Monday, December 24, 2012

Last-Minute Book Ideas

Here it is, the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Still looking for a last-minute book idea for someone? Here are three completely different suggestions:

Extraordinary Rendition
If you're a fan of Showtime's "Homeland" and you're bummed that Season 2 just ended, try "Extraordinary Rendition" by Paul Batista. No relation to the Detective in "Dexter." It's a thriller about a New York City lawyer asked by the ACLU to do a Pro Bono case defending Ali Hussein, who's been imprisoned as a terrorist for several years without ever being charged or even told what his alleged crime is. I won't do any plot-spoiling here. I'll just say that anyone who enjoys "Homeland" will enjoy "Extraordinary Rendition."

What Happened in Granite Creek
Second on this list is a murder mystery called "What Happened in Granite Creek," the second novel by Robyn Bradley. Robyn was on this year's BookBundlz list of best new authors. Robyn tells the story in first person, but from the POV of several different characters and in a back-and-forth timeline. A definite page-turner (or thumb-slider) with an ending you will not expect. Worthy of being made into a mini-series.

The Baseball Hall of Shame
Third on the list is The Best of Blooperstown edition of "The Baseball Hall of Shame" and it's full of quick but funny stories that any baseball fan will enjoy. In the chapter about Most Pitiful Pitching Performances of All Time we learn about the three Kansas City A's pitchers who gave up 11 runs in one inning...on only one hit. The hit was followed by three errors, a hit batsman and 8 bases-loaded walks. It almost makes Alfredo Aceves look good by comparison.

"Extraordinary Rendition" and "What Happened in Granite Creek" are both available in print and e-book editions. "The Baseball Hall of Shame" is only in print, but it will fit in a stocking so you'd better hightail it if you want one in time for tomorrow.

One more thing. If you're reading "The Night Before Christmas" (or correctly titled, "A Visit From St. Nicholas") out loud tonight, remember that most versions have a typo. Santa's seventh and eighth reindeers should be Donner and Blitzen, not Donder and Blitzen. Why? Because "donner"(only one d) and "blitzen" are the German words for thunder and lightning. Have a Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A funny thing on Saturday

On Saturday I was at what is frequently called "The Game"...meaning the 129th playing of the Harvard-Yale game at the oldest football stadium in America.

Did you know that the length and width of a standard football field is based on the dimensions of Harvard Stadium? The actual rules of football were written up by Harvard and Yale back in 1875.

During the 3rd quarter they posted scores of other games on the Jumbotron, including "Western Carolina 49, Alabama 0." I looked around and could see many faces with a "what???" expression. I could imagine people calling their bookies to put some decent coin on Western Carolina winning the game.

About 5 minutes later the scores were re-posted with the 49 points properly credited to the other Crimson team. I imagined all those folks who had just called their bookie hitting redial to cancel the bet, but not getting a connection because the cell towers were overloaded.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Boone or two for the election

Thought this was funny. Today, the day before the election, we got a couple of robo calls. One was for Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for the US Senate, the other was for incumbent US Senator Scott Brown. All the polls show it's a tight race.

Here's the funny part. The Warren robo call was voiced by Matt Damon. That's cool. The Brown robo call was voiced by Pat Boone.

Pat Boone? That's who the Brown campaign believes will knock people off the fence and re-elect Scott? Really? Pat, who is 78, is famous for several pop songs in the late 50's and early 60's, like "Love Letters in the Sand" (#1 for 7 straight weeks) and for a squeaky-clean image. I think he did TV spots for milk, and this was way before the "Got Milk?" campaign.

Then I flip on the TV, which I rarely see during the day unless it's on CNBC, and there's an ad for Lifestyle Lift, a company that does facelift surgery. The spokesperson is Debby Boone, Pat's daughter. In the background you hear a snippet of Debby singing.

For those who are too young to know, in the summer of 1977 Debby Boone had her one and only hit, "You Light Up My Life." It went to the top of the Billboard chart and stayed at #1 for ten straight weeks. When you have a ballad that stays at #1 for that long every station winds up playing it. Over and over. The result was that the American public got so sick of the song that they never ever ever wanted to hear it again. That's why you never ever hear it today, even on an oldies station.

So in the TV ad for Lifestyle Lift, they play a snippet of "You Light Up My Life" but they don't use the hook of the song. Made me wonder whether the director was too young to know it wasn't the hook of the song, or old enough to know that nobody wants to hear that hook ever and decided to use a different three seconds of the song so that the advertiser would be happy but viewers wouldn't be too turned off.

And there's another little tidbit to add. While Debby's song was being pounded on the radio in the summer of '77 she and her dad Pat did a TV spot for a product called Acne Statin which would miraculously get rid of your acne. Just rub it on and zits disappear. Trouble was, Acne Statin didn't work, and there was a successful Class Action suit against not just the makers of Acne Statin but against Debby and Pat because they used their celebrity to convince people that they had used the product and it worked when in reality they had not used it and it didn't work anyway. Acne Statin was never heard from again. Neither were the Boones until this week.

But wait, there's more. The makers of Lifestyle Lift are currently under investigation by the Florida Attorney General's office.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rando thoughts on the World Series

Losing back-to-back-to-back
Only two teams have the distinction of losing the World Series three years in a row. Those two are the Tigers (1907, 1908, 1909) and the Giants (1911, 1912, 1913). The Tigers lost back-to-back series to the Cubs, of all people.

Weighing in
Four of the five fattest ballplayers were in the series this year. This is not to say they're not good, just that they're fat.

One is a Giant, Pablo Sandoval. Nickname is Kung Fu Panda.

Three are Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, Delmon Young and Prince Fielder.

The fifth and biggest wide load is CC Sabathia, a Yankee.

Is that a wig beard?
The two craziest beards among active players were both in the series. Prince Fielder of the Tigers and Sergio Romo of the Giants.

Brian Wilson of the Giants has an even crazier one, but he's recovering from Tommy John surgery and did not play.

I'm calling the beards crazy only because they look like fake beards from a Halloween costume or a Saturday Night Live bit.

The good news
The #1 choice each year is for the Red Sox to win the World Series. The #2 choice is Anybody but the Yankees. Not only did the Yankees not win, they didn't even get there. So it was a good season.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Walking Man

One day about three years ago I was driving down Oak Street in my hometown of Wellesley MA. On the sidewalk was a man with white hair who looked to be 80-something. He waved me down and I pulled over to see if he needed help of some sort. He said he was fine, but just wanted to ask me about my license plate.

"Are those your initials?" I replied that they are not, that's the way I spell Kelley. With an EY at the end. I learned years ago that you can't say, "Kelley...with two E's" because people will starting writing Keelly. So I got my EY plate. I've ben asked about EY on many occasions. Usually I'm asked if I work for Ernst & Young. Once in a while I'll get a Fonzie from "Happy Days" reference. (Remember he often responded to something with, "Eeeeyyyy!" and there were Eeeeyyy bumper stickers in the 70's?) The man told me that those are his initials and not many people have them. He said his name was Eddie Yost.

I knew about Eddie Yost. He played for the Washington Senators - the team that is now the Minnesota Twins, not to be confused with the other Washington Senators who became the Texas Rangers. (Note on the above Yost baseball card they called the Senators the "Nats" - the same nickname today's Washington Nationals use.) Yost was a lead-off guy and specialized in getting on base via walks. His career on-base percentage is higher than Derek Jeter's. He lead the majors in walks six times, earning himself the nickname The Walking Man. I remember seeing him play on Opening Day at Griffith Stadium in Washington DC. We actually had 1st row seats that my father got from Sen. Leverett Saltonstall (R-Mass). Yost went 2 for 5 with 2 rbi's - and a walk - and 1 run scored as the Senators beat the Red Sox.

