Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nine innings 5.31.06

Playing nine innings while wishing Mike Timlin and Jason Varitek had skipped the World Baseball Classic . . .

1. So it looks like Roger Clemens is remaining in Houston. Can't say I'm surprised, though as one who declared the Rocket officially dead to me the moment he first put on the pinstripes, I have to admit I'm a little more disappointed than I thought I'd be. It would have made for neat closure - not mention great copy - for him to return to Boston to finish his legendary career. But sentiment has never been in Clemens's repertoire, at least as a substitute for cold, hard cash, and any hopes of a Rocket Reconciliation became a pipe dream a few weeks ago when the Astros made it clear they would match the Sox and Yankees dollar for dollar while continuing to let Clemens live his life of convenience. Oh, well. Guess we'll have to wait 'til next year, when he puts us through the whole "I'm 99 percent retired unless a team offers me $20 mil for three months' work" routine again.

2. Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer? At first glance at his page, an unbiased fan would probably say no. He's never won a Cy Young award, though he's finished second three times. He's won more than 20 three times in the previous five seasons, but he never won more than 17 in the first 13 years of his career. And while the 200th win was a hell of an accomplishment, didn't you think he surpassed that milestone a few years ago? His similarity scores don't exactly bunch him with a pitching staff's worth of Cooperstown shoo-ins, either. David Cone is the most similar pitcher to him, and that certainly seems valid. But others on the list include Dwight Gooden, Kevin Brown, Jimmy Key and Bob Welch - fine pitchers all, but not Hall of Famers by any stretch. Of course, Schilling has a scrapbook full of defining moments that are worthy of a plaque - pitching the D-Backs past the Yankees in the '01 World Series, helping the grubby Phillies to the '93 Series, and I think I've heard something about a bloody sock that sounds pretty heroic. His postseason record - 7-2 with a 2.06 ERA - gives him the right to claim he's one of the best clutch pitchers in recent history. Ultimately, I think he'll get in - hey, never said I was unbiased - but a few more seasons of 15+ wins couldn't hurt his case.

3. Who bats leadoff? Does it really matter that much? Talk about your 'EEI-driven faux controversies. No matter which way Tito Francona approaches this, the Sox will be fine. If Coco Crisp leads off, the Sox have an fleet-cleated instigator atop the lineup, with Kevin Youkilis dropping down to add depth to the lineup. But if Youkilis remains in the leadoff spot - and with a .420-something OBP, he couldn't have done a better job - Crisp has enough pop in his bat that batting sixth or seventh is not out of the question. They're both versatile offensive players, and they're going to help the Sox score a lot of runs no matter where they are situated in the lineup. It's win-win, either way.

4. While it's tempting to take a page from one of the New York tabloids and suggest the best way to deal with a tormenting opponent is by putting a fastball in his ear hole, instead I'm going to take the high road and say there's no shame in getting beat by Vernon Wells. While he is one of about six Sox Killers in the Toronto lineup, the difference between Wells and the relentlessly aggravating Gregg Zauns, Reed Johnsons and Frank Catalanottos of the world is that the Jays center fielder is among the premier (and most underrated) all-around players in the American League, and very possibly an MVP-in-waiting. If you're going to get whupped, he's the kind of player who should whup you.

5. This Week's Reason Jerry Trupiano Isn't Qualified To Call The Shoot-Water-In-The-Clown's-Nose Game at Funtown USA: A few nights ago - I can't remember which particular game it was - the Sox were down to their final out. Joe Castiglione, sounding like his dog ran away as he always does when Sox defeat is inevitable, was trying to call what would be the game's final pitches. ("Pahhped him up . . . (sigh) . . . this should do it . . . ") But, inexplicably, Trupiano kept talking over him, babbling on about how the Kansas City Royals overlooked a local kid named Albert Pujols several years ago and now their in-state rival was reaping the rewards. Now, you don't have to listen to many to broadcasts to realize Troop left his heart in St. Louis - I'm still skeptical that he was pulling for his employer in the 2004 World Series - but is he so oblivious that he finds it acceptable to go off on a tangent during the game's final moments? With a story about the freakin' Royals? I wonder if he would find it at all interesting that the Red Sox supposedly scouted and worked out Pujols and ultimately chose not to draft him way back when, thinking, the story goes, that he was a decent hitting prospect but couldn't play a position? At least that tale might have been relevant to his listeners.

6. I'm not saying he's a wimp, but in terms of mound demeanor, Matt Clement is starting to make Derek Lowe look like Bob Gibson. Okay, I guess I'm saying he's a wimp. And while we're at it, can all the armchair pitching coaches please stop talking about how he has excellent stuff? He doesn't. What he has is a 90 MPH straight fastball that he struggles to spot, and a sharp slider that is as likely to find the middle of the plate as it is the webbing of Jason Varitek's mitt. Cripes, Rudy Seanez has better stuff than that. Clement's might have been excellent once. It's average at best now.

7. Random football note: Peter King predicted in his MMQB column that the Pats and Cowboys will meet in next season's Super Bowl. Sounds reasonable . . . but wait. King also predicted that the Lesser of Bills would win the matchup, Dallas taking a 23-21 victory. Sounds like Mr. King's frequent references to drinking Starbucks beverages are actually euphemisms for sniffing glue.

8. Now that Balco Barry has finally hobbled past the Bambino, I trust that ESPN will halt its all-Bonds, all-the-time coverage and get back to its regularly scheduled programming. Namely, Stu Scott Why-The-Bleep-Is-He-Rhyming-The-Royals-Vs.-Tigers-Highlights Poetry Slams interspersed with Which Teammate Terrell Owens Is Ripping Today updates every 20 minutes. That is the plan? Whew. Such a relief. That ombudsman really gets it done, huh?

