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I miss baseball. Covid-19 has us missing many things. Baseball is one for me, and it is getting likely there won’t be any this year.

So I decided to read Red Sox Rule: Terry Francona and Boston’s Rise to Dominance by Michael Holley while donating plasma.

In terms of his career with the Red Sox, this book centers on the 2007 season. Similar to his books Patriot Reign and War Room, Holley was embedded in the organization for a year. He picked a good one since the Red Sox won the World Series that year.

I thought this book would cover the 2004 season as part of that rise to dominance. I was sadly disappointed. It was still interesting and enjoyable, but I wanted more about the Idiots who broke the curse. There were so many good stories about those players, and obstacles to overcome. Where was the famous Thanksgiving dinner with the Schillings to get him to buy into the trade?

He begins in a preface about Boston, aka The Hub. Holley wants to put the setting in context. Boston is kind of unique. Until about 2004, the Sox ruled the town. It had been a long time since Bird and the Celtics ruled the roost. But the Patriots’ consistent prolonged success changed all that. Well, and the fans frustration with owner John Henry. While Kraft can do no wrong (or bounces back quickly), Henry can seemingly do no right. That passion for baseball wasn’t like the similar passion in St. Louis. It could break a team, a player and a manager. After the soul-crushing loss in 1986, manager John McNamara (who made more wrong moves than leaving Buckner in) said, “Why me? Why did this have to happen to me? I go to church every day. Why me?” Failure can reveal faulty theology too.

Holley does not tell the story in linear fashion. It is more thematic. So he sets the stage with the fateful night in 2003 when Grady Little sent Pedro back out after more than 100 pitches. I remember screaming at the TV because anyone who was paying any attention knew that Pedro’s ERA after 100 pitches shot up like a rocket. The inevitable happened as the lead evaporated, Little left a spent Pedro in the game, and the Yankees tied it. Holley has Francona watching the game disinterestedly. He was on the coaching staff for the A’s and thought they were the better team. But the Sox beat them anyway to advance to the ALCS against the Yankees.

Francona felt bad for Little. He’d been housemates with Grady for a few months back in 1992 and played with his brother in the minors so many years ago. Baseball is that way sometimes- you either know each other or a guy who knows the other in the small fraternity of professional baseball. He thought it was a bit crazy that Grady would be fired. And he never thought he’d spend nearly a decade there as the manager.

Holley then talks about the search that ended with Francona taking over the manager’s office in Boston, the last thing he expected. A few days after Little was fired he was in Georgetown with his son when Mike Barnicle came up to him like an Old Testament prophet “You’re going to be the next manager of the Boston Red Sox.” Francona, not knowing he was a Boston writer, thought he was crazy.

He had some interviews to attend. His meeting with the Orioles went south quickly. He met with Ken Williams of the White Sox, but the fact they met at the airport was not encouraging. He didn’t get that job either. Terry had talked with Bud Black who was rumored to be in the Red Sox crosshairs. They were old teammates and he encouraged Bud to pursue it. But a few hours later the Sox invited him to interview. He called Bud back, and Bud withdrew his name.

I wasn’t sure about Francona, from a fan perspective. The Philly years were not inspiring. Former Red Sox Glenn Hoffman was a sentimental favorite and I hadn’t really heard about Joe Maddon. Theo Epstein had been given the reins as the game’s youngest GM. This was his first major hire. He had clear ideas about what he wanted, and how to go about getting it. Old friend Mark Shapiro warned Terry not to BS Theo because he wouldn’t fall for it, and Theo could tie him in knots.

Theo had devised a series of tests to see how Francona thought. There was a 16 question multiple choice test. While they said there were no right answers, they didn’t tell him there was no wrong way to defend your answer. They spent 2 hours talking through that test. Then they were in front of a big screen so Francona could “manage” a game. The video started in the 7th inning. They wanted to see how he applied his baseball principles and thought in the thick of it.

Don “The Gerbil” Zimmer

This is when Holley shifts from the story to the mega-shift that took place in managing baseball. He uses Dick Williams who led the ’67 Impossible Dream team. He was no-nonsense. He’d even wrestled with players. He wasn’t alone in that mindset. But things began to shift. Entitlement began to settle in and change how managers approached players. Managing became more and more about relationships and managing the room, not just the game. Holley brings the Gerbil, I mean Don Zimmer, into this equation. You also had to be media savvy because guys like Glenn Ordway were on the air back in ’78 (he’s still on the radio).

In the next chapter he summarizes Francona’s childhood and career as a player. Terry came from a baseball family. His father Tito played for a number of years and teams. He was a teammate of Joe Torre in Atlanta. Terry always wanted to play baseball, and hanging out in clubhouses gave him a good head for the game. He had talent too. That talent took him to Tucson to play at the University of Arizona rather than accept the Cubs $19,000 offer. Like Tedy Bruschi years later, he’d meet his wife there. Terry still has a home in Tucson.

Francona’s story as a player only takes up one chapter. Terry was drafted 22nd in the first round by the Expos, one pick ahead of future boss Billy Beane. He’d sign for $100,000. It doesn’t end well. Knee injuries took a promising career and turned him into a struggling journeyman player.

There is a fast forward to the year of managing Michael Jordan. This was an important year for Francona. He learned about managing big personalities, powerful personalities. He learned about having a democratic spirit, and allowing the right players to manage the club house for you. There are some interesting stories about that time, including some pick up games.

“The key was to have players who could command the respect of their teammates, and to have a manager secure enough to accept input from those players.”

Holley talks about why Jordan played baseball, which is interesting in light of watching The Last Dance. Holley notes that Jordan was bored with basketball. You can see why when you see how grueling it was to win 3 championships and a gold medal in 3 years. It had become too routine, not enough of a challenge. He was tired of monotony. He was also looking for an escape from the non-stop hero worship. While he didn’t get a complete break from fame, he wasn’t in the spotlight for over a year.

Then we forward jump to 2006 and the Red Sox on-going duel with the Yankees. In the midst of the tiring battles between the teams, there was the personal relationship between the coaches that went back to Francona’s childhood. They played chess in these match ups and their strategy is revealed in some of the stories. But the main story was a sweep late in 2006, rather than a certain series in October 2004. 2006 saw the Red Sox begin well, and were on pace to win 100 games when the wheels fell off. Varitek got hurt at the trade deadline forcing them to trade of Javy Lopez, a guy who just didn’t fit. Then it was Wakefield who got hurt. Beckett seemed to struggle in even numbered seasons, and did. And then it got worse: Big Papi had palpitations, Lester was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Manny was being Manny with a bad hammy, Schilling strained a muscle and Papelbon had a shoulder subluxation. They were a mess going into the series that would shape their off season.

Theo alluded to the development of rookies that would make a big impact in 2007: Pedroia and Ellsbury. But they also needed veteran help. The “competitive obsession” that led to the big moves before 2004 led to big moves before 2007 as well. So began the Dice-K story, the signing of J.D. Drew and whether or not Papelbon would remain a closer or shift to a starter after his injury. But here is also where Holley addresses how Varitek, Cora and Ortiz ran the club house. That was often a challenge with Manny. When frustrated with the man-child, he’d send Big Papi in to talk to him. Sometimes even Papi wanted to kill him.

In 2007 Terry implemented a change so when they played the scouted team, those scouts would be there to talk it through, not just send in reports. This helped him in game prep. When that was done it was time for communication: texting his kids, walking the room or beating Pedrioa in cribbage.

“…the sign-stealing ability of Rodriguez. Sometimes catcher Jason Varitek and Schilling would change their signs three times an at bat when facing Rodriguez. They didn’t begrudge him for it; they did the same thing. “Everybody tries,” Francona explained. “We try to steal third-base coaches’ signs. They try to get ours. That’s part of the game.””

This is very different from what the Astros did (and some other teams) in using their own center field cameras and algorithms to crack the signs. But you see the same mind set: everyone was looking for an advantage. It was gamesmanship at the core. But once tech was used, like with Apple Watches by the 2017 Red Sox, the line was crossed. But all of this was part of how they turned the tide against the Yankees in 2007.

(Associated Press)

Holley then jumps us to the trade deadline that season on a ride that took Theo and Terry to a boiler room to have a private conversation with Jonathan Papelbon. This is about the ill-fated trade for Greg Gagne whose stats were nearly identical to Papelbon’s. But they wanted to shore up the bullpen, particularly since Papelbon had the injury in 2006. They were taking no chances but didn’t want to mess with his head. It ended up messing with Gagne’s though. He became very hittable, and frustrating to Sox fans around the world who feared he’d sink their chances.

