Keys to 2013: Boston Red Sox

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Starting Pitching Key: Jon Lester

With Josh Beckett gone and the back of the rotation questionable, someone has to be the leader on and off the field. There are conflicting reports about Beckett’s leadership skills. Those within the Red Sox who’ve commented on it have nothing but good things to say about him; those outside see him as the ringleader to the increasing selfishness and laziness that tore down the Red Sox in 2011. Lester used to follow Beckett around like a baby duck, but he’s the man now and with the Red Sox still in flux after a 69-93 season and the one person who all seemed to blame—Bobby Valentine—gone, if they don’t play better other dominos are sure to fall. Lester’s performance can prevent or at least delay the inevitable.

Relief Pitching Key: Alfredo Aceves

Aceves is already irritating the new regime and manager John Farrell by lobbing balls in during what was supposed to be a live batting practice. What Aceves’s problem is is anyone’s guess, but if he continues to act up after his diva-like behavior in 2012, the Red Sox will have no choice but to get rid of him. The problem is, they need him and he was one of the few players who performed as if he cared during the 2011 collapse. He can pitch multiple innings as a reliever, can close and can start. They need Aceves’s versatility if they’re going to win.

Offensive Key: Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury missed almost all of 2010 with a rib injury and half of 2012 with a shoulder injury. In 2011 when he was healthy, he finished second in the MVP voting and helped keep the Red Sox afloat in the waning weeks of the season. His injuries were impact-related and not pulled hamstrings and similar maladies.

If he’s 100%, he can do it all on the field. His presence will go a long way in the Red Sox being respectable. If they play poorly, he’s trade bait and the return on him could help speed their necessary rebuild.

Either way, he has to be healthy.

Defensive Key: Jonny Gomes

One of the reasons the Red Sox let Jason Bay leave after the 2009 season was his statistically and perceptively poor defense. Jim Rice’s defense was presented as a reason to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but he was good at playing the Green Monster because he knew its quirks.

Since it was built, playing the Green Monster in Fenway has been more about nuance and understanding the wall. But logic says that if they were worried about Bay’s defense and because Rice’s outfield play is a point of contention in his Hall of Fame candidacy that teams want a prototypically adequate defensive outfielder even for a place like Fenway. For 2013, the Red Sox primary left fielder will be Gomes who, by all comprehensible measures, is a terrible outfielder in a normal outfield. What he’ll look like at Fenway has nightmare potential and could severely harm the already shaky pitching staff.

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Meet the New Bonds, Same As the Old Bonds

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There’s a combination of childlike innocence and institutionalized lack of empathy with Barry Bonds whenever he speaks publicly. This is not a criticism or an indictment, it just is. Like an earthquake or a hurricane, it’s not an entity that should know better. There’s no changing it nor truly understanding it.

As Bonds is facing the likelihood of his deserved Hall of Fame accomplishments being superseded by the belief that he took performance enhancing drugs to fuel his late-career explosion of exponential production that dwarfed what he did in his clean, younger days as the underappreciated best player in baseball.

One of the reasons Bonds speaks in such reverential tones of Jim Leyland is because Leyland was one of the few people who didn’t want anything from Bonds other than what was precisely on the table: a good performance and professional behavior. Leyland didn’t let Bonds get away with the things that were allowed to pass from the time he was a child and through his big league career because he was the son of Bobby Bonds; how talented he was; his draft status; his MVPs, Gold Gloves, and all-around play. As a result, Leyland is one of the few people who have passed through Bonds’s life for whom he has any respect.

Able to put up that front of behaving as a normal person, Bonds is clearly incapable of comprehending the why behind the actions of others. Like the decision upon the propriety of a handshake/hug/kiss hello and goodbye for an acquaintance or distant family member, Bonds just doesn’t know how to act. It’s an understandable perspective when Bonds was treated as something wholly other because of his name and skills on the baseball field. This was not evident in a contemporary, Ken Griffey Jr., who is seen as the white hat to Bonds’s black hat because Griffey wasn’t placed in that same bubble with a contentious relationship with Ken Griffey Sr. as Bonds had with his father. In later years, there was the pretense of a close relationship. Barry would demand that Bobby be a coach on the Giants’ staff; when Bobby died, Barry claimed he’d “lost his coach.” But it again reverts to the perception designed to be salable to a society that never lived the way Bonds did and has no clue as to why he’s the way he is.

That’s not a defense of the mostly dark side of Barry being Barry. It’s reality.

So when saying to Bonds that he ruined his legacy by choosing to allegedly take PEDs, he has neither the analytical ability to examine the circumstances from the position of anyone other than himself. It made perfect sense to him to use the drugs as well given that he, as the unacknowledged best player in baseball who had an all-world season in 1998, found himself largely ignored in favor of two players—Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa—who were using PEDs and became a worldwide phenomenon while having a fraction of the ability of Bonds. In Bonds’s view, he was playing baseball and they were playing home run derby; they were getting all the accolades, and he was shoved to the side.

In a sense, Bonds was right and proved his point by being better than most every player in baseball clean, then being better than most everyone in baseball when the playing field was again leveled because he was using the same drugs they were. His results were better in both instances because he was better. It’s why he received all those privileges growing up; why he was able to get away with anti-social behaviors; and why he was validated to act as he did: as long as he hit and performed, he could do what he wanted.

Now Bonds is trying a different tack of the regular guy who wants his due, but is doing so in the same vacuum in which he existed as a player and person. He claims he cares about his Hall of Fame prospects and his legacy. No longer are we seeing the arrogant and bullying Bonds; this new Bonds is trying to refurbish his image with such acts of kindness as paying for the college education of Giants’ fan and Dodger Stadium beating victim Bryan Stow’s children (truly a nice thing to do) and is expressing his bewilderment at the seeming blackballing of him out of the game. Bonds claims he wants to be a hitting coach. He would truly be a great one. In comparison to Bonds, few hitters understood what pitchers were trying to do; had that unyielding vision of the strike zone; a natural genius for the game in all its aspects; and the ability to explain complex concepts in terms that would be easily grasped and applicable. It’s not an exercise in “look how much I know” by regurgitating hitting terminology to intimidate, it’s unpretentious knowledge to teach.

