As a Red Sox fan, it’s been a tough October. But tonight’s match-up featuring ol’ pal Pedro Martinez against the hated New York Yankees is easy to get excited about.
It certainly conjures up memories of glory days gone by. For Sox fans — in fact, for all “baseball” fans — the Pedro Martinez era in Boston was immensely exciting. Pedro provided us with arguably the greatest stretch of pitching in baseball history, and along the way left us with enduring memories — many against our most-hated rival, the New York Yankees. It’s impossible to forget him drubbing Roger Clemens in Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS. Or his 17-strikeout, 1-hit gem in New York; or his epic battle with Roger Clemens in 2000 that ended with Trot Nixon swatting a game-winning homer. Or the Zimmer game. Or his great performance in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS that unfortunately gets overshadowed by Grady Little’s all-time absentee-management moment.
Now that our 2009 Sox have been swept aside in the playoffs, Sox fans have worried we’d be stuck watching the Yankees waltz to a championship. Now, after Cliff Lee’s amazing performance in Game 1, we see our old hero — Pedro Martinez — stepping up in a spot where he can slay the Yankees once again. We know he isn’t the same pitcher he once was. But maybe . . . just maybe . . . he can recapture that magic for one more night.
I’ll certainly be watching to find out.
A year ago at this time, the idea the Sox would someday retire Number 24 wasn’t even up for discussion. It was a certainty.
When Manny retired, and was voted into the Hall of Fame, the Sox would hang his Number 24 up next to the all-time Sox greats. It would be a ceremony that included Dwight Evans. We’d all reminisce about the great teams of 2004 and 2007. Good times.
Since then, Manny quit on his team (again), got traded to the Dodgers, and got caught using PEDs. Of course, how the Sox brass thought about Manny’s place in Sox history was evident even before he got busted for ‘roids: They gave his number to set-up man Tagashi (sp?) Saito right out of Spring Training. While the bad feelings for Manny were obvious, giving his number to a reliever right away was a surprise. I still thought the Sox would someday recognize Manny by retiring his number. He is, after all, one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time, and along with Papi made up the greatest 3-4 tandem not named Ruth/Gehrig in baseball history. But, the PED bust has removed any notion of that.
Ah well. Hopefully six years from now we’ll be hanging up Number 45.
SI baseball writer Tom Verducci recently wrote an article speculating on what teams in 2009 could be like last year’s Rays — from losers to winners. While I usually like Verducci’s work, this one was a clunker. His picks? The Tigers, A’s, Braves and Orioles.
For three of them, he’s not really going out on a limb. Would anybody be really surprised if the Tigers, Athletics or Braves contended this year? Nobody who follows baseball, even moderately. The Tigers underperformed last year, but they are still stocked with talent. The A’s are always contenders, and were last year until Billy Beane kicked the legs out from under his team and dealt Harden and Blanton. And the Braves are always a possibility, especially now that they’ve revamped their pitching staff. No news here, Tom.
And the Orioles!? To give Verducci credit, he does say they have no shot at making the playoffs in the division. They do have some talent, but I don’t think their pitching can even make them moderately good this year. Maybe I’m missing something.
But there are a lot of longshots — true longshots — that do have a very good chance at contending this season.
Rangers – For years the Rangers have struggled behind the Angels and Athletics, and occassionally the Mariners. Given the AL West is more attainable now that the Angels have taken a step back this winter, the Rangers could make a move. They have the thunder in their offense. But, like always, their pitching is a big question. If they stock up on some bargain pitchers — ala Ben Sheets and Pedro Martinez, they could take the division.
Mariners – Yes, the Mariners were terrible — Holy Terrible — last season. And given they’ve dealt players like JJ Putz, they look like they have no intention of contending this season. But they could end up with maybe the best 1-2 punch in baseball with Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard in their rotation. If those two pitch how they are supposed to, that alone can make anyone a contender, especially in the wide-open AL West. On top of that, they still have Ichiro at the top of the lineup generating runs.
