Thursday, September 21, 2006

O Captain, Not a Captain

By now you’ve read the SI article on A-Rod and his struggles by Tom Verducci, probably one of the best pieces of sports insider reporting in the past five years. And if you haven’t, then you’ve heard the quotes on SportsCenter or on talk radio.

The story is unfortunately drowning out the fact the Yankees clinched the AL East last night with a Red Sox loss to Minnesota.

But as for the story, I have a simple question:

When did Jason Giambi become the most likeable guy on the Yankees?

Apparently he was the only Yankee who was willing to confront A-Rod during his slump. He got in Alex’s face and challenged him. He made it clear that the Yankees needed him, needed him to get the big hits. He talked to Torre about putting an end to the skipper’s “coddling” of Rodriguez—and suggested that A-Rod was the type of guy who would respond better to tough love. And the manner in which Giambi did all that is very impressive. It was never accusatory or confrontational, but obviously done for A-Rod’s own good. “We’re behind you 100%” was how he began his challenge. Exactly the words Alex needed to hear before hearing the rest.

(Giambi would know about struggling. After his “admission” about steroids a couple years ago, Giambi played so awful that the Yankees tried to send him down to the minors. Giambi can understand exactly what A-Rod is going through, in terms of the media scrutiny, fan contempt, and self-doubt.)

But A-Rod is officially out of his slump now. And if Alex goes on to play a major part in a Yankees World Series Championship, Yankees fans everywhere can thank Giambi for it.

It was a class move by Giambi. It was an action that a captain takes.

And yes, that’s a direct shot at you know who.

Everyone knows Jeter and A-Rod have a cold relationship, and everyone knows why (See Esquire 2001).

But Jeter has let A-Rod struggle without so much as lifting a finger to talk to Alex or the media to offer the Yankees’ slugger an ounce of encouragement. He has left A-Rod out to dry, and done so in a painfully obvious way.

Jeter’s Godfather-esque “You’re dead to me” attitude is the exact polar opposite of the proper attitude a captain should have. The Yankees organization is all about class, and Derek Jeter—at least off the field—has been a disappointment to his honorary position this season.

That’s not to say Jeter hasn’t carried the Yankees this year and is not deserving of the MVP award he’ll likely win. He is, 100%. No doubt.

But Giambi’s earlier 100% statement isn’t as effective because you can’t help but feel that Derek wants A-Rod to fail, and even enjoys it just a little. If I’ve gotten anything out of the Verducci article and the resulting backwash, it’s a new viewpoint on Jeter. Apparently Derek is very well known for holding grudges, to the point where a Yankees’ staffer said, with Jeter, “…once you’re gone, you’re gone.”

Obviously that is not the attitude a captain should have. A Captain puts Team before Self. Even if you can’t stand a guy, if his play is hurting the team, it’s your job to sit him down. It’s your job to shake him loose. To stick up for him. And even though A-Rod thinks that’s not Derek’s way, it is—he’s done it before, for Chuck Knoblauch and even (here’s the kicker) Jason Giambi.

Jeter has left A-Rod out to dry on purpose. Some role model. Definitely not a Captain.

The thing here is, with Derek, not saying anything is as condemning as actually condemning Alex. That’s how much respect and power Derek has within the organization and the clubhouse, and rightfully so for all he’s accomplished. With the expanded rosters, there are lots of young guys in the Yankees clubhouse right now, and they take their lead from Derek.

I would think Derek would know it takes more than a .340 batting average and nearly a .400 BA with RISP to be a Captain. Leading by example doesn't stop once you leave the field. It's a 24-hour a day job.

That being said, I still have immense respect for Derek as a player. But my personal opinion of him has taken quite a hit.

Derek needs to be less the Godfather, and more a Captain.

He is and will remain the heart and soul of the Yankees. But for this season, the clubhouse MVP is Jason Giambi, in my book.

And should A-Rod come up with the big hits this postseason, I'll be interested to see what Derek's reaction—if any—will be.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The All-All-Star Team

Hideki Matsui returned from injury last week in his first games since that ugly injury against the Sox cut short his consecutive games streak. And now, Gary Sheffield will reportedly be cleared to play by this weekend.

At a wedding this weekend, someone asked me what would happen with Sheffield. Where do you put him with Matsui back and Abreu playing out of his gourd in right?

The rumor, I said, was that Sheffield would play first base. And last night, the rumors were confirmed when Sheff took fielding practice at first base. Sheffield began his career as a shortstop, and has almost 100 career starts at the position, as well as around 450 at third base. So the infield is not a complete unknown to him.

It also helps that the Yanks have a nine-time gold glove first baseman in the dugout. Donnie Baseball.

You probably could have read that on any website. But what no one (at least that I’ve seen) has said yet, is the historical implication of inserting Sheffield into this lineup.

Unless I am mistaken, this will be the first time in history a major league club will field an entire team comprised of All-Stars.

Take a look at the potential lineup as I think it will be set up:

Damon CF
Jeter SS
Abreu LF
Giambi DH
ARod 3B
Sheff 1B
Matsui RF
Posada C
Cano 2B

The first eight guys are obvious All-Stars, and Cano was elected to his first All-Star game this year, even if he didn’t play because of injury.

This lineup will make opposing pitchers want to commit hari-kari on the mound. Matsui, easily a 3- or 5-hitter on any other team, is batting 7th. You have a guy hitting .336 in the freakin 9-hole.

Even the Yankees could never claim that they had an All-All-Star lineup before. The 1927 Yanks didn’t. And the 1998 Yanks had an amazing seven All-Stars (Chad Curtis wasn’t, and Posada didn’t technically earn his first bid until 2000).

Oh, and did I mention you can bring Melky Cabrera off the bench if you need him? Not that you'd pinch hit for any of these guys.
Who needs pitching anyway? This is a seven or eight run-per-game lineup. Best of all, it’s also capable of playing small ball if it needs to, with Damon, Jeter, Abreu, Sheffield and A-Rod all legitimate base-stealing threats.

This lineup would absolutely decimate a team like the Tigers in a five-game series. Now the Yanks just need the Twins to overtake the Tigers so the Yanks don't have to face Santana in the ALDS. Twins are obviously the better team right now.

I’m looking forward to this lineup coming together by the end of the season. As for next year and Sheffield’s $13M option, let’s leave that to the offseason to sort itself out. But for now, I’m just looking forward to this lineup taking the field. And I’m not going to even hesitate to say it:

Best. Lineup. Ever.

I Will Now Place Sharp Objects in My Ear: Worst Sports Broadcasters

With the AL East being an anticlimactic non-story and with two-plus weeks until the playoffs start, I really had a hard time deciding what to write for this column. I could tout “Jeter for MVP” but with the Red Sox collapse (read: Ortiz being “disqualified” by association) that also seems like a non-story. Plus, I’d rather not turn this column into a script you would hear on any sports radio show.

Then I lucked out and got the following email from my friend Alana, a Yankees season ticket holder:

Just have to share this because it’s pretty pathetic…

I just got an automated message on my cell phone from none other than…John Sterling. He thanked me for my patronage this year as a ticket holder and oh yes…reminded me to pay my invoice for post season tickets. Pathetic…I love my team, but that was just ridiculous!

For those of you who don’t know John Sterling, he’s the Yankees radio play-by-play guy, famous for his signature game-winning call. It’s the one where he says “The Yankees Win” twice in a row, with the second time sounding like he’s having an epileptic fit. Don’t get me wrong, I like Sterling. I hear him, I think baseball. Can’t replace that feeling.

But that email launched a debate about which broadcaster you’d most like to have leave you an automated message, and hands down we decided that it would be Tim McCarver. Not because we like him, but because you can only imagine the comedy of the message he’d leave:

On behalf of The New Jersey Yankees, owner George Steinburner and Captain Dave Righetti, this is Tim McCarver, and I’d just like thank you for your playtronage this year. We're excited for the 2007 playoffs to start, and we hope you'll join us at Ebbets Field in Octuber when the Giants begin their postseason run.

And now with football having (finally!) kicked off, that debate kicked off a larger discussion of how horrible sports announcers have become. It seems like they’re handing out gigs to anyone.

Did you remotely make a name for yourself playing a pro sport? Come sit in our broadcast booth. Just think out loud, it doesn’t really matter what you say. We’re just going to use your name to promote our broadcast, the rest is really irrelevant. Feel free to contradict yourself regularly and use phrases like “back in my day” to date yourself while belittling the current generation of athletes. The announcers are so bad these days, you really can’t be any worse than the hacks out there. Oh, and talk a lot about steroids, because we don’t think people are sick of that yet…

Because this is Barstool sports, I’ve decided to give you some fodder to discuss amongst your friends (assuming you have some) while sitting at the bar. Who are today’s worst announcers? Guys you can’t stand, the ones who make you cringe when they say obvious things like, “They had better go for it here” when it’s 4th and 1 and your team is trailing by 20 with 2:00 minutes to play? I’ve decided to systematically tear apart most of the well-known broadcast teams from baseball and football. It’s totally throw-away column, I know. But I had fun doing it and that’s what really counts here.

