Monday, February 28, 2005

Bloody Sock Debate

Just imagine this opening day scenario- Red Sox vs. Yankees, the biggest and most fierce rivalry in baseball, coming off an ALCS none of us will ever forget. The game in Yankee Stadium, in front of 55,000 and a nationally televised audience. Randy Johnson vs. Curt Schilling, two teammates that won a World Series together and have enjoyed arguably more success than any two future Hall-of-Fame pitchers. Now they meet again, this time as enemies. The Red Sox come in with the swagger, the Yankees looking for revenge…

This would be the ultimate opening day scenario, right? Well, I hope it doesn’t happen.

I hope Curt Schilling rests his ankle for as long as it takes. If he has to sit out all of April, fine. As long as he’s ready for October. The guy is getting old now, and after the amount of strain and force he used on the ankle last October, there’s ready no point in rushing. It’s the beginning of April, guys. No biggie.

If we have to use Abe Alvarez or, even worse, “Middle Finger” Kim as our fifth starter for a month, so be it. Sure, I’d love to see Johnson and Schilling match zeros until Rivera comes in and blows the game, but I’d happily save that memory for October. Please Mr. Francona, do the right thing.

Think about this: Wouldn’t David Wells pitching in this game be just as entertaining? Boomer coming back to Yankee Stadium, where he was a fan favorite and experienced great success. The guy even pitched a perfect game on this diamond, along with winning three World Series rings. Now he’s in a Red Sox uniform, on Opening Day, joining the Yankees bitter rivals. Will the lovable Boomer get booed? Standing ovation? I can see Boomer pitching a phenomenal game.

April 3: David Wells vs. Randy Johnson. Mark it down, folks.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Who will I miss most from the 2004 version of the Boston Red Sox? It’s not Derek Lowe or Pedro Martinez. It’s not Orlando Cabrera or Doug Mientkiewicz. Hell, it isn’t even Dave Roberts, even though I’d REALLY like to give that guy a smoocharoo on the lips. I swear I saw “The Steal” in my dreams last night.

The answer: Pokey Reese. His defensive brilliance kept us on our toes all through April and May, waiting and waiting till Nomar could play. Sure he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, but his athleticism was much appreciated by Terry Francona, his teammates and the Red Sox Faithful. He meant so much in those first two months, that when Nomar did come back in June, our defense looked like a Beer League team. We couldn’t catch the ball if our lives were on the line.

Through those struggles, I bet Pokey was just shrugging it off on the bench, giving his buddies knuckle-hits, handshakes, high-fives, whatever. He kept a positive attitude at all times. Plus, how many major leaguers these days are so important to a team just because of their defense? When I heard the news he left for Seattle, my heart felt like it was going down a water slide. Same with Dave Roberts, but that’s more of a romantic effect.

I wish him the best of luck in Seattle. I want to thank him for his defensive excellence and constant stability when times weren’t so hot. Thanks for the ‘fro, the leaping and the first name.

Hey Theo, you’ve still got five months to make him an offer.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Forgetting And Believing

Rewind back to the end of the 1999 season, and pretend you’re Ken Griffey Jr. You’ve just concluded your tenth major league campaign with the Seattle Mariners, and have experienced everything from phenom hype, successful stardom in the spotlight and overwhelming popularity. You’ve hit almost 400 home runs by age 29, are widely considered to be one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball, and have finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting nine times. You were awarded the MVP in 1997 while racking up 56 home runs, along with a hefty 147 RBI’s, an All-Star game MVP and a gold glove every year you’ve been in the major leagues. Besides a nagging wrist injury that did anything but halter his progress, Griffey Jr. hasn’t felt a stroke of injury in his famed career.

Eventually, he reached a contract year and bolted for his hometown of Cincinnati, the city under which his father shined. The pressure was on the young stud, so he took the money and ran. Since leaving Seattle for Cincinnati in 2000, Griffey Jr. has played 100 games only twice in five seasons, including campaigns of 70, 53 and 83. Injuries seem to be more frequent, they never seem to let up. He doesn’t understand why it keeps happening to him. All he wishes for is health, and the given ability to help his Reds win some ballgames.

A poll was released during a Reds game during the 2002 season, asking whether Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn, Griffey or Juan Encarnacion should be removed from the starting lineup permanently. Griffey was constantly hurt, whether it be a tendinitis in his knee, a torn hamstring or a nagging knee injury. Even with that, Griffey didn’t appreciate the fans sudden backlash.