So, here we are in the middle of the 2007 season and Holley returns to 1988. Why 1988 you say? He mom, Birdie, was diagnosed with cancer. Here battle would last until his first year managing in the minors, 1992. After her death, Holley recounts his moves around the league as a coach until the fall of 2002 when a series of medical problems nearly killed Terry.

Then he brings us back to the stretch run in 2007 as the lead shrank and the fans’ ire grew. Not only was Pedroia a new member of the Sox-Yanks rivalry, so was hard throwing Joba Chamberlin. And he went head hunting. But Clay Buchholz emerged with a no-hitter. Pennant race tensions also hit during a series in Baltimore when a frustrated Cabrera hit Pedrioa prompting a clearing of the benches. Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez lost his cool in the fray. Francona had a word with Oriole’s star Miguel Tejada.

“Miggy,” Francona said, calling Tejada by his nickname. “That was bullshit.”

“I know,” the shortstop said.

“Miggy, we’ve got Josh Beckett pitching on Sunday, and he throws real hard.”

“I know,” he repeated.

Old school baseball rules. On Sunday, while winning his 18th game of the season, Beckett hit Hernandez.

But at one point, the Red Sox lead was down to 1 1/2 games. Gagne had been horrible. Lugo and Drew were struggling at the plate all season. Talk radio was full of criticism for the team, the GM and Terry Francona. It seemed to take far too long but the Sox clinched a playoff spot and then the division. Now it was time to see who’d they play: Indians or Angels? They would play future Red Sox John Lackey and the Angels. They would beat them soundly, actually.

I remember spending the weekend in 2007 in Treasure Island near St. Pete. I was doing pulpit supply and they let us stay at a vacation home on the water. I spent the evenings listening to or watching the series against the Indians. Francona was betting on his team’s experience to be the deciding factor. It likely was as the Red Sox came from behind to defeat them before sweeping the previously red hot Rockies.

The afterward covers, very briefly, the 2008 season which saw Manny force his way out of town and a depleted Red Sox team barely lose a 7 game ALCS against the Rays. Oh, that hurt.

So, in some ways this is a strange book. It wasn’t what I’d hoped. I thought it would cover more of his career with the Red Sox. It jumped around with the time line like a Quinten Tarantino movie. But it was still a fun, informative read. It is worth adding to any Red Sox or baseball fan’s collection. Francona was a man who provided a transition in how the game was managed. He maintained relationships and honored the game on his way to success. I’m not sure what his pastor/piano tuner grandfather would say about his language, but he still displayed plenty of character.

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When you say the name “Pedro” many people think of Napoleon Dynamite and “Vote for Pedro”. For me there is really only one Pedro: Pedro Martinez.

Pedro Martinez tells his story, along with Boston Herald writer Michael Silverman, in the simply titled Pedro. This is a generally interesting book. As the Boston Globe noted on the cover, “Pedro the book is as smart, funny, and diva-esque as Pedro the pitcher.” This captures Pedro’s personality well.

A few years ago I read Mariano Rivera’s autobiography. That also captured his personality well. These two men, from similar backgrounds and similar dominance at their position at the same time had very different personalities.

Pedro contains more of his views and fewer of the details of his career. Mariano was a bit more factual in regard to the game, and didn’t focus as much on his views. Perhaps Pedro figured most of us had seen his career and wanted to know a bit more about what drove him. Pedro found ways to motivate himself. Every slight, real or imagined, was the catalyst to drive him harder and farther. He speaks much of how the Dodgers didn’t believe in him. Lesser accomplished pitchers with less talent were called up ahead of him. This was added to the chip that was growing on his shoulder. Contract negotiations would water that chip and help if grow. He’d imagine someone had kidnapped and threatened his mother to pitch better (this is a reality many Hispanic players have had to deal with).

This book is more earthy than Mariano’s. There are more cuss words (I don’t recall any in Mariano’s book), and colorful language as well as his greeting for new managers. Liking to be naked in the club house, he’s jump on a bench and “wiggle (his) johnson”. Yes, don’t believe what you heard, locker rooms are sometimes places with behavior that wouldn’t be acceptable elsewhere.

Pedro speaks a little about his faith but it is very vague. Mariano is more specific about his faith. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that, and I’m just making an observation. Mariano comes across more like you’d expect a professing Christian to sound. Pedro less so. Yet, as I preached this past Sunday, Christianity is about the heart and not man-made rules or traditions. I’d put the language in the file under man-made rules. But not knowing what he believes makes it harder to know. You know?

Pedro focuses on his family of origin, particularly his parents and his older brother Ramon. Pedro loved playing baseball but never thought of making a profession of it until Ramon got his signing bonus and bought the family their first refrigerator. Think about that. Pedro, like the big brother he idolized, wanted to provide for his family. We see glimpses of his providing for others, particularly under-privileged kids in the Dominican Republic and the US. This, I imagine, is part of how his faith influenced his life. We read very little about his romantic life aside from his first romance as a minor league player in Montana until he mentions his relationship with Carolina until they won the 2004 World Series. She and his kids figure far more prominently in the epilogue and afterward.

Riveria also talks about his life in poverty and his family of origin. His wife and child factor in his book more frequently, however. They factored, it seemed, into more of his decisions.

They are very different men. But what made them famous was their ability to throw a baseball. Pedro mentions the people along the way that helped him to pitch better. He didn’t learn to toe the rubber until spring training. During his first All-Star appearance while with the Expos he sat and talked with Maddox and Glavine and learned how to pitch, which helped when he lost his velocity. Unlike Schilling, who wrote it all down, Martinez kept hitters strengths & weakness, tendencies all in his head.

There are some unflattering stories about others. Most of them have to do with the racism he experienced. Or at least cultural insensitivity. Anglo coaches often didn’t realize what life had been like for many of these  young Hispanic men from other countries. In one case, while in the minors his first year, the players were told to hurry up and get on the bus. He and another player went straight to the bus, not wanting to disappoint the coach. They didn’t realize they were expected to shower first (the coach didn’t say that). The coach lit into them and called them dirty as in lacking good hygiene.

Pedro really didn’t like Joe Kerrigan. He was Martinez’ pitching coach in Montreal, then Boston and eventually his manager in Boston. From a distance Kerrigan seemed like a good pitching coach. When he took over for Jimy Williams it all went south from the outside. But Pedro’s relationship with him was burned in Montreal when Kerrigan tried to fit Pedro into his box instead of figuring out what worked well for Martinez. He wanted no stars, and his own way. From Pedro’s perspective Kerrigan tried to take credit for other people’s success. If you are the start pitcher and you watch the coach who really had nothing to do with your greatness get accolades, you understand. There were also rumors of how Kerrigan stabbed Williams in the back. Needless to say, Martinez was not disappointed with the new ownership group fired Joe and hired Grady Little which earned a wiggle of the johnson that Grady probably could have done without.

Pedro mentions a number of players, but very little about what happened behind the scenes. He criticized Mike Piazza at times for his play, but he avoids naming names when it came to steroids. He is no Jason Giambi.

I wish there was more about the 2003 & 2004 Red Sox. Every Sox fan wants to know more about the Idiots who broke the curse.

A few events stood out to me. Martinez talks about a series in NY against the Yankees in 2001. The first game was rained out and rescheduled in June. As a result, Pedro’s next 3 starts were against the Yankees. I had tickets to that rained out game with one of my best friends who lived in the area at the time, and the woman who would become CavWife. She and I ended up at the Cheesecake Factory after we’d driven all the way to the Bronx and parked in a garage before hearing the game was canceled.

My friend, Eddie, and I went into the city on Thursday for the travel day game that afternoon. We didn’t have tickets and the box office said they were sold out (lots of season ticket holders who didn’t show up). We finally found someone selling tickets on the street (remember, this is when there was not Stub Hub). We were in the nosebleeds but I think this was the only time I saw Pedro pitch live. He pitched well, but lost that day. Certainly better than when I went to Fenway (I haven’t been back since) and saw the wrong Martinez, Ramon, get rocked in another day game while I baked by the Pesky Pole.

The other memorable event was his final negotiations with the Red Sox. I read this as another Boston legend, Tom Brady, hit free agency. John Henry, Tom Warner and Larry Lucchiano all wanted to sign Pedro. Theo had his computer with all his graphs and projections that indicated that Pedro had about two good seasons left in him. Pedro wanted at least 3 years (he got 4 from the Mets which the Sox refused to match). I just thought of Bill doing the “math” in his head indicating Brady was declining and having to deal with an owner who likely would do anything to keep Tom. Like Theo, Belichick made the unpopular but hard call. Theo was right. Time will tell if Bill was. Brady may be the next Roger who really wasn’t in the twilight of his career after all.

