Thursday, April 25, 2013

2004 Red Sox: "Where are they now?"

                                          With the recent events from the Marathon bombing manhunt still fresh in our minds, I figured I'd do a little piece about the city (and team ) I grew up in/with...Everyone knows that in 2004 the Red Sox broke an 86 year curse, and so on...but what ever happened to that team?  Only a handful of  the players on that team are even still playing in the Majors, and only one player-David Ortiz- is still playing for Boston.  So, at the risk of sounding like a vapid, VH-1 special, I present to you: "The 2004 Red Sox; where are they now?"

Catchers:  Jason Varitek stayed with the Sox until he retired in 2011.  He caught two no hitters before 2004, and two after, giving him the record for no nos caught by a backstop.  He also made the All star team a couple of more times after '04, including 2008, when he made the team despite his batting average looming in the Mike O'Berry zone. Mirabelli continued to be Wakefield's catcher until he went to the Padres; only to come back to the Sox when Wakefield requested his return (catching knuckleballs is an arduous task, apparently ).

First base: Kevin Millar played one more year for Boston, then played a couple for the Orioles and Blue Jays.  After retirement, he got the job he was made for; being a big mouth, talking about baseball and being silly on MLB network's "Intentional talk".  Doug Meintkevitz played a few more years after '04 with the Yankees and Mets, becoming only the 13th (I think) player to be on the Sox, Yanks and Mets.

Second base: Mark Bellhorn played one more half season, then parts of a season with the Padres and Yankees.  No word on him playing "Booger" in a Revenge of the nerds remake.  Pokey Reese retired after the series, leaving the legacy of having one of the coolest baseball names in Red Sox history.

Third base: Bill Mueller left the Sox after '05 to play one final seaon in L.A., where they undoubtedly mispronounced his last name as well ( pronounced "Miller", in case you care ).  Kevin Youklis didn't play in the post season that year, but would have his share of playoff moments with the Sox, until Bobby Valentine drove him out of town to he's on the Yankees, where their "no beard" policy isn't doing him any favors.

Shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra was traded at the deadline, ensuring he would never play in the World series for the Sox.  He played for the Cubs, Dodgers, (comeback player of the year in 2006) and the A's, before retiring.  He now is an analyst for ESPN's "Baseball tonight".  He also changed his name to "Mr. Mia Hamm", just to avoid confusion.  Orlando parlayed his late season heroics in '04 into a multi year contract with the Angels.  Then he played a season each for every team that ever existed...

Left field:  Manny continued his hot hitting until  mid 2008, where he went from "Manny being Manny", to "Manny being a pain in the ass".  I believe he's playing for the Hamilton Meat Hammers of the extremely minor international league now. Gabe Kapler played a year or two for the Sox, then retired to become a scout, only to come back to the Majors, where, as a member of the Rays, he made history...He was the one who hit the almost home run that Dwayne Wise robbed in the 9th inning of Mark Buerle's eventual perfect game.

Center Field : Johnny Damon played '05 for the Sox, then signed a big four year deal with the Yankees, helping them win it all in '09.  He then played a year each with the Tigers, Rays and Indians.  However, he was hard to recognize without the beard at first; that is, until he attempted a throw from the outfield (ouch).  Dave Roberts could win a Nobel Prize in Physics, and all anyone will remember is that steal in game four of the 2004 ALCS.  He then played for the Giants and/ or Padres...but as I said...

Right Field: Trot Nixon left the Sox after the '06 season; then he played one season each for the Indians and Mets, going the way of Brian Daubach ( both ended their careers w/ the Mets ).  BTW, Trot was a lot bigger than he looked.  His crouched stance made him look a lot shorter than his 6 ft 4 inches.  I didn't look it up, but I believe "Trot" is not his real name.

D.H. : Big Papi is still with the Red Sox.  He added to his legacy by saying, "This is our fucking city", during the ceremony at Fenway before the first game they played there since the bombing.  Brian Daubach was released before the end of the season.  He will always have a spot in my heart for saying he liked my set at the Comedy Connection  back in 1999.  He ended his career with the Mets..

Starting pitchers: Pedro signed a four year contract w/ the Mets, but spent a lot of that time injured, which hurt their chances to overtake the Cardinals in the '06 NLCS ( although, they almost did anyway ).  He did make it back to the World Series in '09 with the Phillies, which must have been a bitter bill for Mets fans to swallow.  Curt Schilling retired after the '07 Series win over the Rockies.  He called it quits because of injuries...and probably because Jesus told him to. Derek Lowe pitched for the Dodgers, Braves, Indians, Yankees ( Jeez, how many players from this team played for New York later? ), and now the Rangers.  No word on whether he sold his house in Quincy Ma. yet.

