Monday, July 31, 2006

Nine innings: 07.31.06

Playing nine innings while waiting for Theo to pull off an unexpected deal . . .

1. First reaction to the news the Yankees acquired Bobby Abreu from the Phillies: How perfect. Another overpaid, over-30 offensive star for Georgie Porgie's collection. But fending off my cynicism for all things pinstriped for a moment, let me offer my honest assessment this way. I didn't want Abreu in Boston, but I'm not all that thrilled with him joining the Yankees, either. I wrote about this the other day, but Abreu is as enigmatic as any elite player in baseball, excluding Manny Being Manny. The pros? He's an on-base machine who will fit anywhere the Yankees slot him in the lineup. He has a gorgeous line-drive swing and is just about an impossible out when he's in a groove. And he's a fine defensive outfielder when the mood suits him . . . which leads us to the cons. Sometimes, he plays with a charmless indifference - he dogs it so often on grounders that Manny looks like David Eckstein by comparison, and he'll have days where he plays right field as if he's shagging batting practice. And his power shortage since last year's All-Star break is nothing short of alarming: in 171 games and 604 at-bats, he has just 14 home runs - and none in his last 132. The player he has been this season is worth a fraction of his eight-figure salary. It's a risk the Yankees can afford to take, and it's not like they gave up anything for him, but I don't think anyone really knows if he'll help as much as his talent suggests he should.

2. So how will the Sox counterpunch? Actually, I'm not so sure they should, because there just doesn't seem to be a whole lot out there on the market. The one intriguing player whose name keeps popping up in rumors real and Steve Phillips-imagined is Scott Linebrink, the Padres' consistently effective setup man. But the more I thought about it, the more I doubted Linebrink would be the pitcher in Boston that he is in San Diego. For one thing, he's no phenom, but more of a journeyman than I ever realized - the Padres actually got him for the $20,000 waiver price from the Astros a few years back - and I'm immediately suspicious of middling middle relievers who suddenly become effective in San Diego. I've seen a few too many Rudy Seanezes and Jay Witasicks revive their careers there (hmmm, could it be the close proximity to Tijuana?) then go on to revert to lousy form once they are sent off to perform in bigger markets and smaller ballparks. Linebrink's been nothing but excellent for San Diego . . . which makes me wonder why they'd move him, especially with Trevor Hoffman nearing the end. Maybe he's worth the risk, but for now, color me skeptical. The other name prominent in Red Sox trade rumors is Devil Rays shortstop Julio Lugo. Frankly, this mystifies me. Lugo is a decent offensive player with good speed, but he's erratic defensively with a scattershot arm, and if I recall correctly, he ended up with Devil Rays after Houston released him following an arrest for punching his wife in the face. Why Theo and Co. seem so fixated on this guy - his name has been coming up in trade rumors for a year now - is something I've never understood. I don't want him messing with the clubhouse chemistry, or the chemistry of that stellar infield defense. Lugo could have a negative effect on both. I'd rather stand pat.

3. This Week's Reason I Hope Jerry Trupiano Takes Up Skiiing:

I'm driving into work Wednesday listening to the first inning of the Sox-A's game. Joe Castiglione is reading Kyle Snyder's life story from the media guide. After telling us about every excruciating detail of Snyder's life up to and including his conception, birth, high school basketball career, medical history, and the number of chicks he hooked up with at North Carolina, he mentions Snyder's dad is an acclaimed heart surgeon who does "pro bono" work in Sarasota.

Enter Troop: "I used to eat at Sonny Bono's restaurant in Houston."

It is then, after the single tear runs down my cheek, that I start thinking a Castig-Jack Welch pairing would be an upgrade. (And I'm not even going to get into Troop's "Way back! WAY BACK! . . . And IT'S . . . caught at the wall!" call of a Trot Nixon fly ball in the 10th inning of a tie game Saturday, because really, it's no longer news when he painfully - or is it deliberately? - misjudges a call. By the way, I hate him.)

4. Cory Lidle is the slop-throwing embodiment of a league-average pitcher, but considering the Yankees' fifth-starter alternatives were Sidney Ponson, Shawn Chacon, and apparently either Ed Whitson or Dennis Rasmussen, he'll likely be an upgrade. All things considered, though, I'm glad he's headed to New York rather than Boston. Rather than acquiring a Lidle or a Jon Lieber (whose fastball is barely exceeding the speed limit these days), I'd rather take a chance that David Wells has enough bullets left in that blessed left arm to contribute down the stretch. While Wells looks like he has been on the Chris Farley diet plan - seriously, he's probably put on 20 pounds since he's been "rehabbing" - he is as effortless a pitcher as I've ever seen, and if his creaky knees can hold on through October, he will help the Sox more than any third-rate starter they might acquire.

5. Caught a few innings of one of those "Red Sox Classics" on NESN Sunday afternoon, a Sox-Tigers game from August '88. Beyond a seven-RBI performance by Dewey Evans, it didn't seem all that classic to me, though there were certainly enough comical and compelling reasons to watch. A few scattered observations: Rookie color analyst Jerry Remy squeaked like a backup singer for Alvin and the Chipmunks, and curiously, he kept referring to the "Tigahs." You can take the boy out of Fall Rivah but. . . It's a wonder what a two-pack-a-day habit and a phonics course or two will do for your voice . . . To borrow a phrase from Phil Hartman's Sinatra, Ned Martin has chunks of Don Orsillo in his stool . . . Six of the nine Sox starters had wicked pornstaches. Kevin Kennedy must have felt all tingly watching this team . . . I'm not saying everyone nowadays is on some performance enhancer or another, but the current Sox ballgirls are bigger than the '88 Sox's starting infield . . . Curiously, most of them also have better mustaches . . . I tried to resist that joke, honest . . . For perspective, Clemens was five years into his Sox career at this point. Amazing . . . Mrs. TATB, upon seeing Sparky Anderson: "Wow, he's old. He must be dead now, right?" . . . Nope, still kickin', and only 72. I bet he was born looking like he was 60 . . . In his prime, Alan Trammell was every bit the player Captain Jetes is . . . If only he could have mastered the fist-pump . . . Fenway looks so much more beautiful now than it did then. The Monster needed a coat of paint, the infield dirt looked like a high school field, and the outfield had more bare patches than my lawn. Doesn't even look like the same place.

