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Good Question

Like the Sox themselves, I find myself watching the scoreboard without much of an opinion as the Yanks' divisional lead widens to levels equal to Defcon 2.

Basically the current squad perplexes and I would like to hear more on the following:
What is the story with Millar who seems to get hits/RBIs when it doesn't matter and obviously is no defensive asset; is Cowboy Up, Cowboy Down?

Why is Damon still the only option at leadoff? Think the stat last year was that he had the worst OBP of the offensive nine (ok, don't see 'Tek beating out bunts, but about time for Nomar to go to the 2/3 hole and so some jostling appropriate and, alas, no Beltran).

And, unlike 2003 when the team needed obvious relief help, the current Sox just seem - for want of a better word - suburban, with no crying weaknesses but the 3-4-5 starters too valuable to trade but too volatile to love. (I don't know what the over/under is on a D-Lowe Sox signing, but there's a Rockies hat on it with his name on it without serious plate tectonic movement soon.) Who could the Sox get to at least shore up the 5 spot to Burkett levels?

That said, a few Yankee pummelings over the next few weeks would bring back the early season Prozac coma in full. Here's to a quick return to lethargy.

- DJS, 6.26.04


Open Letter to Nomar

6.17.04: Dear Nomar,

You have been a shining light for most of us during the past eight seasons.

You played hard everyday, and performed for years at the highest level. We have been truly blessed to have someone who cared about winning and who has been a perennial all-star. For much of your career, you have been 'underpaid' by comparison with the egregious contracts of some of your peers.

On the other hand, most of us will never enjoy the limelight, or make a tiny fraction of what your God-given abilities have allowed you and your colleagues to do. Most of us have to work everyday, too, through injuries or illness, facing whatever situations life brings us.

You are at a crossroads in your career, with the intersection of crisis and opportunity. Free agency affords you a chance to cash in on your prospects during the next few seasons. We are happy for your opportunity, particularly as you have embarked on a new family.

You have been a remarkable hitter, particularly in Fenway Park during your career. Some fans and baseball executives may question whether time and injuries allow you to continue with that same productivity. We can only observe that with limited playing time, coming off a serious injury, that your traditional offensive and defensive ability hasn't yet manifested itself. We can only use the metrics that we know, statistical anathemas they may be, OPS and Win Shares, home and road performance, along with what (as Richard Pryor might say) our 'lying eyes' show us. Your employer, Mr. Henry, made his fortune following trends. He and his associates must evaluate what becomes a 'reasonable expectation of value' over time. Other owners will do the same.

We wish you the most productive season of your career and the delivery of a championship to your championship-starved fans. We think that your performance has blessed us and that you too have been truly blessed. All we can ask for is your continued professionalism on and off the field. Perform well and the contract will take care of itself.

Best,

Ron Sen, MD


Terry Francona May Very Well Be An Awful, Awful Manager

6.01.04: I know there was more than one reason for the loss to Anaheim tonight. The offense does a remarkable job at somehow letting struggling pitchers off the hook... getting hits but not runs.

So, I'm not ignoring the lack of clutch hitting while I focus my attention on something that is beginning to make me insane. Francona is shaping up to be an awful manager anytime he has to make a meaningful pitching decision. I've got nothing against "players' managers", but in the future could the Sox ownership try to interview "players' managers" who are capable of making pitching changes? There's nothing mutually exclusive about those two qualities.

At least with Grady, he had the excuse that (a.) there was no one terribly reliable in the bullpen until the (cough, cough) playoffs, and (b.) he was a complete moron.

But with Francona, it's almost as if he has an academic interest in seeing what happens when a starting pitcher who is out of gas, with only a slight lead or in a tie, continues to throw pitches anyway. Or maybe he just likes to send a philosophical message during every damn game, looking at the pitching line afterwards and basking in the glory of seeing 121 pitches instead of 95 for every starter, every game, no matter what they're throwing like or what the situation calls for. It may be a different story with Schilling, maybe, who he's seemingly just afraid of. And that isn't an underhanded swipe at Schilling for wanting to stay in games, being an intense guy, wanting to finish what he starts, and work his way out of his own jams. That's how a top pitcher is supposed to feel. But a top manager is supposed to respond "Not today, Curt. Give me the ball." He's not to sit in the dugout while a game Schilling is supposed to win turns into a no decision, or worse.

Francona has a pretty damn good bullpen, weakened by the absence of Williamson certainly, but still very strong. When your 5th starter gets the team through 5 innings... and sloppily at that, hitting batters, giving up his share of hits and runs... when you have a well-rested bullpen... and when the starter was already over 90 pitches to get through 5, why do you bring him back out? Isn't that enough, when you have the lead, from the 5th starter when he's only had a mediocre night to begin with? And then, when he's struggling in the 6th, why does Francona always wait until the team is LOSING to make a change? And, from a perspective wider than tonight's game, why does he stick in the mop-up men in tie games or when the team is only trailing by a run or two? Why, why, why is he always late with the hook in close games?

The Red Sox have their share of problems, a good deal of which can't be pinned on their manager. Their record is good, better days may lay ahead if/when injured players return at 100%, etc. The players seem to like him, and if the the losses have something to do with him so do the wins. The sky is not falling every time they lose a couple. But Terry, while it's still the first day of June, when a pennant race in September is still far away and a possible playoff berth even farther, shake off the vestiges of your folksy bench coach persona at least enough to learn how to manage a pitching staff. Down the road, it's much, much more serious. Remember, anyone?

- Andrew G., Brookline

- Tito goes on Dale & Neumy and says he only had four pitchers available last night, clarifies that he had guys like DiNada and Brown unavailable, Embree, Timlin, A-Mart, and Foulke is all he had left, needed Embree against DaVanon, didn't want to be caught with just Foulke left by the ninth.


Just Your Average Ben

6.01.04: Ben, thanks for coming in, have a seat.

Let me start by saying that I loved you in Good Will Hunting. Really, I did. You were very funny and had good chemistry with your heterosexual lifemate Matt Damon. However, you've made several bad decisions since. Most notably the "Bennifer" fiasco, but also Reindeer Games, Paycheck, Bounce, Daredevil, and...of course...Gigli. I'm sure you regret these decisions even more than we do. However, these decisions aren't what we've brought you here to discuss today.

Recently, you were spotted wearing a "Killin' With Schillin'" shirt. This in itself, while an error in judgment, is not a crime. Although the makers of this shirt, Sullys Tees, brand themselves as "T-Shirts for the Boston Sports Guy", there was apparently a slip-up in selling ethics, and you managed to snag a shirt. If certain Bridge 9 interns were responsible, they will promptly be sacked! . If a certain Bridge 9 CEO was responsible, he will be severely reprimanded.

What bothers us so much abut the T-shirt picture, Ben, is the way you were seen displaying it. Hiking up your sweatshirt and jacket to show it off to the boys in the dugout. This is simply wrong on a number of levels. These shirts are made to be worn on top, Ben, not under two layers of clothes. Yes, it's Boston in the springtime, but the temperature hasn't dipped below T-shirt weather for several weeks. Perhaps your California-pampered skin simply can't take it anymore. Please correct this as soon as possible. However, the more grievous complaint we have is that you were seen standing in front of the dugout showing it off. This is simply a staggering feat, Ben. Something we can't condone, because it truly shows the rift that lies between us and you. This is the matter that's brought you here today Ben.

You are no longer a member of Red Sox Nation. You've lost touch with us.

You sit in the Monster Seats and owner's box. We blow half a paycheck on bleacher tickets and standing room. You show up before BP to have a drink with Theo and yuk it up with Ortiz. We stand in security lines and usually can't get a beer before Damon steps into the box. You stand in front of the dugout to show of a t-shirt. We once got threatened with arrest for trying to run the bases during Kids Opening Day.

Simply put, Ben, you are not the common fan you think you are.

So Ben, here's a solution we've worked out. Let's run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it.

At 20 million a picture for the last 6 or so films, that puts you at about 120 mil, minus a few hundred thousand per month that you spent with Jenny from the Block. Let's say that leaves you with 100 million in disposable income. Bravo, Ben. The "local boy" certainly has made good. Time to lose it.

Seriously.

