At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Friday, December 23, 2005

Trading Places When Changing Teams: A New Trend in Player Movement Emerges

Baseball lifers have long lamented the fact that team rosters in this free-agent era turn over as frequently as they do. But the players themselves at least have tended to stick to one position or another, making it easier to find them once their new city of employment is identified.

This appears not to be the case so much anymore, however. In a trend perhaps legitimized by Alex Rodriguez’s famous switch from shortstop to third base when he joined the Yankees two years ago, it seems that a growing number of players today are being asked to move from one position to another, either to make room for the return of an injured player, to help accommodate a trade, or to facilitate a signing. For instance:

  • Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra agreed to move to third base last year with the Cubs, and has now signed with LA as a first baseman.
  • Second baseman Alfonso Soriano was traded to Washington, where it was hoped he’d play left field – a move he’s since stated he won’t make.
  • And today, third baseman Troy Glaus is rumored to be on the trading block to Boston, where he’d supposedly play first base.
I find this development to be refreshing, as it may signal an emphasis on versatility that largely disappeared when baseball became infatuated with the long ball 10 years ago. It also may reflect the implementation of MLB’s new policy toward performance-enhancing drugs, which seeks to eliminate both steroids and amphetamines. As I’ve written before (see post, November 18), this likely will result in a raft of tired players come late August, and they’ll have to be flexibly rotated into and out of the lineup so they can get the rest they’ll need in order to finish the season.

It’s tough enough some years to do more than root for the home-town laundry, which like as not is being worn by a bunch of guys you’ve never seen before. In the years ahead, it will be even tougher to determine whom you’re rooting for, as the second baseman last night may well be the shortstop today. Truly, it’s again becoming as it was when the old-time vendors once shouted, “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard!” And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

So Who's in Center? The Globe Lists Some Possibilities

Profiles of some of the leading candidates to play center field for the Red Sox can be found on the Globe Web site. My take follows below:

Coco Crisp: Cleveland's already indicated they'd prefer to hang on to him. Great name, though: imagine the breakfast foods possibilties! Likelihood of acquisition: 10%

Dave Roberts: As the financial disclaimers always warn, "past performance is no indicator of future results." A fan favorite to be sure, but he's no Damon except in the speed category, and the expectations probably would spell public doom. Likelihood of acquisition: 40%

Torii Hunter: Forget about it, as he's too important to whatever chance the Twins have of competing this year. Could be available for trade by mid-year, though, if Minnesota falls back. Likelihood of acquisition: <5%

Jeremy Reed: Possible, and acceptable, as he's solid in the field, and I'm a pitching-and-defense guy even at the cost of some pop at the plate. Worth trading Clement for? Absolutely. Arroyo? Perhaps. Likelihood of acquisition: 65%

Corey Patterson: Possible, but less acceptable, as his attitude can be suspect (and the Sox already have an outfielder like that!). Likelihood of acquisition: 5%

Joey Gathright: Young and fast and intriguing indeed. Doesn't hit much, but I like his bat-handling capabilities and his raw speed. Forget the prior difficulties of dealing with Tampa Bay; it's a new era there and here. Likelihood of acquisition: 30%

Just my $0.02. Enjoy!

With the New Day, Some Clarity on Damon’s Departure

– Sox Decision Not to Counter Yanks Apparently Sealed the Deal –

One day after Johnny Damon dropped a bombshell on Red Sox Nation by agreeing to join the rival New York Yankees, it is becoming clear that (a) he did indeed give his former team a chance to retain his services, and (b) the Sox made a conscious decision not to increase its existing offer. (See today’s piece in the Boston Herald for more.) This being the case, Damon’s fate thus was sealed, and I have but two observations to make:

  1. I have to admire the senior Sox business managers for sticking to their financial guns. They decided that Damon wasn’t worth more than $10 million per year to the club, and they would not be moved. Whether this ends up costing the team in the standings – and whether that will concern those same managers in the way it will bother fans – remains to be seen, but you have to at least give them credit for staying their chosen course.

  2. I can’t blame Damon for proceeding the way he did. New York also had a salary limit in mind, but theirs was higher than Boston’s, and in the end, that was simply that. For Damon, it came down to the money and, to a lesser extent, the sense that the Yankees simply wanted him more. One wonders whether the outcome might have been different if the Sox had wooed Damon a bit more actively. But without any additional green to put on the table, perhaps it just wasn’t worth their while.