6. I hate to do this because I like the guy personally and as a pitcher, but dammit, you jackals and mouthbreathers are forcing my hand, so here goes: Bronson Arroyo has not won in eight starts. After an 8-2 start, he is now 9-7. He has a 5.45 ERA in July. He is not going to win the first of 47 consecutive Cy Young Awards this season. He may not win more than he loses. Yes, he would help the Red Sox . . . but so will the manchild he was dealt for, Wily Mo Pena, and judging by Limp Nixon's well-practiced Freak Injury Grimace last night, we should be pretty freakin' grateful that this kid is around. So what say we let it go now, okay?

7. A kindly reader informed me that The Office's Jenna Fischer - the Official Stalkee of TATB - appears sorta nude in August's edition of Jane magazine. Now, I've never bought Jane, even for the articles. Hell, I've never heard of Jane. But it's amazing what you can learn - and see - with the assistance of Google. I'll be in my room if you need me.

8. According to, the three most similar players to Bruce Sutter are, in order, Doug Jones, Tom Henke, and Jeff Montgomery. Wow, check out these baseball immortals, Dad! Jeff Montgomery! As if I needed further proof that Sutter - who had a few phee-nomenal seasons (check out '77) and a few lousy ones in an injury shortened career - has no business in the Hall of Fame. Even if you are a believer that Sutter's legacy is enhanced by his trendsetting mastery of the splitfingered pitch, you simply cannot justify his election ahead of the criminally overlooked Goose Gossage, the second-most dominating closer I've witnessed (the incomparable Mariano Rivera being his lone superior). Gossage's comps happen to be a couple of guys named Fingers and Wilhelm. Now that's Hall of Fame company.

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

In honor of our old friend Crazy Carl getting a pink slip from the Mariners this week, and because this cracks me up every time I read it and it'd be a shame if anyone misses it, here's a hilarious comment reader Andrew left on my last post:

I love Carl Everett jokes. I live in Chicago and I'm a White Sox fan. I attended a game a couple years ago, when Everett was playing for the Sox. I was sitting with a few friends a few rows behind the Sox dugout.

His first time up, Everett hit a slow roller up the third base line that should have gone for a hit. Third base had been playing him deep, and the ball took forever to get up the line. Forever.

Of course, Everett was thrown out by a mile. As Everett walked back to the dugout, the park fell oddly silent, one of those random moments of quiet that sometimes descends during a game. A friend of mine took full advantage, yelling, "A Stegosaurus would have made it," just as Everett approached the dugout.

The entire section broke up, and Carl stopped at the steps of the dugout to glare at us. Good times.

(Dabbing at tears) Sometimes you guys make me so proud. (sniff)

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Chasing the headlines

Questions/I've got some questions . . .

• Feeling bad for A-Rod yet?

Considering ol' blue lips made more $$$$$$ in the time it took me to write that sentence than I'll make in the next 10 years, uh, no, I'm not feeling bad for Slappy McWhippingboy. The story is relentlessly fascinating, though. First, it's almost as if the soulless New York tabloid media (and to an extent, the Yankees' counterproductive fans) are on his case in part just to see how far they can push him. It's almost like they want to break him, want him to turn into another Knoblauch before their eyes, want him to feel unworthy, want to run perhaps the most talented player in baseball out of town for no other reason than because he is not Derek Jeter-McCarver, Captain of All Things Intangible. There's something voyeuristic and intensely cruel about what's happening here. I've always thought it was a matter of time before A-Rod seized the moment and carried the Yankees to a playoff series victory or two - and then I realized he'd already done it, against the Twins in '04, and everyone was too busy getting gauzy camera angles of Jeter's reactions to notice. Because of the burden of expectations, his monster contract and his calculated, insincere persona, A-Rod gets no leeway or credit for anything he has accomplished - it's what's expected of him, after all. So here is now, strangling the bat, grinding the damn thing into sawdust in his hands, trying to hit a five-run homer and wondering what the hell he's supposed to do. Here he is now, slinging air-mailed throws into the first base boxes, consulting one more quack psychologist, and spending sleepless nights asking why he ever agreed to change positions for that smirking jerk to the left, the alleged captain who defended Giambi but so tellingly refused to defend him. It's a colossal mess, and while as a Red Sox fan I hope he continues to submarine the Yankees, as a baseball fan I hope he gets his ---- straight, because it would be a shame for his talent to be devoured by the jackals. Let's just hope by the time he gets it together - if he gets it together - he's playing for the Phillies, or somewhere else far from this rivalry.

• What the hell did Harold Reynolds do to get fired by ESPN?

That's the question of the day. No one seems to know right now, but it must have been a doozy. Consider: This is the network that employs Mike Tirico, a serial sexual harasser if Mike Freeman's ESPN: An Uncensored History is to be believed. This is the network that employs Steve Phillips, who settled a sexual harassment suit while he was the general manager of the Mets in '98. This is the network that gave Rick Sutcliffe (bleep-faced on the air), Gary Miller (unleashed his bladder on a cop) and Michael Irvin (that's not my crack pipe, officer!) slaps on the wrist after particularly high-profile public embarassments. It's sort of a bummer, because while Reynolds wasn't exactly the most insighful analyst we've ever heard ("If you keep the ball down, you're going to pitch a no-hitter"), he was pleasant enough, clearly loves baseball, and wasn't an ignorant, screaming narcissist like, oh, I don't know, EVERYONE ELSE IN GOD-FORSAKEN BRISTOL! So he must have committed a pretty serious transgression to get canned. Probably refused to subscribe to ESPN Mobile or something.

• So who should "Baseball Tonight" hire to replace Reynolds?

Why, the Eck, of course. But considering they were stupid enough to hire Kruller Kruk over him in the first place, I imagine the best baseball analyst around will remain planted alongside Tom Caron for the foreseeable future. Hey, Sam Horn is available. And they can have Jim Rice, whom I'm pretty sure doesn't actually watch the games.

• Did you happen to catch Tony Gwynn's appearance on "The Best Damn Sports Show" a few days ago?

Yup, flipping channels, because I would never admit to watching that creepy, faux-camaraderie abomination on purpose. Man, it was shocking - Gwynn was pleasantly plump as a player, but now he looks like he swallowed the San Diego Chicken whole. Seriously, someone needs to say something to him before another beloved player of my generation goes the tragic way of Kirby Puckett. He's that fat.

• Why did Coco leap at the wall for Adrian Beltre's inside-the-park home run when it was five feet behind him?

