At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Monday, February 27, 2006

Soriano to Boston? Puh-leeze!

Can you believe the nonsense on the sports talk radio this afternoon? Do people really think the Red Sox are going to trade Matt Clement (or anybody else, for that matter) to the Nationals for Alfonso Soriano? Come on, now. If there’s one position at which the Sox are especially well off, it’s second base: I count Mark Loretta, Alex Cora, Tony Graffanino, and Dustin Pedroia as being suitable for framing right now. Even if Graffanino departs via trade as expected, there’s still no room for Soriano at the center of the diamond – and given the latter’s propensity for petulance, I sure wouldn’t move any of the other guys just to make room for him.

Now, if Soriano were to decide that he’d move to the outfield, well, things might get interesting since the Sox are not as deep out there. But it’s not like they have gaping holes begging to be filled, and besides, he’s already made it abundantly clear that he’s not willing to switch positions – which is why Washington is looking to send him away in the first place. The Nats, of course, acquired him from Texas expressly to patrol the green pastures of RFK despite the fact that he’d already fought and won this battle while with the Rangers. I don’t know why anyone thought he’d change his mind then just because he changed uniforms, and I don’t know why anyone would expect him to do so now. So you can forget about this little scenario.

I do know that any trade of Soriano will keep us from seeing what happens when Washington’s fiery manager Frank Robinson finally has his fill of Soriano’s “me first” attitude. That explosion promises to be fun to watch – from a safe distance – and may be the best reason of all to hope Soriano stays put.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What’s in a Name? Nationals Suffer Identity Crisis

Pity the poor Nationals. Never mind that they still don’t have a real owner and are run by Major League Baseball itself. Never mind they still don’t have a deal in place for a ballpark to replace old RFK Stadium. Now it turns out they may not have the right to sell clothing with their name on it, either!

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week granted the request of apparel company Bygone Sports to register the name “Washington Nationals.” If upheld in an already-scheduled federal court proceeding due to begin on April 3 (coincidentally, the team’s Opening Day), this ruling would prohibit the ballclub from selling apparel with its name on it unless a licensing deal is struck. Since the Nationals were among baseball’s leading sellers of merchandise last year, the cost of such a deal stands to be quite high.

At issue is whether major league baseball maintained its right to the name in the years since 1956, when the American League’s Washington Nationals renamed themselves the Washington Senators. It is also unclear whether baseball had reached agreement with Bygone Sports before the new Nationals were unveiled, only to have that deal fall apart before the team began play.

Whatever happens, the Team in the Nation’s Capital apparently still will be allowed to wear uniforms with the word Nationals on the front. However, reports are that baseball plans to change the team’s name should it lose the case, a development that will only further frustrate DC-area fans and complicate MLB’s ability to sell the team.

Who knows: maybe the club in Lowell, Mass. will step in and extend its Yankees Elimination Promotion to the Nats. Washington Spinners, anyone?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hub Fans Bid The Cowboy Adieu

– Appreciating Curt Gowdy on the Occasion of His Passing –

Sportscasting legend Curt Gowdy passed away yesterday at age 86, and even those of us who didn’t grow up listening to him describe the action at Fenway Park took a moment to mark his passing.

Nicknamed “The Cowboy” to honor his Wyoming roots and love of the outdoors, Gowdy spent 15 years at the microphone in Boston before becoming the voice of baseball on the weekly NBC Game of the Week. He also hosted the long-running program American Sportsman on ABC, and he was the one man of his era whose mere presence in the booth signaled the start of a major sporting event.

Gowdy was a generational bridge, having learned his baseball craft at the elbow of the celebrated Mel Allen – who along with Red Barber helped make sports broadcasting the popular phenomenon it is today – and counting among his partners Ned Martin, who called Red Sox games into the 1990s. (Martin was the leader in the booth when current on-air icon Jerry Remy made his debut, so the line of succession continues unbroken.) His home-spun game descriptions thus were the bedtime stories for children for more than 40 years, and his legacy of excellence likely will endure for at least 40 more.

"Everybody quiet now here at Fenway Park after they gave him a standing ovation of two minutes knowing that this is probably his last time at bat. One out, nobody on, last of the eighth inning. Jack Fisher into his windup, here's the pitch. Williams swings and there's a long drive to deep right! The ball is going and it is gone! A home run for Ted Williams in his last time at bat in the major leagues!" – Curt Gowdy’s call of Ted Williams’ last at bat, 28 September 1960.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Folks for Foulke

It was popular last year for fans and the media (perhaps not in that order) to bash Red Sox reliever Keith Foulke, and from a performance standpoint, perhaps the criticism was justified (5-5, 5.91, 30 runs and 53 hits in 45+ innings). But fair-minded members of the Nation would do well to remember that (a) he went from being hurt to being injured, (b) he was wrestling with (still) undisclosed personal issues, and (c) he is human, no matter how much of a saves machine we may want him to be.