He’s not going to get that chance to be a hitting coach because of the memories of Bonds’s behavior. McGwire’s a hitting coach because people like him. Bonds won’t because people didn’t like him; they tolerated him because they had little choice.

Hall of Fame voters are using the PED allegations as a way to keep Bonds out when, had he been a clean Jim Rice type of player on the borderline, his attitude and that he wasn’t nice to them would be the real reason for keeping him out as it was with Rice. They can’t deny him due to questionable credentials, so he’ll be denied because of PEDs. It’s partial dogmatism; partial hardline response to the apparent drug use via punitive measures; partial vindictiveness.

My criteria for a Hall of Fame yay or nay with the PED era is whether the player was a Hall of Famer before he is accused of having used the drugs. McGwire, Sosa and others weren’t. Bonds and Roger Clemens were. Therefore they should be elected.

That’s not going to sway a vast number of the voters, though. They’ll keep him out because they want to keep him out, and the Bonds PR blitz isn’t going to swing them in his favor because they don’t believe he’s changed from what they thought he was. Probably because he hasn’t. Probably because he can’t.

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The Trout vs Cabrera MVP Battle Is Over, But The Argument Rages On

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Remember a player named Mike Blowers? He’s a broadcaster now for the Mariners and had a few relatively productive seasons for them in the mid-to-late-1990s. One season in particular stands out. In 1995, the Yankees castoff Blowers posted an .809 OPS with 23 homers and 96 RBI for a Mariners team that came back from 13 games out of first place in August to win the AL West. They bounced the Yankees in the ALDS coming back from 2 games to 0 down before losing to the Indians in 6 games in the ALCS.

That season, you will remember, was shortened by the strike, so Blowers only played in 134 games. Had it been a full schedule, he certainly would have driven in 110+ runs. On the surface, it looks like a solid season. But in reality, was it? Or were his RBI totals cushioned by big games? During that season, Blowers had games with RBI totals of: 8, 5, 5, 6, 4, 4, 4, and 7. Right there that’s 8 games out of 134 where he accumulated 43 of his 96 RBI. Add in that he spent the season batting behind Tino Martinez (.369 OBP); Jay Buhner (.343 OBP); Ken Griffey Jr. (.379 OBP); and Edgar Martinez (.479 OBP), and you wonder why he had so few RBI.

This isn’t to pick on Blowers as a random player, but it proves a point that any stat—not just the old-school ones such as RBI—can be torn apart when they’re examined in depth with an end in mind.

The debate between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for American League MVP still rages even though Cabrera was given the award. The Cabrera backers present the following case: he won the Triple Crown; his team won their division; the opposing pitchers said they feared Cabrera more than any other hitter in baseball. The Trout backers point to his 10.7 WAR; his defensive brilliance; his speed; his power; and that the Angels were 6-14 when he arrived and went 81-58 with him in the lineup.

None other than newfound political celebrity Nate Silver made his case for Trout on his Fivethirtyeight.com blog here. Along with the stats such as WAR, Silver uses Trout playing in a “harder division” and other bits of randomness to bolster his case, but it’s not as clear-cut as he implies, nor is Cabrera’s case as clear-cut as the other side implies.

You can use a phantom argument as a means of patting the non-stat people on the head by saying, “Look at their record with him in the lineup and without it,” as if it’s connected on its face. I picture Silver rolling his eyes and thinking, “Here, idiots. Here’s a simplistic number you can understand. Wins.” It’s done as a concession to convince. Because Silver drilled the presidential election doesn’t mean his opinion and calculations in baseball are unassailable. In fact, his history at predicting baseball with PECOTA is quite pedestrian even though it’s promoted for its accuracy. PECOTA is a formula. It’s math and math isn’t the determinative factor with baseball players that it clearly is in the political arena. There’s no variable and no analysis. It’s a sum and when it’s wrong, there’s always an excuse of the faults of human beings in not living up to what was expected.

Does that make it okay to be wrong? To suggest that they would’ve been right if X happened and Y didn’t? If (BLANK) great pitcher didn’t mistakenly groove a fastball to Cabrera so he could knock it into space? If (BLANK) mediocre pitcher didn’t throw the best curveball of his life to strike Trout out with the bases loaded?

If we begin with the premise that Trout’s presence was solely responsible for the Angels rise from that atrocious start, how do we figure where it began and when it ended? How about the acquisition of a reliever named Ernesto Frieri who stabilized the Angels’ atrocious bullpen after they’d demoted closer Jordan Walden? The Angels were 10-17 when they acquired Frieri. Is he suddenly the MVP because they were 79-56 with him on the roster? With the Angels talent—dysfunctional and infighting as it was—do you truly believe they were going to keep playing as badly as they started? The concept of a statistical formula like PECOTA would tell you that it wasn’t going to happen; that they’d get themselves straightened out with or without Trout, but that is conveniently glossed over to promote Trout as the MVP because of his “presence”. Did he show up with donuts every day? Did he smell really good to make the other players happy? The presence argument is fleeting and incalculable before or after it happens and is mitigated by both Cabrera and Trout having positive things said about them. Which is accurate and which isn’t? Which counts and which doesn’t?

The comparison of home runs that were hit to whether or not they would have left a different ballpark is questionable as well. The pitchers pitch differently in a bigger park than they do in a smaller one; they might be more willing to challenge a player like Trout knowing who’s batting behind him (a guy named Albert Pujols) and test the rookie rather than run the risk of putting runners on base for Pujols and the other Angels bashers. Everyone knows the numbers nowadays and applies them to a certain degree. With everyone knowing the numbers, the strategies pitching coaches impart to their catchers as a way of devising a gameplan are contingent on what the opposing lineup does with pitches in various locations. Unless everything—everything—is torn apart to examine when, where, how, and why, WAR or the Triple Crown cannot be the final arbiter of the MVP.

