Multi-Level Ridiculous

This could be a duplex, triplex, quadriplex or multiplex.

Or more.

If you haven’t seen it, I’m of course talking about this, um, hyperbolic (let’s be generous) assessment of the 2011 Red Sox—2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for Title of Greatest Team in Major League History.

The title is bad enough. It inspires thoughts of Don LaPre with his “Greatest Vitamin in the World”; of Kevin Trudeau and his mysterious “they” who are out to get you, persecute you and destroy your life; of Sean Hannity and his “the hair does look different” when buying into the Elian Gonzalez haircut/faux photograph conspiracy theories during that mess in the year 2000 after the Cuban boy was rightfully reunited with his father.

You could equate this with anyone from the left, right, center, commercial, financial, PR, tabloid or whatever.

Written by Eric Ortiz, a few things about him and his column become clear: contrary to popular notion, the fluctuating concept of intelligence implied by graduating from Stanford doesn’t automatically equal a deep baseball knowledge of history and reality; he has nearly no objectivity nor encompassing knowledge in what he’s talking about; and I’m getting the idea that NESN has a Michael Kay of their very own functioning in a world of make believe.

And that’s before getting into the actual content.

Enthusiasm is one thing. Derangement is another.

The 2011 Red Sox and the 1927 Yankees?

Really?

Ortiz is making this comparison in January?

Good grief.

Let’s do this and let’s do it in an organized fashion.

Hold on tight.

The off-season “champion” doesn’t matter much.

Going back years, we’ve seen teams that were the “champions” of the off-season start the year with outrageous expectations and flame out almost immediately, the holes they failed to fill too gaping to cover by headline-making acquisitions.

How many times did George Steinbrenner sign the big free agent (or three) and watch as his meddling and failure to adequately address the necessary ancillary pieces in building a club cause his team to underachieve? It happened on an annual basis in the 1980s and was even more pronounced directly following the 1996-2000 dynasty as the dismantling of the cohesive unit was exacerbated by the losing mercenaries he brought in.

The Mets, under both Steve Phillips and Omar Minaya, would draw attention to themselves by making drastic alterations only to have dysfunction and mismanagement sabotage them to the point of embarrassment.

It’s happened with stat zombie teams as well—the Mariners and Athletics in recent years.

And, guess what? It’s happened with the Red Sox. Picked to be a World Series winner last season because of the signings of John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro, the club stumbled with the new “defense-first” strategy early in the year and were derailed by injuries, poor performance by important pieces and two teams in their division that were healthier and better in the Yankees and Rays.

I love the decisions the Red Sox have made this winter; I think they’re the best team in the American League, but that makes little difference once the games start. The off-season champion is often standing on the outside looking in and wondering what went wrong with their master plan.

The 1927 Yankees? Did he do any research before coming to this conclusion?

Comparing eras—especially eras from nearly 100 years ago—is impossible and a colossal waste of time and energy. But looking at the differences between the 1927 Yankees and the Red Sox, along with the other clubs mentioned in the piece as examples of the “best” ever are helpful in detonating the foundation of Ortiz’s piece from the ground up.

The game was totally different then. There were only eight teams in the American League; the ball was dead; the crisis-a-day media wasn’t hovering waiting to post a blog, tweet or go bonkers on a radio show in dictating the decline and fall of the club after a 3-game losing streak; Babe Ruth, if he were playing today and behaved as he did then, would rival Kim Kardashian in the gossip pages; and expectations weren’t prefaced by a suggestion of such dubious magnitude that this is a team that will rival one of the best in history.

The 1927 Yankees had a Hall of Fame manager (Miller Huggins); and Hall of Famers at 1st base (Lou Gehrig); 2nd base (Tony Lazzeri); two HOF outfielders (Earl Combs and Ruth); and HOF pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock.

How many future Hall of Famers do these Red Sox have? Potentially, there’s Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester. Maybe. Dustin Pedroia? I suppose winning the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in his first two seasons give him a good start, but Fred Lynn won both in the same year with the Red Sox and became a very good journeyman player, not what he was expected to be after the start to his career.

The competition in 1927 wasn’t anywhere close to what it is today. The game was based on speed and inside baseball. When you look at those Yankees, led by Ruth (60 homers) and Gehrig (47 homers) and examine the league leaders from that season, you see that while that duo combined for 107 homers by themselves, the next highest total in the American League was Lazzeri with 18; after that, you had Ken Williams with 17; Al Simmons with 15; Harry Heilmann with 14.

