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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best and worst Red Sox Christmas-time transactions

Can Hanrahan light up Fenway? Time will tell.

Now that it appears the Red Sox have "wrapped up" their big Christmas week trade with the Pirates, it got me thinking about how the Sox have fared in past late-December moves. It's too early to say how this swap is going to shake out; if closer Joel Hanrahan pitches in Boston like he did during most of the past two seasons, he'll be a huge step in the rebuilding effort.

Here's a look back at the success of some other Christmas-time transactions by the Red Sox:

Dec. 28, 2011: Promising outfielder Josh Reddick and minor leaguers Miles Head and Raul Alcantara traded to Oakland for closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.
Reddick probably doesn't feel this way anymore.

Result: Not looking good so far. Bailey was injured most of the season and ineffective upon his return. The Hanrahan trade makes it pretty clear Sox management believes Bailey won't bounce back strong, and Sweeney was allowed to go to free agency after a lackluster .260, 0-homer year with Boston. As for Reddick, he was one of the biggest MLB surprises of 2012, hitting 32 homers and earning a Gold Glove with the A's. HO-HO-HO Meter -- (1/2 HO)

Dec. 24, 2004: Catcher Jason Varitek re-signed as free agent. 

A direct result of Tek's re-tendering -- another title.

Result: Strong move for two reasons. Although Varitek turned 33 in April 2005, he remained a productive offensive and defensive performer for most of the four-year deal. More importantly, the captain stabilized an ever-evolving pitching staff and helped lead the Red Sox to another World Series title in 2007. (HO-HO-HO)

Dec. 21, 2001: Outfielder Johnny Damon signed as free agent.

What would Johnny do? Plenty for the Sox.

Result: Idiot's delight. Damon delivered in every way for the Red Sox over the four-year contract, as a speedy lead-off man with power, an excellent defensive outfielder (minus his throwing arm), as a tough, enthusiastic leader in the clubhouse, and as a clutch performer in the postseason. His grand slam in Game Seven of the 2004 ALCS is one of the biggest hits in team history. (HO-HO-HO-HO) 

December 19, 2000: Outfielder Manny Ramirez signed as free agent. 
Over 8 years, Sox fans enjoyed Manny happy moments.

Result: Best free-agent signing in team history. Even at eight years and $160 million, Manny was worth it -- teaming with David Ortiz to form a devastating one-two punch and averaging .313/.412/.594 with 36 homers and  114 RBI from 2001-2007 as a major cog on two World Series champions. (HO-HO-HO-HO)

Dec. 22, 1980: Postmark date stamped on a contract mailed to Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, two days after a deadline expired -- making Fisk a free agent. 
After switching Sox and his number, Fisk kept hitting.

Result: Holy Cliff Clavin. Fisk signs with the White Sox and over next 13 more seasons hits 214 home runs. (No HOs)

Dec. 26, 1919: Outfielder/pitcher Babe Ruth sold to Yankees for $125,000 plus a $350,00 loan.
Harry Frazee ate crow on this move.

Result:  Owner Harry Frazee's folly. Frazee didn't like Ruth's wild ways, or his demands for a $20,000 contract. So he sent the Babe packing, then watched him hit 659 homers for New York through 1934. (No HOs)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Toughest Red Sox to see in a Yankees uniform at Fenway

When word of his pending trade broke, Fenway rocked for Youk.

Pending a failed physical or other unforeseen mishap, Kevin Youkilis will be manning third base and wearing pinstripes when the Red Sox open the 2013 season at Yankee Stadium on April 1. Amazingly, it won't be until July 19 that the teams will square off in Boston, giving Fenway Park fans their first chance to see their former favorite son in a New York uniform.

Red Sox Nation had an opportunity to adjust to life with Youk in the visitor's dugout when the White Sox visited Fenway shortly after his trade to Chicago last summer, but this is a much different situation. Boston fans may developed a kinder, gentler hatred for the Yankees since 2004, but there is something about seeing a former Red Sox in enemy colors that still tugs at the heartstrings.

Here's a look back at some of the biggest Boston heroes to wind up in the Bronx -- and how they fared on their Fenway returns.

Even in Yankees road duds, Boston loved the Babe.

He's the guy who started it all.

When Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold his mega-talented problem child to the Yankees for a record $100,000 in cash plus a $300,000 loan in January 1920, he did nothing to change the feelings Boston fans had toward the greatest player of all time. Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Co. routinely plastered the hapless Red Sox of the '20s and early '30s at Fenway, but the crowds never stopped cheering for the Bambino.

In fact, Fenway routinely drew its biggest crowds during this period when the Yankees came to town. They knew one-of-a-kind talent when they saw it, no matter the uniform. They just wished he was still wearing the right one.


Ruffing had little reason to smile with the Sox.

A generation or two of readers might have never heard of this guy, but he's in the Hall of Fame -- and is the pitching equivalent of Babe Ruth when it comes to lost talent sent from Boston to New York.

The sale of Ruth started a wave of activity between Red Sox owner Frazee and his Yankees counterpart Jake Ruppert, who was more than happy to take promising players off Frazee's hands in exchange for cold cash and warm, mostly useless bodies. The 1923 Yankees team that won the World Series had 10 players who had come directly from Boston's roster, and by the time the right-handed Ruffing was swapped to New York for the immortal Cedric Durst and $50,000 in May 1930, the Yanks had started a dynasty and Fenway was a morgue where guys like Red came to pad their stats.