Pirates – A longtime loser who I’ve picked to surprise for years. Eventually, I’ll be right. And it could certainly be this season. More often than not, the reason a team like the Rays come out of nowhere to be a contender is their pitching comes together. Besides last year’s Rays, check out the 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins, the 2005 White Sox, 2006 Tigers and 2007 Rockies. The pitching staff on all these teams suddenly gelled and put together a winner. The Pirates’ front four of Ian Snell, Tom Gorzellany, Paul Maholm and Zack Duke are all young and all have boatloads of talent. Snell and Gorzellany took steps back last season, but could be ready to have big bounce-back years. And with the NL Central rather mediocre, they could pad their record and grab the Wild Card with a finish behind the Cubs. And they have been a team linked to Pedro.
Rockies – Again, its about pitching. And this team has some. Quite frankly, I was shocked they dealt Matt Holliday. This is a good team. They had a bad season last year, with a few guys having off years and injuries. They were a lot like the 2006 Indians. But people forget that after a disasterous first half, they were clawing back into the race by late-August last year. This division is wide open. Tulowitski will be back for a full year. And Ubaldo Jimenez is ready to become one of the best arms in the game. Him along with the talented Jeff Francis (and a resurgent Josh Fogg) could carry this team to a division title. (If they kept Holliday, they’d have it in a walk,.)
Giants – Again, a team with pitching that plays in a weak division. With Linecum, Cain and now Randy Johnson, they have the pitching. If they sign one of the big bats still out there, they can contend.
Marlins – Maybe they can’t be considered losers. They had a good year last year, despite injuries. Still, is anyone really giving them a chance to compete with the Phillies and Mets? Not many, but I am. They have some excellent hitters with guys like Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez. But, like the Pirates, their pitching goes four talented young arms deep. If those arms stay healthy, they will have a deeper, better rotation than either the Phillies or Mets.
- How do I get through the offseason? Preparing for fantasy baseball. It’s never too early to build a champion.
- At this point, there’s only one way the Jason Varitek saga can end: The Sox get him at a bargain-basement price. The Sox still want him back, but on their terms. And they have the captain over a barrel. With other teams signing catchers, his potential other options have all but dried up. Given that, he has zero negotiating leverage. Sure, the Sox could still go out and get a young catcher like Saltalamacchia or Montero, but if they don’t like the pricetags — which they don’t — they know they can just wait Tek out at this point. He’ll come calling. He’ll end up with a base salary around $2 or $3 million, with a bunch of incentives built in.
- I keep thinking about doing pre-Spring Training team predictions, but there are still so many impact free agents that it is impossible to do them. I’m surprised the Angels – weakened after losing Teixeira and K-Rod — haven’t been more proactive in pursuing a bat like Abreu, Dunn or even Manny (despite that they’ve said they’re not interested). I also keep waiting to see when the Rangers will pull the trigger on Ben Sheets, who could be a difference-maker in Arlington. If the Angels don’t improve themselves, with the A’s bringing in Holliday and the Rangers possibly snagging Sheets (and/or a power bat), the AL West could turn out to be surprisingly open. And — call me crazy — don’t be surprised if the Mariners have a big bounce back year; they could do it with Bedard and King Felix carrying their rotation, and if they sign one of these available bats . . . well, remember you heard here first.
- I love the Pirates, and would love to see a bounce-back year from Pedro in Pittsburgh. With talented young arms like Ian Snell and Tom Gorzellany hitting the age of 27, you could see the Pirates start moving in the right direction. (But, then again, I’ve been saying that for years.)
- Considering how the prices for free agents have been dropping, don’t be surprised if the Yankees make another move that drives fans crazy.
Following up on what my low-life brother already said, congratulations to Jim Rice on being elected to the Hall of Fame. We’re hoping to be in Cooperstown the weekend he is inducted. I’ve never been there for induction week, and I’m really hoping things work out.
In the days leading up to this announcement, I was worried it would not happen. And that would have been wrong. Even writers who didn’t vote for Rice – at least those who actually follow baseball – have to admit that from 1975 through 1986 he was one of the very best hitters in the game. That’s why he received so many MVP votes; and that’s a long time to be great. And players like that are much more deserving than the Vinny Testaverde’s of baseball (Boggs, Palmeiro, Sutton, etc.) who stick around and are able to reach milestones because of longevity, but were never really seen as great players for extended periods of time.