Who could compete with that kind of power? Was there anyone in that era—in which the game was still evolving—that could handle a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning with Ruth and Gehrig due to hit and a tired starting pitcher who wasn’t coming out of the game for a fresh arm?

Those Yankees could pitch and they played good defense; but it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if their pitching was slightly subpar; if their defense was a bit shoddy. This is because they battered pitchers into submission!!!

The 1927 Yankees scored 131 more runs than the next highest scoring club in baseball, the Detroit Tigers.

Who could compete with that?

The 2011 Red Sox? They’re going to score a lot of runs; they’ve got great pitching; they’re built to win now and have all the attributes that Ortiz mentions—on base skills, power, speed, great defense—but can injuries be accounted for? Can the other teams in the American League who are also very good and/or have money and prospects to make drastic improvements at mid-season be so easily dismissed to the point of thinking this Red Sox team is going to compete with the 1927 Yankees?

“Dice-K might be the best no. 5 starter ever”.

What?!?

Has Ortiz ever watched Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch? And if he has, would he know what he was looking at to begin with?

I would expect such similar nonsense from a fan blog or the aforementioned Michael Kay. This is what passes for analysis?

It would be one thing if he were simply writing the best-case scenario and going over-the-top, but the way this is presented it’s as if Ortiz has never watched a baseball game in his life and has neither the statistical nor in-the-trenches knowledge to comprehend anything about baseball—the future or the past.

“Dice-K might be the best no. 5 starter ever”?!?

Um, okay.

Off the top of my head, here are a couple of problems with this suggestion: One, teams have only used a regular number 5 starter going back to the late 70s, early 80s; before that, they used a swingman/extra guy to take the start when they wanted to cut back on the workload of the main men.

Two, the best number 5 starter idea is demolished by Daisuke Matsuzaka not being any good and that the teams who accumulated big win totals with deep starting rotations had starters who were far superior to Matsuzaka.

A quick search of teams had superior number 5 starters (in no particular order) like the 2002 Yankees (Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, David Wells, Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and an extra guy named Ted Lilly); the 1998 Braves (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Kevin Millwood and Denny Neagle); the 2005 Cardinals (Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Matt Morris, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan); and the 1988 Mets (Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, David Cone, Sid Fernandez and Bob Ojeda).

There are others you could dig through and find a better number 5 starter. Oh, and none of those teams won the World Series. Not one.

All due respect to Terry Francona, those teams were managed by men who were better managers than he—Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Davey Johnson.

Finally, we get to Daisuke Matsuzaka himself.

He’s not any good.

You can parse his 2008 season any way you want, but he’s been a disappointment on and off the field and has progressively gotten worse as teams have learned to wait for him to walk them. He’s been injury-prone, selfish, whiny and eminently hittable. Sprinkling in a near-no-hitter every once in a while does not a successful pitcher make. The wins he has accumulated stem more from having an excellent team behind him, complete with a deep bullpen to bail him out of trouble and win him games after he logs his usual 5 innings with 3 runs allowed (if he’s on his game).

Matsuzaka has been nowhere near worth the press, the money (posting and contractually), nor the hype. He’s been a better investment for the Red Sox than Kei Igawa was for the Yankees, but I’d have been a better investment for anyone than Igawa was for the Yankees.

The “best no. 5 starter ever”?

Yah.

Speaking of accumulating wins…

If the 2011 Red Sox win 117 games or 99, what’s the difference if they don’t meet the expectations that are apparent in such propaganda as written by Ortiz on NESN?

The 2001 Mariners are mentioned:

The 2001 Mariners won 116 regular-season games to set the American League record for most wins in a single season and tie the 1906 Cubs for the major league record (though the North Siders accomplished the feat in 152 games). Both those teams failed to win the World Series. The Cubs lost to the White Sox in six games in the Fall Classic. The Mariners didn’t even make it that far, falling to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS.

The Red Sox have no intention of suffering a similar fate. The way they are constructed, they could surpass the 116-win mark, but nothing less than a World Series title will make Boston happy.

Yes, I’m quite sure the Red Sox have no intention of suffering a similar fate. Whatever that’s worth.

What a win total has to do with anything is beyond me; much like expectations, they’re meaningless in practice. A fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of how teams win is the culprit in missing that reality.

The Big Red Machine of the 1970s were picked to win every year and it was said the Machine was equipped with a “choke” because they always lost until 1975-1976.

