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Friday, June 28, 2013

What's a guy gotta do to get his number retired around here...?

                               According to the MLB Red Sox site, the retired number policy goes like this: " (1)Induction into the hall of fame, and (2)  Play at least 10 years in a Red Sox uniform."  Sounds pretty simple, and at first it was; the first four players to have their number posted on the right field fa├žade - Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams and Carl Yazstremski ( #s 4, 1, 9 and 8, respectively)- fit the criteria.  In fact, only Cronin didn't play his entire career for Boston, spending the first Half of it  playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators.  A number of players who went to the Hall of fame and had maybe their peak years playing for the Bosox, weren't eligible. Players like Jimmie Foxx (who wore a Sox cap into the hall), Lefty Grove, Harry Hooper, Tris Speaker and such, will never have their number retired at Fenway.  Things got a little complicated in the late '90s when Carlton Fisk was elected to the hall...

                  Fisk was called up briefly in 1969, but didn't stick with the club until 1972, the year he won the rookie of the year award.  He played with Boston until 1980, which is only nine years, by my count.  Fisk went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Red Sox cap, despite playing the majority of his career with the Chicago White Sox.  When Fisk's # was retired by Boston, it seemed that the Red Sox brass had loosened it's stance a little...on the opposite end of the scale there is the Boston Celtics, who seemed to retire everybody's number but the popcorn vendor between the late '50s  and early '80s (except Cedric Maxwell, who deserved it more than say Jim Luscotoff or Satch Sanders, but anyway...).

         The next # to be retired at Fenway was #42, Jackie Robinson's, which is retired throughout the MLB.  In 2009, after 15 years years of trying, Jim Rice's #14 made it to the HOF, playing his entire 15 year career with Boston (therefore his number was retired by the Sox). Recently though, the club has totally gone against it's policy by retiring Johnny Pesky's #6.  A .300 hitting shortstop during the Ted Williams years, and a fixture with the club until his death last year, Pesky is not a member of baseball's Hall of Fame.  Confusing matters further is the fact that Wade Boggs-a five time batting champion who spent 11 years with Boston on his way to the Hall- does NOT have his #26 retired.  Why is that?  Is it because he wanted to go into Cooperstown wearing a Tampa Bay Devil Rays cap? (He's wearing a Sox cap, btw)  It can't be because he went to the Yankees after he left town...he was mostly let go after his sub par 1992, season when he batted .259.

             Boggs has recently stated that he wants his number retired and put up in right field with the others, and that should happen soon...he not only fits all the criteria, he was the best third baseman who ever put on a Red Sox uniform.  As I write this, I am listening to the T.V. in the other room, and apparently, both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have been traded to the Brooklyn Nets.  These are two players that helped the Celtics win the 2008 NBA championship, and both will go to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield Ma. and have their numbers hung up in the rafters of the Boston Garden. (I REFUSE to call it anything else; I don't care what heartless corporation is whoring itself as the building's name...the same goes for Shea stadium...Citibank can suck it).  Point is, it shouldn't be so hard to have your number retired by the Red Sox, but it is...other teams would love this problem...                 

                  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Playing ball down under...

                                                     Opening day 2014 has been announced, and it's going to take place in Australia between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.  For over 100 years, opening day was played in Cincinnati...that all changed when Bud Selig decided to switch things around and have it played at various locations, including other countries like Japan.  I could go on and on about tradition being broken, but I'm over it.  I get that Selig is trying to promote the sport in other countries and markets, and Australia is just as good a choice as any.  One problem is that opening day won't be the same day here as it is in Australia with the time changes and whatnot, but I guess that's nitpicking.

                            As of opening day THIS year, there have been 31 Australian players who made it to the Major Leagues; 28 born in Australia, the other 3 born elsewhere but raised in Australia.  The first player from down under was Joe Quinn, who debuted for the St. Louis Maroons in 1884 and later managed the St. Louis Browns in 1895.  After he played his last game, it would be another 85 years before another Australian would appear in a Major League game: Craig Shipley on June 22nd, 1986 for the Dodgers.  The most recent Australian born player is Liam Hendriks, who played for the Twins in 2011.

                   Not really sure who the best player from Australia is/was... catcher David Nilsson is the only one who made the All Star team; that was in 1999.  Grant Balfour (whose last name is only one letter away from "ball four" ) is the current closer for the Oakland A's.  Nicknamed "Rage" for his demeanor on the mound, Balfour has been this century's answer to Al Hrbowsky (AKA, the "Mad Hungarian").  Fellow A's players Rich Thompson and infielder Luke Hughes are also Australian. Other Australian players currently on major league rosters: the Astros' Travis Blackley, (I almost wrote "Bickle") Josh Spence, a reliever for the Yankees, Peter Moylan, who pitches for the Braves and the aforementioned Liam Hendriks.

