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Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

Archive for January, 2010

Big Red Machine : Back to 1975 with an A+ book

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 24, 2010

16 degree surface temperatures and school delays signify the long wait until some little kid from Somerville will shout Play Ball at the Fenway opener.

I have sunk into a winter of reading in my warm New England home.  It has been a good one so far, coming off Sweet Spot, the official history of Louisville Slugger, and Michael Sokolove’s book about Darryl Strawberry and his Crenshaw H.S. team mates.

I wasn’t expecting to be transported back to my parents’ living room  in front of their 19” Magnavox color TV in 1975, watching Pete Rose whip around the bases with the gait of a muscle bound cowboy, smirking as he crossed home plate.

In the early 70’s, there were arguably more talented players than Pete Rose, but none were tougher, more clutch, or bigger winners.

Joe Posnanski, in his new book, recreates a player & team so compellingly it almost makes me re-think Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame.

The Machine.  A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series:  The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds.    By Joe Posnanski.  Published by William Moorow, 2009.  302 p.

Baseball books that chronicle a season interspersed with quips are a tried & true form.

Some are a grind.  Not so with The Machine.

Being an AL fan for life, I’ve missed many of the back stories of NL players.  It was gratifying to learn how Gary Nolan came up.

GARY NOLAN REBORN

The timeline is set at March 13, 1975.  The Reds and Twins will meet in a Tampa exhibition.  Gary Nolan, a 26 years old veteran of 7 seasons, cannot understand why he has butterflies.  He was always so good at pitching that he has never been nervous doing it.

It has been almost two years since he has pitched.

Nolan, who would start iconic Game 6 in the 1975 World Series, grew up as a legend in Oroville, CA.  He contracted Baseball fever at age 10 by listening to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons broadcast the exploits of Willie Mays, Hank Sauer and Orlando Cepeda, just 150 miles down the road in San Francisco.

“Tell it bye-bye, baby !”, was how Hodges peppered his HR calls.

Nolan had a dazzling fastball that brought 70 scouts to his H.S. games.  He dominated them in Sioux Falls in ’66, and at the age of 19, he made his major league debut for the Reds against the Houston Astros. He K’d his first batter, Sonny Jackson, who only K’d in 8% of his career AB’s.   He then struck out the 5x gold glove outfielder, veteran Jim Landis.

Later that season, Gary struck out Willie Mays four times in a game.  Nobody had ever done that before.  But here was this 19-year-old kid with a live fastball K’ing his personal hero like he owned him.  As Nolan ran off the field, Mays whistled to him and said, “Son, I was overmatched.”.

Nolan struck out 206 batters that season.  No 19 year old had whiffed that many since Bob Feller.  Gary went 14-8 with a 2.58 ERA.  He finished 3rd for ROY behind Seaver and Dick Hughes.  He posted fair numbers in ’68 and ’69, and then was untouchable in 1970.  As his rookie Manager, Dave Bristol said in ‘67, “He aint got no ceiling.”.

By 1972, he was still pitching great, but his arm throbbed constantly.  And it all came to a crashing halt.

In 1973, he could pitch just 10.1 innings.  In 1974, he did not play in the Majors, and but for 6 IP’s with AAA Indianapolis he did not pitch that year.

By 1975, he was a 26-year-old long shot, trying to impress a crowd of cynics and win back a position in the Red rotation.

He was no longer 19, commanding, and bullet proof.

+++++++++++++++++

Posnanski recounts briefly and colorfully how Nolan became a different kind of pitcher in 1975, when he won the Hutch Award for honor, courage and dedication as he posted a 15-9 W-L record with a 3.16 ERA

Posnanski gives us a brilliant back story on almost every Red.

What makes this book great is that the author has a way of defining the characters that is succinct, insightful and entertaining.

A Baseball season has 182 days in it.  That’s a loooong and sloooow season.   Some  season histories are painfully slow.  Like Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan’s dreadful, “Faithful”, about the 2004 Red Sox

Clearly, “The Machine” is one of the best season chronicles of the decade.

I’m putting Posnanski, with much hope, along side archetypal story tellers Leigh Montville and Tom Adelman.

+++++++++++++++++

The Reds 1975 odyssey got off to a rocky start but reached magnificent heights.  Just a .500 club after 24 games, Sparky Anderson shook up the team by giving his starting 3rd bagger, John Vukovich a demotion and riskily placing Rose at the hot corner.

Then Joe Morgan shook up the team on a day when a hung-over Bench said he could not play.  Morgan, who had 50 stitches in his leg, declared he was ready to play and screamed at Bench and the team for being soft.  Their bats soon came alive.  Morgan had an MVP season.  They became a .600 team.

Within weeks, Sparky Anderson became an instant genius when his favorite starter, Don Gullet, went down.   Sparky ceased to allow any of his starters to pitch a complete game.  The Reds staff registered 22 complete games all year.  (The 1975 Red Sox staff recorded 62.)  Captain Hook worked his bullpen like a magician. He ran relievers in and out of games at a rate that Joe Torre would mirror 25 years later.

Anderson’s decision angered his starters, but it paid off.  The Reds hitting exploded.  The pitchers held down the rest of the league.   The Reds finished with a record of 108 – 54.  They won their Division by 20 games.  They won 90 of their last 125 games, an absurd 72%.

Posnanski makes us recall how certain we were in 1975 that the Big Red Machine was u-n-s-t-o-p-p-a-b-l-e.

CLUBHOUSE NUGGETS

Sparky explained when the season began that there were 4 Superstars on the team and everyone else was a TURD.  Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Doggie (Tony Perez) were the stars.  Ken Griffey, Dave Concepcion, Cesar Geronimo and George Foster were TURDS.  So was anyone else on team.

And it was indeed the 4 stars that set the tone on the team with a daily, never ending ball busting.