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

Remember that Sox-Yanks game in, oh, I believe it was in '86, when one of the Yankees' mustached, vulgar, wife-beater wearing, truly elegant and classy fans plucked the hat off Jim Rice's head? And remember how one daring, bat-wielding member of the Sox went into the stands with Jim Ed to "reacquire" the hat? That was our man LaSchelle here. He might not have been much of a hitter, but he was one hell of a wingman. We tip our hat to him, and we bet Rice would too.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Catching up

Quick thoughts on the Sox while my daughter takes her afternoon snooze . . .

• Oh, one day, they'll be right. One of these years, Manny Ramirez will suffer a slump that extends through the summer, and all the morning show jackasses who are quick to suggest trading the one of the most productive hitters of all time for a collection of worn-down gamers and prospects they couldn't pick out of a pack of baseball cards will almost be justified in their feeding frenzy. But after Manny's 4-homer fireworks display during the Yankees series - you could just see him getting locked in, couldn't you? - I am glad to report that such a nosedive will not occur this season. Manny is being Manny once again, and I mean that in the 45-homer, 125-RBI sense. The haters will just have to find something else to occupy their time - making ignorant fun of Wily Mo, I suppose, or wondering why Renteria bunted for a hit against the Orioles in that game a year or so ago, or dare I suggest even watching a game to its conclusion once in a while.

• Oh-fer-5 with four strikeouts? Guess there's no need to drill Big Papi now, huh, Mike Vaccaro?

• I've written a lot of idiotic things in this space, and to quote that painful Red Roof Inn commercial we're force-fed 60 times per Sox telecast, chances are better than "remote" that I'll write a lot of idiotic things in the future. But I have to admit, it's going to be a long time before I spew something as stupid as my recent comparison of Lenny DiNardo to Andy Pettitte. What can I say? Sometimes the medication fails me.

• I believe A-Rod when he claims he had no idea where the ball was during his three-run homer Tuesday night. I will say, however, that only a five-star phony of his magnitude would evoke such skepticism.

• I'm officially worried about Jason Varitek. I don't know if he's hurt (remember him hobbling down to first a few weeks back?) or if the World Baseball Classic had an adverse affect on him, but something is not right. His swing has never been Griffeyesque, but now it's downright hideous, and even mediocre pitchers are having little trouble messing up his timing. Maybe it's just a slump - probably it's just a slump - but his age equals his uniform number now, and as every study suggests, very few catchers are productive at 33 and beyond.

• You say Willie Harris, I say Donnie Sadler with slower wheels.

• I've always liked Gabe Kapler - he's probably the most articulate athlete I've ever interviewed, and he just plain gets it, as evidenced again in this morning's Bob Ryan column - but as a ballplayer, he seemed like little more than a replacement-level journeyman, someone you're always trying to upgrade upon. But after six weeks of Dustan Mohr and Willie Harris, well, thank goodness he'll return soon to remind us that a fifth outfielder can actually be useful. Welcome back, Kapler. The Fenway Sweathogs have missed you.

• Trust me, I am not making this accusation in hindsight: Terry Francona bleeped up by sticking with Tim Wakefield too long Tuesday night. Ten straight balls is a pretty clear indication that a pitcher has lost it, and when a knuckleballer such as Wakefield suddenly goes bad, crooked numbers can go up on the scoreboard in as fast as you can say walk-walk-homer. But I am not going to fault Francona for leaving in Matt Clement to take a beating last night, because I'm convinced the manager was sending the player a message: You were pissed we skipped your turn against the Yankees last week? Prove me wrong. Prove to me you can handle the pressure, pitch out of trouble and win a meaningful game. In the end, all that Clement proved was that his manager's limited faith in him was justified. I doubt he'll be pitching against the Yankees again anytime soon if the Sox can help it.

• Kyle Farnsworth is by all accounts a meathead, but does he ever have some filthy stuff - maybe even enough to overcome his Jeff Weaver-Kenny Rogers-Ed Whitson meltdown potential. If I were a Yankee fan, I'd much rather see him on the mound than his predecessor, Tom Gordon.

• One more item regarding Clement: Don't know if you noticed last night, but after he got hit by Bernie Williams's line drive, he began flinching at batted balls that were nowhere near him. Coincidentally - or maybe not - that's also when his command and concentration went on the fritz. You'd be a fool not to believe that last summer's frightening incident in Tampa Bay remained in his consciousness, but until last night, I had no idea that it was still affecting him to this extent. But for every pitcher who recovers from being drilled in the head with a liner - Mike Mussina and Bill Swift come to mind - there are the Bryce Flories and Herb Scores, hurlers who never feel comfortable or safe on the mound again, and thus never pitch effectively. I'm not saying Clement is in the latter category, but I'm not ready to say he isn't, either.

• Scott Erickson and Terrence Long to the rescue? And Erubiel Durazo and Richard Hidalgo are on the way? Well, damn, let's just concede that 27th championship and get on with enjoying a Sox-free, stress-free summer already. Seriously, you'd think with all of their resources - and Brian Cashman's supposed acumen as a GM, of which I remain skeptical - the Yankees would do a better job of accumulating second-tier talent and maybe even an actual bench. The days of Darryl Strawberry, Role Player, must seem long ago to the Bronx faithful.