You get a picture of a man whose greatest strength was also his weakness. This is true for most of us. The anger that drove him to get better caught the attention of the Dodgers and a reason for some of them to question his character. But it was a book that left me wanting more. You can certainly say worse things about a book. And a great player always leaves you wanting to see more. He left us memories of 3 Cy Young award reflecting incredible dominance in the steroid era, his incredible 1999 All-Star game performance, and that gutsy relief performance against Cleveland while hurt in the playoffs. Such greatness and glory is fleeting, so watch it while you can.

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It was a long, frustrating season. There were many times I wanted to give up on them. Mostly I wanted to fire Farrell. But the frustration of this season doesn’t lie at just at Farrell’s door.

  1. The Missing Papi. Yes, his play was missed. More than that was probably his presence. Some of those young players needed him in tough times. It is hard to know but I suspect things would be different in the clubhouse controversies.
  2. Clubhouse Controversies. Price was seriously out of control. The fans just want you to perform as you have for years. It really isn’t complicated. But he thinks he can act like Ted Williams. I understand him being frustrated with the media, but not the fans. I didn’t think he was a good fit here, and still don’t think he was. He treatment of Eck was similar to Manny’s antics that got him gone. Part of me hopes he’s gone. Pedroia struggled with leadership during the Machado events, and not reigning in Price.
  3. Injuries. There were the guys who missed serious time, especially the starting pitchers. Stephen Wright missed the season. Rodriquez was not right even when he was pitching. Price was in and out. Fister actually had some good starts, but that you had to rely on him was crazy. But when your depth keeps getting hurt or can’t throw strikes this is what happens. But it was the injuries that hampered guys: Bogaerts, Betts and Moreland all had injuries that put them in prolonged slumps. Pedroia was having a good season before his knee became too much of a problem. Hanley’s shoulder had an unknown effect on his play.
  4. Sloppy Baseball. There were too many “error repeaters”, guys who kept making the same mistake. I love Benintendi but he ran into too many outs. He wasn’t the only one. There was some sloppy defense at times.
  5. Farrell, Farrell, Farrell. He “protected” players. Fine. But he needed to correct players. He didn’t need to protect Price in the Eck incident. He made so many mysterious moves. He’d play guys who struggled for guys who were playing well. Too many mystifying moves, and not just in the playoffs. You play Devers and put Marrero in late for defense. But Farrell plays Marrerro based on the “match ups” despite the actual statistics that screamed, play Rafael.
  6. Dombrowski. The Sale move was great. Moreland played well, but this team had no power. The pen needed help due to injuries from last season, which should have been addressed. His was a mixed report card.
  7. The B’s regressed. Some of it was injuries. Some was struggling to get out of funks or the sophomore wall. I think we’ve seen the best of Bradley. Betts and Bogaerts had injuries and should be better next year. Benintendi worked through the problems and likely learned some important lessons. But their missing production was a serious problem for this team.

This will be an interesting off season. It began with a bang. Finally Farrell was fired. He was never Dombrowski’s man. But you don’t fire a guy who just survived cancer. They should have let him go after last year’s sweep and kept Luvollo. But he lost the clubhouse in addition to the bonehead moves that probably had Dombrowski throwing darts at his picture.

  1. New manager. Looks like it will be either Alex Cora, Brad Ausmus, or Ron Gardenhire. I’m surprise Gabe Kapler isn’t in there. Of those three, I only want Cora. I’ve wanted him as manager for a few years now. He’s smart, articulate, gets analytics and builds relationships. He seems to have good EQ. Gardenhire apparently has good EQ as well, but is old school and doesn’t like the analytics that Farrell seemed to ignore or his book was a  few years old. Ausmus has a low EQ and struggles in dealing with the press. We don’t need Farrell part 2. Cora, please. Whomever it is they need to build a good staff. Perhaps Butter got complacent but they didn’t seem to fix fielding problems. Too many hitters had prolonged slumps and Porcello never quite got his mechanics figured out this year. That shouldn’t be happening. Update: Gardenhire was hired by the Tigers.
  2. New slugger. I’d like J.D. Martinez, but that would necessitate a move like trading Bradley. Both Benintendi and Betts can play center field. Bradley may help get you pitching. Hosmer is another option and he’d fill the hole at first. But they need a solid veteran slugger who can help change the club house culture like in 2013.
  3. Surgeries have begun. Ross was first, and the least significant. E-Rod’s surgery was overdue and hopefully will resolve his issue with the balky knee so he can trust it again. Hanley’s shoulder surgery was probably overdue. Perhaps he returns to a fearsome hitter instead of the shell of himself he was this year. Pedey should have one on his knee but it may be a problem going forward. This does create some short-term issues. E-Rod won’t be ready to begin 2018. This means you need Wright and Price healthy and ready to go. Assuming you keep Price after sitting him down and telling him he’s been an ass. Who knows when and for how long Pedroia will be healthy. They need a good back-up plan for him. Nunez would be a great one, if you can convince him to come back.
  4. Good-bye Chris Young. He was pretty useless this year. Does this mean Castillo gets another chance? Or does Brentz finally get a chance? Brentz may add some power to the line up. If you go for Martinez, you have Sam Travis ready to play first. He’s not really a power bat, at least yet. Unless you want to move Devers there instead of Chavis. Devers and Chavis would give you 2 power bats at the corners. I’m not sure Chavis is ready for the big leagues, so now you need Devers at 3rd with Marrero as the utility/defensive replacement. Tough decisions, to be sure.All of this is why you need a manager who can work with the young players, unlike Farrell.
  5. 6-man modified rotation? Having Wright is a big advantage if he’s healthy. He could give you one start per starter per month. Sale could get some rest throughout the season so he’s ready to dominate when you need him too. Not May but September and October. In between those irregular starts, the knuckleballer can provide long relief. Now that Farrell is gone he won’t be a pinch runner and messing up his shoulder on slides.
  6. The Unexpected Moves. Dombrowski can’t stand pat. They barely beat the Yankees, but that doesn’t mean they are the better team. The Series-bound Yankees have figured out what the Red Sox haven’t in 2 tries: how to win in the post-season. Their many young stars are progressing. The Sox have to get better too.

This is a crossroads kind of off-season. They will either get better or worse. If better they will be in contention for championships. Worse, and the next few years will be just as frustrating as this one, or more. Now is when Dombrowski has to earn his keep.

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For most of my life the New England Patriots just weren’t very good. They somehow managed to get to two Superbowls but I never expected them to win either of those games.  They showed promise in the late 70’s but Oakland and a few horrible calls took care of that.

For the last fifteen years they have been most successful team, making the playoffs every year but two, six Superbowl appearances and 4 Superbowl victories.

Some people want to “blame” it all on cheating, but that is too easy. In the book Patriot Reign, Michael Holley looks at how this franchise that only frustrated its fans became one that frustrated the rest of the league. He wanted to do a book on Bill Belichick, but at his request it also became about the other coaches, players and the owners who built a champion.

After their first Superbowl victory, Holley decided to write the book and took a year shadowing the team. He sat in meetings and was given pretty much unlimited access (they also did not edit the material). He was disappointed when they failed to defend their title, but the returned to championship form the next year. This was a great “plot” twist and added more material as he could examine how Belichick “rebuilt” the Patriots.

Holley begins his account with Belichick. He offers you the side you don’t see. He doesn’t make him out to be a saint, but simply another side. He does have a sense of humor. He considers press conferences as part of the game plan and prepares for them- what he will and will not say.

“Let’s put it this way: when you’re the head coach, you’re the head coach twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. No matter what happens, it’s on your watch and, to a degree, it’s your problem.”

Belichick’s development as a coach took time. In 1989 when he interviewed for the position as Arizona’s head coach he didn’t quite understand all that it took. He learned from his mistakes in Cleveland, and what kind of owner he wanted to work for if he got the chance again. That is why he picked New England over the Jets (and to get out from Parcells shadow). During his time there under Parcells he would talk with Kraft about any number of subjects (something Parcells didn’t do with Kraft). He knew the man he was, and Kraft knew the man he was. He almost offered the job to Bill instead of Carroll when Parcells left. He faxed the request to talk with Belichick to Parcells before Carroll even had his press conference after his last game as head coach. They have successfully collaborated ever since.

Holley then moved into the reconstruction of the Patriots, including the drafting of Tom Brady. The Patriots were a mess: over the cap, filled with fiefdoms in the locker room and offices. They were like the Red Sox under prior owners. The players were spoiled and didn’t know it.

“Rehbein described him as a winner, a leader with a good attitude. The quarterbacks coach told Belichick that if a decision had to be made between the two, he would give the edge to Brady. Belichick had studied the tapes and felt the same way.”

