Tuesday, August 29, 2006

i could not get through september without a battle

Phil Elvrum said it best. The Glow is gone. I can't watch this team anymore. I don't feel like a bad fan. I would feel like a bad fan if I continued to support this horseshit. Who wants to pay 40 bucks a month for the Extra Innings Package just to watch three innings of the shadow of their favorite team getting blown out before flipping over to see how your Fantasy QB is doing in his preseason debut. I am more excited about my fantasy QB and his bum knee than I am about the Sox in September. Stop this, now! So the season is done. I am not going to go into the details of why because

A) it's painful
B) ESPN is making it their job to rub this salt in the wound, so if you really care to know you can tune into PTI or Around The Horn, where undoubtedly the discussion will go something like this:

Tony Reali: Welcome Back to Around the Horn, the Sports Show of Competitive Banter. Word out of Beantown is that David Ortiz's heartbeat is irregular. What say you, Mariotti? Have the Sox playoff hopes gone the way of Ortiz and Manny's Bill-of-Health? That is to say, SPLAAA-DOOOOOOSHH?!

Mariotti (with overzealous smacking of right hand into left palm, intermittenly interrupted by flailing shrugs): How can you say it isn't Reali?!! I mean, look at the situation, here!! You've got Ortiz having heart failure 90 minutes before a game, Nixon, Varitek (the HEART OF THE TEAM!) on the D.L. Beckett's been ineffective! MANNY's Being Manny!! The Manager has lost the team, Management didn't go out and get them the pieces. Guy's are giving up!! Manny's being Manny! This Crisp guy has been a bust! I mean you gotta wonder if this isn't the curse of Johnny Damon coming back to haunt them. And you know, Reali, you got Manny being Manny--

Woody Hayes: Absolutely not! What nobody here is realizing is that this team is not David Ortiz' team. They aren't Manny's team. This team is Willis Moo Piniero's team. Look at the games, guys. They go the way of this young stud. As long as Piniero is there, and Arroyo is anchoring the back of the staff, they'll be ok. It's always the Yankees and the Red Sox in the Palyoffs.

Bill Plaschke: Yeah but Woody, but Woody, but Woody! You gotta understand you have a guy like Ortiz out of your lineup the season's over, I mean this is like the A-Team with Out Mr. T., or--

Woody: Or Los Angeles without an NFL team

(Group Chuckle)

Plaschke: But guys, but guys! Mariotti's right, I mean, this is the season the Sox were supposed to beat the Yankees. They were 4 games up. They were gonna finally reverse the Curse!

Ughhh! Kill me now. Is it saying something that I actually miss Michael Holley's presence on that show? So back to the point: the season is over. I guess this will allow me to focus on more important things: like my dog, my wife, or my search for a new home. Still a man needs some extracurriculars to keep his head on straight.

What to Do when you have Less Confidence in Your Team's Playoff Chances than the American Public has in George Bush

From CNN.com:

Who would win a debate on world issues between President Bush and Iranian President Ahmadinejad?

Bush 38%
9632 votes

Ahmadinejad 62%
15776 votes

Total: 25408 votes

My confidence in the Sox playoffs chances are nowhere near 38%. In fact, the chances are about the same as the chances that "The Decider" Takes up Ahmadinejad's offer: .0002 testicle-hairs of a percent.

So I have to find some other kind of important things to do:

1.) Play with Dog
2.) Buy new house
3.) Talk to Wife
4.) Watch Rescue Me . Seriously, if you aren't watching this show yet, there is something wrong with you. Here is all you need to know: It is a show about NY Firefighters; One is banging a nun.; One is banging a woman who looks like his 10 year old daughter; One is banging an illegal from Jamaica; And one is banging his ex-wife, who's also banging his brother (well was until his brother got shot.)
5.) Revel in the joy of other fans whose teams are NOT from the Bronx.
6.) Call old friends, meet for good beers by the water.
7.) Notre Dame Football. It always comes back to sports.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

And behold, a pale horse. And he who sat on it...

