A Red Sox Return to the Past

Ballparks, Draft, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

You, like the Red Sox, wanted to travel through time. Not as the basis of a morality play in a Twilight Zone episode, nor a movie whose theme is to appreciate the small things you have rather than lamenting what you don’t have due to opportunities missed. You just want to go back in time to a “better” place.

And you do. Your eyes open and, instead of the cold winter of Boston you’re in Florida. Walking toward the Red Sox spring training facility, there are several puddles on the ground from a morning rainstorm, but the clouds have given way to a bright blue sky and glowing sunshine.

You hear someone nearby say the words, “Let’s go see the idiots,” and immediately feel a twinge of joy, remembering Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez, Kevin Millar—the heroes of 2004.

You pass a newsstand and glance at the headlines to prove to yourself that it’s actually real. You see:

“Red Sox new acquisitions bring positive vibe to clubhouse and power to lineup”

“Who among the Red Sox proven and talented short relievers will close?”

“President Bush declares U.S. will not bow to terrorist dictators”

“Young players indicate bright Boston future”

“Yankees have more questions than Red Sox”

You breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that your desire to reach back to what was—like that of the 2013 Red Sox—worked. You approach the park and see the sign.

“Welcome to Red Sox spring training…” and your heart stops when you read the words: “Winter Haven, Fla.”

Winter Haven. Wait a second…

The Red Sox haven’t held their spring training in Winter Haven since 1992. They moved to Fort Myers in 1993.

Oh no…

You rush back to the newsstand and grab the paper The Lakeland Ledger and look at the date. March 24….1990.

Oh my God. I went back too far.

You rush toward the spring training facility with your mind calculating the ramifications. President Bush is the first President George Bush; the Red Sox, coming off a disappointing season in 1989, signed Jeff Reardon to join Lee Smith as the second closer; the word “idiot” wasn’t said as a term of endearment, he actually thinks they’re idiots; you arrive at the outer fields and see the minor leaguers and, oh dear Lord, in a Red Sox uniform is Jeff Bagwell, traded late in the 1990 season for Larry Andersen to help win a division championship; Bagwell was third in line at third base behind Wade Boggs and Scott Cooper and was expendable…so they thought. Cooper, Carlos Quintana, Mo Vaughn and John Valentin are four of the minor leaguers who were meant to lead a Red Sox return to prominence. The memories of the disasters come flooding back.

1990 will yield a division championship—having experienced the immediate future following that 1990 season, you see. And you know. More clubhouse “attitude” with Jack Clark. More wasted money and terrible results. Multiple pitchers who can close. A new manager who has a Boston history, minor league bona fides, support of the players and media and a tough guy persona, Butch Hobson. You remember the hope and desperation; the fear of knowing deep inside with an inherent negativity from history—1967, 1975, 1978. And you know.

Then you flash to the most horrifying words to a Red Sox fan, “GM Lou Gorman,” and it sends you into a screaming fit of hysterics that draws a crowd; you’re lying on the ground; people are telling you to calm down, that help is on the way; hovering on the outside of the group is a tall, swaggering man wearing a sportcoat, white pants and sunglasses. He casts a bearing of disinterest and says, “Somebody call the nutsquad for this guy,” you recognize the foghorn voice and gruff, old-school, matter of fact tone to be that of Ted Williams.

Your fear rises.

Medical staff congregates around you. Flashing lights enter your peripheral vision. Wild eyed and shaking, you find yourself restrained and placed in the back of an ambulance. Overhearing the driver say, “The Red Sox can do that to anyone.”

This is not 2004!!!!!!!!

“Would you shut up back there?!?” To his partner, he says, “I can’t stand the screamers.”

The siren wails as you scan for an escape. Pulling hard at the restraints, your resistance is futile. Then you remember. You close your eyes and repeat the words the time-bending shaman instructed you to say following his warning. The entire text enters your vision verbatim:

“He who seeks the future must look into the past. He who seeks the past understands the future. Neither is what you want. Neither is what you expect. Your key to freedom when understanding has reached you are the following three words: ‘Pesky Papi Theo.’ Then you will be home.”

You say the words. Your world spins and you awaken…to find yourself back in 2012. You’re home and relieved…for the moment. Then it hits you. Christmas is coming as is a brand new year to replace the hell of 2012 with Bobby Valentine, the year that was meant to replace the hell of the 2011 collapse. Valentine, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez—all symbols of the passionless and dysfunctional collection of bubblegum cards the front office mistakenly believed would maintain their annual trip to the playoffs on sheer numbers and talent alone. They didn’t. They’re gone, but your calm is transitory. Terry Francona is in Cleveland and Theo Epstein is in Chicago. Nothing’s changed, but everything’s changed. As happy to be home as you are, you look at the headlines. You read of the credit given to the Red Sox GM Ben Cherington for altering a toxic clubhouse with “winning” personalities; for hiring the “right” manager; or “fixing” a shoddy starting rotation and questionable bullpen; for getting back to basics.

