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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Did Girardi have Proctor groove one?

A thought occurred to me as ESPN switched from the nightmare in Baltimore over to Tampa Bay. It's the 12th inning, and the last thing Joe Girardi wants is to keep playing a meaningless game and wear out his pitchers. He seems to whisper something to the guy sitting next to him -- was it pitching coach Larry Rothschild? -- and the next thing you know, I believe on the next pitch, Longoria hits a game-winning home run off Scott Proctor. Just three minutes had elapsed since the game in Baltimore ended.

Talk about the ultimate diss to your arch-enemy. It's like a diabolical plot. The Yankees take a 7-0 lead into the eighth, get the Red Sox fans in Baltimore (and everywhere else) thinking playoffs, as well as the Sox players themselves, and then rip out all their hearts and mess with their psyche by blowing their touchdown advantage and several scoring chances in extra innings.

Now, not surprisingly, the Sox start tensing up and making stupid, desperate, mistakes. Scutaro gets thrown out at the plate. Ortiz gets thrown out at second. Pap keeps throwing fastballs -- just like in his 2009 playoff melt-down -- when a split-finger or two would have likely ended the game. And then Crawford, who I kept cheering to turn things around as his season unfolded in Renteria-esque fashion, blows a catch he absolutely could have caught and for good measure throws a lollipop to the plate as the winning run scores.

Now here's the really funny thing. I'm in Detroit visiting my wife's family. As the evening began unfolding in very promising fashion for the Sox, Yanks, and Tigers, I envisioned myself  blogging from Commerica Park this weekend and Ryan Lavarnway celebrating the Jewish New Year with a homer in true Hank Greenberg style (actually, Hank beat the Red Sox with TWO homers at Fenway on Rosh Hashanah, 1934). Then it all slipped away, and I was left with the worst pit in my stomach since Aaron Boone took Wakefield deep in '03.

But as tempting as it was to believe the Evil Empire planned this all out, deep down I know what my old buddy Justin has been saying all month is true: the 7-20 September Sox did not deserve to make the post-season. The swoon was more than bad luck or bad karma -- it was just bad baseball. With the exception of Jacoby Ellsbury, who is still my choice for American League MVP, the offense fell flat. Ortiz and Gonzalez may have kept their averages high with a rain of meaningless singles and doubles, but their power strokes disappeared. The starting pitching was awful. The relief pitching was (mostly) awful. The defense was shaky.

And here I am, author of a brand new book on Fenway Park. As my wife the reluctant fan switched out her lamp, leaving me in the dark with my computer, she said, "Don't worry, nobody will blame this on Fenway. The Red Sox never would have won anyway." She's probably right, but I would have done anything to have one more chance this fall to walk down Yawkey Way with the smell of sausages in the air, grab a bag of peanuts from Nicky Jacobs, high-five Big League Bryan, and then cheer on the home team in an attempt to put the worst month in recent memory behind us.

Now we have to wait seven months to get that chance.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Forget 1978, This is More Like '88

During the latter stages of the horrific 5-16 September swoon by the Red Sox, there have been a lot of comparisons made between this year's team and Don Zimmer's '78 ballclub -- which looked like a juggernaut in June and July, and then blew a 14.5-game lead and the AL East to the Yankees in a one-game playoff.

A closer look at the facts, however, suggests that the current freefalling Sox are actually performing more like another Boston team of recent vintage: the "Morgan Magic" bunch of 1988. Most fans who remember turntables and cassette decks know that the Sox won 12 straight games and 19 of 20 after Walpole lifer Joe Morgan replaced John McNamara as manager that summer. Led by Clemens and Hurst on the mound and Burks, Greenwell, and Evans at the plate, Boston went from a lackluster 43-42 record and fourth place at the time of Morgan's ascension to 62-43 and a tie for first.

This, however, was where the hot streak ended. The '88 Sox went just 27-30 the rest of the season, and limped to the finish line with a 4-8 mark over the season's last 12 games -- including six losses in their final seven contests. They nearly blew a 6.5-game AL East lead thanks to the swoon, and although they did win the division (by one game over Detroit), they were swept four straight in the ALCS that followed by the Oakland A's of Canseco, McGwire, and Stewart. There were no major injuries to blame; Boston just forgot how to win.