That first draft was key. But since Holley wasn’t hanging out with them then, he focuses on one player. They were looking for a back up for Drew Bledsoe. Bill and Ernie Adams had listed the characteristics of what they considered the perfect quarterback. They had narrowed the search down to two prospects; Tim Rattay and Tom Brady. So Belichick dispatched his QB coach to work them both out. During the 6th round the draft they saw that Brady’s name was still there. “Brady shouldn’t be there. He’s too good.” They didn’t think Brady would be a starter, much less a superstar when they pulled the trigger on pick number 199. Brady fit the characteristics they listed months earlier.

Soon it was a repeat of his years in Cleveland. The established and (sort of) loved starter was being surpassed by the understudy. In Cleveland it was part of  Belichick’s undoing. In New England circumstances forced his hand so that people weren’t enraged. Bledsoe had the big arm, and big contract, but he was making costly errors- something Bill can’t stand.

“Under Belichick, all Patriot jobs could be classified as temporary. They were earned and held by performance, not status or longevity. Belichick didn’t go out of his way to antagonize stars, nor did he do anything special to accommodate them.”

While externally it was an “easy” transition. The fans were not clamoring for Bledsoe because the team just kept winning. Internally it was a different story as Bledsoe was not a happy camper. Since Rehbein had died the previous summer, Bill was serving as the QB coach. Those were often tense meetings.

“I never want to be on that crawl at the bottom of the screen: ‘Patriots quarterback Tom Brady arrested…’ I never want to look like an ass who let down my family, my teammates, and my organization.”

As an aside, the above quote is part of why I don’t believe Brady would cheat, or ask anyone else to cheat. A fierce, driven competitor to be sure, but one who is also driven by honor. Cheating would make him look like an ass, and that just isn’t an acceptable outcome for him.

Holley takes us to the Superbowl against the Rams. He discusses how the coaching staff dissected their offense. They saw how deception functioned in the offense. Belichick identified their 5 passing concepts, and that Faulk was the most important player out there- no Warner. He boiled it down to applicable concepts for the players. In the midst of this Holley briefly discusses the mysterious Ernie Adams, with whom Belichick went to college.

After the victory against the Rams, Holley became a frequent sight in the complex. As a result, he begins to write about how they evaluate the team, players, free agents and draft picks. This is the real strength of the book. Particularly after the 2002-3 season. In some ways they were drunk on success, thinking they could just turn it on again but they couldn’t because they were too old and too slow. They needed to reload one year after winning it all.

“The essence of Belichick is that he is a problem solver.”

In all of this there are small sections on players like Vinatieri and Fauria, and key figures like Pioli. He talks about the Lawyer Milloy situation which led to the silent feud with Tom Jackson.

All in all this is a very interesting read. You can learn, not only about the Patriots, but football through the anecdotes. You find overall commitments to process that work more often than they don’t. I enjoy learning how people approach their work. That is what make the recent Parcells biography so interesting. I am eager to read Holley’s 2012 follow up, War Room, as a result.

This isn’t a book for children. Unless you are Tony Dungy, football culture is quite colorful and crass. As a result there are more than a few curse words, and slang for sexual acts. This is unfortunate. While it adds to the realism, I wouldn’t want to give it to my son for quite some time.

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2014 didn’t go well for the Red Sox. After going from last to first, and the World Series where they beat the Cardinals, they returned to last place.  There were a number of issues. Lester and Lackey were solid, but the rest of the rotation pretty much stunk. Buchholz was still trying to fix the bad mechanics he picked up when he was hurt in the latter part of 2013. Eventually they gave up on Jake Peavy’s streak of futility and Doubrant’s inability to do just about anything.

Their attempts to replace Ellsbury failed. Sizemore couldn’t maintain his hot spring, and Jackie Bradley Jr. couldn’t hit- period. With Victorino on the DL much of the year this resulted in a horribly under-producing outfield for the first half of the season. Relying on Jonny Gomes full-time isn’t a good idea.

Their infield plan of Bogaerts and Middlebrooks just didn’t work as Xander pressed after the Red Sox brought Stephen Drew back when Middlebrooks got hurt- again. Napoli was never the same after an injury, and A.J. was a cancer behind the plate.

The rebuild started mid-season as they traded or cut every starter but Buchholz and traded Gomes away. They took a chance on Allen Craig’s track record, hoping 2014 was an injury-induce aberration. They signed Rusney Castillo for the future. Out of desperation they put Mookie Betts in the outfield where he flourished on his third call up.

In the off season they got the Panda for third, making the perpetually injured Will Middlebrooks unnecessary. They also picked up Hanley Ramirez to play outfield and added Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson to Clay and Joe Kelly to replace the under-performing Webster, De La Rosa and Ranaudo.

So … they entered Spring Training with a glut of outfielders: Betts, Ramirez, Castillo, Nava, Craig, Bradley and the surgically-repaired Victorino. They also didn’t have a clear cut ace, and a suspect bullpen.

They left Spring Training with projected starting catcher Christian Vazquez in need of Tommy John surgery, their closer Koji Uehara and Joe Kelly on the DL. The excess in the outfield has Castillo and Bradley in AAA at least until there is an injury to either Victorino or Ramirez, or a trade of either Craig or Victorino. Did you get all that?

Much is made about a $72 million dollar player being in AAA. Well, that is over 6 years so $12 million average, just over $10 million this year. Victorino is making $13 million. So the money is not the issue here. Particularly when we realize Betts played his way into center. Castillo is in the big leagues long term. Next year at the very latest, but most likely earlier particularly if Victorino struggles, gets hurt or traded. Victorino has lots of rust and injury echo to shake off. He is historically not very concerned about spring training. Let’s see if Shane can show up and play every night. Unfortunately the only guys with options were Castillo, Betts and Bradley.

They want to go from last to first again. It might happen, largely because of the offense. This could be a devastating offense. Off-season surgery may have enabled Pedroia to return to being the Destroya, and Napoli to stay awake by actually sleeping at night. Napoli has been killing the ball. Betts has been getting on base and while not as dangerous as the Tiger’s line up it should be a gigantic improvement over last year’s anemic offense.

The big question is the pitching. Clay is looking more like the early 2013 Clay, who dominated, than last year’s model. Porcello is looking good. Masterson seems to have regained his arm slot and has improved velocity. Miley isn’t expected to be a 2 or 3 like in Arizona. His job is to throw 200 innings with an ERA around 4. They just need Kelly to get back quickly

Fortunately they are in a division with a bunch of flawed teams. They have a chance to take the division. But there is also a good chance they won’t. This is like a return to the old Red Sox formula: all hitting and decent pitching. It may get them to the playoffs, but I don’t think it will get them a World Series. The good news for them is that Bogaerts, Betts, Castillo and the Panda will be around for awhile. Next winter they can get some of the elite pitchers who look to be heading into free agency. Or bring up some of their top pitching prospects. They have moved in the right direction, but probably not far enough (yet) to add another title.

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The 2014 season seemed promising for the defending World Series champion Red Sox. They returned almost all of their starting rotation. The missing member of the 6 primary starters from the previous season was its weakest link: Dempster. The bullpen was largely intact as well. The pitching seemed to be ready to go. The one mystery was how Buchholz would bounce back from the injuries that hampered him for the 2nd half of the season.

They had a number of new players in key positions. Two were highly touted rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Ellsbury would be missed in terms of offense but they hoped to make that up with Xander’s estimated production to be far greater the Stephen Drew’s. I was not wild about the signing of Pierzynski but his offense was expected to compensate to the loss of Saltalamacchia (he was go from .273 to a paltry .220 with the Marlins). The hope was for Middlebrooks to bounce back.

The plan was slightly altered when Grady Sizemore had an awesome camp and make the opening day roster. Looked great but then he failed to produce at the same pace. Or nearly any pace.

But I get slightly ahead of myself. All the breaks that went their way in 2013 didn’t in 2014. The new replay system seemed stacked against them in the first month as everyone tried to adjust. Lots of blown calls seemed to go against them. Some of these were game changers, or so it seemed.

Another thing that went right in 2013 is that a high number of players who played above their means. They had above average seasons, often career years. Saltalamacchia, Nava, Carp had career best seasons. Papi hit exceedingly well for his age. He hit for average and power. Napoli bounced back to have a good offensive season as did Victorino. Part of what went wrong was regression to mean for the players still on the roster, and not on the injured list.

The main problems initially were a lack of production from the outfield. Nava was pressing and in a big slump to start the season. Victorino was hurt and the combination of Sizemore and Bradley hit about .220. Middlebrooks continued to struggle. The offense was stagnant. Even Pedroia and Papi got off to a slow start. Seemed like the only guys who didn’t were Napoli and Xander.

