Monday, December 24, 2012

State of the Nation

Red Sox fans have become something akin to those brainwashed to hear the rants of their favorite political party.  And one has to ask whether the Red Sox media coverage has become equally culpable.

The Sox have made a lot of moves this offseason. But as John Wooden reminded us, "never confuse activity with achievement."

The cornerstone move of the offseason was coming to an agreement with Mike Napoli. Napoli (when healthy) has been a productive player, received selection to one All-Star team, and among his 'similarity scores' has the immortal Duke Sims. All that being said, he's in medical limbo, as both parties work out contract terms after a hip issue appeared during his physical. In other words, the Sox "big" move is as yet not signed, sealed, and delivered.

Beginning 'up the middle' the Sox have a platoon catching situation with hopes pinned on the apotheosis of David Ross. Sox scribes have been pumping Ross' tires hard...Kelly Shoppach is one of the similar players to David Ross.

Sox fans have no gripes with perennial grinder Dustin Pedroia, who will have his annual replacement shortstop in Steven Drew.  We can only hope that the Drew move works out anywhere close to as well as the Adrian Beltre contract year in Boston.

The Sox will have Jacoby Ellsbury in centerfield. Who is the 'real' Jacoby Ellsbury? Is he the MVP runnerup of 2011, or some incarnation of perennially-injured Tim Naehring?  If Ellsbury can play anyway near as well as he thinks he is, then the Sox will have a world beater. Let's hope so.

Is the Sox' rotation good enough to compete in a division with the Yankees far superior rotation, Toronto's rebuild, and the ever-changing Rays?  The projected starters of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, and Felix Doubront.  Peter Gammons used to tell of Lester's burning desire to be great.  Is that Lester the same guy?  Buchholz appeared to separate from the problem duo of Josh Beckett and Lackey. Dempster is a .500 pitcher who has struggled in the AL (never mind the AL East), Lackey comes off injury, and Doubront had a 2012 that he can build off.  But it looks like a rotation with at best a pair of 'twos', and three 'fours'. No offense, but Lester and Buchholz don't remind me of Koufax and Drysdale.

The Sox have promise at third with Will Middlebrooks, an expected platoon of Gomes and Kalish in left, and an overpaid Shane Victorino in right. The 'Glory Days' saw Rice, Lynn, and Evans in the outfield with a cameo from Yaz in left. . Gomes, Ellsbury, and Victorino are decaf to that trio.

The Sox are relying on statistical overachievement to allow them to compete. Sure, that might happen, but I wonder whether season ticket-holders are buying that.  The Baseball Operations guys have all the tools like Win Shares and Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to guide them, but I wonder if they have more faith or more hope.

If somebody asked you who had the highest WAR among Red Sox pitchers in 2012, you'd have to be Nostradamus to know. For those who didn't click through, the answer was Junichi Tazawa and Scott Atchison with 1.7.

The old saying goes "money can't play."  Sox fans are expected to pony up among the highest dollars per game.  Red Sox management can't claim that you get what you pay for.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dumpster Diving

(BOSTON) Boston Red Sox representatives continue to meet with the negotiating team of Texas Rangers California Angels free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton.

WAIT! Did the Sox get the message, or is this the continuing disinformation spin coming from Yawkey Way?

The Sox, never to be outdone (or outspun) have concocted a Herman Cain-esque 13-13-13 plan, as if they don't have enough bad luck going to disparage triskaidekaphobia (spelling bee losahs groan here). The locals have negotiated with Ryan Dempster career 4.33 ERA with AL ERA over 5 last year, Shane "Better Days" Victorino, and Mike (My Aching Back) Napoli to low-term, high pay deals, although Napoli's is still pending. Google "career .500 pitcher", and there's a great chance Dempster is your poster child.

But is this off-season charade about reloading or posturing, as the posers hope for lightning in a bottle while drunk-dialing agents (fried chicken and beer being the near official foods of the Boston Red Sox) addicted to the number 13?

I'll acknowledge that I KNOW NOTHING. After all, I snickered when uber-agent Scott Boras suggested Jacoby "Mirror, Mirror" Ellsbury could get twenty million dollars a year. And I don't think that he meant TEN adjusted for playing half a season.

In a market that overpays mediocrity with astonishing regularity, anything is possible. Anibal Sanchez has a sub .500 career record, and just scored EIGHTY million dollars from the Detroit Tigers for five years. Clearly, when the numbers got over THIRTEEN, the Sox folded like an accordion. And by the way, Sanchez's next win will bring his career totals to 49.

By comparison, Ray Culp won 122 career games, Spaceman Bill Lee 119, and Reggie Cleveland 105. At age 28, Lee "fleeced" the Red Sox for 80,000 dollars as a pitcher who won 17 games and had a WAR of 2.1. Is Anibal Sanchez materially better than any of the aforementioned trio, or has Reefer Madness descended upon all of us in age of changing drug policy?

I won't pretend that I will forswear baseball in 2013, waiting for the anointed Killer B's of Barnes, Bogaerts, Bradley, and Brentz. But I remember waiting for Kevin Romine, Chuck Rainey, Win Remmerswaal, and Brian Rose. Maybe we'll someday see the Sox kiddie corps in a Major League all-star game or if unexpected longevity occurs for us, Cooperstown. But I'm not holding my breath.

As currently constituted, are the Sox any more than breakeven favorites to outpace the Orioles for fourth in the AL East behind Toronto, New York, and Tampa? Have the Red Sox led by Larry Lucchino and erstwhile surrogate Ben Cherington sucker-punched us all? It sure feels like it to me. If I want "Character Approved" I'll watch USA Network.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Chicken or the Egg

The Red Sox continue to cobble together a roster.  Only time will tell to what extent it works.  First, the record last year speaks for itself.  The team played poorly, trailing early and often and seldom showed any heart.

