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.

//

Advertisements

The Hall of Fame Debate Has Grown Tiresome

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Barry Larkin was the only player elected by the writers.

Jack Morris’s percentage has risen to 66.7%.

With two years left on the writers’ ballot, Morris might get enough support to make it in by conventional vote. If not, he’s got a great shot on the Veterans Committee.

The debate will rage on until then.

You can make an argument for Morris (post-season hero; innings-eating winner and one of the dominant pitchers of the 1980s) or against him (high ERA; stat compiler).

Nothing’s going to change the minds of those who are for or against him.

Tim Raines received 48.7%.

Raines is seen as a no-brainer by stat people; others think he became a part-time player from his early 30s through the end of his career and he’s a “floodgate opener” whose election would necessitate the serious consideration of the likes of Johnny Damon and Kenny Lofton which would diminish the specialness of the Hall.

Lee Smith received 50.6% of the vote.

I don’t think anyone with an in-depth knowledge of baseball and from either faction whether it’s stat-based or old school thinks Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame.

No matter how convincing or passionate an argument made for the supported players, the other side is unlikely to put their prejudices, personal feelings, stereotypes or ego aside to acknowledge that they may be wrong; and they’re certainly not going to change their votes.

So what’s the point?

What’s made it worse is the proliferation of the younger analysts who may or may not know much of anything about actual baseball, but think they do based on calculations and mathematical formulas who are so adamant that they’re right, it’s impossible to even debate with them.

Bert Blyleven made it to the Hall of Fame, in part, because of the work by stat people clarifying how he deserved the honor and wasn’t at fault for a mediocre won/lost record because of the teams he played for. Another part of his induction, I’m convinced, is that a large chunk of the voters were tired of hearing about him and from him—Blyleven was an outspoken self-advocate and it worked.

I’m wondering what’s going to happen with a borderline candidate like Curt Schilling. Blyleven had likability on his side; Schilling doesn’t; and it’s going to be hard for Schilling to keep his mouth shut if he doesn’t feel he’s getting his due in the voting process. He’s not going to get in on the first shot.

Short of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Ty Cobb and the other luminaries, you can make a case against any player no matter how great he was; on the same token, you can make a case for a player like Bobby Abreu, who is not a Hall of Famer.

Even Greg Maddux went from being a dominating pitcher from age 22-32 and became a durable compiler with a high ERA who begged out of games after a finite number of pitches and benefited from pitching for a great Braves team to accrue wins.

Of course Maddux is a first ballot, 95+% vote getter when he becomes eligible, but could a motivated person come up with a case against him? How about “he only struck out 200 batters once; he had superior luck with amazingly low BAbip rates; he only won 20 games twice; his Cy Young Awards all came in a row and he never won another; and he pitched for a great team in a friendly pitchers’ park for most of his career.”

It can be done for and against anyone.

Does Tommy John deserve recognition for the surgery that bears his name? I think he does. Others don’t.

Then there are the PED cases like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds—Hall of Famers both—who are going to have trouble getting in because of the writers’ judgments that they “cheated”.

At least they were implicated. Jeff Bagwell never was and he’s on the outside looking in with 56% of the vote this season. (He’s going to get in eventually.)

So which is it?

What makes a Hall of Famer?

Is it being “famous”? (Reggie Jackson)

Is it a long and notable career? (Don Sutton)

Is it the big moment? (Bill Mazeroski)

Is it being great at a particular part of the game? (Ozzie Smith)

Is it numbers? (Hank Aaron)

Is it propaganda? (Blyleven, Phil Rizzuto)

Is it the perception of cleanliness? (Al Kaline)

Is it on-field performance? (Carlton)

Is it overall comportment? (Stan Musial)

Is it domination over a time period? (Sandy Koufax)

There’s no specific criteria, so there’s no single thing to put someone in or keep them out.

But the back-and-forth has become vitriolic and dismissive with eye-rolling and condescension. If you even dare to suggest that Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, your case is automatically ignored regardless of how organized and intelligent it is.

That’s not debating. That’s waiting to talk.

Simply because you disagree with someone doesn’t make the other side “wrong” especially in a judgment call like the Hall of Fame.

But there’s not much hope because few—especially in sports—are willing to listen to the other side, let alone allow themselves to be persuaded.