Ruffing celebrated his return to Boston a few weeks after the trade by helping the Yanks to a 3-2 victory. After going 39-96 for Boston, he would go 234-121 with New York plus 7-2 in the World Series. Guess which hat he's wearing on his Hall of Fame plaque?

They should have kept the other guy with a mustache.

Tom Yawkey purchased the last-place Red Sox in 1933, and apparently learned his lesson from Frazzee and his other predecessors and made trades to the Yankees a rare occurrence. In fact, it wasn't until the winter of 1972 that another swap of significance was made between the teams. 

This one was another stinker.

Sparky Lyle, a left-handed pitcher who had helped the 1967 Red Sox to the pennant as a rookie and became one of the AL's best relievers in the years that followed, was sent to New York for Danny Cater, a first baseman who looked like a used car salesman but always seemed to hit well at Fenway.

The fallout from this one was immediate. Cater hit .237 for Boston in '72 and was out of baseball not long thereafter. Lyle had an AL-best 35 saves his first summer in the Bronx and continued his superb work with the Yanks through six more years -- including a Cy Young season with the 1977 World Series champs. As a child of the Brady Bunch era I don't recall Fenway fans booing him much, but they knew the trade wasn't his fault.

El Tiante -- a Fenway hero in any jersey.

A lot of people forget about this one, but LOOOO-IEE was the first major star to go from the Red Sox to the Yankees as a free agent -- and it didn't hurt his reputation in Boston one bit. 

A cult hero with teammates and fans who always won the big game -- including three of them in the '75 postseason -- the 38-year-old Tiant was offered just a one-year contract by Boston after pitching great down the stretch of a frenzied 1978 pennant race. The Yankees dangled a two-year deal, plus other perks, and just like that one of the most popular and talented players in franchise history was gone.

It doesn't really matter that Tiant's best days were behind him. Seeing him in a Yankee uniform at Fenway was agony. Carl Yastrzemski spoke for all his teammates when he said that when ownership let Looie leave, "they ripped out our heart and soul."

Fans felt the same way. 

At least his Hall of Fame plaque has a "B" cap.

The next marquee name to head from Boston to the Bronx as a free agent was the best pure Red Sox hitter since Ted Williams -- but it was in New York he became a champion.

Third baseman Wade Boggs won five batting titles for the Red Sox, but after hitting .259 in 1992 was deemed expendable. Yanks brass thought he might still have something left, and they were right -- he hit .313 over five years in New York and helped the '96 Bombers to the World Series title. He even won two Gold Gloves, and the reception was usually mixed when he brought his slick hitting and fielding talents to Fenway. 

Boston fans appreciated what he had done for them, but he was still a Yankee.

A hug from Papi -- and finally some Fenway cheers.

There was no mixed reaction when it came to Roger Clemens. 

There were two years (1996-97) between when Clemens left Boston as a free agent for Toronto and then moved on to the Yankees, and in that period many Fenway fans actually rooted for Roger when he came to town -- starting with a 16-strikeout performance against his old mates in his first game back. The guy getting the boos that day was the guy who let him walk -- Boston general manager Dan Duquette.

But once Clemens put on a Yankees uniform, the ace who won three Cy Youngs and an MVP with the Red Sox became the most despised man in the ballpark. He was even booed when introduced at the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway as one of the century's top pitchers, and the anger only got worse when the Rocket helped the Yanks to four pennants and two World Series titles.

Only when more than 15 years had passed and Clemens was voted on to the All-Time Fenway Team in 2012 did he hear cheers at Fenway again -- and there were a few boos in there too. Given his history and the steroid rumors swirling around him, this will likely always be the case. 

What a difference a year makes.

First he was Jesus, then he was Judas. That just about sums up the relationship between Boston fans and Johnny Damon.

The tough, fleet center fielder was one of the key players in the Red Sox Miracle of 2004, hitting two home runs (including a grand slam) against the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS. He even looked the part of a biblical savior with his shoulder-length hair and long beard.

Then, after another great year in 2005, the star pupil of Scott Boras took the highest offer and signed as a free agent with New York. That's when the "Damon is Judas" tee-shirts started popping up on Yawkey Way, and the moniker seemed even more appropriate when Steinbrenner made Damon cut off his heavy mane and beard. Johnny did get a mixed ovation on his first at-bat at Fenway with the Yanks, but by his second many fans were booing loudly.

Still, deep down it's a good bet many of them were jeering their former rock star hero as part of the newer, more good-natured Red Sox-Yankees rivalry than pure anger. People have a much different feeling toward Damon than they do Clemens and Boggs, Had 1986 not ended as it did, perhaps this would not be the case. But it did.

Damon may have defected, but he still won't ever have to buy a beer in Boston.


Youk should get another hand like this one next July.

Which brings us back to Youk. Because the Yankees don't come to Boston until July 19-21 next year (what's up with that?) , there is a good chance that the injured Alex Rodriguez will be back manning third base for New York and Youkilis will be in a reserve role. 

Still, it's hard to imagine Youkilis won't get at least one chance to bat during the three-game series, and as he steps to the plate he will almost surely hear the greatest cheers given a Yankee since the ovation for Mariano Rivera on Opening Day, 2005 (in thanks for helping New York blow the ALCS the previous October). 