• I'm not one to write off a future Hall of Fame pitcher after a handful of rough starts . . . but man, Randy Johnson is a mess, overthrowing his fastball and sacrificing any semblance of command to make up for the MPH father time has taken. And his once-unhittable slider? It's so flat, it might as well have a neon Hit Me sign. Giving up a Mass Pike bomb to Manny is one thing, but when Kevin Youkilis is swinging from his heels against you, you know you've got troubles. It'll be interesting to see how - make that if - Johnson recovers from this. He clearly has no use for Jorge Posada, and with inexperienced Ron Guidry drawling in one ear and know-it-all Joe Kerrigan babbling into the other, it seems he's got a lot of people telling him what he's doing wrong, but no one yet with the solution.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Speaking of Guidry, this kid is his second coming - yes, I think Kazmir is that talented. For a Mets fan, this has to be the equivalent of seeing Jeff Bagwell in a Red Sox uniform.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, May 19, 2006

Match game

It's time to step into the TATB Way-Back Machine for one more round of everybody's favorite game show . . . Guess That '70s Ballplayer!

And now, here's the host of your show . . . Gene Rayburn! . . .

The master of the malaprop (not to mention the mid-brawl cheap shot, according to Bill Lee), he once remarked to a certain egomaniacal teammate named Reginald Martinez Jackson, "Your first name is white, your middle name is Mexican, and your last name is black. No wonder you're so (bleeped) up."

Tied that Reginald Martinez Jackson guy for the AL lead in homers in 1980 with 41; came up with the Red Sox but lacked the can't-miss status the Gold Dust Twins and Dewey Evans and was traded after the '73 season.

Another young ballplayer the '70s Red Sox were too quick to swap - hmmm, there must be a common thread here - he batted .352 for the '80 Brewers, and still finished 38 points shy of the AL batting leader.

Beat out Eddie Murray for the 1977 AL Rookie of the Year award. And you know what? After batting .307 with 21 homers and 42 steals, he deserved it, even though Murray became a superstar while he fizzled out quickly.

All or nothing slugger once sent a dead rat in a gift-wrapped package to a female sports writer. Yeah, he was all chivalrous like that.

Two-time MVP in the early '80s who apparently had a bet with Jim Rice to see whose talent could erode faster. Let's call it a dead heat.

He jumped straight to the majors from Arizona St. and walloped 23 homers in little more than half a season for the Braves in '78. Contrary to his appearance, is not and has never been Amish.

Manages the Mets like he's still employed by the Yankees.

After a particularly painful loss during the '81 World Series, brought a George Steinbrenner locker room tirade to stunning halt by blurting "Shut the - - - - up, George." I wonder if any of the current Yankee "leaders" would have similarly large cojones. I think we can probably cross Giambi off this list for starters.

Won 25 games for the '80 Orioles; won four more the rest of his career.

"Terry Crowley's lucky he's in (bleepin') baseball . . . " (And if you don't know what I'm referencing here, well, our little PG-rated site can't link to it for NSFW reasons. But a Google search for "Terry Crowley" and "tirade" should lead you in the correct, and hilariously vulgar, direction.)

I never for a moment considered this curveballer a likely Hall of Famer when he played . . . but damn, his numbers make almost a foolproof case (just check out his Similar Pitchers list). Also, in a completely unrelated clue, his real first name is Rik and his middle name is Aalbert. Dork-in-wooden-shoes alert!

This underachieving fireballing lefty's son is currently an overachieving junkballing righty for the Mets. The karma gods have a sense of humor, you know.

Apparently had an irrational bias against marshmallow salesmen, but then he was open-minded enough to give . . .

. . . this speedster a tryout with the Tigers, despite his having been sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison for armed robbery.

Nicknamed "The Mad Hungarian." Nope, I just can't see it. He looks like "The Friendly Armenian" to me.

Once hit three homers in a game at Fenway, an impressive feat for a jacked-and-pumped slugger, let alone a pipsqueak of a shortstop listed at 5-foot-5 and 148 pounds.

"Jeezus, just take the damn picture so I can finish smoking this cig, okay?"

I'm pretty much convinced that if he came out of retirement to play for his former team today, at age 53, he'd immediately become their best player. (And by the way, the fact that this superstar of my youth is fifty-freakin'-three makes me want to go swig a gallon of Metamucil mixed with lighter fluid. Damn, I feel ancient.)

One of the most obscure batting champions of all-time, he won the '74 NL title by hitting .354 for the Braves.

Married to golf legend Nancy Lopez. Just a hunch, but I'm guessing she didn't quite click with the rest of the baseball wives.

Three questions any sportswriter worth his mustard-stained shirt should ask him:
1) Does Krylon still guarantee no runs, no drips and no errors?
2) Do you still hang out at Little League fields with Tommy Lasorda and the San Diego Chicken?
3) Was Pete Rose always such a $&$*#&#&&@&?

This alleged genius hit .199 with no homers in 176 big-league at-bats. Too bad he didn't have teammate like Jose Canseco or Mark McGwire to give him some, uh, pointers.

The photo is hazy, but the clues should make his identity clear:
1) Scored major league baseball's 1,000,000th run. (No, wise guy, all 1 million did not come in the third inning today against Lenny DiNardo.)
2) Batted .337 for the '79 Sox after coming over in a deal with the Astros, then signed with the Yankees the following winter. (Hmm, I wonder if he got booed upon returning to Fenway.)
3) Has been sticking it to the Sox ever since, first as the Yankees GM (Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera developed on his watch) then as MLB's czar of discipline (even Terry Francona has questioned his motives when it comes to his particularly harsh punishments of the Sox).
4) "Let . . . them . . . play! . . . Let . . . them . . . play! . . . "