             During the World baseball classic this year, I was watching a player with the awesome name of "Chris Oxspring", who it turns out, played briefly for the Padres in 2005.  Graeme Lloyd-who sounds like he should be in the Moody Blues and not in the Majors-was a post season hero for the Yankees in 1996, coming out of the bullpen.  He was the first, and as of this writing, the only Australian to play for a World series winner.  Balfour also played in the World series for Tampa in 2008 and has the most post season appearances of any "Ozzie" (I waited 'til the end to use that term...not even sure that's how you spell it, but anyway...).  So in conclusion, yes, I think it's a good idea to play MLB games in other countries.  I only wish it would be in the off season.  Seriously, if they can have the friggin' World baseball classic in the off season every 3 or 4 years, why can't they play one exhibition game out of the country.  Stepping off the soap box now...think I'll put on some Bee Gees...                                        

Monday, June 10, 2013

Boston v.s. Chicago

                                    With the Boston Bruins about to take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final, it got me to thinking about Boston/Chicago match-ups in baseball.  Since the Al and the NL merged in 1901, there has been only one World Series meeting between the Red Sox and Cubs, and that was in 1918.  For years, that number had been used as a taunt by Yankees fans, as it was the last year the Bosox won it all...until, of course 2004.  As for the series itself, Boston, led by their pitching ace Babe Ruth, won the series 4-2, despite only scoring nine runs the entire series, a record that still stands for a team that won it all. The 1918 series was the second ever played in Fenway Park, as the Red Sox had played their two previous series, 1915 and 1916 in the more spacious Braves field (they did play their in their the park's inaugural year in 1912). It was also the only World series that was played entirely in September, due to World War I.

                          One of the odd things about the 1918 series was that it followed the Chicago White Sox 1917 championship and predated the 1919 World series, which would have been won by the White Sox had a third of the team not thrown the contest ( Known as "The Black Sox scandal", the 1919 World series-along with Cleveland's Ray Chapman being killed by a pitch and the emergence of Babe Ruth- ushered in the "live ball era").  If you want to know more about the White Sox in 1919, there's a great movie called "Eight men out" by Jonathan Sayles, which does a great job at capturing the era.  Maybe the greatest hitter of all time, "Joe Jackson"- who Babe Ruth modeled his swing after- was the most famous of the players who were banned for life for his actions. (although, to be fair, he did have a good series, and he quite frankly wasn't smart enough to realize the consequences of his actions ).

                As for the Red Sox/Cubs, it would be another 87 years until they would play against each other, thanks to interleague play, and another 93 years 'til both would slug it out at Fenway Park.  However, if it weren't for a certain interference play by a Mr. Steve Bartman and a quick hook by Grady Little, the World series version of the Apocalypse may have happened in 2003.   I always thought Bartman got too much of the blame, as it's clear that there were at least two other fans going for the ball; seriously, if Moises Alou hadn't made such a big deal of it, then we wouldn't be talking about that foul ball so much.  As for trades involving both teams, the only one that comes to mind is when the Bosox traded a still alcoholic and seemingly washed up Dennis Eckersley for the Cubs first baseman Bill Buckner, who of course would be unfairly maligned as well a few years later.  Eckersley, eventually re-invented himself once he got to the A's and became a Hall of Fame closer.

              Other than the aforementioned late teen years, the Red Sox and White Sox were rarely good at the same time.  That is, until 1967, when four teams: The Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers and Twins were all within a game of each other with less than a week to go (spoiler alert, the Red Sox won the pennant).  This was back when there was no division play (division play would start in 1969), so you had to win the Pennant to go to the post season, which back then only meant the World series.  '67 has been called the last real pennant race in baseball, as both the Tigers and Cardinals won fairly handily in 1968.  The only time there was an all Sox playoff series was in 2005, when Chicago swept Boston in three games to move on to the ALCS and eventually win it all, and break an 88 year curse.  I always found it interesting how much of a big deal everyone made about the Red Sox breaking their 86 year curse in 2004, but no one seemed too ecstatic about the White Sox breaking an even longer curse the year after...I guess Chicago is more of a Cubs town...