Buccholz was just plain horrible. New reliever Mujica was too, and blew some games early. Peavy just couldn’t buy a break.

And then the real problems started. Napoli injured a finger and was never the same. Middlebrooks got hurt, again. This “forced” them to re-sign Drew and shift Xander to 3rd. For the first time in his career, shortly after the switch, Xander entered a big, ugly slump. Unknown to the rest of the world, Pedroia was still hurt and not productive at the plate though he still played stellar defense. But he was the only one. Okay, Bradley was playing fantastic defense. Xander struggled at third, and they couldn’t throw a base runner out.

The changes started to come fast and furious. They gave up on Sizemore and cut him (he was hitting .216 at the time and hit a slightly more respectable .243 for the Phillies). Pierzynki was cut (he hit .254 for the Sox and would go on to the Cards and hit .244 for them on the way to the playoffs). Peavy (1-9, 4.72) was traded to San Francisco where he was 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA helping the Giants make the playoffs. Amid tons of chatter about signing an extension, Lester was traded to the A’s who he helped make the playoffs. Lackey was sent to St. Louis whom he helped make the playoffs. Noticing a theme here? Let’s not forget trading Miller to division champion Baltimore.

One plus was that Christian Vasquez had the opportunity to show he can handle a staff and throw out runners. His production was not great, but he stopped the other teams that ran at will on Boston early in the season. Those runs saved amount to something important.

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With the 2014 Red Sox still under .500, the Boston sports media has a new hobby. They keep talking about who should get traded from these Red Sox since, they think, this team’s season is over.

I can understand some of the push to trade players come July. I am in favor of that if they aren’t in the race. It would potentially give some of the younger players time to get used to life in the Big Leagues.

My problem is the guys they think we should trade. I hear about Lester, Lackey and Uehara. These guys make the least sense when you are talking about trades. Why? There is no one in the system who can replace them.

Jon Lester is a home-grown guy. Apart from his battle with cancer years ago he has been healthy as the workhorse he is. He is a known commodity who gives you 200+ innings every year and most of the time has a sub-.400 ERA. He has proven post-season dominance. Proven in the harsh environment of Boston with the media and demanding fans. Unlike Kirk Minihane, no one knows if Lester is leaving our not after this season. He likes it here. The Red Sox did seem to make a tactical error with a low offer. They do want to continue discussions. I can understand why they didn’t open the money bags for Ellsbury, but he’s not Ellsbury. Jacoby was often hurt and Jon hasn’t been hurt. They had a comparable player in the minors ready to take his place, and the hitting should eventually get there as it has at every other level along the way. But while there are some MLB worthy pitchers in the system, it is doubtful they will be as dominant as Lester in the next 5 years. They should pay him. They can’t control if he chases the money, and would get a compensatory pick. But trading him, unless you get a similar pitcher is crazy. And that pitcher has to fit in Boston. Scherzer is available this off season. But he finally pitched a complete game, and while in a good baseball city hasn’t had to pitch in Boston for a whole season. In other words, he is far more of a gamble than Lester’s health!

Lackey is also a top of rotation pitcher. He has no immediate replacement in the system. You don’t need replacements for Ortiz, Napoli, Pedroia, Bogaerts or Bradley. Nava has regained his swing and should produce again (is producing again). So what do you get, and is that worth trading a 1/2 starter? Not in my book.

I can’t find the article advocating a trade for Koji, at the peak of his value. Who closes for you? That’s all I ask? Miller and Tazawa have not proven capable of closing when they have had the opportunity. Does anyone remember how hard it was to get a closer after Papelbon left? Yes, he’s at high value right now. So … you have to replace him.

These are players who make up your core moving forward. They are not your problem, and can’t fix your problem. Trading them creates a new problem. In other words, such a trade normally makes a “big splash” (which the media likes) but tends to keep a team non-competitive. You just have new problems.

Most projections I’ve read for guys like Owens, Webster, Ranaudo etc. have been 3/4 in the rotation. Not aces. Hopefully we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Trades at this point for the Red Sox seem to be more about enabling the future to happen than re-stocking. You want to get rid of guys who open the door for people young pitchers or catchers. The guys you trade are people like Peavy or AJ. They won’t get you a treasure trove of prospects or MLB players, but to a desperate contender you will get more than what they are worth. They allow you to bring up (or keep up) Workman, Vazquez etc. You also have time to wait for Betts and Cecchini (or Middlebrooks).

Media guys don’t have the best interest of the team in mind. Often fans don’t either. Let’s leave it to the professionals to figure all that out.

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You can’t visit my blog very often without realizing that I am a Boston Red Sox fan. A rabid Red Sox fan who grew up watching the “close but no cigar” in 1975, the horrible collapse of ’78 culminating in Bucky Bleepin’ Dent’s home run that broke the hearts of millions of us in New England. I watched all those heartbreaks and more. And I wept with rare joy when they defeated Leviathan, I mean the Yankees, in the improbable comeback in ’04 and then the Cards to win the World Series.

But I am also a baseball fan. When I lived in central Florida I watched the Rays. I would cheer for them unless they played the Red Sox. But having gone to games in the Trop, I find many Rays fans to be …. really obnoxious. And this before Joe Madden’s “smartest guy in baseball” act that has really worn thin. He is a very good manager but so stinkin’ condescending. Living in AZ now, I cheer for the D’Backs except for the rare occasions they play the Red Sox. I like the D’Backs (and Goldy) a whole lot more than the Rays.

I will confess that I actually cheered for the Yankees to win the first year of their run with Jeter & company. It was about friendship, plain and simple. I’ve read books on Yankees stars: Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle. So, I’m not a complete homer.

There is no denying Mariano Rivera’s place in baseball. He was the best closer in baseball for nearly 20 years. He was a one pitch wonder who still got guys out. He was nearly automatic in his prime. Additionally, for me, Mariano is a professing Christian who is using some of what baseball has afforded him to talk about Jesus. My curiosity arose and I wanted to read his autobiography, The Closer (written with Wayne Coffey).

Part of what is interesting is that they left some of Mariano’s imperfect English in the book. As he notes, in the book he didn’t know word one of English when he boarded the flight to Miami as a young man. He credits Tim Cooper for teaching him English on those long rides on the bus in the minors. The book, therefore, feels authentic with talk about eating iguanas and other things. There is a sense of humor to the book because Mariano doesn’t take himself to seriously. His humility shows throughout the book. There was one place where I was a bit surprised, when he mentioned Whitey Bulger. He may keep up on current affairs, but I thought only people in Boston really cared or thought about Bulger.

This book is mostly about baseball. He does devote a few chapters to life before baseball. He is the son of a Panamanian fisherman who was out to sea 6 days a week. It was not an easy life for his family and Mariano seemed destined for a similar life. After dropping out of school he was working on his father’s boat to save money to go to mechanic’s school. He wasn’t a 16 year-old free agent signing who lived in a baseball camp. At this stage in his life he barely played baseball because he was only on dry land one day a week.

Then the improbable happened. A bad pump with a full load of fish meant the boat sank. He now had some time to play baseball. He was an outfielder. One day the starter struggled and the manager inextricably pointed to Riveria in the outfield. He hadn’t pitched in years. He was confused but jogged in and threw strikes allowing his team to get back into the game and win. Destiny isn’t really the issue. Providence is: God working out His purposes and plans in creation. All of these improbable things need to happen for Mariano to go from guy on a fishing boat to signing a contract with the Yankees. Two teammates, wanting the $200 if he was signed, recommend him to a scout who’d previously seen Riveria as an outfielder to no avail. His control, since he still didn’t throw in the 90’s, encouraged the Yankees to take a chance on the skinny fisherman’s kid.

Riveria sees God’s hand at work in his life. This is one theme that runs through the book. There are also plenty of lessons about baseball and the choices that change a life forever. He provides the cautionary tale of Brien Taylor who was a #1 draft pick on his first minor league team. He admired Taylor’s smooth delivery and amazing results. He looked like he was going to deliver. But one night in the off season he came to his brother’s aid in a fight. His injured shoulder needed surgery and he was never the same. The player with tons of talent and expectations was out of baseball and eventually in prison but the guy no one expected to matter would become the greatest closer in history.

At times he shares this thoughts on guys like Jeter, Cano and Alex. You can see his fondness for Jeter (which is well deserved on the field) and frustration with Cano and Rodriguez. Both of them have amazing amounts of talent. But, in Rivera’s opinion, Cano isn’t driven like Jeter to harness it all. He makes the controversial statement that if he had one game to win he’d want Dustin Pedroia as his second baseman. Pedrioa, like Jeter, is driven and engaged on every play. Alex, well, as he says a few times Alex just makes life harder on himself with decisions that don’t make sense.