The easiest approach is to blame the manager (V who must never be named), and nobody would credit him with anything except survival. But the word on the street described  a team lacking discipline, clubhouse disorder, a few disciples of Bacchus, and divas whose performance never came within shouting distance of underperformance. Look, we outsiders can't name names, and local scribes can't realistically do their jobs if they call out players. Some will argue that a bad team reveals bad men. Others note that the lack of character produces bad results. You be the judge.

Additionally, too many players lacked 'respect' for the manager, and in fact, we hear that players (specifically pitchers) feared new manager John Farrell, and that the position players had no problem with that.

I don't think that the Red Sox are done.  Leo Durocher is remembered for "nice guys finish last," and we remember Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin scrapping in the dugout. But whatever their problems, the Yankees played hard...and well...and last year the Red Sox did little of either.

Other factors are 'at work', too. I get it. A player who gets ten million dollars a year doesn't have to care what anybody - fans, teammates, manager, writers, or especially bloggers think. But they call it "professional baseball" both because of the talent level and the demand, the grind of the long season that is quantitatively different than many other sports. Players who don't commit to the highest level of conditioning, to embracing sports psychology, nutrition, getting adequate rest, and improving their game (bat speed, arm strength, reducing defensive miscues and errors) are cheating the game, and disrespecting themselves.

You can create an environment for success, but you can't force players to care.  Last year's roster became the definition of FRAGILE, falling apart when subjected to stress and volatility. Few players, such as Cody Ross and Dustin Pedroia, emerged with reputations intact or enhanced. Replacing dysfunctional characters with character is a start, but only a beginning.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Cynical World

I haven't written anything about the Red Sox lately. That's probably certainly not much of a drag on society.

First, we mourn the passage of Marvin Miller, who literally made today possible. By limiting the available supply of free agents via the '6- year rule', Miller and the MLBPA produced a supply-demand imbalance for free agents, leading to exponential baseball salaries. Can you blame players for being overpaid, or simply recognize the fruition of Richard Thaler's "The Winner's Curse?"

But the baseball Winter Meetings have come, and the Red Sox unleashed a flurry of 'activity', reminding me about John Wooden. As you know, the Wizard of Westwood said, "Never confuse activity with achievement."

After trying to rebuild the Sox of yore with right-handed power, albeit base-clogging, with Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli, they opened the vault to sign Shane Victorino today. shows us who Shane Victorino is...or to whom he is likened.

These gentlemen are 'not exactly' Murderer's Row.

Of course, part of the problem is the money. Players are judged not on ability or production, but utility per dollar. Frankly, I'm skeptical that big money for Victorino gets you so much more than Ryan Kalish produces.

Yes, the secondary argument goes that Victorino replaces Jacoby Ellsbury when he leaves for greener gra$$. And the way the Sox are throwing around money for mediocrity, maybe Scott Boras is right, and Ellsbury will get 4 by 15 million or more.

Here's a possible Sox lineup:

CF: Ellsbury
2B: Pedroia
3B: Middlebrooks
1B: Napoli
LF: Gomes
RF: Victorino
C: Ross/Saltalamacchia/Lavarnway
SS: Iglesias/Ciriaco/Escobar(?)

Some of you may have read (or are reading) Nassim Taleb's new book, "Antifragile", in which he explores that which can suffer or prosper from volatility or stress. I fondly recall that Mark Belanger, a career .228 hitter, hit .287 in 1969 for the Orioles. In other words, players can have production at considerable variation to their average.

Restated, several Sox players could produce at higher than expected norms, and produce a competitive season. Of course, we are also left with Damon Runyan's caveat that "the race is not always to the swiftest or the battle to the strongest, but it pays to bet that way."

And therefore, the Sox have plugged the holes in the Fenway dam. But relying on statistical anomalies, rather than better talent strikes me as fradulent. But maybe as Jerry Maguire would say, because "we live in a cynical world."

And, oh yes, we haven't discussed the broken pitching staff. Maybe another day.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Beating a Dead Horse

It's hard to know where to continue, because 2012 has been such an inglorious disappointment.

More than anything else, players, for the most part haven't stepped up and accepted responsibility for exactly how terrible they've performed.

Yes, a few players have performed above the call, David Ortiz when healthy, Cody Ross, and the unlikeliest trio, Pedro Ciriaco, Scott Posednik, and Junichi Tazawa.

What exactly do fans want? My list isn't expansive:

  • Thankfulness. Players play a child's game for ridiculous money and receive the adulation of young and old alike. Appreciate the game.
  • Passion. Play hard and have fun. Do the right thing at the right time, and stop with the knucklehead baserunning. 
  • Humility. Yes, we understand that many are called and few are chosen. 
  • Servanthood. Players don't get much time off during the season. I remember going through medical training in the Navy working 185 days in a row.  There was no 'off day' dealing with people's lives, and yes, the people who suffer the most are the families when people work hard. But many people struggle with two or three jobs to make ends meet. 
  • Unity. The Sox once had the reputation of '25 players, 25 cabs.' We're past that. It's '25 players, 25 limos'. Come on, give the fans a break. 
Is asking for professionalism so much? Maybe it is.  And players (and the Red Sox) do give back, and we don't see that. But it comes with the responsibility of being a Red Sox. If you don't want it, then better to play in obscurity somewhere else.  

Meanwhile back in reality, Scott Boras, master salesman, proclaims Jacoby Ellsbury a 'franchise player'. He sure was last season. This year's guy has been for about a week. I'm not mad at Boras, that's his job to promote his players...or Ellsbury, who's struggled with injuries and after a hot streak has a .700 OPS. Who's among his top similarity score? Lyman Bostock. I guess I missed him on that trip to Cooperstown. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wheel of Misfortune

Local baseball fans have a long and passionate relationship with our baseball team. After wandering in the baseball desert for eighty-six years, the Red Sox delivered a pair of World Championships using pluck, pitching, and "Moneyball".