The whole point of free agency is to give players the opportunity to choose where they want to play, and for how much. This Damon did, and along the way he reminded us that the athletes on the field – and their employers in the front office – just don’t approach the game the way we do. We all want our team to win, but our team is “our team” forever, and theirs is whatever name is stitched on their uniforms or printed on their letterhead.

Could Damon have declined the Yankees’ offer and remained with the Red Sox? Of course. But he didn’t, and while we don’t have to like it (and we don’t), it isn’t fair to condemn him for it. He gave us his all for the entire time he was here (can’t say the same for Manny, now, can we?). So let’s give him his due and wish him well – except, perhaps, for the 19 games he’ll play against us during the regular season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Johnny Mercenary is Da-Mon in NYC

– ‘Idiot’ Center Fielder to Sign with Yanks for 4 Years, $52 Million –

Well, it happened. Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon has agreed to sign with the New York Yankees for four years and $52 million, or $3 million per year more than the Sox offered him. According to published reports, the news was delivered to Boston’s management team by members of the media and not by Damon or his agent, Scott Boras. The result this morning is a lot of finger-pointing and teeth-gnashing by columnists and fans, many of whom believe the Sox front office was either overly passive, unreasonably cheap, short-sighted, or unduly arrogant in their pursuit of Damon.

However, let us not forget that Damon himself bears the responsibility for this outcome, for he’s the one who ultimately made the decision to cash in and move on. In this regard, he’s doing precisely what he did in 2001, when he joined the Red Sox in the first place, and he is following in precisely the same footsteps as his new teammates Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and Alex Rodriguez (who, of course, originally took his money from the Texas Rangers). And if he made his decision without giving the Sox so much as a courtesy phone call, then those of us who want our kids’ heroes to be people of character now at least know what we’ve been rooting for these past several years.

Last May, Damon told that “it’s definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me.” Turns out the truth lay elsewhere, and though he says he told Sox manager Terry Francona that “[the Red Sox] had to really get going,” even he can’t believe that’s the same thing as giving his team a chance to match the Yankees’ offer.

Damon always will be remembered for his role in bringing the World Series trophy to Boston for the first time in, well, a very long time. He’s a very good leadoff hitter and can cover a lot of ground in the outfield. But the position he’s about to inhabit notwithstanding, he won’t be the next DiMaggio or Mantle even he does manage to throw again, and we shouldn’t let our love of our ‘idiots’ blind us to the fact that he’s as mercenary as the next guy.

(Here’s hoping that our ‘next guy’ turns out to be Torii Hunter in 2007 …)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Happy Arbitration Decision Day!

For those of you keeping score at home, today is the day that teams must either offer arbitration to their free agents or kiss them goodbye, and the day players to whom arbitration has been offered must decide whether to accept or decline. Players who accept are then considered to be re-signed by their clubs; those who decline still may negotiate with their teams, but only until January 8, after which they cannot do so again until May 1.

In Red Sox land, this means we will soon know the formal fate of both Johnny Damon and Tony Graffanino. Damon, of course, has already been offered a contract by the Sox and almost certainly will take a pass. Graffanino, on the other hand, likely will accept, says today’s Boston Herald, a decision that would be surprising considering his second-base job apparently has been taken by newly-acquired Mark Loretta.

This is an important day because those players who are not given the opportunity for arbitration are then available to any team willing and able to strike a deal. Let us not forget that this is the route by which David Ortiz joined the Red Sox, so it is a notable occasion indeed.

By this time tomorrow, we’ll know what the pickin’s will be. But for today, it appears that the list may include several potentially useful candidates for the Sox to consider. The most significant of these may be left-handed first-baseman Hee Seop Choi, who could be a worthy platoon-mate for Kevin Youkilis, who by all accounts will be given every shot at the starter’s job at the position. Whatever happens, don’t dismiss tonight’s midnight deadline as a mere bit of administrivia. Some very important holes may soon be filled by the names soon to come.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Mental Lint: Cuba Out of WBC; Mueller In at LA; Nomar Explores His Options

– Thoughts Clogging the Cranial Vent –

‘World’ Baseball Classic? Maybe Not so Much. The U.S. Treasury Department yesterday denied the permit needed to allow Cuba to participate in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. While I understand the political motivations of the move – Cuba is, after all, under U.S. trade embargo – it does leave me wondering just how ‘World’ the event really is. Would one country be allowed to prevent another from participating if this were the Olympics? Not likely. But then, the WBC is an MLB marketing mechanism, and not a State Department cultural exchange initiative, so perhaps the rules of fair play are not meant to apply. How sad! Here’s hoping the WBC organizers are successful in their efforts to reverse the ruling.

