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Archive for December, 2008

Review: DEEP DRIVE Mike Lowell

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 26, 2008

deep-drive

DEEP DRIVE, A long journey to finding the champion within.  By Mike Lowell with Rob Bradford.  Foreword by Josh Beckett.    256 pages.  2008.  Celebra books.

 

This book is a great baseball story and an even better human one.

 

In Short – Lowell’s family are refugees from Castro, and he grows up a scrawny kid near Miami.  He works his ass off, turns the skinny build into a productive one.  599 guys are drafted in front of him, but he grows into the Yankee Organization Player of the Year before being traded to the Marlins.   Cancer interrupts his life TWICE.  Steroid rumors swirl but do not prevail.  He loses his swing.  He is betrayed by money grubbers.  He overcomes it all.

 

Lowell wins the World Series twice.  Lowell becomes a World Series MVP. 

 

Great Player.  Great Teammate.

 

It’s a great read and you should pick it up.

 

*******************

 

 

Lowell’s Dad, Carlos, at age 11, escaped from Cuba to Puerto Rico.  Carlos played baseball on the San Ignacio H.S. team.  He played his college ball at St. Joseph’s in Philly, where he tossed a no-hitter and won the MVP Award.  Carlos competed for the Puerto Rico National team.

 

Mike Lowell was raised in Florida where he changed High Schools when it became apparent he wouldn’t get adequate playing time while studying with the good Brothers at Christopher Columbus High School.  The last two spots in the batting order of the Christopher Columbus freshman team were historic.  Batting 8th and playing SS was Alex Rodriguez.  Batting 9th and playing second base was Lowell.

 

A-Rod transferred to Westminster H.S. due to a lack of playing time and Lowell left for Coral Gables H.S. for the same reason.  Imagine what Brother Herb Baker might say today about not having foreseen the potential of these future MLB All Stars.  According to this book, Baker was pretty stoic about it.

 

Before going to Florida International with close to a full ride, Lowell was recruited by Notre Dame assistant Coach Pat Murphy, who would later coach Dustin Pedroia at Arizona State.

 

After developing as a second baseman throughout High school and College, Mike was selected by the New York Yankees in the 20th round of the 1995 draft.  He was shocked when the Yankees informed him they intended to convert him to a catcher.

 

They didn’t stick with that decision after seeing what great hands he had at third.

 

Mike had little power at first.  He was underweight at Oneonta (NY Penn League) and Greensboro (A).  But in 1996 and 1997 he gained 25 pounds of muscle, batting .344 for half a season in Norwich (AA) and hitting 15 Homers in half a season in Columbus (AAA).  In 1998, he played 126 games for Columbus, batting .311 with 25 HR’s.  Mike made his MLB debut on 9-13-98 at Yankee Stadium in front of 47,471 fans.  He singled in his first at bat.  Although he was the starting 3rd baseman that day, he was behind Scott Brosius on the depth chart.  Still, he was the Yankees 1997 Organization Player of the Year and had a terrific 1998.  Thus, before the post-season, Lowell was told he would be the 1999 starting third baseman on the Yankees, unless Brosius won the World Series MVP, an unlikely possibility…..

 

……and that is exactly what occurred. 

 

Lowell was traded to his hometown Marlins on Feb. 1, 1999. 

 

He had no objection to playing in hometown Miami.

 

But within a month of the trade he was diagnosed with cancer.

 

1999 was a rollercoaster.  Traded, then diagnosed, he underwent surgery and chemo, was sent down to AAA to rehab, and was required to prove he was still major league capable in May. 

 

By Oct. 1, 1999, Mike had batted .253 with 12 home runs in 97 games and was informed he would be a starter for the 2000 squad.

 

“Surviving cancer was, and always will be, my toughest battle. I laugh when people talk about how tough it is to deal with the boos of fans….when cancer comes calling, baseball takes a backseat…having 40,000 people at Yankee Stadium tell me I suck is a nice diversion.”