"What I found so frustrating here is that it was a shot when I couldn't defend myself,“ Griffey said in an interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons, “If I come back and stink, fine, then go ahead and take the shot. But it's not like I want to be hurt, or I'm not trying to rehab and get back faster than they thought; I'm in there in the morning and work all day.”

Then the reputation was beginning to be swirled around Cincinnati. Was this guy just a virus in a losing clubhouse, only caring about his still-valid paycheck and not about the teams yearly struggles? Was he taking his good old time with the rehab process, more interested in his long-term physical strain than the immediate on-field capabilities he brings to the ballpark every day? Griffey insists these rumors are false, making him more and more irritated every waking hour.

"Instead of being excited about the Reds winning and being in first place, someone decided to take that and turn it into a negative,” Griffey states, “and that's what upset me. Why be negative? I came home here because I thought it would be great for the city and the fans and the Reds. Now I constantly hear about the nine years and $116.5 million.”

Don’t forget about his passion to win…

“No one understands how much I want the Reds to win. I offered to defer more salary if it would help keep players like Pokey (Reese) and Dmitri (Young). People say I don't smile enough. Well, I haven't exactly been on winning teams the last three years. Winning is what it should all be about, not me.”

Now Griffey is healthy. Surrounded by a promising core of young talent and a pitching staff improving by the hour, the Reds could surprise some teams this season. Griffey wants to capture the essence of winning, like his days in Seattle, sharing a winning attitude with his younger teammates. He wants to recapture his stardom, reputation and ability to perform, like how it used to be. Sure, Ken Griffey can keep looking back, but he realizes this is a perfect time to look forward.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

To Believe Or Not To Believe

I really hate to say it, but I’m starting to believe Barry Bonds. I’m starting to believe that this steroid scandal was blown up by the media the entire time, and that Jose Canseco’s book is full of lies and holds no truth. With the new evidence Canseco is selling his World Series ring on Ebay and owes thousands of dollars in Massachusetts state taxes, I’m starting to believe he wrote the book just for money and fame.

I’m starting to believe everything that Bonds is claiming. I’m starting to believe Bonds’ trusted trainer Greg Anderson gave Bonds the steroids unknowingly, and that Barry just thought it would keep him healthy as he grew older. Of course he used steroids, but I’m starting to believe that A) he didn’t know they were steroids at the time and B) steroids do not all of a sudden give you immediate physical powers to hit a ball 500 feet.

I’m starting to believe Bonds that steroids are just used for strength, and don’t provide the user with superhuman powers. But when push comes to shove, it all boils down to those two points I said earlier. Did Bonds know he was using steroids at the time? Do steroids give you immediate power on the field, prompting Bonds to hit home run after home run, all because of these new steroids? He must have noticed something when his numbers jolted suddenly to the point of passing Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, the god of baseball, the creator of the home run.

Then, Bonds speaks. And his soft monotone and clear language, getting right to the point of his statement, tackles me again and again. He seems confident, not intimidated by the harsh onslaught of steroids assumptions. He never changes what he’s getting after. Barry Bonds claims he used the steroids unknowingly, and the steroids don’t help your hand/eye coordination and ability to hit the baseball.

And damn, I believe the guy.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Cowboy Up!

Kevin Millar chiming in from Fort Myers, talking about his claim the Red Sox took shots of Jack Daniels before some postseason games:
"This thing honestly took on a life of its own," he said yesterday, the day before the official reporting date for position players. "This had nothing to do with alcohol. It was as if I said, `OK, we're not gonna shower,' and then we won and we wouldn't shower the next day. It was a symbolic toast, something we did as a unit. But it doesn't matter if it was Gatorade or Jack Daniel's. That's what was unfortunate because it went off like it was about the alcohol and that's not what it was about."

"The Jack Daniel's was in the clubhouse," said Millar. "It's part of a major league locker room. It was a toast and it turned into: `We won, so we gotta do it tomorrow.' It wasn't everybody. It was just whoever was around. If you were there, you would laugh. It was literally a Gatorade cup of a toast, you can't even dribble a half a cup of water. But it was not about the alcohol. This game is hard enough. You're not playing this game drunk, and that's where the radio shows went off, saying, `You're not a good role model.'

"We knew what went on, but what can you do? The story kept growing and it's like a fishing line, it keeps going and what can I do? You can't stop it. I regret saying it now. When I'm talking, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I probably say things that I shouldn't say. I've gotten myself in trouble that way. It was unfortunate because we'd just won a World Series and things were good and then all of a sudden this black cloud comes in.