This is where we are and there’s no use in fighting it.

So why try?

//

Mariano Rivera Didn’t Make The Rules

All Star Game, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

After Mariano Rivera recorded his 601st save to tie Trevor Hoffman as the career leader in saves, the debate began again as to whether Rivera has a claim on the “greatest” reliever in history as if it was a title held by Hoffman that he wrested away with that save.

Presumably it’s going to amp up when he passes Hoffman.

Hoffman—a very good closer in the same category with the likes of Lee Smith, John Franco, Jeff Reardon and Dennis Eckersley—is not in Rivera’s class in terms of stuff nor results in important games.

But that’s only one of the variables as to why Rivera is the best closer of this era.

You can say that he only managed to accrue that number of saves because he had so many opportunities pitching for the Yankees; that we don’t know how the other pitchers would’ve done had they been pitching for a dominant club that was in the playoffs every single year of his career except for 2008.

This argument, like the oft-repeated Goose Gossage lament of Rivera and the rest of today’s closers having it “easy” because they’re only asked to pitch one inning, is missing the point.

Rivera doesn’t make the rules and didn’t create the save stat; he never issued any usage dictates to be limited to one inning (nor did Eckersley for that matter); he didn’t manipulate his way to the Yankees so he could compile numbers in a “I wanna be great” way.

You can make the case that the lineups in today’s game are more complete top-to-bottom today and that pitchers like Gossage didn’t need to deal with PED users all over the place and bandbox ballparks, that Rivera and his brethren are overall equals of firemen of the past.

Rivera has done his job as he was asked to do it and he’s done it masterfully.

The save stat is what we have. The predominance of pitching one inning is how he’s been utilized. The playoffs and World Series games are where he’s made his name.

He’s been great at it.

If Rivera were asked to do what Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Dan Quisenberry did, would he have been able to do it and maintain this longevity?

There’s no way of knowing, but he wasn’t trained to do that as those pitchers were, so obviously if someone is asked to do something unfamiliar to them after being nurtured on a totally different set of principles, the likelihood is that he’s not going to be effective and he’s going to get hurt.

As of right now, Rivera has the save record; someone’s going to come along and break it. Will that person also have the success rate in the post-season that Rivera has? Will he come through when his team needs him to come through? Will he be trustworthy so it’s a shock when he blows a game and not a shock when he manages to save one as has been the case with most of the closers in today’s game for years and was so with Hoffman in the waning days of his career?

Maybe.

But it will have to be someone pretty talented and mentally tough.

According to stat accumulation, hardware, success and longevity, he’s the best. Comparing him to Hoffman was an insult to Rivera before he broke Hoffman’s record and it’s ludicrous now.

Examining eras and comparing numbers to the aforementioned pitchers is like comparing Tom Seaver to Walter Johnson—you can’t do it.

Accept Rivera for what he is; the other pitchers were great at their jobs and so is he. In the era of the one-inning closer, he’s at the top of the heap.

That’s all that really matters.

//

Mutually Beneficial

Hall Of Fame, Hot Stove

It’s easy to scoff at Kyle Farnsworth because of the absence of success that is attached to a pitcher with a 100-mph fastball; someone who looks like he should be a star, but has never achieved that status. But Farnsworth still throws hard and because of that there will always be a team willing to take a chance on him.

In 2011, that team is the Rays.

Farnsworth agreed to a 1-year, $3.25 million contract with an option for 2012.

On the surface, it seems like a reach for the Rays; but Farnsworth fits into the template of what the Rays look for in stocking their bullpen. He’s an underachiever who’s considered a failure; he’s not expensive; he throws hard and strikes people out; and he’s not going to demand that his “role” be defined.

You can list the names of pitchers who’d washed out elsewhere and rejuvenated their careers in Tampa. Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate and Lance Cormier pop to mind immediately. The Rays signed them cheaply, used them and discarded them when they grew too expensive. Now they’re on the lookout for other, similar types of pitchers.

The Rays have the advantage of being able to run their organization correctly because of the lack of fan interest and scrutiny of everything they do. This is why they were able to trade Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late 2009, dump his salary while getting some useful youngsters; this is why they were able to re-stock their farm system in trading Matt Garza to the Cubs.

A certain freedom comes with a dearth of attention.