I was reading Bob Ryan’s fantastic column this morning, shortly after nearly spitting my coffee out all over the computer screen. The reason, I nearly spit my coffee all over the computer screen was because one of my favorite writers, Sean McAdam, of the Providence Journal, had the audacity to take to task one of the three Red Sox players who played against the Yankees with any shred of dignity this weekend. It has become sacrilegious in Boston to say anything negative about David Ortiz (for good reason) and Curt Schilling has become a media darling, what with his regular radio appearances, and message board postings. So it isn’t hard to surmise whom McAdam was griping about in this morning’s column: Manny Ramirez (he of the .850 OBP this weekend.) Now I have made no bones about my stance on Manny: I am an apologist and a fan, through and through. I love the way he hits, I love the way he plays the game (yes, believe it or not, I find it refreshing that there are people out there who still approach the game as just that, a game…because I certainly cannot) and I love the way he deals with the media: he doesn’t. So perhaps it is predictable for me to defend Manny against McAdam’s vitriol.

It isn't so much that McAdam is clearly looking for a scapegoat upon which to vent his anger—going back to his proverbial whipping boy—that has me up in arms, as the fact that McAdam and his Boston Media buddies are incapable of seeing the Forest for the trees. Indeed, it is not only McAdam but also Masserotti, the EEI talking heads, even Jackie MacMullan, who seem to have latched onto the story of Manny’s frustration over a blown call, which may or may not have lead to Manny asking for a day off (following a double-header, one game of which was the longest 9-inning affair in history.)

Let’s take a look at this embarrassing weekend: filled with two games of abominable starting pitching; four games of self-combusting relief-pitching; five games of untimely whiffing that made me mourn for the days of the ever-clutch Edgar Rent-a-Wreck; five games of absolutely putrid plate approach (did Coco Crisp take one pitch?!); five games of bone-headed managerial decisions that were not only inexplicable but often in direct contrast to everything logical; five games filled with wasted talent and salary, underachieving bums all of them, with the exception of three players. And yet, the Boston Media, in their frustration, was simply incapable of pointing the smoking gun back at the guilty party (a Front Office, whom for better of for worse chose not to make any moves to improve the team, and was exposed by a team whose Front Office did what it takes to win now.) Now I happen to believe, given the little information I have, that the Front Office was correct to hold their chips. I see Jon Lester, Craig Hansen, and Manny Del Carmen as vital members of a potentially dominating staff in 2 years. But it just isn’t good copy—and quite frankly is complete “homerism”—for the Boston media to write this past series off as “losing the battle to win the war.” Indeed, as Ryan suggests, we fans, and the media as well, need to sever heads. Without bloodshed, apparently, there is no catharsis. And, how pathetic it is that the easiest lamb to bleed is the one that won’t make a whisper in response—the one from whom the media is unable to get a single line of decent copy—unless of course they make something out of nothing.

Ryan’s prescient lines on the ensuing blood-bath were dead-on accurate, but the final lines aren’t the part of Ryan’s article that moved me to respond, or even to think any differently than I had of what was ultimately a disgraceful, but not unpredictable series outcome. Rather, what moved me (damn near to tears) was my nonchalant reaction—even, acceptance—of one simple line. On the second page of the article, Ryan posts the following: “ In its present form, the Yankees are a thoroughly likeable and rootable team.” And the troubling, terrifying thing is…aren’t they? I mean, when one strips away the shocking price-tag, the overrated Manager, the whiny Third Basemen, the ‘Roid addicts, and the obnoxious (yet unfortunately nearly identical to its Boston Counterpart) fanbase, isn’t there lots about this team that the average baseball fan can appreciate? Consider:

-For as much talk about the barren Yankees farm system as there has been the past few years they keep pulling home-grown rabbits out of the hat with guys like Cano, Wang, Melky, and even the occasional Andy Phillips.

-Their pro-talent evaluation the past two years has been superior to most in the league. I’m not kidding. Perhaps it’s dumb luck but how big have the following names been—all of whom the average Joe scoffed at when signed: Aaron Small, Mike Meyers, Scott Proctor, Ron Villone, Shawn Chacon (who turned into Craig Wilson), and now Corey Lidle…oh, and that Abreu guy can handle the stick alright, too.

-Derek Jeter may be overrated according to every Sabermetrician in New England, but according to this Red Sox fan who watches lots of Yankees games there are only two A.L. hitters I wouldn’t want to see my team face with the game on the line, my best pitcher on the mound: Papi and Jeter.