Somewhere, amidst ballpark restructuring, expanding the Fenway sports empire to include NASCAR and soccer, signing overvalued players to enormous contracts, and the death of player accountability, Red Sox Nation became a house divided. 

Even players like the redoubtable Dustin Pedroia chirped "that's not the way we do things around here." 

Well, in Parcellian fashion, "you are what you are." Post All-Star break the Red Sox are 17-23, eleventh in the AL, eight games behind Seattle during that time, and the Red Sox are closer to last place than the Wild Card. OPS, the Holy Grail of "Moneyball" has dropped to .733 during that time, the province of Minnesota and Kansas City. 

With concerts, Soccer at Fenway, Picnic in the Park, as well as other value-added events for the Red Sox Foundation, management seems to have taken its collective eyes off the ball and affixed them to the almighty dollar. Vanna White has become the centerpiece of the organization. 

Now, challenging the old adage "you can't replace the whole team, you replace the manager," they're embarking on doing that, exiling Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford and much of its debt obligation to SoCal for a raft of prospects. Whether Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury get their marching orders remains to be seen. 

Hard to know whether the team improves, but the enterprise value rose. 

Some of the players argue, it's become about a soap opera, not about baseball. We could talk abominable baserunning, mediocre defense (a.k.a. defensive miscues and errors in Fielding Bible parlance), lack of offensive patience, absence of clutch hitting, and so forth, but obviously prefer to talk chicken and beer. 

Fortunately, school starts soon and we can watch athletes who, win or lose, actually care. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pomp and Circumstance

Come in from that ledge. "It's only a game. Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. The Sawx just won a championship in 2007." And so on.

Ten years in the Navy taught me the value of pomp and circumstance. There's the initial excitement of commissioning on the U.S.S. Constitution. The military has bands to play at graduations and retirement ceremonies, and multiple orders of important functions.

The Red Sox have adopted the same posture, raising it to an art form. Forget about Opening Day or championship rings, or Jason Varitek or Tim Wakefield day. The locals have Frozen Fenway, Futures at Fenway, concerts, Picnic in the Park and valuable charitable work like Run to Home Base and more and more.

Unfortunately, what got left behind, amidst the applause and the endless events is a miserable baseball team. The team quit on their "beloved" manager last September and part of the exorcism ultimately included the exile of Kevin Youkilis to Chicago. Nobody could foresee that his understudy, promising Will Middlebrooks had less proclivity to withstand hit by pitches than his mentor.

Erstwhile MVP Jacoby Ellsbury missed the lion's share of the season, and returned disguised as Rick Miller. Twenty million dollar player? Inflation may be upon us, but not that much. Prize acquisition Carl Crawford's played better, but not quite at the Tampa Bay Ray level yet. Another telephone number salary, Adrian Gonzalez has come on, after returning to the comfort of first base.

But the starting rotation, the Gem of Commotion, has fallen apart. Quality starts come from alleged aces Lester and Beckett about as often as full moons. Denying the obvious only excuses management for their inaction. Clay Buchholz returned to form after divorcing the Chicken and Beer club and after that the most valuable starters have been reality show guests Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales.

Fans are seeking some accountability. GM Ben Cherington says all the right things about his hardworking players, but it feels like more handwringing than anything else. Viscount Larry Lucchino, the Puppet Master comes out as often as Punxatawnee Phil. Do the Sox have another six weeks of season left?

But above all else, this Shakespearean tragedy belong to the stars, the answer to the question being playing better not getting better players.

John Wooden had a saying, "don't whine, don't complain, and don't make excuses." The Red Sox never heard of that.

The Red Sox used to be champions, but how hath the mighty fallen, such that the Jays, Rays, and Orioles, unassuming animals in the wild, regularly kick Red Sox butt.

The Nation needs a shakeup, but firing Bobby Valentine, more than anything else , capitulates to the players and diminishes their responsibility. But after all, most have an invisible Assante Samuel "get paid". They got theirs and the rest of us get caught holding the bag. Maybe management will throw a party to celebrate the season. More pomp, whatever the circumstance.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sox Unhappy, According to Olney. Shockah!

According to Buster Olney of, the Red Sox clubhouse is an unhappy place. Can we hazard a guess why?

First, baseball players work off the 'individual achievement' approach, if you recall Al Capone in "The Untouchables". They get paid via individual performance, not collective performance. You must not only perform well, but often and well to put up numbers. Who could possibly count the players who MIGHT be unhappy?

Also, no matter how you slice it, the Sox are a last place team in the Division. Last. Bottom. Fifth. The fans get soaked, the players and owners get rich, and we have to listen to excuses.

C - Shoppach. Has done well enough in limited appearances and surely wants more time. Saltalamacchia has beaten him out, after starting in the pole position.

1B - Adrian Gonzalez can't be HAPPY about playing right, and it must be affecting his hitting. See YOUKILIS.

2B - Dustin Pedroia is playing hurt and may not be as comfortable with Bobby Valentine as Best Pal Terry Francona. Maybe Francona would be around if everybody else played as hard as Pedroia.

SS - Does Mike Aviles feel unloved? Hard to know, but as his OPS slowly sinks into the west, you see why he's a backup.

3B - A real problem area. Youkilis, the incumbent, has failed to produce because of age, injury, a combination, bad luck, pressure over trade rumors, contract year, sunspots or whatever. Youkilis is long rumored to be a crankapotamus, and oh, yeah, his replacement has outplayed him.

3Ba. Can Middlebrooks be happy as the part-timer, understanding that Youk is showcased to be moved? Doubtful.

LF - Daniel Nava should be turning handstands, if his hand allowed.