Here’s the clubhouse exchange after the Ali-Wepner fight, in which the black Superman failed to quickly put away the white guy.  The fight went 15 rounds and Wepner actually knocked down the far superior Ali once before the Champ got a late knock out.

Morgan and Rose argued.

“He got knocked out !”, said Morgan.

“Did anybody think this guy could last until there were 19 seconds left ?”, Rose yelled back.  “Everybody thought he would get knocked out in the first round….Hell, the white guy even knocked Ali down.”

“Would you two shut up ?”, Bench yelled across the clubhouse.

“It was a slip.”, said Morgan.

“Yeah, like you slipped when you swung at that pitch in the dirt yesterday,” Perez shouted.

“You do know that Ali let the bum hang around, “Morgan said, “You are smart enough to realize that, right ?”

Rose smiled, “All I know,” he said, “is that the white guy went 15 rounds with the champ.  We’re athletes too, Joe !  We’re athletes too!”.

THE ALL TIME HIT KING

Whether or not you are ready to forgive Pete Rose, this book will remind you of what is at stake in your decision.

Rose was/is a singular character with singular drive who loved & loves the game.

“Some players needed to win.  But Pete really had no choice.  He had to hit .300 or fell like less of a man.  He had to get 200 hits every year or he felt time slipping away.  He had to win because his old man, Harry Rose, told him so.

“People often asked Pete if he regretted smashing into Fosse — hell, it was just an All Star Game.  It didn’t count in the standings.  Pete’s response was telling.  He did not even understand the question.  They were playing baseball.  His was the winning run.  Fosse was blocking the plate.  Pete had no choice.

Posnanski shares how Rose currently spends his days signing autographs as card shows, a lonely man burdened with the knowledge that he made himself an All Time Great and an All Time Loser.

And that is what is at the heart of your decision to accept Pete Rose or block him from the complete and legitimate community of Baseball.  No one can deny that he played with fury and has 4,256 Hits.  And no one can pretend that he broke the one rule that all know results in excommunication.

It is all so terribly sad.

++++++++

Whatever else you do this winter, make time for this book.  Among many strengths, it covers the 1975 World Series with a wonderful summary.  Be brief.  Be bright.  Be gone.

You can read more of Joe Posnanski at:  http://joeposnanski.com/

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Smoky Joe Wood to Josh Beckett : Speed aint enuf

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 24, 2010

Somethings never change in Baseball.

As Joe Wood wrote in the 1914 instructional, Pitching Course, “Speed, terrific speed, in my opinion, is the greatest essential that any pitcher can possess.”

Joe Wood had terrific speed.

Walter Johnson said, “Nobody throws a ball as hard as Joe Wood.”

Joe also had a change up which he threw 10% of the time.  He could hold, load and release the change in exactly the same way he did the fastball.  Still, 90% of his pitches were heaters.

From the time he debuted in a loss to Doc White and the White Sox on Aug. 24, 1908, to his last adventurous start in 1920 for Cleveland, Joe was a power pitcher.

But it takes more than speed.

Wood elaborated:  “The man who possesses ordinary speed in a limited degree and nothing else is likely to have his troubles in the major leagues.  If a pitcher has only ordinary speed than he must have ‘something on it’ as we say in baseball.”

“There must be a break to it.  Or better still a ‘hop’.  Straight dead speed is not enough to carry a pitcher.”

Wood’s thoughts conjure how Josh Beckett, a modern power guy, from time to time gets knocked all over the yard even while throwing mid-90’s.

Beckett is said to be someone who could benefit from a 6 man rotation.  He is nasty on an extra day’s rest.  But when Josh is worn down, his fast ball come in hard and flat.

96 years after he wrote it, Joe Wood is still right.  You’ve got to have a hop.

++++++++++++

Smoky Joe Wood won 37 games in 1912, 3 of those in the World Series.  He posted a 1.91 ERA, 35 CG, 10 Shut Outs, 344 IP’s and 258 K’s.  He won 16 consecutive decisions that year.

Although he would finish 117-57 with a sublime 2.03 career E.R.A., he really only pitched 3 more years after 1912.  He averaged only 16 starts and 12 wins from 1913 to 1915.

Joe started his first game at age 19, and his last at age 26.   Bam.  Pitching career over.  He took a year off after leaving Boston in 1915, moved on to Cleveland, and spent 5 years patrolling right field in League Park.  He batted .366 and .297 in his last two years. (’25 and ’26).

Soon he was off to coach at Yale, where he prospered from 1923 to 1942.   His players included Bruce Caldwell, Johnny Broaca, Eddie Collins, Jr., and Joe Wood, Jr., Ducky Pond, Faye Vincent Sr., Albie Booth and Larry Kelly

++++++++++++

It was a major injury that preempted Smoky Joe’s HOF pitching career.

Many a Red Sox history book generically cites arm trouble as what ended his hurling days.

In an interview with The Diamond Angle, Joe’s son, Bob, explains what happened.

“The 1913 injury incident happened in Detroit in early July. He slipped on the wet grass while fielding a bunt and broke his right thumb. Perhaps he tried to come back too soon because the Red Sox were in a pennant race with Philadelphia, Washington and Cleveland. Manager Jake Stahl checked his condition daily. In any event, he never pitched again without severe pain in his right shoulder, although he was able to win 25 games in the next two years, even though in 1914 he had his appendix taken out in February and didn’t start the season until May 27.”

++++++++++++

In the two years that immediately followed the breaking of Smoky Joe’s thumb, the Sox dropped to 4th, and then to second.

The dynasty had been derailed.  The team lost two potential pennants along with a dominating arm on the wet grass at Navin Field.

The Bean Eaters would rebound in 1915 when a 20 year old lefty from the Charm City would start 32 games and go 18 – 8, adding youthful depth to a rotation of Ernie Shore, Dutch Leonard, Rube Foster, and Wood.