Mueller Signs with Dodgers: A Good Guy Gets His Due. Former Red Sox third baseman Bill Mueller yesterday agreed to a two-year, $9.5 million contract to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Sox had offered Mueller arbitration, but it was clear even before they acquired Mike Lowell from the Marlins that they did so not because they wished him to return, but to ensure they received draft-pick compensation from whatever team he went to. Well, yesterday they got their wish, and the business of baseball being what it is, the practicality of the maneuver can’t really be criticized. However, as he departs, let’s for once give Mueller the public appreciation he deserves. All he did during his three years here was hit well and field superlatively, and he did so at bargain rates. It’s nice to see him get his due in LA, and we wish him nothing but continued success. Go get ’em, Billy!

Nomar to NY? Doubt It. The Associated Press reported yesterday that the agent for Nomar Garciaparra said the former Cub and Red Sox is considering four teams to be his home next season, and that one of those teams is the Yankees. While the other three were not revealed, they are believed to be the Astros, Dodgers, and Indians. This is a tough one to handicap, for there are apparent attractions in all four places. For instance, Garciaparra’s good friend Lou Merloni has just rejoined the Indians, his former manager Grady Little has just been named manager of the Dodgers, the Astros could use some infield reinforcement (I know Nomar said he’s willing to play anywhere, but he’ll always be an infielder at heart), and the Yankees, well, are the Yankees. Personally, I’m leaning toward either Cleveland, which is only a puzzle piece or two away from again being an American League force, or LA, which is Garciaparra’s home town. We’ll see soon enough!

That’s all for now – see you at the ballyard!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I ♥ Huckaby

The word today is that free agent catcher Ken Huckaby has signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox and has been invited to spring training. The 35-year-old backup receiver was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1991 and has played in only 153 major league games since, compiling a career batting average of just .223 and amassing but three home runs (all in 2002 as a Blue Jay) and 30 RBIs. Why, then, was he given a Boston uniform? Insurance, pure and simple.

With Doug Mirabelli now a Padre, the logical candidate to be Jason Varitek’s stand-in is Kelly Shoppach, who has performed well at AAA Pawtucket and unquestionably is Mirabelli’s heir apparent. But two open questions make it necessary for the Sox to secure an alternative. First, will Shoppach be able to handle Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball on a regular basis? And second, will he be included in a trade (presumably involving either Manny Ramirez or David Wells) yet to come?

Huckaby has hung around for so long because of his prowess behind the plate, and the presumption therefore is that he will adjust quickly to catching Wakfield’s signature pitch. (A second presumption is that the Red Sox will stick to their plan of allowing Wakefield his own personal catcher, which I see no reason to abandon.) So if Shoppach either has trouble with the knuckleball or isn’t around to catch it, Wake’s games literally would fall into Huckaby’s capable hands. And I’m all right with that – there’s enough hitting on this club to accommodate a defensive specialist, especially if he’s only in the lineup once every five days. Put it this way: if Huckaby earns the role and the Sox don’t win, it won’t be because he’s on the squad.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Twin Sons of Different Mothers: BoSox Name Two to GM Job

The Boston Red Sox yesterday introduced Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer as co-GMs, and while even the Sox admitted that the two-headed organizational structure is somewhat unconventional, it actually could work quite well. The key to this success is the two men’s ability to work as closely together going forward as they have in the past, and there is nothing in their track record to suggest this won’t happen.

Just look at the moves the Sox were able to make since Thanksgiving, when there were at least four sets of fingers in the pie and the team still came away with a front-line starter, a starting second baseman, a credible replacement at third, and several live bullpen arms. This wouldn’t have happened if all the parties involved were on different organizational pages, and streamlining the decision tree should only make the whole process more effective.

Sox president Larry Lucchino was exactly right when he pointed out how different this scenario is from the dual-GM situation that was just blown up in Baltimore. “[Beattie and Flanagan] had never worked together before,” he said. “They didn't really know each other.” Cherington and Hoyer have worked closely together for the past several years, and it appears that each will continue to focus on his prior sphere of influence (minor league activities for Cherington, major league issues for Hoyer). This combination of factors should result in the relatively clear lines of jurisdiction that exist when sole GMs are in place and provide a foundation for comfortable collaboration when their tasks inevitably overlap (e.g., when proposed trades involve both major and minor leaguers).