 

 

NUGGETS

 

 

THE STORY OF “PAM”:  Lowell clarifies why MLB players might be wary about people pretending to be friends.  The story of “Pam”, a BFF of Bertica, his wife, makes the point.  Friends since they were age 15, “Pam” was injured in a car accident with Bertica at the wheel during Lowell’s rookie year.  At first unconscious, “Pam” recovered pretty quickly and all was well.  Some months passed, and then “Pam” stopped speaking with Bertica.  Suddenly, the Lowells were hit with a $1.2 Million law suit alleging pain and vision issues for “Pam”.  At that point, Lowell had made $60,000 total playing 4 years of pro ball and had $7,000 in the bank.  “Pam” and her attorney were stunned when Mike showed them his IRS returns.  The money grubbers slunk away.  They were not heard from again under after Mike signed a major contract the following year.  Ultimately, they sued for $600,000 and Lowell settled for half of that to put it behind them.  Unfortunately for Bertica, the emotional injury cast a shadow for two years.

 

 

THE IRON MAN  SONG:   Have you sat in Fenway wondering how the music dude selected Black Sabbath’s IRON MAN for Lowell’s at bats ?  Turn to page 161.  The story involves getting beaned in the noggin by Adam Loewen and then diving into the field boxes to make a catch in the top of the next inning.

 

BEING GROUNDED:  Mike Lowell is a grounded individual.  “I’ve always said that I play baseball but that is not who I am.  That’s part of who I am.  But I’d much rather be a good father, husband, friend and brother…the game is just what everyone sees, but there is so much more to me.”

 

As Jackie Kennedy said, “If you screw up raising your children, it really doesn’t much matter what else you achieve with the rest of your life.”

 

 

BE POSITIVE:   “You can choose to harp on negativity  — I certainly could have when cancer came calling, or when the hits were hard to find in 2005 – but if you choose the positive you’re going to get the most out of life.  It has worked for me, and I’m not about to stop now.”

 

 

 

AMERICA IS A PLACE TO START AGAIN:  Lowell’s family believed, achieved and overcame Communism & Cancer. 

 

The Seattle Mariners’ Don Wakamatsu today became the first person of Asian ethnicity to be a MLB Manager, rising above a different and regrettable form of oppression.

 

Lowell’s Dad and Father-in-Law were victimized by Castro. 

 

Wakamatsu’s grandparents were victims of the U.S. Government. 

 

They lost their home and were imprisoned in a World War II internment camp.

 

Baseball reflects America.  The good and the bad.

 

 

DEEP DRIVE is a story of family strength.   It’s a good read.  Tackle it and be rewarded.  Red My fellow Sox fans will be rewarded to know that though we lost Teixeira to the Yankees we have retained a man of singular character and skill.

MVP gets 2 cars & a Disney Parade !

MVP gets 2 cars & a Disney Parade !

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Ferguson Jenkins at World Series Club

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 23, 2008

Ferguson Jenkins back in the day

Ferguson Jenkins back in the day

On Dec. 15, 2008, Fergie spoke for 90 minutes at the World Series Club of Greater Hartford’s hot stove league dinner.

The World Series Club of Greater Hartford was founded in 1926.  Early speakers included Lou Gehrig, Frankie Frisch, Connie Mack & Lefty Gomez.  The club continues  today.  If you can drive to Hartford, you’ll want to experience this.  Go to:  http://www.worldseriesclub.com/index.asp

 

Ferguson Jenkins is an eloquent and dashing figure today at age 65.  His considerable speaking gifts held 240 baseball fans in his palm on Dec. 15 at the W.S.C. of Hartford. 

The mind is sharp, the build still tall and powerful. 

The abundant hair is gone and replaced with a shining, shaven dome.

He was as forceful in bringing the audience back to the 1960’s as he was knocking down MLB batters.   (He hit 84 of them.)

It was completely appropriate on this night that one of the classiest radio personalities anywhere, Arnold Dean of WTIC-AM, introduced Ferguson Jenkins. 