These guys are chosen at random and not ranked (it would be rude to hand out negative numbers) and could be booth guys or pre-game show guys or even SportsCenter guys. Like I just said, random. I left out a lot of guys I enjoy, like Orel Hershiser, who is probably the best baseball color guy out there right now; and Tino Martinez, who I just can’t say anything bad about because he’s Tino Martinez.

Just the guy, and my thoughts on his performance. Take this column to the bar with you and start the discussion. (And if you actually do that, start a MySpace page or something and try to make some friends, okay?)

Tim McCarver: Probably the most infuriating broadcaster currently on air. Commonly puts players in the game who retired 10 years ago, like referring to a base hit by David Ortiz as "a nice rip by Mo Vaughn." (He actually did this. Seriously.) I’m convinced those random kids the Sox have announce batters during the 8th inning at Fenway could do better.

John Madden: I’m pretty sure he’s insane. Talks about football a lot, but never actually comments on the game being played right in front of him. I’m still scarred from a Cowboys game about 10 years ago where he discussed—at length—Leon Lett’s butt sweat, complete with close-ups from the FOX crackpot camera crew. Jarring stuff. I think Madden should be fired and replaced by his video game self.

Al Michaels: Okay, I could think of bad things to say about Al Michaels, but I’m not going to do it. If I say anything bad about Al Michaels—the man who made the greatest call in the history of sports in 1980—the sports gods will systematically dismantle all of my favorite sports teams, make all my bets go bad, and break all of my fantasy running back’s legs. He’s like a Sports Broadcasting Jesus. I’m not going there.

Joe Theisman: Incapable of criticizing anyone at all. Brett Favre could throw 10 interceptions in a game and Theisman would say, "Boy, he really wants to win this one, you have to admire his competitvity." (And yes, he would also say, "competitivity")

Mike Tirico: A fellow ‘Cuse grad and I like his play-by-play. But he should have considered radio. Just saying.

Tony Kornheiser: Funny and down to earth, but I'm pretty sure he saw his first football game in person in Washington a couple weeks ago.

Joe Castiglione: GETS OVER EXCITED FOR DEEP HIGH DRIVES WAAAAY BACK... to the shortstop for the second out.

Jon Sterling: Wishes he had a way to know which games “THE YANKEES WIN, TTHHHAAAHHAAAHHHAAA Yankees win” so he wouldn't have to do the other ones.

Suzyn Waldman (Yanks radio color): In my friend Alana's own words, "I'm for women's rights and all that, but come on."

Jon Kruk: Bitter and humorous, which I like, but he constantly waffles on his picks. Mmm... waffles.

Jerry Remy: Along with Hershiser, in my opinion he’s one of the best color man out there now, if only for the color his thick accent and his wonderful wardrobe from Eastern Clothing of Watertown bring to the table.

Don Orsillo: No human being has ever needed a color commentator as badly as Don Orsillo. I mean, ever. Does he pay Remy to follow him around to everyday places like the grocery store? I need to know.

Chris Berman: The Brett Favre of broadcasting.

Tony Saragusa: Dumb, fat people are the reason we invented reality TV, okay?

Joe Morgan: We know he played baseball and all, but it wouldn't hurt for him to watch a game once in awhile. At least read the rosters before the broadcast, and remember this is 2006.

Jon Miller: Where’s Joe Morgan? Where’s Joe Morgan? Good, there he is. I got nervous for a minute. Joe, please don’t ever take a piss break without telling me again. Okay? Can I go with you next time? Please Joe? Please? Who loves you? Jonny does. That’s who.

Stu Scott: Is he looking at the camera? Is he? Wait. No. Maybe? Yes. Crap, I can't tell.

Terry, Howie and Jimmy: Howie carried Milford High. He carried Villanova. He carried the Raiders defense. Some things never change.

Troy Aikman: When Dan Morgan retires, FOX had better team him with Troy so we can set a record for “Most Head Trauma in a Single Booth.” I’m guessing it would be in the neighborhood of 20 concussions combined.

Steve Phillips: Normally you hire guys who had successful careers.

Every female sideline reporter: Unless every interview contains a drunken Joe Namath, can we just get commentary from the cheerleaders and get it over with? Better yet, can they give us commentary in the form of interpretive dance? Please?

Mike Irvin: This column doesn’t exist, because I didn’t go to THE U!

Joe Buck: Content with running his father's name into the ground; petrified by the mere sight of Randy Moss; between the football and the baseball and the pre-game shows and the post-game shows and the Holiday Inn commercials, I’ve had about all I can stand. Joe Buck must be stopped. In fact, this October, do you think it would be possible for the FOX MLB playoff booth to have a little “accident”? Can someone who knows people who knows people arrange this? Sports fans everywhere would be eternally grateful.

That’s all I got for now. And just because I really couldn’t go a whole column without commenting on the Red Sox/Yankees four-games-in-two-days series and the last Rivalry meeting of 2006:

Did you see that catch Coco made?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Terrorists Stole My Birthday

The morning of September 11, 2001, began for me like many of the previous 80 or so had — roused from an alcohol-induced sleep by a non-natural occurrence, in this case, a phone call.

I had been sleeping and drinking and sleeping a lot around that time. What many people now forget now is the “economic downswing” largely attributed to the events of 9/11 were well underway by the summer of 2001. My two-year career as a copywriter for a prominent Boston direct marketing agency had been cut short by mass layoffs in June. Low man on the totem poll, that sort of thing. With a decent severance, I had decided to turn the summer into a long vacation — hence the sleeping late and drinking much.

When my cell phone chirped me into consciousness on that morning, I already knew who the caller was and what they had called to say.

I was right on one count. It was my mother. I was so very wrong on what she would say:

“Turn on the TV, we’re being bombed.”

She may dispute those exact words now, but I remember them vividly, more than I remember anything anyone has ever said to me before 10 o’clock in the morning. I turned on the TV without responding and like everyone else, began to watch our new world take shape.

It was just after 9 a.m. on the East Coast when I clicked it on, barely minutes after United Airlines flight 175 from Boston flew into the south tower of the World Trade Center. My mother, a teacher in an upstate New York high school, had been slightly misinformed — like many of us in those early minutes — as to what exactly had happened in the city. Understandable. Like many of the preconceptions we had before that day, human beings purposefully dive-bombing an airliner into a building wasn’t even on my mom’s mental radar. But as we watched and as we talked it became very clear that this involved something much more sinister and complicated than a bomb.

It was a good twenty minutes of heavy conversation before my mother spoke the phrase I thought she had called to say:

“Happy Birthday”

Half-listening, I muttered a simple reply, “Thanks.” At that moment I didn’t care about my transition from age 23 to age 24. It was insignificant. There was a much bigger transition taking place right in front of me.

We were all growing older that day.

Very unemployed and with nothing else to do, I glued myself to the TV, flipping between channels in search of the latest information. With everyone knowing I was out of work — and therefore with 24/7 access to a TV and the internet, and with nothing else to worry about — I began to field phone calls from friends and relatives, becoming a point person of sorts. From my mother: “Who do we know in New York?”; Friends from home: “Where is Mark, have you heard from him?”; From a former coworker in the Prudential Tower in Boston in a harried voice: “They’re evacuating us; I have to go, call you back.”

In the confusion that followed, many of the callers forgot it was my birthday. I didn’t mind. I really had, too.

As the workday (if anyone did any work on that day) wound down, I was reminded that a casual birthday gathering had been slated for the evening at a local bar just outside the city. I sent an email around to the invitees; I still wanted to go. Between the tears and the anger, I needed a drink.

On that day and the ones that followed, there were essentially two types of people (other than those directly affected by the tragedy). There were the people that wanted nothing more than to go home and hide under the comfort and security of their bedsheets and shut out a suddenly evil and unpredictable world. And then there were the people that wanted to be around other people, needed to be around other people; needed someone to look them in the eye, and without even saying it, tell them that we’d all be okay. Comfort in numbers.

Many people declined the invite, including my girlfriend at the time, which—probably because I had so much emotion swirling inside of me — somewhat enraged me, causing an already tenuous relationship to end shortly thereafter. But a few friends and a couple of my then-roommates were on the same page as I was. Comfort in numbers.