But what basics are they? The basics of 2003-2004 or the basics of 1989-1991?

It’s not simply a matter of adhering to the fundamentals, but adhering to the right fundamentals.

John Farrell, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli (maybe), Joel Hanrahan—a return to what built the new Red Sox in the first place—all reminiscent from the glory of less than a decade ago. Except you traveled to the true mirror of the 2013 Red Sox and see 1990. You see the name Bagwell in today’s headlines, but it’s not as a prospect; it’s for his possible entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame with the insignia of the Houston Astros on his hat. Peter Gammons was enthusiastic then; Peter Gammons is enthusiastic now.

The terror continues.

The early 1990s were another era of so near, yet so far; of hopping from one strategy to another and desperately waiting for one to work. Of maddening trades of youth for age; of signing that “last piece” giving the team what they “need,” be it a new starting pitcher; a new closer; a galvanizing personality in the clubhouse; a center fielder; a new manager—something.

You went back too far. And so have the Red Sox. The results and fallout will be identical with many years to go before truly returning to the glory days that seem so far away.

You wanted to see the future and you saw the past. They’re identical. They’re a nightmare. Except you can’t wake up from it or utter a phrase to go elsewhere. It’s real. And there’s no escape from reality. It has to play itself out. And it will.

It will.

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Billy Martin, Twitter and the Pat Burrell-Jon Heyman “Thing”

History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, Players, World Series

Just imagine the famously pugilistic Billy Martin managing today with all the scrutiny and rapid fire information that winds up on the internet seconds after it happened. Also imagine what the reaction would be if a reporter made public a snarky comment that in years past would have been saved for a whisper to a colleague or for a laugh over beers in the hotel bar long after the game stories had been filed and where there was a reasonable level of plausible deniability to assert, “I didn’t say that,” before Martin was able to throw a punch. Martin probably would’ve thrown the punch anyway, but that’s beside the point.

If Martin were a manager today, he wouldn’t last long. With all the attention to his off-field activities, press conferences, questions asked regarding his strategies and criticisms around the world, people in suits telling him how to do his job, pitch counts, rules, regulations and everything else that’s a job hazard nowadays, he’d get fired quickly.

There are few characters like Martin left and if they are, they’re not managing. But the dynamic of baseball people getting angry enough to want to fight a reporter nearly came to pass last week when Giants’ scout and former player Pat Burrell tried to fight CBS reporter Jon Heyman in a bar. According to the linked story, Kevin Millar broke it up and the general consensus was that Heyman was lucky that the 6’4”, 235 pound Burrell didn’t get to him. I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case. Just because Heyman has a tendency to block people who say “boo” to him on Twitter and takes the tone of a nebbish doesn’t mean he’s an easy mark. It would’ve been far worse for Burrell had he gone after Heyman and gotten beaten up than if he’d satisfied whatever was eating at him to get angry enough to start something in the first place.

Would Martin have taken a poke at the late reporter Henry Hecht? The two despised each other to a remarkable degree. The diminutive Hecht presumably had no chance against Martin, but the revenge would’ve been the fallout and Martin’s inevitable firing.

In this era, we’re going to see more of these confrontations between a reporter and a baseball person. It’s not because of what was tweeted, but specifically because it was on social media and crossed the line from reporter or even columnist to a wise guy making a comment from the safety of his computer or phone that he would never say directly because it was: A) unprofessional; and B) dangerous because he’d get hit.

Heyman almost got hit.

Outlets like Twitter tend to be stream of consciousness and immediate, but when tweeting something that could be deemed offensive—funny or not—perhaps the circuit breaker of, “Would I say this if I might run into this person?” would be wisely adhered to, especially when there’s a genuine possibility that you will.

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Schilling and the Red Sox

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

When I think of Curt Schilling, I think of Doug Neidermeyer from Animal House: “shot in Vietnam by his own troops”.

Schilling is polarizing.

He’s intelligent, well-spoken, self-interested, slightly disingenuous, generous and astute.

He’s a person who can’t be pigeonholed.

His latest controversy stems from comments he’s made regarding the Red Sox.

In short, he doesn’t think the Bobby Valentine-Red Sox marriage is going to work. You can read about it here on ESPN.com.

If this were coming from anyone other than Schilling—Pedro Martinez; Jason Varitek; Tim Wakefield; Kevin Millar—an acknowledged Red Sox hero and/or leader from the past, it would be taken as a legitimate concern without pretense or favor. Since it’s coming from Schilling, the comments are being dissected to interpret what he’s really trying to say; what underlying reason he has for basically telling the Red Sox and their fans that they’re in for a long year.

The Valentine hire was rife with risk. This was known from the start. Because he has controversy attached to him like an underdeveloped and troublesome conjoined twin, the media is going to take everything Valentine says and magnify it. The perceived disagreements regarding the decision to start Mike Aviles over Jose Iglesias at shortstop and the role of Daniel Bard are no more outrageous than what any other club with similar questions would deal with.

