Tuesday, July 26, 2005

How to Root for a Championship Team

Spring training? Long gone.

Opening Day? Doors closed ages ago.

All-Star break? Broken.

And Sox fans still don’t get it.

The Yankees had their worst first half since Theo Epstien was a pimply-faced high-schooler, and for a fleeting day last week, the Yankees managed to climb a half-game up on the World Champion Boston Red Sox. It was the poisonous cloud of impending doom that had been lingering over the nation, and the moment everyone on both sides of the Lines knew would happen.

Any other year, the Yankees toppling the Sox out of first place sends the Nation into panic mode. WEEI’s phone lines catch fire. Ridiculous trade rumors pop up, blockbuster deals that involve seven teams, and fill every possible need the Sox will have for the next 10 years. Dogs and cats start living together. Pure, unadulterated panic.

And this year? Crickets, compared to previous years.

Sure, there are still some trade rumors. ESPN’s Peter Gammons has been reporting for about two weeks that the Sox are putting a package together for Florida’s A.J. Burnett which includes HeadNod, minor-league pitcher Annibel Sanchez, and the frozen scalp of Teddy Ballgame.

Even the voice of Red Sox Nation—no, not Ben Crap-leck—and sports humor columnist extraordinaire Bill Simmons has only written about four columns concerning MLB this year, when normally we would have been regaled with almost a daily 3,000 word column detailing the poisonous cloud of impending doom and how the Red Sox front office was doing everything in its power to undermine the franchise.

Simmons even pointed out his own “apathy” in an article this past week.

Here’s the thing though: Simmons attitude is all wrong. Which surprises me, because he's had experience with this sort of thing before. He’s had the privilege of rooting for a couple dynasties, notably the current World Champion New England Patriots, and the Boston Celtics, one of the most dominant franchises in the 80s.

Apparently, no one has told Red Sox fans the "rules."

I guess it’s up to me. As an experienced Championship Team Fan, my credentials include, in this order: Detroit Pistons from 88-90 (Two World Championships—Isiah was my hero, if you wonder how a kid from NY liked the Bad Boys); New York Giants, 1987, 1991 SuperBowl Champs; and of course the Best Team in the History of Professional Sports, the New York Yankees (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 World Champions).

So as usual, this Yanks fan has gots to take my Red Sox friends to school. Here's your lesson for today, kiddies:

Five rules to Rooting for a Championship Team

1. Your Team has a new title. Use it until you lose it.
You are no longer simply the Boston Red Sox, the Red Sox, or the Sox. You may only refer to your team as one of the following: The World Champion Boston Red Sox; the World Champs; the Defending Champs; World Series Champs; or some form thereof. This does not stop until your team is eliminated either at the end of the season or in the playoffs. Example:

Sox Fan #1: “Hey Bob, who do you believe the World Champion Boston Red Sox should pick up at the trade deadline?”

Sox Fan #2: “Well Jim, I’m of the opinion that the Defending Champs need to acquire some pitching for their ailing rotation. With that task at hand, it’s certainly apparent that A.J. Burnett, of the Florida Marlins, would be a good acquisition for the 2004 World Series Champs.”

2. There is only one comeback to any slight against your team.
So the Yankees took 3 of 4 at Fenway a couple weeks ago. Let’s say a Yankees fan (okay, me) comes up to you in a bar after game 4. I say your pitching was horrible, Sheffield and A-Rod hit a season’s worth of homers, and you got SHUT DOWN by a guy who may be a card-carrying member of the AARP—on national TV, no less. Do you:

A) Say “It’s early. There’s lots of games left to play.”
B) Get pissy, and mutter something like “Yankees Suck”
C) Punch me in the face
D) Smile big and ask me “Who’s the World Champs?”

As tempting as C might be, the answer of course is D. In fact, your comeback to ANYTHING anyone tells you about your team should be to ask them who won last year. What can they say back? Nothing. This will drive people absolutely bonkers. And you’ll always get the last say.

(Note: a variation on this has been one of my favorite comebacks for my entire stint in Boston: 26 World Championships!)

Being obnoxious to other fans isn’t a privilege. It’s a requirement.

3. Buy a crapload of Championship merchandise, and wear it constantly.
This is the only thing the Nation has been good at. I think it is mostly because you never thought you would actually wear a shirt that read, ‘World Series Champion’ unless you started rooting for another team. But put on those shirts, sox, hats, jackets, wristbands, car flags, and any other paraphernalia whenever possible, especially when playing against a team you beat in the playoffs on your way to the title.

4. Don’t waste your time putting other teams down.
Listen. This is eventually going to be its own column, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The Yankees? They don’t suck. Quite the opposite actually. Not only is that infamous chant ignorant, immature, and just downright stupid, but there’s a psychological factor involved here.