You can’t have it both ways. When lobbying for the Hall of Fame, you can’t say that a player like Ron Santo was far superior to Jim Rice because of his defensive greatness at third base, ballpark factors, and plain factional disputes of arguing for the sake of it and then criticize a Cabrera because he was a bad third baseman, simultaneously crediting Trout because he’s a great center fielder. Rice was playing half of his games in Fenway Park with the Green Monster—a spot more nuanced than reliant on speed and range. He was good at playing that wall. Also he was a prideful and somewhat misunderstood black man playing in Boston in the 1970s which put more pressure on him, pressure that can’t be examined through a statistical lens. Third base is a harder to fill position and, despite his defensive inadequacies, Cabrera was serviceable at the position considering the expectations. He made the routine plays, which was all he was asked to do.

Asked to do.

If you’re asked to do something at work, are you criticized because someone whose duties are totally different from yours; whose skills are in a different category; is working in a totally different department, does their job in a “better” way than you do by metrics that are not in line with one another? That can’t be in line with one another?

No. So why do it with Cabrera and Trout?

With that comes the inevitable question, not of replacing these players with a baseline, invisible Triple A player as WAR does, but with an actual person. The Tigers had no one viable to play third base to take over for Cabrera while the Angels could’ve cobbled it together without Trout had they stuck Peter Bourjos out there (a 4.8 WAR player in 2011) and hoped he reverted to what he was in 2011 after a terrible start in 2012. Does that matter?

This is a tribal debate with the stat people on one end jumping up and down for Trout while shouting about the “injustice” and the old-schoolers gloating that Cabrera won. No one’s going to change their minds. But if this is the way it’s going to be, then it shouldn’t be about the Triple Crown, WAR, team results, aura, or whatever. It should be completely dissected pitch-by-pitch, play-by-play, everything-by-everything. Then there will be a final answer. Until that happens, there will be this endless presentation of supposed facts twisted to suit the purposes of the one arguing, truth and willingness to listen irrelevant and ignored for the sake of the self.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part IV—For The Teams, For the Players

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Let’s look at how this affects the teams and the players.

For the Dodgers

The Dodgers are under new ownership and GM Ned Colletti got the nod to go for it now and boy, is he. After trading for Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton, he also claimed Cliff Lee on waivers only to see the Phillies pull him back. There’s a difference between “wanting” and being “willing to take”. Colletti wanted Adrian Gonzalez and was willing to take Josh Beckett in order to get it done. Lest anyone believe that the Dodgers weren’t serious about their willingness to take on heavy salary as Colletti claimed both Gonzalez and Beckett. Had a deal not been consummated, there was a real possibility that the Red Sox would simply have given Beckett to the Dodgers. Not so with Gonzalez. Carl Crawford will be in left field for the Dodgers at some point in 2013 replacing the rotating list of names that included Marcus Thames, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu and now the pending free agent Victorino, who most assuredly won’t be back with the Dodgers in 2013.

The Dodgers needed a power-hitting first baseman to replace the light-hitting James Loney; they went after Gonzalez several times when he was still with the Padres; and Beckett is an extra arm in the rotation with post-season success in his past. They have the money and the desire, nor did they give up their top prospects to get this done.

For the Red Sox

This is a housecleaning and fumigation.

Naturally, as is the case with this current Red Sox group, there was additional controversy when closer Alfredo Aceves threw a tantrum and stormed out of manager Bobby Valentine’s office after Andrew Bailey was used to close a game instead of Aceves. It was obscured by the magnitude of this trade, but was a symptom of what’s gone wrong in Boston not just since Valentine took over, but going back to last season. On that note, Aceves is not the long-term Red Sox closer. Bailey is. I don’t think anyone should get worked up over the happiness or unhappiness of a useful journeyman with a long history of injuries like Aceves.

Gonzalez was a bad fit in Boston. He’s quiet and religious and was reluctant to step to the forefront as a leader.

Crawford was miserable and injured.

Beckett had behaved like a spoiled rotten brat and a bully.

Whether the Red Sox are going to keep Valentine for the second year of his contract remains to be seen, but this trade was an admission that they couldn’t go forward with Valentine or anyone else and maintain the construction of the roster and the hierarchy of the clubhouse as it was. They cleared out $261 million and left themselves flexibility to alter the on-field product as much as the poisoned off-field perception that has exemplified their team since 2011.

Let’s say the Red Sox were unable to make a trade like this and they gave in to the complaints of the players regarding Valentine. Then what? What if they hired another manager and that manager irritated the veteran players in a different way. What if he was strategically inept; soft on discipline; unable to handle the media; or what if they just didn’t like him? Then what? Were they going to give the babies another pacifier and fire him too?

They could’ve stuck a mannequin in a Red Sox uniform at the corner of the dugout with the words NOT VALENTINE stitched across his shoulder blades and until those players found a mirror and chose to act and play like professionals, it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference this season or next.

They made a bold decision to cut ties with players who no longer wanted to be with the Red Sox or shouldn’t have been with the Red Sox in the first place. Now they can move on and start again.

Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a West Coast-type who will be much better off as the silent and powerful lineup partner to Matt Kemp. As gifted a player as he is, he does not want to be the vocal leader. But if he was truly behind the text message to Red Sox ownership complaining about Valentine, then he has to make a decision: either he wants to be a representative of the team and lead or he wants to sit in the background and be left alone and do his job. He can have one or the other, but not both.

Gonzalez will be playing for a kindred spirit in manager Don Mattingly. Gonzalez has been a key member of three separate teams that collapsed in September to blow playoff spots that should have been sewn up. Mattingly’s Yankees teams were forever in turmoil and didn’t turn the corner until Mattingly’s career and greatness were dismantled by injuries. Mattingly wasn’t a vocal leader either in spite of being the captain of the Yankees and when he tried to be, it came out as awkward.

Gonzalez will revert to the MVP-candidate he was with the Padres, back on the Coast he never should have left.