We went to a small local bar — not the venue we had planned, as it didn’t have televisions — and had a few pints. The bar, surprisingly and not at the same time, was packed. Crowded. But quiet. We were listening. Listening for updates. Listening to the President react. Waited for him to say who did this. Wanted him to tell us it would all be okay. On that day, everyone was a fan of George W.

During the evening, from time to time, a friend would wish me a happy birthday with raised eyebrows and a half-smile, as if to say “I’m sorry”. That was the first time I’d heard it said like that. Not the last.

Five years later we stand here, still a powerful nation and — contrary to the outlook on that dreary morning — still very much okay.

A lot of people have personal ties to that day. Many lost loved ones. Others had close calls. Everyone has a story. (Goodbye Challenger, goodbye Berlin Wall, welcome to our new generational benchmark.)

My mother has made an annual tradition of begging me to write about my personal tie to that day. Not that I lost a loved one (I didn’t and don’t know anyone who did) or had a close call. I told her writing about that day would be selfish; bitching about the fact that something as insignificant as my birthday coincides with the worst attack on American soil in history could only be construed by others as selfish. Because it is. Feeling bad about that is selfish. How would a woman who lost her husband that day feel when they read about my insignificant story?

I still haven’t really dealt with the events of 9/11. Or maybe I have, I don’t know. (How do you know?) Because I still cry every year on that day, and sometimes even at the mention of it. I try to watch the reading of the names at Ground Zero each year, but never last more than 20 minutes. I even DVR’ed an HBO documentary on the Yankees’ World Series run post-9/11 and was a weeping mess for the duration. (And I still get teary every time Kate Smith or the Irish Tenor croons God Bless America.) I don’t know if I’ll ever put it behind me. And all that has nothing to do with my birthday.

But this year, I decided it’s time to be selfish, if only for two thousand words or so. Let me tell you how the fucking terrorists stole my birthday.

You’d be amazed how many times in the course of a year — in the course of polite conversation with strangers or acquaintances — you get asked when your birthday is. Normally, you’d be happy to answer. You’d say, “June 25th” and people would nod and smile. I say, “September 11th,” and people respond, almost universally, with that same wince — like someone pinched them — and a muted “I’m sorry.”

I tell them it’s okay, that I really don’t mind, that it could have been a lot worse. I make the brightside joke that I received more birthday cards in 2002 than I ever had before (true). Then I quickly change the subject before the conversation gets depressing. (It’s possible to “never forget” without letting an innocuous conversation make someone cry.)

It’s gotten to the point where I want to lie and say my birthday is September 10th, just to avoid it for everyone’s sake. Honestly, I used to love my birthday. It coincided with the fall, my favorite season, and the changing of the leaves in the scenic Mohawk Valley; it was the start of school, always exciting for the dorky kid I was; it was even a cool number, 911. But that was before 911 was a number that dialed heroes, and before it was a number synonymous with very real death and destruction.

Often, when I think about my birthday, I think about the babies who were born on that actual day, the ones who will walk around with birth certificates and driver’s licenses and passports with 09/11/01 on them. The Children of 9/11. Branded by a day on the Gregorian Calendar. Every day for the rest of their lives they’ll be inexorably tied to tragedy. Their birthdays will likely never be a celebration of life among the general public like everybody else’s birthday, but only a remembrance of horrible, painful death and sadness.

Want to know what that’s like? Well, a friend of mine summed it up in a simple response via email this year: “Too many moments of silence to really rock out and celebrate. Let’s do it another day.”

I hope the parents of the Children of 9/11 don’t let it be like that. I hope their parents are the need-to-be-around-other-people types. I hope they throw big parties on their kids’ birthdays, on the actual day, with loud bands and loud music and clowns and hayrides, real Americana/Norman Rockwell affairs. I hope they’re obnoxious about it. I hope those Children of 9/11 shatter every moment of silence with shrieks of joy as they hurriedly tear open their painstakingly-wrapped presents. I hope they can be heard at Ground Zero and the Pentagon and Shanksville.

Because at some point (but maybe not yet) September 11th needs to become a celebration of life and freedom and heroes, rather than a day to dwell on pain and suffering and death. We’re still here. We’re still okay. Yes, we lost people. Yes, there’s war. But every person dies, and there’s always been a war.

And we’ve always kept the kids from that. Sure, it’s too late for us. Too late for me and my birthday. I’m okay with that. But it’s not too late for the kids. Not for their birthdays.

The Children of 9/11 turned five this year. They’re getting old enough to understand.

Let them live. Let them be kids. When asked, let them say with a smile, “My birthday is September 11th — what’s yours?” and not think twice about it.

And let their contemporaries respond without wincing. Life, as an American, should be like that. The little happinesses.

For us, we can never forget, and rightly we shouldn’t. I’m willing to take a pass on my birthday.

But as for them, the Children of 9/11? I hope they get their day, with birthday cakes and candles and presents. And I hope they never think twice about how the world changed on the day they were born.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Anibel’s No-No

So I was watching the Yanks take on Kansas City last night. Randy was on the mound, and he was tossing pretty well. But it was New Randy (not overpowering, hitters making contact) and not Old Randy (maybe that should be the other way around?) so I didn’t think much of it.

On the MLB Extra Innings Package, you don’t get a choice as to what broadcast you watch, so I was subjected to the Royals Broadcast. Now, you can imagine these announcers have it pretty rough. I mean, could you make a Royals game exciting day in and day out? So I didn’t even notice until the 5th inning that Randy was tossing a no-no.

He did this a few weeks ago at Chicago, taking a no-hitter into the 7th, and I started texting everyone I knew to watch it. Of course he lost that one, so this time I was keeping my big old mouth shut—or my fingers still? Is there an equivalent yet for texting?

I popped open ESPN.com to check the headlines, as I’m wont to do during the course of a game. I was excited by the fact that Randy might have the first no-hitter in the majors since he last did it. And there it was:

Florida’s Sanchez tosses no-no

My first reaction was, Crap, now Randy won’t have the first one.

And my second one was, Wait, wasn’t that the guy the Sox traded for Beckett?

Sure enough, it is. Anibel Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett. At the time, that looked like a smart move.

Now? Ramirez is batting .283 with 13 HR and 49 RBI in the leadoff spot. And Sanchez is 7-2 with a 2.89 ERA and just tossed the first no-hitter in two years.

Granted, they’re both doing it in the AAAA league, but those numbers are still impressive for a couple of rookies. Drop Hanley’s average by 10 points (a guess) and raise Anibel’s ERA by a point (the accepted math in pitcher league transition) and both those guys are more than competitive, especially given the state of the Sox rotation and the fact the Alex Platoon (Gonzalez and Cora) is holding down shortstop for the Sox.

Meanwhile Josh Beckett is a very overrated 14-10 (5.11 ERA) and Mike Lowell is a respectable .283 with 17 HR and 67 RBI.

But Lowell and Beckett are costing the Sox $13.3M this year, and Beckett just signed a $30M extension.

Ramirez and Sanchez? I can’t even use the M symbol. Their grand total: $654,000.

Theo Epstein has to be kicking himself this morning.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Nation Blame Game

I know I predicted the Red Sox Annual Collapse, but I never envisioned this. Quite frankly, I didn’t even want it to go down like this. Sure, I’m glad my Yanks will cruise to the postseason, but I almost feel a little guilty about the downfall of the Sox. Plus, it kind of sucks the excitement out of the month of September, and especially that four games in three days series coming up.

There’s only one word to describe what’s happened to the Red Sox: embarrassing. For the first time since Aaron Boone blasted his deep homer into the New York night, I feel bad for my many (actually nearly all of my) friends who are among the members of the Nation—and I’m sure they want the pity of a Yanks fan. But this downfall has been hard to watch for all of us, like the guy at the funeral who breaks out into tears. You feel bad, and it’s embarrassing for all involved, so you turn away and act like you don’t see it.

And make no mistake, this is a funeral.

The 2006 Red Sox are dead, and someone killed them. Folks, we got ourselves a genuine whodunit.

I know I’m not a member of the Nation—I just live in its capital city—but I love it when the Nation plays their favorite game. I’ve always wanted to play, so this year I’m going to MC the deal. And you know what game I’m talking about. So cue the theme music and the cheesy deep-voiced announcer, bring up the curtain—because it’s time for:

The Red Sox Nation Blame Game!

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Red Sox Nation Blame Game! I’ll be your host for the evening. Let me introduce my co-hosts, Lindsey Lohan and Eva Mendez, who will help me by standing in the back corner and making out for the duration of the game.

Who are today’s contestants, Bob?

