At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Friday, September 22, 2006

Papi Pops Two; Is Sox Top Bopper

David Ortiz last night hit his 51st and 52nd home runs in a win against his former Minnesota Twins, and in so doing, he broke the 68-year-old Red Sox club record for home runs for a season. While certainly statistically significant – at least for members of Red Sox Nation, if not for baseball fans as a whole – Big Papi’s achievement was equally notable for the sidebars it suggested. For instance:

• One of the first people to greet Ortiz following his historic blast was Red Sox lifer Johnny Pesky, who may have a unique personal connection to the deed because he actually played with former record-holder Jimmy Foxx, in Boston in 1942.

• Big Papi himself forged a connection with Double-X (another Foxx nickname, along with The Beast) in a way modern-day players too rarely do. When he learned that it was Foxx’s record he was chasing, Ortiz apparently set about studying his predecessor and thereby demonstrated a respect for, and an appreciation of, baseball history that is sadly lacking among today’s players. Perhaps sharing a dugout with Pesky has something to do with that?

• During their respective post-game press conferences, reporters asked Terry Francona and Ortiz whether they thought Papi could have hit 60 home runs this year if he hadn’t missed games for health-monitoring reasons. The answer, of course, is “who knows,” but was interesting to see how 60 remains the benchmark despite having been eclipsed seven times since Babe Ruth first set that bar in 1927.

• Ortiz has increased his season home run totals every year he has been in the majors since becoming a regular in Minnesota in 2000. He’s hit 10, 18, 20, 31 (now with Boston), 41, 47, and currently 52 and counting. So maybe 60 is in the cards, for ’07!

• Has any DH ever been able to maintain the kind of consistent concentration and plate discipline that Ortiz has? Others in the role have noted how hard it is to stay mentally present and physically primed when they don’t play the field. Papi, though, somehow manages to be in every game and to keep his swing sharp despite spending 98% of his time in the dugout. This may be his most remarkable achievement of all.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sheffield at Fenway in ’07?

As Red Sox Nation turns its lonely eyes to next year, an interesting question arises: how might Gary Sheffield look in Boston’s home whites?

The current Yankee slugger apparently is ready to come off the disabled list, but there’s no obvious place for him to play in the Bronx, and it says here that the Bombers won’t pick up his contract option for next year this being the case.

Sheffield’s usual position is right field, but that patch of ground is now being patrolled by mid-season pickup Bobby Abreu, who is having a career half-year and is under contract through next season. Sheffield is working out at first base, but playing there means displacing slugger Jason Giambi, who could DH but doesn’t want to fill that role full-time any more than Sheffield does. Could/would Sheffield play left? Assuming so, that would mean moving the talented Hideki Matsui – himself just back from being disabled – to another position, at which point the wheel would just spin again.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, likely will present just the opposite scenario. They’ll probably have an opening in right, as Trot Nixon is in his walk year and – lovable 'dirt dawg' though he may be – my guess is that he will not receive the same financial ‘love’ from Boston that he will from someplace else. The club also should have some free-range cash available, as many of its (higher-priced) veterans are likely to depart via free agency (e.g., Gonzalez) or trade (e.g., Crisp) and will be replaced by (lower-cost) youngsters (e.g., Pedroia). So the circumstances would seem to exist for the Sox to add Sheffield should they – and he – be inclined to make a deal.

Sheffield is getting old by baseball standards (38 in November), and historically he’s been more outspoken and cranky than may be ideal. But he can hit – oh, can he hit! – and he might like to show old George (Steinbrenner) something should he be let go. So there’s a case to be made for bringing him in, and it will be fun to see what happens.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Can We Peg Plethora of Muscle Pulls to Amphetamine Ban?

– One Baseball Fan Wants to Know –

Is it me, or have more players than usual actually been put on the shelf this baseball season with various sorts of muscle injuries? Maybe the reporting is better, or maybe I’m just paying more attention than I have in the past. But it seems to me that the ‘dog days’ of the 2006 season have been especially hard on players – and this, in turn, has me wondering if we’re witnessing a side effect of the anti-amphetamine provisions of MLB’s new drug testing policy.

Consider this partial list of names that appeared on disable lists over even just the past three weeks:

9/8: Sean Green, RHP, Seattle, placed on the 60-day disabled list with a strained right lat

8/26: Scott Williamson, RHP, San Diego, placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow strain

8/25: Bobby Crosby, SS, Oakland, placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain

8/23: Mike Mussina, RHP, NY Yankees, placed on the 15-day disabled list with strained right groin

8/23: David Eckstein, SS, St. Louis, placed on the 15-day disabled list with strained left oblique

8/22: Alex Gonzalez, SS, Boston, placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain

8/22: Cesar Izturis, INF, Chicago Cubs, placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring

Some, like Green, were disabled multiple times during the summer, while others – like Kansas City’s Doug Mientkiewicz (lower back strain) – were put on the list weeks after first suffering injury. So it isn’t really fair to suggest that their loss of ‘greenie’-powered pick-me-ups caused them to run out of gas late in the season and to hurt themselves trying to make plays.

But aren’t tired athletes more prone to pull muscles than peppy ones? Or is it the other way ’round, as artificially-freshened players attempt to perform feats their bodies just aren’t up to? I honestly don’t know, so I’ll cast no aspersions here. But the question does occur as to what impact the ban on uppers may be having. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens over the next few years and draw our conclusions then.

Meanwhile: Red Bull, anyone?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Some Red Sox ‘Ones’ that Got Away

– Four Arms, a Catcher, and a Shortstop Who Might Have Made a Difference –

Consider the accomplishments this season of the following players, who either were Red Sox farmhands at the end of last season or were with the club when it broke camp back in March:

- Anibal Sanchez, now with the Florida Marlins, last night threw the major league’s first no-hitter in more than two years.

- Hanley Ramirez, also now a Marlin, is hitting .283 to this point in the season and has 44 stolen bases to his credit.

- Bronson Arroyo, now with the Cincinnati Reds, is 12-9, boasts an ERA of 3.33, has notched more than 200 innings pitched, and just threw a complete-game shutout against the San Francisco Giants.

- Cla Meredith, now with the San Diego Padres, has pitched 29 consecutive innings without allowing a run, setting a team record for a reliever.

- Josh Bard, also now with the Padres, currently is hitting .319, has an on-base percentage of .400, and has established himself as a big-league receiver. But who knows if his 'Tim Wakefield disease' would have allowed him to perform this well at Fenway?

- David Wells, newly-arrived in San Diego, pitched six innings of one-run ball in his ’06 debut with the Friars. But then, we knew he was going well even before the wheels fell off the Sox’s season and the club granted his wish to return home to SoCal.

Three quality starters, a bullpen star-in-the-making, and a catcher and shortstop for the future. Why can’t we get guys like that?