The problem is that sports reporting today is too often shaped by “Survivor”-style mentalities that by extension (i.e., talk radio) put us all under pressure to make snap judgments about current events whether or not we possess the information necessary to make them. Did Barry Bonds/Sammy Sosa/Mark McGuire use steroids? Will Manny Ramirez show up for spring training anywhere near on time (if at all)? None of us really knows, and not only isn’t it wrong for us to presume that we do, such a presumption wouldn’t be tolerated in any other context. (Can you imagine the repercussions of a teacher putting such questions to a student taking a math exam?)

So before we rush to judgment in Keith Foulke’s case, let’s remember that we don’t see him day in and day out, and really aren’t in a position to diagnose the cause of his pitching woes. True supporters will pull for him to be physically healthy and emotionally strong when the bell rings, and won’t personally run him down. Want to boo the third time he blows a save? Fine. Just don’t insult him, or embarrass yourself, by hurling epithets that help no one – least of all Foulke himself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

10 Things I Wonder

I wonder:

  • If Curt Schilling will be the workhorse the Red Sox need him to be. (He will.)

  • If Keith Foulke will again be the closer that brought Boston a World Series title. (He won’t, but he’ll do OK.)

  • If David Wells will be traded from the Red Sox before the season starts. (He will.)

  • If Manny Ramirez will be traded from the Red Sox before the season ends. (He won’t.)

  • If Barry Bonds will retire after he passes Babe Ruth on the all-time career home runs list, but before he passes Hank Aaron. (He will.)

  • If Roger Clemens will retire after pitching in the World Baseball Classic. (He won’t if the Astros are playing all right; he will if they aren’t.)

  • If the ban on steroids and amphetamines will cause major league baseball games in late August ’06 to resemble those in late August ’66. (They will – and that’s a good thing!)

  • If the newly-reloaded New York Mets will loosen the Braves’ grip on the National League East for the first time in 14 years. (They won’t.)

  • If the injury-plagued Hyannis Mets will rebound from last summer’s sorry season. (They will.)

  • If the free-spending Blue Jays will finish ahead of the Red Sox this year. (They won’t – unless Schilling and Foulke 'aren’t' [see above].)
Pitchers and catchers reported to eight spring training camps today. It won’t be long now!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Why Would They?

Why would the Nationals bring Sammy Sosa to camp? He once was a draw, but the scent of steroids surrounds him despite the absence of evidence that he partook, and there are serious doubts as to whether he can still play the game at a major league level. The club isn’t guaranteeing his contract, so perhaps they feel they’ve got nothing to lose. But it says something that this apparently was the best deal Sosa could find.

Why would Roger Clemens want to come back to the Red Sox … or for that matter, play for anyone other than the Astros or Rangers? Even though he’s ineligible to re-sign with Houston until May 1, there’s no reason to believe the club wouldn’t continue to honor the sweetest of all arrangements he’s enjoyed there so far should he agree to return at that time. Live in his own home? Come to the park only when he’s pitching? Skip road trips if he wants to? Only the Astros can offer him all that, for no other team plays in his home town. The Rangers, at least, play in his home state. But Boston? I can’t see it, no matter how high quality Tom Werner’s recruiting video turns out to be.

Why would the Lowell Spinners use such strong language in offering to help New England youth baseball leagues eliminate any team called the Yankees? As a promotional gimmick, the program is quite cute, and the club has even offered to pay for the replacement uniforms – which, of course, will say “Spinners” on the front. But was it really necessary to be so negative in the process? Calling it “devastating” for a child to be named a Yankee is unsportsmanlike at best and harsh at worst, and can only lead the child to feel badly about him/herself. And while it may be literally true, as the Lowell announcement states, that some children cry when they learn they are Yankees, my 20 years of coaching experience tells me that they do so only because they’ve been programmed that way by their peers and parents, and they do so only for a few minutes. And never have heard of a child refusing to play because it says “NY” on their cap – not even when the team I coached was called the Yankees.

I’m all for poking fun at the “Evil Empire” every chance we get. But surely there is a kinder, gentler way to go about it than this.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Counting Down: Sox Equipment Truck Departing on Monday

The opening chapter of my book about the Cape Cod Baseball League includes this observation:

“Here in New England, winter begins much earlier than it does else­where, for it is marked not by the moment of solstice, but by the final out of the final game of the Boston Red Sox baseball season .... Happily, though, spring arrives much earlier here too. Well before robins appear on suburban front lawns, the Red Sox equipment truck is loaded at Fenway Park and, in an event no less ceremonious than the ground hog’s annual appearance in Punxatawney, Pennsyl­vania, departs for the green fields of Ft. Myers, Florida, where spring training will soon begin.”