Since Valentine has that history of clashing with management, media and players, those small fires are going to be stoked to create an inferno where there normally wouldn’t be one. If Terry Francona were still managing the team, the decisions would be questioned, but the motives wouldn’t be; nor would they be exacerbated by implying a “fight” between manager and front office that’s nothing more than a discussion and disagreement within the organization.

Had the Red Sox hired Pete Mackanin, Sandy Alomar Jr., Gene Lamont or any of the other candidates for the job, the personnel issues would still be present.

That’s the bigger problem for the Red Sox.

For observers who’ve grown accustomed to writing the Red Sox down as championship contenders every year, this is a new dynamic. They could win 90 games; they could win 78 games. The Red Sox circumstances haven’t been so ambiguous for over a decade. Valentine increases the spotlight.

If you look at their personalities and how others view them, Valentine and Schilling are basically the same guy.

That and Schilling’s experience playing for the Red Sox give him an insight into the clubhouse that others don’t have. He can see what’s coming.

There’s a possibility that Schilling is advancing a personal agenda by saying negative things about the Red Sox. I don’t know what that agenda could be. But he might in fact be telling the truth as he sees it.

And that would be far worse for the Red Sox than Schilling trying to get his name in the newspapers and blogs. It’s not the comments that are making people angry. It’s the fear that he might be right.

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Missive From The Dark Side 4.5.2011

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Podcasts

Let’s mine the mainstream media and find stuff about which to rant and rave.

The revisionist history with Scott Kazmir:

This posting on MLBTradeRumors discusses the fall of the Angels’ Scott Kazmir.

The Mets’ horrific trade of Kazmir to the Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano is now ancient history; we won’t know what would’ve happened with Kazmir, the Rays or the Mets had they not made the deal.

The residual effects have subsided and Kazmir is on a major downslide. The reactionary response to Kazmir when he first arrived in the big leagues was one of indignation that the Mets were stupid enough to trade a pitcher with such electric stuff.

Five-plus years later, his arsenal isn’t what it was. His fastball and slider no longer have the life they once did and he’s injury-prone.

For all the hype surrounding Kazmir, how good was he? He made over 30 starts twice in his career; pitched 200+ innings once. From 2005-2009 he was pretty good. And that’s it. No more, no less.

Is he “done” as so many suggest?

I don’t think he’s finished, per se; he’ll have to learn to pitch differently if he’s going to have any success at all—but it’s possible. Perhaps this fall as a starter will place Kazmir in the bullpen and the adrenaline rush from being a reliever with enliven his fastball and help him stay healthier than he can as a starter. I’ve long said he should be a reliever and if the Angels fall into that as a matter of necessity, he could be quite useful.

Kicking dirt on Lou Piniella:

Kevin Millar made some negative comments about former Cubs manager Lou Piniella in a radio interview—ESPN Story—suggesting that Piniella was out of tune with player complaints and the team was disorganized.

Was it Piniella or was it the Cubs being the Cubs?

Ordinarily I’d look at Piniella’s career and Millar’s consistently flapping mouth and dismiss the allegations, but considering the way the Cubs imploded after their failed run at a championship in 2008, it makes sense.

It did appear that Piniella’s interest had waned after the 2008 NLDS loss and his passion was missing. Players sense when a manager’s heart isn’t in what he’s doing anymore and if he’s ignoring a simple entreaty to keep them happy like posting the lineups earlier then maybe it’s time for him to go.

He tried to bluff his way through hoping reputation and teamwide talent would win out—literally and figuratively. That can’t work with a veteran clubhouse because once they see where the season is headed, they’ll bail. And that’s what happened with the Cubs.

Although Millar says some ridiculous things without thinking on occasion, in this case he was probably speaking for a large segment of the Cubs roster and telling a truth they others had kept to themselves.

The Pedro Feliciano Chronicles:

Think about this for a second.

There’s a controversy about Pedro Feliciano.

Rarely has a relatively nondescript lefty specialist been the subject of such a lasting bit of “news”.

The latest is that he’s “hurt” by the comments made by Mets pitching coach Dan WarthenNY Times Story.

I have one question: if Feliciano was healthy and pitching well for the Yankees, would Yankees GM Brian Cashman be saying that Feliciano was “abused” by the Mets? What if Feliciano said, “I’m better with more work” or something in that vein? Would Cashman thank the Mets for working Feliciano to the point where he’s at this best?

For a GM who’s become so immersed in objective analysis, he’s doling blame and providing subjective caveats for a pitcher to whom he gave $8 million and is on the disabled list.

If Cashman felt Feliciano had been abused, he shouldn’t have signed him. Period.

As for the Mets, they simply can’t win in the court of public opinion or with the media no matter what they do.

They made a conscious decision not to bring Feliciano back because he’d been used so heavily and the new regime doesn’t want to pay that kind of cash for a lefty specialist—they made the right decision given all circumstances—and they get attacked because they ruined him for the Yankees.

The leaps of logic are astounding.

Enough already.

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My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

You want to hear my voice, don’t you?!?

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available and will be useful for your fantasy leagues all season long.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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