Next time you watch the playoffs (in any sport), and the winning coach gets asked about the other team, listen to his answer. Guaranteed, he plays politics and says something like, “There’s a heck of a team in that other locker room, and we had to play our guts out to beat them.” He doesn’t say, “Those guys sucked. I mean, you give my Grandma some cleats and a bat, and she goes 3 for 4 today.” Why? Because if the other team is “really good,” and you just beat them, that puts you on the verge of greatness. Think about it.

And besides: you won the World Championship. No one is better than you until they win it. Doesn’t matter if you go 0-162 this year. Don’t waste your breath on the other guys.

But the most important rule of all:

5. Care more. Not less.
There’s a reason you’re called the “Defending Champs,” and reporters love to break out phrases like “The Red Sox begin their Title Defense against the Yankees on Opening Day.”

Did you get the key word there?

Defend.

I’ll bring up Bill Simmons here again. He has a rule that you aren’t allowed to complain about anything your team does for 5 years after they win a championship. In theory, it’s great, because there are lots of poor schlubs who would love to be in your shoes. But in reality, as Manny would say, it’s a piece of mierda.

Because now, you’re the Defending Champs.

Before, it hurt when you lost, but deep down inside, you knew you were almost supposed to lose. You were “cursed.” And now, you’re the World Champs. Now, you have something to play for, something more solid than shattering a mythical hoax.

You’re playing to keep that trophy right where it is.

You’re playing to prove that you’re legit. That you really are the best team in Baseball.

So many Red Sox fans have forgotten that this year. Believe me, after the Yanks won their first title in my lifetime in ’96, I started the season thinking the way so many of you are now. But then I realized the real importance of what had happened. This was our chance to start something.

This was our chance to become a dynasty.

And you need keep the ball rolling. Be the Pats. Be the Yankees of the late 90’s. You need to be thinking—nay, obsessed—with one word:

Repeat.

Be pissed that the Sox let Cabrera go in favor of Renteria if you think it was a bad move. Be ticked off that the Yanks took 3 of 4 from the Sox at Fenway. (Did I mention the Yanks took 3 of 4 from the Sox at Fenway?) And most of all, cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war when—even for a day—the Yanks climbed into first place for a day after getting off to their worst start in over 10 years.

Listen. There were 86 years between Red Sox Championships. How many people out there in Baseball-Land think you were legit? Sure, you beat the Yanks in the greatest comback in the history of professional sports. Sure, you swept the Cards and embarassed them in their own house.

But any team can get hot. Any team can get lucky. You think the Marlins were a better team than the Yanks in 2003? That the Mets were better than the Sox in ’86? (Oh wait, they were. But they still got lucky.)

You need to think repeat, you need to stay in the game, to keep, um, keeping the faith. And you need them to win again.

If they repeat, you can stop asking yourself that question true Sox fans ask themselves every day: “Did it really happen?” Because you’ll have a closet full of Championship shirts, and not just from “one great year.”

And otherwise, everyone in Red Sox Nation has just spent 86 years waiting… for a fluke.

And besides, you guys are no fun this year. When the Yanks win it all, how am I supposed to rub it in if you guys don't give a crap?

Observations from this week:
• Even though I really think the Yanks or Sox will be World Champs this year—despite everything we’ve seen—if you put me on National TV and asked me, right now I’d have to say the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of the State of California are my pick to win it all. I think they have the most pieces of any team outside of St. Louis. (But I don’t think the Cards can take it home, because the National League is a weaker league.) With last year’s MVP in Vlad (sick!), a solid starting rotation, and the best bullpen in baseball (in my opinion anyway) I think they’re the favorite. And though the A’s may be playing the best baseball, they’ve never won a playoff series in the history of Billy Beane’s “moneyball” era. (1998-present)

• The Sox played their first extra inning game of the season last night, losing to the Tuberculosis Devil Rays, 4-3. Aubrey Huff hit nailed the game-winner off Curt Schilling in the 10th. The Red Sox 99-game streak without extra innings to start a season is the longest in the Majors since the ChiSox went 110 games back in 2001.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water... Watch out for those Devil Rays!! The Rays are 8-3 since the break, the second best record in the Majors, behind the Oakland A’s, who are 10-2. Meanwhile, the Sox are just 5-7, and the Yankees are 6-5. And yet, the Sox still have an 18.5 lead on the Rays. Could the Rays pull off the Best. Comeback. Ever? Um, no.

Curt as Closer. Anybody who watched the Devil’s Own Son toss those famous bloody sock innings knows what I’m about to say... The guy had his tendon stapled to his bone last fall. Seriously.