Josh Beckett

It wasn’t his behavior that was the biggest problem with the Red Sox. That’s saying a lot considering how out of shape he was; how unwilling he was to acknowledge any more than the tiniest bit of responsibility nor regret for the Red Sox coming apart under Terry Francona and his part in the debacle.

It was Beckett’s frequent injuries and rancid performances indicative of someone who was saying, “Get me outta here,” in multiple ways.

I’m not prepared to say that Beckett, with his declining velocity, doughy midsection, and injuries will be what the Dodgers want: a post-season performer and ace who loves the spotlight. In fact, I’d expect something close to what he was with the Red Sox for the rest of 2012 at least. Perhaps Kemp and Mattingly can convince Beckett to show up in shape in 2013, but it’s no guarantee.

Carl Crawford

He was terrible offensively. He was terrible defensively. He looked unhappy. And he was constantly injured.

Crawford was a true 5-tool player with the Rays who degenerated to nothing almost immediately upon pulling a Red Sox jersey over his shoulders. Another bad fit who was something of a redundancy with Jacoby Ellsbury already in the Red Sox outfield, Crawford couldn’t get used to the scrutiny that he never experienced in Tampa; and he couldn’t get the hang of the Green Monster.

Crawford’s struggles are one of the reasons that those who criticize Jim Rice as a bad defensive player as an absolutist declaration of his poor Hall of Fame credentials are leaving out facts as convenient to their argument. Rice was a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox meaning that he had to learn to play the quirks and angles of that wall. He did it as well as anyone and found himself on the outside looking in at the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t Dave Winfield defensively.

Crawford might eventually have learned to handle Boston and overcome his injuries to again become the player he was, but this opportunity was too good to pass up for the Red Sox.

As for the Dodgers, they’re getting a great player who can still be a great player once he’s healthy and happy in Southern California.

Nick Punto

Yeah. It’s Nick Punto. He can do some useful things here and there I guess.

James Loney

When Mattingly took over as Dodgers manager I was sure that he was going to exert the same pressure on Loney that Lou Piniella did on Mattingly to turn on the inside pitches and hit for more power. Mattingly did and became an MVP and megastar. Loney got worse under Mattingly.

He’s a first baseman who doesn’t hit for any power at all and is a short-term guest for the Red Sox as a free agent at the end of the season. The Red Sox might spin him off somewhere by August 31st.

Allen Webster

Webster is a right-handed starting pitcher who was picked by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. He’s put up solid numbers in the minors and, after having watched a YouTube clip of him appears to be a control-type righty with a mechanical, slightly across-his-body motion. Judging from that, he’s a back-of-the-rotation starter and not someone about whom anyone should get into a twist about surrendering…or acquiring.

Ivan de Jesus Jr.

The son of former big league shortstop Ivan de Jesus, De Jesus Jr was the 2nd round pick of the Dodgers in 2005. He’s 25 and was stagnating as a 4-A player. Perhaps he can be a useful utility player.

Jerry Sands

Given the proliferation of statistics, there’s an idea that a player like Sands needs little more than a chance to play and he’ll replicate his massive minor league power numbers with a different organization. Sands has been a big-time power hitter in the minors for the Dodgers (functioning in the light air of Albuquerque) and never gotten a legitimate chance to play in the big leagues.

Think about this for a second. The Dodgers have had a gaping hole in left field going back years and refused to give Sands a chance to play. Doesn’t it make sense that the Dodgers would know more about Sands than some guy studying Sands’s stats and determining that “all he needs is a chance”?

He’s big and he’s righty. Maybe he can benefit from the close proximity of the Green Monster.

Rubby De La Rosa

The Dominican righty is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has put up big strikeout numbers in the minors. The 23-year-old is poised and polished and has a clean motion. Of all the prospects sent to the Red Sox, the one with the highest upside is De La Rosa.

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Reggie In Time-Out

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One amazing thing you’ll find about Reggie Jackson is how little he’s evolved from his playing days.

When looking for a Thurman Munson quote regarding Reggie’s famous “straw that stirs the drink” comment I found this William Nack Sports Illustrated profile from 1980 that is almost identical to the piece this week that’s gotten him placed into time-out by the Yankees organization.

The quote I was looking for, attributed to Munson, was an incredulous, “For four pages?!?” at the suggestion that Reggie’s “straw” comments in Sport Magazine were taken out of context.

When the latest Sports Illustrated piece came out, I wrote essentially that Reggie was Reggie before Manny was Manny (Manny Ramirez); that he was going to do what he would do, say what he would say and backtrack when faced with the consequences for his “candor”; that he was goaded into saying those things by the reporter.

Is his relationship with Alex Rodriguez damaged beyond all repair? Are the disparaged Hall of Famers and their families offended? Will he be allowed to hang around the Yankees again at his leisure?

Here’s the cold-blooded answer: what’s the difference?

A-Rod is very intelligent and calculating. He’s attention-starved and brings on much of his problems himself, but a large chunk of his issues stem from the hypocrisy he saw with Derek Jeter and Joe Torre among others. The “Jeter does no wrong” brigade is shocked when Jeter acts as if he was hit by a pitch when he really wasn’t and takes his base as the umpire instructs; the “St. Joe” label attached to Torre conveniently hid how calculating, money-hungry and manipulative the former manager could be. With A-Rod, when he used the gamesmanship of yelling “HA!!” in Howie Clark’s ear to distract him when trying to catch a pop-up, it was A-Rod being a bush leaguer; when he opted out of his contract—clumsily—it was A-Rod listening to his Svengali agent Scott Boras and being greedy.

I doubt A-Rod was seriously bothered or surprised by what Reggie said. He’s smart enough and cynical enough not to be offended by it long-term.

You might see Kirby Puckett’s and Gary Carter’s family reply to what A-Rod said; for Jim Rice to start his “why me?” act; but they’ll have their own reasons for doing so. In the case of Puckett and Carter the families will presumably reply to the question when it’s asked. With Rice, he’s still looking for validation that he presumably felt would fill that void when he was finally (deservedly) elected to the Hall. But he’s still hearing the same old debates about whether or not he belongs and now it’s coming from a peer and rival.