Rejoice, Sox fans: the truck leaves on Monday, and with it go the hopes and expectations of a region.

Godspeed, U-Haul. Would that we could ride with you!

Monday, February 06, 2006

One Nation, Under Contract

– Red Sox, Crisp Agree to Terms, Avoid Arbitration: That’s All, Folks! –

The Red Sox today announced the team has agreed to terms with newly-acquired outfielder Coco Crisp, a move that takes the latter’s arbitration session off the calendar and, coupled with the reaching of terms with Josh Beckett over the weekend, brings the number of Sox players still left in arbitration to zero.

This fact is noteworthy only to those citizens of Red Sox Nation who feared six weeks ago that the club would have literal holes in its lineup and lots of contention in spring training. Instead, a full roster of players will soon appear in South Florida, and while nearly half of them will be strangers, they will cover the entire field and will not require an arbitrator's attention.

And boy! will they cover the field – hang on, Sox fans: you ain’t never seen a defense here like the one you’re about to see.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Manny: Westward Ho? No Go!

– Sox Make Silly-Expensive Offer to Angels –

The Los Angeles Times this morning is reporting that the Red Sox have reconnected with the Angels regarding a possible trade of left fielder Manny Ramirez. According to the paper, the Sox have asked the Angels for ace-in-the-making Ervin Santana, super utilityman Chone Figgins, two or three of LA/Anaheim’s top four prospects, and the total transfer of Ramirez’s contract, on which three seasons and some $57 million remain. The Angels, needless to say, have not jumped at the chance to make this deal. [In fact, they very quickly declined the offer. – SW]

There no doubt that the quid pro quo for Manny must be a hefty package of value – he’s baseball’s premier producer of home runs and RBIs, and the decision to move him out should be carefully considered even though his periods of unhappiness and inattention sometimes cause pandemics of indigestion. However, it seems to this observer that the offer the Sox just presented is over the top, and has no chance of going through.

Face it: Manny isn’t really worth four or five players and the GNP of a small, developing nation, except maybe to a team that already has loads of offensive talent – and this, the Angels aren’t. Sticking a bat like his into a power-short lineup only begs the opposition to issue an intentional walk every time Ramirez comes up in an important scoring situation. Protecting him, therefore, is key to ensuring his continued success. Put it this way: Manny is most valuable when he hits in the middle of an already-powerful lineup – at that’s exactly the situation he enjoyed first in Cleveland and now in Boston.

Like as not, the Angels and the Red Sox both know this, and know the proposal was floated primarily to demonstrate to Ramirez that efforts are still being made to honor his request to be traded. But let’s be serious: the list of teams whose rosters and payrolls are best suited to take Ramirez on is a short one, and the teams on that list already have taken multiple passes. Sorry, Manny, but it seems you’re on the Red Sox for this year and probably next year as well. So, welcome back, again!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Mental Lint on Ground Hog Day

– Thoughts Clogging the Cranial Vent –

Welcome Back, Kapler: The list of invitees to the Red Sox spring training camp includes one name that we all should be thrilled to see. After months of intensive rest and rehabilitation, outfielder Gabe Kapler appears poised to return to active duty, though it likely will be at least May before he sees any significant action. That he is anywhere near ready to perform again is testament to his conditioning and determination, for a ruptured Achilles’ tendon such as he experienced late last season is the kind of injury that has derailed careers completely. In an era in which hangnails seemingly are cause for players to take days off, it is remarkable and refreshing to see Kapler work so hard to get back. Never mind the clubhouse presence he has and the workhorse attitude carries onto the field: he also seems to be the kind of person we all ought to get behind. So welcome back, Gabe, and good luck!

Two Papers, No Waiting: The events of this off-season have left me with a renewed appreciation for the fact that Boston is a two-newspaper town. It was great fun to read the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe last fall because they had such dramatically different takes on the events leading up to Theo Epstein’s departure as Red Sox general manager – you may recall that the Globe had him staying put as late as the day before he eventually left, while the Herald called it the way it eventually turned out. Even today certain differences can be seen, as the Herald has a piece stating that shortstop-apparent Alex González has passed his physical and will soon be announced as a member of the club, while the Globe mentioned it only in passing. This could be due to something as ordinary as different deadlines or production schedules, or it may be that the Globe is waiting for official news lest it somehow be burned again the way it was in October. Either way, having two voices to listen to is a real luxury that fans in most cities don’t enjoy, and we here should appreciate it perhaps more than we do.

Spring is Springing: Pitchers and catchers report in two weeks and two days. Forget the ground hog – spring is nearly here!