At home at fenway

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

Archive for May, 2011

Fenway Memories

Posted by athomeatfenway on May 27, 2011

The Red Sox have reached out to Red Sox Nation and asked for memories with which to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Fenway next year.

I want to share some with you.

First, I was present at a Papi walk-off victory in 2006.  Seated in section 35, to the left of the centerfield camera stand, I watched in the bottom of the 9th as the ball sailed over the right field fence into the visitor’s bullpen.  I sat next to four elderly guys from Rhode Island who had spent the prior 15 minutes discussing whether chance would allow David a shot at untying the game, and then interspersed giggling  remarks like, “Can he really do it ?”, is he Superman ?”  Such was David’s clutch hitting reputation at the time.  He did it again and again.  He was just a Miracle Man then.

 I am deeply thankful to have witnessed that walk-off because I saw Papi do it with my own eyes, and it touched me to see how giddy it made the old men around me.

Another memory involved a wedding party.  I, my brother Ben, and friends sat in the last row of Grandstand 16.  At the time, the stairs went from the top of the Grandstand 16 all the way down to the field, ending adjacent to the Red Sox dugout, where a little gate to the field was located.  It was a night game.  Round about the fifth inning, a wedding party emerged from the darkness behind us and stood at the top of the stairs.  The bride was still in dress and veil.  The groom was still in tie, vest and jacket.  The newlyweds drank and hooted behind us for awhile.  It was all in good fun.  The wedding reception had simply been moved from the reception hall to Fenway Park.

Then a chant, at first quiet, then building, came from behind us.  “Cookie.  Cookie.  COOKIE.  COOKIE !”.

We weren’t sure who Cookie was but going by the fact that we saw her standing at the top of the stairs looking straight down at the field while her drunken pals were yelling behind us, we concluded that Cookie was the Bride and that something unusual was about to happen.

Sure enough, with her Boyz still chanting her name, Cookie darted down the 100-odd steps to the little gate in her veil and gown, swung open the gate and made a run for Bill Buckner at 1st Base.  I remember the bridal party exploding in laughter and cheers.  I recall that once on the field, Cookie was very sweet in approaching Buckner and then was cooperative with the authorities.  I do not know if the poor thing spent the night in jail.  I do know that I will never see that at Fenway Park again, though I thank my lucky stars I was there to see it happen.

I have many wonderful memories of Fenway.  There was the day I, Ben, and my wife took all three of my daughters to Fenway when they were little (ages 2, 4 and 6) and we watched the Clemens-led BoSox lose from seats in the 5th row behind the visitor’s dugout.  My 4 year old, now 20, remembers somehow cutting her tiny finger on a Fenway Peanut shell and being horrified to see her own blood for the first time.

My pal, Bill Clark and I sat in the right field boxes for game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, the longest playoff game in history, the game that was win #2 after getting down to the Jeter Men 3-0.  I’ll never forget that game, or how I was bundled like an Eskimo to deal with MLB’s absurdly unseasonal scheduling of the late post season.

I’ll never forget the game I went to on October 11, 2009.  My friend, Bill Calhoun and I, saw Papelbon blow a 2 run lead in the 9th as the Halo’s swept the Sox out of the ALDS.  Bill was the liveliest, funniest, smartest Red Sox fan you could know.  He had everyone within earshot doubled over in laughter with his special nicknames for Chone Figgins and Scott Kazmir, as well as pretending I was a closet Yankee fan at one point and convincing our neighbors that he and I “were going to have a go” when the game was over.  That game was Bill’s last game.  He died suddenly 4 months later at age 47, leaving behind a wife and 4 small children.  I feel honored to have watched that game with Bill.

I’ll never forget having my wife and kids atop the Green Monster on a sunny day for a game.  I cherish the photo I snapped.

I’ll never forget speaking at the Player’s Gate with Rich Gedman in ’86, and how he refused to be cheered up after a particularly poor game.

I’ll never forget Rolando, an usher who worked the Roof Boxes for years, a great guy.  He started with the Sox in 1974 and has missed less than 10 games in the 47 years that followed.

