Friday, July 27, 2007

Do not bat this man second

First, the praise: I admired Jerry Remy as a kid, and still do. He was the speedy second baseman on those late-'70s Sox teams that hooked me for life, the Fall Rivah kid living the dream. And for all of his huckster tendencies as a broadcaster, he's a superior analyst to every last one of the national nitwits, and he gets bonus points for bringing out the personality in Don Orsillo, who we still suspect is really a vinyl-covered automaton programmed to repeat old Sean McDonough soundbites at the appropriate times.

So, yeah, I'm staunchly pro-RemDawg. It's just . . . well, I recently discovered that he was a really bad offensive player. I mean, really bad. How really bad? Let's put it this way: Remy's career OPS of .655 is exactly .004 points lower than Alex Cora's. I think I understand Remy's verbal fawning over Cora now. Remy might be built more like Dustin Pedroia, but he knows Pedroia has more pure hitting ability than he ever did. He sees his reflection as a player in Cora.

Now about those stats - they're about as attractive as Tawny Kitaen's mugshot. (Click at your retinas' risk, Coverdale.) I first became aware of them a week or so ago when the Hollywood Sports Guy made a crack about Remy's career OPS, and I checked them out further while doing some research for this week's Fox column on the feeble '75 Angels, who hit 55 (yes, 55) home runs as a team. You probably knew that Remy hit just 7 career homers in his 10 seasons, since he jokes about it often with the OrsilloBot. But did you know that he had a career OPS+ of 82? That he was in the top 10 in caught stealing four times, including 21 times against 34 successes with the '75 Angels? That he was in the top 10 in outs four times? That his on-base percentage was .327? That his slugging percentage was .328? Not only was he unproductive, but he was remarkably inefficient.

Don Zimmer did a lot of indefensible things in '78 (running off the Buffalo Heads, playing a woozy Dewey Evans, starting Bleepin' Icewater Bobby Sprowl, sticking with injured, scatterarmed Butch Hobson . . . ah, hell, you get the point), but batting Remy and his .321 on-base percentage in the No. 2 spot in front of Rice, Lynn, and Fisk might have been the dumbest. It's like Zimmer had a metal plate in his head or something. It's a wonder his egregious lineup construction didn't lead to him getting taken hostage by a 10-year-old Rob Neyer.

I realize it was a different game then. The ballparks were bigger, the ballplayers were smaller, and second base, save for the great Joe Morgan, the criminally underrated Bobby Grich, and a couple of others, wasn't regarded as an offensive position. Second base was for the gritty, gutty gamers, the runts and the bunters, the pre-Ecksteins, if you will.

Which explains, I suppose, why Remy, despite his puny numbers, accomplished enough in his career to be rated the 100th-best second baseman of all-time in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. (Hey, to be ranked in the top 100 ever at anything is a compliment, even if Remy comes in 21 spots below Yankee punchline Horace Clarke). Wrote James:

When Remy was playing for El Paso in 1974, he wondered aloud if he would ever make it to the major leagues. His manager, Dave Garcia, overheard him and said, "Listen, do you know who is playing second base for the Angels?"

"Denny Doyle," said Remy

"Who runs better, you or Denny?" asked Garcia

"I do," said Remy.

"Who throws better?"

"I do."

"Who hits better?"

"I do," said Remy.

"Well then," said Garcia, "you're going to the major leagues."

Remy took Doyle's job with the Angels in '75 . . . then replaced him in Boston after coming over in a deal in the winter of '77. So it's all relative, right? There are a lot of second baseman who were worse than the 100th best. Doyle's on that list, somewhere.

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Other notes scribbled in the margins:

• Considering he's the NFL's fourth all-time leading rusher, you'd think Curtis Martin's retirement this week would have merited more attention. I guess there's no time to appropriately salute one of the classiest and accomplished players in recent league history when a certain network's NFL airtime is alloted entirely to a flashy but second-rate quarterback's cruel way with animals. Fortunately, Newsday's Bob Glauber hit the mark with this tribute; Martin's quiet grace, on the field and off, was overshadowed in this day and age in which police lights and the spotlight are often indistinguishable. Even if his football legacy is mostly with the Jets, I'll always remember him as one of my favorites for his three terrific seasons with the Patriots. It's funny to recall now that early in his rookie season, after he scored the winning touchdown against the Browns, Bill Parcells warded off the media hype by saying, "Don't put the kid in Canton quite yet, fellas." Who would have thought then that the Hall of Fame eventually would beckon?

• I might as well say it, because it's become the truth: When Papi comes to the plate with the game hanging in the balance in the late innings, I'm no longer confident, let alone certain, that he's going to come through. And that makes me sad, in a melancholic sort of way. I'm not ready for that era to be over yet.

• Who's NOW? I mean, you're kidding me, right? Bob Ley must weep for what ESPN has become.

• Nice of Wily Mo Pena to tantalize us with his breathtaking, maddening talent once more before he departs. Or did last night's performance and Nick Cafardo's nice piece Thursday about how hard he works and how much his teammates believe in him give you pause about giving up on him now?

• Well, it sure looks like the wheels are coming off my Mark Teixeira-for-Jon Lester bandwagon. The offer Atlanta supposedly made to Texas for the 27-year-old slugger includes catching phenom Jarrod Saltalamacchia (another player the Sox should covet), and I doubt Theo Epstein could trump that offer without including Clay Buchholz, who should not and will not be going anywhere. Teixeira is exactly what the Sox need (check out Mike Lowell's career first- and second-half splits and try not to cringe), but at the moment, the price seems much too high to make it happen.

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

"Man, that job-stealing Remy punk is really starting to *&%^ me off."

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