If Damon got a half-free pass for helping Boston win one World Series, Youkilis will get a full freebie for his part in two championships. Plus, more importantly, it wasn't Youk's choice to leave -- and if most Boston fans had it their way, he and Tito Francona would both still be wearing white at Fenway. 


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Roger Clemens a Hall of Famer? Try the Tom Seaver Test

Young, strong, and Cooperstown bound

Since the list of Hall of Fame nominees was announced last week, I've been pondering whether first-time candidate Roger Clemens would be earn my vote if I had one to give.

The Rocket has undeniable Cooperstown credentials, topped by a record seven Cy Young Awards, the 1986 AL MVP, and 354 victories. He struck out 4,672 batters during his long career, a total topped only by Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, and twice had 20-K games in which he didn't walk a single batter. That combination of power and control also helped Clemens lead his league in ERA seven times.

In my memory bank of Red Sox pitchers, which dates to the mid-'70s, only Pedro Martinez resonates as more dominant over a sustained period of time. But while Pedro was a delicate thoroughbred rarely allowed to reach past the seventh inning, Clemens was a good-old-fashioned workhorse who regularly finished what he started.

For more than a decade the Rocket delighted Boston fans with overpowering performances. One of the first came his rookie year of 1984, when he topped the Royals at Fenway with a 15-strikeout, zero-walk effort a few weeks after turning 22. 

Clemens was Topps in '86. 

Five years his junior, and about to enter my final year of high school, I followed the action that sweltering August evening through Ken Coleman's radio account while downing beers and looking out for cops in a concert parking lot. I've long since forgotten the venue and the band my buddies and I were seeing, but can still recall the excitement in Coleman's voice. He knew he was seeing the start of something special.   

In 1986, fully matured and free of the injuries that hampered his first two seasons, the Rocket went full throttle – going 24-4 and nearly pitching the Red Sox to a World Series title. I watched most of the series from a dormitory lounge at Syracuse, surrounded by Mets fans, but with Clemens on the hill their taunts grew quiet. Even the enemy respected him then.

That was the year the “K” cards started popping up at Fenway, and, as with Pedro later on, Yawkey Way had a special electricity when Clemens was scheduled to start. He stayed a winner through the team's myriad ups and downs, and in the days before and smart phones, scanning the morning paper for his pitching line was one of my favorite collegiate pastimes (along with summer pilgrimages to see the Rocket live).

Did Canseco (at right) give Clemens any ideas?

Later, while working late into the night at the Sports desk of The Washington Post, I went high-tech -- scanning for Clemens' name amid the Associated Press game accounts that came across in glowing green on my smoke-stained monitor. By the time I moved back to Boston in 1995, however, the Rocket appeared to be on the descent, his gut expanding along with his ERA.

Pitching for mostly mediocre teams, Clemens was 40-39 from 1993-96. I was at Fenway for his last start of '96, a 4-2 loss to the Yankees in which the pending free agent received a standing ovation when taken out midway through the eighth inning. Even thought it was a meaningless game, we knew based on the acrimonious relationship between Red Sox GM Dan Duquette and his ace that it might be the Rocket's final hurrah for Boston.  

It was. Although Clemens still led the league in strikeouts in 1996 – including his second 20-K gem -- management allowed him to depart to Toronto for what Duquette famously predicted would be “the twilight of his career.”

This is where things get more complicated. A visibly slimmer Clemens rebounded to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards for the Blue Jays, and went on to enjoy several more outstanding seasons for the Yankees and Astros – pitching effectively into his mid-40s and climbing the all-time leader boards in various categories.
Yankee Roger: public enemy No. 1.

But when the steroid scandal rocked baseball around the time of his 2007 retirement, the Rocket's surprising late-career resurgence made him a prime suspect. Thinking back to when I'd don my “Klemens” tee-shirt, buy a standing-room only ticket, and climb atop the railings behind Fenway's upper grandstand seats to see No. 21 perform, I desperately wanted to believe Clemens when he denied any involvement with PEDs during the 2008 Congressional hearings.

Then Clemens' former strength coach Brian McNamee came forward with claims he had injected the pitcher with steroids in 1998, 2000 and 2001, and with human growth hormone in 2000. A perjury case against the Rocket was quickly deemed a mistrial after the prosecution showed jurors inadmissible evidence, but not before one of the needles McNamee had saved for years was found to contain DNA matching that of Clemens. 
Clemens in court: the mighty have fallen

Now back to my mythical vote. Let's assume, given the large pile of damning information, that Clemens did indeed juice it up starting at age 34 in 1997. Since the player he is deemed most statistically comparable to on from ages 34-41 is Tom Seaver – whose career, ironically, ended with Boston in the pre-Juice days of 1986 – I thought swapping in Seaver's statistics for Clemens' from 34-41 would be a good way to gauge how the Rocket's career might have gone had he kept on the straight and narrow.

And, since Seaver retired at 41, it's a safe bet that a “clean” Clemens would likely have also hung 'em up rather than continue at less than his best. The real Clemens kept hurling until he was 45, longevity that allowed him to pad his stats and his wallet.