I think it's the money that's clouding your judgment. You're no longer hungry. You're not a scrapper anymore Ben. Look at the Yankees, the team you purportedly despise. Steinbrenner's boys are bloated and weak with dough. They're rich and complacent, and happy to stay that way. If you really want to become a common fan again, lose the money. I say you give half to your pals Theo and the Trio, and the other half to the Jimmy Fund. Think of the headlines Ben! "Affleck Invests in Sox, Kids". "50 mil to Wally, 50 mil to Jimmy". Heck, the Herald's front page will probably shout "Benny Ballgame!" Long story short, Ben. You'll be back down with the rest of us.

Sure, you'll live comfortably, but in spite of your donations, there'll be a few rules. You'll have to pay for all your tickets, waiting in Virtual waiting rooms and scalper's lines like the rest of us. You'll have to drink watered down Bud Lights and eat Fenway Franks. No Sam Adams, no Sausage Guy. You can't go on the field. You can't be on TV. Ever. Not FOX, not ESPN or even as NESN's Fan of the Game. You'll be just another guy at the game. If you violate any of these rules, the next game you go to, you'll have to sit in an obstructed view seat.

This will help both us and you, Ben. You won't be an embarrassment to us, no matter how many godawful movies you make or who you're currently humping. You won't be able to spout off erroneous statements on the air, acting as some self-appointed mouthpiece of a Nation you've lost touch with. You'll help reestablish Red Sox Nation as a legion of rabid, passionate, but most importantly intelligent and classy fans.

And it will help you Ben, really, it will. You'll reconnect with the sheer joy of sitting in the bleachers on a summer night, of walking out of the concourses and into that emerald cathedral, and a sea of red and blue. You'll remember how it feels to pay $5.50 for a beer and then not care when you drop it because Ortiz just dumped another one into the Monster Seats. You'll look at the folks in the luxury boxes, the right field roof seats, the monster seats and those damn dugout seats and you won't feel the slightest ! bit of envy, because you're sitting in the bleachers, next to a fat sweaty guy named Bobby and Cub Scout Trop 312, and you're convinced you've got the best seats in the whole damn park.

Thanks again for coming in today Ben, we want you back, really, but you've gotta play by our rules.

- Tommy "Gun" Walsh, resident of JP.


Grady's Defense, Part II

10.20.03: Dear Red Sox Nation,

As a lifetime Red Sox fan, I always thought that Boston had the most intelligent fans. However, based on fan reaction regarding Little leaving Pedro in the game too long against the Yankees, I think Red Sox fans strike out. It's so easy to second guess someone after the fact. It's so easy to say Pedro was tired after he gives up the game tying run. It's so easy to say that Pedro can't get anyone out after he's thrown over 100 pitches. It is true that batters are hitting .370 against him after he throw 100 pitches, but if you go back and review the games that his pitch count was that high, you might change your mind on this matter.

Here are some statistics on Pedro pitching over 101 pitches:

There were 7 games this year that Pedro started an inning with at least a 2 run lead and his pitch count went over 101 pitches.

On 4-22 against Texas, Pedro started the 7th with a 4-1 lead. Pedro struck out the last batter with bases loaded to end the inning, no runs scored and he threw 122 pitches. (The Sox bullpen almost blew the game in the 9th but held on 5-4).

On 5-3 against Minnesota, Pedro started the 7th with a 9-1 lead and retired the side in order and threw 108 pitches.

On 6-26 against Detroit, Pedro started the 6th with a 6-1 lead and got rocked for 5 straight hits. He left the game with the Sox leading 6-4 and threw 110 pitches.

On 8-6 against Anaheim, Pedro started the 9th with a 4-1 lead, gave up a run, then struck out his last batter with the bases loaded. He threw 128 pitches.

On 9-10 against Baltimore, Pedro started the 8th with a 4-0 lead and completed the inning without Baltimore scoring and threw 116 pitches.

On 9-16 against Tampa Bay, Pedro started the 9th with a 3-1 lead, gave up a run, had the tying run on 2nd base and finished the game for a 3-2 victory throwing 122 pitches.

On 9-21 against Cleveland, Pedro started the 7th with a 2-0 lead, loaded the based and struck out his last batter and threw 115 pitches.

7 games, 7 games with at least a 2 run lead, 7 games Pedro throws 105 plus pitches, 7 wins.

So that fancy stat that Peter Gammons and everyone throw out there with Pedro throwing 101-120 pitches and batters hitting .370 against him is a great stat, but doesnít reflect the heart and soul of Pedro Martinez. You canít tell me that because Pedro gives up 5 straight hits against Tigers with a 6-1 lead in June that heís not a clutch pitcher. The only game this year (prior to game 7) that Pedro had the ball and the lead and lost the lead after throwing 101 pitched was on 7-31 against Texas. It was only the 6th inning and Pedro lost a 2-1 lead. He left the game trailing 3-2, the Sox tied the game 3-3, and the bullpen lost the game in the 9th 7-3. In this game, it was the 1st time all year that Pedro had back to back starts of 110 plus pitches (he threw 128 pitches in his previous start against the Yankees). An argument could be made that he was tired in this game. He walked the 1st batter on 4 pitches, fell behind his 2nd and 3rd batters 1-0 and fell behind his 4th batter 2-1.

Red Sox fans also feel that Littleís philosophy was to get Pedro out of the game by the 7th all season long. Not true. Grady Little treated Pedro with kid gloves prior to the All-Star game, but after the break he was letting his pitch count increase knowing that he had the bullpen by committee problem. Look at the numbers. Pre All-Star, Pedro had only 2 games where he pitched more than 110 pitches. Post All-Star, Pedro had 6 games that he pitched more than 110 pitches. In fact, in the month of September, Pedro had 3 games where he threw 115 plus pitches when he had only 4 games all season prior to September when he threw 115 plus pitches. Clearly Grady was saving Pedro early in the season and letting he stay in longer in the stretch drive for a playoff berth.

Playoff Game 1 against Oakland

Pedro starts the 7th with a 4-3 lead, loads the bases and on his 130th pitch of the game, get Chavez to pop up to the catcher. (Sox bullpen blows game)

Where were all the critics screaming for Little to take out Pedro in this game. 130 pitches and he leaves him in there.

Little made the right call on keeping Pedro in the game. 4 times this year Pedro had the bases loaded, the lead, the game on the line AND had thrown 110 plus pitches and he had 3 struck outs and a pop up to the catcher. Thatís a clutch pitcher if I ever saw one. Game 7 just didnít work out.

Letís go to Game 7 against the Yankees.

The single most overlooked key play of the game happened in the 7th inning not the 8th inning. Letís review that inning. Pedro gets the first 2 batters out. He faces Giambi. Little could have pitched around Giambi because he was hitting 7th and had already hit a home run against Pedro. With a 4-1 lead, why risk letting a home run hitter take you deep? Okay, they pitch to him and itís 4-2. Next batter.

This is the play that still haunts me. Wilson hits a ball to Millar, who catches it but doesnít toss it to Pedro. He falls down. Look at the replay. Pedro beats Wilson to the first base bag, but Millar holds the ball. The official scorer calls it a hit. Pedro should have been out of the 7th. His pitch count would have been at 93 to start the 8th inning. The Yankees would have had Karim Garcia (batting 9th) leading off the 8th inning. Garcia was 0 for 5 leading off an inning in the series striking out 3 times. He batted .206 all year leading off an inning as opposed to a .306 average with a man on first (Wilson). After Garcia, Pedro would have had Soriano who he struck out 4 times and Nick Johnson who popped up. 8th Inning over, 1, 2, 3, bring in Williamson for the 9th.

I canít believe that no one has said anything about the importance of the Millar fall and how it impacted the outcome of the game.

Still believing,
John Thibault


A Home Run Trot

10.5.03: Perhaps like many, reading about a loss seems pointless and I usually only turn to the wires or Boston papers after a win, mainly to wallow in the team's good fortunes and raise hopes about tomorrow. A page like this, though, offers a chance to vet when the former occurs - the conclusion of 85 straight seasons, while jubilation more than not is certain to merit a humbling down the pik

Often Sox fandom is compared to a Calvinist belief that you live a hard, good life but ultimately don't see reward on earth. It's not that we don't believe it can happen, but rather we don't remember any other way and have a resignation about failure. A recent New Yorker article, though, noted the Korean concept of Han, which seemed even more apt

"A peculiar mixture of tragedy and comedy, Han is an anger and resentment that build up, and at the same time a feeling of frustration or a feeling of desires that are unfulfilled... (Han is) the steady accretion of a pattern of lesser injuries into one large and abiding sense of woundedness. Humiliation is a key ingredient. The self-mockery of the self-loving who are too aware of their weakness."

