Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hello again, hello

So this popped into my email from reader SB1902 (apparently, he's a droid) earlier today:

"[You wrote] 'Should be back in these parts with a new column tonight, one that might even include a mea culpa regarding Tony Clark's dirtbag status.'

"Saturday. Underlined, Saturday, for the new column. I'm ready to go read Bill Simmons's latest thoughts on Lindsey Lohan."

First, I always appreciate it if, when you guys are calling me out for being a Blog Tease and/or a lazy slug, you make me laugh, and that certainly did it. As far as the reader's point . . . um, yeah, my bad. Honestly, I intended to peck something out after the kids went to bed, but by the time the wee ones actually do go to sleep, I'm so beat I can barely lift a finger to type. The next night I zonk out on the couch cuddling the laptop won't be the first.

(Commence gentle weeping for my plight.)

(Shh. Listen. You can actually hear my wife rolling her eyes right now.)

Anyway, I'm pathetic, I know, but there's my mea culpa. And that's the only one you're getting tonight, punks . . . which brings me to our little Tony Clark controversy. It seems I rattled some cages by picking Clark for my All-Dirtbag team the other day. Let me clarify: I picked Clark for the reason reader AJM suggested in the comments section - he was more interested in helping the union than helpirng the Red Sox win baseball games. Nice guy? Sure - one writer I respect calls him a "true gentleman." Scummy thing to do? Absolutely, considering his incompetence (and his goober manager's insistence on playing him) was crucial in derailing the Sox's season. I've heard nothing but nice things about Clark, and I noted that when I wrote the piece, but what he did in 2002 was . . . well, dirtbaggish. I'm sticking to it.

As for a few other things we've been meaning to say . . .

• Man, that performance by Josh Beckett Sunday . . . it defined the term "ace." He matched up with the opposition's best pitcher, on the road, and escaped the most dangerous jam by striking out their best hitter (Adrian Gonzalez) with the tying run at third in the fifth inning . . . and he did it with a breaking ball, something that never would have happened a season ago. Those of you who aren't newbies who found us via Boston.com know that I was one of the last men standing on the Beckett bandwagon a season ago, probably to the point of being an apologist. But it was just so damn puzzling to see that cocky kid who whupped the Yankees in the '03 World Series on their own turf struggle so much with - well, with everything - as he adjusted to the American League. Even I wondered if he'd ever get his act together, particularly as it became apparent that Hanley Ramirez was going to be a star. One dazzling half-season later, and it's nice to be reassured that this trade wasn't such a bad one after all. He's the ace we all thought we were getting.

• Speaking of aces, watching Jake Peavy pitch against the Sox Sunday, I was again reminded of last summer's ridiculous rumor that the Padres might consider swapping him for Mike Lowell. I made the point then, and I'll make it again now: The only way the Padres would trade Peavy is if Danny Ainge somehow ended up with Kevin Towers's job. Even with his struggles last season, he has to be as close to untouchable as any pitcher not employed by the Minnesota Twins. Peavy is 26, he's got that intense competitive streak that only the ultra-elite pitchers seem to possess, and he might have the most electric stuff in baseball this side of a healthy Felix Hernandez. Seriously, how much did his ball move on Sunday? I don't know how anyone ever hits the guy.

• You've probably seen this elsewhere by now, but it turns out the self-proclaimed VP of Common Sense doesn't have a whole lot of it himself when it comes to his beloved NBA Draft. Because it's probably not good form to snicker with such blatant schadenfreude, here's my own list of the five players in Thursday's draft who will be the best pros: 1) Greg Oden. 2) Kevin Durant. 3) Corey Brewer. 4) Al Thornton. 5) Mike Conley. When I'm proven to be a McHale-like moron in the next few years, you can come back here and mock me. You know, provided I haven't ditched this place for a VP of Common Sense gig by then.

• Turns out Josh Bard could hit a knuckleball a whole helluva lot better than he could catch one. All right, Mike Adams-caliber jokes aside, I have to admit I'm a little weary of the whole Tim Wakefield experience right now. Yeah, I know he's a class act off the field and the team's elder statesman and yada-yada-yada, but 1) It's as frustrating as hell when he sails through four innings, and then his knuckleball deserts him and suddenly there are five runs on the board before you know it, and 2) He's the reason Chicken Parm Mirabelli remains employed, and that's practically an unpardonable sin at this address. I'm sure I'll write some appreciative ode the next time he rips off three wins in a row, but for now, he's nothing but an aggravation every fifth day.

• I enjoyed Gordon Edes's piece earlier this week on the longtime friendship of Tito Francona and his righthand man, Brad Mills. Perhaps it's because the self-effacing Francona underplays his own ability so much, but it's worth remembering that in 1982, Francona, Cleveland's Von Hayes, and that Ripken kid in Baltimore were considered the three best hitting prospects in baseball. Knee injuries quickly turned Francona from a phenom into a journeyman, and I think his personal experience as a player helped make him so deft at handling personalities - he's the rare manager who can relate to the hotshots as well as the roster fillers, because he's been both.

• Mark Buehrle to Boston? It's a fun rumor, but I've got mixed feelings. While Buehrle has a proven track record, would be fine Schilling insurance, and is having a nice bounce-back season after tying for the league lead in hits allowed a year ago, I'm wary of giving up anything of consequence for a soft-tossing free-agent-to-be who has already expressed a desire to pitch for his home-state St. Louis Cardinals next season. He's a rental, and I hope Theo is willing to pay nothing more than a rental price, meaning that he hangs up his phone the minute Kenny Williams mentions Buchholz, Ellsbury, or Lester.

• If the Celtics make this proposed (or is it imagined?) four-way swap in which the Celtics would get Jermaine O'Neal while giving up Al Jefferson and the fifth pick, Danny Ainge should be banned from the New Garden for life. At this point, I'm not sure I'd trade Jefferson straight-up for O'Neal, a skilled, smart, and selfless player who happens to have a chronic shoulder injury and who the last three seasons has missed an entire season's worth of games (82, though The Brawl cost him 15 of those). His scoring average has dipped from 24.3 ppg to 20.1 to 19.4 in that time, and though he's more than two years younger than Garnett, it's fair to wonder whether he's already begun his decline. It's a shaky trade on a number of levels - it'd be nice if Ainge could pull off a three- or four-way trade where his team isn't the one getting shafted - but I'm comforting myself with the belief that there is way more fact than fiction to this. Jim Gray, who originally reported the rumor, is a notorious Kobe Bryant lackey, and this trade sounds like something a member of Bryant's entourage would come up with himself while fiddling around on RealGM.com. I ain't buyin' it. Please, someone tell me Ainge isn't, either.

• Rod Beck, the universally liked reliever who died Sunday at 38, came up with one of my all-time favorite quotes back when he was with the Sox. Asked about his conditioning regimen, which appeared to consist of nothing but 12-ounce curls with the occasional donut lunge mixed in, Beck replied: "I've never heard of anyone going on the disabled list with pulled fat." Yes, the guy was an original. RIP, Shooter.

• As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

I still say the affable former Sox shortstop, now the Padres third base coach, had a better arm than his Cooperstown-bound little brother does. Trevor Hoffman is a converted infielder who took to pitching as a last resort to salvage his career in the Reds system. Considering that Glenn hit .242 with a Lugo-like .622 OPS in nine seasons, maybe the Sox should have done the same with him back in the day.