They went on to win it all in 1915, 1916 and 1918.

Joe Wood missed the ride for the last two Championships.

To hear his son tell it, he never complained.  He just moved on.  He enjoyed his time in Cleveland, in New Haven, and in the Pocono’s.  He was a family man.  He understood how important he was to his four kids and wife.

“Dad retired after the 1922 season, even though he was a regular and had a very good year. When asked why he retired, his only comments were that he had nothing further to prove to himself or the fans, plus he would come home and his four young children (Joe, Jr, age 7; Steve, 5; Virginia, 4; and Bobby, 4) would hardly recognize him. He was quite a family man……Yes, our parents were always there when we needed them. They were super people.”

++++++++++++

So put Joe Wood in the same box of chocolates with Thurman Munson and Tony Conigliaro, baseball eternals that fate did not allow enough time to earn a HOF plaque.

But don’t feel sorry for Joe.  He didn’t waste his time on sorrow.  He knew what was really important, and kept his focus on the day.

++++++++++++

The 1914 Pitching Course instructional booklet is a marvelous 48 page guide with lessons written by Christy Mathewson, Big Ed Walsh, Walter Johnson, Nap Rucker, Joe Wood, Doc White, and author Irwin M. Howe.   Packed with truisms, some things never change.  It’s a little treasure.

++++++++++++

The Diamond Angle ceased to publish in 2008, but its rich and varied Baseball content remains available at www.thediamondangle.com.   It’s worth your time, so take a look.

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

The journey of Bill Monbouquette : from Billy Martin to Jacoby Ellsbury

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 20, 2010

The Ace in his Prime.

Jacoby Ellsbury could act terribly dumb when he was 22 years old.

“You have to be dumb to try to steal a base when your team is winning 14 – 2.”, said Bill Monbouquette.

So, he talked to him about it.

“If you do that again, you’re going to get drilled right in the flippin’ coconut.’”, Monbouquette told Ellsbury that day in 2005.

Monbo was coaching for Oneonta against Ellsbury and his Lowell team mates at the time.

“And when I told him that, this is what he did –“, Monbouquette mimed Ellsbury’s reaction with the drop of a jaw and the jump of both brows.

I imagined that this dose of inelegant but visceral wisdom made a lasting impression on Ellsbury.

You only need to spend 5 minutes with Bill Monbouquette to know that he is thoughtful and rough-edged, like many men were in the 1940’s and 50’s, and quite politically incorrect in 2010.

Honest, working class guys.  Guys who take no shit, but will take prisoners.  They’ll fight you when you are wrong, and stop just short of pounding a stake through your heart.

I am grateful to have spent time with him at the Boston S.A.B.R. meeting on MLK Day.

++++++++++++++

Bill Monbouquette won 114 games and registered a 3.68 ERA over an 11 year career, 8 of them with the Red Sox.

Ask 10 RSN members under 55 years old who Bill Monbouquette is and they typically will not know.  He doesn’t get his due.

He was the Ace of the Sox staff.  A four-time All-Star, he pitched a no-hitter in 1962 against the White Sox.   He tossed three one-hit games.  He set a club record with a 17 strikeout-game against the Washington Senators in 1961.

He played during an extended period of Sox failure.

He departed Boston after the ’65 season for Detroit, New York & San Francisco, thus missing the Impossible Resuscitation by a mere 2 years.

And that, my friends, is why few know who he is today.  He was not there when Yaz set New England ablaze.

++++++++++++++

When Fenway was Monbo’s home, the Sox were 581 – 688, finishing in 7th, 8th, or 9th place five times.

There was not a lot to look forward to then.   Ted Williams was there for the first 3 seasons.  The excellence of Dick Radatz was on display for a while.  Yaz was a budding star, a doubles guy, and a hit-for-average man.

Of course, Frank Malzone’s was there, too.  Malzone’s run in Boston parallels that of Monbouquette.  From 1955 to 1965, Malzone starred at 3rd Base.  He went to 6 ASG’s, hit .274, registered 239 doubles, and was cheated out of the 1957 ROY by Yankee fans that complained his 133 At Bats in 55-56 disqualified him.

And every 4th day, Monbo got his start and the Sox had a chance of getting a W.

“I pitched inside.  That’s how I made my living.  And you tried to get ahead of the batter.  What is it with these 2 – 0 and 3 – 1 counts with pitchers today ?  That’s when you’re forced to take something off your fastball and throw it over the plate, which is what they want.  You need to get ahead of the batter so you can get the out on your pitch, not his.”

+++++++++++++.

He made his major league debut on July 18, 1958 against TheTigers.  Billy Martin stole home on him that day.  In  Billy’s third time at bat, Monbo threw at him, flipping Martin over backwards.  The Rookie Righty then induced a pop out.  Next, Billy took steps toward the mound.  Monbo slipped the glove off his hand and made two fists.  Then Billy quipped, “You owed me that Rook.”, turned, and trotted off to his dugout.

Billy The Kid didn’t just steal home on the righthanded Monbo, he did it with two out and the Tiger pitcher, Milt Bolling, at the plate.  Billy must have read the Sox rookie like a book.

+++++++++++++.

This man from Medford was a control pitcher.  He had control of his pitches, and often his temper.

He walked 100 batters in 236 IP in 1961, but it was an aberration.  Typically, he made about 35 starts a year and walked 40 batters.

In 1965, he had a 3.70 ERA and somehow lost 18 games.

In 1963, he won 20 games and asked the Red Sox for a raise to bolster his $14,000 salary.

Even then, he didn’t get his due.

When he didn’t sign the contract for 1964 that GM Pinky Higgins had mailed to him, there was a public confrontation.  The fight ended with just one punch. Pinky hit the ground with his backside when Bill uncorked a right to the forehead.