CF - Ellsbury is hurt. Can you be unhappy and hurt? Sweeney is hurt now. Ditto. Last time I checked he didn't remind me of Tony Oliva. Cody Ross is hurt. Maybe he needs to be back to give some attitude adjustment.

RF - How unhappy can Darnell McDonald be? See Tony Oliva.

DH - Big Papi, putting up big numbers, as in Top 5 MVP vote numbers. Contract anxiety, already?

Nowhere land. John Lackey, now there's a positive influence, by report.

Josh Beckett - also hurt. Another guy in the Prima Donna Band.

Jon Lester - according to Peter Gammons, in the past, Lester had a passion for greatness. Maybe he's just frustrated at HIS inconsistency.

Clay Buchholz - has pitched his best recently.

Daniel Bard - who cares what guys at Pawtucket think? Bard pitched inconsistently and a performance worth of Steve Blass sent him to the minors. My sources say Bard is a good guy. Okay, act like it.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - how many guys can he even talk to?

Bullpen - after a shaky start, they've done the job for the most part. Doubtful the biggest problem.

Maybe a few rotten apples spoil the barrel. Psych consult? Group therapy? How about some tough love from the ownership? With guys fighting in Afghanistan, with the economy still struggling, with fifty million people without health insurance, maybe guys should be thankful for what they have. If the guys with the biggest contracts want out, are THEY going to eat the money?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Trading not Trending Commodity

Is the glass half full or half empty? After a dysfunctional start and injuries to key players, should fans be relieved or disenchanted with a last place team?

Guys like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Will Middlebrooks, and Daniel Nava have overachieved. But with OPS .612 (Marlon Byrd) and .732 (Ryan Sweeney, no homers) the outfield looks more like Amateur Hour than Dancing with the Stars.

The Sox erstwhile ace, Jon Lester hasn't found a groove and seems moody and disaffected. Conversely, Josh Beckett has stepped it up with an ERA less than 2.25 during his last five starts.

Yes, there are sources of irritation. The Bobby Valentine circus sideshow has died down, probably more because of his bullpen management than anything else. And the cheerleading from NESN and the 100 Years of Fenway mantra doesn't compensate for the on-field mediocrity.

The Sox collective defense may not be making so many 'errors', but it feels like a steady stream of defensive miscues constantly stresses the pitching staff and the lying eyes.

Like the economy, the Red Sox seem to be muddling along, decelerating just when they need to dial it up. The Daniel Bard experiment has flown like a lead balloon. Bard's demotion to Pawtucket feels more like relief than surprise.

The hope for reinforcements in the form of Ellsbury, Crawford, Bailey, and Matsuzaka gives Sox critics (like me) pause. But for an ownership built on the commodity trade, the Sox are basing not trending up, and they're a hold not a buy right now.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Quarter Pounded: WYSIATI

I don't have time for any exhaustive review of the first quarter of the season. But if you want answers, simple and painful, they can be distilled into two charts. You must click to see the full charts.

The first examines Red Sox starting pitching. Forget about no Daisuke or Lackey and focus on what is here. First, the Sox are next to last in ERA. They have allowed almost a run more than the league average. Granted the defense is worse than advertised. But look at the best predictor of future ERA, K/BB ratio. With the league average at over 2, the Red Sox are about 1.66 to 1. This also implies that Toronto is living on borrowed time with their staff.

Within the team, you can see where the problems have been, specifically Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz. Both BARELY exceed parity (1:1) on K/BB. It's easy to understand the K/BB ratio as a ratio examining power and command. So as much as the apologistas want to blame injuries to Ellsbury, Crawford, and Youkilis for the Sox mediocrity, that's not fair. The bullpen has really stepped up, but the front of the staff has underachieved...and the Sox internal best predictor (K/BB) speaks volumes.

WYSIATI. What you see is all there is. So if you want to hate on Bobby Valentine, fine. But he doesn't pitch.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Men in Black

They call it 'professional baseball', the major leagues, 'the show'. Unfortunately, our lying eyes tell us that, despite efforts to standardize umpiring, MLB is falling short.

In the video above, you see Brett Lawrie "lose it", en route to EARNING a four game suspension. The umpire, Bill Miller, has received neither sanction nor public reprimand for his role. Clearly, Lawrie overreacted, but Miller gives the appearance of injecting himself into the action, quite probably retaliating against the volatile Blue Jays third baseman.

MLB, while celebrating the human element (making bad calls is evidently integral in baseball), has introduced boundary call replays, precisely because umpires (like all of us), make mistakes and fans (aided by replays) demand a higher standard.

Every MLB stadium has a tool, Pitch FX, designed to analyze pitch location, speed, type, and more, but becomes a tool to study both player and umpire performance. Not surprisingly, the performance varies...but it does allow objective umpire performance assessment.

Here's the multiyear card for Joe West, not the highest regarded umpire by many. You can see his accuracy rate (hits and misses).

Miller's card looks better, although there's no comparative statistical analysis.
But if you have the ability (generally) to make the right call, why not swallow your pride, act like a professional, and do your job?

My sense, watching games, is that the umpiring consistency on balls and strikes has gotten worse. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Put the Blame Where It Belongs

Here's the problem, Sox fans. We care too much. Walking around time in your Fenway tees and Red Sox caps, we're billboards for sorry obsession.

Sure, you love baseball in the fashion of Bart Giamatti and Bob Costas, the smell of green grass and money in the air.

Maybe you should pause to reflect upon what Giamatti actually said, “[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.” 

In other words, what we're feeling is normal.

Really, why should we care, when the feeling isn't mutual or at least universal. Sure, players bask in the reflected glory and wonderful compensation a child's game affords them. Why not? But, they have other concerns too, families missing them on road trips, finding the right investment manager, how to lever up endorsements, and of course, their golf handicap. As Ned Martin would have said, "mercy".

