Saturday, December 6, 2008

A cautionary tale

The diminutive former infielder pulled his bedraggled form onto the barstool. The bartender sidled over. "The usual, MVP?"
Dustin Pedroia winced, as the inquiry brought unwanted memories to the forefront of his thoughts. "I told you never to call me that", Pedroia snapped, sending the barkeep scampering for cover.

On December 3, 2008, Pedroia had signed a six-year contract extension worth $40.5 million. The move was lauded as a win for both sides. The Sox had locked up the second best 2B in baseball for half the salary of the best at the position, Philadelphia's Chase Utley. Pedroia had parlayed two decades of hard work, and two sensational seasons, into long-term security with the MLB club for whom he hoped to play his entire career.

Pedroia was worth every penny in 2009. He collected a second Gold Glove, and a second Silver Slugger award. He would have repeated as AL MVP, had Dallas sportswriter Evan Grant included Pedroia somewhere on his MVP ballot.

The following offseason did not go as well. Pedroia had invested heavily in a Ballroom Dancing Academy in Needham, MA, but took a sizeable loss when it was forced to close its' doors. The recession had forced the majority of his students to choose rent over tuition. Pedroia was also involved in an altercation at a Popeye's Chicken in Austin, Texas. While he gained additional "street cred" as a result of the brawl, he lost a lucrative endorsement deal with Versace as a result. These distractions also adversely affected his preparations for the 2010 season.

Pedroia struggled from the start in 2010. In June, amid rumors the would soon start to lose ABs to rookie Ryan Khoury, Pedroia started to turn things around. But a collision at second base, while turning a double play, resulted in a season-ending injury to the distal biceps in his right elbow. There was speculation that he would have returned sooner, if he had worked harder in the preceding offseason. Considering that a similar injury had ended the career of hockey goaltender Martin Brodeur, this speculation seemed a bit harsh.

Pedroia seemed on track to return for 2011, until a terrifying Spring Training incident against the Tampa Rays. In retaliation for comments made by Pedroia during the 2010 season, Rays reliever Pedro Martinez beaned the second-sacker. Martinez was suspended for life, and lost his chance at Cooperstown. Pedroia suffered a serious concussion, and though he returned in 2012, he was never the same player. He was exiled to the AL wasteland of Detroit, in a salary dump in 2014, and retired at the end of the season. Injuries had turned Pedroia from an MVP, into a replacement-level utility player.

Dustin Pedroia nursed his drink, as he watched Scott Kazmir face the Sox on NESN. Pedroia regretted the fact that he wasn't still in a Sox uniform. "I OWNED that guy!", Pedroia announced to the room. Pedroia had other regrets- accepting investment advice from Papelbon, quitting his Sullivan Tire gig, losing a big chunk of his earnings to Francona in cribbage. But he didn't regret his career. Just the fact that, with a little luck, he could have still been a Red Sox.

Monday, December 1, 2008


(December 25, 2028)
Jim Rice loved Christmas Day. He had lived through seventy-five Christmas Days, each one better than the one that preceded it. Mostly, he looked forward to the neckties. Oh, how he loved the neckties! He needed 180 different neckties, one for each regular-season game the Red Sox would play in 2029, and would receive at least that many today. But, it wasn't all about the ties. Christmas was also the day when the year's Hall of Fame inductees were announced. The day, Rice hoped, he would finally receive Baseball's highest honor.

The year 2012 had been a year of milestones. Presidential candidate Sarah Palin garnered a total of three Electoral votes. The recession, which had started in December of 2007, came to an end. More importantly, it is remembered for Cole Hamels' 32 Wins, and Jonathan Papelbon's 84 Holds. It was also the year the "New Baseball Hall of Fame" welcomed its' first entrants.

Like most of the 21st century's great ideas, "The New Hall" was born on the internets. This particular great idea grew from the primordial ooze of a Baltimore Orioles message board. Cooperstown had become bloated, weighed down by years of marginal selections. As fans gained a greater understanding of baseball statistics, the numerous enshrinement errors became all the more apparent. Bill James, Evan Grant, Rob Neyer, and SABR joined forces, and the Virtual Baseball Hall of Fame was born.

Cooperstown and the BBWAA fought the decreasing relevance of their Hall, but Senator Curt Schilling (Republican-Arizona) pushed forth legislation that recognized the "New Hall" as the "Official" Baseball Hall of Fame. In the ashes of an Ikea in Medford, Massachusetts, a brick and mortal Hall was constructed. Senator Schilling was included among the first Inductees to be honored at the New Hall, and announced his intent to run for the U. S. Presidency at that first ceremony. By the time President Schilling entered his second term, Cooperstown was used as a storage facility for Medford. Against the forest green background on the BBWAA's web site, which was designed long before Jim Rice's MLB debut, was a terse statement. The BBWAA was no longer involved in Hall of Fame voting, or Award selections, but a message board was "Coming Soon!"