                Tim Wakefield retired after the 2011 season, when, without warning, he became an unlikely movie star ("Knuckleball") and T.V. host ("The next knuckler").  Granted, his range is limited (ha)...Bronson Arroyo left after the '05 season to carve out a pretty good career with the Cincinatti Reds, where he is to this day.  I know he misses Boston, especially Newbury Comics ( or was that Todd Benzinger?  I get my former Sox-turned- Reds confused ).

Relief pitchers: 2004 was Keith Foulke's last good season.  He must have been a real challenge for parents at the game trying to keep their kids from swearing.  Mike Timlin eventually ended his 97 year baseball career with the Sox in the late '00s.  My sister still has the hots for him, I think.  Alan Embry was the one on the mound when the finally beat the Yankees in the '04 ALCS.  Then he ended up playing for the Yankees for the sole purpose of pissing me off.  Mike Myers left the Sox to portray Austin Powers in a Hockey mask for " Halloween 17: Yeah Baby!"  Curtis Leskanic probably didn't become a mechanic, but he should have, you know...

Manager: Terry Francona got out of Boston with his dignity before the collapse of 2012.  He spent one year in the booth, then decided he wasn't punished enough in life and took the Indians managing job ( I keed...)

GM: Theo Epstein actually has a more daunting task as the Cubs GM.  If he even gets them to the World Series, they may erect a statue  to him, right next to that drunk Harry Carey.  Hey, I love me some Harry Carey, but he made Keith Richards look like a teetotaler (not that I'm one to talk).

...and the rest:  There are dozens of players that played for the 2004 Red Sox, but I can't really go into them all...if you want to see the exploits of Cesar Crespo, Ricky Gutierrez and Pedro Astacio, may I suggest, Baseball Almanac or even Wikipedia.  I'm just here to be a wise ass and try to educate where I can.  And, as Homer Simpson once said : "People can use facts to prove something that's even remotely true..."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Will 20 win seasons go the way of the Dodo bird...?

                                          The baseball season is less than three weeks old, and already there have been a few almost no-hitters; Yu Darvish on opening day and Clay Buchholz last Sunday come to mind.  No-nos have been on the rise in the past few years.  In 2012, there were seven, two of them being perfect games.  On the other hand, there were only four twenty game winners last year-the two Cy Young winners, David Price and R.A. Dickey, along with Gio Gonzalez and Jared Weaver.  It used to be you almost had to have at least twenty wins to even be considered for the award.  In fact, it wasn't until the late '70s that a starter won the award with less than twenty: Tom Seaver.  Nowadays, you can have a guy go 13-12 and win the award (Felix Hernandez in 2011).  As the years go by, twenty game winners are becoming less and less frequent.  It didn't used to be that didn't used to be that way at all.

                  Back in 1971, something that only happened once before ( The 1920 White Sox )  and most likely will never happen again occurred; four pitchers won twenty-plus games.  The team was Earl Weaver's Baltimore Orioles.  A team built on pitching, defense, and the three run homer. ( it was not a good idea, btw, to ask Earl about his "team's speed" ) The four pitchers in question were former Cy Young winner Mike Cuellar, future multiple Cy Young winner (and underwear model ) Jim Palmer, Dave McNally (Famous as one of the first free agent holdouts in the mid '70s), and the newly acquired Pat Dobson.

               The quartet led the O's to their third consecutive pennant, although they would be upset by Clemente and the Pirates in the series. To show you how winning twenty back then wasn't that out of the ordinary, none of the four pitchers from Baltimore won the Cy Young award.  That honor went to Vida Blue of the Oakland Athletics, who had one of the greatest pitching performances ever, winning 27 games, with over 300 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.82.   He also won the MVP that year...all at the tender young age of 21.  Blue would never have a season like that again, although he did become the first pitcher to start All Star games in both the AL ('71 and '75 for the A's ) and the NL ('78 for the San Fransisco Giants ).

          Blue also had 24 complete games, which is about a third of the total all 30 teams had combined in 2012.  Having a good bullpen is almost as important as having quality starters.  Now as far as why there are more no-hitters than 20 game winners, I have a theory- strikeouts.  There have been an alarming amount of hitters striking out over 200 times.  For the longest time, Bobby Bonds had the record for strikeouts in a single season with 189.  That was back in 1969.  The record was broken by Adam Dunn in 2004...then Ryan Howard...then it was shattered by Mark Reynolds a few years back with 223.  In fact, Reynolds had more strikeouts in his first two full seasons than Joe Dimaggio did in his entire career.  The only flaw in this theory is that Mark has never played for the Rays, who get no-hit more than any other team for some reason, even when they're contenders.