Because Coco's GPS tracking system as a center fielder is severely defective. Does he ever take the proper route to a ball? It's like watching Bernie Williams before he turned completely to stone - his good speed usually makes up for atrocious instincts. But when it doesn't, it gets Hoseyesque.

• Were you surprised that Shea Hillenbrand napalmed his bridges in Toronto? He always seemed like a decent guy in Boston.

Let's put it this way. Someone I know who's around the Sox on a regular basis says Hillenbrand is the dumbest person he's ever met. Not professional athlete, mind you. Person. Even by the lowbrow standards of a baseball clubhouse, Hillenbrand has long been considered tactless and crude - you might recall him going on the radio and calling Theo a Guillen word for Mariotti upon his trade to Arizona in '03 - and even his friends (such as the dignified Vernon Wells) admit that it takes a long time knowing him to realize he's not a complete jerk. It's funny, when he made the Sox unexpectedly out of camp in 2001, he had sort of a wide-eyed, Opie-from-Mayberry persona. By most accounts, that lasted about a month, or as long as it took for all the scuzzbags on that team to convince him that real big leaguers were supposed to have a sense of entitlement and bitch about everything. Is it any wonder he still counts Carl Everett among his best friends in baseball? I don't know if Hillenbrand believes in dinosaurs. But I'm pretty sure he plays with toy ones.

• You claim to like Neyer and James a lot, but you don't use stats that often. Gimme a couple off the top of your head, Stat Boy.

Neyer and James - wasn't that a wine cooler back in the day? I think it's A-Rod's drink of choice if I recall correctly - Blue-Lippin' Blueberry, right? Anyway, got a couple:

1. "Light-hitting" Alex Gonzalez has two more home runs than Jeter (or, if you prefer, Trot Nixon. What was it that Trot was doing differently back when he had power, anyway?) And by the way, Sutcliffe blathered again last night that Jeter is the best defensive shortstop in the AL. Yup, I'm pretty sure he was drinking on their air again. You, me and A-Rod know that Gonzo is so much better than Jeter it's not even worth debating.

2. In his 13 wins, Josh Beckett has an ERA below 2.50 and a WHIP below 1. So while the 'EEI mouthbreathers and banshees can claim that he's been a bust, the fact is that when he's good - and he's been good enough to lead the majors in wins - he is dominating. (Of course, that also means he has been getting absolutely shellacked when he loses . . . but still, let me make my point, will ya?) As you've probably figured, I couldn't be happier with the three-year, $30 million dollar deal he signed last week. It locks up a talented young potential ace through his prime seasons at a very reasonable price (the less talented, less accomplished A.J. Burnett got two years and $25 million dollars more as a free agent), and Beckett gets a little bit of security and the comfort of knowing he's going to spend the next three seasons pitching in a place he enjoys. It's currently a win-win situation, with many more wins to come.

• The Sox are 2.5 up on the Yankees. Confident this is the year they win the East?

Confident, yes. Convinced . . . not quite. I think the Yankees will do something big before the deadline - my money is on a deal for Bobby Abreu, hopefully with Brian Cashman caving in and giving up prized Double A pitcher Philip Hughes. It would be a classic Yankees move - getting a big-name, big-money player who isn't entirely necessary and would detract from the already questionable chemistry (who sits when/if Sheffield and Matsui come back?) While Abreu is an on-base machine, he left his power at the 2005 Home Run Derby, and his nonchalance on the bases makes Manny look like Pete Rose. They can have him. As far as the Sox go, they obviously need to find a fifth starter, though I'm thinking there might be some validity in Jason Varitek's touting of Kyle Snyder. The stork version of Bronson Arroyo really does have good stuff - a legtimately above-average 12-to-6 curve, a tailing, sinking fastball, and enough command to spot his upper 80s heater. You can see the traces of the pitcher who was a high first-round pick a half-decade ago. If he could stay healthy and build up his stamina to get past the fifth inning once in a while, I think the Sox may have found something here. But if it doesn't work out, I wouldn't be surprised to see Theo make a trade for someone such as Jon Lieber, who's struggled for the Phillies this year but pitched very well for the Yankees in the '04 postseason. I never understood why the Yankees signed him after Tommy John surgery, paid for his year of rehab, then sent him on his way the season after they began reaping some rewards from their investment. But back to the main point, I think the Sox are the better team, and with a few minor tweaks here and there, that superiority will be reflected in the season's final standings.

• Finally . . . why is A-Rod holding that friggin' guitar?

Because, A-Rod rocks, yo! Actually, Bernie told him it would make him look sensitive. Also, he plans to smash it over Jeter's head when no one's looking. Then he can play shortstop again and everyone will love him, he just knows it.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Nine innings: 07.18.06

Zipping through nine innings while hoping the tunnel ceiling stays off my head . . .

1. He's the closest thing we've ever seen to our native son Carlton Fisk, so tough and stoic and dependable that you almost forget he's not a New Englander born and bred. So it's only appropriate that Jason Varitek, the backbone of this Red Sox renaissance and the smell-the-glove symbol of the franchise's refusal to take any more crap from the pretty-boy Yankees, be the one to surpass Fisk's record of 990 games caught in a Red Sox uniform. Everyone appreciates Varitek, from the pitchers who rank ahead of his own offense at the top of his priorities list, to the manager who can't help but speak of his own player in reverent tones, to the fans who see in him play the game with the dedication and passion not of a multimillionaire star, but of a working-class grunt desperate to hang on to his dream job. He might be the most universally respected Sox player of my lifetime, and while his struggles at age 34 make you wonder just how much of a toll those 900-plus games have taken, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox without him. Hell, it's hard to remember the Red Sox without him. If that isn't a legacy to be proud of, I don't know what is.

2. Some granite-skulled electronic media nitwit - usually an underling of Ordway's - starts yelping the theory at about this time each year, and before long it becomes a common theme on the local airways: The Red Sox had better hold off the Yankees, because this is the year the wild-card doesn't come out of the East! Well, guess what? The wild-card is coming out of the East, I guarantee it. The White Sox, who have hardly looked like World Champs against the Sox and Yankees, will overtake the Tigers in the Central, most likely after fearless GM Kenny Williams makes a blockbuster deal before the deadline. I expect the Red Sox and the Yankees, with some minor pre-trade-deadline repairs, to keep rolling, and I expect the Tigers are due for some difficulties in the second half: the annual Magglio Ordonez injury, a dead arm for rookie Justin Verlander, a severe self-inflicted cigarette burn by Jim Leyland. They have been very, very good, but I want to see how they handle adversity before I give them any autumn advantage over the Yankees or either colored Sox.