Given Seaver's late-career numbers in place of his own, the Rocket's record drops from 354-184 to a less glittering 279-112, and he winds up with three rather than seven Cy Young Awards. He still strikes out a lot of guys, but ends with closer to 3,800 lifetime whiffs than 4,700. And, like Seaver, he retires at 41.

For half a season, they were teammates.

Is a Clemens with these numbers a Hall of Famer? Probably, especially when you look at his "real" pre-1997 career. Playing exclusively for the Red Sox from 1984-96, the Rocket went 192-111 with 100 complete games, a WHIP of 1.158, and 38 shutouts. Those victory and shutout totals, incidentally, leave him tied atop the all-time Boston leader boards in both categories with Cy Young – the same guy whose name is on all those plaques Clemens earned for pitching excellence.

Whether a 279-win Clemens with no PED rumors is a first-ballot Hall of Famer is up for debate. I don't think so. His peak years may be as good as anyone's, but less lifetime victories than Cooperstown outsiders Jim Kaat and Tommy John should deny him a slam-dunk selection like those afforded Seaver and Ryan.

This might be for the best. Perhaps sweating it out for a few years with low vote totals will help Clemens to recall facts he may have “misremembered” about those needles, and lead to an admission that earns him a clear conscience and a Cooperstown plaque.

A last wave of the cap in '96.

I'll never feel quite the same about the Rocket as I did back in the '80s, but he'll have gained back some of my respect.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Win the Triple Crown and not the MVP? Ted Williams did it– TWICE

Ted didn't always fly high with MVP voters.

With the AL MVP Award announcement coming later today, talk has heated up about whether Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout should take home the hardware. Tigers fans who believe the Triple Crown should cinch the honor for Cabrera shouldn't be so fast to celebrate.

Ted Williams, a Hall of Famer acknowledged by many as the greatest hitter who ever lived, twice led the American League in homers, runs batted in, and batting average during the same season -- and was runner-up in the MVP race both times. 

In 1942, Williams hit .356 with 37 homers and 137 RBI, topping the majors in all three categories and helping the second-place Red Sox to their most wins (93) in 27 years. Long before sabermeterics came on the scene, Teddy Ballgame was tops in OBP (.499), OPS (1.147), and WAR (10.2) as well, in each case distancing the field like Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

It wasn't good enough. In a vote that shows even mid-20th century sportswriters didn't always choose the guy with the gaudiest "traditional" numbers, Williams was runner-up to Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon for MVP. 
Ted will forever rank among baseball's best.

A future Hall of Famer in his own right, Gordon hit .318 with 18 homers and 103 RBI, and was strong if not spectacular in the field. New York did win its second straight AL pennant, but Gordon was far from a one-man gang with Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller preceding him in the Yankees lineup. 

Some blamed the vote on Williams' sour relationship with the press, but the unfairly lofty expectations fans and sportswriters had for Ted undoubtedly played a part. He hit .406 in 1941, after all, so .356 was considered quite a drop-off. (Ironically, Williams finished second in the MVP race to Joe DiMaggio in '41, when Joe D. put together his 56-game hitting streak.)

Five years later, in 1947, it happened again. Williams paced the AL with 32 homers, 114 RBI, and a .343 average, along with otherworldly OBP (.499) and OPS (1.133) totals. The Red Sox, however, finished a disappointing third after winning the AL pennant in 1946 -- when Williams did win the MVP. 

The Yankees finished first in '47, as in 1942, and as in '42 a New York player (Joe DiMaggio) took home the MVP with far more modest (.315, 20, 97) totals. Joe D. was certainly a superior defensive outfielder to Williams, and was clearly the leader of his team, but the vote still seems unfair then and now. 

While legend long dictated (and Ted long thought) that a Boston sportswriter left Williams completely off his 10-man MVP ballot, this was actually not the case. As historian Glenn Stout later uncovered, Williams appeared on 23 of the 24 ballots, and it was a Midwestern writer who deemed him unworthy of his Top 10. 
Joe D. beat out Ted twice for MVP.

It's hard to imagine anyone thinking that 10 players had a better season than Williams in '47 or for that matter Cabrera this year. Just how many voters believe Mike Trout's overall performance as a hitter, fielder, and base runner makes him more valuable than a Triple Crown winner will be the key. 

And if Cabrera is the runner-up? Well, then he should think about finishing just short of a Triple Crown next year. Williams did that in 1949 -- when he paced the AL in homers and RBI but finished behind George Kell in batting, .34291 to .34276 -- and it was good enough for his second MVP honor. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Could Varitek catch on as coach under Farrell?

Farrell (left) and Varitek try to talk some sense into John Smoltz

The rumors are already circulating on Red and elsewhere that Torey Lovullo will be  joining new Red Sox manager John Farrell’s staff as bench coach. Since Lovullo served as  Farrell’s first base coach in Toronto and is also familiar with the Red Sox organization – having  managed at Triple-A Pawtucket in 2010 – this seems a logical choice.

But there is another guy with whom Farrell enjoyed a strong relationship during his four years as 
Boston’s pitching coach, another guy who possess the high baseball IQ that Farrell is surely 
looking for in his lieutenants:

Jason Varitek.

Sure, Tek already has a new job as a special assistant to Red Sox general manager Ben 
Cherington, but does anybody know exactly what that means? There were two vice 
president/assistant GMs listed in this year's Boston media guide, so conceivably Varitek would 
be under them. Many fans and media types believe this George Constanza-like position is 
merely a place-holder until the man who caught nearly 1,500 games in Boston eventually gets 
back into the dugout as a coach or manager.