I mentioned to my wife the other day that this former relief ace and current Sox TV analyst looks great for his age. My best girl's reply: "He'd look better if he got a haircut and shaved off that mustache. Someone needs to tell him the '70s are over." Now, I can forgive her for this for many reasons - she's a thoughtful wife, a patient and loving mom, she brings home sandwiches sometimes without me asking, she puts up with my slobbering and blabbering about Pam from "The Office" . . . all sorts of sweet things, really. But mostly I let this comment pass because she simply does not understand the Essence of the Ec . . . well, hell, you know this is Eckersley. Who doesn't? I mean, c'mon - this is the look he had when he pitched a no-hitter for the '77 Indians, won 20 for the '78 Sox, helped pitch the '84 Cubs to the playoffs, and re-defined the closer role for the late-'80s A's. This is the look he had during his Studio 54 youth, when he was inventing his own lingo, throwing yakkers during the game, then drinking oil and licking beef and living the high life after one more inevitable victory, and it's damn sure the look he's going to have into his mid-50's if he can pull it off. Don't listen to the haters, Eck. You are pulling it off, and those of us with graying scalps and expanding bellies salute you. Now go lick some beef, kid.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Can't you see that it's just rainin'/Ain't no need to go outside

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free waterlogged wisecracks for you . . .

1. I found the Sports Illustrated players' poll that ranked Derek Jeter the most overrated player in baseball to be more amusing than accurate, but I think it's plainly obvious why his peers feel that way about him: He is completely immune to criticism and blame, even when he deserves it. I'm speaking of course of his bad throw that gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in their rubber game victory in the Bronx last weekend. Not only was the brunt of the blunder blamed on novice first baseman Miguel Cairo - as if the calcified Jason Giambi would have caught that ball - but Jeter didn't even receive an error on the play. Further, he had to make the throw from his knees because - and every defensive metric ever invented will support this - he lacked the range to get to the ball without a half-dive. It's a play quite a few shortstops - many of whom don't own Gold Glove awards - would make look fairly routine. That's not to say Jeter isn't a wonderful player; I just don't understand why it is inappropriate to criticize him when the moment calls for it. Hell, during this series, Don Orsillo actually said at one point, "He's won wherever he's been." Now I know Orsillo is a vinyl-covered automaton who has no control over what he says - but Jeter has spent his whole career in New York! With the richest team in baseball! Surrounded by superstars! Even a droid should know better. Let's send Jeter to, say, Kansas City and see if they call him Mr. November there.

2. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, if only to keep the slim hopes that it might actually happen alive in my mind: The best move the Celtics could make this offseason is to tell Doc Rivers to stick to broadcasting.

3. If there is any justice in the world, Barry Bonds will still be stuck on 713 homers (or better yet, hobbling on crutches as he ponders an anticlimactic, McGwire-esque ending to his career), when that abominable piece of deceptive propaganda called "Bonds on Bonds" ends its season. I'd say ESPN should be ashamed for selling out its journalistic integrity and getting into bed with perhaps the biggest fraud in baseball history, but then, "ESPN" and "integrity" have been pretty damn far from synonymous for a long time now.

4. All right, his daily double and Gold Glove defense have convinced me. Mike Lowell is pretty freakin' far from finished.

5. Whatever happened to the NHL gambling scandal, anyway? One minute, "SportsCenter" is making it sound like Janet Gretzky is going to spend the rest of her life making female prison movies (not entirely a bad thing), and the next minute the saga of apparent Soprano-wannabe Rick Tocchet is all but forgotten as they've moved on to the Next Big Controversy or the day's sixth Barry Bonds story.

6. Obviously, receiver's true colors tend to show once he tries to catch a pass with the likes of Rodney Harrison eyeballing his spine, but even the most cynical members of the media admit that second-rounder Chad Jackson is putting on a show at Patriots rookie camp. I'm actually more excited about this Pats rookie class than I usually am, probably because Pioli and Belichick focused on offensive skill players this time around. All of us La-Z-Boy quarterbacks should be able to have fun tracking the tangible progress and contributions of Laurence Maroney, Jackson, and David Thomas easier than we would, say, watching a brute like Logan Mankins or Nick Kaczur.

7. I probably shouldn't recommend this - the language is definitely NSFW - but if you want to hear the funniest audio from an NHL game you will ever come across, go to Google video search, and type in "Bellows," then search until you find the clip from a Penguins/North Stars game. Trust me, you'll know it when you hear it. (And personally, if I were Brian Bellows, I'd have turned to Kevin Stevens there and said, "Why are you hassling me? Are you on crack or something?")

8. I'm hesitant to break the news to these good folks who started this Bring Back the Rocket petition, but I'm afraid the writing is on the wall: Roger is heading back to Houston. I've been convinced all along that the only way Clemens ends up ion Boston or New York is if the Astros a) fall out of contention or b) offer him a low-ball contract. Neither has happened, and Houston shrewdly made the preemptive strike in the bidding with a supposed $20 million offer for 3 1/2 months' work. Unless he's getting sentimental in his old age - and considering he's the ultimate mercenary, I'm not counting on it - or unless Steinbrenner offers him $10 million a start, there's simply no way he comes East when he has all he requires in Houston.

9. I've rerun the DVR more times than Jim Garrison watched the Zapruder film, and I am convinced that in the transcendent final seconds of the season finale of "The Office," Pam whispers this to Jim after she pulls away: "I love you . . . I can't." To which Jim replies with a resigned, "Yeah." Now, you can't quite hear them, and nothing shows up on the closed captioning (a device, by the way, that makes you realize just how talented certain actors are at delivering their lines, John Krasinski in particular), but I am convinced that's what was said. If you picked up on it too - or if you think my crush on the exceedingly lovely Jenna Fischer is now causing me to hear things, as one of my friends at work suggested - shoot me an email and let me know. Oh, and in a related note, my email address is changing to Hey, at least I'm still man enough to realize "Grey's Anatomy" sucks.

