Friday, September 29, 2006


The Red Sox won't be going to the postseason, but they haven't mailed it in. Tonight they won their ninth consecutive home victory over the Orioles, holding off the Birds 4-3, with Julian Tavarez finishing the season at 5-4 and Mike Timlin picking up his ninth save.

Trot Nixon had an ofer but hit the ball hard several times as he plays out his season as the Sox member with the longest continuous service. Nixon, plagued by injuries, becomes a free agent at the conclusion of the season.

Mike Lowell had a pair of hits and closes in on 80 RBI to accompany 19 homers as he becomes a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. Lowell will also duel Eric Chavez for Gold Glove at third base, and turned in another gem tonight, making a leaping grab of a liner.

Dustin Pedroia played shortstop tonight and turned in a sharp DP with Mark Loretta on a shot up the middle. Pedroia has impressive college and minor league credentials and continues to get his feet wet as he tries to make the leap to the next level.

Trade Manny Ramirez? Sox fans got another vision of life without Manny as David Ortiz had another three walks and gets almost nothing to hit. Ortiz has 119 walks on the season, 10 in the last 10 games and 6 in the past 2. So as the Cosa Nostra might say, "you want protection, you gotta pay for it." Ortiz and Manny both need protection, and although Wily Mo Pena has promise, is he ready for prime time.

In the midst of 'Fan Appreciation Weekend', the Sox are airing spots with players thanking the fans for their support. While we may be disappointed at the outcome, I don't think we should disrespect the effort. To paraphrase Jim Bouton, "all your life you think you have a grip on the baseball, and you find out it's the other way around."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Red Sox Dysfunctional Family: Who's in Charge?

"Victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan."

John Henry remains the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox. Henry enjoyed remarkable success both in money management and professional baseball, as two of his teams have captured World Series Championships. Most Sox fans view Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino as the business operations side, and General Manager Theo Epstein as the head of Baseball Operations. We all have heard of the infighting between Lucchino and his proxies with GM Epstein over control of the baseball side of the house.

Where does the post-mortem begin on the 2006 edition of the Boston Red Sox? First, we can examine the Red Sox as a business, with Forbes reporting Red Sox total revenue as $171 million in 2002. We know that Larry Lucchino runs the business side of the house, and the Sox have continually poured money into upgrading both Fenway Park's amenities and its capacity. According to Nintendorks (via Forbes) the Sox increased their revenue to 201 million in 2005, and surely with additional seating capacity and ticket price increases probably increased it toward 220 million dollars in 2006.

Increasing your estimated business revenue almost 30 percent (and fifty million dollars) in four years deserves recognition. Kudos for the achievement and notoriety for gouging fans. But those same fans received playoff appearances from 2003 to 2005 and a World Series title in 2004. Of course, it's baseball, and we ask, "what have you done for me lately."

The 2006 Hot Stove season started poorly, with Epstein's departure in a gorilla suit, contentious negotiations with "the Man Who Would Be King" Larry Lucchino, and the return of the Prodigal Son amidst other defections in the organization. Josh Byrnes left to become Arizona GM, followed not long after by Peter Woodfork, another high ranking Baseball Operations professional.

The Red Sox sent four cooks to the Winter Meetings, and after most of the smoke had cleared, had dealt uber-prospect Hanley Ramirez and a promising AA pitcher Anibal Sanchez to the Marlins for Josh Beckett, ostensibly a top of the rotation pitcher and Mike Lowell, looking for resurrection after a forgettable 2005 season. The Marlins got young talent and eliminated salary. The Red Sox believed they enhanced their pitching and defense. Epstein was still incognito when the Beckett deal went down, and with Beckett ultimately signed to an extension, final judgement of that transaction will require years. Superficially, the Marlins have taken the early lead based on both Ramirez' and Sanchez' production and potential for Florida.

Later the Sox added Coco Crisp, trading Andy Marte, the prostpect they had received for moving Edgar Renteria, the unflappable shortstop, who flopped in Boston.