-All of the guys on the team, and their fans, hate A-Rod too.

-I was at the game on Saturday and I saw a total contrast in the way these two teams carried themselves: one like a bunch of stuck-up selfish ballplayers, all wearing the same uniform, and all ready to throw one another under the bus in their press-conference, a bunch of uptight ballplayers afraid to lose; the other team I saw was loose, growing goofy facial hair, cheering each other on whether they were lifelong members or the new guys who just kept raking and fitting right in, a real team who played with one another and knew they had eachother backs (well except for that guy on Third) and could grind out pitchers, make plays and hits for one another, knew if they played together they could win.

I have seen three teams like that before in my lifetime: ‘93 Phillies, ’04 Red Sox, ’05 White Sox. Two of those three were World Series Champs. Two were teams I really loved to watch (and only one had the word Sox in their name.) One of those teams was the best team I ever saw, and Johnny Damon was hitting lead-off and playing Center Field. The point? This is going to be a great Autumn for Yankees fans. For Red Sox fans? Well, you can be man enough to watch the Yanks do their best imitation of the Rich Man’s “Why Not Us?” Red Sox, or you can find something else to occupy your time. As for me, I have this model airplane hobby I’ve been thinking of taking up.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Hundred Sixty-Two Degrees and Rising

It’s that time of year again: August, the month where baseball fans begin to panic. In droves, like lemmings, the loyal fans of first-place teams, and teams in the wild-card hunt walk zombie-like towards the cliff, and get ready to jump. The sky is falling in out in detroit, where if the team doesn't make the playoffs, entering the final two months with an 8.5 game lead, they may just move to Montreal, and start from scratch. Why is the sky falling in? Because of a 1-2 series against the divisional rival twins over the weekend, and according to the blogger "Walk Off Balk" because God hates him. Of course, now that we are mid-week the Twins have lost their young gun and, suddenly, the Twin Cities are in a panic. Steve Phillips' "best rotation in baseball" is going to have to be more reliant on an offense that has statistically played over their heads for the past two months. And the tides are turning out in Oakland, where a suddenly anaemic offense is nullifying the success of the Athletics' most recent crop of young arms. Indeed, it seems that from the Mid-West to the West panic is setting in on Waiver-Wire-Wednesday. And then of course, there is the Red Sox.

The Curse of the Tattoo-Bet

Now I am not normally one for curses. I didn't believe in Shaughnessy's Curse of the Bambino, and I am not afraid of an injured bird hobbling around second base at Fenway. But I do believe in the metaphysical improbability of fan-on-team jinxes. I believe that a certain position a fan sits in, a beverage a fan chooses to drink, or (as was the case in October of 2004) the inning in which a fan chooses to blow out a burning candle--the 6th, of course--can affect the outcome of a game, or a series, even a season. Call me crazy, but even as I refuse to accept the possibility that an injured black-bird could be the cause of what seems to be the worst string of Karma the Red Sox have had in years, I have no doubt, whatsoever, that their trials and tribulations are directly related to an idiotic drunken bet made on the deck of a friend's house on the 3rd of July. On that fateful evening, with the Yankees trailing the basement-bound Cleveland Indians, and the Red Sox riding a 16-1 streak, I promised my friend Tim that the season was over. The Sox, I proclaimed (under the influence of a few cold beers and a few hours of the hot sun) would win the division. And not only that--NOT ONLY THAT!--but the Yankees won't even make the playoffs. Playoffs?! PLAYOFFS?!! PLAAAYYOFFSS?!!!?!

You ask: What inspires an otherwise rational human-being, an intelligent, college educated, Sports Research Editor, to make such a rash, foolish--nay, downright INANE--statement? The answer, sadly, is I have no idea. Simply amazing and inexplicable is the manic rationale of the overzealous fan. A win over Tampa Bay in May can smell so much like the burnt smoke of shopping-cart pretzels in October, feel so much like the beginning of something beautiful blooming, a flowering bud on the trees above, emerging in time-lapsing images into a World Championship Ring. And a week later? A one run loss to the Yankees can spell doom. The team is falling apart, there's no chemistry, not enough speed on the base-paths, the off-season acquisitions are like produce picked up in haste at the grocery store, brought home to rot on the window-sill. You never really eat Bananas, anyway! Your team is done.