Players do have lives off the field. And many do good work for the Red Sox Foundation, and promote goodwill visiting sick children, raising money for charities, and so on. That really matters, and we shouldn't forget it.

But we have that nagging concern about what happens between the lines. Sure, the Sox are on a roll, keelhauling the mighty Tribe and the Mariners en route to a four game win streak. Will the real Red Sox please stand up? Are they the hapless bunch that gets punched out by the A's and the Orioles or the world beaters pummeling other also-rans?

Have the New Look Sox, led by the farmhands Will Middlebrooks and Daniel Nava turned the corner, or was this just "mean reversion" in the Weaverian sense "you're never as good as you look when you win or as bad as you look when you lose".

Maybe, it's not so simple after all. Complexity reigns in a complex world. We 'judge' players on a heuristic pair, "what have you done for me lately" and "how much do they pay you for what you do?" Consider the case of Carl Crawford. He's drawn a king's ransom, underachieved last year and got hurt this year. The performance per dollar and recent history both offend our sensibilities. Rhetoerically, should Crawford care what we think? Maybe we'd all be better off if he doesn't.

Conversely, a guy like Alfredo Aceves, gets an unfamiliar role, doesn't publicly complain, and aside from some early adjustment, has produced at a 'serviceable level, both recently and per dollar. Doesn't that make you feel better? You think that the Philly fans feel good about Jordany Valdespin taking Jonathan Papelbon yard last week?

Shakespeare summed it up, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

And so it goes. Don't blame the stars, blame yourself, for caring too much. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Culture Club

As fans we are outsiders. The saying goes, "what you see here and what you hear here, stays here." That is, baseball players must respect the sanctity of the clubhouse.
Of course, sometimes we get the tiniest glimpse of what happens there. Chicken and beer isn't as important as the will to prepare, leading to success on the field. Preparation might be mental or physical, watching film or lifting weights, spending ten minutes a day on sports psychology.  One Red Sox employee told me, the all-too-common attitude migrates from "whatever it takes" to "I've got mine." And that doesn't translate to winning baseball.

New players on the Patriots talk about doing whatever it takes to contribute to winning, to working toward a common goal, to get to the Super Bowl. Is that what we SEE with Ye Olde Towne Team?

Currently, the Red Sox have one of the worst records in baseball. WYSIATI. What you see is all there is? Fans want players who care as much as they do. If I were Ben Cherington, I would call every player on the forty man roster in, and get a read on what is important to them. If your first priority isn't doing everything possible to create team success, then I'd offer each player the option (behind the scenes) of another baseball destination.

The organization used to talk about The Red Sox Way. Frankly, that has become a joke with a continual stream of bad baseball, with bad execution (defensive mistakes and errors, balks and fat pitches) , a litany of excuses, self-centered behavior and attitudes. Fans don't tar every player with the same brush, and recognize the role of injury and special circumstances (e.g. playing out of position, reserves asked to play daily). The manager has to tread lightly among big egos, some of whom are living off declining reputations.

But what fans find unacceptable is the perception that neither management nor many of the players care about more than taking their money. As long as the corporation keeps generating cash flow and puts fannies in the seats and Red Sox gear flies off the shelves, it's all good. Any concept of 'quality control' and accountability just goes out the window. The new motto, "Every Game Matters" has become the big lie.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Run Prevention Not an Issue?

It's hard not to comment about the mediocre defense the Red Sox are running out there lately. Even worse, the announcers either have been instructed to downplay it or simply choose to.

First, nobody chooses to fail. I remember the Steve Lyons mantra about earning the right to fail. But over the weekend, Saltalamacchia's defense led to Aaron Cook's injury via the passed ball, and Salty dropped popups on consecutive days. After all, this is the Big Leagues.

Tonight, Marlon Byrd misplayed a long fly to the track into two runs, and Will Middlebrooks turned a routine grounder into a three-base error (no way was it a single). At least Middlebrooks hits the ball.

Yes, the errors are worse than the whistling past the graveyard approach to announcing. But when the Royals leftfielder misplayed Shoppach's fly ball into a triple, Eck was all over it. "He's gotta catch that ball".

It wasn't that long ago that "run prevention" was to become the Sox watchword. They'd run down balls in the gaps, turn the double play, and keep runners from taking the extra base.

Now, we've been routinely treated to what is called in the vernacular "bad baseball".  Maybe the attitude is that "it's a marathon, not a sprint." But you gotta start running sometime, even in a marathon.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

No Win Situation

I can't focus on solutions today. The problems are overwhelming. Hope and pageantry have morphed into predation, with the Sox as prey.

The Red Sox announcers regularly tell us about the Red Sox fielding percentage and how they're at the top of the league. Anyone who watches the games recently sees:

1) We see mediocre but not average outfield defense (even routine plays look hard), weak throwing arms, and very few 'good' plays. Ask Daniel Bard.

2) Concern about the catching situation. Not only did Saltalamacchia struggle catching Aaron Cook, he contributed to Cook's injury, and missed a popup. We keep hearing about Lavarnway's limitations...and we keep seeing the Red Sox battery running low.

3) The day-to-day lineup, courtesy of injury, gets exposed. Role and platoon players forced into starting positions has gotten ugly. The Orioles look like the 1966 Orioles on the mound. Are they that good or are the Sox simply making them look good? With Ortiz and Aviles cooling off, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez are going to have to hit like crazy.

4) The starting pitching, led by the trio of 'stars', hasn't lived up to reputation. Reputation is what people say you are; performance is what you do. I guess we're left to define stars by the number of zeroes on the contract. "Hit 'em with your wallet."

5) Blame the manager? The team continues to play mediocre, uninspired baseball. I won't say that they're going through the motions, but they're horrible to watch.  If Bobby Valentine lambasted them, then he'd be blamed for being unsupportive. If he coddles them, he's an enabler. He's in a no-win situation now.