3. In terms of what he's actually accomplished compared to what he acts likes he's accomplished, is there a more annoying player in baseball than Oakland's Nick Swisher? He bitches at the umpires more often than Papi and prances around with a self-satisfied smirk almost as often as Captain Jetes. What a sausage. He's really going to be insufferable once he has more than a decent half-season on the back of his baseball card.

4. I wish the Cubs would get on with their fire sale already, because I'm thinking they might deal a couple Red Sox of the near past who could benefit their old club in the immediate future. Scott Williamson - healthy again, pitching well, and with something of a postseason track record if I recall correctly - might be the ideal low-cost, high-reward addition to the Sox 'pen. Williamson could do what Tavarez and Seanez have failed to do - act as the sixth- or seventh-inning bridge to Timlin, Delcarmen and Papelbon, and get a key late-inning strikeout when the situation demands it. And the other Cub the Sox should be interested in? Why not Todd Walker? Reader Mike L. suggested this a day or so ago, and at first I didn't think it made much sense. Why would they Sox need another second baseman when they already have Loretta and Cora? But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Walker would be a terrific lefthanded stick off the bench, something the Sox could use at the moment. Further, Walker loved it here, has had nothing but wonderful things to say about Boston, and I think at least in the short term he'd embrace the role. Now, I admit, maybe sentiment is a factor here - I always felt bad that Walker, so clutch in '03 postseason despite Grady Little's idiotic insistence on platooning him with Damian Freakin' Jackson, missed out on the joy of '04. I'd like to see him come back and be a part of a team that had a shot at winning it all, and I think Walker would like that too.

5. Yes, I'm still glad they didn't re-sign him for that many years and that much cash. Yes, I still think Coco Crisp is a wiser long-term investment, even if it sometimes seems he's getting paid by the commercial. Yet . . . after watching Johnny Damon come through time and again during the Yankees' recent stretch of stellar play, I have to admit I've caught myself wondering how much larger the Red Sox' lead would be if he had resisted the forces of evil (and Steinbrenner's cold millions) and remained in Boston. Three games? Five? Seven? . . .

6. I would rather listen to that eardrum-assaulting Taylor Hicks commercial on an endless loop on my iPod than hear one more word about that freakin' World Series ball. Let it go already, fellas. Let it go.

7. If Tim Wakefield's back injury is going to be a lingering problem - and after watching him grimace his way through four innings Monday, I have to believe it will be - then Jon Lester's wild-child brilliance goes from being the feel-good film of the summer to an absolute necessity. And for all of the kid's talent, I'm not quite sure he's ready for that burden.

8. While his numerous blog posts and radio appearances, as well as excerpts in the Globe Magazine and, have saturated me with the juiciest details from his peek behind the doors of Fenway, I still cannot wait to read Seth Mnookin's "Feeding the Monster" from prologue to epilogue. I'm convinced, from what I've read and what I've heard, that this is the book Sox fans have been waiting for, one that offers unfiltered insight and answers lingering questions (what really made Nomar so sour? rather than offering the usual worn-out anecdotes and rehashed history. (I do wonder, however, if the title ticks off Rob Neyer any, since he wrote "Feeding the Green Monster" several years ago to much less fanfare. He does tend to get uppity about these things.)

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

Looking at Oakland's bookish manager now, you'd probably never have suspected he was once a ballplayer. Math teacher? Now that's more like it.

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You should hear how they laugh at 'A-Rod'

Should have a shiny new Nine Innings column posted Tuesday afternoon. In the meantime, how about one more fun snippet from "The Curse of Rocky Colavito." (Am I pimping this book enough? I am? Can you tell I'm reading it for the 4,049th time? Really? That obvious, huh?)

The (1980s) Indians had a pitcher named Ray Searage. His nickname, was, naturally, "Raw Sewage." And that wasn't even the worst pitcher's-name story.

They also had a pitcher named Bob Owchinko. When they played an exhibition game against a Japanese team, the Japanese reporters broke into loud laughter when Owchinko was announced.


"Because his name means 'little p---s' in Japanese," said a Japanese scribe.

Something tells me pitching in Japan wasn't an option Owchinko considered after his big-league days were over.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Three random 1979 Topps baseball cards

One little, two little, three little Indians . . .

I don't know what's cooler: that Horace Speed actually is not a stage name (dammit, put him on your stupid All-Name team already, Trupiano), or this little irony: He stole just 4 bases in 9 attempts in his big-league career. Indeed, Speed had none.

After I used this as a Completely Random Baseball Card a while back - for once, it actually was random - an intrepid reader sent me this little snippet. It's from an old column by Bill Madden in the New York Daily News:

While watching Wayne Cage, a hulking 6-4, 205-pound first baseman for the Cleveland Indians in 1970s, take infield practice before a game at Yankee Stadium one day, Graig Nettles deadpanned: "He's the only player in history to wear his home address on his back."

That's Graig Nettles, folks. How 'bout a round of applause for a True Yankee.

You know, I'm pretty sure this guy was my eight-grade bus driver. Insisted on listening to crap-kickin' country on the radio, threatened to "whittle a hole" in that smart-aleck Olson boy with his Swiss Army knife, ass-crack always showing . . . yeah, that's definitely him. Must have won a Be A Major Leaguer For A Day contest or something. (Seriously, who knew Rick Reuschel, no prize himself, was considered the good-looking one in his family? I hope they don't have sisters.)

As a special bonus to all three of you who somehow made it this far, here's one more in the form of a book except from Terry Pluto's criminally underrated "The Curse of Rocky Colavito":

I first met Wayne Garland in 1980, and I thought he was perhaps the most miserable human I'd encountered in baseball. Baseball clubhouses are often the breeding grounds for guys who act as if they're beginning a life sentence on Devil's Island. They complain about everything, and then they complain because someone is complaining too much.

But no one quite complained like Wayne Garland. He never talked, he growled. His face was frozen in a scowl, and he looked at most people as if they were lice.

Garland never liked anything. I thought it was due to the fact he had signed a 10-year, $2.3 million contract with the Tribe in 1977 and then blew out his shoulder. He was one of the first huge free agents, and he was certainly the first free agent bust.