First up, we have Terry Francona, Manager: Clearly Terry, you’re overrated as a manager. Everyone knows this, even if the Nation turns a blind eye most of the time. The Sox won in 2004 more because you didn’t make moves and let the team be idiots. Your pitching changes are questionable at best, though clearly you’re no Grady (but who is?). But we can’t put this on your head, Terr. Everyone in the organization thought Beckett would be a great #2—he’s not; Nation can’t blame you for Manny-being-Pussy; the front office didn’t get you any help at the deadline—until it was too late; You didn’t hit Matt Clement in the head with that line drive or trade Bronson; And you certainly couldn’t do anything about Tek or Trot or any of the other injuries. You’re doing the best you can.

So Terry… you’re off the hook! Congrats. Here’s your parting gift: You get to go on record as the manager of one of the worst months in Red Sox History! And here’s a complimentary Blame Game Towel for the next time you cough up some blood!

Next up, Curt Schilling, Ace: Curt, we know how much you love the spotlight, so we’ll get right to it: Your 4+ ERA and your 14-7 W-L aren’t exactly ace-type numbers (especially on a team that was leading the division almost all year); You’ve been inconsistent, notably against the Yankees, the Royals (when you gave up the most extra base hits in history) and a Sunday night against Anaheim when I sat behind home plate at Fenway—I thought you were throwing balloons, so many balls we’re floating out of the Park. Plus, you’re a loud-mouth who actually thinks people care about your opinions on the presidential race, steroids, and gun control. But the Nation can’t pin this collapse on you either, for the same reason Francona gets off the hook: too many circumstances are out of your hand, and you can only pitch once every five days. Plus, you haven’t been awful, and you’re better than Randy Johnson anyway.

So Curt… you’re free to go! For your consolation prize, you get to disappear into mediocrity for the rest of the season as the Sox waste one of the few remaining years of your diminishing talent! Look on the bright side, now you’ll have more time to play EverQuest in October!

Next… Everyone join me in welcoming Josh Beckett to the Blame Game! Josh, welcome to the real show. Sure, you beat the Yankees in 2003 in dramatic fashion, and you were an ESPN Mag cover boy despite not accomplishing anything else in your career; But here’s your portion of the blame: Your stats in your last year at Florida were worse than Carl Pavano’s in his last year there, but that didn’t stop the Sox from claiming you were their ace of the future; Your first year in Boston has been the defining season for my theory that a pitcher’s Win-Loss record is the most misleading statistic in all of sport; You’re leading the league in home-run balls, a statistic a teammate described as, “Pitch—blam! Pitch—blam! The same thing every time.”; Plus, you’ve openly admitted you’re stubborn and not likely to change your style.

But you don’t win the Blame Game! It’s not your fault the Sox flushed $30 million down the crapper and signed you to an extension; of course you signed it. And it’s not really your fault you’re completely overrated. You had one amazing postseason and have been barely mediocre since—it’s not your fault no one watched the National League anymore, or they would have seen that.

Thanks for playing, Josh! Here’s your parting gift: Getting torn to pieces for the next four years by the Nation and Red Sox media, the very same ones you so boldly claimed you couldn’t wait to pitch in front of! At least you’ll have your unearned $30 million to keep you company.

Coming to the stage now: Theo Epstien! Let’s welcome the WonderChild. Thanks for coming, Theo, that’s a nice gorilla suit you’ve got on. So you made the ballsiest trade in all of sports in 2004, dishing local icon Nomar G. for two average-at-best players. And boy, do we all know how that turned out. Personally, it still stings, let me tell you.


Must be hot in that gorilla suit.

But hold on! My producer is telling me… We’ve got a special surprise for you, Theo! (As we cross game-show lines…) Coming on the stage right now, it’s… oh my… I can’t wait to see your reaction on this… We’ve got a few special guests for you!!! Coming to the stage right now… it’s…

Every crappy player you’ve acquired since 2004! Wow! Look, they’re all here! Edgar Renteria, how are you? Matt Clement! How’s the head? Josh Beckett, thanks for coming back! Coco Crisp, what’s shakin’? And the bullpen guys, Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez! Javier Lopez, nice of you to make it. But wait, THERE’S MORE!

My producer is telling me we just got a phone call… you’ll never guess who it was! It was Johnny Damon, Dave Roberts, Orlando Cabrera, Bronson Arroyo, Pedro Martinez, Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez.

They called in to send their apologies that they couldn’t make it—we’re not sure why though. Maybe you know, Theo? No? Interesting.

We’re not finished yet! We’ve got a recorded message from Bobby Abreu, Cory Lidle, and Roy Oswalt… let’s take a listen…

Hey Theo! We just wanted to congratulate you on your appearance on The Nation Blame Game! We’re big fans of the show. We would have loved to have been there, but apparently you couldn’t get in touch with us at the trade deadline. We couldn’t have been more available without posting an ad on craigslist, but that’s okay. We just wanted to thank you, Theo, for saving us from being on a third place team with no hope of making the playoffs. Really, we can’t thank you enough. Good luck on the show!

Wasn’t that nice of them, folks?

Well, it’s that time. Time to pick a winner. And I don’t see how the Nation can turn down the obvious evidence! This humble host doesn’t think there’s really any doubt. Without further ado, the winner of the 2006 Red Sox Nation Blame Game is:

Theo Epstien! Congratulations!

And now, here’s your grand prize…

You get to be hung out to dry by Larry Lucchino and the Red Sox ownership—and then you’ll be crucified by the media and the Nation itself! And all just for destroying the first shred of momentum the franchise had in 86 years—not to mention catapulting the Yankees back to the forefront of baseball.

Theo, thanks for playing. You can put your gorilla suit back on now. You’ll want to be incognito for awhile.

In Defense of A-Rod

People are dumb. Dumb sheep, to be more specific. We like to follow the herd, because we don’t know any better.

We are also malicious. We like to bring down people who are better off than we are.

We’re like dumb, evil sheep.

I’m no psychologist, so I won’t get into why we’re like that. But there can be no argument that we are.

And the latest corral all of you sheep have been herded into (notice I dropped the “we”) is the “A-Rod is done, cracking under pressure, and should be traded” corral.

Dumb, evil sheep.

I can understand why Sox fans are jumping on this bandwagon against A-Rod. It’s in their best interest. And I get why the Omniscient National Media have been calling for his head—it generates readership and viewership.

The greatest baseball player of our generation, potentially of all time, might be washed up? How could you not talk about this?

Before I head down the path that the title of this article will send me down, I’d like to offer a simple retort to all of the A-Rod haters out there, the ones who have claimed he’s washed up, the ones who claim he can’t handle the pressure, the ones who have called for the Yanks to trade him, and even to my fellow Yanks fans who continue to boo him:

You are all fucking stupid. Shut the fuck up.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard some of the most intelligent people in baseball say some of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. They’ve said A-Rod is not able to handle the unique pressure of New York. I’ve heard very sensible friends, whose opinions I respect, and some Yankees fans, talk about trading A-Rod. I’ve read Barstool’s own Jerry Thoroton, claim in his very humorous but incredibly misguided and gun-jumping article, that A-Rod has the “yips.”

I’m not going to argue A-Rod’s mental state right now. He’s not in the best mental shape. He is absolutely over-thinking his every action. Worst of all, he’s doubting himself.

Is that because he’s done? Does that mean he needs to leave NYC? Retire?

No. IT MEANS HE IS IN A SLUMP.

Listen. A-Rod had two bad weeks. Yes, he played awful during that stretch. He threw the ball like Knoblauch and hit like—well, he didn’t hit at all.

Every player goes through this, even the best ones. Manny comes out of the gate every year batting around the Mendoza line. Varitek is easily having the worst year of his career. Every single player goes through this. Every single one. And if the people who get paid to comment on this took a second to think about it, they’d realize they were jumping the gun.

Some slumps last a week. Some last all year. We call them “Down Years”. It happens.

Hell, even Roger Clemens went 10-13 in 1996, inspiring the exceptionally accurate prediction by Dan Duquette that the Rocket was “in the twilight of his career.”

You could probably argue that A-Rod is having a down year. I’m not sure I would. But he’s not done. He’s not washed up. He isn’t cracking under the pressure of NY. He shouldn’t be traded. Or retire. He doesn’t have the yips. He’s in a slump.

Here are the reasons why everyone who has suggested any of those other theories is an idiot:

A-Rod was the AL MVP last year.

Let me repeat that. He was the FUCKING MVP last year. Have we forgotten that? So yes, I agree completely, he couldn’t handle the pressure of New York. He only put up the best numbers in the league. This alone should end all discussions of A-Rod being “done.” Did I mention he WON THE MVP last year?