But then there's a run like the Sox went on to end the month of June: Sure, it was against a group of teams from that "special-needs league" who arrived to the Stadium in a caravan of short busses, drool spotting their chins, chewing on their pine-tar, stumbling around with their cleats tied together. And perhaps, the weaknesses in the rotation were masked by being pitted against weak lineups, and clueless managers, but still, things were just going right: bunts were being put down, in the rare circumstance that one was in order; errors were non-existent; Papi was being Papi; Schilling looked like a certifiable Ace and Beckett looked like the Beckett of the National League (wait for it, wait for it...) So, why wouldn't I feel bold enough to proclaim my team tops of the AL East? Why wouldn't I get up in my buddy, Tim's face, and gloat about the Red-Hot-Sox? And with the Yankees struggling against the league's punching bags, and with Randy Johnson failing to throw harder than Jennifer Stewart, and A-Rod doing his best impression of that Third-Basemen/Team-Owner guy from the Fidelity Investments commercial, why wouldn't I declare the Yankees season over?! With the Sox on fire, the Yankees in the dump, and the AL Central chock-full of legitimate contenders, why wouldn't I be so certain of the Yankees demise to declare: "I am so certain of the Yankees missing the play-offs that I will tattoo the Yankees logo on my ass if they do!" It was the proclamation of a fan in heat. It was a statement made in a moment where your slightly flawed team has just given you such a fantastic 17 game stretch that you can't help but sigh and light a cigarette, pull up your shorts, and pound your chest a bit. And maybe you are feeling a little too good about what you've just landed, and maybe the pock-marks on your teams ass are going to look alot more abundant, and the cottage cheese-thighs in your bull-pen are going to become a lot less appealing when you strip off the forgiving National League East under-garments, but right now? Right now, you are on a roll, king of the world, and you've just cruised to 16 loud and wild finishes. Your team is looking perfect. And yeah, so what if you have had a couple beers?

The thing about my gambling tendencies is that when I am laying down that big stack of chips, or betting twenty that Shaq sinks the next free-throw, or even declaring the Yankees dead ( as they are 3.5 games out of the Division BEFORE the deadline) is that I don't know that I ever truly believe in my own wager. It's like I am making the wager against myself. I might lose that big stack, or that twenty; I might end up with that NY logo, that talisman of "improbable odds conquered with the power of endless payroll" stamped on my ASS FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY, but even though everyone within hearing distance disagrees with me, myself included, if by some chance I am right...well...then I will have been the only one who knew better.

The problem with this bet, of course, was that it was completely irrational. Over the course of 162 games, things happen. Players get injured; managers go on benders; the guys on your team who used to juice, just can't get their hands on the good HGH that the guys on the other team sure seem to be taking...I mean, the possibilities are endless. Especially when it's July, and certain asshat general managers still have the ability to sign off on baffling transactions that only serve as reminders year after year that there are fans of certain teams in this world whom God, and their own General Managers, truly do not care to help. Now I'm not a welch, and I may be a whiner, but I brought this on myself. There is not a doubt in my mind that had I kept my stupid mouth shut, the Sox would be marching away with the AL East division title as you read this. Had the Gods of Karma (whom, it is rumored, have keen senses of humor) never overheard my promise to tattoo the NY on my buttocks--immediately deciding this prospect was to good to pass up--the Sox division lead would be about 7. They would not have gone 14-12 since I made that stupid bet. Meanwhile, the Yankees, most certainly would not have gone 16-7 during that same stretch with an outfield consisting of Judas Damon, Milk-Dud, and that kid that looks like Butters. Had I kept my stupid mouth shut, Trot Nixon would be healthy, Jason Varitek would not only be healthy, but have found the fountain of youth, Roger Clemens would be on his way to Boston (just to picth tonight, before turning around and flying home for four nights), Bob Abreu would be off in Central America hunting down his loosely moralled ex-fiancee, and Derek Jeter's new Cologne would come in one of those unecessary, tacky, gift packages, with a stick of A-Rod's purple lipstick. Alas, I had to open my stupid mouth. And now instead of feeling so relaxed about the Red Sox prospects that I could just TiVo the game and go get drunk in an Air-Conditioned bar tonight, I will be sitting in my AC-free apartment, with my window fans blasting, clicking maniacally back-and-forth between MLB games praying that Chien-Ming Wang gets a case of the yips, Vernon Wells finds his stroke, and Jon Lester proves Theo a genius for insisting that his promise was so great that we shouldnt let go of this kid for Andruw Jones or Roy friggin' Oswalt.