Let’s look at what Curt has done as a “closer” for the Sox:

2 Saves
1 Blown Save
2 Losses after surrendering the leading runs in tie games
1 Win (after the blown save, bailed out by Manny)

So you could argue that Curt has technically lost 3 of the 6 games he’s appeared in. That percentage would be the worst in baseball for any Closer by far. Ideally, you want to be around 90%. Last year, Mo Rivera went 53 for 57 in save opportunities, suffering only 2 losses in 74 appearances. TWO LOSSES IN 74 APPEARANCES, and a 93% save percentage. Schilling has appeared in 6 games, already has 2 losses and a blown save. Say it with me now: Mo Rivera, Best. Closer. Ever.

• Even better, Curt shot off his mouth again this week (surprise surprise), claiming he can “start right now.” As little as two weeks ago this guy was dying to get into the bullpen, saying that he could be an effective closer. And that he didn’t think he could pitch long enough to start a game. But after a taste of what Mariano and Foulke deal with every day, suddenly he’s ready to start. In the words of Morpheus, “Welcome to the real world.”

• It’s also clear that Schilling is starting to drive Francona up the wall. His response just reeks of frustration: “We're not going to go day-to-day he's a starter, he's a reliever, he's a starter, he's a reliever," Francona told The Associated Press. (ESPN.com) I think Francona may have actually sprouted a couple of chest hairs after that one. About time he started acting like a man(ager).

• In a game last week in Texas, the Yankees hit six home runs. Impressive, yes. But even more impressive, Sheffield, A-Rod, and Matsui (the Yankees 3, 4, 5 hitters) went a combined 0-13 in that game. Giambi and Martinez each hit two, Cano one and Posada one. That’s like Jack Dalton giving MacGyver ideas on how to stop a nuke from exploding.

Billy Beane may be clever, but he's got nothing on this guy.

Speaking of Giambi, he’s almost a lock for July Player of the Month, hitting .373 with 11 homers, the most in the Majors. Have to admit, I didn’t see this coming, and I’ll freely state that I was a huge proponent of putting his sweaty tush on the bench. Yes, he may have been cheating, but you have to admire his desire to stay in the game. He wouldn’t let the Yankees send him to the minors, and he’s stuck it out through all the criticism since admitting he did… something. Sure, he’s got the worst mug shot in the Major Leagues, but the guy can still hit a baseball.

As the trade deadline approaches this weekend, Peter Gammons wrote a spectacular article on past midseason trades that altered the destiny of the teams involved—for better or for worse. I can’t link to the article—it’s on ESPN Insider, which you have to pay for—but here’s a few that he mentioned, and my thoughts on them:

1985: Cubs trade Bill Buckner to Boston for Dennis Eckersley
-Getting rid of the Eck before he became one of the top closers in history, and picking up, well, you-know-who.
1988: Red Sox trade Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling to Baltimore for Mike Boddicker
-Curt’s Rookie season. Ironic how things come full circle.
1989: Athletics trade Eric Plunk, Luis Polonia and Greg Cadaret to the Yankees for Rickey Henderson
-Rickey was my favorite player, on my favorite team. I’ll openly admit that I wept like a little kid that day. Which is okay, because I was a little kid.
1997: Mariners trade Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to Boston for Heathcliff Slocumb
-I’ll let Gammons tell this story: “Then there was the worst panic deal ever made. On July 30, 1997, the Mariners blew a brutal game at Fenway Park. Heathcliff Slocumb threw 97 mph for the Red Sox. The next night, Woodward called Dan Duquette and said he wanted to make the Slocumb deal. Duquette thought he was getting Jason Varitek or Derek Lowe, which would have been a very good deal. Instead, Woodward thought it was both, and Duquette's hand was on the 2004 World Series trophy.”
2000: Yankees trade Zach Day and Jake Westbrook to Cleveland for David Justice
-Justice, who had been fading in Cleveland, went on to propel the Yanks to a Subway Series berth, batting .305, with 20 homers and 60 RBI in only 78 games.

And of course, there was the 2003 acquiring of Aaron Boone… who went on to earn himself a place in Sox/Yankees lore, and a new middle name.

Comments from my readers/friends: My buddy Kenny B sounded off on the column I spun about Doubleday not too long ago: “I too got to play @ doubleday ((twice)) ... and true to it's name, it granted me several doubles, including A SHOT to left field that, for one moment, I envisioned might have a chance to clear the fence, but alas, it turned into a double. I enjoyed the quality of the infield. It had been a particularly dry spring that year, and most of the fields we played on were dry and had spots of dead grass - not the coop! That infield grass was flat as lara flynn on the red carpet. And the red clay dirt-phoenomenal!”
-I’m guessing the field was in such good shape because the budget of New York Mills Jr./Sr. High probably doesn’t compare all that favorably, to, say, the budget of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Just a guess though. Thanks for sounding off, KB.

I also received this in my comments, from someone named “La Bona” advertising their own blog: “A Divine forum where laws, standards, values and code of ethic on morality, lifestyle, business and just about anything else related to our life will be published, discussed and eventually endorsed by God and His Children to be observed as the way of life.”
-Is there anything scarier than Jesus Freaks (and I’m not talking Damon-heads)? A not-so-pleasant reminder that I really need to get my own site.