Hearing of his "No. 1" salute, B.H. Kim is feeling the wrath of the Nation and his own foibles, as doubt grows to levels that mirror the followers of his team. In a sign of my own wavering faith, I began typing before tonight's game ended, although arguably have been typing for years on the same subject.

Game 3 had a very sweet denouement, but the fight is far from over. An elder relative passed away last month and her obituary noted a life-long Red Sox and Patriots fandom, illustrating that we don't just wear our colors, we take them with us. A championship would put more than a few ghosts to rest and leave many heading for papers one fine morning to gloat in a great Irish wake without fear of hurbris or hangover.

- DJS


Destiny and Aura:
The Power of Positive Drinking

9.24.03: Tuesday's extra inning was a microcosm of how doubt this season has been melted by performance and teammates' trust in each other. Despite one too many early homers, stranded runners at third, errors and ugly relief efforts, the bottom of the 9th brought the heroes and immediate ability to forget. Those doubted, derided or slump-bound shook off the weight of fan expectations and 85 years of missed opportunity and did their jobs. Nomy's walk against closer Julio, who had him whiffing in the dirt in August, was based in part on belief the next man would deliver. Walker did on a 3-2 count with two out. Would the Sox squander a comeback in the 10th? No, this win was ordained with Kim taking four batters and Ortiz four pitches. The Big O as an MVP candidate? Certainly, but here's a vote for an MVP team that unlike predecessors did not read the papers or surrender to the demons of our wavering faith. With the touch of home after the game winner, the celebration could be heard virtually through all Red Sox Nation. My father who sends emails about their performance that usually vary between "YOUR RED SOX" and "MY RED SOX" sent the latter this fine evening. While it may take a day for the champagne to chill, if things go well, the bar will be open for some time.  - DJS


Amen Corner

Have I told you lately that I love you
Have I told you there's no one else above you
Fill my heart with gladness
Take away all my sadness
Ease my troubles that's what you do

9.3.03: Sox victories the last two days have been economical treats that like holy water should be sprinkled liberally on all the negativity from the weekend. Two hits (two homers) and a win on Tuesday as Burkett and the bullpen did exactly what they had to, and then today's gutsy extra inning V against a very competitive Pale Hose.

D-Lowe was not perfect but got double plays and whiffs when needed with the poise of last summer, while the real B.H. Kim stood up to be counted. On offense, the home runs were counterpunches to everything Chicago put on the table, and David Ortiz and Tek have been the Rocky Balboas of the last three weeks and arguably the season.

Scoreboard watching (a sin admittedly) - everyone that mattered lost Wednesday and this definitely aint just a wildcard race. Say amen, somebody, the choir is singing Boston's song.


The Road Not Taken

8.25.03: Accentuating the positive this fall - yes, fall and the Sox are still in it - the possible final appearance of Roger Clemens at Fenway displayed the dangers of drawing conclusions in a game where 117 wins may reside in an arm once seen in its twilight.

As he left the game and Hub in the bottom of the 7th with the bases full but his 100th win in Boston nearly assured, a respectful ovation showed why baseball, more than other sports with bombastic video and laser spectacles, says goodbye to its working men with the simplest but most appropriate "well done". The fans, rather than feeling financially entitled due to a corporate debenture known as a ticket, instead sense the privilege of watching one of the best pitchers of his generation and the game's history. If lucky, the gods respond. If even luckier, the Sox come back and win it. Ah well, thanks for the memories, Rocket, and Godspeed.

Decision-making by paid assessors of talent, and by we the armchair faithful, is a fickle art at best. The travails of Jose Contreras highlight the feat of sometimes not getting what you want, but - with a cosmic Stones' organ rift playing to the chorus of dissatisfied - getting what you need. Simply put, that would be victories right now and by any means necessary. It's hard to fault anyone for where the Sox sit with 26 games to play and maybe for the first time in years unnecessary as well. As has been noted on this page, a delightful - albeit manic - season has been filled with a plate du jour of heroes, perhaps none to know the sustained greatness of a Roger Clemens but on their own afternoons to see similar tributes befitting a yeoman-like contribution.


Summer of `50

8.15.03: It is somehow representative of this season that scoring only four or five runs seems a mild disappointment and - based on the pitching - an output very much in danger. But the current Sox offensive juggernaut is one for the books, whether in Boston or Cooperstown, as only the Fenway nine of 1950 hit .300 (.302 rounded off) for a season, while the Grady Bunch as of late July have a respectable 30% chance.

Not that achieving such a feat in the rabbit ball-DH era would be more momentous than winning a ring, but at least one essential part of the game is chugging on all cylinders this summer. When last such a batting onslaught was seen, it was the single-division era, when 94 wins bought you third place and the same vantage point for the postseason as the "First in War, First in Peace and Last in the American League" Senators.

But my curiosity was peaked as to whether any comparisons could be made between the clubs, which in the words of Howard Cosell, "Come at ya, and at ya and at ya." I was not alive 53 years ago, but the numbers still impress and the nagging question that may ultimately haunt this season as the latest Ash Brothers go yard is why both didn't`t go further.

Boston Red Sox 1950
AB       R       H       2B    3B  HR   RBI   BB   K     HBP SB CS  GDP
5516  1027 1665 287  61  161  974  718  580 25     32  17   153

Boston Red Sox 2003
AVG    G     AB       R      H        2B    3B    HR   RBI   BB    K     HBP  SB  CS GDP
.295  103   3725   638  1099  270  33    143  615  387  585  31     60   18   84


The hitters in the Summer of '50 who were 100 points above the "Mendoza
Line" are Sox lore: Dom Dimaggio .328, Johnny Pesky .312, rookie Walt Dropo,
Birdie Tebbetts and the Splinter in but 89 games. But lesser-known guys pushed the BA envelope - Al Zarilla and Billy Goodman, while Vern Stephens and Bobby Doerr were just under but killing the ball with 144 and 120 RBIs, respectively, as middle infielders. Perhaps the die was cast when Williams, highest paid in the game at the time with a $150,000 salary, made the All-Star game catch, continued playing and had seven bone fragments removed from his elbow the next day. Although he returned mid-September with five hits including a homer in his first two days, the Sox move 2 games out of first but never come closer. In another year without a postseason, what many faithful remember just as well as the heroics are his middle-digit tributes to the bleachers after errors.

With or without Ted, the season has a number of 19-0, 29-4 and 22-14 victories and many a late homerun, but more tellingly - frequent high-scoring losses, indicative of a team with no 20-game winners and a mid-5 ERA at best. Opening day, in an eerie foreshadowing of the season to come and one that smacks of current woes, the Sox blow a 9-0 lead over the Yankees and lose 15-10.

The .300 team was undone by mediocre pitching, which even with designated hitters, wild cards and three divisions in the 21st Century game will leave you hungry. And so, like a seasonal telethon before trade deadline, I again note that truly fine hitters like Manny, Nomar, Trot, Kevin, Bill, David and Tek still need help on the mound and that means a deal for pitching pronto. Obtain a solid number four or five starter and I  will gladly stifle all cynicism... until October at least. Men successful only three times in 10 are considered heroes in baseball but in truth need every assistance a GM or billionaire can render. Give them the tools, oh ye of big pockets, and rest assured they`ll finish the job.

- DJS


Loser by Committee

7.3.03: The shift of Ramiro Mendoza to a starter's role should be taken as a modest proposal to invert the entire "Closer by Committee" plan to the beginning of the game, with Mendoza or Lyon or Timlin or Fox or any of the dearly departed starting and then giving up 2 to 4 runs in the first three innings, thereby alerting the offense to how many runs will be needed in the rest of the game and having the former "Rotation" go the last five or six innings with only themselves to blame or pat on the back.

This plan removes the anxiety of watching any 8-run, 8th/9th inning collapse (the second such softball game in a month), allows Grady to take clues on what to do when the Green Monster indicates in bold letters "Fourth Inning", and keeps Theo's plan using AMC Pacer talent on the table as a GM brainstorm rather than another example of the $700-million Sox doing it on the cheap.