So while it's true that the 1978 Red Sox had the more dramatic fall from mid-season glory -- they were 60-28 with a .682 winning percentage and an 8.5-game lead in mid-July, and then played barely .500 ball the rest of the way -- they were far from their coldest down the stretch. In fact, Boston was the hottest team in baseball over the last two weeks of the regular season, winning 14 of 15 and its last eight straight to force the winner-take-all playoff game with the Yankees. Bucky Dent and Co. ended the momentum there, but certainly there was no crawl to the finish like the current Sox or the '88 club endured.

What does it all mean? Will this year's Sox manage to make the playoffs in spite of their sloppy stretch drive, and then play like it's June or July come the postseason? Or will Fenway stay silent until it's time to ice it down for hockey? The next few days will provide the answers. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Buy a book, support cancer research and care

Today is without a doubt one of my favorite book events, because all the proceeds from today's signing at Dana-Farber's Friends Corner Gift Shop go to support cancer research and care here.

If you are in the neighborhood between 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. stop by the first floor gift shop in Dana-Farber's beautiful new Yawkey Center for Cancer Care and pick up your personalized copy. Books will also be available after I'm gone, so if you can't make it today please do consider buying a copy here at a later date and support the great work of Dana-Farber and its Jimmy Fund. (Call the gift shop at 617-632-4242 to check availability.)

Thanks, and GO SOX!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Great Sunday at Fenway -- Despite the Final Score

Hope Weston waited a long time between trips to Fenway -- 75 years, to be exact. So when the 96-year-old great-grandmother finally made it back Sunday to the old ballpark that she had last visited when Jimmie Foxx batted cleanup for the Red Sox, I was honored that she did so after purchasing a copy of Fenway Park: The Centennial to help her down memory lane.

Mrs. Weston -- who wore a Red Sox shirt emblazoned with "Weston 96" on the back -- was just one of the many fans of all  ages and backgrounds encountered during Sunday's whirlwind book signing on Yawkey Way. During pre- and post-game sessions, the author inscribed copies for fans from North Dakota, Florida, California, Canada and many other locales of an ever-expanding Red Sox Nation.

After decades of customer loyalty to Twins Souvenirs (OK, it's called the Fenway Park Store or Yawkey Way Store now, but it will always be Twins to me), it was great to experience life on the other side of the counter doling out books to kids, parents, and kids at heart like Hope. She remembers watching games with her father while standing behind ropes on Fenway's outfield grass -- common practice when overflow crowds were allowed into the ballpark in the 1910s. "I'd have a hard time seeing over the hats and heads of men in front of me," she recalled with a wry smile, but, "but we were the envy of the peanut gallery in the bleachers."

The one-sided Red Sox loss that followed was frustrating, but the mass exodus by fans in the late innings did allow my son Jason to sneak down to a front-row seat next to the Red Sox on-deck circle. He's holding his own copy of Fenway Park: The Centennial, which we've now had autographed by Joe Morgan (who came to the Walpole signing) and Frank Malzone (who was also at Twins signing on Sunday morning).

The DeAngelo family that owns Twins was so happy with the signing that they bought up the remaining books and had me sign them too -- so if you stop by their store the rest of this season, be on the lookout. And while I didn't see Mrs. Weston after the game, I can only "Hope" that she fell asleep in the late innings and dreamed that the Red Sox came back to win. She deserved a victory more than any of us.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book signing at Fenway today!

If you are going to today's Red Sox-Rays game, be sure to stop by the Fenway Park Store (Twins Souvenirs) across from Gate A and pick up a personalized, signed copy of Fenway Park: The Centennial. I'll be there signing from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., so come say hi and then go and cheer Wake on to victory No. 201!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Walpole Joe Sighting, the Hits Keep Coming

After recovering from the latest Daniel Bard meltdown, the Fenway Park: The Centennial book tour headed to the Walpole Barnes & Noble and an evening reminiscing and signing books with old friend Joe Morgan (with the author below). The manager of Red Sox AL East champion clubs in 1988 and '90  held court for nearly two hours as people from grandmothers to cops stopped by to check out the book and bend his ear.

"Walpole Joe," who still lives in town less than a mile from the house he grew up in, had his own Fenway memory to share, circa 1959:

"I was playing with the old Kansas City A’s. I came to Fenway Park, and half the town of Walpole was there. I pinch-hit, the only time I ever hit at Fenway as a professional. Jerry Casale was the Red Sox pitcher. He gave me a fastball I fouled off, then he gave me a curve which I took, and I would have bet my life that he would come back with another curve ball. But he came back with the high fastball, and I said, 'Thank you very much!' as I smoked a triple off the left center-field wall."