So don’t sweat it, Sox fans – your team appears to be in good hands and is structured in a way that both insiders and outsiders can understand. Let the Ramirez/Wells/Damon sweepstakes begin!

Quick aside: Minnesota outfielder Jacque Jones today declined the Twin’s offer of arbitration, making it highly likely that he will not play in the Twin Cities in 2006 (at least not until after May 1, anyway). I’ve got a nickel that says the Sox make a play for him as insurance against losing either or both of Ramirez or Damon, or standing in for Nixon if/when he gets hurt again. Remember, you heard it here first!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Memo to Disgruntled Stars: You Can't Have it Both Ways

Am I the only one who is growing tired of hearing major league baseball players whine about where they are playing and ask for trades to play elsewhere? Red Sox left-fielder Manny Ramirez, of course, has famously been singing this song for some time now, and he was joined last week by Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, who apparently is dissatisfied with the way his team has approached its roster building this off season. But when the Boston Globe reported this morning that Edgar Renteria had added his voice to the noise – citing of all things a poor infield at Fenway Park – well, that really was the last straw.

Never mind, Edgar, that the infield on which you played is but one season old. Never mind, Miguel, that this off-season so far has lasted barely more than one month, and that your team until recently was critically hamstrung by budget woes caused by a number of bad signings in the past. Never mind, Manny, that all your team does is contend year after year and that you are celebrated like few other athletes are in few other places in the world.

You all chose to play in the cities in which you did this summer, and you signed contracts to do so that made you richer than many developing nations. But now you are unhappy because you are too much in the public spotlight (Ramirez), or because you’ve done so much and the team isn’t doing well (Tejada), or because “the ball bounces too much” (Renteria)? Well, grow up: you made a deal, now live with the consequences.

Understand, too, that those of us who work for a living don’t feel bad for you. Most of us spend our days doing things of which we are not especially fond, in places we often do not especially like, for salaries that frequently don’t comfortably cover such basic necessities as food, clothing, and housing. And we have no respect for someone who evidently considers a contract to be a mere inconvenience, nonbinding for the player, but cast iron for the team. I mean, I have never heard any player express any willingness to forgo the rest of his salary in return for his freedom of movement. Instead, each and every one expects to receive the rest of his millions, and more often than not, he makes his approval of the trade he demanded contingent upon the new team’s renegotiation of his existing contract!

I tell you now what I tell my children: you can’t have it both ways. If you want the security of a long-term contract for significant money, then be prepared to make the same commitment to your team that the team has made to you. Otherwise, stop acting so hurt and surprised when you are treated like assets to be treasured, leveraged, and resold according to the market condition. You asked for this, and you got it: now live with the result you created.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Miggy to Boston? Don’t Count on It

In a phone interview yesterday with the Associated Press, Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada said he is unhappy with the direction the Orioles are taking , and expressed his desire for “a change of scenery." Given that the Red Sox currently have an opening at the position, speculation today is rampant that a deal might be swung that would essentially swap Tejada for Sox left-fielder Manny Ramirez, who has out-and-out asked to be traded.

On the field, Tejada would step right into the Red Sox infield, while Ramirez would probably displace light-hitting Eric Byrnes – not the toughest decision the O’s would ever have to make. Statistically, the two players are roughly comparable – considering Manny’s superhuman prowess – as offensive threats (Tejada: .304 - 26 HR - 98 RBIs; Ramirez: .292 - 45 - 144). And financially, the numbers are close enough to make such a transaction thinkable – Tejada has $48 million remaining on his contract, Ramirez still is owed $57 million, and in the rarefied air of baseball economics, these figures are only a prospect and/or some cash away from being roughly the same thing.

The big questions are whether Ramirez – who as a 10/5 guy has the right to reject any trade – would consent to playing in Baltimore, and whether Tejada recants now that the Orioles apparently have signed free agent catcher Ramon Hernandez, and thus have negated Tejada’s complaint that “the Orioles have not made any signings to strengthen the club.”

Personally, I’d be surprised if such a trade materializes, though I have to say I’d be glad to see it happen. Tejada is a ‘dirt dog’ of the first degree, he can hit, and he can field at least as well as Renteria did last year. But I believe he was simply blowing off steam after having watched the Red Sox and Blue Jays make major moves to improve their rosters, and seen the Orioles do little beyond say goodbye to B.J. Ryan, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa. Manager Sam Perlozzo and pitching coach Leo Mazzone promise to breathe new life into a once-proud franchise, and my guess is that Miggy, who’s only 29 and has the baseball time to spend, will want to be part of the turnaround.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Alas, Poor Edgar, We Knew Him ...