If Mendoza can start, let's rip up the turf even further: Take the bench players and let them begin all games - Mirabelli, Jackson, Sanchez, Ortiz - hell, let's drop the word "bench" and call it "Talent Hangar" with usage during games now designated "long-haul" or "short-haul" as with flights. As a sign of this new era of empowerment, bring Jeremy Giambi back from the .087-DL and have him bat clean up or pinch run, tasks we know he can't do but feel sporting to let him try, ala Bob "Beetle" Bailey.

The Red Sox love this Man versus Environment morality tale, particularly with their current field general. Select a man with no MLB managerial experience, give him the most potent offense in the game and most fragile pitching staff and watch him hope every night that A is greater than or equal to B, but in his case, math is his worst subject. Those who selected him cannot say he is doing poorly or sack him before irreparable damage is done to a promising year because this would bring their own oversight into question. Instead, we head into the All-Star break with Grady at the helm and Ramiro Mendoza preparing for the Yankees.

- DJS 


Meatball Surgery

6.1.03: Deja vu all over again as a 6-run lead is wasted without managerial intervention. You know you`re in trouble when your "stopper" is a knuckleballer and in fact perhaps the team`s most dependable starter. And then, when euthanasia is mercifully performed, it`s like a MASH episode when the guest doctor - Matt White (who??) - makes even greater mistakes so that the regular cast can learn from his losing experience. But we`ve seen this war before, ending up nostalgic for Henry, Trapper and Frank while waiting for the series to end with boring B.J., the padre and self-righteous Hawkeye.

To follow on other`s comments, acquisition of pitching should not be a source of complaint, even of a confirmed choker. And hoping I never have to eat these words, nothing Kim can do here will rival his earlier collapses -- my only wish is that the D-backs would take Giambi as well -- gratis.

Looking at the other starters, John "Charcoal" Burkett is a middle reliever waiting-to-happen and Fossum is a 4.00 ERA on his best days. Pedro`s health and commitment seem questionable or maybe just the product of assorted bullpen malpractice, while D-Lowe needs some self-help videos stat. Let`s not start on Ramiro Mendoza who has botched so many relief operations that the DL may be the only way to allow management to hide the horror of his signing. All things considered, the pitching has been consistent only in its mediocrity and the Sox`s softball team batting and discipline are the main factors in why returning to this battlefield is still entertaining.

- DJS


By the Numbers

4.9.03: Today's crumble after a 3-0 lead and a strong early start by Fossum raises the following questions: Is Mendoza pitching underhand? Was Chad Fox's last job on the Exxon Valdez? Can Jeremy Giambi do anything but whiff? Is Grady incapable of both managing and reading a box score?

Okay, Manny's bomb today was mild comfort, but "key" offseason acquisitions are killing the Sox and if that cannot be discerned more quickly then this team may flip-flop with the Blue Jays for second place in the division. An E.R.A. of 12 brings to mind El Guapo in the days before he went on vocational siesta and Ramiro has already given up more than 20% of last year's earned runs in five painful appearances. Turning to Fox, ugh, double-digit E.R.A, mediocre in mop up - this closer needs closure stat.

Perhaps this is part of Grady's allowing players to find their inner child, which Giambi Junior is doing to the tune of 11 whiffs (10% of last year's total already) and a way-below-Mendoza line .091 average. What about this performance merited saying goodbye to The Dauber? Indeed Jeremy is taking pitchers deeper into the counts, but those 33 strikes don't advance runners and compared to Millar, Ortiz and Hillenbrand there is no convincing reason to grant a start based on performance so far. Hell, when previously hitless Doug Mirabelli bats for you it's a sign both of manager's incompetence and the fact that you don't make contact enough to be trusted even to produce a sacrifice.

And Grady - pinch-hitting with a catcher before your catcher actually bats is a new one - but what would have happened had "Goose Egg" Mirabelli actually gotten on base? Would you have pinch run because of his bad ankle, kept him in the game and pinch hit for Varitek thus leaving a weak lead foot on the basepath, or more likely did you conclude this game was over and basically have no plan B should he miraculously produce a batting average? As others on this page have commented, Boston's 5-3 record is not based on team strengths nor prudent oversight of talent and a struggle with .500 lies ahead when the Sox lock horns with even better teams.

DJS 


Dragonquest

4.4.03: Kevin Millar's early Sox-cess, after walking from a contract with the Chunichi Dragons, may be viewed as mild payback for many years of Boston exports going to Japan and - if not succeeding - at least making a paycheck. The current dean of foreign players in Japan, Tuffy Rhodes, tied the season record for homeruns two years ago and has rivaled The Babe for bomb frequency since leaving Fenway's friendly confines.

More recent ex-Sox who toiled in Japan before returning to the MLB include Lou Merloni and Willie Banks, neither of whom likely has fond memories of playing in the Land of the Rising Sun. The most infamous of the unhappy was Mike "Gator" Greenwell, who in 1997 had a seven-game cup of tea, batted .231 and fled.

Morgan Burkhart, Nate Minchey and "Wayback" Wasdin joined Rhodes as the contingent last year, but the Sox-Nipponica Era has waned from a virtual Pawtucket of players just five seasons ago. That year Greenwell, Rhodes, Phil Clark, Chris Donnels, Dwayne Hosey, Rudy Pemberton, Bill Selby and Pat Mahomes were here. On the way to work one day that season I saw the exuberant Hosey acting as a school crossing guard in the morning for Japanese kids; a Google search found him last on the Bridgeport Bluefish, but Japan more often than not has been the last career stop rather than a hitching post.

Japanese playing in Boston have been far fewer. The most famous was Hideo Nomo, who revived his career with the Sox but was allowed to walk to the Dodgers, while Tomo Ohka made an All-Star team to Japan last fall after leaving Boston with few admirers.

Ryo Kumagai, who attended the same university as Kazu Sasaki and pitches side-arm like B.Y. Kim, was signed by Boston's former scout in Asia and we met at a game in Fort Myers last spring. Unfortunately, it was the same day the scout was whacked by the new management and after spending 2002 with the Augusta squad, making it to the Bigs as was his dream may literally have been submarined.

Indeed, the Japan-Boston connection itself has a tough Ryo to hoe to again compare with the Glory Days. Millar's reasons for not coming appeared to appease Chunichi, but the exit of one Dragon may ultimately have seen the sun set on ties for the near future.

DJS


Generally Managing

1.19.03: In Theo Epstein, a Soxcess-starved faithful is living vicariously, albeit already second guessing, and although Boston will not be the 2003 home of Mssrs Colon, Contreras or Floyd, I am sure the master plan will find The Nine in the thick of it in July, if only to break hearts again in the fall.

However, I would like to impart that since about 13 I have also wanted to run a professional sports club, specifically Boston (assuming in those early years I would have been excused from paper route duties). And while not carrying the usual pedigree of a GM - no law or accounting experience, not an ex-jock or drinking buddy of the owner, not related to the Duquettes - I have followed this franchise for decades and believe at the very least I could have brought home as many championships as those now dearly departed, i.e. none, and left the farm system in as stellar a condition.

And while this may seem mere Monday morning quarterbacking, to build up my  resume in the remote case that John Henry someday calls, I took the helm of a team this fall: Fantasy Football's Setagaya Steelers. Certainly, it may not appear as grandiose as a $700 million team, but this is virtually the same job except without those long chats with people who headbutt umpires, won't pitch in All-Star games or like grade school kids don't know if they like Boston or not.

Based on the season's outcome, the draft should have been when my reign ended. Wheeling and dealing, knocking back shots and smoking cigars like a riverboat king, I left the table with two of the three best running backs in the league, a former MVP quarterback, and a passable air corps. The jewel of the crown was Priest Holmes, who from the first weekend was kicking ass and taking names. Two weekends of victory and I was moonwalking in each gloating email to fellow owners.

Then, depression set in. My QB, Kurt Warner, went from bad to broken, the receivers must have all been in long-term, no-cut contracts, while the main element of remaining success was Holmes. Desperate and in need of a QB immediately, I traded The Priest straight up for - Aaron Brooks.