Even if Luvollo gets the bench coach job, it's easy to imagine Varitek fitting into another slot on 
Farrell's staff. He was known for his meticulous game-day preparation as a catcher, and  nobody this side of Ted Williams could better analyze a hitter's tendencies. Boston pitchers 
(and no doubt Farrell) loved how Varitek got them ready for a contest.

Tek puts a young Justin Masterson at ease.

Many believe Tek's retirement before last season is largely to blame for the total collapse of the 
Red Sox pitching staff in 2012. Boston's team ERA ballooned from 4.20 in 2011 to 4.72 last year, 12th in the AL. During Varitek's last year catching at least 110 games, in 2008, the club  figure was a much more respectable 4.01, and it was 3.87 – first in the major leagues -- in '07.

Varitek could also hit a little himself, accumulating 306 doubles and 193 homers during his 15-
year career, so it's not inconceivable to see him as either a hitting or a pitching coach. If the 
latter seems a strange fit, don't forget about Dave Duncan – a former catcher who has spent 
some 25 years as a MLB pitching coach and has helped both the Cardinals and A's to World 
Series titles.

In the weeks leading up to Bobby Valentine's inevitable firing at the end of the 2012 campaign, 
there was much speculation about whether Varitek would be a good fit as the next Rex Sox 
manager. Cherington put this rumor to rest quickly, which was likely a good thing. Even if Tek 
did want the job, it would have been tough for him to come in with no experience and try to 
discipline guys he had played with just two years before.

Coaching is another story; you're an instructor rather than the big boss, and it's not vital that you 
be a hard-ass. Knowledge of the game and a desire to work hard are the two keys to success 
in the coaching ranks, and Varitek possesses both. He's also a link to the glory years of 2004 
and 2007, good karma which the team can surely need.

Varitek did take some heat for being captain of a club that collapsed epically in the 7-20, 
chicken-and-beer fiasco of last September, but the team was even more rudderless without 
him this year, going 69-93 for Boston's worst record since Varitek 1965 – seven years before Vartek was born.

Coming soon to a dugout near you?

Catchers have long been considered the smartest men on the field, and it's no coincidence that 
this year's four League Championship Series managers – Mike Matheny, Joe Girardi, Jim 
Leyland, and Bruce Bochy all spent their playing careers behind the plate. If he's interested, 
Varitek could likely match wits with any of them.

All he needs is a shot.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Will broken ankle cost Red Sox nemesis Derek Jeter a shot at catching Pete Rose?

Ever the gamer, Jeter still gets the ball out of his glove.

As soon as the first replays showed Derek Jeter's ankle turning grotesquely as he dove to stop a ground ball from Tigers batter Jhonny Peralta in the 12th inning of last night's ALCS opener, fans of a certain age immediately thought of a similar injury to Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann caught live on Monday Night Football. 

Theismann's injury -- a broken leg -- ended his career. Jeter is out for the remainder of the postseason, but the impact the injury may have on the rest of his time with the Yankees is uncertain. As a Red Sox fan who has never booed and always respected the New York shortstop, I would hate to see him go out this way.

If this setback were to slow or end Jeter's career, it could stop him from making a run at one of baseball's most legendary records.

With a MLB-best 216 hits this season, Jeter has 3,304 hits in his career. This is tops among current players and good for 11th place on the all-time list, 952 behind record-holder Pete Rose. Jeter is 38 years old, and while it may at first seem unlikely that someone his age could make up that gap, it was not implausible in this case -- at least heading into tonight.

Jeter has remained in excellent condition as he has aged. Although a calf strain last season caused him to miss 31 games, he bounced back to play in 159 of New York's 162 contests this year. In 16 full non-strike seasons, he has never been below 148 games played in any other year.

Were he to continue playing in 140-150 games each season for the next five years, while maintaining close to his average of 190-200 hits, he could get the hits needed to catch Rose while still well short of his 44th birthday. Again, while this may seem a stretch, consider that Rose himself played until he was 45 and a half.

Could a healthy Jeter leave Rose in the dust?

Jeter is so productive a hitter, and such an iconic figure to Yankees fans, teammates, and even those of us who watch him at Fenway Park, that it is plausible to imagine the club would move him to a less demanding position such as first base or even designated hitter in the future to reduce the wear and tear on his body.

Now, however, all those possibilities are up in the air until the extent of Jeter's injury is known. Even were he to return to the Yankees lineup next season, the damage may limit his speed on the bases and agility in the field. 

And if this is the case, it might put another less-heralded but no less important record out of Jeter's reach. He currently has 1,868 runs scored for his career, 427 behind top man Rickey Henderson all-time.

This mark appeared more possible for a healthy Jeter than the hits record, since he could reach it in a little more than four years were he to keep crossing the plate nearly 100 times a season in the potent New York lineup. Now it too is up in the air.

The Yankees will have to go the rest of the way this postseason without their captain and leader. What happens after that is still uncertain, but even Red Sox fans would hate to see one of baseball's most beloved figures unable to perform at a high level. 

We may love to hate ARod, but Jeter is up there with Mariano Rivera as a Yankee who will always get the respect he deserves from this Fenway fan -- and would be sorely missed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fenway's all-time Red Sox team: Did the fans get it right?

