Friday, March 30, 2007

Growing Up Red Sox

So often, we live through our comparisons, the present with the past, youth versus experience, man versus man. Tonight's NESN special on the 1967 Red Sox reminds me of the differences between the past and the present, objectively speaking.

As a youngster my heroes were Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Palmer. Yaz fought to overcome Ted Williams ultimate shadow, carving out his own niche en route to Cooperstown. Yaz had issues, too, being accused of not hustling out every groundball before Manny Ramirez was born. Palmer wasn't even on the Red Sox, but had a dazzling over the top fastball that could dominate both sides of the plate. While the Sox fizzled, the Orioles dazzled, winning the title in 1966.

Every game wasn't on television, and the radio was the broadcast medium of choice. You could play catch and catch the ballgame on the radio, or hear the broadcast at Good Harbor Beach, before parking cost 'an arm and a leg'.

Fenway had the Green Monster, forbidding, not inviting with Monster Seats. A bleacher ticket cost a buck, not twenty. The players had to work in the offseason, not workout. Nepotism ruled the organization, with Marc Sullivan making it to The Show courtesy of Haywood. Ultimately what kept the Sox in the second division wasn't necessarily all the talent, just the pitching.

Of course, some things didn't change. The Red Sox never ran that much, and Doctor Longball has always been a Fenway favorite. Before Rico Petrocelli's soft hands borne of drumsticks, the Sox had Don Buddin and Eddie Bressoud. Bill Monbouquette was the staff ace, and underappreciated Earl Wilson had his best seasons with the Tigers.

But enough of the past. What battles within the team do we have to look forward this year?

Dustin Pedroia versus Alex Cora. Everyone struggles at times, and how will Pedroia respond to the inevitable offensive and defensive slumps? Especially, when Terry Francona has the reliable Alex Cora to bring in for a relief role.

Coco Crisp versus Willie Mo Pena. Crisp gets a pass based on his several injuries last year.
In 276 at bats last year, Pena had 11 homers, 42 RBI and hit .301/.349/.489. Pena played well in centerfield after struggling in right. Crisp doesn't have to look over his shoulder at Jacoby Ellsbury when Pena is legitimate competition in center.

Curt Schilling versus Daisuke Matsuzaka. The most ingratiating part of Schilling's demeanor is his willingness to confront every issue on his terms. Schilling isn't afraid to speak his mind, with few exceptions. Conversely, Matsuzaka's inner thoughts can remain his, cloaked, should he choose in the Tower of Babel. If Matsuzaka performs as well as I expect him to, expect Schilling to bring his game to the highest level, both professionally and rhetorically.

Manny Ramirez versus the Press. With so many other stories to cover, Manny really becomes superfluous to the media horde. Never a media trollop, maybe Manny can toil in relative obscurity putting up .300/.400/.600 in anonymity.

Some elements of the Boston media thrive in the negativity, most notably Dan Shaughnessy. Despite an impressive body of work, ranging from his Auerbach biography Seeing Red to Curse of the Bambino, Shaughnessy seems compelled to try to insinuate himself into the story, rather than contentment with writing. Perhaps every writer longs to become more than the chronicler of history.

So we wait, perched on the threshold of another precipice, wondering whether a wondrous ride or avalanche awaits. Only two words can provide the answer. Play Ball!

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