"Nah, that isn't why Wayne acts the way he does," Baltimore manager Earl Weaver told me. "You know what his nickname was with us? We called him 'Grumpy.' That guy was a big grouch while he was winning 20 games for me in 1976. I had to run him out to the mound four times in September so he'd win that 20th game, and he bitched about it the whole time."

Sounds like Garland would have fit in well on the 2001 Red Sox.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

. . .but without the awkward Brett Favre man-love

Ten quick things I think I think, or whatever the hell Peter King calls it . . .

1. I've appreciated Allen Iverson's fearless-bordering-on-reckless play since he was a
(tattoo-free) Hoya, and while I'd likely appreciate him as a member of the Celtics as well, I hope the Answer's arrival in Boston isn't as inevitable as it seems. That bony body is going to break down sooner rather than later, and a player of Iverson's skill-set will not age well. Let him become someone else's bad contract.

2. If your "allergies" didn't act up a little after seeing ESPN's "Make A Wish" piece with a wonderfully compassionate Tedy Bruschi and a 6-year-old heart patient who adored him, well, maybe you're the one whose heart needs to be checked.

3. LeBron James took a lot of heat for dropping well-known agent Aaron Goodwin and putting his financial and business interests in the hands of what was portrayed as a couple of members of his posse. But someone in that camp knows what he's doing, because LeBron is playing the game off the court as well as he plays the one on it. Not only does he enhance his reputation as the Savior of Cleveland Sports by re-signing with his hometown Cavs, but by negotiating a three-year deal (with a fourth-year option) rather than the maximum contract, he can become a free agent in the summer of 2010, when the collective bargaining agreement expires and he's the ripe old age of 25. Shrewd. Very shrewd.

4. Jack Welch? Again? Are you bleepin' kidding me? Okay, just how much is "the Voice of the (Billionaire) Fan" paying them for this air time?

5. Jon Lester has finessed his way out of more jams in six starts with the Red Sox than his fourth-starter predecessor, the skittish Matt Clement, did in a season and a half.

6. I refuse to believe that Bill Belichick intends to begin the season with Monty Beisel as one of his starting linebackers.

7. Glad to see Steve Carell get an Emmy nod for his role on The Office, if only to give the show some deserved publicity. But I think it's fair to say that among the three main male actors on the show, his character portrayal is the least nuanced or convincing. Jim and Dwight wuz robbed.

8. I just traded Aramis Ramirez straight-up for Pedro in my work rotisserie league. So tell me why don't I feel at all good about it?

9. I know what I want/I get what I need . . . AIYEEEEEE! MY EARS ARE WEEPING!!! MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!!! Seriously, why must that fake-soulful, Mark Cuban-looking American Idol doofus pop up on my television between every . . . single . . . inning during a Sox game? If he's the winner of that show, I'd hate to hear the losers. (On the plus side of the Overplayed NESN Commercials ledger, DD iced coffee really does help unstick your legs from the pleather. Go figure.)

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

Meet the Yankees' version of Jason Johnson.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Summer school

Per the request of Steve R., one of TATB's Original 6 readers, I've stopped watching the Disney Channel's Boy Meets World marathon long enough to bang out this midseason report card on your first-place and eminently enjoyable Boston Red Sox. As a DVD extra, I've posted Steve's own player-by-player take in the comments section, just to get some discussion going. Feel free to add your 2 cents. In the meantime, I'll be wondering whatever happened to Fred Savage's homely, talentless kid brother . . .

Kevin Youkilis
(.297, 10 homers, 43 RBIs): One of the many wise moves Tito Francona has made this season is restoring Youkilis to the leadoff spot when it was apparent Coco Crisp was still rusty. Youkilis isn't a classic leadoff hitter in the Willie Mays Hayes sense, but would you rather have a guy who runs really fast and gets on at a .320 OBP clip, or a guy like Youkilis who gets on 40 percent of the time and always seems to be trotting home ahead of a Papi blast? It doesn't take Bill James to realize you're better off with dude who gets on base more often. (Actually, maybe it does take Bill James to realize that.) Oh, yeah, and Youk's taken to this first base thing pretty well, too, hasn't he? A-

Mark Loretta (.305-3-37): He's exactly what we hoped he'd be. Loretta catches everything he can get his glove on, turns the double play as if he and Gonzalez have been playing together for years, hits to all fields (and hits good pitchers, an underrated talent), and is such a gentleman that when Tina Cervasio asks him such vapid questions as, "What do you like better, a walk-off hit or a walk-off home run?" he somehow resists rolling his eyes. Gotta like a guy like that. B+

Big Papi (.278-31-87): One of the cool things about this blogging gig is that sometimes readers remind you of something you've completely forgotten you'd written. I realized this again yesterday, when I was poking around the new Wiki project on Sons of Sam Horn, and noticed, much to my ego's delight, that in their bio of Papi (not "Pappy," Berman, you idiot) that they've included a quote from my post on this site after his walkoff homer against the Orioles last season. (About a dozen walkoffs ago, correct?) As I mentioned, I don't recall writing these words, but I think they hold up in describing his finest year yet, Joe Maddon be damned:

"He's Mo Vaughn with an uncanny knack in the clutch and no strippers-and-bacon-sandwiches baggage. He's Reggie Jackson without being an arrogant, phony $%%#@. He's Dave Henderson with more ability, more pure power, more duende. He is the greatest clutch hitter you, your dad, your granddad, and in all likelihood, your unborn children will ever see. He's Big Papi, larger than life, bigger than the biggest moments."

Yeah, that's about right. A+

Manny Ramirez (.306-24-65): I'm white. I have something of a pulpit. And while I'm only 36, my midsection suggests middle age is approaching faster than I care to admit. All of that considered, I'm afraid it's my obligation to rip Manny for not attending last night's all-important exhibition game. I don't want to be a hypocrite, mind you. Personally, I'd like to acknowledge Manny as the most consistantly great righthanded hitter I've ever seen, as a much-improved defender, as an endearing, happy-go-lucky goof whose occasional adolescent misbehavior is something I long ago accepted as part of the package. But instead, my demographics demand that I yelp and yowl and stand on my creaky soapbox and defend the Ye Grand Ole Game in front of an audience that has long since tuned me out. With all the indignance I can contrive, I must demean Manny for the Way He Disrespects The Game, even as My Beacon Of All That Is Good, the gritty and gutty Trot Nixon, airmails yet another cutoff man. It's my duty. It comes with the microphone and the Tostito gut. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go engulf another sandwich. A