This weekend, Lines will be crossing back into friendly territory when I visit the Cathedral in the Bronx. I'll be in attendance Friday and Saturday as the Yanks take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of the State of California. As much as I am a Yankees fan, I have to admit I haven't been to the Stadium since Junior High. Believe me, no one is as shocked to read that sentence as I am to write it. But it's true. Keep in mind I did grow up in Utica, New York, almost a four-hour drive from NYC. So it's not that far-fetched.

As for that game... It was 1991, and I remember Jesse Barfield hit a two-run shot to win the game, which had been an offensive slugfest, with the final score something like 12-10 Yankees. (Okay, got curious and had to see how well my memory is serving in my advanced years. According to www.baseball-reference.com, I was right on the final score, but the rest gets a little freaky... the game was against the same team, the California Angels, and check out the date: July 28, 1991. I'll be making my return to Yankee Stadium almost 14 years to the day. In other words, last time I was there, my two favorite people in the world were Rickey Henderson and Snake-Eyes. To put it mildly, this trip is way overdue, and suddenly I feel really old.)

Due up this week:
Sox at TB (Tues. 7:15, Wed. 4:15)
Sox vs. Minnesota (Fri.-Sat. 7:05, Sun. 2:05)
Yanks vs. Minnesota (Tues.-Wed. 7:05, Thurs. 1:05)
Yanks vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of the State of California (Fri. 7:05, Sat.-Sun. 1:05)
Yanks Schedule Sox Schedule

Bill Beard is an independent writer who is finally going "Home" after all these years. He can be reached for Championship Fan Counseling at wrbeard@hotmail.com.

Monday, July 18, 2005

It's a Good Thing Cows Don't Fly

There is so much to say about this weekend, but the few remaining brain cells I have are not presently cooperating, so today’s Lines will be presented to you in “observation” –style. Here are the highlights from one of the best weekends I’ve had in a looooong time:

Suffering from a heck of a sinus cold, I called in sick on Thursday and caught the Yankees/Sox game in a near comatose state on my couch that night. I’d like to thank Curt Schilling for answering one of my questions from last week’s column, namely, “What if he pitches and is completely ineffective in the closer role?” The answer of course, is THE YANKEES WIN, THHHHEEEE YAAANKKKEEES WIN. But he also offered a few more questions, just this time for Francona: Why bring “an experiment” into the ninth inning of a TIE GAME? And not just against any team, but your #1 rival New York Yankees? With Sheffield and A-Rod due up? Why wouldn’t you wait until Monday, when you play the Tampa Bay DEVIL RAYS? This was a vintage Grady Little move, and I have to say I loved it. Sox fans, probably not so much.

• Still under the weather on Friday, I worked a half-day, power napped, swallowed about 5,000 DayQuil caplets, and was chugging beers by 5:30. I figured I could surge through a 3-hour game, maybe make it for one or two beers out after, and then promptly go home and pass out. Unfortunately, I should have remembered that the Yankees haven’t played a 3-hour game since wearing your collar up was actually cool. About the sixth inning of the 17-1 shellacking—a game in which the Yankees threw every pitcher east of the ol’ Mississip—the DayQuil beer combo made it impossible to focus on anything from my bleacher seats. Which, given the score, was probably a good thing. To my credit, I made it out after. Not really sure where we went after the game, but lets just say that there wasn’t an unattractive girl in Boston that night. DayQuil is good stuff.

• I want to pause at this point to thank some people who made this weekend possible: My friend Alana, who hooked me up with tickets to Friday’s game AND with Right Field Roof Deck tickets for Sunday. And the waitress at Tequila Rain on Saturday, who brought me no less than 15 glasses of water and never once complained about it. Slight advantage to Alana on that one! (Kidding!)

• So we caught RJ’s only 10-K game of the season at Tequila Rain, where it is apparently “Spring Break 52 weeks a year.” And believe me, I tried to drink my way back into college this weekend.

• Completely unrelated to baseball but worth telling you: Some great stories from Friday and Saturday nights… First, there’s my friend Adam, who—despite none of it being his fault and doing everything he could to stay out of it—got into a “near brawl” while sitting outside at Kingfish on Friday. If you’re not from Boston, Kingfish is a very nice, upscale restaurant, which makes this even funnier: I wasn’t there, and I won’t get into the details, but you know how in the movies, there’s a fight in a restaurant, and a table flips over and all the glasses shatter and plates go flying? Yeah, that was pretty much the scene. Only topped by a ticked-off Adam slamming his elbows down on the uprighted table post-altercation… and forgetting that there was shattered glass still all over it. Ouch.