As for former Red Sox players going to the White Sox, only one name comes to mind; Carlton Fisk.  Fisk of course, was a Boston mainstay from his rookie of the year season in 1972, until his final year in 1980.  Legend has it that BoSox GM Haywood Sullivan forgot to mail in Fisk's contract on time, making Pudge a free agent.  After much finger pointing and hurt feelings, Fisk signed with the pale hose in 1981, where he would spend the rest of his Hall of fame career as one of the greatest catchers of all time.  In recent years though, things were patched up, as Carlton went into the Hall wearing a Red Sox cap, despite playing the majority of his playing days in Chicago.  He was also the first Red Sox player to have his number retired despite having not spent his entire career in Boston.

                        And then there's Hawk Harrelson, who played for the Sox for a few years in the late '60s, leading the AL in RBI's in 1968, only to be traded soon after.  He eventually became the color man for the Red Sox on channel 38.  He was let go, apparently, because the Red Sox brass didn't like how often he criticized the team.  Oddly enough, when he became an announcer for the White Sox in the '80s ( a position he still holds), he became the biggest homer of all time, ... I guess money's a hell of a drug...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Buzz Aldrin Syndrome...

                      A friend sent me an email recently that went something like this: "Here are the statistics of two retired major leaguers; one is in the Hall of Fame, the other is not.  The HOF members numbers are 137 Hrs, 734 RBI's, .311 BA. and the second, non HOF member's numbers are: 253 Hrs, 970 RBI's, .283 BA.  Why isn't the second player in the Hall?"  Now, maybe I've been doing too much research on the movie "42", but I automatically knew the first set of stats belonged to Jackie Robinson.  Yes, they don't looked all that impressive, but when you figure he didn't come into the league until he was 28, and also suffered from injuries later in his career, they're actually pretty damn good.  As for the other player, I had to think for a bit.  Robinson was a second baseman for the most part, so I figured it had to be another player at that position.  Only one player came to mind: Bobby Grich

             It's hard to figure why Grich isn't in the HOF; he was a power hitting second baseman back when there just weren't any.  Also, he was a four time Gold Glover, forming maybe the best double play combination of all time with shortstop Mark Belanger when they both played for the Orioles in the mid '70s.  His best offensive years however came with the California Angels, where he helped that team to three division titles (he also had division titles w/ the Orioles, but Earl Weaver's team seemed to win that every year, although Grich played there in btw their pennant runs of 69-71 and 79).  After giving my answer, my friend said, "Wrong, the answer is Larry Doby".  I then told him that Doby in fact, WAS in the Hall of fame (albiet only fairly recently), but he inadvertently made his point...

                    Everyone knows that Jackie Robinson was the first black ballplayer, and most knowledgeable fans know that Larry Doby was the first black to play in the American league.  I'm sure Doby, and other black ballplayers of the day had to deal with the same crap Robinson had, but didn't get the press because they weren't the first...and they didn't play for a New York team.  Doby played center field for the Indians and was the first negro leaguer to go straight to the Majors.  He was one of the main cogs in their 1948 championship year (along with fellow negro leaguer Satchel Paige, also in the HOF), the last WS Cleveland won.  Even though he was in a different league than Jackie, he seemed to be playing second fiddle to him.  It didn't end there, though...

            After acting as a coach for the Expos, Indians and managing various Venezuelan winter league teams, Doby was shocked to find himself trumped again by another Robinson: Frank...as the Indians hired him the be the first black manager in 1975.  In 1977, the former owner of the Indians, Bill Veeck, now owner of the Chicago White Sox, hired Doby to be hitting coach.  Under Larry's tutelage, the Chisox batted .284 for the year.  In June of '78, Doby's former teammate Bob Lemon was fired as the White Sox manager, making way for Doby to become the first Black manager in the American league.  Again, you have to know a thing or two about the game to know this information.  I guess his HOF induction in 1998 makes up for all the snubs...

             While Jackie and Larry are in the Hall of Fame, Bobby Grich still isn't, so I'll finish this entry by making his case for the hall:  Hrs, 224, RBI's 864, BA, .266.  Four consecutive gold gloves, set the all time mark for fielding percentage by a second baseman in 1974, and broke that record in 1985, a year before he retired.  During the strike shortened 1981 season, he tied for the league lead in home runs (w/ Dwight Evans, Tony Armas and Eddie Murray), the first major league second baseman to do so since Rogers Hornsby in 1929, and first American leaguer second sacker since Nap Lajoie in 1901.  He was the first player inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame in 1996...hopefully, the actual Hall of fame will  induct him too...