Trot Nixon (.311-6-43): The batting average is lovely, but where'd the power go? Admiral Dirty Hat has as many extra-base hits as Scott Podsednik. B-

Mike Lowell (.307-11-46): The offensive resurgence has been a bonus, one very few of us expected. But the real treat in watching Lowell on a daily basis is his defense. Does he ever make a throw that's not right on the money? A-

Jason Varitek (.232-9-40): Uh-oh. Is this a prolonged slump . . . or is it the predictable decline of a catcher on the wrong side of 30? I'm not sure I want the honest answer. C-

Coco Crisp (.268-4-14): He was dazzling in that opening road trip, got hurt, and has been playing catch-up every since. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at the plate - a hand injury can really mess with your swing - but I have to admit I'm a little disappointed in his defense. He takes terrible routes to line drives in the gap, and too many seemingly catchable balls fall in front of him. I thought Johnny Damon slipped a lot last season, but last year's Damon was a better defender than this year's Crisp. C-

Alex Gonzalez (.284-5-27): All right, y'all have convinced me. He's the best defensive player ever to wear the Red Sox uniform. If he hits above .270 - and considering the overtime he's putting in with Papa Jack, I think he will - I hope the Sox keep him around beyond this season. B+

Curt Schilling
(10-3, 3.60 ERA): He's not quite what he used to be - he has a maddening new habit of giving back runs right after the Sox put a few on the board - but he still defines the term "workhorse," and there's no one else I'd want on the mound in a game of consequence. Thank the baseball god above that he returned to health after his lost 2005. B+

Josh Beckett
(11-4, 4.75):I expected more, which is saying something considering he's on pace to win 21 games. It's easy to forget, because of his early big-league success, that Beckett is still a kid himself, just a few months older than Jonathan Papelbon. He still has some growing to do, both as a pitcher and in terms of maturity. His knack for giving up home runs (26, or roughly one every four innings) is a mystery, but something tells me that if he can knock off the macho b.s. on the mound and start pitching rather than daring them to hit his heat, the number of baseballs leaving the ballpark will decrease rapidly. Ah, well. At least he hasn't had any blister problems. C+

Tim Wakefield
(7-8, 4.05): As consistent and reliable as a knuckleballer can be. Let's hope this back flareup doesn't become a chronic hindrance, or we might suddenly realize how much some of us take him for granted. B

Jon Lester
(4-0, 3.06): The 20 walks in 32.1 innings are alarming, and I'm worried about . . . ah, hell, who am I kidding? I'm as giddy as the rest of you. Not only does he have top-of-the-rotation stuff (once he sharpens his command, of course), but I'm sure I'm not the only one still blabbering about the humongous cojones the kid must have to throw David Wright a 3-2 curveball with the bases loaded. He is as good as they said. B+

Matt Clement
(5-5, 6.61): He won five? Really? Here's a prediction: Clement has thrown his last straight fastball as a member of the Red Sox. John Henry will be paying the Pirates (or the Brewers . . . or the Padres . . .) to take him off our hands once he proves healthy. I'd say he never should have come to Boston in the first place - clearly he isn't made for this city, and vice versa - but I have vague recollections of a decent first half last season. Must be another hallucination. F

Jonathan Papelbon
(0.59 ERA, 26 saves in 29 chances): I've run out of superlatives for this Clemens/Gossage hybrid, so let's just throw out a couple more statistics. In 46 innings, he's allowed 25 hits and walked only 8 while striking out 47. That's a hell of a Strat-O-Matic card. A+

Mike Timlin
(4-0, 2.59): He's 40, his velocity is down, and his shoulder hurts. Good thing he can still get batters out just by making eye contact and scaring the living hell out of them. B-

Manny Delcarmen
(1-0, 3.52): Good thing the Sox refused to include him in the Crisp/Marte deal with Cleveland. He's got a classic bullpen power arm, his 12-to-6 curveball is shaping up to be a strikeout pitch, and the likeable local boy no longer seems awestruck when he comes into the game at Fenway. I'm a believer. B

Craig Hansen
(1-0, 4.63): I don't know if it's Al Nipper (I'm skeptical) or one of the minor league pitching coaches, but someone is doing fine work preparing these kids. Hansen has come along way from the raw chucker we saw during last September's desperation. He's lost most of the unnecessary kinks in his motion and repeats his delivery pitch after pitch. The result seems to be better movement on his fastball and better command of his breaking stuff. He might mean to this season what Papelbon meant last year. B-

Javier Lopez
(5.40): His success against Jim Thome bodes well, but I still say they should have kept Mike Myers. C

Keith Foulke
(5.63): Ignore what Johnny from Burger King says. We'll always have October 2004, and we'll always wonder if you sacrificed the rest of your career to make our baseball dreams come true. C-

Julian Tavarez (4.56): At the risk of annihilating my last shred of credibility, I think he can still help. Sure, he's nuts, but he's got a long track record of being effective, he's pitched for good teams, and his fastball still has good movement. He's not going to be your eighth-inning bridge to Paps, but there are worse alternatives. (Like the next guy . . .) D

Rudy Seanez (4.86) Just go back to the NL already and we'll pretend this inexplicable sequel never happened, 'kay?. F-

Alex Cora
(.300): Fast becoming known as the RemDawg's man-crush. Tito seems pretty fond of him, too, and with good reason: Cora does something every time he plays that makes you say, "Wow, that was smart." I can't think of a better utility player in Sox history. A-

Gabe Kapler
(.355) It's impossible not to like Kapler, because he's one of the good ones. But I never realized I'd actually miss him as a player until enduring the Dustan Mohr experience for a couple weeks. Welcome back, indeed. B

Wily Mo Pena
(.321, 4 homers): He's younger than, what, all but five current members of the Sea Dogs? Give him time and give him a chance, will ya? C

Doug Mirabelli:
(.175): Congratulations to the 'EEI banshees for raising the "BAHHHHHD CAN'T CATCH A KNUCKLAH!!" panic level to the point that the Sox felt obligated to trade improving Josh Bard for Wakefield's calcified caddy. I'm still dismayed Theo found this necessary. F

Willie Harris
: (.159): He should never be allowed to swing a Louisville Slugger in anger, but hey, he made a disaster-averting throw to get Gathright, his jet-pack legs have proven useful on occasion, he's versatile defensively, and his teammates adore him. What more do you want from the 25th man? C

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Shortstops: The boy band

No, Yankees fans, this is not a Photoshop. This is very real, and I can hear what you're thinking: "Quick, Joey, give Derek your wife beater so he can cover up! He looks so cold. And . . . vulnerable."