Saturday night, we hit the town, to the Liquor Store. Again for non-Bostonians, this is the only place in town where you can “ride the bull” as they like to say. A little advice to any girls who are thinking about taking a turn on the mechanical bull: Short denim skirts and bull riding do NOT mix. Especially if you’re, say, of the “curvy persuasion.” I know, I know, but someone has to say it.

For those of you who know me, you know that I am terrible at anything that has to do with numbers, or the combing thereof, known in some circles as “math.” Saturday night, I walk into a new bar a half-hour before close with my friends. I take charge, promptly order 12 shots and 8 bud lights… for 9 people. There’s a sweet $120 mistake. Left brain, right brain, indeed.

• So Sheffied hits a double off the Monster on Saturday. Looked familiar to me, and I figured out why… so I say to the guys I’m watching the game with: “Hey, that’s right where he hit it before A-Rod hit his jack to win the game on Thursday.” What happens? A-Rod gets up, jacks one into the Monster seats. Not exactly a prediction, more like a revelation.

Speaking of A-Rod and Sheffield: To say these guys are on fire is like saying Eva Mendez is "pretty." (More on Mendez later.) If you take out Friday night’s game, here’s their combined line for the series: 10-26 (.384), 5 HR, 9 RBI.

I want to put it in writing so years from now I can say “I called that.” I know its way too soon to say this, but I can’t resist… The next time you watch A-Rod play, keep it in the back of your mind that you may be watching the best player in the history of the game. I’m not saying it will happen (I’m not going to jinx him) but I’m saying if anyone has the potential to wrestle that title from the Babe or Aaron, it’s Rodriguez. The guy celebrates his 30th birthday next week, and he’s already in the 400 HR club, has over 1,800 hits, is a lifetime .306 hitter. Raffy Palmeiro, who just joined the very exclusive four-member 3,000-hit/500 HR club, is 41. I’m not trying to sell you on this, but just think about it. You can hate on the guy all you want, but if you don’t respect his ability, then you don’t love the game.

“I thought he was dead.” It’s always fun to overhear conversations on the T, but when you’re on your way to a game and you hear someone say this about your starting pitcher, it doesn’t exactly make you feel like warm apple pie inside.

Speaking of Mr. Leiter: Going into the weekend, I was hoping for a split. After all, the Yanks had a guy named “undecided” scheduled to pitch two times this weekend. And then Al Leiter got dug up from his baseball grave and pitched a gem on Sunday, silencing the Fenway faithful by tossing an 8K, 3 hit, 1 run gem, and even more impressive to me, lasting 6 1/3. My sincere apologies to Al, because I made the following statement right before the game: “Of course the Red Sox are going to win. We’re pitching Al Leiter for christsakes.”

As for that game, I had the Best. Seats. Ever. I’m not exactly sure how Alana scored our Sunday tickets (let the speculation begin!) but whatever she did was worth it. If you’ve never had the pleasure of sitting at a Right Field Roof Deck Table (right under the huge Budweiser sign) then you’re missing out. Not only do these seats offer a commanding view of the entire ballpark—minus the right field fence and bullpen—but they also come with a waiter and $100 worth of free food and beverages, and yes, that includes beer. At $6 a pop, that tab didn’t last very long, but everyone at the table agreed that the outcome of the game really didn’t matter, because they were the Best. Seats. Ever. An even better surprise, we took the elevator up to the roof and when the doors opened up, we were staring at Karl Ravich, Harold Reynolds, and the rest of the Baseball tonight crew. They were doing the show live from the park. And on the way out, who do we see but the master of slang himself, Stu Scott, and the anchor himself, Chris Berman. As for Stu, I don’t understand him half the time, but he is a seriously cool dude. Yes, all this can be yours for the measly price of $110. Despite the fact that’s more than my credit card payment, say it with me now: Worth. Every. Penny.


Baseball Tonight crew in the house.

“It’s a good thing cows don’t fly.” The only downside of those seats is that you’re apparently right in the middle of a bombing run for the birds that make their home in the lightstand in right. We got a pleasant surprise right on our table, missing my buddy Jim’s beer by less than an inch, and splattering a bit on all of us, including on my brand new Mattingly shirt. The quote of the weekend goes to the guy in the standing room section directly behind our table, who uncorked that gem right after. Jim came in a close second, after tasting his almost-polluted beer: “mmmmm…crunchy.”


Great view. Just watch out for dem birds.

It’s amazing what the name on the back of a jersey will do. Up until now, I’ve worn my A-Rod shirt to every Yanks game I’ve been to at Fenway for the past two years. I think it’s about as an appropriate “up yours” as I can find to counter all those ridiculous Yankees Suck chants. But Alana brought me up a Donnie Baseball shirt for this weekend, and the Sox fan reaction was completely different. I’ve never had so many Sox fans come up to me for any reason other than telling me to go, well, fornicate myself. It’s good to know that not all Sox fans are bandwagoners, and that some people give respect where respect is due. As one of the guys said to me, “If you don’t like Donnie Baseball, you shouldn’t be allowed to watch the game.” Amen, brother. I think the A-Rod shirt might be shelved for awhile.