Epstein and management must have believed that with better defense, another starter, and a player ready to break out (Crisp), that they had overcome both the production and public relations losses of the Johnny Damon signing by archrival New York.

The Red Sox started fast, and despite extended absence by Crisp (injured hand), led the AL East for most of the first half. Following the All-Star break however, the team totally collapsed. On July 11th, the Red Sox were 53-33, leading the division by 3 games. By the trading deadline (July 31), the Sox had slipped to 63-41, still leading the Yankees by a game, but Jason Varitek was now injured.

Theo Epstein was vilified for 'not making the deal' to acquire fresh (and expensive) production, while the Yankees acted and got Bobby Abreu, with a high price tag attached. Since that time, the Sox are 20-33.

They enter tonight, 83-74, having gone 30-41 since Michael Young's All-Star base hit, playing .423 baseball. Kansas City, last at 31-56 at that time, is now 58-98, having played 27-42, two games worse than the Sox since the break. I take little comfort in knowing that Baltimore has won 27 games and Tampa has won only 21 games since the break.

I think inaction at the trading deadline was probably the smartest move the Sox front office made all season, as they obviously saw the handwriting on the wall. In addition to Varitek's injury, Tim Wakefield's absence, Jon Lester's cancer, Jonathan Papelbon's shoulder problems and the collapse of the surrounding bullpen cast doomed the season. "Pulling the trigger" at the trading deadline, unless Sandy Koufax and Frank Robinson circa 1966 were available, wouldn't have revived the Sox' season.

The current Sox, using the Parcellian metric of 'you are what you do', belong in the bottom third of Major League power rankings. The Sox are 1oth in runs scored (lower in runs/game) and 13th in OPS (.738) after the break. They are tied for 11th with Tampa in ERA (5.21) after the break.

But who stands accountable for this disaster? Terry Francona can't shoulder the blame with injuries and poor play leaving the Sox underwater concerning runs scored (798) to runs allowed (805). Pinning the blame on the manager, while traditional, would be misfounded. Scapegoating Manny Ramirez borders on the ridiculous, as Manny and David Ortiz are responsible for about 40 percent of the team's offense. Player accountability tends to be elusive, in an era of high salary and lower responsibility.

As we enter the final week of the season, with the ship still taking on water, we still don't know who's in charge. We can't know what the plan is to restructure and revitalize the 2007 edition of the Sox. We can plainly see that the 2006 Sox have silenced Lucchino's braggadocio and Epstein's hubris, while John Henry's trading woes have him licking his wounds.

The Sox have leaks everywhere except from the boardroom. Fans sense the Chinese wall between Lucchino and Epstein, although who really knows? Can both survive if Henry decides that a purge is needed? One senses that loyalty to the money man will keep Lucchino around. But can a new GM flourish in Lucchino's shadow? Until management gets its act together concerning Baseball Ops, fans wonder whether winning baseball will return to baseball's Athens.

Monday, September 25, 2006

"Making Adjustments"

We often hear about the importance of making adjustments to become a successful major league player. Opponents and high tech scouting will find and exploit weaknesses mercilessly. Are you tipping a pitch? Are you unable to hit the inside fastball? Are you a sucker for gas upstairs or the breaking stuff away? Players who want to have an extended career have to analyze and adapt to minimize their weaknesses while emphasizing their strengths.

Fans need to make adjustments, too. We don't have to carry water for players who can't produce, or blindly worship 'laundry'. On the other hand, if the Sox put the Vienna Boys' Choir on the field, they might be great guys, but they won't win anything. As a fan, I can live with Manny Ramirez, who may not be a 24/7 effort guy, but whose results far exceed the marginal player, high effort guys like Steve Lyons. Guys like Lyons might hang around the majors for a lengthy career, through pluck and versatility, but you can't win with too many of them, and not enough Mannys.