The gang's (mostly) all here.

Red Sox fans have long been considered among the most knowledgeable in baseball, but could they be trusted to choose the best players to ever don a home uniform in the first 100 years of Fenway Park?  The starting lineup and two teams of reserves were revealed before Boston's last home game on Sept. 26, and there were definitely some questionable selections.

Let's take a look around the diamond...then let's hear your thoughts.


Starter: Carlton Fisk
First reserve: Jason Varitek
Second reserve: Rich Gedman

Fisk was certainly the right choice; even if the Hall of Famer did hit more homers for the White Sox, he was a perennial All-Star in Boston and a rock on the excellent near-miss teams of the late 1970s.

Varitek was a good call at No. 2, based on his durability, leadership, and key role on two World Series winners, but the selection of the .259-hitting Gedman over Hall of Famer Rick Ferrell (a .302 batter in five Boston seasons) was a bit of a surprise. Apparently fans were willing to look past the angst of 1986 to get native son Geddy – who grew up in nearby Worcester – a spot on the squad.

Starter: Jimmie Foxx
First reserve: Mo Vaughn
Second reserve: George Scott

The fans did themselves proud here. Foxx (who averaged 36 homers, 129 RBI, and a 1.039 OPS with Boston from 1936-41) would seem a no-brainer, but the fact most voters never saw him play made his selection anything but a sure thing.

Vaughn (the 1995 MVP) had a great run of his own in Boston with a .906 OPS from 1991-98, and might have outpolled Foxx as the starter had he not left town acrimoniously. Scott was a great fielder (three Gold Gloves with the Sox) who also hit for power, and he played more games at first (968) than anybody in team history.


Starter: Dustin Pedroia
First Reserve: Bobby Doerr
Second Reserve: Jerry Remy

This is a pick that makes you wonder how many pink hats filled out ballots. Pedroia is a fantastic, hard-nosed player with a Rookie of the Year, MVP, and two Gold Gloves on his resume, but he's only played six seasons in the majors. Doerr is a Hall of Famer who spent his entire 14-year career in Boston, was a nine-time All-Star with eight 90-RBI seasons, and had his No. 1 retired by the club.

Remy, a Boston-area native, was a scrappy, speedy, but oft-injured player from 1978-84 who has achieved far greater fame (and fortune) as a Red Sox broadcaster and restaurateur.

Starter: Wade Boggs
First Reserve: Mike Lowell
Second Reserve: Frank Malzone

Hall of Famer Boggs was the right selection as starter – five batting titles and a .338 average over 11 seasons says it all – but fans let sentiment get in the way of sensibility with their first reserve pick. Lowell was a hugely popular player over his five years in Boston, and was MVP of the 2007 World Series, but Malzone was a six-time All-Star with 20-homer, 90-RBI power and three Gold Gloves for Boston from 1957-59 – a string that might have continued several more years if Brooks “Hoover” Robinson hadn't come on the scene.


Starter: Nomar Garciaparra
First Reserve: Johnny Pesky
Second Reserve: Rico Petrocelli

No argument at the top. Nomar's tenure in Boston may have ended badly, but he was one of the game's greatest all-around players (including a gaudy .553 slugging average) for most of his nine years in town. The fans were good not to hold a grudge.

It's too bad Pesky didn't live just a few months longer to enjoy his first-reserve selection, earned perhaps as much for his six decades of dedication to the team in various capacities as for his terrific work atop the powerful 1940's lineup. He and Petrocelli both split their time in Boston at shortstop and third base, however, whereas gritty Rick Burleson played only short – and played it very, very well for more games with the Sox than anybody but Garciaparra and Everett Scott. The Rooster belongs here somewhere.


Starter: Ted Williams
First Reserve: Carl Yastrzemski
Second Reserve: Jim Rice

The trio here is right-on and shows that fans can look beyond per numbers. Williams is the greatest player in franchise history, and he, Yaz, and Rice gave Boston nearly 50 years of Hall of Fame excellence guarding the Green Monster from 1940-88. Manny Ramirez had far gaudier offensive stats than Rice or Yaz, and was a mainstay on two World Series winners, but his off-field antics and oft-abysmal fielding relegate him to also-ran status.

Starter: Fred Lynn
First Reserve: Dom DiMaggio
Second Reserve: Reggie Smith

The fans made a big muff here. Lynn was brilliant when healthy, especially at Fenway, and DiMaggio was a perennial All-Star. Neither of them, however, could match the all-around skills of Speaker. Peerless as a fielder, “The Spoke” was also one the game's greatest hitters – with a .337 average over nine Red Sox seasons topped by only Ted Williams and Wade Boggs in club history. Reggie Smith? A very good ballplayer, certainly, but not worthy of inclusion here.


Starter: Dwight Evans
First Reserve: Trot Nixon
Second Reserve: Tony Conigliaro

Evans was an excellent choice as the starter, an eight-time Gold Glove winner who hit more homers than any other AL player during the 1980s. But Trot Nixon as a first reserve is absurd; while a widely popular and gritty ballplayer, he was never close to an All-Star-caliber performer. The oft-injured, star-crossed Conigliaro was a local hero and the ultimate “What If?” in team history, but three-time RBI champ and '58 MVP Jackie Jensen and Hall of Famer Harry Hooper of the great four-time champs of 1912-18 both deserve a spot on this list over Tony C.