In Fantasy textbooks, graduate schools even, they are probably already teaching this one as Exemplar Bonehead Deal 101: "Professor, were there any exculpating circumstances such as crack use, suicidal tendencies or - university allegiances?" Yes, I made the worst trade in my league and perhaps in virtual history because I and Brooks went to the same school. The rest of the season became an interminable crawl, with the added indignity of being known as the one who traded The Priest.

Granted, many baseball players avoid higher education and opt instead for years in Lynchburg or Trenton, but young Theo, learn from my tale of woe: stay away from Ivy League talent (Ron Darling excepted); when you Icky Shuffle in glee, don't let your significantly older colleagues see it (and keep that furniture trashing to a dull roar); and most importantly, when faced with a situation that imperils the franchise and raises questions about your abilities, unlike the infamous Harry Frazee and yours truly to a lesser historic degree, don't become known as the man who sold The Babe; remember Mr. Henry's loaded.

DJS 


Days of Whine and Ruses

9.12.02: And then depression set in. Maybe not this year, though, as the Sox demise had been well telegraphed and any sense that this club would be competitive in the postseason (never mind August or September) exhausted long ago. From Fort Myers to Fort Apache, possibility transformed from potent wine to pout and whine (although not as bitter as last year), leaving little thirst for anything else. Even recrimination seems relatively pointless now, as this team had heroes, just never on the same sports page.

But as the union pact has implications for off-season money rumblings and 2003 signings, the next phase of team post mortem will be whom do we need and whom can we afford. While there may be knocks for durability, effort and
leadership, the obvious keepers and untouchables: Pedro and Lowe, senior statesman Tim Wakefield, Embree, Nomar, Manny, Damon, Shea, a perhaps unpopular vote for Rey Sanchez, and Cliff Floyd if he so desires.

Middle roaders and perennial non All-Stars: Trot, Varitek, Daubach, Baerga, Fossum, Hermanson, Merloni and Agbayani. U-U may become the most successful Sox closer ever not to be welcomed back to Boston.

Adios: Clark, Burkett (wishful thinking), Henderson, Castillo, Arroyo, and Mr. Little.

Doing the math, the Sox still seem top-heavy financially while in need of another starter/reliever and a catcher who can hit in the clutch or off the bench. A 40+ homer first basemen wouldn`t be painful either. And while dreaming, a Manny trade in the current era of belt tightening is dubious, but why not if it could land a starter, solid catcher or both. Worse case, this guy is an offensive machine who - while not leading a VFW troup in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" - amasses numbers that humble the rest of the team. In short, let the .250 hitters run out the grounders, eat cake, etc, I respect success.

And as the vultures eye Grady as the season comes to a close, Mike Port`s recent musings on team apathy are not a good sign. Hell, Mike Port may also be short-order carrion as ownership tries to stumble upon some kind of arbitrage for success.

But what $700 million really bought was the nation`s longest-running soap opera. And while accustomed to the "wait `til next year" last episode, the oddities of this season were the lack of notable character development (with the exception of Derek Lowe) and the words that every wannabe actor talks about - motivation and timing. I again hope another postseason at home will be such as inspiration and finally bring the Old Gal the long-awaited daytime Emmy.

DJS


The Sins of the Father

8.26.02: I probably would have posted this regardless of this year`s denouement, but from whence the bile originated struck me in the chest in the past few days -- literally.

Growing up in Virginia, there was no obvious avenue towards the Sox, only annual summer vacations with two New England expats to an ocean too cold and accent too deep. Youth in Richmond was spent trading Reggie Smith cards for Ralph Garr straight up or waffling as a fan of the World Champion Pirates to the A`s with the speed and permanence of Herb Washington. The fabled 6th Game was lost in a Knights of Columbus bingo game, where the Hallelujah Chorus only played for the winner of $50 in S&H greenstamps. Of course, there had been mentions of the The Kid and Dom in moments of little league instruction, but to the fleeting interests of a pre-teen this seemed as recent and relative as Yaz as a Superstar, somewhere back in the Summer of Love.

But in the haze of 1977 my dad took me on the first pilgrimage to Fenway, where the Sox were hitting bombs for the record books and -- as became the pattern for following years -- holding an early divisional lead on the Yanks. Ahead of my first MLB game, I studied the team and listened to Sox radio as if applying to a private academy. In between AM static and fighting in the backseat on the road north, I heard five guys hit successive dingers in one inning. Yet these Sox were not just the threat of Rice, Lynn, the Boomer and Hobson, there was always the Bob Montgomery or Beetle Bailey with no convincing reason to be on the team. While not nearly as fearsome as the Bronx side on paper, the heroes and the chip on the shoulder of nearly 60 years of dry hump provided Boston an enticing edge that they would beat those New York bastards, regardless -- or so I hoped.

Our game against Minnesota was about to be called when the skies cleared and Luis Tiant took the hill. His twists and turns, the Green Monster and proximity to the field, the history -- like many before and since, I was hooked deep. We never saw the game end in victory in the wee hours because my father wanted to avoid looking (or paying) for a cab. My aunt, who obtained the tickets at no little effort, shook her head in disbelief, knowing that the combined weaknesses of Sox addiction and clinical inability to enjoy it were now in the process of transfer.

The following year was only worse as interest evolved into rabidity. 1978 was the last visit I would make to Yawkey Way for nine years, a period in which near misses and late season implosions played out with operatic timing. This spring I went to Fort Myers, as with my own son due during the season, it would be the only chance. My aunt, now in ill health but good humor as always, was in Florida, noting that her two wishes before passing on - that the Pats and the Sox would win championships - were now giving her decidedly mixed emotions.

This season did see the exit of the Greatest Hitter Ever, the man who was my and many other father`s hero. Naming the third generation of my own Nation in both of their honors, young Theodore shortly after entering this world gave his dad, clad in a Sox Nomo T-Shirt, a first hug and -- in the spirit of his namesake -- warm spillage on the shoulder, offering in one crystalline moment the proper perspective on life and arguably payback for crimes yet undone.

DJS


Three of Five

8.14.02: Is it my imagination or is there something achingly dysfunctional about this team that transcends the squabbling of `01 or the 25 players/25 taxis of 24 years ago? How do you have six hits in three innings and but one run? Double plays, whiffs and the dreaded LOB - that`s how, as strong individual performances continue to be squandered in unsyncopated .500 play. Is it the coach, the chemistry or more likely the usual late season fan Heimlich that soon becomes a post mortem? Zounds, perhaps it is something even more troubling: a franchise of a few stars and mainly overperformers coming down to earth.

First to the batting order and as stated on this page the team cannot afford to bat Varitek 5th another day. If Floyd is unwell, let Hillenbrand or even Trot, but Manny needs protection stat. RBI groundout this season seems to be a title the Sox are contesting in the locker room and that shockingly with the best wheels on a Boston club in memory. I would rather the Sox are caught stealing in reckless oblivion than fritter away hits in future DPs and Tony Clark at bats. And to the pitching: (glossing over the Cy Young twins) does the Frank Castillo bobblehead come in any stance besides the Stretch? And for another cheap shot - you know you screwed up when Willie Banks comes in to relieve you. But seriously folks, for starters three through five (whoever they be) can we not dig holes so early or can the manager recognize conflagrations and send in real relief? Looking at the remaining 40 games, is three of five the best we can hope for? If so, that translates into 24 wins or 92 for the season, a precarious playoff perch and Jose Offerman grinning at his good fortune in going to Seattle.

The rumor is that the September schedule is easier, with the return of the AL East patsies that boosted the record in the first two months. Play well in the remainder of August, gentlemen, and it may matter.

DJS


And On the Seventh Game They Rested

8.7.02:  In the big inning, Grady created more distance between the Yankees and the Red Sox, but the division between the two teams lacked "entertainment."  So Grady, in His infinite wisdom, created a Son to enable him to better contemplate his premier loss creations. And it came to be evening, and it came to be morning, a second 9-8 late loss to the Yankees.

On the second trip Grady blew a game to the Texas Rangers, and the Son suggested that an element was missing (mentally), and that his time in Boston and the 2002 season were incomplete without the DL.  So Grady, in His infinite wisdom, created "days off."  He created all of the excuses in the sea, all of the swarms of clichťs which fly and crawl about, all of the fruit trees yielding low-hanging fruit according to their kinds, all of the galloping herds of media, and all of life indeed, including Manny, and these He placed in a garden which He called Miami.  And there came to be an evening and a disco, and an after-hours party, and there came to be a morning hangover, and a bleach job on his lid.