Everyone recognized Mickey Mantle was a Hall of Famer. And most everyone knew that he lived hard, which is to say, played hard and loose off the field as well, a celebrated disciple of Bacchus. Should it matter to me what a player does off the field, as long as he produces between the lines? Should I care if he drinks to excess or thinks breakfast is the last meal of the day instead of the first? Where is the line?

Is the measurement of a player VORP (value over replacement player), Win Shares, or the sum total of his contribution to the team's success? Hypothetically, let's presume that Player A, your centerfielder hits .250 with 16 homers and 70 RBI, fields his position at a high level, has flawless ethical standards, community contribution, and is a leader in the clubhouse. Player B, your first baseman, hits .330, with 40 homers and 130 RBI, but is a self-absorbed boorish jerk in the clubhouse, who also constantly flirts with other players' wives and girlfriends. Can your team accept the behavior of Player B because he produces? Can your team live with your outfielder's production even though he's a model citizen?

We've all heard that players use salary as a yardstick or hierarchical scoreboard. As fans, we don't have such a one-dimensional tool to decide our feelings about a player or coach. We want production, but we can't 'love' pariahs or thugs. The greatest community guy in the world can't be our favorite if he can't play. The ultimate media darling, moonlighting as a philandering lush who embodies mediocrity might get a pass, because the media's on his side. I want the team to be successful, and if I hear an incredibly negative, verifiable story about a player, I'm not going to torpedo him.

But are there limits? If a guy portrays himself as a Saint, and prowls the bars each night, who's the hypocrite, the player or the media telling the big lie? If the public image and the private truth conflict, does the writer simply acknowledge that 'you can't handle the truth?' And if the media becomes the problem with biased reporting, who speaks for the player?

We all make adjustments. Sometimes we call them ethics, other times discretion, and rarely indiscretion. We can only hope that players make adjustments off the field, too.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Playing Out the String Theory

You have to ask yourself why you're still turning on NESN (or to watch the Red Sox. David Ortiz has assured that Jimmy Foxx's record has left the building, and the battle for second place in the AL East has all the intensity of watching your lawn grow. So why tune in? Because you're part of the Matt Clement watch? Because you can't get enough Bobblehead and brown tee-shirt talk from Don and Jerry?

Play the kids the rest of the way. Can David Murphy generate enough to become a fourth outfielder? Would looking at Brandon Moss (Eastern League playoff MVP) be such a bad thing?

Playing out the season leads into the Hot Stove League, and the Red Sox have plenty of work to do. An author in the Red Sox newsgroup noted that the Red Sox have only three players with above average OPS, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Kevin Youkilis, with Wily Mo Pena qualifying with limited at bats. Conversely, the AL East Champion had seven. And all media people can talk about is jettisoning Ramirez. His disappearing act down the stretch has been a non-factor.

Sox fans have to ask a lot of questions, like was this just an off-year for Jason Varitek, or has the odometer (over 1000 games catching) turned over? In the hitting rich AL, was a defense rich team capable of competing? Will the Red Sox again try to move Manny, their protection for David Ortiz? Can Wily Mo Pena become protection for Manny, and be a thirty homer guy? Did Coco Crisp fail because of ability, pressure, injuries, or some combination? Can he do better? What caused Trot Nixon's play to fall off the cliff?

Will Jon Papelbon be healthy, and if so, does he go into the rotation? Which Josh Beckett will show up? Can the Sox find another closer, or is Keith Foulke the bargain solution? Can aging Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield pitch effectively as Father Time gains on them? Does Mike Timlin have anything left in the tank? Do Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen have the physical and mental makeup to succeed? Can Jon Lester overcome cancer and become a factor?
Can Dustin Pedroia play? The hyped second base prospect came up with an oversized swing, AND shows no ability to play with the backhand. He tries to play everything in front of him, which affects his ability to go to his right and turn the double play. Witness last night's fiasco when he tried to play the Lowell throw without backhanding it, forcing him off the base. They teach you that in Infield 101.

