At home at fenway

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

Archive for August, 2011

S.I.: Pedroia in the mold of Puckett & Morgan

Posted by athomeatfenway on August 12, 2011

Tom Verducci appeared on WEEI Wednesday morning to promote his cover story about Dustin Pedroia in the August 15 issue of Sports Illustrated.  4 hours later I was persuading a magazine vendor to find the cello bundle of SI’s on his dolly and sell me one of his new Pedroias.  I had to consume it.

He complied.  And I consumed.  So now I’m telling you straight up — You must go get it right now.  Go !

What else but excellence would you expect from Verducci ?  A baseball insider on MLB TV programming (MLB Tonight, Hot Stove and Front Burner), he is also SI’s Senior Baseball Writer.  He arrived at the magazine in 1993 after 10 years with Newsday.  A Penn State graduate and a New Jersey native, Verducci was an athlete himself.  He caught the winning TD pass for Seton Hall Prep for the N.J. High School Football Championship, 1978.

The perfect guy to write the Pedroia story has been stressing one thing about the Little Man since hitting the airwaves to promote it:  Pedroia is undersold.  Dustin is widely recognized as an overachieving midget but does not get the credit he deserves for having skills.

Which is what Red Sox scouts were telling Theo right up to the point at which they drafted him in 2004.  To paraphrase:  He’s a great player but he has no skills…he’s great..We just wish he had some skills.

The 29 other MLB teams also thought he had no skills and used 64 earlier picks on other kids, Justin Verlander arguably the best among them.

Suppressing their gut to choose someone else, the Sox took the Little Man, besting 29 teams, especially the Twins, who had 6 picks before Boston took Pedey.

Verducci paints a picture of Dustin as the antsy, fast talking nut-buster; if his team is a flock of sheep then he is a spunky corgi circling them, yammering away and keeping them together.

He gives everyone a hard time, including Tito.  A bar owner sent Pedey an expensive bottle (he doesn’t drink) and he offered it to Francona, yelling, “Hey, Tito!……I got something for you. Drink this before the game. We’re trying to win tonight and this might help you manage!”

A couple of golden nuggets:

“He is the patron saint of the vertically, muscularly and follicularly challenged.”

Verducci quotes Ozzie Guillen: “I love that little guy.  It looks like he escaped from Cirque Du Soleil and they put a uniform on him.”

Verducci holds up the unflattering comments, the funny ones, the rude ones, and reveals them as the tributes they are.

He says Pedroia is not an undersized and big hearted player in the way of a David Eckstein.  He is a small but singularly talented ballplayer as in the cases of Joe Morgan and Kirby Puckett.

And speaking of HOF’ers, when matching Pedroia’s career OPS to second baseman in the HOF, Dustin ranks only behind Jackie Robinson, Joe Gordon and Tony Lazzeri.

Among non-HOF’ers, his OPS ranks only behind Chase Utley and George Grantham.

So in the 135 seasons of major league baseball, Dustin ranks behind only 5 second basemen for getting on base and slugging combined.

I hear a Hall-bound train a coming.

*******

Do not miss the article.  Best thing on Pedroia in quite some time.

*******

George “Boots” Grantham (1900 – 1954) played from 1920 to 1934.  His career stats of .302 BA, 105 HR’s, 722 RBI are powered by 8 consecutive seasons in which he batted .300 or higher.  He played 3 seasons with the Cubs before being shipped to the Bucs in 1925 in the deal that brought Charlie Grimm and Rabbit Maranville to the Windy City.  Were he alive today, Boots could tell what it was like to play against Babe Ruth, who he watched up close in the 1927 Series.  Ruth batted .400 in that Series.  Boots wasn’t so bad himself, earning a .364 average in the Series.

*******

Tom Verducci arrested my attention in March 2005 with a Spring Training cover story about the Toronto Blue Jays.  He did the George Plimpton thing, suiting up and drilling with the Jays.  Here is how he describes his uniform in that 6-year-old article:

“I feel the fit and drape of my uniform, a major league uniform, my amazing technicolor dreamcoat. Gray pants, belted tightly, black-mesh jersey with TORONTO in metallic silver above the stylized Blue Jays logo on the left breast and a shimmering silver number 2 on my back. Never can I remember the sky bluer, the grass greener, the sun brighter.”

I love it.

They say Verducci really arrived when in 1995 his cover story on the Dead End Kids of Baseball tracked the trials and travels of Strawberry and Gooden.

He is the co-author of THE YANKEE YEARS with Joe Torre, which is also well worth your time.

The writer has skills.

Happy reading !

Posted in BASEBALL, Boston Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia | Leave a Comment »

Reddick sends them packin, but they’ll be back.

Posted by athomeatfenway on August 8, 2011

Photo: Boston Globe

Do not be beguiled by the Sox 10 -2 record against the Yankees this season.  The Baseball Gods do not care what you did yesterday, or how bad you looked in your last 4 at bats.