On the third day of the Nation's backlash, Grady looked at His creations, and He saw them to be good, but not good enough.  But His Son suggested that these creations could not offer meaningful homage, for they possessed neither PlayStation II nor SpongeBob SquarePants.  So Grady did agree with Moorad and with His Son, but He did remain cautious.  And Grady did wonder how He would be able to remove Manny from the lineup, the one he wrote out in his sleep.

Then He proceeded to bless every seventh game, and make it sacred, because on it his Son will now be resting from all His work that Grady has created for the purpose of making it to the playoffs. And besides, Manny really needed a break after all the craziness that had been going on last week.

Big Dog


J'accuse

Saturday July 27, 2002 - It is the most difficult time of year for a Sox fan as the sands of what was a booked dune for October again seem to be leaking from the hourglass of promise. One-run games lost, struggles against good and poor teams and the inexplicable use of spent talents have left the trading block as the main passport to the postseason. Under a cloud of potential labour unrest, the Catch 22 of this pre-July 31 deadline mediocrity is that a move does not necessarily become more likely - i.e. the closer the Sox play like the Chicagos, Cleveland and Toronto, the leaner the argument for management to assume greater financial risk. Without acquisition the team`s holes grow wider as does AL East and wildcard distance, but remembering the owners` pledge to win after paying $700 million for the privilege, why has this not been pursued by all means necessary?

Was Alan Embree the only move possible by now or are the intoxicants of possible trades and guarantee of fannies in seats enough to keep people believing and stay John Henry`s John Hancock? I`m tired of hearing about minor league woes that limit opportunities as the moment is mainly about dumping salaries as the year is written off. Can it really be said that two players still on the 2002 Sox would be on the team - nay in the Majors, if their contracts didn`t make them expensive castoffs and the costs to replace them steep?

Below are their numbers and rankings in the league at first base; Offerman`s DH numbers are actually worse.

1b NAME     

AB

 R

 H

2B

3B

HR 

RBI

SB

CS

BB

BA 

OBP

SLG

OPS

43 J. Offerman

141

29

35

 4

 0 

 2  

16 

 2

19

.248

.338

.319

.657

47 T. Clark

206

24

47

11

 1 

 3  

 26 

 0  

 0

14

.228

.276

.335

.611

Offerman`s baserunning blunders in recent games make one wonder what exactly you need to do to get fired from the Sox this season? While the team pitched Darren Oliver and now El Guapo, as has been said previously on this page, anyone - including Juan Diaz - would be worth a shot at first or - heaven
forefend - actually contribute. In terms of pitching, the options are even broader.

Henry told the NY Times that his funds have made money on currency speculation this year. Well, it`s time to take on new trades and close these bad positions as they undermine any argument about commitment to winning. If July 31 is the market close, show me the money, John, or prepare to be as highly thought of as recent predecessors.

DJS


Date:  Friday July 19, 2002
Subject:  Smoking a Tampa, Lighting a Fire

A college friend from Alabama used to claim his state`s real motto was "Thank god for Mississippi," as residents could look at conditions across the border and feel better about themselves. Whether true or not - and with deepest respect to Mississippi - the Red Sox can thank the wise men who approved the MLB fraternity membership of Tampa Bay for a regular emotional pick-me-up and at present a shot at a perfect regular season record. If the Sox win 90 games (and all Tampa contests), some 21 percent would come via the bedeviled ones. Tampa`s winning percentage may ultimately clink below .300, and in the wild card era, that`s worth a Boston owner`s vote to keep the franchise struggling in Florida (or at least the AL East) in perpetuity.

But looking at New York series and a real Major League team, the fact that Boston and Tampa have more beanballs and words than the Sox-Yanks seems indicative of the frustration and uncertainty of the young ballclub and conversely the watered down "professionalism" of modern baseball. Some of the sweetest moments post-interleague in the former "donnybrook" series have been Trot eyeballing Roger then going yard, Pedro muting Bombers` bats, various winning hits off Rivera and seeing Rickey this spring in person jawboning at Hernandez. While the season is long, there are many teams in the league...and assorted other lines about why not to be worked up, give me some Spaceman-Pudge outrage and downright cussedness. These damn guys have been stealing thunder for way too long and a spanking in front of their nasty but knowledgeable fans would offer payback and divisional yardage. And frankly, despite the money spent and the self-picked All Stars, the Yanks can definitely be beaten.

Grady Little must show he can manage against the Big Boys and that means pushing all available buttons, and even in these civilized times that includes loathing.

DJS


Date:  Tuesday July 2, 2002
Subject:  Mid-term Exams

As they know in Cleveland and Toronto, breaking up a team is nasty business. Speculating on expendable parts also is less than wholesome, particularly if those former contributors end up staying in town. So pundits - who conduct interviews with players for a living - talk about needs and shopping lists, but with the Sox there is no larger glaring hole than firstbase and that has been the story since Mo Vaughn left. To paraphrase the old joke about catchers with speed, good field-no hit firstbasemen are about as useful as snazzy penmanship. No field-no hit firstbasemen are... ahem.

The Sox motivation to platoon at a position - admittedly with some success - that usually features the games premiere bombers has been money, with the low overhead offsetting mega-contracts of perennial stars. The irony of 2002 is the position actually features three contracts and a substantial sum that the front office obviously does not want to eat. Moreover, it is a roadblock to acquiring an essential player for the drive to October such as Jim Thome or Carlos Delgado. How such acquisitions are achieved is precarious as the memory of a lost Jeff Bagwell (ugh! for Larry Anderson) haunts still, but with the dirt of Fenway/Tara in my hand, I say to the owners, do this well and the Nation will never go hungry again. And while you`re at it, get a better rightfielder.

I know this is dangerous territory, particularly on a page in which Trot Nixon`s style of play helped to define a fandom, but whether it is the Dirtdog himself or Larry Walker, an everyday professional outfielder must at least be an above average hitter or an exceptional fielder; not to say Trot cannot do so, but at present he does not qualify. It would be unwise for the Sox to pony up $24 million for the likes of Raul Mondesi, but New York`s acquisition of David Justice a few seasons back was a fine example of paying smartly to win. Even in a short-term arrangement in which Trot becomes a platoon back up with Rickey, someone of value on the market should be considered for the fall campaign.

Pedro is already thinking about October and so should the owners. This is a very good team that with a few tools could be even better; if this be heresy, let`s make the most of it.

DJS


Date:  Sunday June 2, 2002
Subject:  Second Chances

There is a scene in one of the many "Naked Gun" movies where Frank Drebin tells an offender that he will offer him a second chance, "but not one of those Major League Baseball Steve Howe second chances". This season the Sox fan has seen a number of players make good on such opportunities - Derek Lowe, Rey Sanchez and Carlos Baerga most notably. Indeed, since the mid-1990s Boston has been a halfway house of reclamation projects such as Tim Wakefield, Bret Saberhagen and David Cone, and it is rather ironic that as obsessed as Fenway is with missed opportunities, Our Lady of Perpetual Forgiveness has a large professional and sedentary flock at Yawkey Way.

But with El Guapo, Tony Clark and Jose Offerman, we are nearing the limits of Howe-like redemption. Garces amazingly is allowed to pitch with an E.R.A. heading to double digits, equally terrible in important and lopsided situations; if this is not worthy of a call to Pawtucket or harsher exile, then the Sox are carrying a literal weight that may lift t-shirt sales and the hopes of middle-age softball players but not much else.

Despite his first homerun since opening day and steady defensive skills, Clark is not scaring anyone and his riding the pine in key games is indicative of management's doubts; he looked like a steal when obtained, but with the exception of Tampa Bay' s Greg Vaughn, he is the worst offensively at a power position in the AL.

Jose, as was captured on this page recently, is the $6 million man in the declining state of bionics. One of the defenses of his play heard after his inability to bunt in the previous Yankees series was his record for sacrifices with the Dodgers; is that really something to throw one's hat on? A little like the Tom Selleck line in "Mr.. Baseball" that he led the league in doubles with two outs in the 7th inning. As with Clark, much will change on Manny's return and both men`s presence may simply offer insurance in case of other injuries. However, neither is an asset and if the owners are really sincere about ending 83 years of misery, strike or no strike, please eye who is available in June-July (Jim Thome, welcome) and finish the job.