There's the old saw about 'money can't play' and 'on paper'. What is plain as the tip of your nose is that the Red Sox are old, mostly not very athletic, and as 'Moneyball' devotees, they've got to see the obvious. The Sox have question marks everywhere on the pitching staff, the infield, and the outfield. The talk of trading one of their two legitimate offensive stars without adequate replacement borders on insanity, unless Boston scribes want to write about a seventy-two and ninety team, and thinking that the Sox have to 'blow it up' because this year's team 'blew it' isn't crazy. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", but it's hurtin' for certain.

With Bill James among the Baseball Operations team, let's presume that James' creation, Win Shares, actually has meaning. The Hardball Times has a searchable Win Shares database. The two AL leaders in Win Shares are Derek Jeter (31) and Joe Mauer (29). For simplicity, 30 is usually the level of an MVP season, and 20 is about All-Star caliber. Manny Ramirez clocks in third at 28, Ortiz fourth at 27 (Ortiz gets no defensive Win Shares, Ramirez had 2), and Youkilis had 22. Papelbon had 16 before injury forced him to shut it down.

In addition to Jeter, the Bombers hold positions 14, 16, 17, and 21, courtesy of A-Rod, Damon, Giambi, and Posada. One would expect if Bobby Abreu played a full season for New York, that he'd be a top twenty guy, as would Matsui and Sheffield. The top pitcher is Johan Santana at number 9.

Maybe what's worse is that Freddy Sanchez (14) has 24 win shares for Pittsburgh, Hanely Ramirez (19) had 23 for Florida, Bronson Arroyo (35) had 19 for Cincy, Dave Roberts (36) has 19 for the Padres, and Edgar Renteria (19) has 18 for Atlanta. Heck, Nomar has 16 for the Dodgers, Derek Lowe 13, and even Cla Meredith has 8 for San Diego. I guess the good news is that Pedro has 7 win shares for 13 million dollars (still going to the playoffs) and Bill Mueller has 3 for the Dodgers.

I guess I'm a Soxaholic, and I can't help myself from watching. But Fenway has become the House of Pain. What's your excuse?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Repeat Yourself

Every day belongs to history, but not every day feels 'historic'. Last night David Ortiz, a Twins' castoff, tied the Red Sox single season home run record (50) of Jimmy Foxx, against the Twins. Tonight Ortiz eclipsed Foxx, slugging his record-breaker against the best pitcher in the AL, Johann Santana. Ortiz shot reminded me of the blasts Harmon Killebrew hit, carrying almost endlessly courtesy of backspin, this one landing behind the Red Sox bullpen. Later, the Sox fan favorite clubbed his fifty-second homer to punctuate the achievement.

The 2006 season had become what might have been, instead of what we hoped it would become. An All-Star start turned into a second half nightmare. Inconsistency, injury and the serious illness of promising lefthander Jon Lester, made us pine for another time.

Those of us on the wrong side of fifty have seen great sluggers of Red Sox history grace Fenway Park. I'm not quite old enough to remember Ted Williams swing in person, but his 521 homers recall that sweet swing. In the sixties, Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli did the long-ball damage, with too short a span for Tony C. Let's not totally forget Dick 'Dr. Strangeglove' Stuart. The seventies gave us the 'modern' expansion of Red Sox lore, with Rice and Lynn, Yaz, Fisk, Evans, Hobson and more, driving them from the ballyard. Without Bernie Carbo's blast, Fisk never gets a chance for heroics. The eighties was still a time for Evans, and Tony Armas, too. And recent times meant Manny and Ortiz.

Sox fans remember the great enemy sluggers, too. The Yankees brought Mantle and Maris, and Reg-gie, the Orioles had the Robinsons and Boog Powell, Detroit Kaline, Willie Horton, and Gates Brown. Canseco and McGwire stir memories, as do Larry Hisle, Frank Howard, Rocky Colavito, Travis Hafner, Fred McGriff, Albert Belle, and more.