Jim Rice switched off Virtual Bill James long before James reached the letter "R." Rice didn't need to watch the "Methodology Monologue" to know why he hadn't been selected. He had heard the reasons before. He hadn't been dominant for a long enough period. His greatest skill was coming to the plate with many baserunners. Contemporary wisdom emphasized "walks" and "not making outs", which weren't among his strengths.

Rice smiled, as he picked up his favorite photograph. He thought back to 2009, when he had entered Cooperstown with Rickey Henderson and Bert Blyleven. While he dreamed of enshrinement in Medford, enshrinement in Cooperstown was still an impressive accomplishment. He had enjoyed a great career, and was about to enjoy his 75th Christmas Dinner. He just needed to select the right necktie for the occasion.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Luck is the residue of design...

"Last time I was here, they thanked me for wearing pants!" Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon reminisced to no one in particular, as the 2009 World Champions walked on the South Lawn. GM Theo Epstein smiled, as he watched the inimitable reliever hold court. Epstein, himself, was now a veteran of three White House trips, and fully expected to make a few more return visits. Those future Championships, the young GM hoped, would be a little less emotionally draining.

Cutting ties with Captain Jason Varitek was the most difficult choice, at least from a personal standpoint. As a business decision, it was a no-brainer. The veteran backstop was on the downside of his career, as evidenced by his .646 OPS in 2009 with Detroit. Varitek lost the starting job to backup Dusty Ryan in August, and was considering returning to Boston for 2010, as a minor league instructor. Mike Napoli, acquired from the Angels in January 2009, had proven to be a satisfactory replacement. When Napoli went on the DL in early July, Epstein picked up Ramon Hernandez from Baltimore in a salary dump. Upon Napoli's return, the two veterans split time until the playoffs, when Napoli started 15 of 16 games. The Hernandez acquisition kept Napoli fresh for the postseason, and allowed the Sox to send Kevin Cash, and his OPS+ of 11, to Pawtucket. The Boston catchers combined for 32 HRs in 2009, 29 more than Varitek had produced for the Tigers.

Trading Mike Lowell to Anaheim had been almost as difficult. But, when you have a chance to lock up a premium bat like Mark Teixeira for the next decade, you do what it takes. Theo hadn't been worried about tying up $24 million a year in one position player, or blocking top prospect 1B Lars Anderson. He had prevented the division rival Yankees from acquiring the 29 year old All-Star, and had picked up the 2009 AL MVP without sacrificing any minor league talent. The Lars Anderson situation would work itself out in a few years, and eating a quarter of Lowell's remaining contract was an acceptable cost.

The only offseason objective that Epstein had failed to achieve was dumping SS Julio Lugo. The underperforming infielder was due $18 million through 2010, and had been slated to back up Jed Lowrie at SS. But a worthwhile trade could not be found, and Lugo entered 2009 as a $9 million utility infielder. However, Lowrie suffered a season-ending ankle injury in June, and Lugo was given the opportunity to start. Lugo was league-average, both at the plate, and in the field, but that's all the Sox needed.

Epstein's self-analysis was interrupted by the buzz of his cell phone. He smirked when he realized the identity of the caller.

Manny Ramirez: Theo, man, I don't think I'm going to be able to make it. My grandmother died.

Epstein: Don't worry about it, Manny. I am sorry for your loss.

Ramirez: I want to come back to Boston, boss. I love Boston. I want to retire a Red Sox.

Epstein: We'll see, Manny. I have to go meet The President now.

Epstein had learned long ago not to discount any possibility. He was in the business of winning Championships, and would do whatever he deemed necessary to return to the White House after every season. Any Red Sox could be traded, any former Red Sox could return.

(In Florida, free agent reliever Eric Gagne awoke with a start, clutching his Boston Red Sox bedsheets.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This is not the Greatest Post in the World, it is just a Tribute

Dustin Pedroia was selected by the Baseball Writers With Votes as the 2008 AL MVP. Not a bad selection. He had an excellent year. The correct selection was teammate Kevin Youkilis, however. (Or, maybe, it was Joe Mauer.) But, Pedroia was a reasonable choice. He was certainly one of the top three possible choices. Without a doubt, he was in the Top 10. Right?

Well, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News doesn't think so. But, he must have, like, really good reasons. Heck, he wouldn't have a vote, if he didn't know things, n'est-ce pas?
What say you, Evan?

When I looked at the numbers that mattered to me the most, OPS,

OPS, huh? OPS is a good stat. At BI, we are partial to OPS+. But, we're cool with OPS. It's a lot better that Mostest Home Runs (MHR). Or, Greatest Number of At Bats with Runners on Base (GNABROB),
So, let's see who had the highest OPS in the AL. Milton Bradley (.999). Wow, .999. That is some serious OPS'ing. Milton must be near the top of Evan's list.