And speaking of Manny, the broken finger did not seem a bonehead play as I don't remember any criticism of Rickey for the head-first slide in the last Yankees series or - going back to Pete and Ray Fosse in an All-Star Game no less (can you imagine athletes today caring that much in a non-contractual situation) - any cautionary tales about aggression, usually the real bone of contention with Ramirez. But what is mildly irksome, though, is why a damaged digit is worthy of a free pass to Miami, while Edgar Martinez with a 60-day bum hammy is traveling with Seattle on the road; the obvious answers are commitment and leadership, and if Manny comes back and hits .372 I will assuredly mortgage both ideals to wade in success. In the interim, I think $160 million is worth a flight to New York for the weekend.

Perhaps as with the three culprits named above, a demand for justice in the court that Ted, Yaz and Pudge built is only as deep as the promise of an ending slump, and despite prolonged accusations, a general amnesty will be declared if we go home a winner.

DJS


Date:  Monday May 6, 2002
Subject:  Taking a Lead

Pinch hit grand slam? Pinch me, I'm starting to believe again as the first such Sox bomb since 1986 and the best winning percentage in MLB have eroded the usual fail-safes of Boston fandom. Checking the tires to make sure this is not the early season revving that leaves a chassis without wheels by August, the contributions are broad and surface corrosion little.

Good starting pitching has been complemented by generally large leads. Power and speed, better fielding, versatility, team cohesion - the wealth of positives sounds like an "Up With People" halftime show; in short, the Sox are in first and all is right with the world.

But letting the other side of the brain take over, Seattle and Oakland await and a few concerns linger. The Sox have played 23 of their 27 games against the Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals and Devil Rays, a pick 'em bet for 100-game losers. Despite U-U`s recent success in 9th innings, a true test will be the West Coast. Will closer games be Closer games?

In numeric ranks of relievers, Boston and Urbina still do not register except for the ample saves, which have not come without palpitations. Middle relief has been relatively unnecessary, but El Guapo has been far from form. The pen will indeed have to be as mighty as the sword if Sox-cess is to continue as the Mariner's sweep of the Yanks does not bode for all the starters to come through unscathed.

On offense Johnny has been an OBP demon, Shea's clutch dingers have wounded Rivera as well as the hapless D-Rays, and Manny is indeed "a freak". But the high team batting average has not masked Tony Clark's struggle and pinch-hitting for him in the 9th after a 1-3 effort was far from a vote of confidence. With both Daubach and Offerman stroking, Clark may find game time rarer unless someone comes up lame. On that front, the Sox have multiple options for injury or underperformance and thankfully that has not been the case.

But the largest AL East lead over the Yankees since 1997 still is ascribed outside of Boston to New York's tough schedule and the Sox's weak one, while both teams say it is too early to become excited. I would like to be as calm, but winning or losing with the Sox is never blithely experienced.

Despite a deep respect for history, success on this road trip would indeed put Boston in the proverbial driver's seat ahead of the next Bronx match up and back up the statistical and emotional highs of the first month. Yes, there are more than 130 games left, but the early test of what's under the hood has produced results. While likely to be tempered during the dog-days of summer, success so far has not been a delusion and has allowed the Boston faithful to catch a breath as the Yanks loom in the divisional rear-view mirror.

DJS


Date:  Monday April 29, 2002
Subject:  Henderson History in the Making

When he was recalled on June 23rd, 1979...

- Pope John Paul II was pope for less than a year.

- Joe Torre was the new and very unsuccessful manager of the Mets.

- The Muppet Movie was released that weekend.

- There was only one Star Wars movie... it was called "Star Wars."

- The Yankees starting catcher was Thurman Munson.

- There were NO Friday the 13th movies.

- It was 5 months before the Iranians took hostages.

- The Charlie Daniels Band released "Devil Went Down to Georgia" and the Knack released "My Sharona" that day.

- The manager of the Red Sox was Don Zimmer.

- The third album by Talking Heads "Fear of Music" would be released in 3 months.

- John Wayne had been dead for 2 weeks.

- Willie McCovey, Carl Yastremzski and Lou Brock were all still in their teams starting lineup.

- Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi had just quit SNL. Jane Curtin, Bill Murray and Larraine Newman were still on the show.

- George Bush announced his candidacy for President. His 33 year old son George W. had just lost his first congressional bid.

- Jimmy Durante, Jesse Owens, Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers and John Lennon were still alive.

- The Lawrence Welk Show was still on the air.

- Aaliyah was just over 5 months old and Lauren Hill would be born 4 days later.

- O. J. Simpson had just retired from the 49ers, "Baretta" had been off the air for only a year and Shatner was getting ready for the release of the first "Star Trek" movie.

- David Letterman was a comedian and sometimes Gong Show and Password Plus panelist. Tom Hanks had a few cameos on Happy Days but had not shot Bosom Buddies yet.

- Paul Sullivan was 7 years old, obsessing over Star Wars and baseball.

Sully
Nice to see some things don't change


Date:  Saturday April 13, 2002
Subject:  Through the Yards to the Field, All Paths Lead Back to Fenway

The game at Baltimore's Camden Yards was great, but nobody came.  There were perhaps 15,000 fans for an inter-division contest on a crisp, sunny Saturday afternoon.  The upper deck was mostly empty.  For a park which was once baseball's new small gem, that was depressing.  There were plenty of Sox fans - perhaps a solid fifth of those sitting near us were wearing Sox caps or jackets.  Missing were the Hometown Fans, the massive Saturday game numbers of kids and dads and retired box-scorers and loose teenage girls...the people who show up to care or not care about the game itself, the kind of crowd Fenway can draw for a chilly, early season night game. Perhaps they were at the office or washing their cars or at the Mall or tuning in on radio while doing something more important.  But they weren't at the game.  Continued


Date:  Saturday April 6, 2002
Subject:  Lowe and Behold

It's the second game of the season, against Baltimore no less, and the mumbling has already started about the team's precarious position, as a No. 2 pitcher tries to prove that the last few years of his professional career were a fluke. A new face among the starting Boston five stymies the Oriole nine for seven full innings, inducing ground balls after nearly walking his way to oblivion. I want to stop watching the virtual scoreboard, but the zero under the big H means potential history; I think back one year earlier to near exact circumstances, when a has-been from Japan made his mark and became the ace of the healthy staff. The calls of waiting family grow louder, and knowing it would be downright unfaithful to leave now, I shake off signs for immediate movement.

This could be the cross in the sky, the burning bush, the shaking diving rod that means there's water in the season ahead - I think to myself that I can't go now, it may cast a pall over the outcome. It's the same feeling I had about taking off my Red Sox cap during the 6th game in 1986 - holding it responsible for an inning that would not end. The chorus grows louder for me to move, and after seeing what was responsible for the delay, the cruelest blow is delivered: "Derek Lowe and a no-no, he'll be lucky to get a win. Get moving.

Well, D-Lowe, I did not stay and you did stumble - slightly - and while my not watching may not have proven decisive in events in Baltimore, I have doubted you greatly over the last few years and maligned your prospects this year. You shut me up for one start at least and I now realize that should 2002 prove the year, this moment was important, indeed it was the first win. They are booing Jason Giambi in New York because of great expectations; D-Lowe, if there's cosmic justice, no one will boo you for some time, particularly if formerly flaccid optimism about your prospects remain unchanged.

But as you go out and rewrite history this year, just promise me one thing, don't let success as a starter give inspiration to be a closer again - ever. We've been there and the stomach acid is just back to neutral PH. Starting has few interminable moments and only words like loser and winner, not goat. And one other - which at this very early moment you wear with a 1-0 record and 0.00 ERA - Ace.

DJS


Date:  Monday March 25, 2002
Subject: 
Old School Days

"He's leaning into it too much up there... he's got to lay back... needs to loosen up a little," these words of advice didn't come from just any casual observer of Trot Nixon's slight slump at the plate this spring, they were the words of his old high school coach, Dave Brewster. Trot's coach goes to Bradenton every spring, but came down to watch his old all-state star get ready for his first full season in the national limelight. And he thinks Trot is pressing a bit. But after they spoke on Saturday, Trot worked his way to a nice walk yesterday and had a solid smash up the middle for a base hit to drive in a run. Hopefully the little trip down memory lane will get Trot back on track with the stick.