Pinky got up and ordered Bill to meet him in his office the next day.  Bill reported as ordered.  A bodyguard was present.  Words were exchanged again.  Down to the floor went Pinky for a second time.

The fighting cost Monbo some of his leverage for 1964.

But Bill did negotiate a 33,000 salary for 1965, his last year in Boston.

+++++++++++++.

In 2007, Monbouquette was diagnosed with leukemia.  Chemotherapy and drug treatment didn’t work, but in October 2009, he celebrated the one year anniversary of a successful bone marrow and stem cell transplant.

Monbo is grey now, his face peppered with age.  He walks with a stiff gait. He has lost 37 pounds in his battle with cancer.  He says he feels good.

He pauses before answering a question, and begins to speak in a whisper, his volume rising as he gets to the end of the story.

“I was there for Ted Williams last game.  There was nobody there.  Maybe 4,000. They say it was more than that but there wasn’t.   Everyone thought Ted would probably go to New York for the last series of the season.  But I knew he wouldn’t go.”

“Everyone knows he hit that home run on his last at bat.  I was in the bullpen.  I watched it all the way and thought I’d catch it, but it kept going.  I was nowhere near it where it came down.”

“The thing people forget is that there was a stiff wind blowing that day.  Ted hit three balls HARD into that wind, and the wind knocked down the first two.  The third one got out. But he could have hit three that day.  I saw it.”

+++++++++++++.

Bill Monbouquette didn’t reach the post-season.  He missed the glory of ’67 by a smidge.  He is off the radar track of most Soxaholics.

But what he witnessed was wondrous.  And what he received, he earned.

And in the end, standing anonymously among us at age 73, traveled and wise, he is a strong and righteous man.

Posted in BASEBALL, Boston Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury, RED SOX, Ted Williams | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

An Adrian Beltre Beantown Primer

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 12, 2010

Taking a Fenway cut in Seattle road grays

Checking out Adrian Beltre’s career to this point, he’s a vanilla guy.  No celebrity dating or nightclub fights.  He’s no Brad Penny.  That’s for sure.

But I did uncover a few curiosities.

Adrian is an Aries

Born on April 7, Adrian has the same birthday as John McGraw, but not the fire.  Adrian has the same birthday as Bobby Doerr, but not Bobby’s consistency.  Adrian has the same birthday as Jackie Chan, minus the sense of humor.  He’s not the prototypical energetic, adventurous Aries.

He’s kind of blah.  And strangely, he doesn’t have a nickname.  It was suggested in Seattle that he be nicked either “Christmas Hams” or “Captain Awesome”.

We should consider “Box of Chocolates”.

Adrian is Dominican Royalty

Felipe Alou remembers holding Adrian in his arms as a baby.  The Alou family is related by marriage to the Beltre tribe.  That’s very cool.

Cock Fighting is in Adrian’s Blood

The Alou and Beltre families share more than a passing interest in Cock Fighting, the blood sport in which wages are earned as opponents are locked in battle to the death, just like Major League Ball….oh….never mind.   Adrian’s Dad has bred many a champion.

Adrian has a Smart Agent

Maybe you’ve heard of Scott Boras.  Beltre was signed illegally at age 15 by The Dodgers.   Boras figured out how to play this little boo boo.  He blew the whistle in 1998, and thus did Bud Selig fine the Dodgers, shut down their Dominican BB Academy for a year, and order The Dodgers to pay Adrian $48,000.   Smart !

Adrian Patronizes Local Merchants

In 2001, A botched appendectomy performed in the Dominican Republic robbed Adrian of spring training and necessitated a second surgery to repair the damage.

Adrian loses focus.

In 2003, his Dodger team mates let it be known that they’d prefer Adrian be shipped to the Reds for Aaron Boone.  At the time, Adrian’s mates  didn’t think the 24-year-old was really trying.

Adrian takes risks

On. Aug. 12, 2009, The Mariners placed Beltre on the 15-day DL with a severely contused right testicle. The Teste became testy when a grounder off the bat of Alexei Ramirez hit him in the groin. Beltre does not wear a protective cup. Beltre returned to play on Sept. 1.  He batted .275 before the impact, and .221 for the month of September that followed.

Good thing he’s got a glove.

Without factoring in his superstar stats from 2004, Beltre projects in a full season to .263, 18, and 69.

He hasn’t come near his 2004 stats, before or after.  He soared in ‘04 to .334, 48, and 121.

The Mariners just paid Beltre $13 Million per year for 5 years to average .266, with 17 HR’s and 79 RBI.

Beltre’s 2009 OPS was a measly .683.

Although Adrian played in the AL for 5 years, his next Fenway HR will be his first.

He has a lifetime B.A. of .204 at Fenway Park.

The man has two Gold Gloves to help offset what might just be a disappointing offensive contribution in 2010.   I mean, if you are OK with.266, 17 and 79, well, you ought to be happy.   But the stats don’t point to great things for him in Fenway.

Adrian has the answers.

Fact is, you just never know how a player will respond to new surroundings.  He may focus so as to maximize his contract options one year from now.  But it is all up to him.  I wish him the best.  And I wish he’d wear a cup.

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Not one of the Guys: Mike Lowell , Jason Bay , Craig Breslow

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 5, 2010

It was G-R-E-A-T while it lasted.

Jason Bay.  Craig Breslow.  Mike Lowell

What do these 3 have in common besides the fact that they have worn a Boston uniform ?

Not much, it might seem at first.

The 36-year-old Lowell is a .280/23/98 guy with 1 GG, 4 ASG’s, 1 WS MVP and two Championships.  He beat cancer.  He is loved & respected in the clubhouse.  He attended Florida International.

Jason Bay, 31 years old, is a .280/33/107 guy with 1 ROY, 3 ASG’s, and no championships.    He lends credence to the idea that Canadians are just plain nice people, especially to the fans and media.  Jason went to Gonzaga.