Here is Grant's 10-person ballot:
Kevin Youkilis
Francisco Rodriguez
Justin Morneau
Josh Hamilton
Carlos Quentin
Alex Rodriguez
Cliff Lee
Joe Mauer
Grady Sizemore
Carlos Pena

Nope, no Bradley. But, Evan considers other things...

and batting average with runners in scoring position

Yikes. We'll ignore the "batting average" part. We're sure he really meant "OPS with runners in scoring position." We're not too excited about looking at a sample size of 100 ABs, but let's check out how Milton did. He must have sucked. Cool name, minimal "clutchiness."
Nope. Milton had a .971 OPS with RISP. (And a .278 BA, for those who care for such things.)
So, Milton was at the top of the AL in the things that matter the most to Evan, but didn't make it into Evan's Top 10.

Let's look again at Evan's actual Top 10.

1. Kevin Youkilis

Excellent choice. We approve.

2. Francisco Rodriguez

Double Yikes. Yes, Rodriguez had the most saves in the History of Ever this season. How important are "saves", anyways? (Short answer: Extremely important, unless you are NOT Rodriguez' agent, or an immediate family member.)
Rodriguez pitched well, in 68.1 innings. Cliff Lee (5th on Evan's list) pitched well for 223.1 innings. Roy Halladay (not on the list) pitched well for 246.0 innings.
Rodriguez wasn't even the AL MVPitcher.

The rest of Evan's list isn't bad. Mauer could probably be a bit higher. Bradley and Halladay could be on there. Aubrey Huff (5th in AL OPS), perhaps?
Carlos Pena beat out Dustin Pedroia for the 10th spot, but Evan has reasons:

When it got down to it, the last place on my ballot was Pedroia or Pena, Pedroia or Pena. I don't have a guy from the Rays on my ballot and they won 97 games. I was going to vote to make sure Carlos Pena got recognized.

So, Pena was more MVP-y than Pedroia because Kevin Youkilis was a Boston Red Sox. Conversely, if Youkilis was a Tampa Bay Ray, would that have made Pedroia more MVP-y than Pena? What if Youkilis played cricket in Pakistan for the Otago Volts? In that case, is Pedroia more or less valuable than Pena?

Evan sums up his thoughts on Pedroia:

he just didn't stack up with Youkilis at all. He was a laggard behind the others who had great years in the American League

laggard (n.) - a person or thing that lags

Pedroia didn't stack up with Youkilis. Youkilis was a worthy top choice. BI would also like to salute Evan for using the sorely underutilized word "laggard." But Pedroia did not lag behind the nine others in Evan's Top 10. (Except, maybe, Mauer. There may have been some Pedroia-lagging there.)

Is it an error of omission that he's (Pedroia) left off my ballot entirely? You could say that.

Yes, Evan, you could say that.

(Hat tip:'s Extra Bases blog.)

Evan does admit that Pedroia should have been in his Top 10. He did do a pretty good job with the rest of his ballot. (Well, except the Rodriguez part.)
The real laggards here are:
1. the dude who voted Jason Bartlett 5th
2. whoever designed the BBWAA's web site (Triple Yikes)
3. the GM of the Otago Volts

Sunday, July 6, 2008


(The following was originally posted in the Boston Herald on October 4th, 2008.)

In baseball, as in many sports, the difference between a playoff team and a non playoff team is often one player. In the case of the 2008 Red Sox, it was one mid-July acquisition who turned a weakness into a strength. Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein paid a heavy price on July 19th, but the AL East title would not have been won without that move.

As the Red Sox entered the month of July, the AL East was up for grabs. But the bullpen, which had been perceived as a strength in April, was in disarray. Closer Jonathan Papelbon was still in top form, but every Sox reliever who hadn't slaughtered 4402 innocent ducks in the winter prior to the 2007 season was struggling. Mike Timlin (3468 slaughtered ducks) seemed ready to start hunting ducks full-time. Julian Tavarez had been DFA'd by Boston and Milwaukee. Tavarez was last seen by Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara in June, aimlessly wandering the jungles of Tanzania.

Projected setup man Hideki Okajima appeared to be suffering from a sophomore jinx. It later came to light that Okajima had been having difficulty sleeping. This sleeping disorder was likely the result of the cool May night during which Okajima had awoken to find Daisuke Matsuzaka standing over him. Dressed as the purple Teletubbie. Craig Hansen had overcome sleeping problems of his own, but had not been able to overcome his AAA-quality repertoire.