The Rays are a team that is truly able to utilize a bullpen by committee. Other clubs aren’t in that position. The Red Sox have tried it, but had to abandon the idea because of pitchers who couldn’t get the job done; whiny veterans who wanted to know they were pitching the seventh, eighth or ninth innings and wanted the glossy and moneymaking save stat; or that the club had resisted finding an available, relatively reliable arm who had the capacity—mentally more than anything else—to record those final three outs.

The fan/media resistance to the idea of the closer by committee and that the manager at the time, Grady Little, wasn’t on board didn’t help either.

The Rays are under no such constraints. No one in that refurbished bullpen is in a position to say a word if the dugout calls and says that anyone and everyone should be ready to pitch at any time. It’s good to have definition in a bullpen if the pitchers prove that they deserve to have that designated role.

Bringing in pitchers who have no right to complain removes this pressure from the Rays. They won’t hear Farnsworth complaining to the media that “saves are where the money’s at”; “I need to know where I stand” because he’s not in a position to say such things.

This also benefits the players because they see how much money a Benoit has gotten from one terrific year in Tampa and know that if they perform similarly, they can do the same. It’s mutually beneficial.

The Rays have made it a habit to grab available and underachieving arms and turn them around.

Given Farnsworth’s repeated failures, pitching coach Jim Hickey has his work cut out for him; but Hickey has managed to turn around the careers of the aforementioned pitchers; if he gets Farnsworth to fulfill his potential, he’ll enter the Dave Duncan realm of reclamation project pitching coaches.

Have the Rays found another gem in Farnsworth who needs a tweak here and there? The initial reaction is probably not; but who knows?

Worst case scenario, they can use Farnsworth’s intimidation factor and reputation to try and frighten B.J. Upton into hustling. That would be worth the contract in and of itself.

  • Viewer Mail 1.13.2011:

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Trevor Hoffman:

If Hoffman is a HOF’er, then Lee Smith has to be. Pandora’s Box? Slippery slope? Only time will tell!

There’s been a profound absence of fingers on the pulse of the voters in recent years. Barry Larkin was seen as a shoo-in and then he didn’t come close in his first year of eligibility. No one knows what they’re going to be thinking five years from now and you’ll also see a bunch of names who’ve been closing start to approach the numbers Hoffman has; with that will be a greater comparison; with that will be more names like Lee Smith, John Franco and Roberto Hernandez who elicit eye rolls when the mere suggestion of Hall of Fame induction is mentioned.

If he was up for election immediately, I’d say he has a better chance; his accumulation of stats is going to look worse as time passes.

Mike Fierman writes RE Trevor Hoffman:

He always seemed to fail in big moments..how about 2007? I’m trying to remember the particulars. was it against the brewers that he blew the save so that they had to play the game 163 against the Rockies that he also blew?

Those were two bad ones. He blew the game on the Saturday against the Brewers (in a weird bit of irony, giving up a game-tying triple to Tony Gwynn Jr. with 2 outs in the ninth); then gacked a 2 run lead in the bottom of the 13th inning in the one-game playoff in Colorado.

These are not small issues for Hoffman to overcome with stat compiling.

Muddled

Hall Of Fame

Trevor Hoffman retired yesterday and the Hall of Fame argument as to his worthiness has already begun.

While he was playing there was a debate in judging his career with some calling him an automatic Hall of Famer and others—some former players among them—scoffing at the notion based on the perceived easiness of what it was Hoffman and the other closers of the era did.

So which is it and are we going to have to listen to the back-and-forth for the next five years? Let’s look at the pros and cons, defenses and indictments of Hoffman’s career.

Should he be punished or rewarded because of strategies?

Tony La Russa has been unfairly blamed for the proliferation of the “one-inning closer”. Naturally, it’s a misapplication of blame. When he was managing the White Sox, La Russa used his closers as closers were used in the late 1970s-early 1980s. They pitched multiple innings and were worked hard.

It was when he got to Oakland and installed Dennis Eckersley that he ushered in the era of the “specialist”; middle-men, set-up men, closers backing up a pitcher who was generally only asked to give 6-7 innings fostered the notion of La Russa altering the game.