Craig Breslow, 29,  is a lefty reliever who projects to 68 relief appearances with a 2.79 ERA.   He has had 4 good years playing for 5 different teams.  He pitches with guile.  He is loquacious.  He graduated from Yale.

One thing that all 3 have in common is that they are not what you would call “one of the Red Sox boys”.  They are not organization players.

Lowell was the millstone around Josh Beckett’s neck when he arrived in Boston in the Hanley Ramirez trade.

Jason Bay was the hard hitting stop-gap measure that filled leftfield when Manny Ramirez was sent packing to Los Angeles.

Craig Breslow was picked up as a spare part for a befuddled bullpen in 2006, a year in which the Sox missed the playoffs.

When the Sox let Breslow get away, they said goodbye to one smart  kid. Mr. Breslow graduated from Yale with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry before turning pro.

Being a Connecticut native like Breslow, I rooted for him to catch on with Boston.  He was good for a while, and less of a mystery the more he pitched.  Still, he soon persevered and progressed in Cleveland, Minnesota & Oakland.

When I spoke with Breslow last month at the World Series Club of Hartford County hot stove dinner, I expressed my dashed hopes that he would catch on with the Sox.  Breslow replied, “Well, I just wasn’t one of their guys.  That makes it harder.”

He said a mouthful.

Clearly, Jason Bay isn’t one of their guys, either.  The Sox didn’t give Bay and his agent a clear indication that it was time to accept their $60 Million or move on.  They made that decision, kept it to themselves and moved onto to Mike Cameron, leaving Bay alone with the Mets on the dance floor.

There have been more than a few whispers around Boston this winter that Mike Lowell will surely be productive next season, wherever he is, but something is missing from Lowell’s relationship with the Sox, some favorable predisposition between front office and player, like the one Manny DelCarmen enjoys.  It is the absence of good feelings that persuades the Sox that it is OK to eat $9 Million of Mike’s $12 Million salary just to be rid of him, as when they tried and failed to arrange in a deal with Texas for Max Ramirez.

(Max happens to project to .217, 19, 86 in a full season he would likely not get to play behind V-Mart & Tek, by the way.).

Mike Lowell just isn’t one of the Red Sox “guys”.

David Ortiz is, of course.

Mike Lowell would be more productive bat in the DH slot than Big Papi.

But that’s not the way you make out the lineup card if you have made Ortiz the face of the franchise and publicly given him a trophy anointing him as The Greatest Clutch Hitter in Red Sox History.

I project David at .249, 19, 75 next year if he stays healthy.  He’ll strike out more than he ever has — on 27% or 28% of his official at bats — as he continues to slow down.   If he does better than that, I’ll wonder what he’s been putting in his nutrition shakes.

Bay, Lowell and Breslow have not gotten the benefit of being one of the guys, like Mr. DelCarmen.

Manny D. has his supporters in Red Sox Nation.  He’s big, he throws hard, and when he has a good inning he’ll get a ground ball and strike out two with a mid-90’s fastball.

But Manny has stretches when he allows 40% of inherited runners to score.  His ERA for September was an ungodly16.20. He is 54% more likely to yield a hit or a walk than to K a batter.  He’s had some very bad Sundays, which makes one wonder how he is spending his Saturday nights.

A lot of teams have been interested in the hard throwing DelCarmen, but he’s one of the guys, and as such is sticking w the Red Sox.

I only wish the front office valued Lowell & Bay as much as they esteem this kid.

It’s good to be one of the guys.

This Lefty is just getting started.

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Dick Drago: on pitching, Ted Williams & the 1975 Red Sox

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 3, 2010

I had the pleasure of a Q & A with Dick Drago, a control pitcher who won 117 games mostly for the Royals and the Red Sox.

Dick Drago looks good these days, with salt and pepper hair and short, neatly cropped mustache like the one he wore in 1975, with accents of white.  His voice is deep & low, appropriate for someone who intimidated batters by living in the space between the batter and the plate.

Drago went 17 – 11 w a 2.98 ERA for K.C. in 1971, and earned a share of Cy Young votes.  He was the closer on the 1975 Red Sox and saved two critical games against Oakland without allowing a run to clinch the 1975 pennant.

He played for Joe Gordon, Charlie Metro, Bob Lemon, Jack McKeon in K.C., for Darrell Johnson, Don Zimmer and Johnny Pesky in Boston, for Dick Williams, Dave Garcia and Norm Sherry in Anaheim, for Maury Wills and Rene Lacheman in Seattle, and for Earl Weaver in Baltimore.

Since Dick worked for 13 managers over 13 seasons, I started out asking him about some of those skippers.

Your thoughts on Darrell Johnson ?

When things got a little tougher he seemed to tense up and he seemed to be intimidated by certain players, like when taking a pitcher out.  I would say that with Tiant and Bill Lee there were times when he would let them go a little further sometimes when maybe they should have come out of the game… all in all he did a decent job…

What he did in ’74 kind of cost us the pennant.   In the opposite way of today, he played guys a lot  when we were leading by a lot of games and he needed to get some of the guys on the bench in the game…but he did not.   Later in the season when a couple of guys got hurt none of these (bench) guys had played at all, and it really cost us.  You have to play them, you can’t let them rust, you got to play 162 games.  Somebody is going to get hurt.   That’s what happened.  Rick Burleson got hurt and we had to play Frank Duffy, who hadn’t played in 60 games.

Don Zimmer as a manager ?

I liked him.  He was a hard nosed guy, he played the game, he knew what was going on, I respect people who play the game.  He knows how we all felt.  He was one of the better managers I played for.  Boston was a tough place to manage.  They (the press) didn’t think he was sophisticated enough, but he was just a hard nosed guy.