My greatest baseball memory at Fenway Park happened on Sunday, Oct. 2, 1983.  I sat in grandstand 13 with several friends, Yankee fans included, for Yaz’s last game.  I bought 6 grandstand tickets @ $8 and a handful of bleacher seats @ $4 months in advance, realizing the emotional potential of the day.  We sat down 45 minutes before game time.  The crowd was already at their seats but they were standing and clapping.  It was sensational.  Emotion rippled through Fenway Park.  Yaz was nowhere in sight but Fenway Park was full of noise and shouting.  Then, out he came, treating us to a special jog around the park, slowing circling counter clockwise around the perimeter, slapping hands and waving as he went.  He stopped and gazed into the stands several times.

During the game, we saw him get his last hit, his last walk, and make his last error by throwing a fielded ball into the ground in Left Field.  (He was not charged with an error.)  One has to suspect he was a little rattled by the events of the day.

That was a great day.  There have been many great days.  There will be many more to come.

Go Sox.  Long live Fenway Park.

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Harmon defined Power.

Posted by athomeatfenway on May 18, 2011

The personification of power in the 1960's.

Harmon Killebrew passed away yesterday at the too young age of 74.  His passing brings so many thoughts.

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I painfully remember how BoSox Scout Early Johnson failed to sign him out of high school.  Johnson had him on his radar long before the Washington Senators noticed him.  The old Scout met him in a farm field and learned that Harmon adored Ted Williams.  When Johnson returned at a later date with a Ted Williams Louisville Slugger W166 gamer as a gift, Harmon told Johnson the Sox had the inside track but would need to match the $12,000 bonus he was just offered by the Senators.   In a decision that likely prolonged The Curse, the Red Sox front office decided not to make the $12,000 investment and passed on what would be a HOF career with 573 home runs.

Imagine what Harmon would have done in Fenway.

You can find the details of that story within the pages of SWEET SPOT, 125 Years of Baseball and the Louisville Slugger, by David Magee and Phillip Shirley.

Never accused of being svelte, Harmon was nicknamed “The Fat Kid” by other MLB ballplayers, a secret Jim Bouton shared in his 1970 tour de force, BALL FOUR.   His shape foretold a brawny power that made him the most dangerous power hitter in Baseball.  Think Cecil Fielder.  Think Prince Fielder.  Had Harmon played in a major market he would have moved from acceptance as one of the 5 best hitters in the game to the top spot.   There was respect and fear when he came to the plate.

Killer hit 49 home runs in 1969 and walked 145 times.  With Carew and Oliva hitting in front of him, and rookie Graig Nettles batting .222 behind him, Harmon’s Twins won the first ever Western Division title, later falling to a great Oriole team, which later fell to the Miraculous Mets in the WS..

We can look back at Harmon now from our post-steroid, hidden-HGH-era with Jose Bautista as the new Poster Boy and know that Harmon Killebrew was the real deal.

I had the pleasure of meeting Harmon in Warwick, R.I. in the mid-90’s when he signed my 1960’s store model Louisville Slugger.  He was a gentle man.  A little on the quiet side, I thought, but then again so was I.  I was meeting a baseball god, after all.

Growing up in the 60’s and playing 3 games of pick-up baseball a day, two of them before lunch, I realized a young player’s mojo was partly determined by which MLB player name was burned into his bat.

You could swing a Rico Carty and hit for high average.  You could hit in the clutch with a Pete Rose.  A Henry Aaron model was always dangerous.  But a Harmon Killebrew bat was made for moon shots and no-doubters.  If you were man enough to heft it.

Last year I saw a little Harmon Killebrew get in the batter’s box in a Little League game.  It was late and the Coach was emptying the bench.  This kid was about 4 feet tall and 125 pounds, his stocky little frame poured into a uniform.  He lined a shot that hit the outfield wall on one bounce.  Naturally I thought of Harmon Killebrew.

Baseball is a game in which all shapes and sizes may find a place.  Pedroia is so short you could eat candy off the top of his head.  Randy Johnson wouldn’t need a ladder to clean my garage gutters.  Your grandmother could beat Prince Fielder to first base. 

The egalitarian nature of Baseball allows all to come and play, and it is also true that if blessed with strength and perseverance, all types may enter the Hall of Fame.

Harmon Killebrew, squarish and looming, was the personification of power in the 1960’s.

Rest in Peace, Harmon.