Dean noted Fergie’s 3000+ K’s and few walks (less than 1000) in over 4500 MLB innings; his 20 victories in 6 yrs consecutive, and being named to the list of Top 100 Best BB Players of the 20th Century.

Not to mention his HOF induction in 1991 with Gaylord Perry, Rod Carew, Tony Lazzeri and Bill Veeck.

Ferguson took us back to his beginning – growing up in Chatham, Ontario.  That’s where he played youth hockey with Chico Mackie, Pat Stapleton and Walt Tkachuk    all future NHL players.

Fergie was a hockey star, making the Chatham All Stars.  He was not destined to play hockey though.   After one particularly rough game at age 15, his Mom, who was blind, said “Fergie, hockey won’t work out    because the only things on the ice that are black are you and the puck.  It isn’t meant to be.”

 

Fergie’s mother was a Baptist, and she raised him with discipline.  She told him that if he did not abide in The Lord and read the Bible, he would soon enough meet The Devil.  (“Well, in 1966, I met The Devil.  And it was Leo Durocher.  He had two sayings, ‘If you don’t like it, I’ll back the truck up.’, and ‘Nice Guys finish last.’.”)

Jenkins says he was lucky because he had two parents.  “My Mom always ironed my uniform and had it very clean.  My Dad always told me I had better polish my shoes.  I had black, black spikes.

Look presentable.  Play the way you look.  Always listen to your Coaches.  And Coaches, never talk down to your players.

At Mom’s behest, Fergie took up Baseball.  2 years later he signed a pro contract.

*****

 

Jenkins knows his career achievements like you or I know how our pants size.  4,500 IP.  267 complete games.  Hit 84 batters.  Lost 79 1-run games
Lost 13 games by a score of 1 – 0.  Might have won 350 games with a few breaks, a few more run scored.

Staying healthy is the key, according to Jenkins.  Gibson and Koufax had freak injuries that limited their win totals.  A Clemente liner off the tibia cut Gibby’s career short.  A slide into second base caused the initial damage to Koufax’s elbow.   All you can do is work hard, keep your team in the game, and try to stay healthy, advises Ferguson.

 

Some more advice:  Don’t be afraid to pitch inside.  Knock down the biggest guy on the other team.  If the biggest guy doesn’t charge the mound, the little guys won’t either.

 

NUGGETS

 

The McCovey Story.  It’s 1967 and Willie McCovey is tearing the cover off the ball.  The Cubs go to Candlestick early in the season.  Jenkins pitches well but McCovey smacks a 2-run game-deciding homer.  Cubs & Jenkins lose.  Some time later, the Giants visit Wrigley.  Jenkins pitches well but McCovey hits a bases clearing double for 3 RBI and sure enough, Cubs & Jenkins lose again.  Later in the same season, the Cubs return to San Francisco.  Jenkins and Ernie Banks, roommates, check in at the hotel and are unpacking when their phone rings.  It’s the concierge.  He surprises Fergie when he tells him that their car is waiting.  Fergie tells the concierge to hang on and asks Banks if he ordered a car.  Banks says “No.”.  The baffled Jenkins returns to the phone and asks the concierge, “What’s the significance of the car?   We didn’t order it.”.  And the Concierge said, “Oh, Mr. McCovey wanted to make sure that Mr. Jenkins gets to the ballpark alright.  He paid for the limousine.”

True story.

So they took it to the ballpark.

McCovey went 0-for-3.

*****

The Buffalo Head Gang.  This is how Fergie remembers it.  Mid-September, 1977.  The Red Sox have a 2 game lead on the Yankees with 13 games left.  Zimmer demotes Rick Wise, Bill Lee and Fergie Jenkins himself into the bullpen.   Yankees win.  Sox finish 3rd behind the Orioles. 