Earl Weaver ?

I spent a half a season with Earl in 1977.  Playing against him (earlier), I always thought he was a positive guy who got the best out of every player…and when I went over there to play he seemed to be the complete opposite, sitting on the bench and listening to him make negative comments, it may have just been his way to get things done.  I remember watching him on the bench and when he’d get in a tight situation, you’d see him get down in the corner of that dugout with a cigarette, always smoking cigarettes, and he’d have Bamberger, the pitching coach, watching the game, telling him what happened.  He was afraid to watch in tight situations.  He was a lot different from what I thought he’d be like.

Does Weaver deserve the credit for making Palmer into an HOF’er ?

He may have pushed him a little bit further.  Jim had a lot of little aches and pains for whatever reasons.  He was a great pitcher, one of the best ones I have ever seen.  I faced him before there was a DH.  His fastball movement made him hard to hit.  He had a high fastball that had a little rise on it, and he had a straight overhand curveball and good control.

He had a great defense behind him.  Think about the team that he played for.  He was a great pitcher, but, there were a lot of great pitchers that played with bad teams.  He had Blair, Belanger, Powell, he had Brooks Robinson, Davey Johnson, he had a great defensive ballclub, and they knew how to play the game.   Defensively, Belanger was one of the very best.

You were with Kansas City in 1969 when the MLB came back to that town.  Thoughts on that ?

We had a lot of young kids.  It isn’t like it is now where you can stack an expansion team up with experienced guys.    Back then, most of the guys who were not protected for the expansion draft were from AA and AAA.   They were prospects who hadn’t played in the Big Leagues at all.   We had to jell as a team.  It was fun because we weren’t expected to do very much and we kind of all came together.  It was tough as a pitcher because we didn’t have the best defensive team and we didn’t have a lot of offense.   I was a starter there for 5 years and that effects your career numbers.  If I had started for the Red Sox those 5 years, with the offense that they had – and no pitching (it would have been a good fit.).  Don’t forget, Boston had very few good pitchers, like Lonborg.

In 1971 you were the 5th highest Cy Young vote getter.

Yeah, I’m proud of that, ya know, third year in the big leagues and I won 17 games.  You know I probably could have won 22 or 23 games with a better team, we still didn’t have a lot of offense by ‘71.  I guess it did make me a better pitcher because there were a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games.  Every night, when we went out there you knew we weren’t going to get a lot of runs.  We had just finally gotten Amos Otis to come over, Freddie Patek, Cookie Rojas, so we solidified our team defensively up the middle, which is good, but we didn’t have a lot of power until we got John Mayberry.

How would you start a guy off like Frank Robinson ?

It all depends on the situation.  If you face him with 2 outs and nobody on in the first inning, you are going to pitch him a lot differently than if you faced him in the 6th inning with men on first and second.  I always tried to challenge and get ahead of the good hitters.  There were few that were notoriously first pitch hitters.  A lot of your good hitters wanted to take the first pitch to see what you had, and that was your opportunity to get ahead of them in the count.  The better the hitter the harder I would try to go after them early.  If I am facing somebody with 2 outs and nobody on, I’d give him something (over the plate).  If I face him in the 6 or 7th inning with men on base, I am going to try to make a better pitch, and you gotta know where to get the guy out.

More than anything, you needed to know where the batter’s weakness was.  If there was one.  And you didn’t go there early.  If you needed to get a guy out inside, my thinking was, why go there early in the count, if he take the pitches, they are  balls.  But if you are ahead of him, and you come inside, he may swing at a pitch off the plate inside, you had to have a way to get them out.

You pitched 9 innings back then so you faced a guy 4 times a game.  There were fewer teams, so you played each other more often.  We faced Minnesota all the time with Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew, we went to Oakland and they had Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi, Sal Bando.  You’re facing them every four starts so you knew them and they knew you.  It became a matter of trying to throw them what they were not looking for.

You had 53 complete games.  Thoughts on pitch counts ?

I don’t think too highly of them.   The game has changed.   Money has changed it.  We didn’t make a lot of money back then.   There wasn’t a whole lot of money invested in us.  They didn’t want you to hurt your arm, of course.  But today if they overuse a guy and they have given him $5 million, the ball club stands to lose a lot of money, whereas back then they were only paying you $25,000, they can just bring up another guy to replace you.

We learned to pitch and build our arm strength up.  I remember early in the season they would let you go a little longer once you got through April, to let you try to get yourself out of jams.  They let you pitch through it, which built up your strength and confidence, so that if you got into trouble you would be able to get out of it.  Today, when guys get in trouble the first time, they have never been in it before, and they get pulled out of the game.  The next time they get in trouble, they are looking for help.  It was just a different game.  You had to get out of your own messes.

I think they had pitch counts of a sort back then, but it didn’t necessarily get you taken out of the game, and it may have effected whether you made your next start.

Pitch counts effect how your ball moves, too.  Sometimes your stuff wouldn’t be as good later in the game but your ball was moving differently.  Bob Stanley’s ball, for example, didn’t really move a lot, but when he was tired, his ball moved more, and he was more effective.

You lived in the age of pitching inside.

I made my living going inside.  That’s how I got guys out.  I had a ball that naturally moved in on right handed batters, so that’s where I was going to try to get a lot of guys out.  Unless they were a dead pull hitter, they would just bail.

There were certain guys you go could inside on all day.  Paul Blair, for instance, was hit in the head in 1970 (by Ken Tatum), and he bailed after that.  Anything inside, and he’s looking to get out.

I think you have to pitch inside to be effective.

Your career followed the arc of increasing salaries ushered in by Marvin Miller; does he belong in the HOF ?