The Orioles of the 1970s were considered a similar disappointment as were the Dodgers. The Athletics and Mets of the 1980s were in this category as were the 116-win Mariners and the 1990s Indians and Braves. That the latter mentioned clubs kept running into the Yankees and losing is irrelevant—they lost.

You can’t quantify a number of wins as meaning anything. Those 2000 Yankees collapsed at the end of the season and turned it on for the playoffs; the 2006 Cardinals did the same. Both won the World Series.

The great Braves teams were never able to overcome the absence of a reliable, big time closer; no one in their right mind (or with the faintest clue about baseball) could look at that 2001 Mariners team and think they’re one of the “best” teams in history.

Those massive win totals are—many times—a confluence of events more than any teamwide “greatness”.

It doesn’t help that they lost.

The 1988 Mets and Athletics were “better” teams than the champion Dodgers, but the Dodgers had the hot pitcher (Orel Hershiser) and the magic (Kirk Gibson). Does anyone remember the Mets and A’s as anything other than underachievers that Hershiser single-handedly ripped to shreds?

As for the 1927 Yankees, by 1929, they were dethroned by a Connie Mack‘s masterfully built competing juggernaut Philadelphia Athletics. The Yankees team in 1929 was essentially unchanged from 1927. They too lost.

It happens more often than you’d think, but judging from the pants-changing excitement exemplified on NESN, you’d never know it.

Hubris makes for great sports moments.

Buster Douglas knocked out the “invincible” Mike Tyson.

The New York Giants beat the “unbeatable” New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The United States hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics.

It happens and it happens all the time. Many times it’s a byproduct of self-importance and arrogance; others it’s due to unfilled holes and factors that can’t be accounted for…especially in JANUARY!!!!

When idiotic fan blogs disguised as even-handed journalism like that which was written by Eric Ortiz on NESN begin popping up this early, it has a tendency to snowball; to create an atmosphere of loathing in the hopes that such a team—unbeatable, unstoppable, unbelievable—will lose.

Other clubs know the difference and if they try just that tiny bit harder just to stick it to those that view themselves so highly, upsets are inevitable.

With the tiered playoff system and short series, anything—anything—can and usually does happen.

This Red Sox team is terrific on paper; but they, like any other team, are not unbeatable, regardless of this bit of “journalism”. If this is an example of the hubris we’re going to see as the season wears on, I’m going to be among the number that hopes to see the team lose just to see this type of thing proven wrong not only because it’s arrogant and obnoxious garbage but because it’s an invitation to disaster.

Disaster has a way of finding those that dismiss it’s potential for wreaking havoc on the best-laid plans.

My suggestion to those that are buying into the hype is that they calm down because they’re asking for fate-related trouble. Big trouble.

Fate will find you.

It always does.

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  1. #1 by Joe on January 2, 2011 - 6:09 pm

    Yes, Dice-K is not the best #5 ever. But being “disappointing” and being “bad” are different. He is still a decent pitcher. And certainly an above-average #5 in this day and age.

  2. #2 by Jane Heller on January 2, 2011 - 6:19 pm

    Thanks for the laugh, which is what I did when I read that NESN headline (and story). My friend, a Red Sox fan, said to me the other day, in reference to Dice K:
    “I eat my liver every time I have to watch him pitch.” The whole thing is ridiculous on so many levels.

  3. #3 by Kyle Johnson on January 2, 2011 - 7:54 pm

    Interesting to see you listed Joe Torre as a better manager than Terry Francona. Any particular reasoning behind that?

  4. #4 by Jeff on January 3, 2011 - 12:22 am

    This is the sorta thing that keeps me going as a writer. I mean, it’s just more proof that you can make a living writing crap.

  5. #5 by Matt on January 3, 2011 - 6:20 am

    I dont know how many games the Red Sox will win, but the 1927 Yankees outscored opponents by 376 runs. Today’s equivalent run differential, with the addtl eight games, amounts to 395.

    The Red Sox, strong as they appear, wont come close to that:

    1998 Yankees 114 wins…..+309 runs
    2001 Mariners 116 wins….+300 runs
    1975 Reds 108 wins…. +254 runs

  6. #6 by Dave on January 4, 2011 - 8:02 am

    Articles like these are actually going to make people root for the underdog Yankees in the AL East. As messed up as that sounds. If the Yankees don’t sign Pettitte, they will even have a lower payroll than Boston. Strange days.

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