• So after three straight days of heavy drinking, you’d think I’d head home right after the game on Sunday. No chance. Not only did I not go home, but even after all my friends had left, I caught a cab and went for beers at The Hill by myself, and ended up chatting baseball with the bartender and two other guys while throwing back Newcastles for the better part of two hours. Who does that? My liver has registered an official complaint with Major League Baseball to reduce the number of Sox and Yankees games for next year.

• Just as an aside, heck of a game on Sunday, as the Sox pushed in one run and then loaded the bases in the bottom of the 9th and couldn't score. And I’ll say it here: Cora was safe. But hey, as the saying goes, when you’re playing badly, things don’t go your way. (And vice versa.)

• The "Schilling Experiment" will make more news, but the real story on closers this weekend was Mariano Rivera. With 23 consecutive saves, more than a strike-out per inning pitched, and an ERA that reads more like an eye exam than a stat (0.93), all the doubters have been silenced. He even broke four bats in one inning on Saturday while recording three straight outs, which is a sure sign that a pitcher has absolutely nasty stuff. He recorded a save in each of the Yankees' wins this weekend, and his fastball has been topping out at 95, which it didn't do for most of last season. As the inaugural column of Lines pointed out, there is no one better in baseball at getting that last out. I'll let Mo's entrance music say it for me: Say your prayers little one/Don’t forget, my son/To include everyone/Tuck you in, warm within/Keep you free from sin/Till the sandman he comes

• I’m starting to think readership is dropping, because I made an error of McCarver-esque proportions in my last column. I was hungover, and watching trade rumors about a certain second baseman going to the Twins on ESPN when I captioned a photo of Aaron Boone, and mistakenly called him “Brett ******* Boone.” And only one person (Alana of course) called me out on it. Even funnier, is that I remember sitting there for two minutes and thinking, “Is it one ‘T’ or two?” It’s true, I’m a moron.

• And think about this… after a Tampa Bay-like start to the season, the Yankees are only a half-game out. So who do we feel bad for? All those chumps in Chicago who actually think that the White Sox might have a chance at going to the World Series this year. Keep dreaming, folks. Keep dreaming. As ESPN Page 2 columnist/poet Scoop Jackson said in today’s column, which tells of the White Sox fans’ feeling that its only a matter of time before the bottom drops out on their season: “And the White Sox have not yet played either the Yankees or the Red Sox this season.” If you need proof that the Yanks and Sox are the standard--even when they're playing below potential--there it is.

I managed to catch some of the ESPYs at Game On after the game. Of course, the Sox played a prominent role, winning some (unfortunately) much-deserved awards. Best Team, Best Championship Performance (Schilling), Best Game (Sox Yankees ALCS Game 5). But the real stars were Maria Sharapova and Eva Mendez. They won in the “Two Women I’d Sell Body Parts To See Make Out” category. I am pretty sure Sharapova is not 18, and I don’t live in Hawaii (legal age 14) so I want to make it clear that I’m talking about Mendez when I say: Oh. My. Goodness. And I think there were some funny skits by Chandler Bing, but really, after seeing Mendez, I think she should have been hosting. Would anyone have minded that? I don’t think so.


The girl in front of us was sporting some serious bling.

Due up this week:
Sox vs. Tuberculosis (TB) Devil Rays, Mon-Wed, 7, 7, 1.
Yanks @ Tay-has Rangers, Mon-Wed, 7, 7, 8.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Number One

How fast we forget.

It’s an image that is forever ingrained in my memory. The red ankle stirrup diving into the black cleat, neatly bisecting a crimson circle as it soaked into the white cotton fabric. And the executives at FOX sports—who can smell blood a hundred miles from the nearest camera truck—wasted no time in isolating the image for all of America to see.

Quite honestly, it still gives me the creeps. Do we really need to see that?

You watch a football game and if the offensive linemen aren’t covered in someone’s blood by the end of the first half, you think they’re not playing hard enough. But in baseball, blood isn’t something you see a lot of. Maybe the occasional collision between two guys chasing a looping fly ball like a drunken Nick Nolte—Johnny Damon and Damien Jackson come to mind—but not a lot of blood.

So after someone put the FOX executives into Hannibal Lechter-like restraints, we actually got to watch Curt Schilling give one of the most inspiring playoff performances of all time.

Little did we know, that way back in the 2003 offseason, Theo Epstein in his clairvoyant genius had entered the following clause in Schilling’s contract:

Article 3, item 2B.) Should said pitcher make pact with the devil during any playoff series, regardless of the outcome, the Red Sox are not obligated to display any concern for the future of said pitcher’s career and may attempt to use him in any manner they deem desirable, including, but not limited to: pre-season loudmouth dirt kicker-uper; Congressional tattle-tail; Triple-A PR stunt; bullpen flunkie; punch line for aspiring columnists, and more as need should arise.