From a player’s perspective I think he should be in.  He brought a union together in a way that we stayed together as a group.  He warned us in Spring Training when we were talking about lock outs and strikes.  He said that if not all of us were prepared to stay together and sit out the strike, than forget it, don’t do it.  As opposed to what happened with the NFL where they broke the union because guys started to cross the line.  We hung together.  It wasn’t all about fighting for salaries, it was fighting to have the right to sell our wares as a free agent, just like any other business.

Can you rate yourself as a hitter ?

(Laughing) I was not a good hitter.  I swung.  I never got cheated.  I was a good hitter until I got to the pro’s, where I only hit once a week…

Your personal highlight of 1975 ?

Saving game 2 and 3 in the playoffs.  Down the stretch, there were important games on the way to the pennant, but it would be the two games to get to the World Series.  That’s harder than the World Series because at the time the ALCS was a best of 5 series.  You have played 162 games, now lose 3 of 5 and you are going home.  Very tough.

Tiant really stood out in the 1975 ALCS.

That’s what I was saying about being over used.  Tiant should have never gone that long.  Giving up 12 or 13 hits and 5 runs, 165 pitches.

In ’74, did you anticipate what ’75 would be ?

1974 was a disaster at the end.  We had a big lead and we had guys who just could not play.  We were scoring so many runs, we had guys on the bases, so much so that they got tired.

I remember ’74 being a difficult year for me because I was starting and relieving.  I would come to the ballpark not knowing I was starting.  One day, Juan Marichaul’s arm was hurt so I had to start.  Another day, I came to the park and Rick Wise was hurt so the ball was in my locker.  I didn’t know I was starting until I came to the park, so I pitched 176 innings that year and it felt like 300.  By the end of that year I was as worn out as I had ever been.

When I went to Spring Training in ’75 and they talked to me about being the closer I said that I was either going to relieve or start.  They said they thought I could help the team by being the closer, though that’s not what they called it back then.  That worked for me.

Did you spend time with Ted Williams in Spring Training ?

Oh yeah, we had fun.  We used to sit and talk.  He was fun to talk to because he thought pitchers were all stupid.  But if you could sit and talk with him about pitching, like I could, it was good.  I mean, I threw good, I relied on what’s up here (pointing to head), and good control, and how to pitch, and we could talk about stuff, and Ted would say, “YOU KNOW, DICK, YOU’RE RIGHT !  YOU’RE RIGHT ! DAMN RIGHT, YOU ARE !.  You know how he was, he was loud.

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Darryl Strawberry & The Boys of Crenshaw

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 2, 2010

40 years ago, Roger Kahn dropped upon the reading public a book for the ages, The Boys of Summer.  It was special.  It traced the roots, playing days, and aftermath of a collection of Brooklyn Dodgers that were held close by an entire borough.  They were heroic, working class guys.  They were mostly white, with the notable inclusion of Jackie Robinson, Joe Black and Roy Campanella.  Frustrated and cheated by fate repeatedly, those Dodgers finally won a World Series in 1955.

3 years later, there were no more Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Dodger fairyland had not been Brooklyn after all.  It was Camelot.  Poof.  Gone.  A memory.

In more recent time, Michael Sokolove has chronicled the roots, playing days and aftermath of the 1979 Crenshaw High School Baseball team in another book for the ages, titled, The Ticket Out, Daryl Strawberry and The Boys of Crenshaw.”.  Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Both books offer hard messages about growing older and returning to civilian life after one’s baseball career is over.

Kahn’s timeless book recounts how some of the old Dodgers worked in construction and tended bar, some hanging on in Baseball by coaching or managing.

Mr. Sokolove’s book sees the Crenshaw boys in their lives after baseball in various levels of personal and professional crisis and pain.

Drugs, divorce, and children born to various partners are common to some of the Crenshaw boys.  Others of them found stability, discipline and responsibility, some remaining in South Central, some in San Diego, Houston and the Nevada desert.

One of the boys, Carl Jones, committed three non-violent burglaries, in the last of which he stole nothing because he was too drunk or high to think straight.  California’s inflexible 3-strikes law combined with some poorly timed courtroom attitude from Carl to land him in Prison for 25 years.

Another of the boys, Reggie Dymally, is a successful chef specializing in Kosher trendy gourmet.  He has prepared Shabat dinner for Madonna, among others.

Former NL All Star, Chris Brown, was, after Baseball, a solid family man, making good money operating a $7 Million construction crane in the Lonestar State.

And Daryl Strawberry, gifted like Ted Williams or Willie Mays, emerged with permanent damage from years besotted with home runs, money, drugs and women.  Addiction, cancer, tax troubles and financial losses are his millstones.  Like Denny McLain, he intended to do right but always gave himself one more pass to misbehave at a crucial moment.

Darryl’s teammates aren’t surprised that he squandered the opportunity of a life time.  To hear them tell it, Darryl was always messed up in the head.

Darryl himself said, “I was always good at Baseball.  It was Living I had trouble with.”

………………………………….

The Boys of Crenshaw were the greatest collection of high school baseball talent in history.  No other team ever produced as many pro draft choices.

In 1979, the Crenshaw Cougars rose through the playoffs to battle Granada Hills at Dodger Stadium for the Los Angeles City Championship.  The star of the other team, John Elway, would rake at the plate and shut down the Cougars from the mound, locking up the title for the Hills.

The competition that year was singular.

John Elway, Bret Saberhagen, Jay Schroeder and Eric Davis all played against Crenshaw that year and all later rose to the elite level of athletics that produced Super Bowl victories, All Star Game appearances, World Series Championships and Cy Young Awards.

The Crenshaw players had high expectations themselves.  Cordie Dillard, Chris Brown, Carl Jones, Darryl and Derwin McNealy were all expected to be drafted and to have major league careers.

It was said that Cordie could fall out of bed, pick up a bat, and get a hit.  He was so confident at the plate that he would yell “Curveball !” when one was coming, and than whack it on a line into the gap.