Seriously, this picture, from a mid-'90s Sports Illustrated story on baseball's young (and apparently topless) shortstops, never ceases to crack me up. These guys must have had immediate regrets about agreeing to this thing, right? I've seen Johnny Weir look more macho. They must hate it. Well, except for A-Rod. All these years later, he still uses it as his Christmas card.

While we're in the mocking mood, a couple of other factoids and rumors about Shortstops Gone Wild:

• Nomar was originally supposed to be in the photo, but he fled the scene roughly .00002 seconds after Jeter suggested they all take it to another level and compare (wink, wink) "intangibles".

• Legend has it that amateur photographer Tim McCarver took the picture in his basement studio, which also happens to where he keeps Joe "The Gimp" Buck in a cage with a rubber choker ball in his mouth. You can kind of see his shadow if you look closely.

• Jeter no longer dares to gently rest his elbow on A-Rod's back under any circumstances - he fears the incurable affliction chokeusintheclutchitis might be contagious.

• I'm pretty sure Ben Stiller patterned his Zoolander character after Capt. Jetes. That look on his face? Definitely "Blue Steel."

• Dude, Ordonez is jacked. Was he mentioned in Canseco's book?

• Then-White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen was actually invited to be in the picture. But word is he walked in, took one look around at his semi-nude peers, muttered something about Mariotti, and left.

• A-Rod was originally seated in Jeter's spot, but he graciously agreed to move over to his right after Jeter selfishly refused to change positions.

• The whole thing came together only after A-Rod plied a reluctant Jeter with a six-pack of Bartles & Jaymes Fruity-Tooty Berry and smooth-talked him into it: C'mon, dude, it'll be fun. The chicks'll dig it. You're buff, dude! You're buff! Look, even Edgar's cool with it . . . he's already got his shirt off and . . . (gasp . . . oh my) . . . Edgar, put your pants back on! EDGAR, PUT YOUR PANTS BACK ON RIGHT NOW!!! EDGAR!!! YOU'RE FRIGHTENING REY!!!"

(New column coming Monday, peeps. In the meantime, please keep the comments on this one PG-rated. We're a family blog, remember.)

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A few things I've been meaning to say

• Four factoids/observations on the Sox's phenom of a fourth starter, Jon Lester: 1) He was the prospect the Sox were going to ship to Texas in the A-Rod deal. 2) If the comparisons to a young Bruce Hurst are going to be completely valid, he needs to grow a kick-ass mustache, pronto. 3) He could walk the first 27 hitters he faces in his next start, and I'd still enjoy watching him pitch more than Matt Clement. 4) Before the season, the consensus among scouts is that he is a superior prospect to Jonathan Papelbon, and though Papelbon's newly devastating splitter has enhanced his repertoire, Lester might actually have better stuff. And that poise . . . I'm not sure many 10-year veterans would have the stones to throw David Wright a 3-2 curveball with the bases loaded. Hey, have I mentioned that I'm giddy about this kid?

• I know it's going to happen, and I'm trying to prepare myself accordingly, but damn, I am going to be pissed when Captain Jetes fist-pumps his way to another undeserved Gold Glove. If only Gonzo had calm eyes, McCarver-melting intangibles, and most importantly, 1 1/2-step range, he might have a chance.

• Betcha Matt Clement is being paid by the Sox to pitch for a National League team by August. Theo isn't afraid to cut his losses, and Gammons wrote a few weeks ago that the Sox GM admits he regrets the signing. Maybe he can go join fellow Class of 2005 washout Edgar Renteria in Atlanta.

• Coco Crisp's catch the other night was one of the best I have ever seen, but man, sometimes he takes such curious routes to the ball that I wonder if he bought the map from Dwayne Hosey. He's good, but my early impressions are that Johnny Judas was a step better.

• I get the same sinking feeling when I realize Scott Kazmir is pitching against the Sox that Mets fans get when they realize Kazmir is pitching against . . . well, anyone.

This Week's (Okay, Last Week's) Reason Jerry Trupiano Is As Funny As A Hemorrhoid, Chapter 2, Vol. 28,987:

This arrived in my in-box courtesy of my friend Hans, a colleague from my Monitor days, after Papi's walkoff single against the Phillies a week or so ago:

chad -- wondering if you caught this classic trupiano moment yesterday, which was accurately recounted in this morning's BSMW:

"Many people were probably in their cars driving home from work listening to the end of the game, and heard the over-the-top call from Jerry Trupiano which contained Superman references and screaming about how the Phillies did not have the kryptonite to stop Ortiz. It was impossible to know what actually happened, as all we knew was the the hit was to left center and than "Ortiz has done it again!" Listeners were left to wonder what exactly did Ortiz do? Hit a home run? It took almost a full minute for them to tell us how Ortiz won the game for the Sox."

that's exactly what happened to me. i was in the car and had no idea what ortiz had done. it was so obvious that trup had his lame superman riff rehearsed and ready to go that he forgot to actually explain what had happened. i didn't know until they got around to mentioning the final score (let's see, 8-7, guess it wasn't a dinger). also, he practically peed himself -- "Didn't I tell you?!!!" -- because he had correctly predicted that ortiz would try to stroke something to left or left-center. (let me get this straight: you're saying ortiz WON'T attempt to ground out into the overshift? you sure about that?)

on saturday, during the ortiz at bat, he kept his mouth busy by recounting all the stops in flash gordon's career instead of just shutting up and letting the drama build. his way back call was several beats behind the crowd reaction because he had to cut himself off. i'm still waiting to find out what happened to flash after he left the cubs.

Oh, I heard the fool - I was driving to work, and had the same reaction as my friend did: What the bleep was it? A single? Coke bottles? What happened!? I'm surprised he didn't call the Phillies pitcher "Lex Luthor." Just a horrible, contrived call. Sometimes I think Troop gets so geeked up during these extra-inning games - when he gets to do the play-by-play rather than Joe - that he can't help but go completely over the top trying to get his little soundbite. Too bad he has absolutely no sense of drama, tone, pace, the flight of the ball, anything. There are rumors that Troop is out after this season. God, I hope so. They could put Rosie O'Donnell in the booth next to Uncle Joe and I'd consider it an upgrade at this point. My hand is getting really tired of punching the steering wheel.