The truth is that La Russa used Eckersley that way because that was how Eckersley was best suited to be used as he made the transition from starter to closer. The truth is, Eckersley pitched more than one inning somewhat regularly during his heyday of the late 1980s; he didn’t pitch 2-3 innings as Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Dan Quisenberry did in the early part of the decade, but no short reliever does that anymore. Brian Wilson does it occasionally and he’s an anomaly.

Managers who don’t have La Russa’s nerve to innovate—the Jeff Torborgs—took the theory to its logical conclusion. Such was evident by Bobby Thigpen‘s 57 save season in 1990 pitching for Torborg with the White Sox. The hollowness of the save stat became highly pronounced just as Hoffman and John Franco were beginning their careers.

Putting it into context—with Gossage’s lament—it’s not the same as it was; you can’t compare what the relievers do today to what they did before.

Just as players like Wade Boggs shouldn’t have been punished for using the Green Monster in Fenway Park for target practice, how do you blame Hoffman for the way he was used? This was the game when he was pitching; he did as he was told and did it well. The save stat has been made less than what it was when it was created and that’s not Hoffman’s fault.

But maybe he shouldn’t be rewarded for it either.

Was it him or was it the song?

This isn’t a joke.

Did the echoing of AC/DC’s Hells Bells influence the thought that, “Oh no, Hoffman’s coming in!”?

Or was his stuff such that opposing teams and fans threw their hands up in the air or packed their belongings when his name was announced as the new pitcher?

Hoffman wasn’t style over substance, but it was a cool thing to hear the tolling of the bell in the song. That his out pitch wasn’t a Gossage 100-mph fastball; a Sutter split-finger; or a Mariano Rivera cutter lends credence to the idea that teams were more fooled than devastated by Hoffman’s money pitch change up.

Again, not his fault; but something to think about.

There was no “moment”.

Hoffman’s case would be made easier if he’d won a World Series. In his one chance in the Fall Classic, the Padres were swept away by the 125-50 Yankees; but the series wasn’t as much of a washout as the four game sweep suggests.

In game 3, the Padres were clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning when manager Bruce Bochy called on Hoffman with a runner on first and no one out. Bernie Williams flew out to deep right; Paul O’Neill walked; then series MVP Scott Brosius homered to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. A lead that Mariano Rivera held giving the Yankees a 3-0 series lead.

Had Hoffman saved the game, could the Padres have won the series? Probably not; but the longer it went, the more of a chance they would’ve had; if they’d gotten it to game 7 with an in-his-prime Kevin Brown ready to pitch, who knows?

But Hoffman gave up the big homer rather than getting the big out.

It’s not a small blip for a borderline Hall of Famer.

Accumulation is not the mark of a Hall  of Famer.

Hoffman accrued stats. The one closer of today, Rivera, who’s going to waltz into the Hall of Fame accrued championship rings and the reputation as unflappable because he got the outs in the post-season.

The argument that Rivera had a better team and more opportunities in the playoffs is not without merit, but that has nothing to do with what Hoffman accomplished.

The “woulda, coulda, shoulda” isn’t the same as looking at a Bert Blyleven and examining his career based on the teams he played for and his contemporaries.

I’ve always wondered why the “woulda, coulda, shoulda, argument was enough to get Kirby Puckett into the Hall of Fame when his career ended because of glaucoma, but not good enough for Don Mattingly, who was a far more dangerous hitter than Puckett—was in fact the dominant player in baseball position for five years—but didn’t get the same treatment because his back problems ruined his greatness.

The magic number of 300 wins and 500 homers is being ignored now because the game has changed. Jamie Moyer and David Wells have more wins that some Hall of Famers, but aren’t getting in; members of the 500 club aren’t receiving the honor because of PED allegations. And the save stat has been diminished because of the one-inning save.

You have to put eras into perspective if you’re going to compare them at all.

Will Hoffman get in?

I honestly don’t know.

I’ve gone back-and-forth on the subject myself. Will his numbers be enough when the vote comes around? He’s not going to have the passionate support that Blyleven had from stat zombies; nor is he going to get the old-school support.

If you examine Eckersley—a deserved Hall of Famer—his candidacy was only made viable by the fact that he was a great starter and a great closer. I feel that same thing will push John Smoltz over the top.

Hoffman?

Is he a Hall of Famer?

Right now, I put him in a similar category with Lee Smith, Jeff Reardon and John Franco; based on that, I’d vote no.