I can completely understand those who have the opinion that the Hall of Fame is for the greatest of the great, and Rice doesn’t belong. If the Hall were only for the Mike Schmidts, Hank Aarons, George Bretts and Willie Mayses of the world, that would be fine. But the bar has already been set; guys like Don Sutton, Wade Boggs, Phil Rizzuto, Dave Winfield and others are all Hall of Famers. You might not like where the bar is; I don’t. But it is where it is. And given that, Jim Rice — one of the very elite hitters of his era — belongs in the Hall of Fame. Thankfully, that’s where he is headed.
Getting Strong Now: If you haven’t noticed, the Sox are seriously bulking up. On the heels of bringing on Brad Penny, John Smoltz and Rocco Baldelli, they just signed former Dodger closer Saito. Injured last year, Saito struggled. But he was dominant prior to that, and there’s every reason to believe he is past his injury and ready to shine in Boston. With his addition, the Sox bullpen is looking seriously formidable. Adding Saito and Ramon Ramirez to a pen with Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima and Papelbon, not to mention all the young arms like Masterson, Bucholz and Bowden the Sox can use there thanks to the depth of their rotation, Boston could end up with the strongest pen in the game. Of course, bullpen strength is the most difficult part of a team to predict from year to year. But by adding such strong depth, the Sox are doing all they can to set themselves up to succeed.
Michael Young??: When I heard Michael Young wanted a trade out of Texas, my first thought was he might be an easy fit in Boston. The Sox have kicked around the idea of an offensive upgrade at short, and they’re already talking about a trade with the Rangers for a catcher. This could expand the package. However, when I read Young’s contract has him signed through 2013 — and he’s already 32 — well, that ain’t happening.
Former Sox Hot Stove: If you haven’t heard, the Phillies are talking about signing Nomar Garciaparra. It’d be great to see Nomar play another year and hopefully have a productive year.; Things don’t look great for Pedro. He had been saying he wanted to resign with the Mets, but the Mets don’t seem to be in any hurry to bring him back. Then Pedro signs he’d like to sign with the Marlins . . . but the Marlins don’t want to sign him. Strange market this year, with so many players in the position of courting teams instead of the other way around; It’s the middle of January, and Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, Ben Sheets, Bobby Abreu and others are all still free agents.
This weekend, the Sox will retire Johnny Pesky’s Number 6. To do so, the organization is changing its Number Retirement Rules, which require a player to be in the Hall of Fame to have his number retired. It’s a good decision.
Pesky was a key part of some great Red Sox teams in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But beyond that, he has been Mr. Red Sox for half a century. Through his devotion to the franchise, he has contributed to the enduring legacy of the Red Sox like few other players. And certainly deserves to have his number hanging near that of his buddies Williams and Doerr.
While changing the HOF requirement might be controversial, it’s a good decision. Many Sox players who were not (or are not going to be) deemed Hall-of-Fame-worthy have made far more significant contributions to the franchise than some Hall of Famers. And, as we’ve seen, who is and who is not deemed a Hall of Famer is all-too-often left up to the arbitrary whims of naive or ignorant national “sportswriters” who give too much focus to silly magic numbers and/or don’t pay attention or have an understanding of a particular player’s accomplishments and contributions during a given era. You know, the folks who said Wade Boggs was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, but Jim Rice (who led the AL in virtually every offensive category over 10 years) isn’t Hall worthy. But ask any knowledgeable baseball person if they were building a baseball team, which player would they take. (BTW, the answer: Jim Rice.) Or the folks who vote for Lee Smith for the Hall of Fame. But I digress . . .
In reporting the news about Pesky, the Boston Globe pondered who might be next to have their number retired, and listed the following as possible candidates:
Jim Rice (No. 14)
Roger Clemens (No. 21)
Luis Tiant (No. 23)
Dwight Evans (No. 24)
Tony Conigliaro (No. 25)
Wade Boggs (No. 26)
The way I see it is:
Jim Rice – YES. This is for obvious reasons that I have blogged about many times here. I won’t rehash it now.