A-Rod was the AL Player of the Month in May.

.330 AVG, 8 HR, 28 RBI. Just in May. That’s May of 2006. This year. The best player in the AL in that month. Not only was he the MVP last year, he was the best player in the league as recently as two months ago. Clearly, he’s washed up.

If this is a “down year,” he’s still the best bat at third base in the AL.

Only Joe Crede, the White Sox third baseman, has numbers comparable in every statistical category to A-Rod. And to say Crede is having a career year is an understatement. I won’t go so far as to say Crede is on the juice, but Crede is probably on the juice. And while Mike Lowell is having a fantastic year, his numbers still don’t compare all-around to A-Rod’s. So if this is a down year, what third baseman in the league would you rather have? (If your answer is Lowell, then tell me why Theo had his name out there in about 10 trade scenarios before the deadline.)

He’s having a bad year defensively. But he doesn’t have the “yips.”

I’m a lifelong Yankees fan, which means I had the agony of living through the Chuck Knoblauch era. It’s impossible to describe how incredible that was. We literally saw a man brain’s melt on the field and drip out of his ears. I kept waiting for him to break down in tears on camera. I don’t think you’ve ever seen a collective fan base wince like we did every time the ball dribbled down to second base. It was horrifying, yet simultaneously entrancing, like a woman’s cleavage, the sun, or any reality TV show. You know you shouldn’t stare, but you can’t help it. Knoblauch was a mental disaster. A-Rod had two bad games defensively last week. Of course, the ignorant masses have only been seeing what SportsCenter has been showing them. They’ve seen all the errors. If you’ve watched a single Yankees game in its entirety since that week, you’d know his throws have been crisp and on target. That’s not what happens when you have the yips. I love SportsCenter, but like any gatekeeping news show, they show you what they want you to see.

2,000, 450. In other words, you don’t trade a guy who is on pace to be the greatest player the game has ever seen.

During the week when he was in one of the worst slumps of his career, A-Rod also notched his 2,000th hit and his 450th home run on the same swing. You know by now he’s the youngest player to reach the 450-mark, at least until Pujols beats him in a few years. As a GM, Cashman couldn’t trade him. What excuse—other than a salary dump, which the Yankees don’t need and never do—could you possibly come up with for trading a guy with Alex’s numbers? When (not if) he returns to form after that trade, would you want to face the firing squad? As I’ve written many times, I believe A-Rod will be the greatest player in the history of the game when it’s all said and done. You don’t trade that talent. Period. And certainly not because he’s had a bad week, or even a bad month, or maybe a down year.

He only costs the Yankees $15 million—not $25 million. In other words, he’s a deal for club.

Everyone forgets the Rangers signed A-Rod to that ludicrous deal, not the Yankees. And everyone also forgets the Rangers are paying $10 million of A-Rod’s salary this year. (Texas is on the hook for $67 million of the remaining $179 A-Rod is owed.) When you look at it that way, he’s actually the fourth-highest-paid player on the Yankees, after Mr. Sanderson ($20M), Giambi ($20M), and Mussina ($19M). If this were any other team but the Yankees, all of those guys would be considered grossly overpaid. But this is the Yankees, so A-Rod is actually a deal for them. (Did I mention he won an MVP last year? Name me a team other than Oakland that wouldn’t pay $15 million for an MVP.) If you want to talk about a guy who isn’t earning his paycheck, talk to me about Randy Johnson ($15M).

Don’t listen to the booing at Yankee Stadium. Those people are morons.

Every fan base has a sect that is embarrassing. In Boston, most educated Sox fans are embarrassed by the ignorant masses who chant “Yankees Suck” at games… when the Patriots are playing. Those people are stupid, for obvious reasons. Yanks fans, we have the “boo-birds,” as they’re so gayingly called. (Is that a word, gayingly?) There’s a reason they call it a Bronx Cheer. These people would boo Jesus if he laid his hands on a leper and the guy didn’t get better. They’ve booed Jeter. They have booed DEREK JETER. Mr. Untouchable. Mr. November. The Captain. Pinstripe Jesus. Baby Ruth. The Face. The Franchise. The damn guy even has his own scent now. They booed Derek Jeter just because he was in—here it is—a slump a couple years ago. They also booed Rivera, the Best. Closer. Ever. They are fucking morons, and I cringe every time I hear them, the same way an intelligent Sox fan cringes when they hear “Yankees Suck.”

I could go on, but these columns do have word counts. I think that’s enough for now to shut everyone up.

And I know the talk on this topic has abated slightly with the Abreu trade and the deadline passing. It also helps that A-Rod is now pulling out of what was obviously just a slump, even if this does end up being a down year.

Believe me when I say that if the Yankees are going to win the World Series, it is A-Rod—not Jeter, Giambi, Abreu, or anyone else—that has to take the franchise back to the promised land.

I know he will do it—even if it is not this year. It’s only a matter of time.

You probably don’t think he will.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Yankees Are Coming! The Yankees Are Coming!

It was 12 straight wins, the longest winning streak the majors had seen in two years. The Red Sox dominated their National League opponents like Dom controlled Turtle and Drama on Entourage. Going into the All-Star break, the Red Sox were every so-called expert’s pick to run away with the AL East in the second half.

Meanwhile the Yankees were floundering. There were more injuries on the team than casualties in the final scene of X-Men 3. Randy Johnson was pitching with the same intensity as Jack Johnson when he recorded the Curious George soundtrack. The Yankees, by all accounts, were in for a long, arduous second half.

And yet, looking at the standings… there were no signs of it. When the Red Sox began their winning streak, the Yankees were one game ahead of the Sox. Twelve games later, the Red Sox were four games up on the Yankees.

(Not exactly buried, in my opinion.)

But certainly, the experts implied, the Yankees were in trouble. The Red Sox were looking like the best team in baseball. They took two of three from the White Sox (by all accounts the actual best team in baseball) right before the break.

But if you had read any second half preview from any major media outlet, you basically saw this:

Name: New York Yankees

Age: 9 year first-place AL East finish streak

Time of Death: June 29, 2006


The teams went to the break, where Ortiz and A-Rod chummed it up, much to everyone’s collective horror.

And then the second half started.

The Yanks beat the unbeatable Jose Contreras in the first game out of the break, a guy who hadn’t lost since he was, well, on the Yankees. The Sox? They encountered the start of the annual Oakland A’s second-half surge, and lost their first two.

I made yet another pilgrimage to The House that Ruth Built for the two remaining games of the White Sox series. As I sat in the sweltering summer sun of the upper tier of Yankee Stadium on Saturday, July 15, it was hard to concentrate on the game. A heat wave was crushing the Northeast, killing old dogs and stray women by the hundreds. (Or something like that.) It was so hot, my sweat was sweating. But as the Yanks pounded the World Series Champion White Sox en route to a 14-3 win, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. Sure, I smelled like a goat lost in a tropical jungle, but I knew the Yankees weren’t as done as everyone believed.

They confirmed it the next day as I watched from the alcohol-free (sigh) bleachers in left field. (Was it as hot? Well, let’s just say a vendor was selling those misting fans for $20 a pop, and she didn’t even make it halfway up the bleachers before selling out. And then we wonder how the Yankees are worth $1 billion. Hey George, use some lube before slipping it in there!)

I didn’t know we were watching history when Mariano took the mound in the 8th and walked off it in the 9th with his 400th save. I was more concerned about the present: the Yanks were only ½ game behind the Sox.

Not bad for a team that was pronounced dead a few weeks ago. The Yankees of the past few years are the undead, zombies from Resident Evil… you think you’ve killed them, you start to walk away, and then they reach out and start munching on your ankle until they take you down.

This has unfortunately become a theme of late. Sure, everyone knows about the annual Red Sox September Collapse. Ever since the Boston Massacre in ’78, this event has been almost as predictable as the leaves turning in New Hampshire. (Yes, there were a few years in between when the Sox avoided it. But not many.)

Over the past few seasons, the September Collapse is still intact. But the newest trend seems to be the Yankees getting a slow start to begin the season. Last year, the Yanks were seven out at the end of April. In 2004, they were four back at the end of April. This year, well, you know how it’s been.

I’m going to christen this trend “The Yankees Break Late,” like a race horse that is slow out of the gate. I just like the sound of it when you say it with a Rat Pack-esque accent, like how Saul in Ocean’s Eleven refers to his dog at the dog track: “The Yankees break late. Everyone knows this.”

It has that perfectly condescending tone that I require to retort when a giddy Sox fan craps on the Yankees for being three out at the end of April—like it matters at that time of the year.

Because the Yankees Break Late (which everyone knows), they have still come back to win the division both times, thanks to the longer trend of the two: the Sox September Collapse.