When he talks about his faith, a few pages at a time, I’m not sure how the ordinary fan will feel. It doesn’t put me off, and it seems to fit what he’s talking about, but I’m in the same boat as him. He doesn’t get bogged down in the distinctive beliefs of his particular church, but sticks to the common beliefs of Christians. That shifts in the epilogue a bit as he talks about the church that he and his wife, Clara who was his high school sweetheart, founded. But I don’t turn to athletes for theology or exegesis, and neither should you.

So you see a portrait of a man who is humble and loves His God. You see a man who enjoyed a life he never envisioned who did not get greedy but shares from the abundance with others. It is not a book to discover dirt but to learn something about his life and circumstances as well as his perspective. He has some life lessons drawn out from those things. It was a good read, particularly when you think of all the different players mentioned. One fact he related is interesting in light of the rash of Tommy John surgeries was that in the 5th game of a series against Seattle, David Cone threw 147 pitches. Not close to Tiant’s 225 in the ’75 World Series, but still amazing in light of the strict pitch counts which would soon enter baseball.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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2012 was a nightmare year for the Red Sox. They were mediocre until the Nick Punto Trade. After the trade that freed up all that money for the future, they were downright horrible.

2013 was in incredible surprise. I thought they would be good, but not World Series Champion good until about August. The hopes of Red Sox Nation were restored. The new model seemed to pay off: no long term contracts, overpay if you need to to do it.

Then came the off season. I will admit, I thought they would be better than they have been. But it seems that Ben over-played his hand. There was too much change. I saw recently that most World Series Champions experience about 20% roster change. The question is, what 20% should change. In 2004 they lost Pedro and Damon. Those were very big pieces to lose. In 2005 they were good but were quickly dumped from the playoffs from the eventual World Series Champion White Sox.

They seemed to learn the lesson. After the 2007 championship, they held on to Mike Lowell who was their primary free agent. It would be a mistake as his hips betrayed him. It nearly paid off as they got all the way to game 7 of the ALCS. All they needed was either a healthy Lowell or Beckett to return to the World Series.

After the victory in 2013 they had some difficult decisions to make as Ellsbury, Napoli, Drew and Saltalamacchia were free agents. All of them were key starters. They made reasonable attempts to retain Napoli and Drew. They made a feeble attempt to retain Ellsbury. Who knows, if they made a real offer during the exclusive negotiation period he might not have gone to the Yankees. I would not pay him what they paid him, but I certainly would have offered him more than they did. They decided to move on from Salty.

The reasons for both were the development of prospects at short (Bogaerts), center (Bradley) and catcher (Vazquez and Swihart). The result was that they had a new catcher to buy time for the prospects, an inexperienced left side of the infield in Middlebrooks and Bogaerts and an inexperienced centerfielder. They also took a gamble on a rebuilt Grady Sizemore who looked very promising in Spring Training but created a log jam in the outfield.

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Many Boston Red Sox fans, self included, are still on a World Series championship high. It was an off-season that had a bit of drama as Jacoby Ellsbury left to don pinstripes, Jerrod Saltalamacchia went home to the Marlins, and Stephen Drew entered the nether world after turning down the Red Sox’ qualifying offer. They retained Mike Napoli, took a flyer on Grady Sizemore and signed some more arms for the bullpen.

Spring Training itself was relatively quiet. Ryan Dempster, for whom they overpaid in the previous off season, decided to sit out the season with a variety of injuries and a desire to spend more time with family. It was a bit of a shock that solved one of the Red Sox’ “problems” since they had 6 pro level starters. We should have seen the Big Papi drama coming. He craves security, as well as the spotlight. They ended up signing him to an extension that should result in Ortiz retiring as a member of the Red Sox. I have no problem with the deal since he is still one of the best hitters in the big leagues. The option years have benchmarks that should mean they don’t end up in a Yankee’s like situation of paying a nearly useless player lots of money. The other storyline of importance (Peavy’s injury wasn’t much of a distraction when it was all said and done) was about who would play centerfield: Bradley or Sizemore. This was prompted by Sizemore’s amazing return to health and a level of play reminiscent of his days as an All-Star for the Indians. Bradley’s offensive struggles didn’t help his cause. Proving that he can play 4 days in a row, at a high level, sealed the deal and Sizemore has been named the opening day centerfielder.

The Outfield As a nameless GM said, the Red Sox should ride the Sizemore horse as long as they can. This means that as long as he plays they experience little to no drop off in play after losing Jacoby. He is an experienced lead off man (though he won’t play that role immediately,Nava will play that role) who is probably a better defender than Jacoby (whose speed covered a multitude of sins on his initial reads) and has more power than Jacoby. He won’t steal anywhere near the number of bases as Jacoby, but he can steal a few bags. He has thus far proven more healthy than Jacoby. If he does get hurt, Bradley can more than fill his shoes defensively and hopefully he’ll sort out the offensive issues he had this spring. Victorino can do spot starts in center, but he will mostly patrol right field, assuming he’s healthy. Last year he provided the best right field defense of any Sox player since Dwight Evans. That is saying something. Nava and Gomes will likely platoon in left giving the Red Sox an outfield with 2 excellent, 1 good and 1 mediocre defender but all hitters who help the team. Should the bodies start dropping, in addition to Bradley, they have the revived Brentz to play right field. He displayed the power that could make him a middle of the line up guy at some point. (more…)

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I had the expectation that the Red Sox could make the playoffs. I saw many of the issues from 2012 resolved by the changes that the front office made. They got some guys known to love playing the game, and able to grind out at bats. The previous season they lost plate discipline. I expected the starters to return to much better form than they exhibited the previous year. I can’t see Lester and Buchholz having lost it. Guys can just have bad years, and when there is turmoil in the club house it is hard to focus on your job. So, I expected both the pitching and hitting to be better.

I didn’t expect a World Series. As the season developed, I saw it as a distinct possibility particularly after soundly beating the Tigers and Dodgers late in the season. I was encouraged in that they didn’t have any big losing streaks.

I was also encouraged by their resiliency. They survived after Clay’s rather inexplicable injury. They survived season-ending injures to the 2 men competing to be the closer: Hanrahan and Bailey. It was disconcerting to see Miller also go down with an injury, but they had enough depth to deal with his loss in the bull pen. It was Pedroia, in my mind, that set the pace for the team. He suffered a thumb injury in the season opener and kept playing. His power numbers were down, but he still hit for average and still played exceptional defense, earning a Gold Glove award.

A tragedy like the Marathon bombings could have distracted them. In this case it drew them together and provided them with additional motivation. Some analysts have said they took off after this, but they were playing great ball with great results before the Patriots’ Day tragedy and the following hysteria until the brothers were killed and captured by authorities.

One concern was their hitting against the elite pitchers, particularly lefties. Sometimes funny things happen and the Red Sox ended up facing 3 of the best pitching staffs in the Rays, Tigers and Cardinals in the playoffs. Not an easy assignment. Thankfully the Red Sox had a pretty good staff of their own. Ellsbury carried them offensively in the first round. Papi was a consistent force in the last 2 rounds. There were surprising contributions from Gomes, Victorino and Napoli who struggled offensively. They had just enough offense to win these pitching battles.

It ended up being a very satisfying.

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The trade deadline has come and gone. It was not a very turbulent time for baseball. This was due to some level of uncertainty as to when the BioGenesis cases would come down. Mostly this was due to a greater level of parity in baseball and the expansion of the Wild Card. Too many teams are in contention for a playoff position. This means there were too few sellers and too many buyers. This drove up prices in many instances (see Garza for instance).

Just before the trade deadline, the Red Sox were struggling offensively. This was largely because they had 2 shortstops playing on the left side of the infield. Old school shortstops not particularly known for their bats. While Jose Iglesias won a Player of the Month award, he was now regressing to the mean via a horrific slump throughout July.  The bottom third of the Red Sox line up was quite unproductive.

The Red Sox had already addressed some of their bull pen issues by trading for the White Sox’ Matt Thornton. He has been a bit inconsistent, and this weekend experienced an oblique injury. His status is uncertain at this point. But the sense was that other bull pen issues could continued to be addressed internally as they largely had been as Hanrahan, Bailey, Miller, Morales etc. have struggled with injuries.

The big question was Clay Buchholz. When would he be ready to pitch again? The spot starters had generally done well, unlike the last 2 seasons. The Red Sox had more depth in their system this year with Workman, Webster, Aceves (who has now been buried and come up lame) etc. They actually got wins. But with at least a month to go before Buchholz returns, they needed more than spot starters. They needed a legitimate 2-3 starter to fend off the surging Rays. This despite the solid outings by Workman.