• Last year, I found Ozzie Guillen refreshing. This year, I find myself looking forward to the day he makes that one unforgivably stupid comment that will cost him both his job and his forum.

• I'm okay with Curt Schilling getting left off the All-Star team - four Sox is enough for me, and I suspect for the rest of the country as well, and while he's been good, he hasn't been nearly as good others who were snubbed, particularly the Twins' dazzling Francisco Liriano. Consider these stats, plucked from my heroes at Fire Joe Morgan.

[Liriano is] 9-1, 1.99 ERA. in 81.1 IP, he's allowed 59 H, and has a 94/20 K/BB ratio. His WHIP is .97. The league is slugging .292 against him, with a .256 OBA. His DIPS is 2.44. He might be the best pitcher in the AL right now.

The kid is having the season Felix Hernandez was supposed to have. There's no player I'd rather see at this point, and it's a shame he won't have a chance to announce his arrival as superstar on the All-Star stage. Hopefully he'll get added by final player vote. He deserves to be there, and fans deserve to see him.

• From a Dan Shaughnessy column on the Red Sox's decision to release Bill Buckner, June 6, 1990:

At least Buckner did not have to wait for an old-timer's day or a 20-year reunion to learn that Sox fans aren't taking it personally anymore. Opening Day 1990 was a cathartic experience for Buckner and the baseball fans of New England. The hobbling warhorse got the loudest and longest ovation when Sherm Feller introduced this year's Red Sox.

My points: All the hairdos and talking-heads who claimed Buckner was "finally" forgiven at Fenway during the recent reunion of the '86 are either a) revising history for the benefit of a stupid-ass storyline, or b) have no friggin' idea what they're talking about. Probably a little of both, actually. Sox fans have NEVER held anything against Buckner, an original Dirt Dog who was admired for his toughness and productivity. I wish Fox Sports and the like would stop perpetrating the myth that Boston drove him away. He's always been welcome here.

• I've learned to give Danny Ainge the benefit of the doubt on draft day, and I think he found some helpful players again this season. Though I thought Randy Foye and Brandon Roy were the two most ready-made pros in this year's class, Sebastian Telfair has the ability to become a legitimate starting point guard, and getting him out of that Portland mess and bringing him here is a risk worth taking. Rajon Rondo, a live wire with lockdown defensive skills, was one of the most intriguing college players I saw last season, though I admit I'm not as intrigued as Billy Packer, who couldn't go two possessions without mentioning the size of Rondo's hands. If he could develop a better jumpshot than say, yours, he could be special. I even like second-rounder Leon Powe, who has the talent and maturity to stick in the Association. But Ainge's B+ grade becomes an immediate F if he trades for Allen Iverson. While I appreciate Iverson's ability and fearlessness, his reckless play (and, perhaps, lifestyle) suggests to me that when he loses it, he's going to lose it fast. Getting him as he heads into his 30s is an ill-advised move, particularly at the expense of the young talent Ainge has stockpiled. Futhermore, it would contradict Ainge's plan for restoring the franchise, raising my suspicions that the motivation for any such deal would be putting fannies in the seats rather than building a legitimate contender.

• You know major-league baseball's steroid investigators have a credibility problem when that walking pharmacy Jose Canseco's conspiracy theories start sounding plausible.

• Tell me again who the Sox were going to get for Manny this time last year? Aubrey (.266-6-23) Huff? Lastings (I got it, I got it . . . whoops, you take it) Milledge? Mike (.255-9-32) Cameron? What's that saying? Sometimes the best deals are the ones . . .

• When I realize I have an email from Peter Gammons - a writer whose words have been a part of my red-seam-wrapped world since I was 8 years old - let me tell you, I can't open the thing fast enough. Sometimes the emails arrive unsolicited. Other times, they are replies to an off-the-wall question ("Did Chico Walker get a fair shot with Boston?") I figure only he can answer, or would care to answer for that matter. Our most recent exchange, a few weeks ago, was regarding the death of an obscure former Phillies outfielder named Ron Jones from a brain aneurysm at age 42. Eerily, not a few days after I last heard from him, the news came that Gammons had been stricken with the same affliction and his life was in danger. While his prognosis sounds encouraging, I feel compelled to take a moment to say thank you to a man I've only met a few times, but whom has had an immense impact not only on my career but on my direction in life. His knowledgeable, passionate writing in the Globe convinced the young me that he had the coolest job in the world. Much to my delight, all these years later he's become a great friend to this silly little site, so generously situated in our corner even when I've been critical of something he's said or written. (You might have noticed I tend to get a little defensive when it comes to Manny.) Which, the way I understand it, makes me somewhere around the 1,000,000th person he's helped along the way. Be well, Peter. Baseball isn't the same without you.

• As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Not sure what is more amazing: That Glavine is again a Cy Young contender at age 40, or that he apparently made the big leagues well before he hit puberty.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Three random 1983 Topps baseball cards

No wonder Terry Francona feels such a kinship with his bench coach. Not only was "Millsy" a fellow star at U of Arizona and a fellow scrub with the Montreal Expos, but like Tito, he also must dig out his old baseball card to convince people that, yes, there was a time when he wasn't as bald as a cue ball.

The Yankees? You, the Red Sox idol of my youth . . . you really wore the Pinstriped Jersey of Satan? How could you, Butch? How could you? (Sob.) Wait, what's that you say? You hit .172 with no homers while New York finished in fifth place? Umm . . . well nice job, then, Butch. Aw, I should have known you were an imbedded Red Sox all along.

He's never been teammates with Jason Grimsley, so I'm going tuck away any suspicions I might have about 47-year-old Julio Franco's discovery of the fountain of youth. Instead, I'll try to put his astounding longevity into perspective this way: Franco already had big-league service time when he was included by Philadelphia in the infamous 5-for-1 trade with Cleveland for Von Hayes in 1982. I'm not saying that was a long time ago, but I'm pretty sure Hayes died of polio.

And a special bonus card to commemorate the holiday . . .

Twenty-three years ago Tuesday, Dave Righetti pitched the Yankees' first no-hitter since Don Larsen's perfect game in the '56 World Series. The victim? The Red Sox, with Mr. Clutch Wade Boggs whiffing to end it. Yet as I recall it, the beverages were still cold, dad's grill was still sizzling, and the fireworks over the Kennebec River were appropriately dazzling. On the Fourth of July, even getting whupped by the Yankees couldn't spoil the day. Or maybe I was just more mature at 13. Either way, have a happy and safe holiday, everyone.

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