Last week, Theo and the team announced that they were enacting this clause, and planned to use Curt as a stop-gap for their crumbling bullpen. All together, say it with me now:

Worst. Idea. Ever.

How many shut-down, knock-out, crunch-time, playoff-tested—and any other hyphenated sports adjectives you can think of—number one pitchers are there in baseball today? Three? Four? If that. (More on this in observations.)

Apparently, one of three things has happened. First, Theo really did envision this scenario—not likely; Second, the Red Sox have forgotten the importance (and rarity) of what Schilling did and what he meant to the team last year; or third, the Sox believe that Curt’s career as a number one starter is over.

I’m voting #3.

For months, Francona was insistent Schilling would not return to the rotation until he was ready, and this move, more than anything, states clearly that he is not. If you’re the Red Sox, I would think the lack of solid starting pitching is more troubling than your lack of a closer at this juncture—especially when you have an “heir apparent” in Mike Timilin in the bullpen ready to take over that role.

Even scarier—and I never thought I’d say these words—I completely agree with Johnny Damon. When a self-proclaimed “idiot” calls you on your managerial decision, and the majority of sportswriters and announcers and experts agree, you may want to think twice about what you’re doing.

Look at Timlin’s line for this year: 42 G, 3-1, 1.69 ERA, 42 INN, 44 H, 28 K, 10 BB. Now, in any other year, that’s not superstar closer numbers, but this year there are about 25 teams who would jump at the chance to have a guy like that closing out their games. And even more, Timilin’s got the postseason experience, and was lights out in both of the last two years.

Now, I admire Curt’s desire to want to contribute—he’s one of the game’s fiercest competitors—but Sox management says no to their superstars about as often as Vanessa Williams says no to a chance to host an infomercial. Actually, a certain 8th-inning performance by Pedro comes to mind.

The reason this is such a bad idea is that the risk is too high, and there are too many unknowns. Here’s just a few: What if Schilling gets hurt and you lose him for the rest of the season? What if he pitches and is completely ineffective in the closer role? (He hasn’t been very good at Triple-A.) Do they plan to eventually transition him back to a #1? How does a guy who throws 40-60 warmup pitches get ready in a moment’s notice if they need him to come in and pitch? Who is your number one guy for the playoffs if you don’t have Curt? (Clement’s been stellar, but he’s only had two starts in the postseason, going 1-1, with a 5.11 ERA, and has never played in the World Series.) What if Satan decides to collect Curt’s soul midway through the 8th-inning of this weekend’s series? (Actually, I’d trade an appearance by Satan over one by Ben Affleck any day.) And the list goes on.

In fact, this move is exactly like War of The Worlds, which I saw this weekend: It’s great, if you don’t think about it at all. I walked out of the theater thinking, “That was a really exciting movie” and it is. But before I was done releasing my lost-in-the-desert-sized Diet Coke back into the wild, I had about a thousand questions that the movie left unanswered.

Then again, I’m the same guy who ripped on Francona all year last year for every idiotic move he made, and look what that got me… the first Red Sox World Championship since Phil Rizzuto pooted in diapers, which is probably what he did this time through too.

Prior to last year—as a Yankees fan—I’d be all for this move. There’s no doubt in my mind that Schilling would make his debut this weekend against the Yanks, who would undoubtedly shell him for about 10 runs in two games before he pulled up lame and was lost for the season. And the whole event would lead to Francona’s eventual dismissal.

But after last year, I’m ready for anything.

Observations from the past few weeks:
-Congrats to my sister Tracey and my new Brother, Grant Hansel, who tied the knot on July 1, 2005 in Welches, Oregon. With over 100 wedding guests—and only 8 from the West Coast—the wedding turned into a week-long festival of white-water rafting, a scenic bus and winery tour, golf outings, and lots of random imbibing. A great celebration of two wonderful people starting their new life together. The only downside was two missed weeks of Behind Enemy Lines, and I’m sure everyone cares. As the only remaining single sibling, I’d like to offer this advice to the happy couple: KIDS, AND LOTS OF THEM, BECAUSE IF MOM HOLDS HER BREATH WAITING FOR THEM FROM ME, SHE’LL BE SIX FEET UNDER IN NO TIME. Happy procreating!

-As an aside: If she’s my sister and he’s now my new “brother” doesn’t that make them siblings? Does anyone else have a problem with the semantics here?

-As for War of the Worlds I’m not even sure I’d recommend it at this point. It’s essentially a poorly-plotted audition reel for Dakota Fanning, who wears her signature expression (scared shitless) for the entire movie. But if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to hang out in a basement with a deranged Tim Robbins for a half of a movie, then this is what you’ve been waiting for.