As for the “adviser” role Reggie has with the Yankees, his influence died with George Steinbrenner. Reggie’s position is similar to Johnny Pesky with the Red Sox when the club let him be involved without any real power other than that of a treasured former player—i.e. an old man who hung around. He was popular with the fans and wasn’t bothering anyone. Along with the Boss’s other circle of “advisers”—Billy Connors, Dick Williams, Clyde King, Dick Moss, Randy Levine, his sons, sons-in-law and whoever else managed to gain his ear for a period of time, it’s not the way it used to be with the Yankees. Gone are the days when Steinbrenner listened to the last voice he heard (validating a Boss rant with sycophantic agreement) and reacted by dumping a player the baseball people wanted to keep and getting a player that no one else would take.

Reggie’s mistake is that he is bothering the club by creating a controversy for no reason. It’s a hallmark of his life. Whereas it would once be brushed off and handled by the Boss, now with Brian Cashman in charge, Hank Steinbrenner effectively muzzled and subdued and the more thoughtful Hal Steinbrenner holding sway, how much of Reggie’s advice is actually taken? How much of it is listened to? How much is he even around and does anyone notice when he is or isn’t?

Notice.

That’s what Reggie wants. It’s always been that way and clearly from the latest SI piece and fallout, that’s never going to change.

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Reggie And SI Get What They Want

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I’m sure that a vast number of people reacting to the Hall of Fame yays or nays from Reggie Jackson in this Sports Illustrated profile won’t bother to read the entire piece, but if they do they’ll see that the Hall of Fame worthy/unworthy discussion is inserted into the middle of the article in what appears to be a blatant attempt to get people to websearch—not necessarily read—the rest of it.

He talks of religion; his baseball relationships from the past and present; and who he is as a person.

His Hall of Fame assessments don’t come from the extreme wings of the Hall of Fame camps with the stat people on one end and the old-school, “I know a Hall of Famer when I see one” on the other. It’s Reggie saying stuff—stuff that could change if you ask him again next week. Of course it’s capricious to say that Andy Pettitte’s PED use isn’t relevant while it is in the cases of players like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez. Conveniently (or not) their unnaturally gained home run prowess negated some of his accomplishments.

There’s going to be head shaking and questioning of his motives when he says Jim Rice and Bert Blyleven aren’t worthy, but Jack Morris is. And there will be others who suggest that his ego is so enormous that he not only wants a museum dedicated to him and him alone, but it would have to have as few members as possible to fit the “magnitude of me” self-aggrandizement that he exemplifies.

With some the “Reggie” designation would be placed in quotes because it’s a persona and not a person. With this Reggie? It’s all him.

Here are the facts about Reggie Jackson: he was a Hall of Fame player; he knows how to irritate people; and that ability garners attention for himself. In the case of the article in Sports Illustrated, it looks to be a mutually advantageous exchange. He will make provocative statements to drum up webhits and conversation; SI will put the other aspects about him into the article that will get him back into the public consciousness if anyone actually reads it.

He was always a supreme marketer of his favorite subject—himself. At age 66, that hasn’t changed. Except now there are no teammates to anger and no media contingent following him around waiting for him to say something to continue the circle of Reggie-media-teammates-owner-fans-Reggie-media-teammates-owner-fans.

He wanted attention and he’s getting it.

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Hall of Fame 2012—Larkin and Raines and Pray for the Sane?

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Let’s talk about the Hall of Fame candidates for 2012.

I use every aspect of a player to assess his candidacy from stats; to perception; to era; to post-season performances; to contributions to the game.

Any of the above can add or subtract credentials and provide impetus to give a thumbs up/thumbs down.

Because the Lords of baseball, the owners, media and fans looked the other way or outright encouraged the drug use and performance enhancers, that doesn’t absolve the players who used the drugs and got caught.

Regarding PEDs, here’s my simple criteria based on the eventual candidacies of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds: if the players were Hall of Famers before they started using, they’re Hall of Famers; if they admitted using the drugs—for whatever reason, self-serving or not—or got caught and it’s statistically obvious how they achieved their Hall of Fame numbers, they’re not Hall of Famers.

As for stats, advanced and otherwise, it’s all part of the consideration process; certain stats and in-depth examinations make players (like Bert Blyleven) more worthy in the eyes of open-minded voters than they were before; the era and what they were asked to do (i.e. “you’re here to swing the bat and drive in runs” a la Andre Dawson and Jim Rice) fall into this category of not simply being about the bottom-line. Their career arcs; their sudden rise and fall and other factors come into the equation.

In short, this is my ballot and what I would do if I had a vote. If you disagree, we can debate it. Comment and I’ll respond.

Barry Larkin

Larkin should wait a bit longer.

He was overrated defensively and only played in more than 145 games in 7 of his 19 seasons. Larkin was a very good player who’s benefiting from certain factions promoting him as a no-doubter with the weak-minded sheep unable to formulate a case against him and joining the wave of support.

Alan Trammell is in the same boat as Larkin and is barely getting any support at all.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Yes.

Alan Trammell

Trammell was a fine fielder and an excellent hitter in the days before shortstops were expected to hit. He’s being unfairly ignored.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Maybe, but not by the writers.

Jack Morris

Morris was a durable winner who doesn’t have the statistics to get into the Hall of Fame. To be completely fair, his starts on a year-to-year basis have to be torn apart to see whether his high ERA is due to a few bad starts sprinkled in with his good ones and if he has a macro-argument for induction. It was that endeavor which convinced me of Blyleven’s suitability and I’ve yet to do it with Morris.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? His percentage has risen incrementally but with three years remaining on the ballot, he’s got a long way to go from 53.5% to 75% and probably won’t make it. The Veterans Committee is his only chance. They might vote him in.

Tim Raines

Are you going to support Kenny Lofton for the Hall of Fame?

By the same argument for Lou Brock and Raines, you have to support Lofton.