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PSYCHOLOGIST AT BAT with the 1950 Browns

Posted by athomeatfenway on May 15, 2011

Ferrick, Overmire, Lenhardt, Kokos, Tracy, Schacht, Reddy, Starr, Kretlow.

One Google search of the words “Baseball Psychologist”  yields 2.9 million results.  The download  includes contact info for practicing baseball psychologists as well as authors that have written how ball players need sharp cognitive skills to complement their physical abilities to succeed in the major leagues.

Boy how things have changed.

In late 1949 for the first time in recorded history, a MLB team in St. Louis contacted a practicing shrink in Manhattan and invited him to bring his skills in hypnotization and auto suggestion with him to Spring training in 1950.  Unfortunately, that team was the Browns and that Psychologist was over matched by an abundant lack of natural talent.  The Browns, with his help, improved their annual win total from 53 to 58, finishing 7th in both 1949 and 1950.

But, at least Dr. David Tracy had introduced the concepts of relaxation and positive expectations into the world of professional baseball.

He wrote a book about the experience.

THE PSYCHOLOGIST AT BAT.  Dr. David F. Tracy.  Sterling.  1951.  NY.  Forward by J.G. Taylor Spink of The Sporting News.

David F. Tracy, Psychologist to the St. Louis Browns, New York Rangers and the St. Francis College Basketball team.

Tracy was a Psychologist with a practice in Manhattan.  He was a devout Baseball fan.  The book is peppered with references to the Giants, Yankees and Dodgers of the 40’s.

In June of ’49, the UP’s Claire Cox authored a syndicated story in which Tracy was quoted, “I can help a baseball team with auto suggestion and hypnosis, preferably the Phillies or St. Louis Browns, young and down.”

In early September, St. Louis Browns Owner Charles DeWitt phoned and Tracy accepted an invitation to spring training in Burbank, CA. .

The subsequent header in Colliers read, “Tinkers to Evers to Freud”.   Other publications referred to Tracy as a “Whammy Man”.

The Browns management wasn’t completely united about the invitation.  Browns manager Zack Taylor was skeptical.  Tracy made progress at camp by sitting in on a poker game with the players.  He lost $35 and gained acceptance as one of the boys.  He also established his legitimacy by hypnotizing Owen Friend at the poker table right in front of everybody.

Soon, he trained the players to be more relaxed and self confident by teaching them to hypnotize themselves, each other, and their wives.

Owner De Witt concluded that the rookies played better in spring training as a result of the Tracy’s work.  He invited the Doctor to stay with the team after they left California for the first month of the 1950 season.

On the road from Burbank to St. Louis, They stopped in Pine Bluffs, Arkansas, giving Tracy a chance to check out the Browns’ Rookie Academy.  There were four diamonds and a battalion of Coaches in Pine Bluff.  A busher could pay $50 to receive 6 weeks of training.  The kids that demonstrated sufficient talent were shipped to a Browns minor league affiliate.

ELIMINATE FEAR – IMPROVE PERFORMANCE

The good Doctor ended up working a lot with the rookies.  (The veterans didn’t trust him right away. ) Tracy felt he came to quickly understand the newbies.

In Tracy’s mind, rookies most feared the Reporters and for good reason.  A story that creates high expectations on a young fellow can be stressful.  This was the case when Dodger management over-touted young infielder Eddie Miksis and Branch Rickey was quoted, “Miksis will Fix Us.”.  Miksis became a wandering utility player with a .236 BA.

Clint Hartung was another example, according to Tracy, who wrote,  “A potential great was thus ruined by overenthusiastic writers.”.  Hartung, a mounds man, would finish his career with a 29- 29 W-L record and a 5.02 ERA.

Tracy also cites Dick Wakefield, a $50,000 bonus baby of the Tigers in 1941, as another example of someone whose crushed confidence sidetracked a long and prosperous career.  “If he had worked his way up gradually, Dick would probably be a leading player…he might have made good.”  Wakefield batted .316 & .355 during the spartan WWII years of 1943-44, but was pretty much washed up by age 28 in 1949.

Rookies also fear Managers, writes Tracy.  They yell and criticize, they don’t encourage.  They insert rookies into pressure situations before they have succeeded in normal ones.  They do all this when in fact “the man who needs to be hypnotized most frequently is the Manager.”.