Asked about his favorite Fenway moment as a manger, Joe naturally chose the record-breaking hot streak that the Sox went on after he replaced John McNamara. "When I was first hired, [general manager] Lou Gorman said to me, 'OK, Joe, we’re going to make a change in managers, and you will take over until we find another manager.' I said, 'Don’t look too far, Lou. You’ve already found him.'"

Morgan was right, of course; the Red Sox went 12-0 in his first dozen games at the helm, took 19 of 20, and won a record 24 straight at Friendly Fenway. Morgan was soon named the "permanent" manager and wound up winning two division titles in his first three years.

Others to stop by included Pat Conley, an old Ted Williams/Bruce Hurst fan who purchased a book for her grandson,  and the Corkery twins Madison and Nicole (see below), who have never been to Fenway but are sure to bug  dad Chris to take them now. Thanks to Anne-Marie Kennedy for being a wonderful host.

Early buzz about the book as been very good, with terrific reviews on numerous websites including and (see list above right).

Thursday night it's on to the West Hartford Barnes & Noble for another 7 p.m. signing, where the author expects he might encounter some Yankees fans gloating about Boston's recent slump. On Saturday it's on to Barrington (Rhode Island) Books for a 1 p.m. session, and then on Sunday a pre-game session (around noon) at the Fenway Park Store on Yawkey Way. Hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

200 for Wake, 1 for Wisnia

A big night all around for Fenway Reflections Tuesday. Pedroia, Ellsbury, and Co. made sure Tim Wakefield got all the runs he needed -- and then some -- to capture his 200th career victory, and the Fenway Centennial book tour kicked off at the Burlington, Mass. Barnes & Noble.

The fourth-biggest B&N in the country (who knew?) was a beautiful lead-off location and staffer Katelyn McDermott (above, with the author) was a wonderful host. She even had her own Fenway story to share; as a 6-year-old, she found out her father was taking her 4-year-old brother to his first Red Sox game, and she convinced him it wasn't fair -- she was the oldest, so she deserved to go. He agreed to take her, and every year since on her birthday the two have headed to Yawkey Way together.

Some other fun stories from customers: Joe Colameta recalled sitting atop a billboard beyond left-center field as a 15-year-old during the heat of the '78 pennant race, and when asked how he and his buddies got up to the top, he laughed and said, "I don't remember. I must have blocked it out due to the fear."  Then there was Matt Diamond, who spoke of the one night he didn't mind having to sit diagonal to fit his large frame into the cramped right-field grandstand seats.

"I was with my father and brother, sitting in Section 15 about 13 rows up," Diamond recalled. "Jon Lester was pitching real heat -- he was just amazing -- and we all kept looking at each other saying, 'Is he going to do it? Is he going to do it?' In the whole section, nobody was saying the words we were thinking -- we all just kept looking at each other and smiling. And he did it; he pitched a no-hitter. It was amazing. Fenway just exploded, and I'll never forget the experience as long as I live. People stayed and cheered and sang as he waved his cap to everybody."

The night's youngest book recipient was an unborn boy nicknamed "The Nugget" -- who will be getting one courtesy of grandma, with the inscription, "Welcome to life as a Red Sox fan" -- but people of all ages already out of the womb enjoyed the evening. Next stop: the Walpole B&N Wednesday night, where the rumor is that "Walpole Joe" Morgan may make an appearance. A discussion and Q&A starting at 7 p.m., with signing to follow. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

You can't play if you can't find the ballpark

With righty Kyle Weiland set to start for the Red Sox tomorrow - and let's hope he's more Billy Rohr than Bobby Sprowl - I thought I'd share a story of a MLB debut culled from the pages of Fenway Park: The Centennial. My newest book will be released in stores nationally on Tuesday, Sept. 13, with book signings throughout New England starting that night (see updated list at right).

Frank Malzone was excited for the chance to see and play in Fenway Park for the first time. Now he just had to find the place.

After spending the previous night at the suburban home of his new Red Sox teammate, Dick Gernert, Malzone traversed the roughly 10 miles to Kenmore Square through twisting, turning roads and those strangest of all New England driving oddities: rotaries.

