Sunday, July 31, 2005

Nine innings: 07.31.05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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