Pressure is a killer.  It stimulates muscle-paralyzing blood chemistry, it cuts thinking capacity by 50%.

He suggests that even Ted Williams was victimized by pressure as evidenced by Ted’s 5 for 25 in the ’46 Series, his 1 for 4 in the 1948 Cleveland tie breaker, and 1 for 5 in the pennant-deciding final games vs. The Yankees in 1949.  A .344 career hitter, and a.206 hitter with a title on the line.

Sometimes Sophomores can’t stand up to the pressure created by fabulous rookie seasons.  Boo Ferris is an example.

Tracy cites Jackie Robinson as an example of a sensational rookie who kept his confidence and fought through a sophomore slump.  He calls Jackie “A great player and a leader of his race.”

Roy Sievers was a failed Sophomore.  He hit .306 with 16 homers while winning the 1949 ROY with the Browns.  He pushed David Tracy away in Burbank the summer of ’50 and again as he failed at bat when the season began.  Sievers fell from .306 & 16 to .238 & 10. He would later struggle through 1951 and ’52 before realizing his very substantial potential.

Tracy blames Sievers for hurting himself, but he also blames the Browns for contributing to the demise of their young players by habitually selling/trading their veterans to pay the rent.  They “psychologically bankrupted the team.”  The 1950 infield of Arft, Friend, DeMars, Somers, Upton & Thomas had no veterans to advise and stabilize, to relieve the pressure and fear.

Fear of Crowds is another challenge.  “The crowds very presence…its raucous voice…creates a pressure that inexperienced and even veteran players feel much more than they or their manager or the sports writers realize.”  Roy Stockton and Ted Wiliiams were two who could not block it out.

“The lower leagues are full of men with this fear complex as the root of their troubles.”

“When fear strikes it reduces natural ability by 50%.”

Fear of Crowds can even strike MVP’s.  Tracy was an eye witness to the knee knocking and body shaking that Phil Rizzuto endured when he rose to the dais and made his acceptance speech for the 1950 American League MVP Award in New York.

Tracy’s methodology was simple to counter all this.  He taught all Brownie players to self-hypnotize and to hypnotize their teammates.  (Sherm Lollar and Less Moss “both were fine hypnotists”.)  He taught Brownie pitchers that when under stress step off the mound and take 3 deep breaths to clear their minds.

“I hypnotized the Browns out of their fear of crowds…Late in the 1950 season, I was pleased to see the Browns knock both the Tigers and the Indians out of the exciting pennant race by beating them unmercifully when the chips were down in the final series…”

Tracy couldn’t have foreseen how easy it would be to check the record in the age of Baseball-Reference.com.

The Browns did sweep 4 from the Indians late in the season but Cleveland went 12 – 4 thereafter and finished 6 games behind the Yankees.  His claim about the Tigers is even less on target.  Detroit took 3 of 4 from St. Louis in their last September series and finished 3 behind the Bombers.  Maybe Tracy should just have been proud of how much more confident he made the players feel.

A few of his other other claims don’t stand up to historical scrutiny.  He wrote that he “fixed” Brownie pitcher Eddie Albrecht.  “I’m certain you’ll hear more from Eddie.”

We did.  Albrecht returned to the Browns and appeared in 2 games in 1950, with an 0 – 1 W-L record and a 5.49 ERA.  He spent the next 3 years in the minors before returning to civilian life.

Tracy makes many claims about his ability to fix players though hypnosis & auto suggestion.  He said he fixed the curve baller whose ball would not curve, and the rookie pitcher who tipped his pitches, and the lefthander with a fear of lefty batters, plus the strike out master who cannot relax on the mound.

He claims he took the New York Rangers  NHL team from an 0 -13-0 start to a 18-23-20 conclusion.

Tracy felt he had the answers and recommended that a cluster of three people actually manage a baseball team:  A Manager, a bench coach, and a team psychologist.

He asks and answers the question why there were no Pyschologists working in baseball before he did in 1950.  He suggests the reason is the same as to why it took baseball so long to understand that electricity had popularized the game, and how night games might grow their audience, or why it might be beneficial to fly the team to games years after the general public had taken to the airlines.