Roger Clemens – NO. Roger Clemens is the anti-Pesky. Sure, he’s a great pitcher; one of the best ever. But retiring his number is about his overall contributions to and treatment of the Red Sox franchise. Whether you backed his decision to take the money and run to Toronto in 1996, you have to admit that there was a lot of bad blood between him and Red Sox Nation after he went to the Yankees. And that’s not just about him wearing the uniform. There were the classic battles in which he was Public Enemy Number One. There was him proclaiming from the rooftops at every chance that he wanted to retire a Yankee and wear the New York cap into Cooperstown, even getting angry at the notion the HOF might decide he wears a Sox cap in. There was him calling Sox fans whiners and losers. And in 2007, he lied to say it wasn’t about the money, it was about playing for a winner, when he shunned the Sox, took the money and went to a Yankee team going nowhere. That is what I mean by Clemens as the anti-Pesky. Finally, there is the fact he is one of the major faces of baseball’s steroid scandal. That is NOT bringing honor to the game of baseball. Heck, the Yankees are so embarrassed and ashamed of their association with Clemens they didn’t even have him to the final game at Yankee Stadium, where they brought out all the Yankee greats. If they don’t want him, why would we take him? Don’t you remember? We HATE this man. Let him rot in baseball limbo . . . or have Toronto retire his number.
Luis Tiant – NO. El Tiante was an excellent pitcher for some great Sox teams in the 1970s. But was he THAT good, or contributed enough to the Sox franchise? I love El Tiante, but the answer is no.
Dwight Evans – MAYBE, IF . . . Who didn’t love Dewey. But this is one situation in which I sometimes think Sox fans let their love of a player cloud their judgement. Dewey wasn’t HOF worthy. And, on his own, not number retirement worthy either. But, just as I can’t see retiring Dewey’s 24 without honoring Manny’s 24, I don’t think you can retire Manny’s 24 without retiring Dewey’s. Manny was a GREAT hitter who contributed a lot to Boston’s success, but also brought a less-than-honorable attitude and behavior. Great hitter? Definitely. Number retirement worthy? Begrudingly yes. The best solution is you retire Number 24 honoring both of them.
Tony Conigliaro – NO C’mon. Tony C had some great years, and he projected to be an all-time great hitter had injury not cut his career short. But who knows what would have happened. It’s a shame, but he is not retirement worthy . . . no matter what Steve Buckley says.
Wade Boggs – NO, NO WAY A great hitter who was renowned as a selfish player more interested in padding his stats than winning games, Boggs certainly reached his magic 3,000-hit number to punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. But discerning baseball minds know Boggs was not a great baseball player.
Some other numbers I think should be retired eventually: Pedro’s Number 45. Sure, you might be bitter he went to the Mets. Of course, I still contend if Lucciano and Co. had ponied up another year on that contract, the Sox would have won another Series in 2005. Sure, there would have been lost years at the end of the contract, but would that have been so bad for a team that had just won its first championship in 86 years? Bottom line, when you consider how good he was and how offensively-scewed the era of the late-1990s and early-2000s was, Pedro Martinez with the Red Sox may have been the best pitcher . . . ever. Sure, scoff. Then go look at his numbers during those years. And in terms of contributions to the Sox, there was more electricity in Fenway for Pedro regular season games than other games, ever, for any player. David Ortiz’s Number 34. When I got my Red Sox Memories DVD, I noticed it had four numbers on the front — 9 (retired), 8 (retired), 27 (retired) and 34 (still playing). I took that as a sign of how people view David Ortiz’s accomplishments and contributions to the Red Sox, and, hopefully, as a sign of things to come. Regardless of what happens from here on out, regardless of whether this year is a sign of Ortiz’s ultimate downfall, his place in Red Sox history is sealed. I was at Fenway to see first-hand his heroics in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. We all remember the many, many heroics since 2003. How about the pep-talk he gave players prior to Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, when he talked about the long disappointment of Sox fans and wanting to make them smile. Or the pep-talk prior to Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS, when, down 3-1 to the Indians (racist franchise), he had a player meeting and told his teammates that wearing the Red Sox uniform meant they were bad motherf#@%kers. He and Manny made up the most potent 3-4 combination since Ruth-Gehrig. And he is perhaps the most beloved Red Sox player ever. End of debate.