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My last full week of vacation didn’t start well. No, no one got hurt or sick.

I went to worship. Normally this is a good, even great thing. But I forgot the experience from last year and was reminded (again) why I love the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). For those who don’t know what it is, it means that God regulates our worship of Him thru the Scriptures. We are told who to worship and how. There are many things left up to common sense and wisdom, like what time to meet, how long, the precise content of prayers, etc.

One of my convictions, based on the RPW, is that the worship service is not the place to sing patriotic songs. A worship service has songs of worship to our great God, Father, Creator and Redeemer. We are instructed to pray for our government as part of worship, but singing songs (and pledging allegiance) to the State would be a violation of my conscience. We (actually they) ended up singing more songs about our country than our Savior.

There was a time to commission a large portion of our extended family for a mission trip to Costa Rica. That is a good thing. It is appropriate. My only concern is that it took the place of the sermon and as a result we celebrated the Lord’s Table without the preaching of the Word. My Presbyterian self was frustrated. Perhaps you wouldn’t be, but perhaps I should have stayed at the house listened to some songs of worship and watched my free Sinclair Ferguson DVD on the Holy Spirit. I need to remember this for next year.

When we got back to the farmhouse, I was surprised to learn that the aforementioned commissioning service was the cause of a luncheon at the Farm. Always the last to know these things. I needed some down time (aka I as in introvert time) after all the festivities of the night before. After people left, I took a nap. Then I enjoyed a cigar, a beer and a novel on the back porch. For dinner we decided on take out Chinese, a mere 20-30 minutes away.

Monday morning was another early morning. I tried to walk before the bugs come out. I failed. I forgot to bring the thick walking stick and was stalked by some dogs. I started to carry it after being harassed by a German Shepherd last summer. But the bugs were worse, and I ended up shortening my walk. But I was still a sweaty, stinky mess.

While I was reading, Uncle Dan helped the kids fill up 15 water balloons to throw at Evan for his 15th birthday. Uncle Dan reports that all the balloons hit Evan, bounced off and exploded on the ground.

Monday night was the beginning of VBS, which means the beginning of “Date Night” for us. The last few years, the local church has started VBS on Sunday. This year it is only Monday – Friday. It is the one about the Kingdom that seems omnipresent this year. This time it was Mega-Date Night, as Dan & Jeannine, Mima & PopPop and Kelli joined us. But since it was Monday, and nearly everything was closed, we ended up at Stewarts’ for some ice cream. The women didn’t seem to want to sit with Dan and me. Not sure why, but the black raspberry ice cream in my facial hair might have contributed to it. As you can tell, PopPop doesn’t really dress up for Date Night.

We then ran some errands at Tops, so I got to do some power lifting with the bags of potatoes and apples I was carrying. Redeem that time!

After picking up the kids and putting them to bed, we hung out by the fire for awhile. Eventually, the beds were calling our names.

Tuesday morning we went to Minerva Beach again. No rain this time. It waited until we were on the way home. Yes, the rain continues to come a few times a day. I think it has rained everyday we’ve been up here.

But that didn’t stop VBS, nor Date Night. MiMa & PopPop did not join us due to errands down in Glens Falls. But Bar Vino was open so it was time for mussels, frites and bread. Delicious food. CavWife had to settle for some peach tort kind of thing since she is allergic to shellfish. And then we took a walk down what passes for Main Street. I was surprised by how much the businesses of North Creek have changed in the last year. Too many “for sale” and “for lease” signs. One of the restaurants we’ve enjoyed for dessert the last few years is now closed. I am reminded of 2008-10 when so many businesses closed up here. There seems to be another downturn, irrespective of what DC says.

When putting the kids to bed, our younger daughter mentioned she wanted to go to the “good kingdom” where Jesus is. So we talked about faith & repentance. CavWife thinks it may have been a bit advanced for her since she has only been speaking English for a year. But there was a profession of faith- I am a sinner and Jesus saves by taking the punishment those sins deserve. I think she got it. What really matters is if the Spirit has given her a heart of flesh. If so, all the rest will fall into place in the proper time.

Wednesday was another rainy morning. As a result, it was a lazy kind of day as I read and blogged. CavGirl #1 went into town to get her hair cut along with her Aunt Jeannine. It remained hot and humid, with the obligatory condensation dripping off the toilet tanks. But the one in our bathroom had bigger problems. It was actually leaking water from where the bolts anchor the tank to the bowl. It leaked so much water that the suspended ceiling in the family room below had big wet spots. Off to the hardware store again, before it closed at 5 to buy the proper repair kit. I spent the next chunk of my life removing the old bolts and what little was left of the washer. Seriously, not much was left.

After dinner, we dropped the kids off at VBS and went over to Basil & Wick’s for dessert. This time “we” included MiMa & PopPop but not Kelli. Dan considered the frog legs, but decided the Cajun season might be a bit much, and there were 6 of them. This was a big risk if he didn’t like them (but smaller than the stuff calamari risk I took years ago in Atlanta- horrendous). As a result, he settled for the mozzarella sticks. I tried the Panko Shrimp. They were quite big, and tasted ok, but there were only 3 of them. I was disappointed. I think I’ve decided that B&W’s is not the place for appetizers or dessert. Thursday Pasta Night is another story, however.

Thursday morning was the morning of departures. Early in the morning Rich left for IL so he could serve in his role as Chaplain that weekend. Around 7 Dan & Jeannine left so Jeannine could work later in the day. And the CavFamily packed up the Envoy and headed east to NH to visit with some family and friends. This trip reminded me why we don’t often do such trips with the kids (sorry to all those who want us to visit with them). Some of them really struggled with the long drive. I struggled with listening to the VBS music ad infinitum.

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In the last 2 seasons the Boston Red Sox have not lived up to expectations. Before the 2011 season some proclaimed the “best team in baseball”. They certainly had talent, but winning baseball games is about more than having talent. The 2011 and 2012 seasons were painful lessons illustrating this.

Heading into the current season, most analysts and fans were down on the Red Sox. They looked at the Blue Jays’ acquisitions (forgetting the lessons they should have learned from the ’11 Sox and ’12 Angels) and anticipated the Rays and O’s to continue to play well thereby giving the Red Sox a snowball’s chance in Hades.

I, and a few others, were not so negative. I saw a number of positive things- particularly a return to the plate approach that had made them successful in the past. Others talked about how they wouldn’t score runs. I begged to differ. So far I am right. They have one of the most productive offenses in baseball.

Pedroia (USA Today Sports)

What is amazing is that this has happened without Middlebrooks being a middle of the line up bat. Or even productive. Or even in the majors. Big Papi has picked up where he left off with a new plate approach gained from conversations with A-Gon(e). There was a tangible benefit from that trade for Alex Gonzalez: the new and improved David Ortiz. He has simply been great the last 2 seasons. When on the field. This was a major concern after missing the last third of ’12 and all of Spring Training. But he has not had any problems with the foot. He has even stolen bases. This is a great sign.

Napoli started the season like a man on a mission. But it is a season, not a month. He struggled in June. As July has come on he has pulled out of his slump and shown a resurgence of power. He still strikes out more than you’d like but he drives in lots of runs and sees lots of pitches. He has also been more than serviceable in the field. He’s not a Gold Glove candidate but he’s not an error-machine either. With Pedrioa’s steady and often spectacular defense, the Red Sox have had a consistently good right side of the infield. Dustin has been spectacular. He has made so many amazing and crucial plays it is uncanny. While his power numbers have been down, he is still doing his job at the plate. I can’t fathom why he was only 3rd in AL All-Star voting for 2nd. Apparently no one is watching the Destroyer play. When you consider he’s playing with a completely torn ligament in his thumb, it is even more amazing. Petey is just amazing and we need to enjoy the greatness while it remains.

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New Sox pitcher Ryan Dempter (AP)

By all accounts, most Red Sox fans are supposed to be depressed, disappointed by the free agent signings this winter.

Count me as one of the minority. I did not want them do what they had in the past, and the Punto trade freed them from: long term deals. That deal gave them 2 young pitchers for the future. They have a few prospects, particularly in the outfield that are going to be ready soon. Locking up Hamilton and another outfielder just didn’t make sense to me.

One thing I noticed is that they addressed one of the issues that plagued them last season. They signed players who have a solid approach at the plate, work the count and get walks (here is a great article about plate approach). This slipped away from them last season. It allows them to wear down pitchers, allow other guys to get a good look at a pitcher’s stuff increase the odds of getting a pitch you can drive. The guys they signed also have swings suited for the confines of Fenway Park. Last year, their offense didn’t dominate at home. They seem to have fixed that too.

