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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.