Yet Ortiz rules the roost among the Red Sox greatest sluggers, not only for what he brings to the plate, but his presence in the clubhouse, and the community. While some Sox might revel in being idiots, Ortiz reigned with dignity, grace, and smiles.

As great as he has been, he has been underappreciated for his unique talent, to come in cold off the bench, drive in runners and send baseballs far into the night.

Thank you for your redemption of this disappointing and frustrating season. Your smile lights up the ballpark. And that is a very good deed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Needing the Phoenix, Don't give the Sox the Bird

Has the Nation gone soft? Have our collective weakness atrophied that limbic enmity reserved for the Bronx Bombers? Is the theory that depression arises from anger turned inward become reality? The four game 'Armageddon' against the Yankees has become the equivalent of spring training, not even worthy of traditional 'salary drive' play.

The reality show called "MLB" has kicked the Red Sox off the island. Maybe they swallowed too much sea water, or sprained their collective ankles, or just didn't want it enough. Partitioning the blame hasn't become the sport du jour, as, mercifully, it's football season.

What went wrong? Maybe the season was doomed from the start, doomed by overconfidence in a "geriatric" pitching staff, overreliance on promising but inexperienced youth, and offensive holes that revealed themselves in a discouragingly narrow 'Pythagorean' equation, manifested as an inadequate run differential. Huh? The Red Sox won more than their share of close games, saved by Jonathan Papelbon, but often lost games that weren't close because the pitching simply wasn't good enough.

Three major events intersected to doom the 2006 Red Sox. The injury to Jason Varitek, exposing the soft underbelly of the staff, the loss of Tim Wakefield, who provides stability and innings on a regular basis, and a general offensive drop off.

Some blame the 'Sabremetricians', the 'Moneyball' crowd. Pre All-Star break, the Sox had an OPS of .823 and 486 runs scored, both 3rd in the AL. Post All-Star break, the Sox are 12th in OPS at .742 and 9th in runs scored (276) in 62 games, about 4.4 runs per game.

Pre All-Star break, the pitchers compiled a 4.52 ERA (8th), a 1.36 WHIP (6th), and a K/BB ratio of 2.26 (3rd). The latter predicted MORE successful second half results. Post break, the K/BB is 1.92 (9th), ERA 5.21 (11th), and WHIP 1.57 (12th). The aggregate pitching and offensive results easily explain how the Sox moved from the penthouse to the outhouse, amongst the Royals, Orioles, and D-Rays in AL futility.

In summary, no mystery exists concerning the Sox collapse. The collective personnel changes and performance, statistically or observationally, brought the Sox from contenders to pretenders. Affixing the responsibility of not making 'deadline deals' borders on the absurd, as the Sox lived not on the edge of contention but on the fringe of despair. Throwing good money after bad would have accomplished nothing short of appeasement of the unrealistic.

The Sox need to get younger and better in the pitching staff (perhaps Papelbon and Beckett, if both can maintain or regain health will help), and stabilize the lineup with quality leadoff hitting, and more production from the 5-6 spots in the lineup. The Sox cannot rely on an injured and declining Trot Nixon, a fatiguing Mike Lowell, and have to wonder what Jason Varitek's future offensive production will be. The upper minors do not appear to be overladen with position players who are on the cusp of stardom, and the lower minors' pitching depth presumably will require a couple of years of seasoning.

Theo Epstein and ownership face a tall order this off-season, as the 'transition year' became a 'disaster year' as the Sox slipped into the bottom quartile, yes bottom fourth of major league teams. Talent discrepancy, not effort, becomes the focus. Ownership's focus must be to restore the talent level to compete with other franchises on the rise.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Papel-Bon Voyage

Jon Papelbon and the Red Sox have elected to 'shut down' the Red Sox righthanded reliever and closer in a precautionary move as the Sox have fallen out of contention for the Wild Card spot. Papelbon, holder of the Red Sox rookie record for saves and a dominant closer for much of the season looks forward to coming back as a starter next season.