And how about Johnny Damon? And if Damon, Lofton and Raines are in, where is it going to stop?

The Hall of Fame building isn’t going to implode with Raines, but it might burst from the rest of the players who are going to have a legitimate case for entry and going by: “if <X> is in, then <Y> should be in”.

Let Raines wait.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Yes.

Jeff Bagwell

How does this work? Someone is a suspect so they receive a sentence of exclusion when nothing has ever been proven? Bagwell’s name has never been mentioned as having been involved in PEDs and the silly “he went from a skinny third baseman to a massive first baseman who could bench press 315 pounds for reps” isn’t a convincing one to keep him out.

Bagwell’s a Hall of Famer.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No. Bagwell is going to get caught up in the onrush of allegations of wrongdoing and people will forget about him.

Mark McGwire

Under my Bonds/Clemens criteria, McGwire wasn’t a Hall of Famer without the drugs, so he’s not a Hall of Famer. McGwire admitted his steroid use and apologized as a self-serving, “yeah, y’know sorry (sob, sniff)” because he wanted to work as the Cardinals hitting coach.

An apology laden with caveats isn’t an apology. He’s sorry in context and that’s not good enough.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Juan Gonzalez

Gonzalez won two MVPs and his stats weren’t padded by playing in Rangers Ballpark to the degree that you’d think because the numbers were similar home and road; Gonzalez has a viable resume but will get caught up in the Dale Murphy category and be kept out.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Edgar Martinez

I’ve written repeatedly in response to those who say a pure DH shouldn’t get into the Hall of Fame: it would’ve been more selfish for Martinez to demand to play the field for the sake of appearance so he’d have a better chance at the Hall of Fame.

He was a great hitter without a weakness—there was nowhere to pitch him.

Martinez is a Hall of Famer.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Maybe.

Larry Walker

He batted .381 in Colorado with a .462 on base and 1.172 OPS. That’s going to hurt him badly.

But he was a Gold Glove outfielder who rarely struck out and had good but not great numbers on the road.

He was never implicated in having used PEDs.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? I don’t think so.

Rafael Palmeiro

In my book, arrogance and stupidity are perfectly good reasons to exclude someone.

Palmeiro could’ve kept his mouth shut or not even gone to speak to Congress at all—the players weren’t under any legal requirement to go. He didn’t jab his finger in the faces of the panel, he jabbed it in the faces of you, me and the world.

Then he got caught.

Then he piled sludge on top of the gunk by offering the utterly preposterous excuse that he didn’t know how he failed the test.

This is all after he began his career as a singles hitter…in Wrigley Field!!

Conveniently, he got to Texas and came under the influence of Jose Canseco to become a basher.

Don’t insult my intelligence and expect me to forget it.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Bernie Williams

Combining his stretch of brilliance from 1995-2002 and his post-season excellence, he’s not an automatic in or out; over the long term he might garner increasing support.

He was never accused of PED use and is a well-liked person. Looking at his regular season numbers, he falls short; memorable playoff and World Series moments will help him as will his Gold Gloves (in spite of the numbers saying he wasn’t a good center fielder).

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Possibly.

Larkin and Raines might get enshrined in 2012 by the “we have to have someone” contingent which pretty much proves the silliness of the way players are voted in, but it will only be those two.

Ron Santo is going in via the Veterans Committee and he’s dead; Tim McCarver is deservedly going in via the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting and a large crowd won’t gather to see McCarver as the only one speaking in August. So politics and finances may play a part for this class.

Raines and Larkin had better hope they get in this year because in 2013, Clemens, Bonds, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Craig Biggio are on the ballot.

I’m quite curious about Sosa to the point of supporting him because: A) I’d like to see the color of his skin now after a strange Michael Jackson-like alteration from what he once was; and B) I want to know if he learned English since his own appearance (alongside Palmeiro) in front of Congress.

It’s worth the vote in a non-linear sort of way.

Apart from that, it’s 2012 or wait, wait, wait for Larkin and Raines.

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Santo vs Rice and the Hall of Fame in Full Context

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This is a reply to the numerous comments on my prior posting about Jim Rice and Ron Santo.

Brooks Robinson, if he had the same defensive history as Santo, would not be in the Hall of Fame.

Ozzie Smith, without his glove, would not be in the Hall of Fame.

There is a place in the Hall of Fame for those who are the best at their position defensively and aren’t mediocre offensively. Smith became a good hitter; Robinson was a useful power hitter. Had Keith Hernandez hung on for a few more years and put up reasonable offensive stats, he would’ve been a Hall of Famer. Bill Mazeroski made it because he was brilliant defensively and had the “big moment” with his World Series winning homer.

The mistake you’re making is comparing transformative defensive figures with players who aren’t in based on their defense alone—they’re in based on other aspects of their games.

There’s not a bottom line rule for a player making or not making the Hall of Fame.

When you reference the “top 10” third basemen assertion for Santo, it’s not unimportant, but to say that’s why he should be in the Hall of Fame and Rice shouldn’t be because he’s not among the “top 25” left fielders it’s ignoring how hard it is to find a good third baseman. Third base is the most underrepresented position in the entire Hall of Fame, for whatever reason.

Santo’s defensive metrics are good (career Rtot—Total Zone Total Runs Above Fielding Average of +27), but not on a level with Robinson (a ridiculous +293); Graig Nettles (+134); Mike Schmidt (+129); or Adrian Beltre (+114). If you’d like some of Santo’s contemporaries, look at Ken Boyer (+70); Clete Boyer (+162); and Eddie Mathews (+40).

Then there are the players from latter eras who, based on Santo’s election, could say “what about me then?”

Ron Cey was putting up similar if not better offensive numbers while playing his home games at Dodger Stadium and was +21 at third base; Tim Wallach was a +61 for his career.

When you mention the number of left fielders to whom Rice is compared, there are greater—historic—ones to say Rice wasn’t on their level, but this is unfair.