Retrosheet.org has it a little differently.  The Yanks have a 3.5 game lead on Aug. 31, 1977.  The Sox go a remarkable 22 – 8 for September.  The Bombers go 19 – 9.    Sox play .733 ball down the stretch and it is not good enough.

What ?  Were they going to win all 30 games with the Buffalo Head Gang in the rotation ?

 

 

Fergie on New York signing Sabathia for $160 million:  He’s not as heavy as he looks, he’s hard as a rock…it will work out…he loses only to the Yankees, he beats every other team in the league….N.Y. will score runs for him…I’d be happy going to the ballpark everyday if I signed that contract.  (In fact, with what rookies make, I want to play again.)

Fergie on the 6 HR’s that he hit in a year:  I got my chance to show what I could do (with a bat) in the NL…if a pitcher made a mistake, I was going to punish him…..Zambrano is one ahead of me in career homers by a pitcher…but I had a 20/20/20 season:  24 wins, 28 hits, and 20 rbi in 1971…..I also hit 2 HR w 3 rbi in a win vs. Montreal……

Favorite Park to Pitch in:  Yellowstone.

The one time he was ejected: (paraphrased) 1972.   I was going to pitch to Henry Aaron, whom I had great success against.  I gave up 2 HR to Hank in 11 years of pitching to him.   (Seaver, in 7 years yielded 11 HR to The Hammer.). With a game on the line, two on, and Aaron at the plate, Whitey Lockman yanked me…I just knew I would have gotten Aaron out.  Of course, the reliever yielded a 2 rbi double on his second pitch.  Game over.  And I just lost it.  I chucked 6 bats onto field and was ejected.  The Cubs sent me to a therapist. 

Best all around Cub:  Billy Williams

Best all around players in the N.L.:  Mays and Clemente.
Best in the A.L.:  Kaline and Carew

Best Fenway Memory:  How Yaz lowered his head but didn’t move any other muscle when an opponent crushed a homer over the monster.

Pete Rose:  we’re not on speaking terms.

Jim Rice in the HOF:  He has the stats, but he never won a championship, and that has held him back.

Baseball strategy today:  Back in the day, the starter pitched every 4th day, went 7 or 8 innings, threw 110 pitches, then handed the ball to a closer. 

Today, we have 5 starter,s each expected to go 6 innings, with 110 pitches. 

Today it is Starter-Holder-Set-up-Closer. 

Back then, the roster held 9 pitchers and 16 position players.  Today, the roster holds 14 pitchers and 11 position players.

That’s where the strategy has gone.

Back in the day:  After a start, here is what your schedule looked like:
Day 1 Off
Day 2 throw BP
Day 3 Throw
Day 4 Start

On knowing your career is done:  You know it.  You feel differently. The fire is gone.

 

Ferguson Jenkins held court for 90 wonderful minutes.  We sang Happy Birthday to him.  He signed autographs for all.  We enjoyed abundant chicken, sausage, pasta, ribs and salad.  Beverages at friendly prices, too.

 

 

The World Series Club of Greater Hartford was founded in 1926 by businessmen who wanted tickets to see the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Soon the Club started inviting baseball personalities to speak at off-season dinner meetings.  Speakers in the early years included Lou Gehrig, Frankie Frisch and Lefty Gomez.  In a meeting celebrating the Club’s 25th anniversary in 1951, the guest speaker was Connie Mack.  The club continues to meet today, holding for 4 to 6 dinners with speakers every off season.   If you are within a reasonable drive of Hartford, you’ll want to experience these dinners.  For more information, go to:  http://www.worldseriesclub.com/index.asp

Fergie more recently

Fergie more recently

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Review: Reversing The Curse

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 22, 2008

reverse-art-1

REVERSING THE CURSE:  A Season in the Life of America’s Greatest Sports Rivalry.  By Dan Shaughnessy.  2005. 272 pages. Houghton Mifflin.

 

 

About 40 pages in, Shaughnessy lucidly recalls how young Theo submerged himself in professional baseball, postponing his driver’s license test for 7 years, living on McDonald’s, working 12 hour days, becoming a lawyer and climbing the ladder with preposterous speed.