So I told Eddie Yost that I had worked for many years with Gay Vernon, daughter of Mickey Vernon, two-time AL Batting Champion and his long-time Washington Senators teammate. The Senators - the second version, the ones who moved to Texas - were an expansion team in 1961. Like the original Senators, they were horrible. Lost over 100 games the first several years. The first manager was Mickey Vernon, who was replaced with Eddie Yost. A couple of managers later they hired Ted Williams. This is proof that even a great ballplayer cannot succeed as a manager if the team itself has minimal talent. Eddie Yost subsequently moved to Wellesley and was the Red Sox 3rd base coach for eight seasons. When he got off the merry-go-round and retired he took up restoring antique merry-go-round horses. Eddie Yost, The Walking Man, was a chatty guy when you passed him on the street. This week he passed away at the age of 86.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Not an off-the-wall experience, but not a fan experience either.

Today was batting practice at Fenway for season ticket holders.  Sorry about 2012, would you like to take batting practice at home plate?  Yes, indeed.

I wore my official Ted Williams #9 home shirt with the 1939 seal on the sleeve, blue undersleeves (like they wore in Ted's day), and a nicely broken-in hat.  Kathy went with me to record it for posterity.  As I was checking in the Sox representative said if I hit the wall he'd comp me my season tickets for 2013.

They took us in through the visitor's locker room, down the walkway under the grandstand, up into the visitor's dugout, then onto the field.  I could choose from wood or metal bats and went with wood.  I could probably have hit the ball farther with a metal bat, but using a real wood bat is way more fun.  The bat was heavier than I would have preferred, but I could swing it.  I found a helmet in my size and headed for home plate.

They announced me on the PA.  "Now batting, number 9, 'the Don'...Don Kelley." The entire at-bat was on the Jumbotron, but I didn't know that until afterward because I was concentrating on seeing the ball real good.  

I had gone to the batting cages on Cape Cod in the morning to take some practice BP both left-handed and right-handed.  Baseball medium-fast.  I had surprised myself by hitting some respectable fly balls righty, so at Fenway I decided to go up there righty and use a Dewey stance.

Five pitches.  I connected on every one of them.  Only fouled one back.  One of them I hit to short and figured if Lugo were playing I might well be on base.  That white blotch next to the edge of the batting cage, above the guy in the red shirt, is the ball soaring toward short.

Afterward we headed to the Red Sox dugout, took some shots sitting on the bench, standing up the railing looking concerned, walking down the gangway to the Red Sox clubhouse looking disgusted, like I'd just been tossed for arguing a close call that went the wrong way.

Then we posed with the two World Series trophies and went up on the Green Monster for some more shots.  It was not an off-the-wall experience (while I was there no one came anywhere near hitting the wall), but I didn't swing and miss at all, so it wasn't a fan experience. It was the most fun I've had at Fenway without seeing a game.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Big Debate - right or left?

No, not between Obama and Romney, or Biden and Ryan, or Brown and Warren, or even Tierney and Tisei.

On Monday at 2:30 I have an appointment at Fenway Park.  I get to take batting practice.  At home plate.  5 pitches.

Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy invited season ticket holders to take batting practice at home plate. It's a way of saying thanks for sticking with us during this horrific season.

I do almost everything left-handed, but I can actually hit from either side.  So my big debate is whether to go up swinging from the right side or the left side.  I will probably swing and miss at all five pitches, so it really doesn't matter.

But it does.  I'm going to stand in the batter's box at Fenway Park and swing away.  I can go up righty and be standing exactly where Carlton Fisk was when he hit that 1975 World Series home run. And where Dwight Evans stood for 19 seasons. Or, I could go up there lefty and be standing exactly where Babe Ruth did.  And Ted Williams, and Yaz.

I have a better chance of hitting the wall batting from the right side.  In my dreams.  Maybe they'll let me switch sides halfway though.  No, that won't happen.  I will toss and turn thinking about it tonight, but I know I will thoroughly enjoy it either way.  Even if I miss all five.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ok, who's fault was it?

Bobby V being shown the door the day after the Red Sox season finally ended was no surprise.  The surprise would have been if they waited for the weekend so it wouldn't make the front page.  But everyone knew the other shoe would drop, and John, Tom and Larry had no need to prolong the obvious, and had the decency to get it over with before the playoffs begin.

Here's how I cut up the blame pie.  I should point out that I have professional experience cutting pies;  in high school I worked at Howard Johnson's in Wellesley and a portion of the the work was cutting slices of pie. Cutting that first piece neatly is an art. Usually it was apple pie that was kept in a heated drawer.  Customers would get a piping hot slice with vanilla ice cream melting on it and think it just came out of the oven.  In truth, it had probably been in the heated drawer for a couple of weeks.

Okay, the blame:

10% to Ownership.  They didn't really want Bobby but hired him anyway because no one better was available.  And they got rid of him when they needed to.

5% to Ben Cherington.  He wanted Dale Sveum, but Dale had no managerial experience and people couldn't even spell his name, let alone pronounce it.  Ownership overruled Ben.

20% to the starting pitching.  Most people would put more of the blame on the starters, and there were a lot of horrible first innings, but Lester, Buchholz, DuBront and even Beckett had a surprising number of Quality Starts that did not result in wins.  (A Quality Start means you went five full innings giving up three earned runs or less.)  Why?  Because either Bobby V left them in until after they had run out of gas or the bullpen blew it on them.  If you don't count Dice-K and Aaron Cook in this section, the number is probably down to 15%.  (Dice-K actually won a game - one run over 8 innings in a 5-1 win in an afternoon game on August 27th.  I was there.)

20% to the bullpen.  I kept hearing hosts on WEEI and announcers on national network games saying the problem was starting pitching and the bullpen had been pretty good, but I completely disagree.  Alfredo Aceves was horrible two times out of three.  His Blown Save count is deceptively low because it doesn't count the times when he gave up a four-run lead, or came in with the game tied and gave it up.  Remember John "Waaay back" Wasdin?  Aceves could be called Alfredo "That's a two-run homer" Aceves.  Or Alfredo Blown-Seves.  Andrew Miller was all over the place, often unable to retire the one hitter he faced.  Andrew Bailey, when he finally showed up, was ok at best.  I saw him in spring training.  They brought him in the the 6th inning and he immediately gave up 6 straight hits.  This was supposed to be our Papelbon replacement? Yikes. To be fair, Junichi Tazawa was a pleasant surprise most of the time and Craig Breslow wasn't too bad.

20% to injuries.  Almost half the roster was on the DL at least once.  Those who came back didn't play to their potential.  Ellsbury missed the majority of the season and performed well below his fabulous 2011.  (But I definitelty want him to stay!)  Nobody expected much from Crawford, and in his place Daniel Nava did better than Crawford in 2011.  So that injury doesn't add much.  Andrew Bailey has already been dumped on above.  Ortiz going down in July hurt a lot.  The various guys filling in as DH collectively batted something like 100 points lower than Ortiz with no home runs.  Scott Atchison getting hurt?  Didn't matter.

5% to player and coach attitude.  Not a high number, and that's because it was brought on by...

20% to Bobby V.  At least.  He made it too much about himself.  He mispronounced player's names. He left pitchers in too long.  8 innings out of Daniel Bard, who was used to pitching only the 8th?  Youk wasn't trying hard enough?  Putting Punto in the lineup when he was batting .178 because he liked him?  Salty as DH...batting .220-something?  Aceves as the closer?  Not bringing Ciriaco up until late July?  Come on. That's not how we do it around here.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The lights are off

I was at Fenway last night wearing a short sleeve authentic Red Sox home jersey, #28.  Not for the departed Adrian Gonzalez or the retired Doug Mirabelli, but for my daughters.  They both wore #28 when they were on the varsity softball team at Wellesley High.

What was strange was wearing short sleeves and no jacket for the final home game of the year.  When you're there watching the 9th inning of the last home game it's supposed to be well into October.  Preferably the last week.  You should be wearing a ski cap and shivering while you're holding a Dunkie's hot chocolate and wishing you'd remembered to bring gloves.

But no.  I went with my older brother Hugh, who had also gone to Opening Day with me.  He and I have been going to Fenway since way back when Ted Williams was still playing.  Seriously.

Speaking of Ted, they announced the All-time Fenway team last night, and most of the living players showed up for the event.  Even Roger Clemens, who skipped the 100th Anniversary event in April because he was afraid of getting booed.  No one booed him or anyone else last night.  Not even Bobby V.  They all got big cheers.

All-time starting lineup:  Jimmy Foxx at 1st, Pedroia at 2nd, Nomah at short, Boggs at 3rd. Teddy Ballgame in left, Fred Lynn in center, Dewey in right.  Fisk catching, Papi is DH.  On the bench you have Yaz (seems odd, but you gotta have #9 starting in left), Rice, Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Varitek.  Starting pitchers include Babe Ruth, Smokey Joe Wood, Jim Lonborg, Luis Tiant, Bill Lee, Roger, Pedro and Schilling, with Wakefield, Radatz and Papelbon in the pen.  Tito, of course, is the manager.

Good start to the game itself.  Lester had a no-hitter into the 5th inning, and I was thinking that it would be pretty ironic if Lester threw his second no-hitter on a night like this when it didn't really matter.  Naturally I was careful not to mention it until he gave up a single.  Just as I was saying, "There goes the no-hitter," the next pitch went sailing into the Monster Seats, and that was also it for the shutout and the one-run lead.

Quite a few fans departed early, but in the middle of the 8th there was still a lot of loud singing and hamming it up for "Sweet Caroline" because you never know if you'll get on the Jumbotron.  In the bottom of the 9th there was an impressively loud, "Let's Go Red Sox, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap," from the remaining faithful hoping for an unlikely walk-off miracle.  

We stayed until the bitter end, a 4-2 loss.  The melancholy We Just Lost organ music played, and as we headed out it occurred to me that, despite going to over 30 home Sox games this season, I'm pretty sure I only heard "Dirty Water" play one time.  A day game in August when, of all things, Dice-K won.

Hope will spring eternal on April Fool's Day, 2013 at Yankee Stadium.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sox eliminated - for whom do we root now?

The Red Sox were officially eliminated on Sunday afternoon.  Certainly not a surprise, but for whom do we root at this point?

The obvious first answer is Anybody But The Yankees.  Either league, any division, doesn't matter.  Just not the Yankees.

Oakland is doing well with a limited budget, just like in Money Ball.  Of course, those Money Ball teams in the early 2000's kept getting knocked out in round one of the playoffs.  The A's last World Series win was in 1989.  The Earthquake Series against the Giants.  They'll be a Wild Card this year.

My American League choice, however, is Baltimore.  I used to live there, my younger daughter was born there, the O's have a very good history, and Camden Yards is a great ballpark.  Their last World Series win was in 1983.  Last playoff appearance was in 1997 when the kid in the right field short porch at Yankee Stadium leaned over the railing of the 8-foot fence and grabbed a catchable fly ball.  The Orioles were cheated out of a World Series appearance.  Had they gone to the Series and won they'd have been the only team to win it all in the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's.  It didn't happen, and they've been horrible since - until this year.

In June my niece Charlotte graduated from Wellesley High School, where I went, both of my daughters went, plus a sister-in-law, a nephew and another niece.  The featured speaker at the commencement was David McCullogh, son of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the same name.  An excellent speech entitled, "You are not special" that went viral this summer.  In the speech he mentions that the majority of marriages fail, and that marriage does worse than the Baltimore Orioles.  Clearly he wrote this speech in March, before the Orioles, under the new leadership of Dan Duquette, made an amazing turnaround.  Dan has got to be loving this.  So Baltimore is my AL choice.

In the NL, I have to go with Washington.  The last time that Washington had a World Series winner was 1924.  That's 88 years ago, longer than the Red Sox 1918-2004 drought and as long as the White Sox 1917-2005 drought.  To be fair to DC, they had a 32-year gap with no MLB team, from 1972-2004.  But if you fill that gap with either the last team that departed DC (the present day Texas Rangers) or the franchise that became the Washington Nationals (the former Montreal Expos) you still have the winless streak intact, as neither of those teams even made the World Series between 1972 and 2004.  And the Nationals haven't yet, but are threatening this year.  Good for them.  At 88 years Washington DC has had the longest wait any of city.  (Cleveland is second on that list at 64 -I'm counting 2012 as the Indians are already eliminated.)

A Beltway Series - maybe they'd call it a BWI Series, or a BW Parkway Series - between Baltimore and Washington would be fun.  I'd be happy with either team winning it all.  Just not the Yankees.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Every summer since 1981 I've read a Spenser mystery by Robert B. Parker.  39 in all, plus all 9 of his Jessie Stone books, all 6 of his Sunny Randall books and four others.  Two years ago Robert B. Parker died and I thought that was it for my Spenser reading.  But no.  There was another Spenser already scheduled for release that summer, another Jesse Stone for the following winter, and a final Spenser to be posthumously released last summer.

Even that wasn't it.  Robert B. Parker's widow Joan Parker personally chose Ace Atkins to keep Spenser alive.  Atkins was chosen, according to Joan, because of his vast knowledge of the Spenser series and everything about it.  This summer the new book is "Robert B. Parker's Spenser - Lullaby"  by Ace Atkins.

So why does Ace get a D?  The Spenser story itself is okay.  I'll give it a B-.  He thankfully only spends a little time having Spenser gush about Susan.  All the other usual characters are there:  Hawk, Martin Quirk and Frank Belson from BPD, Epstein from the FBI, Vinnie Morris the shooter, gangster Tony Marcus with sidekicks Junior and Ty Bop.  He digs up bad guys from earlier books:  Joe Broz, Joe's son Gerry, and Gino Fish.  One problem is that for a guy who allegedly knows the books so well that he got the rights to continue the series he gets a lot of things wrong.

Some character examples:  Spenser is presented as what I call a Jazz Snob.  That's someone who listens to jazz and refers to old jazz artists by only one name.  Monk.  Coltrane.  Parker.  The idea is that if you, the reader, don't know the first names of these artists you're an uncouth ignoramus.  I can buy a character being a Jazz Snob, but that has never been the case with Spenser in 39 previous books.  Atkins doesn't even do his jazz homework very well.  He has Spenser in his apartment in Boston tuning to WICN to listen to Ella.  What's wrong with that?  WICN is a low-power public radio station in Worcester, which is 50 miles away.  The WICN signal goes about 20 miles and doesn't come close to reaching Boston and the station does not show up in the Boston ratings, so Spenser would not be able to listen to it in his brick apartment building on Marlborough Street.  If Atkins had done some homework he could have said that Spenser tuned to "Eric in the Evening" on WGBH.  Or just skipped the jazz stuff altogether because it has nothing to do with the story.

Vinnie Morris is described as an impeccably dressed man.  Crisp white shirt, tie perfectly knotted, nice crease in his suit pants, shoes polished to a spit shine.  That doesn't sound at all like the Vinnie who has already appeared in about 20 of the first 39 Spenser books.  It does sound exactly like Martin Quirk.  Maybe Ace was confused.  In one scene, Hawk walks into Spenser's office clomping in cowboy boots, and Spenser thinks to himself that Hawk always makes a loud entrance.  That's the exact opposite of every other book where Spenser talks about how silently and stealthily Hawk appears and disappears.  In the story, Spenser is hired by a 14-year-old girl name Mattie to find out who killed her mother four years earlier.  In one conversation about people who were possibly involved Mattie asks, "Was she boinking him?"  Boinking??  As I write this, spell-check keeps trying to change it to "bouncing."  It must think nobody would say boinking, because nobody would.  Especially a 14-year-old girl.  She might say hooking up.  Or getting busy.  But not boinking. 

That's not the biggest problem with the book.  Spenser is a Boston PI and all or at least part of every story takes place in Boston.  Parker made a point of using real locations and real streets and described them in detail. Parker "got" Boston.  Ace Atkins clearly does not.  For the Boston stuff Ace gets a D-, and that's being generous.  For some reason he makes everything in Boston sound worse than it is.  Even the nice stuff.

There are so many mistakes - it's practically one per page - that I started making a list.  Here's just a portion of it:

"We had lunch in Beacon Hill."  One would not be "in" a hill, one would be "on" one.  That should be on Beacon Hill.

"I stopped at the Broadway Market on Harvard Square."   It's actually called the Broadway Marketplace, it's way on the other side of Harvard Yard, Broadway doesn't go through Harvard Square, and you wouldn't say "on" Harvard Square anyway.  You'd say "in" Harvard Square.

"I drove back to Back Bay."  No, it's the Back Bay.

"People walking their dog in the Common."  No, that would be "on" the Common.

"I sat on the bench in front of the Four Seasons looking at the tundra of Boston Common."   Since when has there been a Four Seasons anywhere that overlooks a tundra?  For one thing, the Four Seasons in Boston does not overlook the Common, it overlooks the Public Garden, and even in February it's a spectacular view and nothing even remotely like a tundra.  Makes you wonder whether Ace has ever seen the Public Garden or the Common.

"I drove through Copley and hopped on the Interstate."  No.  No one says, "The Interstate" because we have several of them.  I-90, I-93 and I-95 among others.  What he should have said (a borrowed line from Mike Birbiglia) was, "I got on the Pike at Copley Square."

"I drove down I-93 to the South Boston exit."  What's missing from that?  Spenser would have been driving through the O'Neill Tunnel.  It was known as the Big Dig and was famous for being the most expensive Public Works construction project ever.  The exit Spenser takes is in the tunnel.  An obvious piece of local color that was missed.  I wonder where this Ace Atkins is from?  

There's more.  Remember, this is all first person Spenser POV:

"I jogged along Commonwealth."  Nobody around Boston would ever say that.  The way to say that, and Spenser himself has done it multiple times in previous books, is "I jogged down the Mall on Comm Ave."

"I drove north on Arlington and turned into Marlborough to park my car."   No he didn't.  Arlington Street is one-way south, and that part of Marlborough Street is one-way east.  You could hit "Arlington Street Boston" on Google Earth, look at the cars and easily figure that out.

"I drove down Storrow and passed Boston University."  It's known as BU, and if Ace knew what he was talking about he could have referred to the grassy area between the library and Storrow Drive that overlooks the Charles by the local nickname "BU Beach."   How about, "I drove past BU Beach, but it was February so there were no female students sunning themselves on the grassy knoll."  Something like that.  

"I turned onto Kenmore and into Beacon."  Okay, the way to say that would be, "I turned onto Beacon Street and into Kenmore Square."

"I passed the big brick bookstore under the Citgo sign."  This is the big Citgo sign you see in all of the Fenway Park home run shots that go over the Green Monster.  He could have mentioned that.  People from somewhere else reading it could think to themselves, "Oh, yeah…I've seen that."  But no.  The bookstore is a Barnes & Noble, but maybe Ace didn't name it because it might upset Amazon.  They could have released a Kindle version that called it a book store and a Nook version that called it a Barnes & Noble.  Whatever.  But it's a big and very recognizable store in a well-known location.  And it isn't a brick building.  It's stone.  The facing of the building is not important to the story, but if you're going to include it for color why not get it right?  

"I pulled a u-turn on Beacon and headed east."  Really?  Beacon Street is one-way.  When you pull a u-ey in Kenmore Square you wind up on Comm Ave heading downtown.  Ace describes it as having dingy bars with trash cans out front.  Comm Ave from Kenmore Square to the Public Garden is the widest boulevard in America and one of the most spectacular, designed to replicate the Champs Elysees in Paris. 

"I weaved through traffic on The JFK."  "The" JFK?  It's not a freeway in California, it's just a regular city street.  JFK Street runs for three blocks…from Harvard Square to the Charles River.  One of the three blocks is one-way going the wrong way.  It's also constantly jammed, so you'd never have a chance to weave. You'd inch along and try to avoid hitting people on bikes wearing earbuds.  In the two blocks he's supposedly weaving down you're surrounded by Harvard River Houses, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the Weld Boathouse, the Charles River, Harvard Business School and Harvard Stadium.  All would have been colorful things to mention, but if you've never been there you wouldn't know that.

Other real things he gets wrong:  A couple of times Ace refers to some guy in Southie wearing a scully cap.  It's actually called a scally cap - with an a.  A tweed snap-brim cap that cabbies always wore in old movies.  Popular with irish folks.  Perhaps Ace asked someone what was an old-style Bostony thing to wear and was told a scally cap, but didn't write it down.  (If you Google "scully cap" it says, "did you mean scally cap?" so this is something an editor should have caught.)

He describes the stretch of Old Colony Ave (he just says Old Colony, not knowing that people here don't use street names that way) between Dorchester (meaning Dorchester Ave, which he should have called "Dot Ave") and the circle at Day Boulevard.  He says that stretch is filled with used car lots, bars, closed up store fronts and check cashing places.  None of which are on that stretch.  At the circle he describes a convenience store where you supposedly have to speak to the cashier through a glass partition because it's such a high-crime area.  The convenience store exists, but it's nothing like that.  It's just a regular convenience store.  There's also an interesting piece of history about that store that Ace could have used if he had bothered to check it out.  In the book, one of the bad guys that Ace digs up from earlier Spenser books is Joe Broz.  Joe was a major gangster in town who has been missing for about ten years.  Presumed either dead or hiding out somewhere, but now Joe has returned.  Seems he was hiding out in plain sight on the beach.  This sounds very much like the Whitey Bulger story.  The interesting tidbit is that Whitey actually owned the above mentioned convenience store and he bought a state lottery ticket there and won a few million dollars.  With a ticket he bought at his own store!  It was investigated and the Mass Lottery Commission upheld the award.  It would have been more interesting local color than having Spenser drive the wrong way on one-way streets.   

Mattie lives in the Mary Ellen McCormack housing project in South Boston.  Ace makes it sound old and run-down, which it is, but not as run-down as he makes it sound.  He describes the red brick buildings and the surroundings, but fails to throw in an interesting tidbit of color.  On the sign for the Mary Ellen McCormack it says, "Oldest in the Nation."  It's worth a mention, but if you've never seen the place you wouldn't know it. 

Spenser refers to a "sack" on three different occasions.  "He ate some french fries from a McDonald's sack." "Hawk brought some coffee and a sack of corn muffins from Dunkin' Donuts."  "We got a sack of peanuts at Fenway."  Okay, at Fenway Park when you call out for peanuts a guy will toss them to you.  It's part of the fun.  And none of the aforementioned come in a sack.  A sack is something you'd see at a Patriots game.  Around these here parts what Ace is calling a sack is known as a paper bag.   

A couple of times Spenser says that he has Van Meer prints at his apartment.  Van Meer is an artist in Nova Scotia who sells originals for about $350.  The prints can't be a big enough deal for Spenser to mention.  Perhaps it was a typo the editors missed and Atkins meant Vermeer, the 1600's Dutch artist who did "Girl with a Pearl Earring" among others.    

Some others. This is from Mattie, the 14-year-old who hires Spenser:
"The University knocked down those old buildings on the Point."  Here's why Mattie would never say that:  She's talking about the UMass Boston campus at Columbia Point.  The JFK Library is right next to it.  Both were built in the 1970's.  Late 70's to be sure, but still, this happened about twenty years before Mattie would have been born.  What's more, neither Mattie nor anyone else would refer to it as The University.  Maybe there's only one university where Ace comes from, but in Boston there are about 47 of them, including two of the top 5 in the US News ranking.   She would have said, "UMass Boston" (or more likely just "UMass," because nobody confuses it with UMass in Amherst), and that's how anyone who knows anything about the area would refer to it.    

And it gets worse:  Hawk, who is black (as anyone who ever read Spenser or watched the TV show knows) and afraid of no one, supposedly doesn't want to go into South Boston without wearing a Kevlar vest.  He remembers seeing, "Run, Nigger, run" painted on a door.  A neighbor of Mattie, long-time Southie resident, says, "It was nice here before they moved the blacks in."  Oh, please.  Nobody moved anybody anywhere.  For those who don't know, in 1974 Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered cross-town school bussing so that the schools would be more racially mixed.  Students could always go to any school they wanted to, but most chose to go to the school in their neighborhood.  Back then neighborhoods were nowhere near as ethnically mixed as they are today.  The bussing melee back in 1974 was not because black students were being bussed into South Boston, it was because kids in Southie who had been going to the local school three blocks away where all their friends also went were suddenly being bussed way across town to another school.  In many cases it was an hour-long bus ride each way.  Ace clearly doesn't know that history.  

One piece of history he does get right is the Battle of Bunker Hill, which he "describes" as Spenser is driving through Charlestown.  A decent paragraph of Boston history, but if you Google "Battle of Bunker Hill" it looks like Ace just hit Control C and Control V.  Seriously, it's the Wikipedia entry almost word for word.  And not credited.  By now I'm Googling Ace Atkins to see where's he's from, because it's obviously nowhere near Boston.  Turns out he's from Troy, Alabama.  Went to Auburn, which is also in Alabama.   He's probably never even been here, which is why he gets all his streets wrong.  Where was the beach where Joe Broz was hanging out?  Alabama.  Please.  Did BP pay Ace to say that as part of the oil spill mitigation?  Any gangster like Whitey Bulger who is hanging out in plain sight on the beach would be in Florida or California.  Maybe Cape Cod in the summer.  Not Alabama.

I also I Googled Troy, which has one university.  So that's why he got the UMass thing wrong.  Troy also has a murder rate double that of Boston and a black population percentage five times greater than Boston's.  So that would explain Ace's misunderstanding of the racial climate.  This is Massachusetts, well-known as a very liberal state.  It's not Alabama, which has the widely-held image of being 49th in everything.  The Massachusetts Constitution, written by John Adams in 1780, is the oldest functioning written constitution in continuous effect in the world, and it specifically says that slavery is unconstitutional.  This was 85 years before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and 177 years before the Governor of Alabama stood in the doorway and blocked two black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama.  Ace Atkins' misunderstanding of the racial climate in Boston compared to that in Alabama is beyond ignorant.  it's offensive.

If this were a John Grisham novel that takes place in a made-up county somewhere in Mississippi, or a Scott Turow story set in a nonexistent Midwest city, none of the above would matter.  There would be no issues with wrong names and incorrect driving directions.  If all the characters were invented by Ace Atkins there would be no problem with character continuity.  But it isn't.  It's the 40th Spenser book, and the places in Boston are real and in many cases well-known.  It's too bad that an okay story was ruined because of lazy research and sloppy editing.   Now my summer reading habit of 32 years has come to an end. 

-Don Kelley, Boston native and former Spenser fan.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Will Salty's hitting mean a Yale Battery?

That headline was a lame attempt at tying Salty and battery and making it sound like assault and battery. Sorry.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been hitting way below the Mendoza line (.158 over the last two months) and striking out at an alarming rate. He's making Mark Bellhorn look like a contact hitter in retrospect. Wednesday night he took some major steam out of a rally inning by hitting into a double play.

When I went to spring training in March I saw four players who looked not only promising, they looked better than the incumbent player on the major league roster. They were: 3rd baseman Will Middlebrooks, shortstop Pedro Ciriaco, 1st baseman Lars Anderson and catcher Ryan Lavarnway. Since coming up Middlebrooks and Ciriaco have been as good as they looked in March. Lars just got traded to Cleveland because Adrian Gonzalez isn't going anywhere. Now, Ryan Lavarnway got his callup because of Salty's problems. He started behind the plate last night.

Lavarnway went to Yale, as did lefty reliever Craig Breslow, just re-acquired this week at the trade deadline. So, if Bobby V brings in Breslow to relieve Felix Dubront tonight, we will have the first all-Yale battery in the history of Major League Baseball.

Oh, one more thing. In March I also saw Andrew Bailey in action just prior to his injury. Unlike the aforementioned four, Bailey did not look good at all. He came in to start the 6th(?) and proceeded to give up six straight hits. I remember thinking, "This is our replacement for Papelbon? Yikes." Ciriaco wound up winning that game in the 10th with a walk-off homer over the jetBlue Park green monster.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Perfect Game - in Relief

Five years ago this month I almost saw a perfect game. It was in Oakland. Curt Schilling had not allowed a baserunner until the 6th when a guy reached on a Lugo error. It was a room-service grounder and Lugo should have easily made the play. But he didn't. We got to the bottom of the 9th, two outs, no hitter still in place, and Shannon Stewart singles. Schilling retires the next guy and it's a one-hit shutout. But if Lugo had made that play, Stewart would not have gotten up in the 9th and it would have been not only a no-hitter, but a Perfect Game. But there's better Perfect Game story.

Red Sox pitcher Ernie Shore

It was 95 years ago today that the strangest Perfect Game in Major League Baseball history took place. It was game one of a double-header at Fenway Park, with the Red Sox facing the Washington Senators (they became the Minnesota Twins in 1961).

The starting pitcher for Boston was Babe Ruth. Leading off for the Senators was Ray Morgan. Ruth wound up walking Morgan on four pitches. When home plate umpire Brick Owens (is that where the name Brick in "The Middle" came from?) made the ball four call, Ruth was so agitated that he called Owens "the most foul name imaginable" according to the Boston Globe writeup. (Just this week the Supreme Court overturned the "fleeting expletives" fines that the FCC had leveled against ABC and Fox for F-bombs that aired during award shows, and given that today you can say "sucks" and "WTF?" on network tv during family viewing time, one has to wonder what was the most foul name imaginable back in 1917?)

Back to the game. Owens ejected Ruth, who was not known for taking this sort of thing well. Ruth then marched up to home plate and took a swing at the umpire. That got him hauled off the field and he was hit with a $100 fine and a ten-game suspension. The catcher, Pinch Thomas (there were a lot of colorful ballplayer names back then) was also ejected.

So, Sox pitcher Ernie Shore comes trotting in from the bullpen as a reliever. It's the top of the first, one on, nobody out. Morgan decides to try and steal second, but Ernie Shore senses this, throws to first and picks him off. Shore then proceeds to retire the next 26 Senators in a row, resulting in a 4-0 win that was a Perfect Game in relief.

It stayed in the record books that way for years until someone decided that, because Morgan originally reached 1st base on Ruth's walk, it was a no-hitter but not a perfect game. Wondering what ever happened to Ernie Shore? His Sox career met the same fate as Babe Ruth. He was sold to the Yankees by owner Harry Frazee.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Amazing one-year turnaround

No, I'm not talking about how one year ago the Red Sox were in first place and now they're in last place. I'm talking about the Marlins, who are in town for a three-game series this week.

Last week the Red Sox went from Fenway, the oldest ballpark, to Miami, to play the newly-renamed Miami Marlins in their brand new downtown ballpark, on the site of the old Orange Bowl. I was there with my daughters, Caitlin and Kara, for game #1 at Marlins Park.

A year ago this week I went to Miami with Kara, and we took in a Florida Marlins-Arizona Diamondbacks game at Sun Life Financial Field, where the Miami Dolphins also play.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so check this out. Here's a shot I took a year ago:

This was actually during a game. I've been to high school games with more fans.

And here's a shot from last week:

At Sun Life Financial Field (previously known as Land Shark Stadium, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium and Joe Robbie Stadium) there were so few fans it was ridiculous. You could easily hear someone talking who was sitting ten sections away. The handful of people walking through the stadium could look at a model of the new stadium that would open in 2012, and I wondered where the money was coming from. Certainly not from ticket sales.

Flash forward to 2012. Marlins Park is easily the most colorful Major League ballpark I've ever seen, and I've been to games at 39 of them. The Cuban influence is everywhere, from the new logo to the salsa band playing outside the park. The fans are really into it. It has a one-picece retractable roof similar to the one in Seattle but obviously for a different reason. In left field there's a huge glass wall that gives you a great view of the Miami skyline. On a long shot it looks as good as it does when you're watching CSI: Miami or Dexter. About 30,000 were on hand (that would be some ten times what we saw a year ago) and many were wearing shirts and hats with the new Miami 5-color logo. To be sure, there were quite a few Red Sox fans as well. At one point they showed clips from two nights earlier when the Miami Heat knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs. The crowd erupted in a roar. I marked that down as excessive taunting.

The PA announcer did not yuck when introducing Marlins players. The scoreboard did say,"Make some noise" a few times, but they didn't use a graphic that shows you how to clap. Like almost all ballparks they had a race for fans to bet on in the middle of the 5th inning. In Milwaukee it's sausage v. hot dog v. brat. In DC it's George Washington v. Abraham Lincoln v. Teddy Roosevelt (Teddy always loses). Miami went with shark v. sea dragon v. octopus v. stone crab. They actually had the second-best wave I've ever seen. In every ballpark I've been to, except for Fenway, the wave is nonexistant or completely lame.

The scoreboard is huge and the diamondvision picture is shaped like a rectangle attached to a rhombus.

I've had the opportunity to see a game in the final season of an old ballpark and the first season of a new ballpark in six different cities (Baltimore, DC, Dallas, New York, Minneapolis and now Miami). A new park is always an upgrade, but Miami was the best turnaround I've seen.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Wo-oh, On the Radio

Another star no longer shines, and again at much too young an age. Donna Summer succumbed to cancer yesterday. She was only 63, which is the new 42.

I have three Donna Summer tidbits to share.

#1: When her first album came out in 1975 I was working at WGTR in Natick, MA. The station was owned by John Garabedian, who still today, at the age of 70, hosts a weekly Top 40 show called "Open House Party" that is heard on stations coast-to-coast on Saturday night. Side one of the Donna Summer album was one song, "Love to Love You Baby." 17 minutes of Donna sounding like she's getting busy like no one ever has before or will in the future and goes out of her mind 8 times. John decides that we should add the song, and asked me if I could edit it down to a reasonable length but leave in enough moaning to make it interesting. I do, and we have a 3:42 version with one set of fireworks. The song becomes a huge hit, and WGTR, as the first station anywhere to add it, is awarded the Gold Record.

#2: When Donna winds up becoming a star, my mother mentions over dinner one night that she had been Donna's math teacher at the Jeremiah Burke High School in the Dorchester section of Boston. In the same class was a young woman named Valerie Holiday. Valerie wound up as lead singer of the Three Degrees, who had a #1 song in 1974, "When Will I See You Again?" What are the odds of two people in the same math class in high school both having #1 songs?

#3: When my wife Kathy and I started dating, we were both working at a radio station on Cape Cod. She had just been on a trip to California and visited Donner Summit, which sounds like Donna Summer if you have a wicked bad Boston accent. Not that either of us does. Anyway, our song was "On the Radio" by Donna Summer.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Voice is Silenced

The name Carlton Beane sounds like a wild pitcher in the latest John Grisham book, but our friend Carl Beane was the PA voice of Fenway Park.  He died of a heart attack while driving on Wednesday afternoon.  He was only 59.  Last night, upon the Red Sox return to Fenway, the Public Address system was silenced.  (As were the Red Sox bats, but that's another story.)

Carl worked at a radio station in the central part of the Commonwealth, WARE in Ware.  One of only two radio stations in America where the call letters and the city of license are an exact match.  Naturally you want to know what the other one is:  it's WACO in Waco, TX.  Since 2003, the year I got my season tickets at Fenway as a Father's Day present (thanks,  Kathy), Carl has been the Voice of Fenway.

In addition to the gift of a booming voice that echoed off the Monster and the beams supporting the upper deck, Carl knew just how to play it.  When you go to a game in other cities (I've been to games at 38 Major League ballparks) you are almost always treated to a PA voice that sounds bored to tears when announcing the visiting players, but when the home team is up the fans are treated to what is known in the radio business as yucking.  If you really go overboard it's called puking.  "And now, batting for YOOOUUUUR Ariiizzzoooooona Diiiiamondbacks, the shortstop, number 6,STEEEEE-veeeennn DREEEEEWWW!!!!"  Carl never did that.

He did, however, master....the.....pause.  One spring, when Carl was visiting the radio station, he told me a Jeter story. Derek had said to Carl, "I know why you take all those pauses, like 'Now batting for the Yankees....the shortstop......#2......Derek...........Jeter.'  It's so that people can boo me four times."  Carl responded, "Exactly."

He also recorded an announcement for me that I used to have as a ring tone. "Your attention ladies and gentlemen, now batting for the Red Sox, the left fielder...#13...Don...Kelley."   I've been going through old backup drives the last couple of days trying to find it.  No luck.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dick Clark's Bathroom

Sad news today about Dick Clark.  My personal Dick Clark eulogy is about his bathroom.  I went to his house in Malibu in 1996 when the NAB Convention was in LA, and ABC was holding a party there one night.  The house was Mid-Century Modern (meaning it was modern in the 1970's) and was right on the beach.

Dick asked me if I'd like a tour of the house.  Sure.  He walked me through all the rooms, pointing out pictures of him with a zillion different stars of music, radio and TV.  All of the decorations were done by his wife, Kari.  Except...for the downstairs bathroom.  Dick designed that himself.  100%.  Would I like to see it?  Absolutely.

The bathroom was white tile like you see in a subway station.  Not a clean one like the Paris Metro, but a dirty one like in the Bronx.  With broken tiles and graffiti spray paint saying, "America's Oldest Teenager" and "We aim to please so please aim" and "Dick peed here."  He also had a tinny speaker in the ceiling with a tape with announcing "Number 7 train for Queens."   The piece de resistance was a metal stall like you'd see in a public restroom with a door that didn't shut completely.  He asked me if it wasn't the coolest bathroom I'd ever seen.  Yes, it was.

The house was later demolished and replaced with one that looks exactly like The Flintstones house. Rock walls and all. You can buy it for 3.5.

For now, Dick Clark, so long.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Glass Is More Than Half Full

Yesterday Brian McGrory wrote a piece in The Boston Globe basically saying that he couldn't give away his Red Sox Opening Day tickets.  No one cares anymore.

 That's just not the case.  The place was packed, as always.  With smiling faces of every age.

It's very family-friendly.  No smoking at Fenway.  Even the outside smoking area is difficult to find.

Second, the Star Spangled Banner done by the Boston Pops with the Tanglewood Festival orchestra is just fabulous.  They get the words right and don't use five different notes to sing "free" or "brave" like Patti LaBelle.

I went with my older brother.  We hadn't gone to Opening Day together in a long time.  I won't say what year it was, but it was ten Presidents ago and the team the Red Sox were playing hasn't existed for over five decades.  Take a guess.  We walked around to the bleacher area to locate the brick that I got for Christmas from my wife and daughters.

On Opening Day at Fenway they do things that the fans having the first pitches thrown out by 90's and 00's favorites Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek and caught by 70's and 80's favorites Dwight Evans and Jim Rice.

Josh Beckett, in the center of last September's collapse and with one horrible start under his belt, was terrific.  One run in eight innings.  Then it was Sweet Caroline time.

He probably could have pitched the 9th for a complete game victory.  His pitch count was only in the low 90's, but the Red Sox sent 14 batters to the plate in the 8th and it was a long wait.  Plus he had an 11-run lead.  Not a save situation.  So Mark Melancon came in to close it and gave up a home run to Ben Zobrist.  Way too little, way too late for the Rays.

But the fun part was the entire day.  Just when you're ready for hope to spring eternal, it does.  A beautiful day, the old ball yard looking great at 100, and a huge win for the Olde Towne Team.   It's what Opening Day should be.  Brian, you missed a good one.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Red Sox get first win!

Think about it. Starting out 0-and-3 is twice as good as last year's 0-and-6 start. It's 7 times better than the Orioles' 0-and-21 start in 1988. They could actually be at .500 for the Home Opener on Friday. So stop worrying.

I saw all of these guys play at Fenway

Notice that there are two #5's trotting to the dugout.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Most Common First Name in the Majors

It's the annual Tom, Dick and Harry update.  What do you think is the most common first name in the Major Leagues?

HInt:  It's not Asdrubel.  Like Jeep, there's only one.  There's also only one Yuniesky and one Gorkys, but two Melkys.

I checked the 40-man rosters of all 30 teams.  That's 1200 players.

Initials:  19 use initials. Three AJ's:  Burnett, Ellis, Pierzinski.  Three DJ's:  Carrasco, LeMathieu, Mitchell.  Two JC's:  Ramirez and Romero.  Two JJ's:  Hardy and Putz.  Two JP's:  Arencibia and Howell.  Plus BJ Upton, CC Sabathia, CJ Wilson, JA Happ, JB Shuck, JD Martinez and RA Dickey.  (Fortunately, JD Drew retired.)

The five most common first names...

#5:  Zack or Zach:  Braddock, Britton, Cox, Cozart, Grienke, Lutz, McAllister, Phillips, Putnam, Stewart.

#'s 4,3 and 2 all start with J, but none are Jose.

#4:  Justin.  We have DeFratus, Masterson, Miller, Morneau, Sellers, Smoak, Thomas, Turner, Upton, Verlander and Wilson.

#3:  Jason.  There's Bay, Berken, Bourgeois, Castro, Donald, Giambi, Grilli, Hammel, Heyward, Insrighausen, Kipnis, Kubel, Marquis, Vargas, Werth (okay, he spells it with a y).

#2:  Josh:  Beckett, Bell, Collmeter, Donaldson, Hamilton, Harrison, Johnson, Lindbloom, Lueke, Outman, Reddick, Roenicke, Satin, Spence, Thole, Tomlin, Wall, Willingham.

and the #1 most common name....

Ryan:  Adams, Braun, Cook, Dempster, Doumit, Flaherty, Hanigan, Howard, Kalish, Lavarnway, Ludwick, Madson, Matteus, Perry, Raburn, Roberts, Sweeney, Theriot, Verdugo, Vogelsong, Webb, Zimmerman.

Don:  Only one.  Don Kelley of the Tigers.  Great name, even if he's missing the second E in Kelley.  

Tom:  Three.  Gorzelanny, Koehler, Wilhelmsen.  Plus three Tommy's:  Hanson, Hunter and Field.

Still no Dick and no Harry.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

jetBlue Park at Fenway South

It's one of those names like "Orioles Park at Camden Yards" that looks good on paper, but it's well-known (at least in radio circles) that people love nicknames and they'll shorten anything they can. Just like The Fleet center was shortened to "The Fleet" and "TD Garden" is shortened to "The Garden," the new Red Sox spring training park will be popularly known as either jetBlue Park or Fenway South. My bet is on Fenway South. It's catchy and it fits. You don't have to remember that the "j" in jetBlue is lower case, but the B is upper case. Just say, "Fenway South" and everyone knows what you mean.

Here's the View From Section 29 in Ft. Myers (actually it's 209 or something like that). The grandstand roof looks like the bleachers at Dodger Stadium, but the field dimensions are almost exactly like Fenway. The Monster is actually 6 feet higher, and three rows of the Monster Seats are halfway up the wall with a screen. There's another row on top of the Monster South. For some reason that I don't get at all, the Red Sox dugout is on the third base side.

Why would they take such care to duplicate Fenway and get something that simple backward?  Everything else is identical. The stands jutting out down the third base line, 310' to the left field wall, the actual scoreboard from Yaz days in the wall, the triangle in center, the bullpens, the Pesky pole, the low fence in right like at Fenway. (In April 1990 Claudell Washington, not being familiar with the quirks of Fenway, tried to non-chalant a Bill Buckner fly ball to right where the fence is only about 4 feet high. Claudell fell into the stands and Bill Buckner got an inside-the-park home run. Buckner, knowing this was funny, laughed his way around the bases.)