– Red Sox Shuffle the Deck; Trade Renteria to Braves for Marte –

In a tragedy of not-quite-Shakespearean proportions, the Boston Red Sox today traded shortstop Edgar Renteria to Atlanta for third-base prospect Andy Marte and $11 million in cash considerations.

Renteria, of course, was the Sox’s centerpiece free-agent acquisition just one year ago, but after turning in a 30-error season in the field and an ordinary performance at the plate, he evidently was not considered by the team to be worth the nearly $30 million remaining on his contract. Marte, on the other hand, is one of the brightest lights in the Braves’ famously-fertile farm system, but he still could be moved to Tampa Bay for Julio Lugo – after all, the Sox now have to fill a hole at shortstop (Hanley Ramirez, where are you now that we need you?) and already have a third baseman in newly-acquired Mike Lowell. I suppose Lowell could be packaged in a trade or moved to first base to make room for Marte, but my guess is that Marte will spend at least part of another year in AAA. And in either case, Sox still will have to come up with someone (Alex Gonzalez?) to play short.

Whatever happens, it has been enormously satisfying to see the Sox engage so actively in the market for players. After decades of near-stagnation under the Yawkey/Harrington regime, it’s wonderful to have owners that aren’t captive to their prior decisions. Renteria not working out? Send him packing, and give someone else a shot. Schilling and Foulke still injury-related question marks? Don’t just sit there; back them up with another front-line starter and a couple of credible relievers. Need a full-time second baseman? Go get one, even if it costs you the best backup catcher in baseball.

How all this will play out remains to be seen, of course. But isn’t that the fun of it? Shuffle the deck and build your hand, and then let the cards fall where they may. Kudos to the Sox for doing so – can’t wait for the games to begin!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Intriguing Names From the Red Sox Rumor Mill

– The Winter Meeting rumor mill yesterday produced some very interesting names as would-be Boston Red Sox –

With the baseball Winter Meeting in full swing, the rumor mill cranked in high gear yesterday, and some very interesting names surfaced as possible additions-by-trade for your Boston Red Sox. Among the most intriguing to this observer are Mark Loretta, who would quite nicely fill the hole for a starter at second base, and Julio Lugo, who would neatly step in at shortstop to replace Edgar Renteria, who is speculated to be on his way to Atlanta, which just lost Rafael Furcal to the Dodgers. (See how the wheel spins?)

Just for grins, here are my thoughts as to what the Sox roster could look like if (scenario 1) things remain more or less as they are today or (scenario 2) if Renteria becomes a Brave and Ramirez and Wells are traded as anticipated. Both scenarios, by the way, presume Johnny Damon resigns with the club (which I believe likely), and neither is especially rife with lefties. But here they are, just the same.

Finally, let us salute John Olerud on the occasion of his retirement – a classier, more sure-handed first baseman there never was. Your presence and prowess with both the glove and the bat surely will be missed!

            Scenario 1: Roster      Scenario 2: Ramirez,
Position    Largely as-is Today     Renteria, Wells Gone

Infielders (8)
C           Varitek                 Varitek
            Mirabelli               Shoppach
1B          Youkilis                Lowell
2B          Graffanino              Loretta
            Cora                    Cora
SS          Renteria                Lugo
3B          Lowell                  Glaus
Bench       Pedroia                 Youkilis

Outfielders (4)
LF          Ramirez                 Jones
CF          Damon                   Damon
RF          Nixon                   Nixon
4th OF      Stern                   Stern

DH          Ortiz                   Ortiz

Pitchers (12)
SP          Schilling               Schilling
SP          Beckett                 Beckett
SP          Wells                   Clement
SP          Wakefield               Wakefield
SP          Clement                 Papelbon
RP          Arroyo                  Arroyo
RP          Bradford                Bradford
RP          DiNardo                 Delcarmen
RP          Foulke                  DiNardo
RP          Papelbon                Foulke
RP          Timlin                  Timlin
RP          Van Buren               Van Buren

Minor league arms on call:
Alvarez (LHP)
Delcarmen (RHP)
Hansen (RHP)
Lester (LHP)
Meredith (RHP)
Mota (RHP)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

HoF 2006: The Rice Man Cometh

– Strong Man Jim Rice Knocks on Cooperstown’s Door –

While baseball’s winter meetings churn on in Dallas, baseball’s writers are busy studying their Hall of Fame ballots and making their selections. More often than not, a handful of candidates for induction leap off the page as “no brainers,” but this year’s group seems to be more human than superhuman. Add this to the mathematical nature of the selection rules and it is clear that Red Sox slugger Jim Rice today has his best shot at being elected – and with the anti-steroid sentiment currently running so high, my money is on his being at the podium next summer in Cooperstown.