When it comes to history forming the present, I’m very much a juggernaut. I don’t move my position on something that has been a standard until I see it change officially. It makes me a very bad predictor of things like the Internet boom and the stock market, for example. (I made my first investment on an internet company the very week the market crashed in ’01. I even convinced my mother to jump on board with me. Every year, she sends me the annual reports of the company we invested in. The stock of the unnamed company is worth about a fourth of what we paid, even after climbing for a couple years. I think she’s a little bitter about it.)

In baseball, my stubbornness serves me quite well. Essentially, I follow three rules:

If a team was good last year, they will be good again this year.
If a team was bad last year, they will be bad again this year.
There is one—and only one—exception to those rules every year.
Simple, right?

Sure, teams go on free agent signing binges, or work out trades everyone says will put them into the race. But it never really happens, does it? Take the Blue Jays for example. J.P. Ricciardi spent ownership’s money like Paris Hilton snorting away the family fortune, and to almost as much avail. Glaus, Ryan, Burnett and Overbay currently have the Jays… in third place.

MLB is not the NFL. There is no salary cap, and therefore absolutely no parity. The teams that can afford to dominate on a regular basis will dominate. The teams that can’t afford top-tier rosters may compete, but with very few exceptions over the past few years, they will not make the playoffs consistently year after year. To continue with the Blue Jays example: they may have upped their spending, but they’re still way behind the Yanks and Sox on that front ($50M behind the Sox) and therefore behind both teams in the standings.

Last year, for example, the Washington Nationals were in first place at the All-Star break, as were the Chicago White Sox. Personally, I doubted both teams. Washington proved me right; Chicago proved me wrong. In 2004, out of the surprise teams in contention in June (there were actually five) only one (Anaheim, who had had a losing record in ’03) actually ended up making the postseason.

One exception to the rule. And only one.

This year, the Mets are dominating, and the Tigers are in first place.

One of those teams will not finish in first place. My money is on the Tigers to fall back, given the size of the Mets lead and the fact the White Sox own the Tigers this year.

If only there was a way to make money on things like, “The Tigers will NOT win the World Series” in Vegas. Sure, you could probably bet that, but I’m guessing those odds won’t add up.

My rules are also why, in last issue’s predictions column, I stated the White Sox were the best team in baseball, and the Yankees will win the AL East.

Over the course of the past couple years—and following my rules—I haven’t seen anything to make me believe otherwise.

Sure, the experts like to be the bandwagon guys. They like to be the first to say, “I called that.” But most of the time they act like the fat-tastic John Kruk during the Home Run Derby and flip-flop their picks as the season goes on. (I like Kruk most of the time. He’s funny to the point of being mean, but also insightful. Plus I can’t help picturing Chris Farley singing “Fat man in a little coat” every time he comes on my TV.) I don’t blame Kruk for flip-flopping, though he should be less obvious about it. Analysts are forced to roll with the season to keep their jobs—no one wants to listen to an expert who is wrong all the time.

What they always forget is that Baseball is more reliant on history than any other sport. “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.” It is the slowest to change, the last to adapt. Trends don’t extend across a year or two—they extend across a decade. From adding lights for night games to drug testing, Baseball is always behind the times. It’s a beautiful thing, sometimes. I love the serenity in knowing there’s a game at least six days a week, and they start at 7:00 or 1:00 if my team is at home, with the occasional 8:00 Sunday Night Game. (Though that beautiful feeling is more of a Julia Roberts classic beauty than an Angelina Jolie “I want to fuck your brains out” beauty.)

Other times, as we wait for Barry to get run up the flagpole, Baseball is ugly, like that portly chick you met after those Jagermeister shots who was a body double for Gwyneth in a fat suit in Shallow Hal.

The Yankees are going to win the AL East. Whether you think that’s fat Gwyneth or classic Julia depends on who you root for.

For a Yankees fan living in Boston, that would be almost Angelina-esque.

MLB Second Half Predictions

I had an advertising professor in college who gave me a pretty good piece of advice:

Never start your pitch to clients by saying anything along the lines of, “This may not be the greatest idea…”

He was right, of course. You should never try to lower expectations on your ideas. The more highly you think of them, the more your audience will too.

That being said…

Sports prediction columns are as useful as Kevin Federline.

They are a great gimmick—everyone loves to hear what the so-called experts think will happen during the course of the season, because we love our teams so much we all hold out hope that our team can win the Series. And if some ex-player who sits in his suit in a broadcast studio thinks our team has a chance, then dammit, they do. We’re suckers.

Well, I’m shirtless on my couch right now and my playing days ended years ago in high school when Johnny Damon stole the Delorean, came back in time and beat me in a throwing contest.

(I know what you’re thinking… that’s like the 1,000th Johnny-Damon-throwing-arm joke I’ve made. I can’t help it; it never gets old for me, even when he’s on my team. Some wells never dry up.)

If you’re looking for some nugget of hope to help you make it through the second half, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Without further ado, here is my MLB Second Half Predictions Column, otherwise known as the “If I had done a first-half recap, I’d have had to do research, and I’m too lazy for that” column.

Team that will earn me free drinks: The Minnesota Twins.

My friend Kayla, who is too pretty to be from Minnesota but is naive enough to make a sucker bet with me (which makes me believe that she could actually be from Minnesota), bet me an entire night’s worth of drinking that the Twins will make the playoffs. Normally, I’d never take a friend’s money on such a sucker bet. The Twins are in the best division in baseball, and they just won something like 25 out of thirty games and are still more than nine back of Detroit, and still in third place. Kayla’s mistake, however, was betting me a night’s worth of alcohol, and I am not capable of turning down free alcohol. It is good to know I will be drunk for free at least one night in October.

Will win the AL batting title: Not Joe Mauer

He’s hitting an amazing .378 at the break. I have no reason to believe that it’s not going to happen. Just a hunch. But if he does win it, his average will be much lower than it currently is. The Twins went 16-2 against the National League in Interleague play, against obviously inferior pitching from the AAAA-clubs. Mauer feasted. A famine usually follows.

Will be seriously injured in the second half: Josh Beckett

And it won’t be because I pull a Tonya Harding on him. I’m telling you, he’s one wet mound or awkward throw away from being the next Carl Pavano. Just wait. He’s never pitched anywhere near 200 innings in a season in his career, and he’s on pace for 220. Just wait. I’m going to keep saying this until it comes true.

Will not be playing for the Yankees in September: Gary Sheffield

Doctors have said he’ll be fine for a September return, but something tells me that’s not going to happen. If the Yanks somehow fall out of contention, it definitely won’t. And with his contract up this year, I think there’s a very good chance we have seen the last of Gary Sheffield in pinstripes.

Won’t come close to accomplishing anything: Kansas City and Pittsburgh

In a few related stories, the sun will rise tomorrow, American Idol will annoy the crap out of me, you’ll get drunk and hook up with a fat chick, that new Selma Hayek-produced show with the ugly girl will get canceled, Tom and Katie’s kid will be a headcase, and George Bush will embarrass the crap out of us in front of the world.

(As for that Selma Hayek show that ABC pummeled us with previews of during the World Cup, someone needs to tell her that we didn’t watch her movies for her acting talent. So unless she’s actually in this show, we don’t give a crap about the fact she’s producing it. Essentially, this show is a pilot away from being the next “Emily’s Reasons Why Not”.)

Will hear the most boos: A-Rod

Even I’m starting to feel bad for him. The guy is a league leader in late-inning go-ahead RBIs this year, and everyone is still booing him. I’ve crapped all over the guy in this space. It stops now—or until October, anyway. He just can’t win. You know it’s bad when I have sympathy for a guy making $25 million, which coincidentally is $25 million more than I make writing this column.

Will win AL Cy Young: Jonathan Papelbon

Actually, he won’t. But he’ll have the numbers for it.

Will win AL MVP: David Ortiz

I’ll admit, I’m old-school when it comes to picking an MVP—he has to be a position player in my book. But even I can’t overlook what Papi is doing this year. If this doesn’t happen, it will be because of one reason and one reason only: the Red Sox don’t make the playoffs. Speaking of which…

Will win the AL East: The New York Yankees

A year ago on July 9, the Yankees were in third place and 3.5 back of the Sox, who looked like a sure thing to break the Yanks’ streak of consecutive AL East titles. And we all know how that turned out. But my real reason for this is that the Red Sox went an insane 16-2 against the National League. If you take away the Interleague games, the Sox would currently be in third place, three games behind the Yankees and two behind Toronto. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the Red Sox season against the American League.