Most troubling of all was the story of Manny Delcarmen. Delcarmen was placed on the 60-Day DL on July 11th, as a result of injuries sustained defending a Fenway Park concessions worker from a giant rat. The heroic tale of "Delcarmen the Defender" was an inspiring one, at least until it was discovered to be a complete fabrication. A YouTube clip showed Delcarmen sustain his injury while shooting a Milli Vanilli video. Jonathan Papelbon attributed Delcarmen's lip-synching-related injury to a "total lack of rhythm."

But, at 1pm on July 19th, Epstein announced the acquisition of the player who would save the Red Sox' 2008 season. The player cost was high, as top prospects Ryan Kalish and Michael Bowden were dealt. The payroll cost was high, as the Sox had to pay $5 million in salary, and guarantee $3 million in bonuses, for three months of pitching. Kalish and Bowden may go on to become productive MLBers, perhaps even All-Stars. However, without stabilizing their bullpen, the Sox would not have been a playoff team in 2008. Eric Serge Gagne had saved their season.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Return of the Schill

(The following was originally published in the Boston Globe, on October 25th, 2008.)

Forget about the Bloody Sock. Curt Schilling has a new legacy.

Schilling continued his miraculous return from injury, with three scoreless innings in his first appearance since the 2007 World Series. Schilling, in relief of Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka (131 pitches in five innings) held the Phillies to a single baserunner in a dominating performance. Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon finished off the Phillies in the 9th, sending the Series to Philadelphia even at a game apiece.

When Schilling had surgery on June 23, it appeared likely that his career was over. Even the most optimistic estimates had him at least a year away from a possible return to the MLB level.
Schilling's intermittent blog postings gave no indication as to the extent of his rehabilitation efforts. Rather, he seemed more focused on his post-career plans, as well as informing his readers of their need to vote for Presidential Candidate John McCain. When Schilling announced he was ready to return to action, for the ALCS against Detroit, Red Sox Management did not share his optimism. They chose to put reliever Chris Smith on the roster, instead. That decision did not sit well with Schilling, and his vitriolic response reverberated around the blogosphere. If Smith hadn't pitched the final twelve innings in Game 7 against Detroit, the disenchanted veteran might have been left off the roster for The Fall Classic, as well.

But any remaining animosity between Schilling and the Sox dissipated into the Fenway night, as Schilling retired Phillie-after-Phillie. He improved his postseason record to 11-2, and helped prevent the Sox from falling behind 2-0 in the Series. What's next for Schilling? We'll see, when the Series resumes in Philadelphia. But, if he can top tonight's performance, Cooperstown is going to have to make room for a whole Schilling Wing.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Return of The Curse

(The following is an excerpt from the opening chapter of CHB's "The Return of The Curse." Published in December 2011, after the Boston Red Sox won their 5th consecutive World Championship, it examines how one week in April 2008 set the tone for a modern baseball dynasty.)

There were fewer casualties at Antietam. There was less anguish during the Irish Potato Famine. The Bubonic Plague had spread through the Red Sox clubhouse- Murphy and his Law were ravaging the roster. The bad moon had risen over the Monster Seats. The Boston Nine needed a hero. But with Neil Diamond on tour, Larry Bird unavailable, and Curt Schilling overweight and disabled, to whom would they turn?

The Great Bill Belichick would have responded with a gaggle of cliches. "It is what it is," the football mastermind would state. Curt Schilling probably had plenty to say, but no one was listening. Luckily, Theo followed Bird's example, and remained calm, and in control. He directed his Minions to beat the bushes, which they did every bit as hard as Charles Robert Watts beats the drumskins. Branch Rickey and Pete Best would have been proud. The Sox would face a TET Offensive of disease with a band of hardy souls fighting their own personal battles with The Mendoza Line.

Dennis Haskins and John Ritter were in attendance on April 24th, 2008, but the Sox lineup they saw was no laughing matter. Southpaw Justin (no relation to Bat) Masterson made his major league debut. He probably could have used some of Schilling's sage advice, but the rotund pitcher was playing Pac-Man somewhere. Schilling is no Larry Bird. Schill's not even Al Nipper. The immortal Kevin Forrest Cash was Masterson's batterymate. Man-Ram was in left, piling up monstrous numbers, but contributing little. Julio Lugo positioned himself between the second and third sacks, providing half the defensive prowess that Bobby Doerr had provided at the position. Was this a playoff team? Get a grip.

(I'm pretty surprised CHB's publisher sent me a review copy of the book. They must have looked at the blog label list, and not read any of the content in this space.
Actually, I'm even more surprised that CHB found a publisher. Nothing new for CHB here- forced pop/historical references, a bit of Schill/Theo/Belichick-hate, and an obvious need for a good fact-checker. He took a week five seasons ago that no one remembers, and tried to attach major significance to it. It will be easier to find a living room in New England without any free Jordan's furniture, than a New England bookshelf with this masterpiece on it. Though, I must admit that adopting "CHB" as his pen name was a mildly amusing move.)