               Maybe they're coddling pitchers...I know Nolan Ryan thinks so.  He threw more no-no's than anyone, back when they weren't so frequent.  I believe he's trying to turn the Rangers into a throwback team; starters throwing more innings, not depending on the bullpen unless it's necessary, etc.  You know, maybe Ryan should be the next commissioner.  Lord knows Selig has lost his grip on reality; pretty soon, every team but the Astros and Padres will make the playoffs.  So, maybe that's the solution...replace Stephen Hawking's stunt double with a man, who, at the age of 62, threw out the first ball in the 2010 World series that was clocked at 83 miles an hour.  He probably didn't even need an Advil afterwards...  



Tuesday, April 9, 2013

( Fairly ) recent changes to the game I like...

                                                       O.K., I decided to be positive this week and post recent changes in the game that I DO like. Recent is a relative term, so let's say within the past thirty years or so.  Since then, there have been five commissioners, four new teams, revenue sharing, etc; but this entry will be all about the better trends in the game, and there have been a few.  Last week I wrote things I'd change, and posted five examples, so this week I'll do the same.  So here they are, five (fairly recent) changes to the game that I like:

1) New Stadiums: Back in the late '60s, early '70s, a lot of the owners tried to save money but building multi-purpose stadiums that could not only field their baseball team, but also the city's football (and whatever else's) team.  These were your basic cookie cutter stadiums, which looked almost identical to each other- same circular shape, artificial turf, and in some cases, football yard lines on the field during September.  These parks were featured in cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and  St. Louis...then there were the domes: Minnesota, Seattle, Houston and Montreal.  Even some of the real grass stadiums seemed a little cold and antiseptic in places like Cleveland, Oakland, Etc.  Well all that started to change in the early '90s, starting with Camden Yards in Baltimore, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, and on from there.  These were all beautiful, throwback stadiums with plenty of charm;each one unique in it's own way.

                       I know the main reason behind these parks is to get more revenue for their teams from the league, and a handful have had to change their name because of corporations buying each other out (which is irritating, to say the least).  But I welcome the change, and look forward to visiting all of these ballparks...hell, I'll even go to Enron Field...I mean, Minute Maid Park...uhhh is it still called that?....whatever...I'll even go to Houston, how about that...

2) New Uniforms: The Marlins notwithstanding, today's team uniforms are a million times more appealing to look at than those horrible double knits without buttons that teams used to wear in the '70s and '80s.  Never mind the horrible fashion choices of the Pirates, A's and (especially) Astros; the form fitting unis made all but the most fit player look like a company softball player after he's had a few.  I don't know when this change occurred, exactly, but every time a team like the Royals or Phillies have a "throwback"day, I appreciate the new duds even more.

3) MLB Network: If you told me 10 years ago that there would be a cable channel devoted 24/7 to baseball, I wouldn't have believed it.  Then again, if you asked most people 30 years ago about an all sports cable channel being successfull (ESPN) you would have gotten the same response.  What I like about the station is it's connection to the past, which is more important in baseball than any other sport.  Programs like "Prime 9", "Baseball Seasons" and the various specials and documentaries they show give younger viewers a better understanding of where the game came from.  Of course they show games, highlights, and original programming that's pretty cool, with lots of ballplayers from my youth and beyond giving their opinion.  They also realise that the majority of the viewers are men, so they hired many baseball-savvy women to work there, mainly from other teams (Heidi Watney and Hazel Mae both used to work for NECN, the Red Sox and Bruins network). Hazel was my favorite, but she's no longer my fav is Alana Rizzo; great knowledge of the game, strong speaking voice, and easy on the eyes (to say the least...Yowsa!).

4) Minor League exposure: Going to a major league game is great, but sometimes you don't have the funds; MLB games can get pricey, especially if you have kids or want to drink (you can only choose one, ha).  Fortunately, there is minor league ball. In almost every size able city it seems, there is some form of a professional baseball team;whether it's one affiliated with a Major squad, or just independent, you can experience baseball at a reasonable price.  Also, there are silly games for the kids, like people dressed as hotdogs racing between innings, and, in A ball and above, you might see a future star, or maybe one who's already in the majors and coming back from an injury.  My favorite are the Brooklyn Cyclones, the "A" ball team for the Mets. Playing their home games in Coney Island, a Cyclones game gives you a unique experience; with it's location next to the boardwalk and full view of the amusement park in the background.

5) The fact it hasn't changed all that much: Alright, this is kind of a cop-out, but seriously, with all the changes good and bad, there really is not that much difference between today's game and the one Honus Wagner  and Satchel Paige played .  Still 9 innings, still 3 strikes you're out, still no instant replay, ( can I get a hallelujah ) , still the same basic game that's been played for over 180 years. There have been multiple changes to other sports in recent years ( especially hockey ), but baseball pretty much stays the if we could only get rid of Bud Selig....