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

The Red Sox's top prospect seemingly from 1977 until last year, the likeable Ramirez is leading the NL in hitting, followed closely by . . . Edgar Renteria. Considering what the rejuvenated Nomahhhhhh! and Orlando Cabrera are doing in different parts of Southern California, I'd say this is shaping up to be a heck of a season for ex-Sox shortstops.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Nine innings: 5.12.06

Playing nine innings while waiting for Steinbrenner to call out "the shortstop" . . .

1. Mid-May visits to the Bronx don't get much more enjoyable than this, eh? Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon reminded the Yankees of the great things 25-year-old fireballers can do, sizzling Mark Loretta raised his once-puny average to .282 (the same as some dude named Damon), bobbleheaded A-Rod got a scolding from the increasingly batty Boss, the Big Unit was pummeled down to size, the tabloids flew into a feeding frenzy ("The Big Ugly"), and even after Mike Mussina won a TKO over Curt Schilling in the second game, the Sox recovered to take a maddening-turned-exhilarating rubber game last night despite going 3 for 15 with runners in scoring position. It was the kind of game the dynastic Yankees of the '90s always seemed to win, and while we know it's early (hey, isn't this Dave Winfield's time of year?), it sure is a blast watching the Red Sox win them now.

2. It's a foolish endeavor to dismiss the Yankees early in any season - they usually have the talent and resources to at least patch up their problems - but man, there's no denying that they have some major issues at the moment. Randy Johnson, the alleged ace, is a mechanical mess, he yells at Jorge Posada like he's the enemy, and you have to figure his shoulder is killing him if he'd go so far as to have an MRI. Hideki Matsui's injury could be devastating - no Yankees hitter other than Jeter scares me more when the game is on the line, and unless they trade for someone like Jay Payton, there's no one on their strikingly feeble bench (Miguel Cairo, first baseman?) that is capable of replacing him. And we haven't even mentioned Gary Sheffield's injury, Tanyon Sturtze's sudden realization that he's Tanyon Sturtze, or Carl Pavano's perpetually bruised posterior. Guess we'll see if Brian Cashman is capable of pulling another Aaron Small out of his hat. Color me skeptical.

3. I've never known quite what to make of Tom Verducci, the outstanding baseball writer for Sport Illustrated. While he's written some of the finest Red Sox-oriented features I've ever read - a definitive piece on Pedro Martinez six or seven years ago and the 2004 Red Sox Sportsmen of the Year tearjerker come immediately to mind - he's a Jersey guy who has long had a habit of taking subtle and sometimes unnecessary shots the Red Sox. So when I read the following item from one of his recent mailbags, well, let's just say I filed it under Things That Make You Go Hmmmm:

In your Red Sox column, I couldn't help but stutter when I got to the part about Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon ("noticeably trimmer and with less pop"). Short of saying "Jason and Trot sure miss that flaxseed oil and the clear," what are you insinuating? I'm not from Egypt, and don't know about da' Nile.
-- John, Windsor, Conn.

Ah, yes, this is the shadowy age we live in, the one owners and players created by giving us the Steroid Era. Scouts take note all the time of players who look smaller and show less pop. They use the line "Congress got him" to explain some guys' declines. If you've been watching the past two seasons, you know what I mean. That said, I do think both players got very big, and at their age, and in Nixon's case, with his injury history, they're probably better off being a bit lighter. The question is not what happened -- everybody deserves the benefit of the doubt -- but will they suffer any decline? Pudge Rodriguez, Bobby Higginson, Scott Spiezio, Ryan Klesko, Nomar Garciaparra ... all suffered declines when they weren't as bulked.

Is he implying something here? It certainly seems so, though to his credit (if that is the word), later in the column he also points suspicious finger at a certain suddenly potent Yankee. When asked if a team has ever tried to void a player's contract because it was agreed upon under false pretenses, Verducci writes:

The Yankees actually looked into that possibility last year before Jason Giambi made a dramatic and unbelievable turnaround. His game and his body changed almost overnight in May, and the Yankees dropped any idea of trying to get out from under his contract.

The bold emphasis there is mine, but the statement is curious. Verducci, after all, is a wordsmith. One who is apparently adept at making us read between the lines.

4. The better Kevin Youkilis plays - and so far he has been consistently excellent, an on-base machine with steady glovework to boot - the more I wonder why Tito was so reluctant to give him Kevin Millar's at-bats late last season. Loyalty is swell and all, and maybe he's simply improved from last season to this one, but if the Sox had this version of Youkilis in their lineup a year ago, the AL East race would have been far less dramatic.

5. If I could have any wish fulfilled, any wish at all - well, make that any wish that didn't involve a tub of lime Jell-O and Pam from "The Office" - I think I'd wish that Jimmy Fallon swallowed a case of extra-explosive Pop Rocks before he began gulping that Pepsi and prancing around like the no-talent, Sandler-lite damn fool that is. Yes, I think that would be my wish. (Though after watching tonight's incredibly well-done season finale of "The Office" - well, let's just say wish No. 1 is going to stay at the top of the charts for quite a while. Man, is she hot. Hey, you don't think my wife reads this site, do you?)

