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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.