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
Pinch-Hitter: Bernie Carbo
(No reserves)

Ortiz is the greatest DH in history (sorry Edgar Martinez), whose clutch-hitting spearheaded the 2004 and 2007 World Series champs, so the fans got it right there. Carbo was certainly a great man in the pinch – never more so than his two pinch-homers in the '75 World Series – but one could also make a good argument for Dalton Jones (a club-best 55 lifetime pinch hits) or Rick Miller (second with 49, including a fantastic 17-for-36 slate in 1983 alone).


No. 1 Starter (righty): Pedro Martinez
No. 1 Starter (lefty): Lefty Grove
No. 1  Closer: Jonathan Papelbon

First Reserves
Starter: Roger Clemens
Starter: Luis Tiant
Starter: Dennis Eckersley
Starter: Tim Wakefield
Closer: Dick Radatz

Second Reserves
Starter: Babe Ruth
Starter: Smokey Joe Wood
Starter: Curt Schilling
Starter: Bill Lee
Starter: Jim Lonborg

A lot of questionable calls here. Pedro, at his peak, is definitely the top right-handed pitcher to toe the Fenway mound, but Grove is less clear-cut as leading lefty. Ruth was considered the AL's best left-hander while hurling for Boston's 1915-16-18 world champs, and could also hit a little. Grove's top years were already behind him when he got to town, and he eventually became a once-a-week hurler. Even their records (105-62 for Grove, 89-46 for Ruth) make this a bit of a toss-up.

Closer is another tough one. Papelbon certainly dominated for much of his seven seasons with Boston – including with the 2007 World Series winners – but in his last two years blew several big games. Radatz may have been the most dominant pitcher in the American League, starters included, while hurling for awful Boston teams from 1962-64. Papelbon did it longer as a three-out specialist, but Radatz was a workhorse who routinely went two or more innings and in '63 alone was 16-9 with 29 saves and 181 strikeouts in 157 innings for a 72-90 club.

Of the first-reserve starters, Clemens and Tiant are sensible choices, but while Wakefield may be one of the most beloved players in team history, nobody can rightfully claim he was a better pitcher over a prolonged stretch than the likes of second reserve Joe Wood (117-56 from 1908-15) or Mel Parnell (123-75 from 1947-56) – who inexplicably, was not even a second-reserve selection. Eckersley had just two good years as a starter in Boston, and is in the Hall of Fame for his relief work with the A's and Cardinals. Like Remy, he is on this list because of his popularity as a broadcaster with the Sox.

The third reserves have a few sentimental choices as well. As wonderful as Jim Lonborg was in pitching the 1967 Sox to an Impossible Dream pennant, his entire body of work does not warrant his selection; ditto for Bill Lee, who was a cult hero for the college crowd and a three-time 17-game winner in the '70s, but not the equal of Parnell, swing man Ellis Kinder (86-52 with 91 saves), or World Series champs Ernie Shore and Dutch Leonard of Fenway's great early years.


Starter: Terry Francona
First Reserve: Joe Cronin
Second Reserve: Dick Williams

Francona is the easy choice, with two World Series titles (both sweeps) and six 90-win seasons in eight years. The others are far less obvious.

Cronin won more games than any Red sox skipper, but only captured one pennant in 13 seasons despite a team of All-Stars and Tom Yawkey's sizeable bankroll at his disposal. One could argue that Williams (who turned a young 72-90 team into the '67 AL champs) or even Walpole Joe Morgan (division titles in 1988 and '90) did more with less, but all three should take a back seat to the man who deserves the first-reserve spot: Bill Carrigan.

The Maine native led Boston to world championships as a player-manager in 1915 and '16, and likely would have captured at least one more title had he not abruptly left the game in 1917 to become a banker. In addition to his managerial duties, he helped steady one of baseball’s best pitching staffs as the team’s back-up catcher.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Oil Can opens up about 1986, Bobby V., drugs, and how he REALLY got his nickname

Before Clemens, Oil Can was Boston's ace

It’s been 20 years since Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd pitched in the big leagues, but he can still bring some heat when it comes to conversation.

I met up with Boyd for a book signing at New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton, Mass., last weekend, and then stayed after for a few hours to talk with one of my all-time favorite Red Sox pitchers. His book, They Call Me Oil Can (written with Mike Shalin) is a no-holds-barred, colorful look at his career and life, and he's just as open – and outspoken – in person as in print.

From our chat, here are the Can’s reflections on…

How he got his nickname: “Everybody says it's because I drank a lot of beer and they called beer “oil” down in Mississippi, but that's not true. It was rot-gut whiskey. Everybody in Meridian, where I grew up, drank it. You got it from a lady up the street named Big Mama, who was the neighborhood moonshiner. I used to go up to her house and fetch it for my mother, sneaking it into our house under my shirt so my father wouldn't see it.

“When I was 7, I started drinking some myself. One day somebody caught us in a tin shed drinking Big Mama's whiskey out of oil cans, so my friend Pap started calling me “Oil Can.” I wrote it under the bill of my baseball cap, and my high school teammates started calling me that too. It stuck.”