Tracy says it is essential that the Manager have a team of managers with a Psychologist working alongside him.  He makes the point clear.  “A practicing Psychologist always limits himself to a small number of cases at a time, but a baseball manager assumes that he and his coaches (with no psychological training at all) can handle the problems of 25 nervous athletes, each bent on earning a living and reaching fame in a difficult competitive battle.”.

Never strident or critical, Tracy’s style is strictly observational.  He’s offering his opinions and recalling what he saw and experienced.

Baseball history points to an obsessive clinging to the past.   Keep out the blacks.  Don’t play on Sunday.  Block a Union.  Stick with train travel.   It is no surprise that it took decades to bring Pyschology into the game.

Baseball was bound to let Psychology in sooner or later, just as Psychology leaked into Pop Culture in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Today there is an industry.   Bob Tewksbury is the Sports Psychologist of the Boston Red Sox.  The NY Times reported that 10 MLB teams have a mental skills coach.  The late Dr. Harvey Dorfman elicited many testimonials including ones from Peter Gammons, Al Leiter, Kevin Brown and Roy Halladay.

Dave F. Tracy represents the starting point of Baseball’s involvement with Psychology.  Baseball didn’t welcome him with open arms.  It was a short trial.  But one that left a mark, and started the game on a path that would grow and bring improvement.

Posted in BASEBALL, BASEBALL BOOKS | 3 Comments »

JOSE CAN I SEE…..your navel ?

Posted by athomeatfenway on May 14, 2011

Bet you Jose soon makes the wrong kind of headlines.

Now comes the word over the internet that Jose Bautista, currently on a pace to hit over 50 home runs again & batting .350 was hotly pursued by the Red Sox in 2009 and 2010 before he blew up with 54 home runs last season.

Did the Theo have the inside scoop that Jose was chugging Dominican milkshakes and would start hitting a homer every 10 at bats instead of every 30 ?

How long will it take for this guy’s bubble to burst into an ugly steroid scandal?

He is 30 years old.  Before age 29, he hit 59 career homeruns over the equivalent of 3 full seasons. 

Picture a typical MLB season of .238 BA with 19 home runs.  That was Jose production pace  when he was a part timer on 5 different MLB teams (2004 to 2009).

Picture a typical minor league season of .285 BA with 17 home runs.  That was Jose’s pace in the bushes from 2001 to 2008.

The current numbers are just not credible.

This of course compels one to ask about his potential, his age, and whether or not he has been injecting HGH into his navel.

You might suggest that Rico Petrocelli had a similar power blip in 1969 when he hit 40 homeruns after never having hit more than 18.  But that doesn’t really work as an argument because  Rico was still young and growing at age 26.  And his home run rate improved from 1 in 29 AB’s (pre-1969) to 1 in 18 at bats in his best homer years (1969 to 1971).  Not a crazy improvement.  Credible.

Or you might say that Cecil Fielder blew up like Bautista when he came out of nowhere to hit 51 home runs in 1990, never having come close to that power in previous years.  But the fact was that prior to 1990 his Toronto Blue Jay coaches gave him few at bats, choosing to play Fred McGriff ahead of him at 1st base and Rance Mulliniks before him at D.H..  Guys with a shape like Cecil struggle to buy clothes off the rack, to squeeze into an airline seat, and to get at bats. 

Well, back in the day that was true.  After the 2010 season at age 26, his son Prince had 192 home runs in 2,958 at bats.  At the same age Cecil had 31 dingers in 506 career at bats.  Things have changed.  Cecil was a victim of discrimination against Big Daddys.

Bautista’s power surge is about as legitimate as Brady Anderson’s 50 home runs in 1996.  Which is to say it is i-l-l-e-g-t-i-m-a-t-e. 

In 15 seasons, Brady hit more than 20 home runs three times:  21, 24 and 50.

In 1996, Brady hit 1 homerun every 12 at bats.   For the rest of his career he hit a dinger every 37 at bats.

Come on.  It just doesn’t happen without cheating.

In the first 85 season of the 20th century the 50 HR level was reached 17 times.

In the 24 seasons since the dawn of PEDs, it has been achieved 25 times.

There is no proof yet.  But I’d be testing Jose Bautista every week. And checking his navel for needle marks.

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