6. For obvious reasons, I'm glad Wily Mo Pena is settling in and contributing. The Sox are a better ballclub if Trot Nixon has a platoon partner, his contributions silence the talk-radio banshees who turned on him before giving him a legitimate chance, he's a good kid who works hard and is easy to like. But mostly, I'm glad I no longer find myself belittling Bronson Arroyo in an attempt to defend the trade. Arroyo is one of my favorite Sox of the Idiot Era - he got the most out of his ability, pressure didn't bother him, he tended to bring out the worst in A-Rod, and he loved being here - and it really bugged me when I'd catch myself saying, "Ah, Arroyo's just a fourth- or fifth-starter, the NL will catch up to him, blah blah . . ." whenever one of my buddies would start dumping on Pena. I like Pena, and I reluctantly liked the trade when it happened. But I want to keep liking Arroyo as well. The more Pena contributes, the easier it is.

7. Yeah, I got pissed when I read Mike Vaccaro's inflammatory column the other day, but I have to admit, I long ago wondered why the Yankees haven't knocked Big Papi on his ass once every once in a while. Not that it would necessarily work - when he's angry, he tends to take it out on the baseball - but they have to do something to keep him from walloping them time and again. (And that something apparently does not include signing Mike Myers.) Why they have sent Papi a we're-not-going-to-take-it-anymore message is something of a surprise. Oh, right - they're classy. Almost forgot.

8. Programming note: While it may seem we've been slacking when it comes to pecking out posts this week, I was actually working on a couple freelance projects, including one posted on one of my favorite sites, Baseball While some of the material may seem familiar to TATB readers (yep, Buckethead makes a cameo), check it out if you get the chance. It's truly a great site and I was thrilled to be asked to step to the plate as their "Designated Hitter" columnist. Also, rumor has it Friend of TATB Jamie Mottram of AOL's SportsBloggersLive is going to give us a plug on ESPN's "Cold Pizza" this morning, so set your TiVo and such accordingly.

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

So how did the deal work again? The Sox had to take Beckett's contract in order to get Lowell? Okay, maybe that's not quite how it went down. . . but so far, the Sox's third baseman is playing like his miserable 2005 season was indeed an aberration. I'll admit I'm surprised, but I sure am enjoying the Mike Lowell Resurgence.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A TATB tribute to the 1985 Los Angeles Clippers

Yes, seriously.

What the bleepity-bleep is the justification for this on an alleged Boston sports site, you ask? Fair question, I suppose.

Could be because the Clippers' astounding emergence as a Western Conference playoff force has me longing for the days before they became the trend of the moment for every D-List Hollywood celebrity, fame-hungry wannabe and "Malcolm in the Middle" castmate.

Could be because I'm permanently stuck in an '80s NBA time warp, having spent way too many daytime hours absorbing those Dan Patrick-hosted "NBA's Greatest Games" on ESPN2. (My favorite is the one where Isiah Thomas, after watching footage from Game 6 of the '88 Finals, begins crying, explaining to Patrick, "You just can't understand . . . you just (sniffle). . . you just can't understand." Which, coincidentally, is the exact same way he explains most of his decisions to Larry Brown.)

Or it could because I need something quirky and comforting to take my mind off the bizarre "Good Times" episode my remote inexplicably stalled on tonight in which Penny's mother cornered her and burned her with an iron. Man, no wonder Janet Jackson is so messed up.

But the truest reason? This: I found this Clippers card set while cleaning out my old desk a few weeks back and got such a kick out of it that I thought you might too. You can find the relevant info on the '85 Clips here. The irrelevant info . . . well, you're in the right place. Let's go . . .

Bridgeman, along with Dave Meyers and Brian Winters, were the three magic beans the Lakers paid the Bucks for a giant named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar prior to the '76-'77 season. Actually, despite the sheer ridiculousness of that deal (was a young Rick Pitino the Bucks' GM?), the previous snarkiness was probably unfair to Bridgeman, a smoother version of Vinnie Johnson who provided instant offense while averaging double figures in scoring eight times for some outstanding Bucks teams. Bridgeman remains one of the most Milwaukee's most popular former athletes, having returned to the city and the team after his sentence with the Clippers was completed, and he's currently a successful businessman whose holdings include a pair of Wendy's franchises. In other words, not only can he brag that he was traded for one of the great players in NBA history, but he can have a Frosty on the house any damn time he pleases. Sounds like a well-lived life to us.

I admire Bill Walton for many reasons - for mastering the game at its purest form, for shooting an astounding 21-for-22 in an NCAA final, for overcoming his childhood stuttering problem, for adding new meaning to the Blazers' nickname in his hippie-tastic '70s, for giving the '85-'86 Celtics the most talented, selfless backup center in hoop history, for calling out Larry Johnson as "a DESPICABLE human being" during an NBA Finals broadcast. But mostly, I'll forever dig Walton because of a first-hand experience that confirmed he's as down-to-earth and jovial as the perception. It took place during my sophomore year at UMaine. I had just begun working at the Maine Campus, the student newspaper, and I was assigned to cover an on-campus speech Walton was making regarding some topic that escapes me now, though I recall it had nothing to do with basketball - in fact, the media was forewarned he wouldn't be answering questions about his hoop career. Well, you know me. I couldn't help it. After the speech, he casually met backstage with the three or four reporters. Eventually, I got up the nerve to stammer a question about the '86 Celtics. I'm sure it came out sounding like Chris Farley's awestruck "interview" with Paul McCartney on Saturday Night Live: "You were in the Beatles . . . (awkward pause) . . . that was awesome." I cringed, awaiting for a terse reply, a scowl, an admonishment. Instead, Walton's face brightened, and while this isn't an exact quote of his answer, it is how my memory chooses to remember it: "Well, young man, let me tell you about the 1986 Boston Celtics. Not only was that the most WONDERFUL experience I've ever had playing the game of basketball, but it was also a WONDERFUL experience just basking in the camaraderie of that locker room every single day. What a time it was to be a Celtic. Before the game, McHale would be in one corner, reading the newspaper and cracking jokes. Ainge would be pestering him, calling him Frankenstein and just being a nuisance like only Danny Ainge could be. You'd have the Chief reading his love-letters aloud in that booming voice, and DJ would be sitting in front of his locker eating a bag of McDonald's. And right before it was time to play, K.C. would be at the chalkboard, trying to draw up a play, and Larry would interrupt him, shake his head and say, 'Chief, you win the tip, I'll hit a (expletive) three, and we'll never trail.' Young fella, let me tell you, it was a wonderful, WONDERFUL time to be a Boston Celtic."