The Red Sox had many problems down the stretch, amidst poor pitching, injuries and illness, and a lack of offense, particularly with injuries to Manny Ramirez, inconsistency from the lead off spot, and aside from David Ortiz, almost no clutch hitting.

Can the Sea Dogs' quest for an Eastern League title against Akron hold your interest while the Sox go down like a lead anchor? No, I didn't think so.

Even the rivalry series with the Yankees has become something of a joke, with back to back day-night doubleheaders. I hope that all loyal Sox fans have laid in a heavy supply of caffeine to watch these games.

Perhaps as bad as the near total collapse of the team has been the struggles of promising young players down the stretch. Dustin Pedroia, the little man with a very big swing, has looked sharp in the field and anemic at the plate. David Murphy suffers from ROOTS (royal order of the splinter), and Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen have just struggled down the stretch. Growing pains indeed.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Friday Night Lightweights

The lightweight Kansas City Royals came into town, the same Royals who rarely win on the road, and mounted a ninth inning counter-offensive to defeat the Sox, 10-9. KC had a comfortable 8-3 lead entering the bottom of the ninth before Jason Varitek rifled his twefth roundtripper of the season into the pen, and David Ortiz stroked two out lightning into left to put the Sox up. An inspirational comeback victory, right?

Unfortunately, sans Jonathan Papelbon (yes, subluxed would be a good Scrabble word), the bullpen couldn't hold it. After Manny Delcarmen got touched for three runs by KC, Mike Timlin surrendered a pair of Royal pains in the ninth to give the cellar-dwellers the win. Adding insult to injury, former Sox hurler Joe Nelson got the save.

Last night's debacle provided a microcosm of the late season action. Inconsistent pitching, often inconsistent hitting, and a painful loss, rendered less important by the antecedent Sox collapse.

I don't think that the Sox should be waving the white flag from the dugout, but I'm all for seeing what some of the youngsters can do.

Meanwhile, in Portland, the Sea Dogs are up 2-1 in their best-of-five Eastern League semifinal. Jacoby Ellsbury and George Kattaras, he of the Wells trade, seem to be doing the heavy lifting. Let's hope that they aren't relearning the traditional September 'salary drive' that we suffered through for most of antiquity.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Darn Those Sox

The Red Sox entertain the Wild Card pursuing Chicago White Sox tonight at Fenway Park. The Chisox are locked in a struggle with the Minnesota Twins for the final AL playoff spot.

Along with the four dollar waters, the Sox must be handing out 'No-Doze' and Jolt Cola. But why? They could probably have paid for a new 'Sleep Laboratory' to help finance whatever the coming offseason seating addition will be.

Tonight's action generated so much excitement that they not only showed a concession contractor asleep in the runway, they had sideline announcer Tina Cervasio wake him up and interview him.
At least when Sean McDonough was the announcer, they had the courtesy or humility to flash an 'Inane Banter' bulletin.

Aside from the 'wicked' beating the White Sox have dished out, we've learned a lot. Jose Contreras has one of the best forkballs in baseball. If I had a nickel for every time they've told us, I could retire. Jerry Remy will be at the Red Sox Hall of Fame dinner along with Walt Hriniak, he of the helicopter swing, the hitting coach who helped Dwight Evans and wrecked Rich Gedman. Remy has 200 'guests' of Remdawg Nation in the bleachers. Remy is also sponsoring a contest for a cruise to Aruba on his website.

Did you know that Jerry Remy has a website, The Remy Report? If you've watched the Sox before, I've dubbed the Remy promos for his website and Hot Dog stand the Remy 'Pitch Count'. Tonight he's challenging the Sox staff.

Craig Hansen has a radio controlled 'monster truck', as do some of the other players, who hope to race them. They showed Hansen crashing his truck pregame, which wasn't so different than the Red Sox stretch drive.