 

At that point I thought, “This book is far better than I expected.”.

 

About 70 pages in, Shaughnessy quotes Halberstam’s summation of Red Sox fans, “It’s really very distinctive……I have maybe gotten into the artists and writers and poets of Red Sox Nation.  The fans are quite interesting and important and different……”

 

At that point, I started to feel like I owed Shaughnessy an apology for not reading his book sooner.

 

Should have known that the guy with total access to Theo and his minions would bring a book packed with inside stuff.

 

Should have known that the guy who can make about 800 words work three times a week would write one of the better books about the 2004 Red Sox.

 

Shaughnessy has serious writing chops.  On TV and in public he carries himself with reserve and courtesy.  He’s a polite guy.  Maybe even camera shy.  I am almost surprised he isn’t a little bit immodest.  He’s that good.

 

He has taken his hard shots at the Sox in the past, but not so in this book.

 

Nothing so cutting as the harpoon with which he speared Nomar on Aug. 1, 2004.  (As I remember it, he wrote that the clubhouse cancer had been removed.)

 

The sharpest criticism D.S. levels in REVERSING is to make it clear than Pedro Martinez did not attend team meetings, work outs or even arrive in the dug out for games he did not start  —– until the 7th inning !

 

During one critical series against the Yankees, he didn’t even come down with the team.  He waited until his start before making the 200 mile trip.

 

So, why did Tim Wakefield make the same trip promptly ?

 

“Because I wanted to be with my teammates.”, said, Wake.

 

That’s the contrast Shaughnessy strikes.  Pedro the Hall Of Fame Prima Donna versus  Wakefield the Team Guy.

 

Pedro had a negative effect on Manny.  After Pedro took an outrageous 6-day vacation in the middle of the season, Manny reported tightness in his hammy and took a few days off, too.  There had been no indications that anything was wrong with Manny.

 

Two feakishly talented slackers.   Two players that find themselves outside of the organization’s circle of love at the moment.

 

************ 

The portrait of Larry Lucchino in the book is titillating.  LL emerges as a fearless, F-bomb dropping, Yankee hating leader.  With a mind like a steel trap.

And yet, Lucchino has moments of doubt.

 

Larry’s moments of vulnerability came in game 4 and game 5 of the 2004 ALCS when the Sox were within a few outs of elimination.  Lucchino began scribbling notes for a speech.  As much as losing hurt, he would say that they were not vanquished, not defeated, and would come back with passion and a singular goal in 2005.

 

But things kept happening.  With the Yankees leading 4-3 in the 9th, Millar walked and Roberts stole second.  Lucchino put his notes in the desk of his luxury suite.  He settled in until Ortiz hit a 12th inning walk-off HR off Quantrill, making Larry’s speech at least temporarily moot.

 

The next night, down 4-2 in the 8th and back on the brink, Lucchino retrieved his note pad to re-draft his concession-without-submission speech.  But then Ortiz homered off Tom Gordon, a rally ensued, and Tek sacrificed in the game tying run..  Again, Lucchino put his notes back in the drawer.  He settled in to watch the completion of the 14 inning Sox victory, won when David’s gork dropped into Centerfield for a single.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see that incomplete draft of Lucchino’s speech.  It marks a desperate moment in Sox history and shines light into Larry’s character.  The darkest night comes just before the Dawn.

 

Call me a sick Soxaholic, but I just feel gratified to know about that draft.  If and when I meet Larry, I’ll be sure to ask about it.

 

Reversing The Curse is filled with such gold, excavated and preserved by the author.  I won’t ruin it for you b revealing more now. 

Even if you are prone to bashing Dan,  I recommend you read this book this winter.

 

You’ll be glad ya did.

 

theo-n-larry

The Author

The Author

Posted in BASEBALL, BASEBALL BOOKS, Boston Red Sox, Manny Ramirez, RED SOX | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »