Monday, November 9, 2015

The Great Northeast Power Blackout. Knew it in a minute.

It was 50 years ago today

At 5:17PM on November 9, 1965 the lights went out all over New England, New York and Ontario. A lot of people suspecred the Russians were behind it. A story in today's Boston Globe says that hardly anyone knew how widespread it was until the next morning.

But I knew within a minute

Because of the radio. My aunt was having a glaucoma procedure done at Mass Eye & Ear (pronounced "the Eye-uh-Knee-uh") and was staying with us. We needed to pick up her prescription. Just after 5 my mother drove to Wellesley Square and parked at a meter in front of Clement Drug. I hopped out of the passenger seat and went in to buy it.

As the pharmacist was in the middle of ringing it up on one of those newfangled Monroe-Sweda registers that had spinning numbers - they replaced the old school National Cash Register ones that actually made the ca-ching sound - the lights went out and the numbers stopped spinning. The pharmacist said, "Ooh. I guess I didn't pay the electric bill" and took out his wallet to make change.

Then we both looked out the window and saw that all of the lights in Wellesley Square were out. "Ooh. Guess it's not just me." Being a polite teenager, I thanked him, walked out and hopped in the passenger seat of my mother's car.

What's the first thing a teenager in 1965 would do getting into a car? Turn on the radio. Our 1960 red Ford Galaxie 500 had, like most cars at the time, an AM radio with 5 buttons. The middle one was set to my favorite station, WBZ, "W-Beatle-Z, The Boss Sound of Boss-Town" and the first thing I heard was Jefferson Kaye saying that due to the power outage in Boston they were operating on an emergency generator. So this goes all the way into town.

My second favorite station was WMEX, 1510, The Home of the Good Guys. Being a radio nut even then, I guessed that Wimmex was too cheap to have an emergency generator, so I hit the 5th button and I was right. WMEX was off the air. AM radio bounces off the ionosphere, so in a situation like this an adjacent channel would come in. Which is what happened. WKBW, 1520 in Buffalo, came in clearly. Right away I heard the announcer, Dan Neavreth, say that because of the power outage across the city of Buffalo they were operating on an emergency generator. All of this happened in less than a minute.

It lasted until mid-morning

No power all night, no power when we woke up. But school wasn't canceled. With no power they had no way to cancel it. Power finally came back on around 10:30AM.

And for years to come people would ask...

where were you when the lights went out? But it's hard to beat my knew-it-in-a-minute story...thanks to the radio.

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Big Redemption for Spenser's Ace

Three years ago Ace Atkins got a D.

But he pulled his grade up to at least an A-. Some background: In the summer of 1981 I started reading Spenser mysteries by Robert B. Parker. I read all 39 of them, as well as all of Parker's Jesse Stone series (the Paradise, MA Police Chief character played on TV by Tom Selleck), all of the Sunny Randall series and a few other Parker novels. That comes to about two a year for over 30 years. Safe to say I was a fan of his work.

When Parker died in 2010 I thought that would be it.

But no. There was another Spenser book all set for release that summer, and another one posthumously released the next year. And Then Parker's wife Joan Parker wanted to keep the Spenser series going, so she sold the rights to Ace Atkins, a writer from Troy, Alabama who was a big Spenser fan. It probably didn't hurt that "Ace" was also Joan's nickname for Robert B.

I read the first one, Lullaby, and gave it a scathing review.

Which it deserved. Click here if you missed it. The story itself was pretty good, but his Boston stuff was absolutely horrible. I wasn't looking for mistakes, I was just trying to enjoy a new Spenser book. But the mistakes kept jumping off the pages and I started keeping track. I wound up with about 80 of them without breaking a sweat. Going the wrong way on well-known one-way streets, incorrect location references, screwing up characters that any Spenser fan would know, talking like a southerner, not a Bostonian. You name it. I was so disappointed I gave him one star on amazon.com and a D in my blog and decided to give up on Spenser.

Then he wrote a second one, Wonderland.

You can go on amazon.com and get a free preview of the first 25 pages or so. So I decided to at least give it a try and see if he'd learned anything. How far would I get before running into a screwup that screamed Alabama and not Boston? Not very far. I got to page one, paragraph two, when Spenser, who is in Revere chatting with Henry Cimoli and getting some fried clams from the takeout window at Kelly's. Okay so far. But as Spenser and Henry talk, he reaches into his bucket of fried clams to eat one. Bucket? You don't get fried clams in a bucket, but people from Troy, Alabama probably don't know that. In the interest of due diligence I went to the Kelly's web site, clicked on menu, then seafood, and read the choices for fried clams. Just what I expected. You can get a clam roll or a clam plate. No buckets. Kelly's is not a KFC. Ace had clearly not learned anything about Boston, so I logged out, didn't buy the book, and swore off of Spenser.

Then he wrote a third one, Cheap Shot.

My dentist and long-time friend Kevin Toomey saved the day for Ace. He had just returned from a trip to Italy and mentioned that on the flight he had just finished the latest Spenser and enjoyed it. He added that he knew I'd been greatly disappointed in the first Ace Atkins attempt at Spenser but thought I should give it a shot. It was late summer and I was missing my former summer ritual of reading a Spenser book on the beach, and I have always respected Kevin's opinion, so I downloaded both book #2 and #3.

Major improvement.

I have no delusions about Ace Atkins having read my scathing review and taken it to heart, but in book #2, Wonderland, he still made mistakes: "I drove down Tremont and under the Mass Pike" (No, Ace - Tremont Street passes over the Pike. You should try it sometime. Or look at Google Earth.) "I reached into the sack of muffins from Dunkin' Donuts" (No, Ace - we don't have "sacks" here. We have paper bags.) "I was listening to jazz on WICN." (No you weren't. You're at home in Boston, and WICN is a low-power station from Worcester that doesn't even show up in the Boston Nielsen ratings. This is a repeated mistake from book #1.) But...the error count was way down...from 80-something to about 10. And the story line about the fight for the Boston casino license is very timely.

In Cheap Shot it was down to maybe two.

And again, very timely. The son of a Patriots player is kidnapped and Spenser is on the case, helped by Hawk and Zebulon Sixkill, the new sidekick introduced in the last book written by Parker. Very timely given the Aaron Hernandez and you-know-what-gate stories. And hardly any Boston mistakes. Yeah, he did say "sack" instead of "paper bag" again, but only once, and he does a ton of spot-on local references. The story line is really good. And an associate of mine, Jordan Rich, does a talk show on WBZ and had Ace on with him for an in-studio interview so we now know that Ace has actually seen some of the places he's writing about.

Just finished Cheap Shot, started to write this review...

...and realized that there's already a fourth one called Kickback that came out in May. Now I'm remembering that there was a review in the Boston Globe by Thomas Farragher and he said the book was very good, but ended by saying that Ace made some mistakes, like referring to a Bruins match. Match? Does he think that the Bruins play soccer, or just not know anything about hockey? I forwarded Thomas a copy of my 2012 review and he responded that I paid closer attention to details than he did.

And there's a fifth one coming out next May.

It's called Slow Burn, which is perhaps what Ace Atkins did when he got slammed for completely whiffing on Boston in his first attempt. He wound up getting it 98% right, so kudos to Ace.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

World Series is Underway. For Whom Am I Rooting?

Still Not sure.

My #1 choice - Red Sox win - faded sometime in July. On the very first night of the playoffs, the AL Wild Card, my #2 choice - #AnybodybuttheYankees (I didn't even invent that hashtag) went away. Thanks Astros. My next choice was the Cubs proving Back to the Future II to be partially correct. But no. So here we are and it's the Mets and Royals.

Still a little annoyed.

1986 still bugs me a bit, but really it was more the Red Sox losing that series than the Mets winning it. My daughter Caitlin lives in Manhattan, and she assures me that anyone in NYC wearing a Mets cap is by definition not a Yankee fan. So that's a point in their favor.

They've also got Daniel Murphy.

Murphy isn't Kelley, but it's in the same ballpark, so to speak. And he might set a playoff home run record. They have four excellent young starters. They have Yoenis Cespedes mostly doing a great job in center field. As Bob Lobel used to say, why can't we get players like that? More on that coming up.

Inside the Park.

Has that ever happened before? The leadoff guy for the home team gets an inside-the-park home run? Alcides Escobar hit one off Matt Harvey and motored all the way around. It actually happened once before...Game 2 of the 1903 World Series between Boston and Pittsburg (no h at the end of the name back then). Left fielder Pasty Dougherty (perfect Boston name) lead off with an inside-the-park home run off Sam Lever at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, where the Red Sox played from 1901-1911 prior to moving to Fenway Park in 1912.

But Yoenis cost the Mets the game.

That first inning inside-the-park home run should have been caught by Yoenis. He sort of went for it, but didn't use his glove. The ball bounced off his leg and rolled away. If he'd caught it then that the 9th inning homer by Alex Gordon would have brought KC to within a run, but wouldn't have tied the game. Instead of 14 innings it would have ended as a 4-3 Mets win in the 9th.

So what about Kansas City?

It's sort of noplace. Everyone is midwest nice. Almost as nice as in St. Louis, but that's hard to match. Kansas City isn't even in Kansas. Kauffman Stadium isn't even in Kansas City. It's in Independence, MO, which is Harry S Truman's hometown. The nearby highway is the Harry S. Truman Expressway, which right there in his hometown spells his name incorrectly. The S doesn't stand for anything, so there should be no period. In the Army they'd put (IO) after the S, meaning Initial Only. Whatever. But I've heard that they have some crazy little women there.

Tonight, I guess tonight I'm with KC.

Game One should always go to the hometown team.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tonight's the last chance

It's Back to the Future Day.

If the Cubs are going to win the World Series as predicted in B2TF2 they have to start tonight by beating New York four straight times after being down 3 games to none, then sweeping the World Series opponent. (It obviously won't be Miami.)

Sound familiar?

If Theo can actually pull that off he can write his ticket to Cooperstown.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

View from Section 29: Amazing Innings in the Playoffs

We've had a few amazing innings.

Ten of the 30 MLB teams made the playoffs. Not everyone agrees with that system, but it keep things alive in a lot of markets. Much better than in the 50's when there were no divisions, only 8 teams per league, and if the Yankees were in 1st by 40 games in July what was the point of any non-Yankee fan even paying attention?

Think of this year's possible combinations.

We could have had a New York v. New York World Series. (That happened in 2000. Didn't really watch that series - it was my least favorite combination of teams and had my least favorite outcome.) We could have had LA v. LA. We could have had an all-Missouri series, we could have had an all Texas ALCS. But the Angels caved on the last day of the regular season, the Astros thankfully put the Yankees away quickly, the Cardinals lost the NLDS, killing the all-MO idea and giving the looooonnnng-suffering Cubs fans a reason to celebrate.

The Blue Jays dropped two games at home and faced elimination on Sunday.

And on Monday. And on Wednesday. But they won all three. Wednesday's clincher at the Rogers Centre featured a truly bizarre 7th inning. The game was tied 2-2, and in the top of the 7th Rougnet Odor (doesn't that sound like a Game of Thrones name?) is on 3rd, Shin Shoo Choo is at bat. Jays catcher Russell Martin catches a 2-1 pitch and throws it back to pitcher Aaron Sanchez...but the throw hits Choo's bat and rolls toward the mound. Rougnet scoots home from 3rd and the Rangers lead, 3-2. The Blue Jays and the entire crowd of 50,000 at the Rogers Centre is majorly pissed. Beer cans are thrown onto the field. The umpires put on the headsets and check with New York. According to the rule book the ball is in play and the run scores. (This is correct. As a certified umpire I can attest that, unless a dead ball has been declared due to, say, a foul, any time a catcher makes a bad throw to the pitcher the ball is live and runners can advance at their own risk as long as there was no attempt at interference by the batter.) The issue was whether Choo's bat was hanging over the strike zone and therefore interfered with Russell's throw back to Sanchez. Headsets came off and New York said safe, no interference, the run counts. Blue Jays coach John Gibbons is now playing under protest, so there's a big P on the scoreboard (first time I'd seen that). Bumma for the Blue Jays, but only for a little while. In the bottom of the inning the Rangers make four errors to load the bases. Toronto gets a run in to tie the game, and with two on and two out Jose Bautista, who has the Soprano-esque nickname Joey Bats, launches one practically into the hotel on the 3rd deck, then does a bat flip for the ages and the Jays win, 6-3.

Meanwhile the Royals also faced elimination by the Astros on Tuesday and on Wednesday. Not sure for whom I was rooting. I'm not a huge fan of Texas in general, but the Astros do get props for knocking off the Yankees. After all, my #1 choice for winning the World Series is the Red Sox, but it was obvious by May that was not going to happen in 2015. My #2 choice (it was always #1 prior to 2004) is #Anyone But the Yankees. And Houston took care of that for us.

On Monday the Royals looked almost completely dead. I was listening as I drove back from Cape Cod and the 8th inning alone took me all the way from Bourne to Needham. That's like an hour. The Astros were leading, 3-2, and added 3 runs with back-to-back homers. Royals are down, 6-2, bottom 8, elimination game. ESPN has already named some Astro as the Player of the Game. But noooo. Bottom 8, KC gets 5 straight hits with an error mixed in and takes a 7-6 lead, then adds a couple more in the 9th for a 9-6 win to tie the series at 2-2. On Wednesday both the Royals and Astros faced elimination and Tom Bergeron said the Royals are safe and the Astros will now leave us, so that's it for the all-Texas ALCS threat. All the ex's live in Texas.

Now we're down to 5.

And tonight it will be four when either the Dodgers or the Mets advance. Whom do we want to win? Hmmm. I'm still a little annoyed about the Mets in 1986. If you watch the video there's an old lady right in the first row behind the plate rolling toilet paper onto the field while Bob Stanley is facing Mookie Betts in the 10th inning of Game 6. Sorry, I meant Mookie Wilson. Gotta keep my Mookies straight. But the toilet paper thing lacked class. Really though, the Mets didn't win that World Series as much as the Red Sox lost it. And anyone in NYC who wears a Mets cap is a non-Yankee fan. So that's a good thing. The Dodgers, though, did us a favor by taking Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett and saving the Sox enough money to splurge on Hanley and Panda. So I don't know. Maybe this winter they'll repeat the favor. Actually, they already know about Hanley, so that part is unlikely to happen. If the Dodgers wind up playing the Royals the uniforms will look too similar. If the Blue Jays play the Mets it will be between the biggest city in the USA and the biggest city in Canada. That would make it an actual World Series. But...in "Back to the Future II" they predicted a Cubs World Series win in 2015. Against Miami. Okay, even if they're half right, wouldn't the vast majority of Americans want he Cubbies to finally win after 107 years?

Amazing Innings in the Playoffs

We've had a few amazing innings.

Ten of the 30 MLB teams made the playoffs. Not everyone agrees with that system, but it keep things alive in a lot of markets. Much better than in the 50's when there were no divisions, only 8 teams per league, and if the Yankees were in 1st by 40 games in July what was the point of any non-Yankee fan even paying attention?

Think of this year's possible combinations.

We could have had a New York v. New York World Series. (That happened in 2000. Didn't really watch that series - it was my least favorite combination of teams and had my least favorite outcome.) We could have had LA v. LA. We could have had an all-Missouri series, we could have had an all Texas ALCS. But the Angels caved on the last day of the regular season, the Astros thankfully put the Yankees away quickly, the Cardinals lost the NLDS, killing the all-MO idea and giving the looooonnnng-suffering Cubs fans a reason to celebrate.

The Blue Jays dropped two games at home and faced elimination on Sunday.

And on Monday. And on Wednesday. But they won all three. Wednesday's clincher at the Rogers Centre featured a truly bizarre 7th inning. The game was tied 2-2, and in the top of the 7th Rougnet Odor (doesn't that sound like a Game of Thrones name?) is on 3rd, Shin Shoo Choo is at bat. Jays catcher Russell Martin catches a 2-1 pitch and throws it back to pitcher Aaron Sanchez...but the throw hits Choo's bat and rolls toward the mound. Rougnet scoots home from 3rd and the Rangers lead, 3-2. The Blue Jays and the entire crowd of 50,000 at the Rogers Centre is majorly pissed. Beer cans are thrown onto the field. The umpires put on the headsets and check with New York. According to the rule book the ball is in play and the run scores. (This is correct. As a certified umpire I can attest that, unless a dead ball has been declared due to, say, a foul, any time a catcher makes a bad throw to the pitcher the ball is live and runners can advance at their own risk as long as there was no attempt at interference by the batter.) The issue was whether Choo's bat was hanging over the strike zone and therefore interfered with Russell's throw back to Sanchez. Headsets came off and New York said safe, no interference, the run counts. Blue Jays coach John Gibbons is now playing under protest, so there's a big P on the scoreboard (first time I'd seen that). Bumma for the Blue Jays, but only for a little while. In the bottom of the inning the Rangers make four errors to load the bases. Toronto gets a run in to tie the game, and with two on and two out Jose Bautista, who has the Sopranoesque nickname Joey Bats, launches one practically into the hotel on the 3rd deck, then does a bat flip for the ages and the Jays win, 6-3.

Meanwhile the Royals also faced elimination by the Astros on Tuesday and on Wednesday.

Not sure for whom I was rooting. I'm not a huge fan of Texas in general, but the Astros do get props for knocking off the Yankees. After all, my #1 choice for winning the World Series is the Red Sox, but it was obvious by May that was not going to happen in 2015. My #2 choice (it was always #1 prior to 2004) is #Anyone But the Yankees. And Houston took ├žare of that for us.

On Monday the Royals looked almost completely dead. I was listening as I drove back from Cape Cod and the 8th inning alone took me all the way from Bourne to Needham. That's like an hour. The Astros were leading, 3-2, and added 3 runs with back-to-back homers. Royals are down, 6-2, bottom 8, elimination game. ESPN has already named some Astro as the Player of the Game. But noooo. Bottom 8, KC gets 5 straight hits with an error mixed in and takes a 7-6 lead, then adds a couple more in the 9th for a 9-6 win to tie the series at 2-2. On Wednesday both the Royals and Astros faced elimination and Tom Bergeron said the Royals are safe and the Astros will now leave us, so that's it for the all-Texas ALCS threat. All the ex's live in Texas.

Now we're down to 5.

And tonight it will be four when either the Dodgers or the Mets advance. Whom do we want to win? Hmmm. I'm still a little annoyed about the Mets in 1986. If you watch the video there's an old lady right in the first row behind the plate rolling toilet paper onto the field while Bob Stanley is facing Mookie Betts. Sorry, I meant Mookie Wilson. Gotta keep my Mookies straight. But the toilet paper thing lacked class. Really though, the Mets didn't win that World Series as much as the Red Sox lost it. And anyone in NYC who wears a Mets cap is a non-Yankee fan. So that's a good thing. The Dodgers, though, did us a favor by taking Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett and saving the Sox enough money to splurge on Hanley and Panda. So I don't know. If the Dodgers wind up playing the Royals the uniforms will look too similar. If the Blue Jays play the Mets it will be between the biggest city in the USA and the biggest city in Canada. That would make it an actual World Series. As people on the radio like to say, "We'll keep you posted."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why all the Red Sox should wear the the high red socks

That's right - they should all wear the high red socks.

This is a shot from the Tuesday, June16th Red Sox-Braves game at Fenway. Notice that all four Red Sox infielders are wearing the high red socks. Or the high pants that show them off. It's a good look, but there's more to it than that.

Quick sock history.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's players would wear "plus-fours" - pants that reached four inches below the knee, with high ribbed socks. By the 1920's stirrups were the look. When you see old pictures of Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky and Yaz from the 40's, 50's and 60's they wore stirrup socks that were mostly red, but at the top there were white and blue stripes. Over the years the stirrups got stretched higher and the pants got longer. By 1980 Red Sox players wore pants long enough that you'd only see the red in the socks. By 2000 you'd only see a little bit of the red (Curt Schilling's bloody sock from 2004 is a great example) and many players (think David Ortiz) started wearing pants so long you'd think they'd trip on them.

Still, there were exceptions.

If you look at videos of 2003 and 2004 - or watch the movie "Fever Pitch" with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore - you'll see that Jason Varitek is wearing full red socks that go all the way up the calf. So does Trot Nixon. And Bill Mueller. And Kevin Millar. And Mark Bellhorn. And Mike Timlin. In 2003 even Manny did.

As those players went away, one by one, the look went away.

Sure the occasional relief pitcher would sport the look, but that was about it.

Now it's making a comeback.

In the shot above you see Pablo Sandoval, Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt and Mike Napoli sporting the full red socks. Mookie Betts does it as well. Hanley Ramirez may be the worst left fielder in baseball, but once in a while he goes after a ball, and once in a while he does the socks right.

So does Pedey. Once in a while. He should do it all the time. So should anyone who's either short or tall. Here's why: There's been a lot of talk about the strike zone being lower this year. When there's a borderline pitch at the bottom of the strike zone and the umpire sees the ball at the same height as the top of a red sock he's more likely to call it a ball. If he's looking at the same pitch at the same height and all he sees is an expanse of white or grey pant leg the call could go either way. So a hitter with high socks is less likely to get punched out on a borderline strike.

How do I know?

I'm an umpire. ASA, SMUA, PCCSUA, NFHS. I know how strikes are called.

By the way...

If we were talking about the Tampa Bay Rays or the Arizona Diamondbacks where there's no real history and no reference to sock color in their team name I wouldn't even bring this up.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Billy Joe Takes the Big Leap 49 Years Ago Today

It was 49 years ago today

On June 3, 1966, Billy Joe McAllister jumped off of Tallahatchie Bridge.

How do I know the year? Bobbie Gentry (pictured above - that was a hot Southern look back then) opens the song with, "It was the 3rd of June, another sleepy, dusty, Delta day" and tells us that Billy Joe went up to Choctaw Ridge and took the leap into the muddy water that day. Bobbie finds out at suppertime when her Momma tells everyone. Poppa says that Billy Joe never had a lick o'sense and pass the biscuits please, but Momma says it's a shame 'bout Billy Joe anyway.

Near the end of the song Bobbie tells us that a year has come and gone since we heard the news 'bout Billy Joe-oh-woah.

The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1967, so the fateful date for BJM would have been 6/3/66.

Maybe I'll post this again next year when it's the 50th.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Elephant on the Roster

Always better to blog following a win.

The Red Sox have begun to address the pitching problem. Inconsistent starts from everyone, the worst ERA in baseball, we've heard all about it. Pitching Coach Juan Nieves is gone. I probably won't be seeing him anymore at the the gym I go to in Wellesley. Sure, he did a great job with the pitchers on the 2013 team, but that was an almost entirely different staff. They also got rid of Edward Mujica, someone in whom I had absolutely no faith. Also Robbie Ross, Jr., who never impressed.

The good news? Matt Barnes, who has shined at times, is up from Pawtucket. Young, throws hard. They still haven't figured out if he's a starter or a reliever. If it were up to me, I'd make him a starter.

So what's the elephant?

The hitting, of course. Look at the box score of any game this year and you'll see at least three, sometimes as many as five, Red Sox batters hitting under the Mendoza line. Well under it. Take this past weekend, for example. We have Daniel Nava (who hit .303 in 2013) at .136. New call up Blake Swihart at .111, Allen Craig at .135, Mike Napoli at .161, Sandy Leon at .185, one-day call-up Travis Shaw at .000. Craig has been dispatched to Pawtucket (what took so long?) and Jackie Bradley Jr. was called up. But he's batting .000 so far. When he went on the DL Shane Victorino was hitting .143. Three weeks ago Mookie Betts was at .196. Two weeks ago we had both David Ortiz and Ryan Hanigan at an even .200.

As Keenan Thompson would say on SNL, What's up with that?

Some of the hitters are starting to pull put of it, but seriously, what is up with that? What should they do?

Get rid of the coach.

That's what they did to start fixing the pitching problem. Why not with the hitting problem? A team can get away with one player in the lineup who can't hit but has great defensive skills - really, it's the same as the pitcher hitting in the National League - but you absolutely cannot have 3 or 4 of your starters being automatic outs and win very many games.

The new hitting coach this year is Chili Davis. Whatever Chili is telling them, it isn't working. Chili spent 19 seasons in the majors. 7 with the Giants, 3 with the Angels, 2 with the Twins, 4 more back with the Angels, one with the Royals and his final two with...the Yankees. Hmmm. Remember in 2004 the Red Sox signed Ramiro Mendoza, who used to be the 8th inning setup guy for Mariano Rivera? He was awful, and the joke was that he was an Embedded Yankee, still being paid by George Steinbrenner to lose games for the Sox, but be subtle and inconsistent about it so no one would figure out the scheme. In his 19 years in the majors, who paid Chili the most? New York. Are they still paying him? Which of his five former teams stands to gain the most from a weak Red Sox offense? New York. As they say in NYC, am I wraung or am I right?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hope Springs

The Home Opener

Always one of the best days of the year. The sun is shining, there's new grass on the field. Put me in, Coach. Hope Springs Eternal. The award-winning painting above, "Hope Springs," was done by my wife, Kathy, two years ago. That was when Hope Sprung for 2013 following a last place finish in 2012. So let's do it again.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

1915 Night in Philly

The Red Sox wrap up in Philadelphia tonight.

Philly is where they boo Santa Claus and cheer bad landings at the airport. But I had a good time when I worked there. I'm watching the game and I haven't heard Don Orsillo or Jerry Remy mention this, but there's a 1915 banner flying. The Phillies are also wearing a throwback 1915 hat.

The Phillies won the NL pennant that year.

And faced the Red Sox in the World Series. Philadelphia won Game 1, then lost four in a row. It wound up as a back-to-back Boston-over-Philly Championship. The year before, 1914, saw the AL Philadelphia Athletics (now, two moves later, they're the Oakland Athletics) lose to the NL Boston Braves (now, two moves later, they're the Atlanta Braves) in 5 games. The Phillies wouldn't return to the World Series until 1950, when they were swept by the Yankees.

Flash forward to 1980.

After 98 years playing in Philly (the team had moved there from Worcester, MA in 1882) with a record of 1 and 8 in World Series play with no championships, Philadelphia faced the Kansas City Royals and won it in 6 games. They lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993 (that was the Joe Carter walk-off series), beat the Rays in 2008 and lost to the Yankees in 2009. No winning seasons since then.

So why the throwback hats?

Why not? It's 100 years. I'm just surprised that no one is mentioning it.

FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE:

This didn't make it on NESN last night, but they had someone dressed up like Woodrow Wilson, who was President in 1915, throw out the first pitch.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Back From Fenway South

So how are things looking?

Is worst-to-first-to-worst-to-first a complete pipe dream? Quite a few writers don't think so. Most are predicting the Red Sox to finish first in the AL East. A few, like Tim Kurkjian, think it will be the Baltimore Orioles, a team with 96 wins in 2014. That's 25 more wins than Boston had. I'm sure Tim is very objective, but for what it's worth, when I lived in Baltimore in the late 80's Tim covered the Orioles for the Baltimore Sun.

What exactly would enable the Sox be able to go from last place to first this year?

First, it's do-able. The Red Sox went from 69 wins in 2012 to 97 in 2013. A 28-game improvement. A similar improvement in 2015 would give them 99 wins. No one did that last year. Two years ago, following 2012, I blogged about 1989, when the Orioles had a 33-game improvement from 1988, going from 64 wins to 87, and weren't eliminated from the AL East race until the final weekend (no Wild Cards back then). If the Sox could do two-thirds of that they might win the division, and if the National League could win the All-Star game so the Series would start in Boston we might clinch a championship at home. I wish I'd put some money on that.

I thought this column was about 2015.

It is. We took in three games at jetBlue Park (the lower-case j in jet is intentional) and here are my takeaways: First, it was a gorgeous 83 with an azure blue sky every day. Just fabulous. Went to the beach in Naples. Hated to leave. Oh, yes, the games. We had several veterans mostly going through the motions. Not trying to get a hit or anything, just working on their timing. Pitchers tweaking their mechanics and looking to improve their command bit by bit. Or so they tell the reporters. "Hey, Clay, you looked pretty bad against the Phillies today...are you really supposed to be the #1 starter?" Clay responds with something like, "I wasn't really trying to get anyone out, I was working on my slider mechanics." Okay, then. That explains it.

The pitchers:

Really, Buchholz looks pretty good most of the time. Rick Porcello showed promise. A guy from Detroit told me that Tigers fans are upset that Porcello was traded away. That's a good sign. Joe Kelly, who I remember seeing pitch for the Y-D Red Sox in the Cape Cod League wasn't fooling any of the Mets batters on Monday, but looked better than the box score would indicate. Another guy who played for the Y-D Sox, Brian Johnson, shows promise as a reliever. Here's a tid-bit on him: his mother and his aunt were the Doublemint Gum twins. Remember "Double your pleasure, double your fun...?" Joe Castiglione will no doubt throw that in a few times if Johnson gets called up. I'm a little worried about Koji Uehara. Dalier Hinojosa did himself no favors and won't be coming north.

Hitters:

Guys like Ortiz don't have to try hard in spring training because his spot in the lineup is guaranteed. Guys like Pedroia try hard anyway because he's like that. Victorino was announced as the starting right fielder. HIs defense looked great but his hitting was nothing. Guys who would love to make the team try really hard. Brock Holt always looks good. They should trade Bogaerts to Philly for Cole Hamels and put Holt at short. That's my .02. Jackie Bradley Jr. was hitting something like .290 (let's do the math: that's better than the .198 he hit in 2014 but much worse than the .419 he hit in spring training in 2013 that got him to the majors. He struck out with the bases loaded to end an inning and hit into two double-plays. Meanwhile Mookie Betts was clobbering the ball (I saw three lead-off doubles) and running hard. It would be crazy for him not to be the starting center fielder. He did let a couple of balls go over his head in the triangle that Bradley might have had, but Mookie sure looks for real. Blake Swihart, who is fourth on the catcher depth chart, looks very good, especially at bat. A switch-hitter with power. He does need some work on defense (I saw balls in the dirt bounce off him three times), but he's a gamer and I hope they don't trade him. He'll start the year in Pawtucket.

The new guys.

The reason so many writers are picking the Sox to win the division is the "dramatically improved offense." Meaning, of course, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. A lot seems to be riding on them. Pablo is a guy who has a guaranteed spot at 3rd, so he doesn't have to try hard this spring. He looks much less fat than I expected based on pictures in the paper a couple of weeks ago. He did have a nice opposite field hit. He also hit into two 4-6-3 double plays. Nothing special defensively, so we'll just have to wait and see in April. Hanley worries me. He's hardly hitting. He did have a line drive off the faux-Green Monster but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. To be fair, a run did score on the play. He also made one running catch in left-center, almost colliding with Betts. BUT...the rest of the time he looked like he had asked Manny for tips on how to play left field.

It was a great trip.

As I mentioned, it was sunny and beautiful. The roads have no potholes. The median strips have plants and flowers. Everyone at the games was in a great mood. I was delighted to have my daughter Kara join me. (I feel badly that my wife was stuck at home selling houses, but March is a very busy season in real estate.) I can't think of a better way to wrap up a horrible winter. Does Hope Spring for the 2015 season? Absolutely. That's what Hope Springing is all about.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Hall of Fame: Pedro, Smoltz, The Big Unit, Biggio are in

The 2015 Hall of Fame Inductees have been announced.

No real surprises. Pedro Martinez made it on his first ballot. Good for him. He deserves it. Pedro was always fun to watch.

My favorite Pedro moment was when he struck out the first four batters and 5 of the 6 he faced as the AL starter in the 1999 All-Star game at Fenway Park. That, or when Don Zimmer, then a Yankees coach, charged him like a raging bull in the 2003 ALCS and Pedro pushed him aside. Everyone said that Pedro shoved a 70-year old coach and was disciplined, but I was there and saw it. Zim charged him.

Did Pedro throw at hitters? Here's his take: "I will throw inside. The batter must know that the plate belongs to me. They don't complain when it's on the outside of the plate, but the inside has them upset. I don't care, it's my plate."

The line is that he's the first Red Sox pitcher to be enshrined who had his greatest success while pitching for Boston. Really? What about Cy Young?

He played for the Cleveland Spiders in the National League for 8 seasons. Then went to St. Louis for two years. They were the Perfectos in 1899, then changed their name to the Cardinals.

He also spent 8 seasons with Boston American League team, known as both the Americans and the Red Sox in his tenure. He started Game 1 of the very first World Series and won two games in the series for Boston. The picture above is a Cy Young statue on the quad at Northeastern University in Boston, on the site where the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds stood from 1901-1911. That was the Red Sox predecessor ballpark to Fenway Park.

In In 1909 he went to the Cleveland Naps (the name refers to player-manager Napoleon Lajoie) for a couple of years, so that's why he's in the Hall wearing a Cleveland cap. Both the National League Cleveland Spiders and the American League Cleveland Naps are what is now known as the Cleveland Indians. There was never a PC issue with the nickname Spiders or Naps, but Chief Wahoo lives on. At any rate, Cleveland gets to claim Cy.

Okay, what about the Eck?

Well, Hall-of-Famer Dennis Eckersley was a 20-game winner for the Red Sox, but it was his transformation from inconsistent starter to lights-out-point-at-Dewey-when-he-strikes-him-out closer by A's manager Tony Larussa that got him inducted.

When Eck pitched for the Red Sox, Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle once wrote, "If I were managing a fantasy baseball team and we were down by a run in the 9th inning but had two guys on base, I'd want Stan Musial at bat. And Dennis Eckersley on the mound." Eck did finish his career back with the Red Sox, and to give him his props, he's an entertaining and informative color analyst. As good as they get.

Roger?

Year three, missed getting in by a lot. Eventually his mis-remembering of PHD's might be forgotten. Maybe.

Smoltz pitched for the Red Sox.

Yes, briefly. And not well. He was a very good pitcher for the Braves for 19 seasons. I was at the game for his first start for the Red Sox. It was June 25, 2009 at Nationals Park in Washington DC. It's an easy date to remember because just before the first pitch it was announced on the PA that Michael Jackson was dead. As the ERA of 54.00 indicates, Smoltz had a bad 1st inning.

Randy Johnson?

Definitely deserving of induction. One night a few years ago a few buddies and I got into a discussion of who was the ugliest ballplayer. Randy won. My #1 memory of him was Opening Day 2005 at Fenway, when the Yankees had to stand there and watch the Red Sox ring ceremony from the 04 World Series win. All the Yankees (yes, they all behaved well and were respectful) were lined up on the 3rd base line, and Randy Johnson was a full head taller than everyone else. His nickname The Big Unit didn't come from nothing. The other moment, which I heard about but never saw, was at Chase Field in Phoenix when Johnson was a Diamondback and he delivered a fastball that wound up hitting a diving pigeon in mid-air on the way to the plate. The pigeon exploded. I'm not sure what the umpire called the pitch.

Craig Biggio also got in.

This was the largest induction group since 1955. I saw Biggio at Minute Maid Park in Houston and he homered twice for an Astros win against the Cardinals. He played 5 positions, but was mostly a 2nd baseman. Career batting average of .281, which is shy of the magical .300 that is supposedly the line of demarcation for induction. Good player, though. I also know that he played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League in 1986 so there's an extra reason to be happy for him.