Leigh Montville, formerly of the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated will be the latest writer to guest luncheon at Fenway Park.

Excuse me, I need a nap.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Boo Birds Bother Ballplayers

Julian Tavarez just completed an interview on the Red Sox pregame show. Tavarez felt hurt by the booing and criticism that he and other Red Sox players received this year. He said that Sox fans boo whether the team was six games ahead or behind. He also noted that players are embarrassed when they play poorly and are doing their best. Tavarez hasn't overachieved this season, a 2-4, with one save, a 4.72 E.R.A. and a WHIP ratio of 1.59.

But all that misses the point. It's always about the Benjamins. Fans who have paid the highest prices in baseball feel entitled to boo regardless of the feelings of ballplayers. Fans demand to be heard, irrespective of the consequences. And obviously, millionaires become easy targets for 'ordinary people'.

Although I don't attend many games anymore, I've never gone to boo, heckle, or jeer professionals. That's not my nature, and while negativity doesn't help, although I'm not sure that cheering helps much either in baseball. Having four-tenths of a second to recognize and hit a spinning horsehide requires enough attention that background noise doesn't affect a player much.

Fans expect certain 'obligations' from players, effort, both physical and mental. We expect professionals to act that way, respecting the fans and their teammates. Yet players do get picked off, make errors, and forget how many outs there are. They have the same weaknesses that we do.

Do players have a reasonable expectation of courtesy or humanity from fans? Do they have the right to any expectations, provided that they do their jobs to the best of their abilities? If Mickey Mantle went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, did that make him a bum?

Some fans probably don't believe that players actually have feelings, or just don't care. Certainly through endowment bias we overrate how good 'our' players are. Should we care about players' feelings or only about our own? If you have too thin a skin, or cannot deal with failure, succeeding in high pressure markets won't happen.

If you were sitting in the boxes and yelled, "you stink" (or something worse) how would you feel if you knew the player's family were sitting next to you? Or maybe that he were injured or his grandmother had died the week before, or his child were ill?

I don't have the answers. We try not to be 'not always right, but never in doubt'. Whether you plunk down your hard-earned dough or simply get comped somehow, how entitled are you? Julian Tavarez hasn't had much of a season, but he raises some outstanding points.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sports Journalism Ethos

Do sports media have a credo for practicing their craft? Obviously, they report to their section editor or management, want to sell their product, and work within legal confines to avoid libel or slander. If they have a working relationship with a professional sports team, you'd think they'd want to preserve access to both management and players. Making dinner with last week's groceries isn't easier for writers than coaches.

On one hand, you have true 'homers', guys who carry water for everyone and everything in an organization. On the other, we have guys who, sources or not, frequently write in the spirit of the 'hatchet man'. Somewhere in the middle exist those who inform, entertain, and maintain balance, reporting good news and bad, providing perspective and rationality in an irrational world.

Pure shills are few and far between. Growing up on the East Coast, I've seen far more of the latter, where writers theme may be, "we eat our young". Ken Harrelson, broadcaster for the White Sox, seems like a good example of the penultimate homer. Should we have a problem with that, or does lacking objectivity violate some code? I can't imagine any broadcaster more intolerant of the opposition than the late Johnny Most of the Celtics. The gravel-voiced Most often waxed eloquent about C's players being 'mugged' by the opposition or referees abusing the locals.

In the pastoral middle live legends like Peter Gammons. Gammons' lengthy career and many contacts allow for content and context which flow naturally from his artistic energies. He can report limitations or trends of players and teams authoritatively without sounding mean-spirited or conspiratorial. He distributes praise without hyperbole.

