25 years ago was the pinnacle of my baseball fandom. Don’t get me wrong. I still really love the game. But I was head over heels about it as a teen. I think it really started in 1984. I still remember Jack Morris’s no-hitter on NBC early that year. I believe that was the first no-hitter that I ever saw. I absorbed that season like a sponge. I watched every minute of the LCSs and World Series. That Tiger team was dominant, yet none of its players made the Hall of Fame yet. Maybe Morris will, although he would be an unfashionable pick in certain circles. Personally, I think Trammell or even Whitaker or Kirk Gibson would be a better choice. I even have a dark horse candidate I’ll get to in a bit.
For a long time, the 1985 World Series was my favorite ever. My brother was friends with a transplant from Overland Park, Kansas. So we were really pulling for the Royals. When they were at death’s door in Game Six and came back, we emptied our lungs with loud screams. By now, I was working and would spend my cash on sports books and magazines. SI, Sport, and Inside Sports were must purchases. I bought Dynasty, Peter Golenbock’s book on the 1949-1964 Yankees. I believe that was the first adult baseball book that I bought. I still own it. Caldor’s actually had a decent collection of sports books. I bought Whitey Herzog’s the White Rat. And, last but not least, I started buying Bill James’s Baseball Abstracts.
My friend Will was also a big baseball nut. He and some other classmates turned me on to the Mets as well. For the first time that I am aware of, their games were regularly shown in Hartford on channel 20. More baseball on TV. Will and I would sometimes sit in the cafeteria and play GM. We’d make trades between teams that we think would help them both. We were probably ahead of our time.
25 years ago on Opening day (it was April 7th that year. Opening Day is a movable feast.), Dwight Evans, normally a model of patience, hit Jack Morris’s first pitch into the stands for a home run. It was the first pitch of the entire major league season. Imagine that! Waiting all winter, coiled, ready to unleash the lumber at that first pitch. There was another Evans in that game, and I think that both Dwight and Darrell Evans would make good Hall of Fame picks. I’m cool with Jim Rice being in, but Evans was more like fine wine. He got better as he aged. Rice and Fred Lynn started their careers like gangbusters, but it took Dewey a while to get going. Under the tutelage of Walt Hriniak, he really blossomed as a hitter. He also had skills that were under the radar. He was a great defensive player and a lot of folks don’t really know what to make of that. How do we credit defensive greatness Vis a Vis hitting? He also walked a ton, which was underappreciated by the masses those days. Dewey also had the misfortune of having one of his best years shortened by a player strike. In 1981, he tied for the AL lead in home runs. He, Bobby Grich, Eddie Murray, and Tony Armas all had 22 talljacks. As for Darrell Evans, he played most of his career in parks that obscured his greatness. And the Braves and Giants weren’t exactly powerhouses when he played for them.
Since ’86 the Red Sox have gone on to other great seasons, but this was the first good Red Sox team during the era I was starting to really understand the game. But let’s focus on the current team, shall we. I’m not new school. I’m not old school. I’m middle school. I went and picked up the Maple Street Press preview for the Sox this year. It is glossy instead of silicone based, but the writers come from a different perspective than the traditional beat guys and columnists. The player pages in the preview synthesize rationalist Jamesian analysis and the empiricism of the old Scouting Report books. Bill James and later sabermetricians or saberists broil raw stats into something more tasty and meaningful. And smart folks have access to more observational data. Greg Rybarczyk, who tracks every home run at his site hittrackeronline, is an engineer. There are also essays. One, by the controversial Dave Cameron, suggests that Carl Crawford is similar to Dwight Evans. He didn’t say this, but I inferred it. While their skills aren’t entirely similar, both have undertheradar skills that make them more valuable than they appear. With Dewey it was the arm and the eye. With Crawford it is the legs.
Crawford could have been a point guard at UCLA or an option quarterback at Nebraska. How many Carl Crawfords are out there? Could Pat White have been a lesser Crawford? Maybe, maybe not. But if these athletes didn’t have the NFL as an option, more might try to stay with baseball. Some might pan out. Look at Willie Mays. If he were growing up today, would he be a baseball player or might he have stuck with football or hoops?
Iverson was supposed to be good at baseball. And while Michael Jordan barely cracked the Mendoza Line in Birmingham (where he was managed by Terry Francona), how well would he have hit if he played baseball regularly throughout his twenties? Baseball would be better off with these guys. Allen Iverson would be a modern day Dick Allen.; at least off the field with his gambling and drinking. The NFL and NBA will eventually resolve their labor problems, but I sometimes daydream about what would happen if they didn’t.
The Red Sox faced str8edgeracer C.J. Wilson on Opening Day. Texas is the reigning champ. This game would provide on opportunity for Saltalamacchia to show his old team something. On the other side is David Murphy. He was with the Red Sox until the infamous Eric Gagne trade. Adrian Beltre is with Texas this year. I don’t believe there is bad blood between him and the Sox front office. His pillow contract last year worked out pretty well for him. He might not have liked the head rubbing he got last year, but 2010 led to big paydays this year and beyond.
Jon Lester was Boston’s Opening Day starter. Last year, I woke up in the middle of the nite as Boston was playing in Seattle. He was perfect through five. I sat up, only to watch things fall apart in the sixth. The aforementioned Will was at Fenway to see his no-no versus Kansas City. I was working Friday, so I caught the first part of the game on the radio. I cheated and listened to New York versus Detroit on Thursday, despite my distaste for the team of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. Hey, it was baseball. I think that Michael Kay was able to keep Sterling’s excesses in check, but Waldman brings out the show tunes in Sterling. Most folks expect the Red Sox to win the AL East, but the Yankees will always be a force to reckon with. Predictions, even scientific ones, usually fail to account for in season trades.
It was a good thing that the season opened on the road. Wet snow fell on New England in the morning. Jeff Burroughs threw out the first pitch. He was the first MVP the Rangers ever had and may be the least memorable MVP since Bobby Shantz. The Rangers wore red. I don’t mind when other teams wear alternate unis, but it doesn’t seem right for the Red Sox. The Bushes were there, as was new Texas owner Nolan Ryan. Ryan is this century’s answer to Clark Griffith.
I didn’t get home until the fifth inning. I pulled up to my spot and sat in the car as Lester gave up a three run homer to Mike Napoli. Lester didn’t have it yesterday. He gave up three home runs and hit three Rangers. Francona pulled him after only 88 pitches. Yet, the Sox were only down by a run. Matt Albers got out of a bases drunk jam in the sixth. That’s tension! The run potential is high, yet isn’t realized. Albers came back out to start the seventh and got Elvis Andrus to ground out. The Yahoo play-by-play says that it went to Albers, but Albers really set the ball like in volleyball and Pedroia got it and tossed to Adrian Gonzalez. Dennys Reyes came in to face Hamilton. He looks a little like a mirror image of Rich Garces.
The Rangers have some lefties in their pen, too; old ones. Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver both appeared in the game. It was still 5-4 in the 8th. Were the Red Sox to come back, this was their last best chance with the meat of the order up. After Youkilis and Gonzalez went down, David Ortiz went deep to center with a home run. It looks like Ortiz shaved off his beard this year. He looked svelter than normal. My wife thinks that he is Notasbig Papi this year.
The game was tied, but it wouldn’t be for long. It wasn’t Daniel Bard’s day. David Murphy came off the bench to hit for Julio Borbon and he exacted revenge on his old team by slicing a down and away pitch for a barely fair double to left. After two more doubles, it was Tim Wakefield time. The final score was 9-5, but it was a closer game than that until the eighth. No big deal, there are plenty of games left.