And one last thing: Tim and I have tickets to the August 19th day-game match-up between the Sox and Yanks at Fenway. I am feeling pretty damn confident that the Sox will be five games out by then. So, confident, in fact, that I would place a wager on it. If any one is interested, I have one spare ass-cheek open for the taking.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Erin Andrews in a Papelbon Jersey

First of all, I am pretty sure, there is nothing more oddly attractive then Erin Andrews filling a spot for ESPN's broadcast of last night's game in a loosely buttoned Jon Papelbon jersey. Nevermind the fact that she probably knows less about baseball than my pinky-toe, yet gets paid to spend every day with professional baseball players, solely because she is pleasant to look at. For about 5 minutes there I was wondering if the Sox could make an 11th hour trade deadline deal of Papelbon straight up for Erin Andrews. Given what the Red Sox did with their other major deadline acquisitions and given the whole "Yankees fleecing the entire state of Pennsylvania" thing, the Sox seem to have an uphill battle ahead of them anyway. The least we could have as fans, is Erin Andrews in the bullpen in a jersey and hot-pants. Lets make this happen, Theo.

Because, let's be honest. Theo certainly didn't make anything else happen. Am I upset about that? Sure. Do I think it severely limits the teams ability to win the AL East or even make a playoffs push given the moves made by other contenders? Absolutely. While it is easy to look at this deadline myopically (and plenty of sports writers are doing so) the bigger picture is really what the Sox have in mind. Did Theo and the brain-trust potentially sacrifice a shot at the playoffs this year for potential to excel down the road? That remains to be seen, but what is certain is, the Sox have committed to a philosophy that promises to keep the Sox competitive for years to come, and furthermore--and I say this with no sense of hyperbole--makes it more fun for the fans. Now, granted, nothing is more fun than watching your team win a play-offs series (especially if it is over your rivals, or it is the World Series) but in modern baseball, with a few exceptions like the Braves, team loyalty for the fans truly has turned into "rooting for teh laundry."

With free-agency, the yearly salary dumping by teams like this year's Phillies and Pirates, and the tendency over the past 10-15 years to trade youthful promise for high-priced talent, it is hard to identify with players, and much easier to simply identify with a team, even if that team is constantly in flux--a veritable wind-mill of all-stars and veteran utility men--something like a fantasy team. Now I love fantasy baseball, but I also think there is something to be said for following a guy like Jonathan Papelbon from AA ball to a spot in the Major League Bullpen, don't Red Sox fans enjoy his success more than will Dodgers fans enjoy the first Win Greg Maddux wraps up in his new, and awkward uniform? Maybe it is sour grapes, but the thought of Roy Oswalt winning 7 or 8 down the stretch for the Sox is exciting, sure, but not nearly as enticing as the thought of a pitching staff that includes 4 guys I have followed from their minor league struggles, through their MLB debuts.

While I understand the need for National Networks--ok, National Network--to fill time and stir the pots of interest (gotta keep that rivalry going or ratings will dip in August) I couldn't be less impressed than I am by these immediate "grade the deadline" segments they run. Forgive me if the fact that Steve Phillips think the Red Sox are losers doesn't make me too worried about the team's prospects this year. After all, Steve Phillips wasn't even good enough to be the General Manager of a team that traded one of the best future prospects in recent memory for this guy. Talk about myopic.

So this might be a rough two months for myself, and any other Red Sox fan. We may, indeed, be forced to watch the likes of Jason Johnson give away game after game, while Bobby Abreu hits his stride and goes yard on Sports Center every night. Alas, we still have a bright future to look forward to, and can continue to root for the same guys we always have. And should they win the World Series in 2008, well...then that will make the champagne taste all the better.

Having Said all that I still see the sox winning 96 games. The question now, is whether two of the other three (Yankees, Twins or White Sox) can win more. As long as the Sox have Papi, Manny, Schilling and Papelbon, I say they are in the race.