And at the extreme for Boston fans are Ron Borges and Dan Shaughnessy. Borges' curare-like genuine distaste for the Patriots and Bill Belichick flies from his keyboard, as he takes every opportunity to question a franchise that has achieved greatness both off the field (now ranked second in franchise value by Forbes magazine at over 1 billion dollars) and on, with three Super Bowl victories in five seasons. Although one can never know motive, readers can only speculate Macchiavellian intent in Borges attacks. Borges simply and proudly functions as a pit bull. Shaughnessy presents a different approach - talented, aloof, lacking a better description, narcissistic. His columns often highlight players and management weakness, not from Shakespearean destiny or human frailty, but seem to say, "I am smarter than you are." Maybe if management or players were indeed smarter, then they would win every day or at least have some immunity from Shaughnessy's diatribes.

Frankly, I wonder why either players or management offer anything up to certain writers. I will omit the names, but know of one player (engaged in conversation with a fan) in an airport, whom a writer badgered for a story. The player asked the writer to wait until he had finished speaking with the fan. The player then awoke to find personal attacks about his character by the writer. Very professional, right?

When is a story 'off limits' or just 'bad taste'? The Margo Adams/Wade Boggs set to from the 80's certainly generated some interest, but in the world of sports philandering doesn't strike me as 'man bites dog' material. For the most part, celebrities sexual foibles remain taboo, until the players go far over the line or seek exposure (Dick Williams)? Far more players are likely challenging the records of Wilt Chamberlain off the court than on it.

Performance enhancing drug use captures only one element of athletic substance use. Drug testing programs identify habitual offenders (e.g. Steve Howe) but many name players have lived under clouds of suspicion (Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield) more than suffered any real physical or financial consequences of suspected or real cheating. If 5-10 percent of the general population are alcoholics, why should professional athletes, with means and opportunity be less representative or accountable?

If you're the beat writer for the Punxatawnee Post, and you find, Johnny Superstar face down in the gutter at two A.M. and take him back to the hotel, can you write about his drunken exploits when he gets an ofer the next day? If you catch Johnny hitting on every woman in town while being praised as 'a great family guy', do you bite your tongue? If you know thirty-something Johnny got caught in a woman's dormroom, do you destroy his legend?

Sports media, like the clergy, doctors, and lawyers surely maintain an element of confidentiality to protect the guilty. I understand that and endorse it. What puzzles me is why they often feel compelled to 'back up over a skunk'. Sports fans can connect the dots. Can sports media?

Friday, September 01, 2006


I could probably write this column full time concerning sports medicine and internal medicine problems facing the Red Sox. But all I wish for the players, especially Jon Lester is recovery, regardless of the ability to play baseball again. All baseball fans wish Lester, who was diagnosed with lymph node cancer (lymphoma), the best possible recovery.

The news about Lester overshadows the improving health of Varitek, Nixon, and Gonzalez, all of whom were projected to have rehab assignments at Pawtucket. Varitek homered tonight for the Pawsox while Nixon drew the collar. Last I checked, Craig Hansen pitched a pair of scoreless innings.

What I really wanted to discuss was the 'Get Out of Jail Free' card given Terry Francona this year. Francona is an affable, sensitive, and media savvy modern skipper who has skillfully avoided confrontation with players and management during a most difficult season. Yes, he does have a core of professionals like Ortiz, Varitek, Lowell, Loretta, and Kapler, but every manager lives with mercurial or worse players, too. Living in close quarters for over half the year isn't easy, especially with the frustrations the Sox have had this season.

Francona hasn't whined about his situation, remains available to the media at least publicly as though the season progressed favorably, and doesn't seem ready for an asylum. Maybe he truly understands 1) "there's no crying in baseball", and 2) he could be in a lot worse situations.

As noted tonight, he has proven adaptable, trying to play small ball (sacrifice, steal, hit-and-run) without the big boppers. As much as the numbskulls complain about his pitching staff management, he can only run out there the guys that he has. The second half collapse of both starters and the middle of the relief corps haven't given him many alternatives.

I hope that he holds up, both physically and mentally under the stress. Good things can happen at the intersection of danger and opportunity. But plenty of accidents happen at intersections; Francona deserves better.