Back to spring training 2012. I saw the Red Sox play the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. It's a decent ballpark with signs, seats and such that look just like Camden Yards, but the field dimensions are standard. The O's fans shout out "O" on "Oh, say can you see" in the middle of the National Anthem just like they do in Baltimore. They play "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" by John Denver right after "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" just like in Baltimore. Lots of O's fans there, but probably outnumbered by Sox fans. Just like in Baltimore.

Back to Fort Myers. Get there an hour early so you can park. Parking is in an adjacent grass field like you're going to a college football game. The fans are really into it. Sure, there is a heavy dose of guys walking with canes and women riding a Lark, but you also see tons of young families and 20-somethings on dates. I did a head count of 100 people and the gender skew was 51-49. It's a great-looking park. Every game is sold out, they play "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the 8th and "Dirty Water" when the Sox win.

Youk was trying a new stance with his feet spread apart a little. It wasn't helping yet. Josh Beckett started one game with a quick one-pitch out, then proceeded to hit two guys in a row, then walk two guys. New closer Andrew Bailey came on the in the 6th and gave up three straight hits. 

Meanwhile, three regular starters are batting below the Mendoza line (Ellsbury, Youk and Saltalamacchia), one is in the 200's (Papi), one is in the 300's (Gonzalez) and one is over .400 (Pedroia). Lavarnway's batting average is double Saltalamacchia's. 

What do you do with guys like Lars Anderson, with more AB's than Gonzo, more hits, more runs, more HR's, more RBI's, more walks, higher OBP, slugging and OPS, and a BA that's 43 points higher? Or what about #77 (not a number that typically goes to someone traveling north with the big team), Pedro Ciriaco? An infielder who's hitting .643, made a fabulous Pedroia-quality play against the Orioles on Sunday, hit a 10th inning walkoff home run on Monday and scored the winning run on a single and fielding errors by the Yankees on Tuesday. He has much better numbers in everything than Aviles, Iglesias or Punto, the candidates for the starting shortstop job.

It makes you forget about last September.

Hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tek hangs up his catcher's gear

Jason Varitek was asked to come to spring training as a non-roster invitee.  The Red Sox already have Jarrod Saltalomacchia (the longest name in professional sports-three letters longer than Ben Roethlesberger) as the #1 receiver.  They also have Ryan Lavarnway, who came up from Pawtucket last fall and showed impressive power - substantially more than Jarrod or Jason over the last couple of years. Plus, the Sox signed former Pawtucket catcher Kelly Shoppach as a third catcher.  Shoppach was part of the trade to get Coco Crisp a few years ago, and wound up in Tampa Bay last year.  So, with three catchers on the roster, where would Tek play?

Jason probably could have found a backup gig with another team, but he said that he could not picture himself wearing anything but a Red Sox uniform.  No doubt he discussed the idea with Dwight Evans.

Dewey spent 19 seasons with the Red Sox, from 1972-1990.  He played in more games than any Sox player in history except for Yaz.  In one game in 1990 he hit three home runs against the Orioles.  So when he was released after the 1990 season, the Orioles signed him for one year.

He got his #24, and they paid him a million dollars.  Despite that, he has said it was the worst decision he ever made.  "In Baltimore, I was just another old outfielder.  No one remembered the great catch in the 1975 World Series, or the home runs in the 1986 World Series, or anything else that happened in Boston.  The biggest response I ever got as an Oriole was the night in June that I returned to Fenway and got an amazing standing ovation.  As I stepped into the batter's box someone hung a huge sign over the center field wall that said, 'Dewey-thanks for 19 great years.' "

Yogi Berra spent his last season with the Mets and basically did nothing. Hank Aaron, who started with the Milwaukee Braves and went with them to Atlanta, wrapped it up back in Milwaukee with the  Brewers.  His batting average was 72 points below his career average.  Willie Mays, the star center fielder for the New York Giants who moved with the team to San Francisco, finished back in New York as a Met.  His batting average was 63 points below his career average, and he embarrassed himself in the 1973 World Series.

So Tek decided not to do that.  He was a hero in Boston and will go out that way.  His most memorable moment was getting in the face of A Rod - literally - in that July 2004 game that turned the season around.  It's one of the most purchased Red Sox action shots ever (see above), but Jason doesn't like to be remembered that way and never signs copies of that photo.

He holds the Major League record for catching no-hitters.  He was calling the pitches when Hideo Nomo. Derek Lowe, Clay Buchholtz and John Lester threw no-no's.  He almost had a 5th.  I was in Oakland the day that Curt Schilling just missed having a perfect game.  No hits, no walks.  The only baserunner was due to a Lugo error.  In the bottom of the 9th with two outs Curt shook off the sign from Tek and Shannon Stewart singled.  The next batter was out and it went down as a 1-0 one-hitter.  Schilling, who would never blame anyone else if something didn't work out, blamed himself for shaking off Varitek.  Really he should have blamed Lugo.  Without that error it would have been a perfect game.

Varitek also holds the record for most games caught be any Red Sox catcher, and most games played by anyone who spent their entire career with the Red Sox but didn't play left field.  Okay, that may be stretching things.

Jason Varitek spent two summers playing in the Cape Cod League for Hyannis.  He is the only player in the history of baseball to play in the Little League World Series, the college World Series, and the real World Series.  And the Olympics.

The Red Sox got Jason at the trading deadline in 1997.  In one of the most lopsided deals ever, an ineffective closer named Heathcliff Slocum was sent to Seattle in exchange for Derek Lowe and minor-leaguer Jason Varitek.  Ever wonder what happened to Heathcliff?  He spent a year-and-a-half with the Mariners, half a year with the Orioles, a year-and-a-half with the Cardinals, and year with the Padres.  Career record of 28 and 37, ERA of 4.31.  His last season was 2000.

Jason Varitek was a player, a team leader, and a good guy who would sit in his front yard in Waban and hand out candy to neighborhood kids on Halloween.  I hope the Red Sox hire him as a coach.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Tim Wakefield hangs up his spikes

Not surprising, but a little disappointing.  Of all the Red Sox pitchers I've seen - and it's a long list - Tim Wakefield is at the top.  I've seen him more than anyone.  (Bob Stanley is #2 on that list.)

A knuckleballer is only supposed to win half of his games.  Sometimes the knuckler dances well, sometimes it doesn't.  Tim easily exceeded the expectation.  He was a starter, a spot starter, a middle reliever, a bullpen guy and a closer.  19 seasons in the majors, 17 with the Red Sox, starting in 1995.   He pitched over 3200 innings.  Struck out twice as many as he walked.

In the 2004 playoffs against the Yankees he came on in relief in the crucial Game 5.  It went 14 innings and lasted until 2AM, and Tim had to face Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, A-Rod, Hidecki Matsui, Jorge Paada, et al. for three innings.  He gave up only one hit and was the winning pitcher.  He is the only knuckleballer ever to start a World Series game.

How many times did Tim Wakefield go out there and pitch well, but get no support?  Losing 1-0, or leaving with a lead that was subsequently blown by the bullpen?

He wound up with 200 wins, 186 of them with the Red Sox.  Only eight short of breaking the all-time Red Sox record of 194, shared by Roger Clemens and Cy Young.   He struck out well over 2000 for the Red Sox, not that far from the Clemens mark of 2590, and double what Cy Young did.  An amazing record for a knuckleballer.

Cy Young was too along ago to really know, and we know all too much about Roger.  Tim Wakefield, however, was well known as a good guy.  Always said the right thing in an interview.  Did a ton of community work.  Gave us many quality innings.  We'll miss him.

Thanks, Tim,  for 17 great seasons.