Chris Brown was hard headed, gifted and focused.  He twice won the National Punt, Pass & Kick Championship.  His team mates considered him the best overall player on the team.

Catcher Carl Jones and the McNealy twins could hit at will and played the field with grit.  They were simply unstoppable.

Darryl Strawberry was tall, fast, hit moon shots, and was a smooth athlete.

His team mates considered Strawberry the 3rd or 4th best player on the team.

Nine of the Crenshaw Cougars were drafted by the Giants, Yankees, Baltimore and Mets.

Two made it to the Bigs.  Strawberry rode the roller coaster of a 17 year career, winning a World Series but failing to play a full season for the last 9 years.

Chris Brown played 6 MLB seasons, mostly for the Giants, was a 1x All Star, earned ROY votes in 1985, and was held up as a complaining malingerer, once ridiculed for not playing because he had “slept on his eye wrong”.

On a team with 9 potential pro players, Darryl and Chris got the furthest.

………………………………

The Crenshaw boys all feel the pain of missing their individual dream.

They came from inner city L.A., where black folk live in a dangerous place and fervently believe that Sports is a passport to a better life.

L.A. itself represents hope to black people, thus the 50 year migration from the South that populated so many Spanish cottages where fig, apricots and orange trees grow in little backyards.

Baseball was going to be the path to a better life, the ticket out.

Booze, drugs, divorce was what followed their individual exits from Baseball.

Some of their lives stabilized.  Some spun permanently out of control.   All of them felt the deep loss of a pursuit to which they were completely devoted.

Cordie Dilliard, best hitter on the team, had a most poignant departure from the game.

He was drop kicked out.

Chosen by the Giants in the 12th round (Orel Hershiser would go 130 picks later.), Cordie had company.  Chris Brown and Darryl McNealy were also Giant draftees.  The three went off together to play rookie ball for the Great Falls (MT.) Giants.

Things went pretty well in Great Falls for Cordie.  He was batting .295 and he was obviously much better than most of the other players, according to Chris Brown.  But both Cordie and Darryl McNealy would get only 95 at bats in pro ball.  One day while shopping in a Department Store, someone left a wallet on the counter.  Darryl took it and exited.  There were credit cards in the wallet.  Darryl and Cordie charged some items, mostly clothes and a camera.  They were soon 253 miles from Great Falls, playing away at Medicine Hat, Alberta, when Darryl was arrested while  making a camera purchase with one of the credit cards.  Although the FBI and local authorities put the cuffs on Darryl, no charges were made.  In the interrogation, Darryl implicated Cordie.  They were put on the first available flight back to L.A. and later received letters of unconditional released.

These inner city kids were persona non grata in the overwhelmingly white world of Pro Baseball.  Their careers were over.

Cordie Dilliard describes the abrupt change and the aftermath….

“…I let something get away from me in life that I really wanted…the thing in Great Falls never, never should have happened…I should have known better…but it happened so fast.  One day, you know, I was a baseball player, and I was pretty sure I had a legitimate future in that…next thing you know, I’m sitting back here in L.A. and I’m a plumber.  It was automatic when I came back here that I would deal with my family and get into this business, but I wasn’t prepared for it….emotionally.”

Maybe Cordie Dilliard would have made it.  Maybe he would have washed out in the Minors.  Or maybe he would have been like Derwin McNealy, Darryl’s twin brother.

Derwin McNealy held down a job in pro ball for 8 years, mostly in the Yankee organization.  He ran down balls in Centerfield with the best of them, got on base and stole 40+ bases twice.  At the end of each satisfying day of play he settled in with a six pack and a pizza.  He was invited to Yankees Camp one Spring and rubbed elbows with Winfield and Henderson.  He loved the baseball life.

Derwin has fewer regrets than his brother Darryl.  He received a chance to play the game and made the most of it.  That’s all he could have expected.

……………………….

Darryl Strawberry’s story is the saddest of all.  He had the talent to be Willie Mays.  He was paid $30 Million to play the game.  All that money gave him unlimited opportunity to have sex and do drugs.  In the final analysis, he was too weak to say No to all of it.

…………………

Like Kahn’s Boys of Summer, the Boys of Crenshaw go back to where they came, or find something similar, after Baseball.  In some cases, they end up slightly better.

But the Boys of Crenshaw miss the brass ring.  They do not get the individual or collective prize.

And that says a lot about where they came from, and what they were up against.

The Dodgers created and temporarily maintained an idyllic dream.

Crenshaw never quite got there.  What a shame.

………………………….

If you are interested in getting inside Darryl Strawberry’s head, this book is for you.  If you want to better understand what aspiring black players face in pro Baseball, ditto.  It is simply one of the best that I have read in a long time.

Had Darryl Strawberry not played for Crenshaw, it is doubtful that this book would have been written.  Darryl certainly makes the subject of general interest.

As the reader gets deeply into it, the book pulls you in like a detective story.  It takes you to a different place, one that is very real.

And then, like Brooklyn, 1979 Crenshaw is gone.  Poof.  A memory.

And that, I think, is a sign of a very good book.  Enjoy.

………………………

Rest In Peace, Mr. Brown

“Chris Brown lived in Houston, Texas, with his wife Lisa and their two children, Paris and Chris Jr., after retirement. In 2004, Brown worked in Iraq, driving an 18-wheel truck delivering diesel fuel for Halliburton. He took fire on numerous occasions, including in a convoy that was attacked on April 9, 2004, in which six Halliburton drivers and one soldier were killed and another driver kidnapped and later released. By 2006, Brown had returned to the United States.

Brown died at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston on December 26, 2006, nearly a month after he suffered burns in a fire on November 30 at a vacant house he owned in Sugar Land, Texas. He was 45 years of age. Police have never determined if his death was a homicide, suicide, or an accident.”

-wikipedia

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