "a player development machine," and as Jon Papelbon's dazzling debut and the rave reviews from the Baseball America types suggest, his promise is about to bear plenty of fruit.

He was the youngest general manager to win a World Series. Among his acquisitions were 2004 postseason heroes Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling, 2003 batting champion Bill Mueller, and the greatest clutch hitter/free agent bargain in franchise history, David Ortiz. His teams never missed the postseason, and dammit, do I hate writing about him in the past tense.

The timing of this could not be worse. Theo always managed to plan for the future without compromising the present. Now, at the moment, both appear severely jeopardized. The general managers meetings are not too far around the bend. Free agency is two weeks away. At the moment, the Sox have no first baseman, no second baseman, a third baseman who's a free agent, a left fielder who wants a trade but maybe doesn't, a center fielder who is up for the highest bid, a bullpen that's current state falls somewhere between "flammable" and "scorched" and a starting rotation that could use one premier starter, if not two. Theo's obviously not solving this now, and his second in command, the well-regarded Josh Byrnes, left for the Arizona GM job this week. So who's going to piece all of this together? Will it be Lucchino? Kevin Towers? Huh? Who? Hey, maybe Dan Duquette's available.

It just seems so - well, disappointing - that he's leaving the Red Sox at age 31. It never should have come to this. Theo's contract should have been done months ago, before so many second thoughts seeped into his mind. The Sox p.r. minions could reveal that Theo keeps a pet Gimp in the basement of his office and was prepared to trade Big Papi to the Yankees for Felix Escalona and a bucket of Jason Giambi's old syringes, and still they would be miles from justifying today's news. What happened today is inexcusable.

In the end, maybe his departure is one more reason to admire him. It wasn't about the money; the Red Sox eventually offered him what he wanted, even after forcing him to see his name in the same sentence as Chuck LaMar's a few too many times. Maybe it was about lifestyle. Maybe Theo, who by all accounts is as grounded as he is bright, was tired of being the rock star, tired of the suffocating public. Maybe he just wants to go out for a nice quiet dinner with a friend on Newbury Street without having every camera phone in the restaurant aimed his way and a play-by-play of the entire evening showing up in the "Inside Track" the next day. Maybe he's burned out on baseball, in search of more meaningful or challenging things. Or maybe he'll hop in the car tomorrow, cue up Weezer's "Beverly Hills" and head west to run Frank McCourt's Dodgers.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. Theo's not the kiss-and-tell type, and we may never know his entire motivation. But it seems clear at the moment that the main factor in his departure was an increasingly strained relationship with Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, the man who brought Theo into this business and apparently still liked to think he could take him out of it. Lucchino's reported meddling in personnel matters and the power struggle between mentor and protege has been well-documented in the last few days, and we're reluctant to get into that any further here except to say this: Few of us would have the integrity to walk away from a boss whom we believe breached our trust.

Whatever Theo's private thought process was, I know this much: I do not want to hear Sox management's perspective. I don't want to hear John Henry say anything but "I'm so sorry, fans." I don't want Dr. Charles Steinberg telling me it's all going to be okay because Wally The Green Monster tells him so. And I most certainly do not want to hear Lucchino's silver-tongued spin on this during the inevitable softball-tossing interview with "Dennis and Callahan." It's one thing when Nomar and Pedro find your negotiating tactics distasteful. It's another when an immensely capable person willingly abandons his dream job because you've made it into such a hideous nightmare.

It strikes me as remarkably telling that Brian Cashman decided he can put up with George Steinbrenner's bullying for three more years, yet Theo apparently couldn't take another millisecond with the man who was once his mentor. Does it mean Theo has stronger convictions than Cashman? Possibly . . . probably. But it also suggests that Lucchino is more tyrannical than even Steinbrenner, only he masks it better publicly. On this, a glorious day in the Bronx for sure, Steinbrenner's comment from a few years back rattles around in our mind. "Lucchino's a chameleon," Steinbrenner said. "Just wait. You'll see."

Today, sadly, we saw, and now the Red Sox are scrambling to recover. Maybe it's the first step of a public relations campaign geared toward saving face, or maybe they simply fear that a tar-and-feather-toting mob might be gathering outside of Fenway at any moment, but word is that Red Sox management - the remnants of it, anyway - is devastated by the turn of events. Really? Devastated? Well, now I feel better. I mean, c'mon, they'd damn well better be upset, and they'd better finally understand that being a Sox fan isn't all about patronizing membership cards and getting a chance to buy used sod and bleepin' Stones concerts during the stretch run and milking every last nickel out of the old ballyard.

Maybe now they'll understand that being a Red Sox fan too often comes down to this: Recognizing the right thing to do, believing it to be so obvious that not even the biggest numbskull in a suit could screw it up - then being overwhelmed with shock and anguish when those in power do just that.

Theo Epstein is gone today. So, too, is the modern golden age of the franchise. We'll always have 2004, and we're forever indebted to him for that. But as Theo walks away, we're left with a sadness that will linger for some time.

It was a wonderful three seasons. There should have been so many more.