-Across from my office here in Boston, they’re shooting scenes for the new Scorcese movie, The Departed starring Leo, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, and Matt Damon. It’s supposedly based on the life of Whitey Bulger. While all the production has been exciting, I’m sure that my company’s productivity has gone the way of Tampa Bay’s season, which is to say, South. Though admittedly nothing makes my workday quite like someone yelling “There’s Leo!” every thirty minutes and watching all the women in the office dash to the windows.

-For that statement I made about elite #1 pitchers with deep playoff experience: Honestly, I come up with four, and even then it’s a stretch: Clemens (I’m convinced he’s a cyborg); Schilling (done?); Randy Johnson (having a subpar season); and Pedro (against anyone but the Yankees). And really, what’s interesting is that this list may need to be dismateled after this year. Clemens will only make the playoffs if he’s traded from Houston, Schilling may not be a starter anymore (aka Smoltz), Johnson is not “shut-down” by any means this year, and Pedro probably won’t make the playoffs either. [Requirements I used for this: multiple playoff appearances including at least one World Series appearance, multiple seasons as a #1 starter (including last season) and a nasty reputation of intimidation. Seriously, these are the only guys.]

-In the “This should have been its own column” category: With the fans electing to send Scott Podsednik to the All-Star game over Derek Jeter, it’s clear the Yankee hating has gone far enough. There is no way, I repeat, NO WAY you can justify Podsednik’s selection over Jeter. And when a die-hard Red Sox fan like Bill Simmons agrees, you know it’s true. Really, when choosing an All-Star, most fans fall into two camps:

1.) People who vote based upon star quality/reputation. In this category, most people can’t even pronounce Podsednik’s name (Puh-SED-nick) let alone know what position he plays or what team he was with before he came on the scene this year with the ChiSox (Mariners, Brewers), or that this is his fifth year in the Majors. Derek Jeter, on the other hand, is the “Face of Baseball” as noted by roughly 100 polls every year. And don’t even get me started on career accomplishments or numbers.

2.) People who vote based on current season performance. This is the way it should be, though rarely is. But even die-hards who subscribe to this maxim can’t justify Podsednik’s inclusion. With the exception of Stolen Bases and Strike Outs, there is not one, repeat, NOT ONE single offensive category that he tops Jeter in—or is even close, for that matter. Here are their lines:

Posednik: 74 G, 50 R, .294, 0 HR, 17 RBI, 97 Total Bases, 34 BB, 41 K, 44 SB
Jeter: 84 G, 69 R, .308, 11 HR, 37 RBI, 154 Total Bases, 41 BB, 57 K, 10 SB

And you could argue that Matsui’s stats are better than both these guys. (.320, 14 HR, 70 RBI) Of course, I left off the newest category of voters out there:

3.) People who vote for any player not on the Yankees.

-The day before I was supposed to leave for my sister’s wedding in Oregon, my buddy Jim calls me up with this speculative inquiry:

Lets say I had two extra tickets to tonight's game, 6 rows from the field, behind the Visitor's on deck circle. $80.00 a piece. Who would be interested in joining me?

Of course, I was leaving the next morning, needed to do laundry, run errands, hadn’t packed a thing… but how do you say no to that? We ended up sitting a measly 3 rows back for most of the game. It’s a completely different perspective than sitting out in the bleachers, which seem miles away by comparison. Granted, it was a 7-0 blowout in favor of the Indians, but who cares? I’ve put in some of the picts from the game. Worth every penny of the $80 I paid. Thanks Jim!


Manuel!


Brett "*******" Boone. Think i was the only
guy in the place happy to see him.



Um, bats?


El Capitan!


I just found out Coco's real name
is "Covelli." And we thought Coco was funny.



-I hope to get another posting up this week to make up for the two-week gap, but we’ll have to wait and see how the week goes. I’m also going to both the Friday and Sunday Yanks/Sox games at Fenway, but I’ve realized something: alcohol really impairs your note-taking, and until someone starts paying me for this, I’m going to put enjoying myself over writing this column. I’m sure you understand.

Up this week:
Tonight
Century 21 Home Run Derby,
8 p.m. (ESPN)
Picks: 1st round, C. Lee, Abreu, Ortiz, Teixeira; Rd 2: Lee, Abreu; Winner: Lee

Tuesday
2005 All-Star Game,
8 p.m., Comerica Park, Detroit (Tigers)
TV: FOX
(Sox: Damon, Varitek, Ramirez, Ortiz, Clement; Yanks: A-Rod, Sheffield, Rivera)

Bill Beard is an independent writer who blew six par puts in one nine-hole round of golf during his vacation, accounting for his simultaneous best and worst day ever. He can be reached for entry into the world putter-toss championships at wrbeard@hotmail.com.