If you're watching rookies, at least you can cheer for hungry guys trying to make it big. That's not what we're seeing...and the announcers make it worse, with the Costasesque injections about the grandness of Fenway. Let's make something clear. Fans pay to see the game not the stadium.

The situation has simply become Kafkaesque...and it's hard to see the misery lifting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Ghost of Accountability

Describing the Boston Red Sox as a franchise with the Death of Accountability misrepresents reality. The players have collectively never owned accountability. In 1967 and 1975, the Sox got beaten by better teams, those with Bob Gibson and Lou Brock and the Big Red Machine. Let's forget about late-season baserunning in 1972. In 1986, it's hard not to represent defeat as the ugliest word in sports, choking. 2003 had a unique form of torture, and since then it's been Shangri-La, even when it isn't.

Collective failure always belongs to ownership, the general manager, or the manager. Terry Francona wasn't the first to take the fall. Does anyone remember Grady Little?

It's never the players who are responsible for their play or their behavior. They're our guys, in psychology, cloaked in endowment effect...the coffee cup that you would sell at a yard sale for two dollars is only worth a dollar if you had to buy it. It's our cup, and dammit, it's special.

That doesn't mean that individual accountability never existed. Hall of Famer Jim Rice, described as surly by many media types, worked hard to become a more than adequate defender, and took responsibility for the bad days in defeat.

But for the most part, players live by the "easier to ask forgiveness than permission" philosophy. Perhaps our society based on the individual breeds contempt for the greater good. We don't like homelessness or poverty, but we don't want higher taxes. We're not really accountable. We love beer and chicken in the clubhouse...but the new NESN Sox slogan is EVERY GAME MATTERS, not EAT MORE CHICKEN.

The latest frontal assault on our fanatic sensibilities is the "empty pockets" theory of baseball. Although the Red Sox have emptied the fans' pockets, they have no dollars for the bullpen because a third of the payroll is on the DL. And because certain players want foremost to 'get paid', they all but refuse to go to the pen, where payrolls top out below the glamour and greenbacks of the fifth starter.

Heck, you win twelve games in the majors and you're J. Paul Getty. A career record of 113-105 earns the Bronson Arroyos of the world average salaries of far over 10 million dollars (read the fine print). That's not a knock on Boston's favorite pitcher guitarist, that's the going rate.

Players talk about knowing their role. At the plate, you're up there to produce, sometimes with Doctor Longball, and other times moving the runner over. If you're on 'the bump', you get guys out, whether you're in the front, middle, or back end.

But in 2012 it's more about you than about the team. I'm sympathetic to a player's preferences, but you play for the team, not the other way around. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton closed, "You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."  We can't have the death of accountability here, because it's been dead so long we're seeing the ghost of accountability. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

The 9 Steps

Let's face it...we must fight the addiction. Why show undiminished love to an organization that treats us as though we're Cinderella and they're the evil sisters? We need our own 'program' to help us break free from this enabling.

Here are our nine steps toward intellectual freedom.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over being a fan, that our compulsion needed to be beaten. We had begun with Boston caps, and moved on to jackets, to Jimmy Fallon, only worse. 
  2. Came to believe that NESN would only lead us to self-destruction. 
  3. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of alternative life choices, playing with our children, walking, reading, and not listening to sports radio.
  4. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to the highest living Red Sox charismatic figure, Johnny Pesky, that we needed to change...channels.
  5. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortstop and fix our bullpen and lack of player accountability.
  6. Made a list of all the times we had been harmed, starting with Saturday's 15-9 defeat, and became willing to atone for them all.
  7. Continued to take personal inventory, and as we were wrong, promptly stopped watching baseball and wearing Red Sox gear, especially publicly.
  8. Sought through prayer and medication to improve our delirium, our fandom, our misery. We shall have no false dogs before us.
  9. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to Soxoholics, and to abide by these promises henceforth, Werner without end, Amen.
We need a statewide day of no Red Sox gear displayed...a start toward exorcising the demons.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


In the movie "Swordfish", John Travolta comments about the importance of misdirection. He couldn't be more right about the current state of affairs of the Boston Red Sox.

It seems misdirection comes from all sides, players with an entitlement mentality, absentee ownership, and a manager struggling to imprint his brand on a wayward ship.

Even the hero in our story, Dustin Pedroia, reduces himself saying "that's not the way we do things here." In fact, that's exactly how we got to this disturbing place, players dismissing the manager, and ownership bringing a 'task-oriented' manager instead of a 'relationship oriented' skipper.

We hear how players are concerned about 'snitches'. In other words, professionalism matters less than protecting each others' reputations.

Nobody likes to be criticized. And worse than criticism of performance, impugning one's attitude or "commitment" gets our attention.

The manager's job is to get the best performance out of the players. No doubt that a great "process" is required to get the best outcome. But a seven win September last season argues that the laissez-faire, 'boys will be boys' approach no longer worked.

The question (for a team with a bloated payroll and several seasons of underachievement) becomes what approach will work?

Reminding us that you won championships in 2004 and 2007, or that your career met certain standards in a certain timeframe begs the eternal baseball question, so nicely put by Janet Jackson "what have you done for me lately?"

One should be careful about making judgments based on small sample sizes. We can't know whether the Red Sox are more like the team that lost five or its first six or won three out of four from Tampa. Good baseball teams have bad streaks and mediocre ones have good ones. That caveat goes doubly for players. Kevin Youkilis was, over a three year period, one of the top offensive players in baseball. Over the past couple of seasons, injuries took their toll.

We can't, and shouldn't project a season's worth of production from a handful of games. On the other hand, those who watch the Sox regularly, wonder whether we should believe our hearts or our lying eyes.

