Saturday, December 24, 2005

Nine innings: 12.24.05

Playing nine innings while hoping the Yankees' new center fielder goes bald . . .

1) Scattered thoughts, mixed emotions and famous last words regarding Johnny Drama:

• Larry Lucchino can lament in his disingenuous, lawyerly way that Scott Boras never gave the Sox a chance to match the Yankees' offer. But the truth seems apparent to anyone with clear eyes: The Red Sox had Damon's value slotted at four years and $40 million, and they were reluctant to go to $40,000,000.01. The Yankees played the game brilliantly, feigning disinterest until giving Boras/Damon a lucrative, intriguing, take-it-or-leave-it offer, but their feat of stealing one of their rival's best players would be much more impressive had the rival shown anything more than a cursory interest in retaining him.

• Damon was apparently wowed by the Yankees' recruiting efforts, which included the obligatory phone call from manager Joe Torre. I'm sure Torre is quite the sweet talker, but is it really such an unique honor? I think Torre has now officially called every free agent in baseball history on the Empire's behalf, beginning with, I believe, Catfish Hunter. As far as the other recruiting tactics are concerned, we haven't been able to get anything confirmed, but it's rumored that Capt. Jetes and A-Rod offered to escort Damon to a private viewing of "Brokeback Mountain."

• Damon, during the press conference in which he revealed his new, Yankee-regulation makeover/neutering, had this to say when asked how Sox fans are reacting to his departure: "It will be crushing. I meant a lot to those fans." True enough, I suppose, but to acknowledge as much himself implies that his ego is as huge as his wife's . . . bank account. My point is that Damon is going to say a lot of things that offend the sensibilities of Sox fans in the next few years. He has a new fan base to pander to, he likes to talk, he isn't particularly articulate, and he has absolutely no filter.

• I've heard a lot of fans - admittedly, mostly 'EEI mouthbreathers - dump on Damon for his second-half fade last year and suggest that is the sign of certain and immediate decline. Please, just stop. Anyone who was paying attention knows he was severely hindered by a painful shoulder injury that he suffered diving for a blooper one night in Texas. The injury would have sidelined wimpier teammates, but he was out there virtually every day, dashing from first to third, crashing into walls, and doing all he could to win ballgames even when he could barely swing the bat. It's understandable to be pissed at him for jilting us, but there's no need to revise history or attempt to diminish all he did for the Red Sox. He was a very good player here for four years, he thrived in some of the biggest moments in franchise history, and his woolly visage will forever be associated with the most enjoyable Red Sox team of our lifetime. He will be missed, but a hell of a legacy remains. I'll remember him well, even while I spend the next four years rooting for a head-on collision with Hideki Matsui.

2) So who plays center for the Sox now? Ummm . . . well . . . er, looks like Bubba Crosby might be available. And there's always Adam Stern, destined to be remembered as the John Trautwein of outfielders. Those two future Hall of Famers excepted, this journalistic masterpiece lists the potential candidates in no particular order. If we were to put our top three in order of preference, it would look something like this: 1) Jeremy Reed (the price could be right, and he has star potential); 2) Torii Hunter (an affable, legitimate star, but his price tag and the Twins' demands make it unlikely); 3) Coco Crisp (his season was remarkably similar to Damon's, and coincidentally, his name is Manny's favorite cereal).

3) The Sox could do worse than entering the season with Alex Cora as their starting shortstop. His glove is quality, a few notches below Pokey level, and while he's not going to win a Silver Slugger award anytime soon, he's been more productive offensively offensive seasons than you might think. It's certainly a more prudent alternative than paying the Devil Rays' ridiculous ransom for Julio Lugo (any trade for a second-tier player that involves Andy Marte would reek of desperation) or overpaying for a stopgap such as Alex Gonzalez. (Then again, the two most comparable players to Cora in baseball history aren't exactly in danger of being elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame.)

4) Rant time: The Red Sox' front office's transparent attempts at playing spin-o-rama with every significant snippet of news has aggravated me for a while now, but the embarrassing and unnecessary Damon Damage Control press conference was the last straw. The next time I see Larry the Lawyer in front of a microphone, he'd better be reading from a script that goes like this: "Theo? Theo? It's me, Theo. You know, Cousin Larry. Just wanted to let you know the door's ajar, Theo. The light is on. I guess what I'm saying with all these witty metaphors is . . . please come back, Theo. Please. I promise not to meddle anymore. I'll stick to playing monopoly and buying up all the land around Fenway and putting seats atop the Coke bottles and all that peripheral stuff that helps us rake in millions from the sucke . . . er, Red Sox Nation. Listen, I won't even look at a box score unless you tell me to. You can even play your Pearl Jam discs as loud as you want in your office. Anything you want, Theo. Theo? Are you out there? Please come home, Theo."

5) Let's see, the eight-time defending AL East champion Yankees have added Damon, Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Myers and Octavio Dotel (a shrewd low-risk, high-reward move that Theo likely would have tried to swing himself were he still, you know, employed.) Meanwhile, the Blue Jays, who apparently found a few million loonies in the Rogers Centre seat cushions, have added A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Lyle Overbay and are on the verge of acquiring Troy Glaus (a low batting-average, high OPS slugger who'd be ideal watching Manny and Papi's backs from the No. 5 spot in the Sox lineup). Conclusion: As of Dec. 24, 2005, the Red Sox sure look like a third-place team from this vantage point.

6) Rudy Seanez? Really, that's the best we could do? Good god, who's the next to come back from the dead from the '03 Bullpen By Disaster? Chad Fox? Jason Shiell? I realize Seanez had a terrific 2005 season in San Diego - that strikeout rate is Gossagesque - but color me skeptical that a 37-year-old 14-year journeyman who's had four seasons with an ERA above 5.50 is going to come to Boston and duplicate numbers he accumulated in pressure-free, pitcher-friendly Petco. It doesn't help his cause that this final act of his previous disaster of a stint here is permanently singed into my brain; it foreshadowed Grady Little's ultimately fatal inability to handle a bullpen. (Getting angry just thinking about it.) Thanks, Grady. (Fuming now.) No, really. Thanks. (Damn, damned, dammit. How the hell did he get another job? Didn't Frank McCourt watch Game 7?) Good luck, Grady. Really. And enjoy that CEE-ment pond at your new LA home, you braying doofus. (ARRRGGGG! AIEEEEEEEEEE!!!!) I think I'd better go watch the World Series video before I get, you know, angry or something.

7) First D-Lowe, then Billy Ballgame, and now Nomahhh. By the time the season rolls around in April, the Dodgers may have more members of the '04 World Champs than the Red Sox do. (Yes, Nomar counts in this corner.) I wouldn't bet against Kevin Millar getting a non-roster invite there, either. He'd have the recommendation of Grady, he's actually an L.A. guy born and bred despite the phony/folksy Cowboy Up character he likes to play on TV, and he wouldn't have to go far to film his recurring appearances on the excreble "Best Damn Sports Show, Period."

8) As for our Christmas Eve Completely Random Baseball Card:

Ron Santo "Claus". Get it? (Groan.) Hey, don't blame me. Chris Berman told me it was hilarious.

9) Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, gang. You guys have made TATB's first year more fun and rewarding than we dared imagine, and for that we sincerely hope Santa makes all your Christmas wishes come true. And while the fat man with the red wardrobe is at it (no, not you, Boomer Wells), here's hoping he brings little Jed and little Benny the shortstop, center fielder and first baseman they asked for.