Heading into this weekend’s 3-game series w NY at Fenway, I was willing to settle for 1 of 3. And I prayed to take 2. 

Lester vs. Colon on Friday.  Shellackey vs. Sabathia on Saturday.  Beckett vs. Garcia on Sunday.

Prayers or not, the Sox are seriously flawed in starting pitching.  Beyond Beckett & Lester, we have a 45-year-old knuckler who is effective half the time, a baffled 33 year old former ace with a 6.15 ERA, and a rehabbed new arrival that yielded 5 ER in 5 IP in his first start.

Wake, Shellackey and Bedard.  The elderly, the confused and the infirmed.  That’s our #3 through #5.

The Yankees rotation is shaky after Sabathia , Garcia and Colon.  But Hughes and Nova can be solid.  And erratic A.J. Burnett is a Red Sox fan’s dream.

 Both teams can score.  Both bullpens are deep.

The Yankees edge in starting pitching could be the difference maker in determining the Division winner.  And make no mistake about the fact that the Nation wants to deny the Yankees the Division.

Dreams of humbling the Yankees aside, one has to acknowledge the New York advantage in starting pitching.  Heading into Friday night’s game 1, I felt we could win with Beckett & Lester and a Saturday loss was a sure thing with Lackey on the mound.

Didn’t happen exactly that way.

Friday night’s loss was confounding, marked by the sudden appearance of the impotent Sox, a rare sight  this summer.  Lester provided a quality start but Colon was better & the NY bullpen shut out the Sox for 4.1 IP.  Down we go, 3 – 2.

Saturday’s win was unexpected.  Lackey came within one out of a quality start, allowing 4 runs, 3 of them earned, in 5.2 IP’s.  But Sabathia, he of the 16 – 2 record versus the rest of the AL, was hammered by the Sox for the third time this season, giving up 7 runs in 6 IP’s.  Sox 10, Yankees 4.

Sunday’s game had the same tempo as Friday’s low scoring affair.  Beckett was dominating, leaving with the game tied at 1 -1 after 6 innings.  But Matt Albers allowed Brett Gardner (who homers once every 100 plate appearances) to deposit a 390 foot shot into the Boston bullpen in the 7th, making it 2 -1 New York.  The Sox stranded Crawford at 3rd in the 8th.  Papelbon then blanked the Bombers in the 9th,  stranding Gardner at 2nd base. 

It was crunch time.  Yankees 2, Sox 1.  Heading to the bottom of the 9th.

Surely these Sox, with the #1 offense in the AL,  could score in the bottom of the 9th to tie it.  But here comes the Yankee closer, 12x All Star, 5x World Champion, 642 career saves in his pocket, oh yeah, it’s Mariano in to face Scutaro, Ellsbury & Gonzalez.  Crap.

Crazy things started to happen.  Scutaro skies a 2-2 cutter 70 feet high and it rattles high off the monster on its declining arc.  Double.

Then, Ells drops a perfect bunt and advances Scutaro to 3rd, almost beating Mo’s throw to first for a single.

Pedey steps in.  Mo fires an inside strike which the ump calls a ball.  The Little Man then clocks Rivera’s  next offering on the line to Gardner in left and Scutaro beats the throw to the plate by 8 feet.  Adrian Gonzales grounds out, 6 – 3.  Score tied, 2 – 2.  Extra innings.

Top of the 10th.  Bard K’s Tex.  Bard breaks Cano’s bat & grounds him out, 4-3.  Bard strikes out Swisher looking on an 83 mph curve that drops over the outside corner.  Here comes Youk, Ortiz and Crawford.

Bottom of the 10th.  Hughes pitching.  Youk flies to Granderson.  Papi gets around on a 2 -2 heater and smashes it on 1 hop into the right field grandstand for a double.  Darnell McDonald pinch running.  Hughes intentionally walks Crawford.  Up steps Reddick.

Reddick is 0 for 4 this night, having been fooled by Garcia’s variable speeds all night.  But his skid ends suddenly.  Josh lines Hughes first pitch down the left field line in fair territory, the ball scooting for the wall.  McDonald scores easily.

Good guys win.  Dirty Water plays.  The Sox do in fact take two of three.

The weekend brings us no closer to determining a winner, really.  The team with the $160 million payroll is 1 game ahead of the team with the $210 million payroll — with 50+ games left to be played.

But one thing we have learned is that these two teams are well matched.  Two of the three games were decided by 1 run.

Do not be beguiled by the Sox 10 -2 record against the Yankees this season.  The Baseball Gods do not care what you did yesterday, or how bad you looked in your last 4 at bats.

Posted in BASEBALL, Boston Red Sox | Leave a Comment »

Baseball: Loved by All. Invented by No one in particular.