Your job, should you decide to accept it, is to win baseball games. Whether you win that with Kumbaya or a Billy Martinesque dugout brawl, we don't really care. But presenting yourselves as a club of whiners, with hurt feelings (and an average salary of seven million dollars), that dog don't hunt.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Off the Schneid

The saying goes, "you win 60, you lose 60, and what you do in the other 40 matters."

Tonight, the ball bounced (literally) the right way as a Ryan Sweeney single to right scored @MacDime54 on a bad bounce to J.P. Arencibia.

No, I don't think the Sox are a powerhouse, but at least we'll put the total collapse theory to bed tonight.

Daniel Bard is a starter. Whatever happened to "I'll do whatever's best for the team?"  Evidently, in a league where the AVERAGE salary is almost 3.5 million dollars, the team doesn't matter?

Felix (the Cat) Doubront looked good, although with the relative failure of economical pitching with over 100 pitches in five innings. His curveball looks better than it used to be, and Toronto made him work.

As for the slogan for the 2012 season, what it won't be is "Eat More Chik'n"...

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sox Explore Options for Theo Compensation

(BOSTON) The Boston Red Sox continue to explore options in the compensation battle for departed General Manager Theo Epstein. In the wake of the Red Sox historic September collapse, Epstein bolted to the Windy City and the Red Sox received what many consider inadequate compensation. The primary chip in the deal was minor leaguer Chris Carpenter, who has recently undergone surgery in his throwing elbow.

General Manager Ben Cherington has tried to no avail to identify "fair compensation" in the extend and pretend fiasco that the Sox have undergone.

  1. Cherington sought permission to throw one pie in the face of Epstein, but could not get agreement regarding the flavor of the pie. In preliminary talks, Epstein also agreed that only Carpenter could throw the pie, right-handed of course. 
  2. Looking slightly blue, Cherington threatened to hold his breath for ever-increasing times. This made him look slightly foolish in comparison with the constant chatter from manager Bobby Valentine. 
  3. In response to the Sox constant requests for "Matt", the Cubs delivered a custom embroidered "Welcome to Fenway Park" mat for the Sox GM. Cherington was reportedly not amused.
  4. When asked about the delay in compensation, Epstein replied that the Cubs worked off the Mayan calendar.
  5. Epstein denied any culpability or feelings of guilt about the process. "After all, you're dealing with an organization run out of "wriggly". 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring Training Progress

The Sox have appeared on NESN several times and last night I watched a few innings via an MLB channel on cable, the YES Network feed. Paul O'Neill and Lou Piniella couldn't have been more complimentary to practically everyone who ever wore a Red Sox or Yankee uniform.

Of course, I can only watch a few innings of a Grapefruit League game at this point...with developing wandering interests, neck stiffness, and some blurred vision. You can't expect players to play nine immediately, and you can't demand that fans endure the ordeal that is the Red Sox and Yankees either.

It seems as though every hitter is taking an extra pitch, or fouling off some, such that four innings of Felix Doubront seems like a whole game's worth of Denny McLain. His pitch count had to be at least seventy-five, and it's not Japanese baseball so I'm not expecting any eight inning, 150 pitch outings.

So how did I watch the game anyway? First, I had to check the travel distance from Fort Myers to Tampa (a little over two hours) and wonder how many players were looking forward to that little excursion (and the long bus ride afterward). Then, I had to peruse the starting lineups to check which (minimum four) starters drew the short straw.

Then, watch some ball. Piniella and O'Neill didn't like the Sox infield on the move (adjusting to infield in) in the first inning of a Spring Training game. Bill Belichick would call it "situational baseball", getting players adjusted to a situation that could arise in a key moment of a ballgame. Is Bobby Valentine going to be moving infielders in the first inning of every game? Doubtful.

You can argue that it's Red Sox-Yankees, and there's something special every time these teams meet. Well, you can argue it, but on March 13th, you'd be wrong. Guys get in their work. The ones left behind for the intrasquad game thank their lucky stars, and maybe more of them should be thankful every day for getting the chance to play a game for a kings ransom.

I'm glad there's no game on today. Enough was enough yesterday, and I didn't have to ride the bus there...or back.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Let The Beatings Begin

The Red Sox entertain Boston College and Northeastern today. In a gathering which should provide a lifetime of memories for players, families, and friends, the Sox get out of the box quickly. If only they could have beaten up on the Orioles so easily at the end of 2011.

Speaking of beatings, we'll be getting an insufferable number of comparisons between Terry Francona and Bobby Valentine soon enough. How can the media extol the retiring Jason Varitek for his meritorious service marked by great preparation, and condemn (or even hint at) Valentine for excessive work on fundamentals?

"Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" might have been a popular book, but the players who don't give away an at-bat, who take the extra base, hit the cutoff man, play better positional defense, avoid collisions in the field, and hold runners on base might actually steal a game or more over the season.

The clubhouse 'scrubbing' takes time. And everyone knows, had the Sox won a couple more games last year, that the gradual erosion of order and discipline in "America's Most Beloved Ballpark" would never have come to light.

I discussed the situation with an unnamed Fenway Park employee recently, asking for his opinion. His answer? It's not hard to see that once many players get their set-for-life contracts, they don't care as much as they did previously. While that's human nature, I doubt many Sox fans feel that way about the team. Like Shakespeare, they may want more of the "lean and hungry look". 