"LOOK AT THE UNIT ON THAT GUY!!" (Seriously, it's a minor miracle that we did not come to learn the phrase "wardrobe malfunction" during the NBA's inexplicable Tiny-Shorts-On-Giant-Dudes era, which means pretty much anything pre-dating Air Jordan, the Fab Five, and the Baggy Shorts Revolution. On behalf the American viewing public, Shaquille O'Neal thanks you.)

Murphy was a standout at Boston College during the Michael Adams/John Bagley years, where he also managed to be the central figure in one of the Eagles' 3,294 basketball scandals over the past few decades. Google wasn't of much help - maybe I should give Ted Sarandis a call - but I recall it being something about him attending night school instead of taking classes with the smahhht kids. In light of a Heisman Trophy-winning QB milking a fifth year of eligibility by taking a single ballroom dancing course, it doesn't seem so scandalous by current standards. Either way, Murphy shot 16 percent (yes, sixteen - 8 for 50 for you bricklayers out there) for the '85 Clips, and after a tour in Europe, we're assuming he eventually fell back on that BC Night School degree.

Ummmm . . . he's the father of University of Tennessee and WNBA star Tamika Catchings. How about that for an interesting tidbit? No? Okay, I guess you can call him nondescript, then. At least he wasn't Granville Waiters.

How a generic newspaper caption of this photo might read: The Clippers' Bryan Warrick, half-man, half-bat, rips the jugular vein out of the neck of the Nets' Wayne Sappleton during the Clippers' bloody 112-88 victory last night in Los Angeles. Warrick was called for a foul. New Jersey's Mike O'Koren (left) looks on.

Poor Derek Smith. Every time he had a triumph, it was trumped by tragedy. After averaging over 22 ppg at age 23 and earning a reputation as a ballhawking demon on the defensive end, his career was permanently altered when he blew out his knee nine games into the '85-'86 season. While he came back and carved out as a useful, willing, but fragile role player, his knees only got worse, and after a stellar, bittersweet cameo with the Celtics in the '91 playoffs, he was forced to retire at 29. Such a star-crossed career might have left a lesser man bitter, but the affable, popular Smith never lost his passion for the game, and by '96 he was a well-regarded young assistant coach for the Washington Bullets. Then came the worst tragedy imaginable. On a team cruise prior to the start of the '96-'97 season, Smith suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 34 years old. In the final sad irony, the autopsy revealed he had lived his entire life with an abnormally large heart. (Footnote: I keep a file in my desk of sports articles that have meant something to me or affected me in some way - Gary Smith's SI masterpiece on the Indians' spring training tragedy, Steve Buckley's wrapup of the Maine Guides' season in '84, my hometown paper the day Len Bias died, stuff such as that. This column on Smith's death, written by Michael Wilbon in Aug. '96, forever has a secure place in my file. I can't give it a higher recommendation.)

Not really sure what is happening here, but A) The Knicks' Ken Bannister was widely considered the ugliest player in the league, thus the nickname "The Animal"; B) our man Rory White looks like he's suffering an acute, very specific pain; and C) sometimes being a regulation NBA basketball is not all it's cracked up to be. Draw your own conclusions.

You probably remember Michael Cage. He was a beast of a rebounder, sort of the Ben Wallace of his time, and he carved out a very respectable 15-year NBA career. But that's not what you remember him for, is it? No, of course it isn't. You remember Michael Cage for the Jheri Curl, that magnificent Hazelwood-in-Alaska-slicked mane that undoubtedly was the inspiration for the Eriq LaSalle character in "Coming to America," if not a certain young Dominican boy daydreaming beneath a mango tree. What a legacy. What a legacy. Michael Cage, you let your soul glo despite the fire marshal's warning, and for that we salute you.

The 1984 NBA Draft is regarded as the deepest in league history, and with good reason. (H)Akeem Olajuwon went first, Michael Jordan third, Charles Barkley fifth and solid pros Otis Thorpe, Kevin Willis, Sam Perkins and Alvin Robertson all were chosen in the first 15 picks. So whom did the LA Clippers select with the 8th overall pick in the first round? Yup, our guy Lancaster here, despite the fact that he was a tweener who averaged just 12 ppg in his career at Louisville. The pick was panned as questionable at the time, and the Clippers attempted to justify it by claiming they needed depth at guard and Gordon could play the point in a pinch. Which might have been a reasonable argument, we suppose, had the Utah Jazz not selected some kid from Gonzaga named Stockton eight picks later.

Nixon has the dubious distinction of being the only player in NBA history who couldn't stand playing with Magic Johnson. Perhaps the quickest guard of his time (though Randy Smith and Rickey Green might disagree), Nixon had been immensely popular in L.A. - he embraced the Hollywood lifestyle and married "Fame" star Debbie Allen - and he believed his name belonged in lights. He struggled - or perhaps refused - to control his ego despite the Lakers' on-court success, becoming more jealous with every Magic star turn. Fed up with the divisiveness, the Lakers sent Nixon and Eddie Jordan to the Clippers in exchange for center Swen Nater and the draft rights to guard Byron Scott in the summer of '83. Lakers fans initially hated the trade - Jack Nicholson took to wearing black to home games as a way of protest - but Scott eventually thrived as the sweet-shooting complement to Magic on three championship teams, while knee injuries robbed Nixon of his speed, and sooner rather than later, his skill. He spent nearly two full seasons on the injured list, and retired after the '88-'89 season. Not sure what became of Magic Johnson.

