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Week 1 Thoughts

In my first account, Theophilus, I wrote about things the Red Sox did on Opening Day and back in 1986. I’ll touch on 1986 a bit and discuss some things about Week 1.

We’re all in.” – Kevin Youkilis in a NESN promo

Poker lingo in baseball goes back to the early days. When Alexander Cartwright and the rest of the Knickerbockers played, outs were hands lost and runs were aces. The Red Sox might not have drawn a 2-7 unsuited, but the start of the season was inauspicious. The Texas Whipsaw Massacre led to Boston pitchers craning their necks far too often to watch balls fly into the stands. And the bats were dead in Cleveland. Through Friday the 8th, the team is batting .205, reaching (On base average) .286, and slugging .306. That’s a 592 OPS. Glenn Hoffman’s career OPS was 623 in a lower scoring era.

Lou Gorman passed away on Opening Day. A poster at BTF wrote a good summary of his Boston tenure. He was the architect of both teams in the 1986 World Series. (I thought about writing a book bout that season, but never did. Mark Simon over at ESPN is running a retrospective of that year as this season unfolds. Check it out.) Gorman came from the fertile Baltimore front office. I took a continuing ed class in March over at Manchester Community College on baseball in the Sixties and was reminded of the awesomeness of the Oriole Way. Earl Weaver was a great manager (and lent his name to my favorite baseball video game. I’d spend hours playing EWB with my brother Martin.) His coaching staff spawned a number of other managers including Billy Hunter, Cal Ripken Sr., and George Bamberger. There was leadership on the field as well. Frank Robinson would don a mop as a wig and preside over a Kangaroo Court. This tradition was passed on and Don Baylor brought it to Boston in 1986. But Harry Dalton was perhaps a more vital cog. His general manager tree includes Lou Gorman, John Schuerholz, Sal Bando, Frank Cashen, and Dan Duquette. Pat Gillick was elected to Cooperstown over the winter. I think Dalton might be a better candidate. He got the Brewers to the World Series. That’s an accomplishment.

Speaking of Baylor, he ended his career with Oakland and played with Jose Canseco. Early in his career he played with Pete Hall who was a teammate of Hank Bauer. Bauer was a Yankee with Phil Rizzutto. Rizzutto provided play by play on Meatloaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” Meatloaf and Canseco are both on this season’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Elsewhere on Opening Day, Robert Redford threw out the first pitch for the Chicago Cubs. Who’s older, Redford or Wilford Brimley? Brimley is, but only by a couple of years. Despite this, Brimley was Pops, the manager while Redford played Roy Hobbs in The Natural. I saw this movie in senior English class. We had a teacher named Miss Sisk and Will and I called her Doug.

There was some college basketball this week. It is a sleazy sport, but that’s not why I didn’t watch it. I’ve had to prune my sports tree over the years and that’s one branch that was lopped off College hoops is a bachelor’s sport anyways. Basketball (and football, for that matter) should be watched in bars; bars where there are bunch of instant refs (just add alcohol.) You know, the guys who think that they can interpret the rulebook better than the officials even though they are viewing the game through a haze of Marlboro Light smoke and light beer belch. Also some folks who nervously step outside to get reception for their cellphones so they can communicate with their bookies add to the ambience. I used to hang out at a place called Elmo’s before mobile communications became ubiquitous. There’d be a line at the payphone full of decrepit types waiting to call their guy looking to parlay their winnings of go double or nothing on the late game. They didn’t know Joey behind the bar. He’d book action on the frickin’ Hula Bowl.

The Red Sox can take some solace in the fact that the UConn Huskies prevailed. They won it all despite a rough patch. Theirs happened to be in the middle of the season instead of the beginning. And the ’98 Yankees faltered out of the blocks. Some think that they may be the best team ever.

I was going to watch Wednesday’s game. I was willing to sacrifice my eyes and watch Dice-K pitch. But NESN had a meaningless Bruins game on. I tried to go to the NESN Plus channel, but accidentally selected an HD channel. I don’t have an HD TV and that fried the cable box,

Thursday was Getaway Day in Cleveland and the game started early. I tried to catch it on radio, but it is difficult to do at work when the phone rings and your mind is at least partially focused on work. It was a pitcher’s duel through most of the game. Lester struck out nine and Fausto Carmona bounced back from his dreadful Opening Day start. But I had a webinar that started before the game ended. I caught the rest of the game on Sox in 2.

It was foggy in Cleveland Thursday, It reminded me of a time in, that’s right, 1986. It was so foggy one nite at old Municipal Stadium that the Indians Red Sox game was called. Bobby Bonds was a coach in Cleveland at the time and he hit fungoes that disappeared into the mist. The umpires had seen, or couldn’t see enough and the game was called. Despite the weather, some players like Marco Scutaro were wearing shades. Choo on the Indians was even wearing lampblack.

In years previous, NESN would introduce the teams defenses by putting names in the nine positions over a backdrop of a baseball diamond. This year, they show head shots of the infield, outfield, and battery that look like baseball cards. NESN treats the games in a fashion that is too lightweight for me. I don’t mind Jerry Remy bantering about his life with Don Orsillo during a blowout, but I don’t care all that much that, for instance, he’s having computer problems or that the flight to Cleveland was bumpy. And they cut away to Heidi Watney in mid-inning. They have plenty of time during the pregame show to talk about chicken and waffles at Progressive Field. Do they really need to do that feature over an at bat? I went to Progressive Field three years ago and wasn’t all that impressed. Out of the new mallparks, I prefer Great American in Cincy and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. But I did like the Stadium mustard they have there.

The game isn’t as interesting if you know the result in advance. I had heard that the Red Sox lost their sixth straight. I didn’t know how, but I knew that the damage was done later in the game, so I read while the first part of the game played on my TV. It turned out that the Indians beat the Red Sox with small ball in the eighth. Adam Everett walked. Why would Josh Bard nibble with Everett? He stole second and two bunts scored him. Who said that industry in the Rust Belt is a thing of the past? That was a manufactured run. The Sox had a chance in the ninth with the big bats coming up, but Youkilis and Gonzalez couldn’t get the ball past the infield. David Ortiz walked and was replaced by Darnell McDonald. JD Drew made weak contact. The Red Sox caught a break when it bounced of the pitcher Perez’s leg, but Darnell McDonald needs to learn how to brake. He overran second base and Adam Everett alertly threw the ball to Cabrera. McDonald slipped and didn’t retreat to the bag in time.

The Sox have been making mental errors like this in the early going. Varitek didn’t tag a runner the previous nite when the force was no longer in effect. It was no sure thing that the Red Sox would have tied the game or gone ahead. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was up next, after all. But McDonald’s gaffe guaranteed a loss.

Finally, Boston won a game once they returned home. I’ll have more thoughts later on the Yankees. It was another day game that I listened to and watched the replay. One thin I will mention is this: I believe that Saltalamacchia is the first player in Boston history to sport a Cool-Flo helmet. He doesn’t wear it at bat, but he does wear it under his amsk while catching. Can anyone confirm or deny this?

‘Til next time, Happy Baseball.


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Opening Day Thoughts

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.


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