How many times have you seen some baseball travesty (horrible bunting, running into outs, defensive miscues and errors, 0-2 fastballs down the middle) and said, "I'll never watch them again." And the next night, like some incorrigible heroin addict, you're back watching NESN. Admit it. You're hooked...incapable of  NOT watching a children's game that all-too-often becomes as watchable as cricket. Start getting your dose know you will.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Asbestos Pants

It hasn't taken Terry Francona long to enter the fray concerning the free-for-all that has been the Red Sox clubhouse. He has the opportunity to wear two hats, his ESPN Commentator hat, and the jilted manager cap.  Everyone recognizes that with more freedom (alcohol, curfew, miscellaneous rules) comes great responsibility. Invariably, if one asks adults to behave in a mature, considerate, responsible manner, we sometimes err. Of course, the old saying, "it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission also applies."

When we look historically at the adults called professional ballplayers, referencing timeless classics like Jim Bouton's "Ball Four", we know that baseball clubhouses involve not semantics, but some antics.

“Throw him low smoke and we'll go pound some Budweiser.”

As the new Skipper, you can't take the "boys will be boys" approach. Red Sox management made the traditional "managerial alternans" choice, of a 'task-oriented' leader from a 'relationship oriented' one. That happens because, while nice guys may not always finish last, narcissistic multimillionaire athletes tend to walk over, not around them.

Bobby Valentine has already mused that he may have to confront some residual anger. So, wearing my Sox jacket, contemplating my Beckett-autographed Wheaties box, I wonder whom he might be thinking about.

Terry Francona took some heat from Major League Baseball about its dress code, demanding that he be in full uniform under his outer attire. Cup check? Well, Bobby Valentine probably has to come to the park not with body armor yet, but at least with asbestos pants.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nothing Like a Cold Bier

Beergate simply won't die. I really hate the 'gate' suffix, but it fits here, because like it or not, it helped contribute to the perception that Terry Francona got the 'gate'.

I'm not very sympathetic to so-called professionals whose immaturity or lack of discipline got exposed, and who then cry foul. Once again, it's not the behavior that's the problem, it's revealing it.

I can't imagine that patrons would be happy to hear that their surgeon drank in the doctor's lounge during a 'case', even if it were unlikely that he'd get called into surgery. Rumors of pregame drinking (position player) still exist, although that player's no longer a member of Ye Olde Towne Team.

Baseball, like many other professions, is a 'bottom-line' business. You can eat, drink, or carouse your way out of a team. If you have a problem with alcohol, then you'd better perform at a high level when you're not drinking. Sometimes character issues make it unlikely that a player can ever come back to a team. There's no point in naming names, because many of you know the player often mentioned as returning to the Sox, who never makes it here.

Would we be better off had the Sox simply won a couple more games, made the playoffs, and had ignorance proven bliss? How many times have you watched some atrocity, be it Bucky Dent or some other walkoff play and said, "I'll never watch them again." Sure, that's like Steve Howe giving up drugs as a player. It could have happened.

Nobody expects ballplayers to be saints. That's not their job. But if a lack of conditioning, a lack of concentration, and a lack of caring for the welfare of their team because of excessive distractions compromises the bottom line, blaming the media or the fans really doesn't cut it.

Few people are blessed with the athleticism and ability of professional athletes. Many fans make sacrifices so they and their families can go to a ballgame, paying high prices to watch their heroes. They shower these athletes with adulation. Is it unfair to ask for 'best effort' in return?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sentiment and Hope

Tim Wakefield, author of two hundred career wins, the third highest win total of any Red Sox pitcher, and apparently a very good man, retires.  Other than dying, the best way to earn great praise is to retire.

Make no mistake, examining Wakefield's entire body of work, from his illustrious beginnings in 1995 for the Sox, to post-season contributions, and charity work, he has a great, supportable narrative. But the past two seasons, he became more of a liability than an asset, especially when the Sox ran him out there time after time (eight) in pursuit of victory two-hundred. One can argue that the horrendous start, the Wakefield 200 tour, and the September collapse all had roles. Similarly, let none of us forget the Jacksonian "what have you done for me lately" attitude that baseball fans live. I never felt that he was out there just picking up a paycheck.

Maybe that's harsh, in light of the 'good soldier' ethic that might have entitled Wakefield to a few private moments of selfishness for desiring individual milestones. Don't we want our athletes to seek greatness?

It's hard for athletes past their prime to walk away, especially when they know that on a given day, they can still compete at a high level. Watching Kevin Garnett hasn't become as painful as it must be for him to see his declining consistency. And Wakefield wouldn't have been looking for a payday anywhere near that of Garnett.

So, I'm happy for Wakefield, with a memorable career, an All-Star appearance, the former 'active' leader in career wins, and a handful of Cy Young votes in 1995. He should have a wonderful retirement with his beautiful family. If he desires to have an extended career in broadcasting or other baseball-related field, I'm all for it. But I am not sad to see him leave the playing field.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sox On Their Game?

It's never just about the Red Sox, because there's an equal concern about perception. This weekend, the New York Yankees went nuclear, acquiring Pineda and Kuroda to solidify their rotation.

The Red Sox have responded recently with the "ten dimes equals a dollar" approach,  going to the dime store for the Cook, Germano, Silva, and Padilla bargain basement rotation builder plan. The AL East must be selling tickets to the bat rack.

To be fair, the Sox had squandered spent a fortune on pitching including the Matsuzaka and Lackey deals, and are suffering the "once burned, twice shy" reaction, coupled with 'diversification'. You can't be spending all your dough on Ye Olde Towne Team when you've gotta support Liverpool, NASCAR, and whatever the next M&A play is.

It's not as though the fans are screaming for a new right fielder or shortstop. A lineup of Ellsbury, Crawford, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ortiz, Salty, Scutaro, and RF TBA will put up some numbers. But relying on bottom of the rotation mediocrity and reliever converts recalls the phrase from the "Lords of Finance", PRIVATE INTERESTS VERSUS PUBLIC RESPONSIBILITIES. Local fans view the franchise like a public utility. And the utility's high bills (ticket prices) and perceived CAPEX parsimony isn't sitting well with the Hot Stove gone cold.