Back in North Carolina, Trot was always a starter, even as a freshman. Expectations were always high, and when Trot was a little less than quick getting to first base on ground balls, coach Brewster let him know it asking "do you want to go to the major leagues or do you just want to play around here? It's all up to you. You're the best player in the state, these scouts expect you to run out every ground ball. A left-handed major league prospect has to get to first quicker than 5.8." Trot has run out every ground ball hard since.

When he was taken out of a game for the first time in his life back in high school, it didn't work out so good. He would simply annoy the hell out of everyone on the bench, yapping away and just bugging the coaches and players. The scorekeeper, who couldn't stand another minute of Nixon's antics, told coach Brewster, "if you don't put him back in there, I quit." Soon enough, Trot went back in the game (his not-so-secret goal all along).

During the legion ball series one summer, Trot was on the mound for the championship game, "he was a hell of a pitcher." But on a tricky infielder ground ball, Trot failed to cover first in time. The runner reached, scored, and Nixon's team went on to lose the legion championship. Coach Brewster blames himself for not going over the play well enough in practice, said "it wasn't Trot's fault" (but it's sort of his 'behind-the-bag' legion legacy that endears him to Boston, the plight of the Red Sox, and their World Series futility).

After the legion loss, Trot and Coach Brewster immediately took care of business and won the North Carolina state high-school championship the next spring. Let's hope a little Old School rap brings about some Olde Town trophies as well.


Date:  Friday March 15, 2002
Subject:  Fresh from the Fort

Spring training and the fresh-cut smell of forgiveness overwhelm as a few veterans and mostly new faces try to earn places in hearts and scorebooks. Four games witnessed does not a season, or even a preseason, make, but some sweetspots and brushbacks from Fort Myers:

Pitchers - Pedro looks strong, in fact so strong that twice with two outs he appeared to walk guys intentionally to practice coming out of the stretch; pitch counts and our Lady of Sacred Hope seem to be in store. John Burkett made a strong bid for the #2 spot with some deft landmine-stepping. Those not avoiding bombs include Dustin Hermanson and Tim Wakefield; the knuckleballer's first pitch in Thursday's game was deposited in the Gulf and new manager Grady Little allowed the veteran, ironically one of - if not the - longest serving man in blue, to throw. And throw. And throw, and after eight runs and one out, mercifully shower. Questions include the location of Derek Lowe (wait, don't answer that, I'm still digesting normally), the possibility of a non U-U closer, and whether a trade for another name starter may be coming with money in the bank and some rare trade-bait.

Infield - Conventional wisdom and recent history suggest this the team's greatest wildcard, but Fort Myers shows the team stacked and apparently healthy. Nomar and Tony Clark are hitting BB's. Hillenbrand, Sanchez, Merloni, Baerga and the Veras duo are interchangeable and stroking the ball, and even the El Guapo-esque Juan Diaz brings smiles like the heavy kid at camp who hits while munching candy. Only Brian Daubach appears without a position if Clark healthy; reports are that Atlanta interested and a straight-up for John Smoltz would be fine although unlikely in this lifetime.

Outfield - On paper this appears set in stone with Manny, Trot, Johnny and likely Rickey. But if Damon does not hit early in the season, which was certainly the story last year, that may create batting order imbalances and likely a 42-year old as your leadoff. What on earth is Damon Buford doing on this team again? Not hitting is one thing; if he survives the move to 25, something is amiss as Coleman and even Daubach are better. Best moment, though, was Manny bear-hugging, yes, bear-hugging Little before his first managerial appearance and keeping the heir to Williams, Yaz and Rice productive either as LF or DH the key to success.

Stealing Signs - Fort Myers is nothing if not the home of 84 years of misery and a nation wanting to believe. None of the above suggest the team any less likely to steal your heart again this year. Nonetheless, as all checking vital signs, my favourite image from City of Palms Park came on a first trip to the facilities after a few Sam Adams in the March sun; rather than taping phone numbers for a club featuring the girls Curt Schilling and Co. chased last year, the Men's room had small ads above the porcelain that offered help with "Prostate Enlargement." In a setting of limitless potential, this seemed a touchstone of fundamentals and Boston perspective, a thought that every good drink and hope someday ends in the basin of mortality.  -- DJS


Date:  Monday, March 11, 2002
Subject:  Deja Vu All Over Again

The last time the career of a Red Sox manager other than an interim lasted as short as Kerrigan's 43-game managerial tenure? How about the 1907 season, a year in which the Sox practically made this year's team look stable?

One manager, Chick Stahl, actually committed suicide right before Opening Day. Owner John Taylor then appointed himself as manager, only to have American League president Ban Johnson veto that plan.

Cy Young then took over as pitcher-manager until Opening Day, when Taylor hired George Huff. But Huff had never played or managed anywhere, so he got let go after eight games (six of which he lost).

Next to try this gig was first baseman Bob Unglaub. He lasted 29 games (going 9-20). Finally, Taylor hired Deacon McGuire, who somehow made it through the season. And you thought Red Sox chaos was a recent phenomenon?  -- Daniel


Date: Tuesday March 5, 2002
Subject: The Real #2

Pedro gets back on the hill with much anticipation today. Assuming he's healthy, he's the number one and will win his 30 games (gulp).

So who is the real number two? Sure Burkett will follow Petey playing the slow-follows-fast game, but who is really the second best starter on the team?

Is it Burkett with his newfound Maddux-like finesse? The wily veteran? Or is it really the Hermanator? Tough enough to rip 'BZ's Johnny Miller to shreds, the Bull Dog, throws hard, rejuvenated (again), young, strong. Is it Frank Castillo? The competitor, hung pitch-for-pitch with Clemens in September when they were technically alive, and kept the Yankees at bay three times last year.

Or is is Derek Lowe, rubber arm, best stuff on the staff, bulked-up, can use more pitches now that he's not relieving, manager sandbagger turned president of the Kerrigan fan club?

Yes, Derek Lowe is the real Number Two, which makes him Red Sox pennant-factor Number One. 


Date: Monday February 25, 2002
Subject:  Closing Time

All the winter talk about binding bids, Harrington's regime, owners' approval, Dolan's pending lawsuit, Yawkey "tradition," incoming owners, Aramark extensions, buyer dropouts, Tom Reilly's campaign for Governor, O'Donnell's revenge, Miles Prentice and Quadrangle, antitrust exemptions, Ivory Tower, Jeremy Jacobs, NESN sell-off, Florida and San Diego stories, secured financing, group additions, bag jobs, charity shares, Bud Selig's smoking gun, limited partners, etc., finally comes to an end on Wednesday. It's closing time. 


Date: Monday February 18, 2002
Subject:  Spring Check-in

Tough to find any bad news coming out of Fort Myers so far. As usual, it looks like there are too many pitchers for too few spots (I want Juan Pena as my Number 5).

Urbina is in today and I'm sure he'll bring a fresh attitude (no more roundhouses at Wakefield on the plane), new physique, good health, just like the rest of the arms at camp tranquility.

Position players in next. Let the good times roll.


Date: Monday February 11, 2002
Subject:  Start Your Engines

The van leaves today as the new and improved Boston Red Sox shift into gear. Does Lucky Lucchino's crew have what it takes to follow the Patriot's lead? Will Manny's hammys be loose all season? Can Damon take the heat? Can Duquette hang on? Are the injured-three really healthy? Do Guapo and Pedro weigh the same now?

Lots of questions.  Stay tuned for the answers.



Wild Card Wannabees

AL Wild

W

L

GB

Oakland

46

36

---

Boston

45

37

1.0

Anaheim

44

39

2.5

Chicago

42

38

3.0

Tampa Bay

42

41

4.5

AL East

W

L

GB

New York

51

31

---

Boston

45

37

6.0

Tampa Bay

42

41

9.5

Toronto

38

46

14.0

Baltimore

36

45

15.0


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Curt and Shonda will be contributing $25,000 to The ALS Association Massachusetts Chapter, and they are asking fans to contribute as well. All proceeds will benefit research and patient services for those in Massachusetts affected by the disease. Program participants will receive different incentive prizes based on the dollar amount per strikeout that they pledge. Please click here to learn more about the program.

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