They told me 'Don't worry, you can't miss it,'" Malzone said with a laugh, recalling his Fenway debut on September 20, 1955. "They figure you know where you're going, but I'm from New York City, so I didn't know. I was used to numbered streets, and it wasn't until I got near the ballpark and saw the lights that I knew I was all right.

After using Fenway's light towers as a compass to guide him on the final approach to Jersey Street, Malzone got his first look at "that thing in left field everybody was talking about" - the Green Monster. When he entered the home clubhouse, he spotted his name on the Red Sox lineup card, playing third base and batting seventh. Malzone had gotten in as a pinch-runner three days before at Yankee Stadium, which was a thrill in itself for a guy who had grown up in the Bronx, but this was his first chance to really play in a big-league game. In the end, he would find it much better than negotiating rotaries.

After grounding out in his first at-bat, Malzone cracked four straight hits - two singles, a double, and another single - in the first game of that afternoon's doubleheader. That earned him a promotion to fifth in the order for the second game, in which he collected two more hits and his first career RBI.

"A 6-for-10, not bad for my first full day," he said, admitting that the performance took some of the sting out of an embarrassing moment. "After my first hit, a single up the middle, coach Del Baker tells me at first, 'OK, this guy [pitcher Bill Wright] has some pretty good moves.' I say, 'Thanks, I appreciate that,' take two steps off the bag, and boom! He throws over and gets me. It turns out he has the best move in baseball! I might be the only guy ever picked off after getting his first hit in the majors."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lousy game, great book review!

Today's Red Sox-Rangers game was a dud, but this author and his companions were delighted to open up our copy of Boston Baseball and see a great review of Fenway Park: The Centennial from editor Mike Rutstein.

Rut called it "a highly readable and richly illustrated" book and predicted that "doubtless many copies will end up under trees and next to menorahs" this holiday season. Thanks to Mike for his great taste in literature, and for putting a smile on our faces that even John Lackey and the seventh-inning follies could not completely wipe out. Kudos also to all the creative fans who came bearing signs for Banner Day, including our neighbors Nancy (right) and Isabel.

Let's hope there will be more good news to report from Toronto tomorrow!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Boss on your case? Car won't start? Catch your spouse cheating? It's the Yankees fault

After watching Adrian Gonzalez strike out with the bases loaded to end last night's Red Sox-Yankees game, I immediately thought of two things: the Red Sox were still in first place, and there were going to be plenty of great alerts coming to my inbox.

"When all else fails ... blame the Yankees" was created as a Facebook group earlier this year, and Yankee haters throughout New England and beyond suddenly had a new outlet for their daily frustrations. There was no longer a need for any other sort of coping mechanism. If something or somebody got you down, there was an easy answer with no strings or bills attached.

I don't remember exactly when or by whom the page was recommended to me, but it has never stopped providing amusement in the months since -- especially the past couple days.

Here are some of my favorite posts; all complete the sentence, "It's the Yankees fault that..."

" professors have decided to spank us with tons of homework and tons of tests the second week of school."

"...I drove halfway to my new job to fill out paper work only to be told to turn around cause they had no power cause a car hit a power pole."

"...there was this super duper long line at Wendy's for lunch today."

" allergies are acting up so badly!!"

"...the president is addressing the country tonight about the national debt."

"...that I am still single and nobody calls me to hang out."

"...that conservatives exist."

You get the idea.

Since the group's formation, people have blamed the Yankees for snow, cold, rain on their birthday barbecue, their spouse being sick, unpaid work furloughs, faulty computer keyboards, and just about anything else you can imagine. I was surprised not to see anybody directly call out the Bronx Bombers for Hurricane Irene, but perhaps because New York City was so impacted by the storm, people gave the Yanks a pass on that one.

The nice thing about this system is that it doesn't matter if the Red Sox are even playing the Yankees. You can blame them for whatever you want even if they are nowhere near Fenway Park. When I lost my keys the other day and started getting pissed off thinking about the $200 I was going to have to give the dealer to get a new alarm activator keychain for my car, I stopped myself and realized it was all the Yankees fault. I immediately felt better, and after the Sox whipped Phil Hughes that night, my wife even found my keys. Coincidence? I think not.

Things don't always work out that well, that fast, but I can guarantee you one thing about the formula: it's a lot cheaper than a shrink or anger management classes.