My old man's your typical stoic Mainer, more prone to reluctant, prove-it-to-me-then-prove-it-again praise than to hyperbole. So when he came home from a Bucks-Celtics game during Johnson's rookie year with Milwaukee and declared, "Marques Johnson is the best basketball player I've ever seen," well, apparently that's the kind of thing that sticks in an 8-year-old budding sports nut's mind until he's 36. Twenty years after his career ended, Johnson isn't cracking anyone's Top 50 All-Time players list - except for possibly my stubborn ol' dad's - but he was an accomplished pro nonetheless, a five-time All-Star who was as smooth offensively as any player of his era not nicknamed the Iceman. Naturally, his better days came pre-Clipper. Johnson's career ended abruptly in 1986 when he ran headfirst into behemoth teammate Benoit Benjamin's bloated gut - you just can't make something like that up - and suffered a neck injury. Running into obese teammates - such was the danger of Clipperdom in the '80s. (IMDB note: Johnson had a small role in the classic "White Men Can't Jump," playing Raymond, a dim-bulb of a hoopster who attempts, with much comedy and little success, to rob a familiar convenience store after losing a high-stakes pickup game. Don't know if Johnson ever took acting seriously, but he was certainly convincing as a laughably deranged basketball player. Probably not much of a stretch after the Clipper Experience, huh?)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Don't I know you?

Let's kick it old-school with another mindroasting round of Guess That '70s Ballplayer. You know the drill: I'll write a short clue beneath to the player's identity beneath his photo, and within the text I'll link to his page.

Got it? Good. Play ball . . .

In his image-destroying post-playing days, he seemingly knocked up half of Southern California, prompting this popular bumper sticker: "(His name) is not my Padre."

That's not a mustache . . .

. . . THAT'S a mustache!

He'll turn 63 this month, but his famous pitching elbow is only 31.

"If anyone asks me 'Why the long face?' one more time, seriously, I'm going to have to start kicking some ass around here."

Bill Mueller-type who shared the AL Rookie of the Year award in '79 with the Jays' Alfredo Griffin; his career was over age 29 due to a back injury.

Times he led the American League in home runs: 2. Times he was named People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive.": 0. Go figure.

I simply cannot wait for his Hall of Fame speech. Ten bucks says he does the whole thing in the third person.

"For the last $*%($#$ time, no, I am not the convict Mike Dukakis furloughed. I played for the Detroit Tigers and was a model citizen, unless you happened to be an opposing pitcher. Not the same guy. Understood? Cripes."

Those sideburns are so money, and he doesn't even know it.

After his Cubs were booed during an early season loss at Wrigley, he unleashed the greatest managerial tirade in the history of managerial tirades, spitting out something like 73 expletives, including this timeless excerpt, which half of my buddies know by heart: "They're really, really behind you around here . . . my (bleepin') (bleep). What the (bleep) am I supposed to do, go out there and let my (bleepin') players get destroyed every day and be quiet about it? For the (bleepin') nickel-dime people who turn up? The (bleepers) don't even work. That's why they're out at the (bleepin') game. They oughta go out and get a (bleepin') job and find out what it's like to go out and earn a (bleepin') living. Eighty-five percent of the (bleepin') world is working. The other fifteen percent come out here. A (bleepin') playground for the (bleepers)." (I'd link to the audio of the entire beautiful meltdown, but, well, this is a family blog and all. But if you know your way around Google . . .)

Click here, then just try to say his name without chuckling.

Put an end to Pete Rose's 44-game hitting streak in '78; Rose, ever gracious, griped afterward "that he pitched me like it was the seventh game of the World Series."

I know this gives away his identity, but as a rookie, he played alongside Mike Schmidt; as a senior citizen, he's playing with the alleged Next Schmidt, David Wright. That's what you call longevity.

A New Yawk kid who was the closest thing the post-Seaver Mets had to a star, he played for Joe Torre, coached for him, and as an arrogantly inept manager of another AL East team, pretty much always lost to him.

He was the early favorite to become the Red Sox manager after Grady Little was sent back to Gumpville in shame, but if I recall correctly, his current employer wouldn't let him interview for the opening.

He sprinkled weed on his pancakes? This guy? Really? Sorry, just can't see it.

The irony of his stubborness/ignorance regarding "Moneyball" is that grasping the book's principles would only confirm his own greatness as a so-so batting-average, high-OBP offensive force. (And if that isn't enough of a clue, try this: as a broadcaster, he makes you wish he were born mute.)

Three factoids: 1) Signs autographs by drawing a heart in place of his last name. 2) Accused by manager Dick Williams of smuggling cocaine into Canada in his hair dryer. 3) Owned the best throwing arm in baseball by anyone not named Dwight Evans or Dave Parker.

We thought this Hall of Famer was one of the smoothest cats ever to play the game, though the accusation by Robin Givens's mom that he gave her herpes might have warped our perspective ever so slightly.

You can't mention this stellar shortstop . . .

. . . without mentioning his longtime double-play partner, both of whom deserved more Hall of Fame consideration than they received.

Gained notoriety by posing for "Playgirl." And no, I'm not a subscriber, wiseass.

Sure, he looks jovial enough here, but tell it to Frank Lucchesi.

Pedro and Roger excepted, no Red Sox pitcher in my 28 years as a fan has been more fun to watch.