Will win the AAAA League: The New York Doesntmatters

After what the Sox and Chicago did to the AAAA teams they played the past two years, and with how Interleague play went this year, and how the All-Star games goes every year, does anyone seriously believe an NL team can compete in the Fall Classic? Anyone? (As an aside, if you pick this up after the All-Star Game, write me an email and tell me how good my prediction on the Midsummer Classic was. I’m picking the AL to win, with the score 5,345 to 3.)

Will win the AL Wild Card: The Detroit Tigers

All last year I dumped on the White Sox. I predicted a collapse, called it inevitable. Called them “flukes having career years.” I waited. And waited. They made the playoffs. I predicted a first round exit. They swept. I predicted a quick second round exit. They won. Undeterred, I picked the Astros in 7 in my old blog. They’re flying a World Series Champions banner in U.S. Cellular Field this year. Chicago, I’ve learned my lesson, and I’m not doubting this team and its certifiably-crazy manager again. Even if Detroit is the new Chicago, I’m still saying:

Will win the World Series: The Chicago White Sox

Detroit will fade slightly in the second half, and Chicago will win the division. But with no Wild Card to spare, either the Sox or Yanks will be staying home in October for the first time since 2002.

Unless Toronto goes on a run—in which case, both teams could stay home.

But my shirtless non-former-player expert instinct tells me that’s not going to happen.

Your (Not-So) All-Star Voting Guide

Ladies and Gentlemen, this year’s American League All-Star starting Catcher will be:

Jason Varitek.

Are you kidding me?

As if we needed any more proof that the All-Star game is a big sham. It has become such a popularity contest they should make the players wear dresses and do a tap-dance number. (Just think of the pure comedy provided by the sight of Ortiz and A-Rod arm in arm in kick line.)

Admittedly, I’ve used an All-Star nomination as a positive commendation to support a player’s skills in this very space. I mentioned Derek Jeter was a six-time All-Star as well as an All-Star Game MVP. Maybe I should rethink what it means to be an All-Star.

But let’s talk about the real importance of the All-Star game. (Don’t worry, I’ll dismantle Varitek’s nomination later.)

When you sit down to the computer or in Fenway and you nominate your All-Star team, I want you to remember this:

The winning league of the All-Star game gets home field advantage in the World Series.

Since the beginning of the 2-3-2 format in 1925, the team that has the home-field advantage in the World Series has won the Fall Classic about 60% of the time. That’s a pretty serious advantage.

When this new All-Star rule was enacted after the debacle of the 2002 All-Star game, I thought it was one of the more insane rules I had ever heard. I believe my reaction was something along the lines of, Are you fucking kidding me? I knew Major League Baseball had to do something appease the outcry from that travesty of a game, but let home field advantage for the most important series of the year ride on a meaningless All-Star game?

(Not only that, but it also frightened me, because it confirmed my belief that Bud Selig is one of the most powerful men in the country. There is NO WAY the average player, manager, or owner would possibly buy off on this cockamamie idea. It doesn’t make any sense. But Bud pulled it off. Seriously, can you see him in the meeting? I picture him staring down the owners with a Kaiser Sose-like chill in his eyes, describing the ways their families will disappear one by one if they don’t get on board. Be very afraid of this man.)

While I still think it’s ridiculous, I also enjoy it in the same kind of sick way that you enjoyed watching Kaiser Sose kill his family to “show those men of will what will really was.” I used to watch the All-Star game anyway, but now? It’s a must-see. Bud was right.

And so was ironic slogan MLB ran in 2004 to promote the game: This time it counts.

But to bring us back to topic, that means you need to select an All-Star team just like you would a National team. (Or a WBC team I guess, but not really. In fact, forget I said that.) You need to put the best team on the field. Give your league the best chance to win.

But also, for historical record, we need to keep some merit to the true meaning of the All-Star game, which is to reward the players having the best seasons this year—so years from now when people look back they can clearly see who was having a great year. Plus, it’s a simple reward that they deserve, and unfortunately, so few fans do that already, as evidenced by the Sox captain leading the catcher voting as this goes to press.

So here are my guidelines for picking an All-Star team for your league:

1. Pick the guys having the best year at their respective positions.

Do that even if you know they’re flukes having career years, or if they are doping for the first time in their careers and haven’t been caught yet. If they’re hot this season, there’s no reason to suspect they won’t perform up to their current caliber in the Midsummer Classic.

2. If two players are statistically equivalent, make your selection based on which player has been consistently better over the course of their career.

This rule helps you select which guy is more likely to perform up to par during that one now-important game.

Those guidelines should help you field a damn good team, and give your ballclub a better chance to walk away with a World Series victory should they make the final round.

But this begs an interesting question: what do you do when voting for the other league? In the spirit of fair play, you should fill it out with the same guidelines. Put the two best teams on the field and let them duke it out. Not only will that make for a better game, but it will also make the newly-acquired home-field rights feel all the more deserved should your league win.

But there’s a definite side to me that wants to vote for the worst National League team possible. If you’re a Sox or Yanks fan (like me) this would give our teams the best odds at winning the Series, something they compete for every year even when they’re not that good, like this year. Also, I’d love the pure comedy of seeing Sal Fasano come to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Pittsburgh against Rivera or Papelbon. (Which one of those guys gets the closer role on the team is a whole different article.)

For kicks, here’s my picks for the National League Not-So All-Star Team Starters. (Remember, the selections are limited to the choices provided by MLB.)

1B Lance Niekro, SF
2B Luis Gonzalez, COL
SS Clint Barnes, COL
3B David Bell, PHI
C Ryan Domuit, PIT
OF Brandon Watson, WAS
OF Geoff Jenkins, MIL
OF Jose Cruz, LAD

(I guess I would have to write in Sal Fasano. His handlebar moustache alone would be worth it.)

Of course, that team would never take the field, because presumably the National League fans would be voting enough to get their best players on. But with the Sox and Yanks having the two biggest fan bases, wouldn’t you just love the sight of Sal Fasano ranking fourth in the voting, sending National League fans into a complete panic? In fact, I think we should make that happen. Think of the endless teasing you could lord over your National League fan friends—like my friend Josh, a Mets fan, who has been loving life this year as his team rips through quadruple-A Ball. Hey, your league is so good this year… who did you have starting behind the plate in the All-Star game again?

But that brings us back to V-Tek. Let me start by saying I have more respect for Jason than I do for any player on the Boston roster. In fact, when I bought a birthday present for my buddy Jim one year, Varitek’s 33 shirt was the only one I could bring myself to purchase without throwing up in my mouth.

But there is no way Jason Varitek is an All-Star this year. At the time of writing, he’s batting a miserable .252. I’m sorry, but you should never have to scroll down on an MLB.com statistics-by-position page to see an All-Star player’s numbers. To say Varitek is in the basement of AL catchers statistically is an understatement. Mauer, Pierzynski, Rodriguez, and even Posada—they all have better numbers, pretty much across the board. You can’t even justify Varitek’s selection under rules one or two, or if even if you know at heart he’s a great player (which I believe he is) and you want him on the team because he makes your whole pitching staff better (which he does when he works with them regularly).

Yes, my instincts want him on the team, but the stats tell me I don’t want him playing in that game. And I definitely don’t want him coming up to bat in a tight spot. So do the Red Sox a favor and stop voting for the Captain. He doesn’t deserve it. And do you really want a guy batting .252 starting in a game that could ultimately decide your team’s chances of winning a World Series?

No you don’t, not even when it’s Jason Varitek.

***

Some quick business:

• Need to send a thank you to Barstool reader John O’Connell, who wrote in response to my article in the last issue concerning my proposed nickname for Melky Cabrera. I had suggested “The Kid” for Cabrera, and after John used my article to clean his john, he wrote in to remind me that “The Kid” was Ted Williams’ nickname. Williams is the greatest pure hitter the game has ever seen, and believe me when I say that I was not trying to steal his nickname for an unproven rook. I can just be dumb sometimes. My sincere apologies go out to all Sox fans, to Mr. Williams’ family, and to Ted’s unfrozen head. As a form of self-punishment for this grievous oversight, I will return the total sum of my last Barstool paycheck. (Cough.) If you have ideas for a new Cabrera nickname, I’m all ears.

• Bruce Arena is the Grady Little of American soccer. He didn’t go to Eddie Johnson in the Italy game or until it was too late in the Ghana game, even though Johnson is clearly the only guy on the team with stones big enough to take shots on goal—which if I understand the game correctly is the only way you can score. (Apparently Bruce’s strategy was, “If we play sloppily enough, the other team will feel so bad for us they will score an own goal.”) Bruce needs to get his walking papers, and we need to get a foreign coach for 2010. Americans don’t know enough about soccer to take us to the next level. It’s time we admit it. Klinsmann in 2010.