If you look at Rice next to Barry Bonds or Rickey Henderson, he has no chance. Bonds could be called one of the best players ever and probably the best defensive left fielder we’ll ever see. Henderson was terrific out there too.

But Bonds and Henderson are first ballot Hall of Famers; Bonds probably won’t get in on the first ballot because of the off-field controversies, writer hatred and PED allegations.

Rice had to wait 15 years to gain election.

There’s a difference between the “just passing” player and the “oh, he’s in” player.

If you’d like to say that it’s the “Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Very Good”, then you’ll have to start kicking players out and make the criteria and process more stringent—you can do that—but under the current circumstances, Rice and Santo both belong in the Hall for different reasons with offensive stats that are nearly identical.

If Rice were actively seeking Hall of Fame induction, what was to stop him from looking forward to that end and asking to be shifted to third base and becoming an adequate or slightly below adequate third baseman—would that alter the discussion because of the position he played?

The position is irrelevant unless the player is the aforementioned transformative defensive figure who changed the way the position was played. Rice was dealing with a quirky wall and short field; Santo was a good, but not great, defensive player.

It’s a wash in one hand; an apples and oranges debate in the other.

I look at a player who played his position without concern as to his future Hall of Fame chances as an act in unselfishness. Knowing the writers’ feelings about voting DHs into the Hall based on them only being a DH, what was to stop Edgar Martinez or Frank Thomas—qualified candidates both—from demanding to play the field so they look like they’re playing the full game and aren’t a placekicker-style specialist?

They could’ve done that and gotten away with it.

So it’s better to have a player who’s thinking of his own status and hurting the team by playing the field when there are better defenders and he’s incapable of doing it serviceably? Or is it a team-centric decision to be the DH, know his limitations and do his job?

You can absolutely make the case that there are a great many players who should not be in the Hall of Fame for whatever reason; you can say “if this guy, why not that guy?”; or you can exclude anyone who isn’t an automatic mental click to the yes; but to say that because Santo was a pretty good third baseman defensively, is comparable to his contemporaries and was a good guy, he should be in; and that Rice was awful defensively (he wasn’t), wasn’t among the top left fielders in history, or was a jerk to reporters, is not a convincing argument.

I’m for a reasonably inclusive Hall of Fame with plenty of wiggle room for many reasons; you may not be. But to say, “oh he’s out because of <BLANK>” and digging for a reason is shifting the goal posts to suit yourselves. You can’t have it all ways when one blocking attempt fails. It’s either all-in or all-out.

Both should be in with the way the Hall is currently structured. And now, both of them are. Rightfully.

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The Difference Between Ron Santo and Jim Rice is…?

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Ron Santo‘s and Jim Rice‘s numbers are almost identical, so are the stat people who loathe Rice going crazy with their objective analysis over Santo’s Hall of Fame induction as they did when Rice was on the cusp, excluded and eventually voted in?

Or are they feeling sympathy for Santo’s illnesses, health problems and death and justifying Rice’s longtime battle to garner support because he was a jerk to reporters and finding statistical reasons to keep him out?

Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape:

Rice:

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB Awards
60 223 223 57 9 5 5 .256 .256 .408 .664 91 WPT · NYPL
130 563 491 80 143 20 13 17 87 58 108 .291 .373 .489 .861 240 WHV · FLOR
129 463 460 7 148 27 4 31 10 3 7 .322 .326 .600 .926 276 BRI,PAW · EL,IL
117 470 430 69 145 21 4 25 93 38 84 .337 .391 .579 .971 249 PAW · IL
24 75 67 6 18 2 1 1 13 4 12 .269 .307 .373 .680 89 25
144 613 564 92 174 29 4 22 102 36 122 .309 .350 .491 .841 127 277 MVP-3,RoY-2
153 624 581 75 164 25 8 25 85 28 123 .282 .315 .482 .797 120 280
160 710 644 104 206 29 15 39 114 53 120 .320 .376 .593 .969 147 382 AS,MVP-4
163 746 677 121 213 25 15 46 139 58 126 .315 .370 .600 .970 157 406 AS,MVP-1
158 688 619 117 201 39 6 39 130 57 97 .325 .381 .596 .977 154 369 AS,MVP-5
124 542 504 81 148 22 6 24 86 30 87 .294 .336 .504 .840 122 254 AS
108 495 451 51 128 18 1 17 62 34 76 .284 .333 .441 .775 116 199
145 638 573 86 177 24 5 24 97 55 98 .309 .375 .494 .868 130 283 MVP-19
155 689 626 90 191 34 1 39 126 52 102 .305 .361 .550 .911 141 344 AS,MVP-4,SS
159 708 657 98 184 25 7 28 122 44 102 .280 .323 .467 .791 112 307 AS,MVP-13,SS
140 608 546 85 159 20 3 27 103 51 75 .291 .349 .487 .836 123 266 AS
157 693 618 98 200 39 2 20 110 62 78 .324 .384 .490 .874 136 303 AS,MVP-3
108 459 404 66 112 14 0 13 62 45 77 .277 .357 .408 .766 101 165
135 542 485 57 128 18 3 15 72 48 89 .264 .330 .406 .736 102 197
56 228 209 22 49 10 2 3 28 13 39 .234 .276 .344 .621 70 72
2089 9058 8225 1249 2452 373 79 382 1451 670 1423 .298 .352 .502 .854 128 4129
162 702 638 97 190 29 6 30 113 52 110 .298 .352 .502 .854 128 320
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

Santo:

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB Awards
136 573 505 82 165 35 3 11 87 56 54 .327 .390 .473 .863 239 SAN · TL
71 305 272 40 73 16 1 7 32 33 21 .268 .348 .412 .759 112 HSN · AA
95 382 347 44 87 24 2 9 44 31 44 .251 .311 .409 .720 96 142 RoY-4
154 655 578 84 164 32 6 23 83 73 77 .284 .362 .479 .842 121 277
162 679 604 44 137 20 4 17 83 65 94 .227 .302 .358 .659 74 216
162 687 630 79 187 29 6 25 99 42 92 .297 .339 .481 .820 128 303 AS,MVP-8
161 686 592 94 185 33 13 30 114 86 96 .313 .398 .564 .962 164 334 AS,MVP-8,GG
164 704 608 88 173 30 4 33 101 88 109 .285 .378 .510 .888 146 310 AS,MVP-18,GG
155 672 561 93 175 21 8 30 94 95 78 .312 .412 .538 .950 161 302 AS,MVP-12,GG
161 697 586 107 176 23 4 31 98 96 103 .300 .395 .512 .906 153 300 MVP-4,GG
162 682 577 86 142 17 3 26 98 96 106 .246 .354 .421 .775 126 243 AS,MVP-24,GG
160 687 575 97 166 18 4 29 123 96 97 .289 .384 .485 .869 131 279 AS,MVP-5
154 655 555 83 148 30 4 26 114 92 108 .267 .369 .476 .844 115 264
154 642 555 77 148 22 1 21 88 79 95 .267 .354 .423 .778 109 235 AS
133 547 464 68 140 25 5 17 74 69 75 .302 .391 .487 .878 139 226 AS
149 604 536 65 143 29 2 20 77 63 97 .267 .348 .440 .788 112 236 AS
117 417 375 29 83 12 1 5 41 37 72 .221 .293 .299 .591 69 112
2243 9396 8143 1138 2254 365 67 342 1331 1108 1343 .277 .362 .464 .826 125 3779
162 679 588 82 163 26 5 25 96 80 97 .277 .362 .464 .826 125 273
2126 8979 7768 1109 2171 353 66 337 1290 1071 1271 .279 .366 .472 .838 127 3667
117 417 375 29 83 12 1 5 41 37 72 .221 .293 .299 .591 69 112
2126 8979 7768 1109 2171 353 66 337 1290 1071 1271 .279 .366 .472 .838 127 3667
117 417 375 29 83 12 1 5 41 37 72 .221 .293 .299 .591 69 112
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

Home and road splits? (One of the proffered reasons to exclude Rice.):

Rice:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB IBB BAbip tOPS+
Home 1048 1036 4507 4075 681 1304 207 44 208 802 348 691 .320 .374 .546 .920 2223 50 .340 115
Away 1041 1023 4551 4150 568 1148 166 35 174 649 322 732 .277 .330 .459 .789 1906 27 .296 85
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

Santo:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+
Home 1136 1127 4724 4075 659 1208 194 39 216 743 577 646 .296 .383 .522 .905 2128 .305 118
Away 1107 1083 4673 4069 479 1046 171 28 126 588 531 697 .257 .342 .406 .747 1651 .279 82
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

If you’d like to start referencing defense, Rice was dealing with the Green Monster for which nuance and understanding quirks are more important than standard metrics; Santo was a Gold Glove winning third baseman whose defensive metrics were okay, but not close to Brooks Robinson, Graig Nettles or even Adrian Beltre.

Both men saw their careers end early, Rice at age 36 after 16 seasons; Santo at age 34 after 15 seasons. Both of their careers ended abruptly without a massive decline. They were good, then they weren’t; then they were done.

Santo made it in via the Veterans Committee so the writers who sought to keep him out on their ballots did so, but he’s in now and he’s in with Rice who made it through the conventional vote.

But if Rice—with six top 5 MVP finishes—was so fervently excluded based on supposed numbers, why wasn’t Santo? Where’s the anger?

Where’s the objectivity?

Does it really exist?

Both men should be in the Hall of Fame because both men belong in the Hall of Fame.

Those who seek to keep either/or out have to show consistency and not pay attention to such irrelevant issues as illness or perception because they shouldn’t matter one way or the other.

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David Ortiz’s Jeter Problem

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The comparison has more to do with aesthetics and reality than it does production and status, but David Ortiz will be in a similar position for his free agency with the Red Sox this winter as Derek Jeter was with the Yankees last winter.

In Jeter’s case, the negotiations grew contentious because no one believed—accurately—that Jeter would ever leave the Yankees. That the Yankees were going to overpay in both dollars and years to keep him was clear. His 3000th hit being in sight contributed mightily to this consensus.

Jeter wasn’t going anywhere because the Yankees couldn’t let him go anywhere and no other team was willing to be used as a false bargaining chip to pad his paycheck further.

Ortiz is different in his perception as a Boston icon. He’s not Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams or even Jim Rice and Roger Clemens. He’s been a great player for them, but he’s taken great advantage of the Big Papi persona and being a Red Sox leader on and off the field to gain endorsements, write books and make a lot of extra money. He won’t want to sully that by willfully departing over a contract.

Another concern would be the factor of the venue change.

Would Ortiz be as productive playing for another team (and it’d have to be an American League team because he can’t play the field) as he’s been for the Red Sox?

It’s easily forgotten that Ortiz was a limited player for the Twins who would never have achieved these heights had he stayed in Minnesota. He was non-tendered by the Twins, but it wasn’t a shocking decision given his moderate production. He was a pretty good player. That’s it. Ortiz wasn’t someone you’d express deep reservations about letting go because no one could have foreseen what he became. Back then, you could find someone to hit 20 homers and drive in 80 runs for a much cheaper price than what Ortiz was due to get in arbitration.

The Red Sox picked him up as an extra bat and got an MVP candidate and cultural hero.

The most prominent difference between Ortiz and Jeter is the ruthlessness of the teams involved. The Yankees weren’t going to let Jeter leave; the Red Sox wouldn’t hesitate to tell Ortiz to take a hike if things grew testy and dragged out.

The Red Sox can get by just fine without David Ortiz.

Can Ortiz get by without the Red Sox?

I say no.

So his clear irritation at the lack of a contract extension notwithstanding, he’s not leaving because no one’s going to pay him like the Red Sox will; he won’t produce as he has in Boston anywhere else; and the offers he receives will be limited because of the Jeter-like perception that he’s not taking off his Red Sox uniform unless they rip it off his back.

Since he can still hit, that’s not going to happen. He’s staying with the Red Sox. Period.

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