Bobby Valentine: “I played for Bobby in Texas, and he’s a good guy. He’s open and will talk straight to you. He could be temperamental, sure, but he’s a very, very smart baseball man. He knows games and respects players, but he’s the skipper. Ballplayers should'n’t be telling him what to do. Your job as a player is to hit the ball or catch the ball; he manages and you play. When you make up all kinds of distractions, this is what happens – the team can’t win. They got the talent, but they never listened to the man.

Wade Boggs (who Boyd claims often directed racial slurs at him when they were teammates): “He’s a bigot; it’s ingrained in his family history. Coming from Central Florida, that’s just what you grow up hearing and learning. He was protected by baseball then, and nobody will say anything against him now. The Red Sox don’t invite me to anything that Wade is going to be at because they know I’ll kick his ass. He wasn’t at the 100th anniversary celebration, right? I was – so there you go.”
For much of 1986, The Can was The Man.

The summer of 1986 (when he was suspended for 21 games after briefly quitting the team following an All-Star snub, but still went 16-10 to help the Red Sox win the pennant): “Being a young ballplayer, with money in your pocket, makes you very vulnerable. There were a lot of distractions and a lot of ways to get into trouble. I found them. It was my fault, sure, but I felt there was nobody I could talk to about it. Still, people looked out for me; I lived in Chelsea, and sometimes I'd be out late at night and the police would come and say, “C'mon, Oil Can, you don't want to be messing around here, you can get shot or killed,” and they would give me an escort home.

“While I was suspended I hurt my arm in a tussle with some cops; they thought I was getting drugs from a guy and really roughed me up good. I would ice my arm every day, but it always hurt. I could hear a clicking in it. But still I kept pitOil Caching, winning the [AL East] clincher against the Blue Jays and through the playoffs and World Series. I didn't tell anybody about the pain.”
During the '86 postseason, Boyd gets his views heard.

On not starting Game 7 of the '86 World Series, when, after a rainout, manager John MacNamara decided to go with Bruce Hurst and skip over Boyd: “When it came time for Game 7, and he [MacNamara] told me I wasn't starting, I didn't know what to say. I just ran off and cried. They used the rain as an excuse, and said Bruce had the hot hand, but I felt that circumstances during the season led to that decision. They put their personal feelings about me ahead of the team. They were not going to take a chance on my going out there and winning the World Series after everything that went on. [Hurst, who had already won twice in the Series, pitched six innings and left with the game tied 3-3. Boston relievers broke down, however, and the Mets won, 8-5. Boyd never got into the contest.]

How he stayed focused on the mound: “I smoked dope – every day. I started when I was 12 and never hid it. I was such a thinker, my mind was never idle, but when I smoked I got locked in. I was so focused, I couldn't hear anything else on the field. I became creative, like an artist doing a painting. A little blue here, a little red there; a curve ball here, a slider there. It got to the point where [first baseman] Billy Buckner would come over and say, “Are you high?” If I wasn't, he'd say “go get him some.”

Boyd was clearly upset as he talked about how things went after '86, when a blood disorder required him to inject a needle with blood thinners into his stomach every day. He was on the disabled list much of the time, and after 1989 signed with the Expos as a free agent. He rebounded to pitch nearly 200 innings each of the next two seasons – often very effectively – but after a trade to Texas and a late-season slump in 1991 was unable to find another big league job at age 31.
The Spaceman (left) and Oil Can trade pointers.

Oil Can felt he had been blackballed, and I realized he had a lot in common with another great free-spirited Red Sox who could pitch and talk up a storm: Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Both men liked their weed, both men were passionate, personable ballplayers embraced by teammates and fans, and both had their careers in Boston end on a down note before a brief resurgence in Montreal. Both felt the baseball establishment kept them from staying on in the majors, and they had two of the greatest – and most famous – nicknames in big league history.

The Can seems at peace with himself these days. After a decade where he said anger over his shortish MLB career forced an estrangement from his wife and two kids, along with a bad cocaine habit, he's quit hard drugs and is back with his family and running the Oil Can Boyd School of Baseball in Providence, Rhode Island.
Two authors hook up at the Mobile Book Fair in Newton. 

He does some private coaching with high school teams as well, along with an occasional event for the Jimmy Fund or other charity. And while he rarely gets to Fenway, he was back for the 100th anniversary celebration in April and got a terrific hand from the crowd when introduced. That meant a lot to him.

“I fight every day not to go out and get drugs, but it's a private fight,” he told me. “I don't call it being clean, I call it being tolerant. I stay healthy, and I'm on a baseball field seven days a week. That's where I feel the most comfortable.”

That's one more thing he and the Spaceman have in common: both are still pitching. Lee has hurled in a variety of leagues through the years, and this summer, at age 65, became the oldest man in history to win a professional game when he went all nine innings for his hometown San Rafael Pacifics of the North American League in a 9-4 victory over Maui.

Boyd, who moved back to New England just in time for the wonderful Red Sox summer of 2004 , now lives in Providence and pitches with teams in two divisions of the Men's Senior Baseball League – one for age 35-and-up, the other for 48-and-up. He's still lean and spry a few weeks short of his 53rd birthday, and says he plays shortstop when not on the mound.

“I gotta go work out, I'm pitching tomorrow,” he told me with a smile as he left the Mobile Book Fair. I thanked him for the time, and all the joy he gave Red Sox fans back in the mid-'80s. It was fun to watch him then, and fun to talk to him now.