"I spoke with Theo [Epstein] and I spoke with [Terry] Francona and they were like, `What's going on here?' I explained to them. They were like, `Zip it,' basically. I apologized. I'm not out there trying to hurt anybody."

On almost being traded:

"It was a rough situation because I was scared I was going to be traded because that's part of the business," Millar said. "I didn't want to leave. I want to play for the Red Sox."

On Doug Mientkewicz and the World Series ball:

"I called him when that story came out and left him a message and said, `That's me and Ortiz's ball,' " Millar said. "I didn't realize it was such a big national story, but he didn't call me back. Now I know how he's feeling, because that's like what happened to me with the Jack. It was nice not to be part of that story."

On beating the Yanks and winning it all:

"Red Sox Nation has got bragging rights now. No more of those 1918 sayings. And the Yankees have to be bitter. To lose four in a row? Getting swept? That's rough."

"Everything happened so fast," said Millar. "I saw Franco Harris last week and he said, `This stuff will not sink in until you retire. What you guys did will not happen again in our lifetime.' We didn't even get a chance to have a team dinner. We won the World Series and had the parade and everybody scattered."

Quotes courtesy of Dan Shaughnessy’s article in the Globe.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Previewing the Evil Empire

The Yankees are hungry, angry and ready. The Yankees want to regulate the baseball standings like it should be, with them always on top and the last ones standing. They’re sick of these idiot, cocky Red Sox yapping about their players, calling one certain cheater a “deadbeat dad”, and blaming their own manager for their problems in pinstripes. They’re tired of responding to brash media about being the victims of a gigantic choke of intolerable proportions. They just want to play baseball.

Lineup: SS Derek Jeter, CF Bernie Williams, 3B Alex Rodriguez, RF Gary Sheffield, LF Hideki Matsui, DH Jason Giambi, C Jorge Posada, 1B Tino Martinez, 2B Tony Womack

The Yankees have a lot of bright spots, holes and question marks going into 2005, surprising with a 186 million dollar payroll. Jeter will just about guarantee you .300 every year, but he has struggled in that leadoff role. Look for Womack, if he’s not hitting around .250 at the time, to move all the way up. Bernie is not a bright spot in that 2 hole, he’s very old and will sink lower in the lineup as the year goes on. The 3-5 hitters are a murderers row for pitchers, but need to perform in the clutch this season. They hit a combined .143 in Games 4-7 of the ALCS last year. King George isn’t putting up with that again, I guarantee it. Jason Giambi is the biggest question mark. He has the whole steroid controversy flying over his head, isn’t much of a clubhouse presence, and will probably hit like his brother this season. Look for him to struggle mightily. The bottom of the lineup is weak. All the Yankees fans are beaming over this Tino signing, but he’s way past his prime and makes frequent errors. Womack can hit .300 and .230, you never know. He wasn’t even going to make the Red Sox team in spring training last season.

Grade: A-

Rotation: (Le) Randy Johnson, (Ri) Mike Mussina, (Ri) Carl Pavano, (Ri) Jaret Wright, (Ri) Kevin Brown

Looks great on paper, but age and consistency is a problem. Johnson is 41 years old, sometime his guys’ arm is going to take a toll. Look for him to have a pretty good year, but Moose to take over in the postseason. Mussina’s going to have a HUGE year. Pavano and Wright have amounted for three good seasons in eleven combined, including many surgeries along the way for Wright. These guys were coming off contract years and pitching their asses off- but the Bronx pressure and that inconsistency factor will be a problem. Subpar years for Pavano and Wright. The wild card is Kevin Brown, who had a great regular season and folded in late 2nd half/postseason. If he can come back healthy, they have the best #5 starter in the league. If not, Cashy will be pressured to deal for a solid number five at the deadline.

Grade: A-

Bullpen: (Ri) Mariano Rivera, (Ri) Tom Gordon, (Ri) Felix Rodriguez, (Ri) Paul Quantrill, (Le) Mike Stanton, (Ri) Tanyon Sturtze

This is a vastly overrated bullpen. Rivera is great, but they’re all old and right handed- bad combination. I not only think the bullpen will struggle all season, but cost the Yankees a trip to the World Series in the long run. Rivera is 35, Gordon is 36, Rodriguez is 32 (a desperation pickup), Stanton turns 37 in July and Quantrill is 36. And Stanton is the only lefty.

Grade: B-

The Yankees will meet the Red Sox in the ALCS again this year, and the year after that…and every year until the apocalypse. This rivalry is at an all-time high. I can’t wait for Scene III.

Season Finish: Lose in ALCS