Consider this: Rice played 16 years in the major leagues, during which he hit .298 and averaged 30 homers and 113 RBIs per season. He was MVP in 1978, and according to Sox VP Dick Bresciani (as reported in today’s Boston Globe), he is the only major leaguer to have three consecutive seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits, and is one of only two HoF-eligible players (the other being Dick Allen) with at least 350 homers and a .290 average not to be enshrined.

Rice’s biggest problem isn’t that he was an average fielder at best, or performed poorly in the post-season, or kind of lost it all at once at the end – no, his greatest liability likely is the fact that he was no darling of the press corp, and the media’s dislike for him no doubt cost him votes in the past. But election to the HoF is a function of receiving 75% of the votes cast, and since no one more compelling than Rice seems to be on the ballot this year, the math now seems to work in his favor.

The bottom line here is that Rice was simply dominant during his glory years, and he apparently achieved his prowess through hard work and sheer muscle. No allegations of steroids use ever have swirled around his head, and if you don’t think this is another huge mark in his plus column, then you’ve got another think coming. So make your travel plans now, Sox fans: for the second year in a row, one of your own will achieve baseball immortality, and you’ll want to be there when it happens.

Friday, December 02, 2005

’Tis the Season: Checking the Red Sox’s Christmas List

Baseball’s winter meetings start on Monday in Dallas, and with the holiday spirit blooming all over, let’s take a minute and look at what may be on the Boston Red Sox’s Christmas list.

  • A first baseman, preferably left-handed, to platoon with right-hander Kevin Youkilis, who, thanks to the acquisition of 3B Mike Lowell, seems to be in line to play the position in 2006. All things being equal, I bring back John Olerud if he’ll have us, even despite his age.
  • A second baseman to front Alex Cora and up-and-comer Dustin Pedroia, who has yet to prove he’s ready for prime time. Me, I make a play for Tony Graffanino, who was everything the Sox could have hoped for, and more, during his time in Boston last year, but who reportedly wants more years than the Sox are likely to offer him.
  • An outfielder or two or three, to patrol the Fenway lawn and to provide some strength off the bench … how many depends upon whether Manny Ramirez is traded (and whom the Sox get in return), whether Johnny Damon signs elsewhere, whether Trot Nixon emerges from his recent dark-cloud of injuries, and how soon Gabe Kapler can be expected to run again (see you in ’07).
  • One more middle reliever, especially if the Sox don’t re-sign lefty specialist Mike Myers; two more if significant questions exist about the readiness of either or all of Abe Alvarez, Manny DelCarmen, Lenny DiNardo, and newcomer Jermaine Van Buren.
Best holiday wishes to free agents Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller, two key cogs in the ’04 championship wheel and by all accounts great guys in the clubhouse, neither of whom likely will be back. You will be missed!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Who’s Ball is it, Anyway? Sox Sue for ’04 Series Ender – and Why We Should Care

Huge payouts for notable artifacts potentially as problematic as gambling

The Boston Globe reports today that the Boston Red Sox have sued for possession of the ball used to record the last out of the 2004 World Series. Former first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, it may be recalled, kept the ball after making the putout, and after the fracas that followed, he agreed to let the club display it through 2005 “unless the ultimate issue of ownership has been otherwise resolved.” Since no such resolution has been reached, the paper says, the team is using this clause as the foundation of its claim.

The issue at the center of this suit is an important one, for the monetary value of artifacts of this type has grown to a point that simply defies logic. For instance,

  • The ball that dribbled through Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series ultimately sold for $93,500.
  • The home run ball Carlton Fisk waved fair in the 1975 World Series sold for $113,273.
  • The ball Mark McGwire hit for his 70th home run in 1998 sold for a cool $3 million.
Not bad for a retail item that costs less than ten bucks new!

This is all relevant because the size of these payouts theoretically can change the game. Imagine some minimum-salaried, late-season rookie callup running across the field to make a play he has no business making simply to get his hands on the ball. Far-fetched? Perhaps. But it’s not conceptually different than a player performing unusually to reap a gambler’s reward, and it is my hope that the commissioner’s office is watching very closely.