Posted by athomeatfenway on August 8, 2011

It’s amazing how the Doubleday myth lingers.  I was watching an episode of PBS’ Antique Road Show on which an expert mentioned in passing that Abner Doubleday invented Base Ball.

My mouth dropped open. My cheesy hot pocket hit the floor.

How can anyone living in post-1913 America credit Doubleday ?

Abner was named the pastime’s inventor in 1903.  He was roundly discredited within a decade.

One thing John Thorn acknowledges in his new book, BASEBALL IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN”, is that the Doubleday myth has been hard to kill.

Doubleday, a West Point grad and the hero of the siege of Fort Sumter during the Civil War, was credited with creating our game in Cooperstown in 1839.  The “evidence” was the detailed memory of a 73 year old man, Abner Graves, who was 5 years old in 1839.  Graves later endured emotional challenges to put it politely, murdered his wife and spent his last years in an Asylum.

When Abner Graves came out of nowhere in 1903 to spin his yarn it didn’t take long for historians to present evidence to the contrary.  Doubleday was at West Point, not Cooperstown, in 1839.   Doubleday never spoke of any involvement in the creation of the sport.  Doubleday was never spoken of by early practitioners of the game, e.g., the Knickerbockers.  One of the Knicks, Alexander Cartwright, never spoke of Doubleday and that is significant given that Cartwright codified the game.

Still, the origins of Base Ball are unclear.  What do we know?

We know Base Ball resembles Rounders and Cricket.  We know that Cartwright codified it and that the Knicks and others played it as an intramural exercise in the 1840’s.  But we don’t really know how it started.

GARDEN OF EDEN goes deep in an effort to trace Base Ball’s origins.

Citing newspapers, magazines, and books dating back 250 years, Thorn pieces together a history that obligingly recognizes that the full story may never be known.

Thorn achieves great clarity and depth through research he began 28 years ago.

He traces Base Ball back to the 1700’s and then moves forward, showing that a colonial girl’s game evolved into one played by adult male-only exercise clubs in the 1830’s, into an extramural team game competed by amateurs in the 1850’s, into a professional team game in the 1860’s, into a professional game with organized leagues in the 1870’s, into a mania that gripped everyone in the 1880’s, into a corrupt monopoly in the 1890’s, and into a ship made right in the early 1900’s.

The names could fill a Pantheon.  Cartwright.  Spalding.  Wright.  Kelly.  Mills.

Speaking of Pantheons and other uncommon words Thorn sent me to the dictionary regularly.  I have a pretty good vocabulary but I wouldn’t pass a quiz on some of the words in his vocabulary including aver, theosophy, repine, nugatory and faux-naif.

Faux-naif is pronounced foh-nah-eef, which by the way means “marked by a pretense of simplicity or innocence”.

So in modern times, Alex Rodriguez was tres foh-nah-eef in his appearance on 60 Minutes in 2009.  (“I’ve never used steroids.”)

And George Steinbrenner was UBER faux-naif when posing as a hands-off owner upon purchasing the Yankees in ’73.  (“ I will stick to building ships.”)

OK.  Got it.

John Thorn, delicious vobacularian, gives us much to appreciate in the way of anecdotes so I’d like to share some of the golden nuggets and one-liners with you, in no particular order:

The Brooklyn Bridegrooms were named as such because of the several newlywed players on the roster.  Didn’t know that.

William C. Temple, industrial baron who was part owner of the Pirates was the first to come up with the idea of the Designated Hitter back in 1891.  The NL killed his idea by a 7-5 vote.

Lou Criger, catcher on the 1903 Red Sox, was offered $12,000 to throw the World Series.  Criger, whose salary was $4,000 that year, reported the would-be fixer.  The Beantowner was rewarded by the owners with a lifetime pension after baseball, a benefit that no other player would be offered for decades.

Sunday Base Ball remained illegal in New York City until 1919, in Boston until 1929, and in Philly until 1934.

The early famous baseball teams, The Mutuals, Atlantics, Excelsiors and Knicks played only intramural games.  They would get together in the late afternoon, warm up, and divide into two squads and play themselves.  This went on for years before they began to play the occasional game against another team.

A notable game was played in 1883 Philly in which the Snorkey Club played the Hoppers.  The Snorkeys were all one armed while the Hoppers were all one legged.  All of the players on both clubs were the former employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

Chowder was served regularly at Knickerbocker  games in the 1840’s and 50’s.  Ingredients included fish, shellfish, sausage and potatoes.  A little Ball, a little brew, and a mug of chowder.  Mmm Mmm good.  It all gets back to food for some of us.

*********

Don’t miss this important book.  Thorn is the MLB’s Official Historian and a scholar.  You may not fly through this book because it thick with detail but it will all pull together and reward you in the end if you stick with it.

Happy reading.

-Karl

Posted in BASEBALL BOOKS | Leave a Comment »