Napoli, despite his hip condition, has hit the ball well. Yes, it is only Spring Training (just insert this often). And he has defended well. This is a good sign. Defense matters too! While I don’t expect him to win a gold glove, it looks like he’ll at least be adequate.

The same can’t really be said for Johnny Gomes in left field. It gets ugly out there. Hopefully his offense will make up for it. He seems a better candidate to fill in at DH when Big Papi is on the DL, which will happen to start the season but hopefully won’t start a trend. Gomes can hit. But he was also part of transforming the club house. Victorino will play solid defense in right (or center if Ellsbury gets hurt, again). But how he’ll hit is still a mystery. They want loose guys and these guys seem to fit that bill. The 2004 Sox had Millar, Damon and Pedro to take the pressure off when the team was struggling. That is what was missing in September 2011. And last year.

Drew hasn’t done much thanks to a concussion. There is just something about Drews and Boston. But thankfully Iglesias’ visit to Pedroia this winter paid off in a better approach at the plate. His swing is much better and he’s making more contact and better contact (6 extra base hits so far (3/16)). This may give them the opportunity to trade Drew to the Cards now that Furcal is hurt. Time will tell.

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Hindsight is always 20-20. Not really, as I consider responses to various events in our nation’s recent history. But it is easier to see where you went wrong because you see what went wrong.

Sometimes the warnings were there all along, and you ignored them. I think the Red Sox ignored some warning signs, and made some moves that resulted in their worst season since 1966, or the first full season for which I was alive.

First, they ignored warning signs regarding Carl Crawford’s health. I really like Carl Crawford as a player. I did not see him as a good fit for the Red Sox despite obvious talent. What I couldn’t know since I didn’t see medical reports was the linger issues with his wrist and elbow that were waiting to implode. He missed the beginning of the season after wrist surgery, and he missed the end as his elbow fell apart requiring Tommy John surgery right after being traded away.

This meant that the Red Sox had reserves playing left field most of the season, and when Crawford was in there, he was afraid to throw. They suffered defensively and offensively. It is one of the reasons they had 31 different position players take at bats in 2012.

Second, they ignored the warning signs about Bobby Valentine. I hated the hire. For a few days in Spring Training I thought I might be wrong. But I wasn’t. Soon Bobby was being Bobby, which means making clubhouse issues public, arguing with the media and a host of other distractions that players don’t need. When the injury crisis hit, Bobby wasn’t protecting players but stirring up more stuff.

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Photo by Christopher Evans

As many have noted, the Red Sox have hit the reset button on the team. The unthinkable happened as many people’s grandest dreams have been fulfilled; Beckett is gone and so is Crawford’s albatross of a contract.

I’ve been on record for not liking the Crawford deal, even before it happened. I hoped it would work out. It hasn’t. He is (was?) a very talented guy. But the burden of the contract, and Boston, worked against him. Even in a recent interview, he couldn’t avoid talking about being a $20 million/year man.

In Tampa, the expectations were not high. The team hadn’t left the basement of the AL East until 2008. So Carl only played on a winner for 2 years, and no one expected them to be any good. The Ravine will be more to his liking. People show up late and leave early. What they really care about is the Lakers. The Dodgers? Eh.

Beckett remarkably exhausted all of the good will from 2007 and what should have been in 2008. He was dominant last year until late August. And never recovered. Worse, he didn’t seem to accept any responsibility (unlike Lester), continued to do stupid things (unlike Lester) and continued to stink (unlike Lester). He probably has some injuries, but significantly he’s lost velocity on his fastball (not a good sign going forward). Dodger fans got a taste of our frustration as Beckett gave up a home run to the first batter he faced in Blue.

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Who’d of thought he’d be such a huge loss?

Since I can’t find my copy of Four Views of the Book of Revelation in order to cover the 3rd view, I’ll consider sports. I’ve been meaning to work on this post for a few weeks, but haven’t had the free time and mental space. You may think I still don’t have the mental space for it.

I want to consider a similarity between the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Celtics: injuries. The point being how injuries have derailed the last few seasons for both teams. Sports teams are really fragile things. There are times when teams can survive and even thrive during a rash of injuries. The Green Bay Packers did this to win the Superbowl in 2011. Those instances are rare. Most often, the depth of a team is tried and then depleted. Hopes vanish and dreams are squashed.

The Celtics won the NBA title in 2008 and seemed poised to win a few more before the New Big Three fell apart. But injuries have continually derailed that hope, and Celtics fans are disappointed. In 2009 it was Kevin Garnett’s various injuries that left them depleted. Without him they nearly beat the Magic to advance in the playoffs, but it was not to be. A healthy KG, and the Celtics go to the Finals. The next year, KG was not healthy, but was playing. They made it to the Finals against the Lakers. Then, in Game 6, Perkins blew out his knee. His presence in that abysmal Game 7, the film of which should be burned for the sake of both teams, may have made a significant difference. We won’t know. But the Lakers did triumph.

Then there was last year. KG was healthy, but there was the big trade that sent Perkins packing for 2 players. He was still not right, but the emotional toll on the team seemed too big. Both O’Neals had injury problems. Until the playoffs. They put it together after their late season skid. They made it to the conference finals against the arrogant Miami Heat who hope to win 7-8 titles in their imaginations (Father, may it not even be one- oppose the proud!). In a painful moment caught on film, D-Wade pulled down Rondo while falling. Really cheap play, and their series this season against the Pacers shows they are inclined toward the cheap plays. Rondo’s dislocated elbow sunk the Celtics. He valiantly tried to play, but with only one functioning arm, his defense was a liability. That moment dashed the Celtics hopes.

We felt his pain.

The Red Sox are in a similar state of affairs. They won the World Series in 2007. Despite injuries to Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, the Red Sox made it all the way to the AL Championship against new rivals the Rays in their first ever play off appearance. Beckett pitched, but was a shell of himself. So close, but they fell in 7 to the Rays who would get handled easily in the World Series. Oh, for a healthy Beckett or Lowell. Just one would have tipped the scales enough. Just one.

2009 was just a mess for the Red Sox. It is a blur of injuries in the last few months that sunk a promising season. I have erased it from my memory.

2010 looked so promising. In the opening weeks they lost Ellsbury and Mike Cameron for essentially the season. Beltre not only provided power to the line up but single-handedly destroyed the outfield.  The only remaining starting outfielder was J.D. Drew, and we all know he’s good for a few trips to the DL. Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald came out of nowhere to provide some spark. But then the injuries began to mount up- Youkilis, Pedroia, Martinez. So many injuries to key players- there were done. D-O-N-E.

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Slappa my face!

It ain’t over until it is over! It is hard to evaluate a team’s offseason until it is over.

There was a lot of whining in Red Sox Nation about the fact that the Red Sox didn’t sign any high profile players. People fail to see that a few key players got significant raises (like Crawford and A-Gon) and they will probably have the 2nd or 3rd highest payroll in MLB. Even the Yankees were relatively quiet.

Things were busy, and crazy, around Yawkey Way this winter. Theo left a huge mess for Ben Cherington.  He’s a thoughtful NH guy who sounds an awful lot like Theo. But he’s acting like the Theo before the 2003 season. That is the Theo I liked. He played Money Ball, finding undervalued guys like David Ortiz and Kevin Millar that ended up being the foundation of a World Series championship.

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I have a few free minutes, here are a few thoughts:

  • Some media members are wondering why the Cardinals have a new manager already and the Red Sox don’t. When you lose your GM in the middle of things, it slows down the process a wee bit.
  • You mean his mouth closes?

    Who should be the new manager of the Red Sox? They had each candidate do interviews. In a market like Boston, known for aggressive media, this is an important consideration. Mackanin came off like Robert California from the Office. His playing both sides approach sounded to me like smoke and mirrors. Lovullo came across as the most secure and relaxed of the bunch. I was greatly disappointed when he left for Toronto with Farrell.  I would welcome him back, but I don’t think it will go that way. Sandy Alomar Jr. will probably become a very good manager one day- I just don’t think it will be in Boston.  Reading about Sveum, I think he should be the choice.  I don’t hold the whole 3rd base coach thing against him. Send ’em In Kim would be a different story. But I appreciated his approach, including defensive positioning. I see that as one of the things Tampa does really well. Their defenders are seldom out of position.  The last 2 years the Red Sox have not seemed in position very often except for Pedroia. He understand what each coach should do, since he’s done it all. He coached guys well. I share the hunch that he’ll be the guy unless the Cubs strike first. If so, Lovullo would probably make a great choice.

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