New Kids in Town: the Rivalry Rookies

In a city that features one of the world’s best known road races, all of the Fenway Faithful that attended the Saturday afternoon-turned-evening (June 10) game ran a marathon of their own.

But they ran it with their arms instead of their legs, as they drank themselves silly waiting for the rain to subside and the Sox to take the field.

I was among them as we waited, watching the rain at the newly-renovated Cask & Flagon (which if you haven’t seen, you need to get there). We were all waiting for the much-anticipated debut of the highly-touted Jon Lester, but by the time 5:00 rolled around the scene at the Cask was more like a bar at midnight than a mid-afternoon scene. Everyone was tanked, including yours truly, and everyone was dancing like it was New Year’s Eve. (Also guilty, which just tells you how drunk we were. Can you remember the last time you were drunk and dancing before 3:00 that didn’t involve someone getting married? Neither can I.)

While we drank up and watched the world’s game instead of America’s pastime, I got to thinking about what we were waiting for.

If Lester even lives up to half his touting, he could be one of the next greats, the best prospect since a guy named Roger tossed his first few at Fenway. The more I thought about it, I couldn’t remember a time when both the Red Sox and Yankees were relying on so many young players and untested rookies. With all the injuries to both sides, younger guys are getting a chance this year.

I thought about spending the duration of this issue’s column ripping the Sox organization for TURNING OFF THE BEER AT FENWAY AT 5:00 YESTERDAY which was even more aggravating given the fact I had roof table seats, which come with $100 worth of food and beverage. (Of course, we weren’t looking for diet cokes.) Hell, we even bitched to the unexpectedly-attractive concession manager Bridget about it, because drunk people complaining about not getting served is always effective.

Instead, I think I’ll be a little more productive and discuss the Rivalry’s young players. (I have to fill the two-month gap between Sox and Yanks matchups with something.)

These two teams make a habit of not relying on young talent, especially the Yankees. (Why grow corn when you can just buy it at the grocery store?) With Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang making major contributions to the Yankees eighth-straight division title, last year was the first year I can remember young players playing such major role for the Yanks since some kid named Jeter came up back in ’96.

(As an aside, is the “Jeter is overrated” argument the most overrated argument of all time? Quite frankly, it’s just dumb. Here are just a few accolades Derek Sanderson Jeter has earned: Four World Series rings, six All-Star appearances, Rookie of the Year, a World Series MVP, an All-Star game MVP, two gold gloves—not to mention a .315 career batting average. Wow, he’s awful.)

If the Yanks are going to make it nine—or if the Sox are going shake the second fiddle role—young players will be playing major roles again this year.

So let’s talk about the young guys. Just to tick everyone off, I’m going to rank them, even though I’m perfectly aware that one start from Lester is not enough to judge him on, and zero starts by Phillip Hughes is, well, zero starts. (But I’m going to do it anyway, because who’s column is this? That’s right, it’s mine, beyatch.)

Some parameters: the player doesn’t have to be making his debut, but he has to be considered a rookie. That means, for example, Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis aren’t eligible.

1. Jonathan Papelbon,

The obvious choice to top the list, Wild Thing blew his first save of the season in his 21st attempt, only allowing a single earned run along the way. By all accounts, he’s been impressive. Despite his poor hairstyle choices, he has proven he has the intelligence and rare skill that it takes to be a closer. He’ll be in the starting rotation next year, but for now he’s dominating in one of the hardest roles in sports. (But please, don’t make me come to your house and beat you to death with a blunt instrument of your choosing by comparing him to Mariano. Thanks.)

2. Melky Cabrera, OF

We’re going to be seeing his game-saving robbery of Manny in every Rivalry montage for the rest of the year, which is of course just fine with me. He can hit for average and, contrary to the sentiments of the usually-excellent Jerry Remy (who I think is one of the best color men in the game) he has a fantastic arm: he’s currently tied for the AL lead in outfield assists. His D has improved immensely since giving Trot Nixon a free trip around the bases last year. However, I’m a little ticked off that he already has a nickname, especially because it’s a horrible one: The Melk Man. Why? Get this: Because he delivers. Um, rip off Karl Malone much? I’m starting a petition to call him The Kid, because he’s only 21 and he looks like he’s 12. Also, I know he’s going to be around for years, and I am eagerly waiting for the day when he’s 37 and everyone is calling him The Kid, like the way you call a 6’7” fat guy “Tiny.”

3. Jon Lester, LHP

We don’t know enough about him for me to put him higher on the list, but he pitched well enough in his debut for me to not completely doubt the hype. At least that’s what I read this morning on ESPN.com’s recap, because I only have a vague recollection of the game thanks to several gallons of beer I consumed during the delay. He’s also a southpaw, so that instantly puts him ahead of

4. David Pauley, P

After watching supposed Yankee-killer Josh Beckett get battered around in a game where the Yankees scored the most runs before the fourth inning in the entire history of the Rivalry, this kid comes out and shuts down the Bombers, holding them to two runs for six-plus innings. Definitely a hard-luck loss, not that I minded it. I know Lester is supposed to be better; I know he got hammered by the Jays in his debut; and I know this guy is going to bounce back and forth between Pawtucket and Boston all year, but if shutting down even a depleted Yanks lineup in The Stadium doesn’t prove you can play with the big boys, I don’t know what does.

(Aside: I said it last year, and I’ll say it again here… Josh Beckett is a rich man’s Carl Pavano. He’s only an inevitable elbow injury away from living up to his potential in the same way Pavano has. I also said that Mike Lowell will end up being the better part of that deal, and so far I’ve been right. And yes, I’ll be the first person to tell you “I told you so” when Beckett goes down.)

5. Phillip Hughes, RHP

You haven’t seen him yet, but he’s the Yankees top pitching prospect. I want to rank him above Pauley, but seeing as how he has yet to throw a pitch in a Major League game and I have no idea what he looks like (his MLB.com profile is sans any information, including a picture), I think we’re best served putting him right here. Quite frankly, I’m not even sure he exists. I could have dreamed him up. But if he is real and if he’s still with the Yanks you know he has to be good or he would have been an “…and prospects” guy on the back end of a Tori Hunter trade announcement by now.

6. Bubba Crosby, OF

I’m admittedly stretching the rules including Crosby on this list, because he was on the Yanks roster for 55 games in 2004 and 76 games last year, but he had fewer than 100 at bats in aught-five so he might as well be a rookie this year. The Lesser Crosby may earn a chance to play every day with all the injuries to the Yanks—if he gets off the DL (hammy) any time soon. Before the season started and Damon was bought, I was perfectly content to let him start in center for the Yankees this year. He’s a hit with Yanks fans because he gives 100% every time he’s out there, even if it means running over Gary Sheffield in the process. And unlike Damon, he can throw farther than my sister.

7. Kevin Thompson, OF

You probably have never even heard of him, but he hit his first major league home run on Saturday, and scouts say he’ll likely hit a few more before he’s done. When the Yanks don’t pick up Sheffield’s option at the end of the year, Thompson and Cabrera will likely be battling it out for the open outfield spot. (Unless Cashman goes shopping.)

8. Andy Phillips, 1B

He’s already doing his part to lock up this year’s Aaron Small Award for the “old guy” finally getting some playing time (he’s 29) and doing well with it. He had four homers in five days a few weeks ago, and had the best batting average in baseball over that week. But his career is half over before it has even begun due to the fact he’s just getting PT and he’s only a year shy of A-Rod, who only had about 9 years of experience when he was Phillips’ age. Then again, I’ve seen Phillips get a hit with runners in scoring position this year, unlike A-Rod, so who knows.

(Aside: One of the few things Yanks and Sox fans agree on is Choke-Rod’s ability—or lack thereof—in the clutch. And somehow, you know the guy will still have 40-140 by the end of the year. So here’s something to chew on: what happens if A-Rod ever sheds his “unclutch” ways and actually starts producing in those situations? The numbers would be staggering. I’m talking 60-70 HR, maybe 180 RBI? He’s already on pace to shatter the record books. It’s worth noting. Then again, the earth could start spinning in the opposite direction tomorrow too, but I don’t think there’s much chance of that happening.)

Needless to say, it should be an interesting year. It’s always exciting to watch young guys cut their teeth, and even moreso when they do it on one of sports biggest stages, which is what the Yanks/Sox Rivalry is.

It will be fun to watch guys succeed and stars be born—and equally entertaining to watch them fail. Assuming the ones failing are on the other team.

Honorable mention: Yankees: Kevin Reese, OF; Darrell Rasner, RHP; Sox: Manny Delcarmen