August 2010


Manny Ramirez is off to play for the Chicago White Sox, as long as he feels like it.

I’m very forgiving, as far as sports fans are concerned. I get upset, I throw myself into the performance of my favorite team, I get behind my heroes, childhood and otherwise.

But, if it wasn’t already, it became crystal clear this weekend: Manny Ramirez is pretty much ruined for me.

Jayson Stark has it pretty much all down, but if you haven’t heard, Ramirez is a White Sock today because the Dodgers decided that, no, they don’t even want a marginal minor leaguer in return. They just wanted him gone, so Chicago gets him on a waiver claim. Done, and gone.

Within Stark’s story is this gem of a quote:

Now maybe, in reality, he was only “run out of” two cities. But it’s still a fascinating question. So I asked it of one NL executive I spoke with Monday.

“How,” he replied, “could a true Hall of Famer be whisked out of town like this in two places? Not a lot of Hall of Famers get put on outright waivers — just take the contract and he’s yours — two different times, the first time when he’s still in his prime, right? You don’t see that a whole lot.”

In case you weren’t aware, after the 2003 season, one in which the Red Sox came within an 11th inning home run of going to the World Series, Boston put Ramirez on irrevocable waivers, hoping someone would take him and the remaining five years on his contract. There were no takers.

At his best, Manny Ramirez was lovably goofy, a pure hitter with a supernatural power to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. At his worst, he’s a selfish and destructive, and despite all his talents, teams can’t get him out of town fast enough.

It’s just sad. Good luck to the White Sox and all their fans (and that goes out to a few friends of mine).

♦ ♦ ♦

So, this weekend, the Red Sox dropped two out of three games against the Tampa Bay Rays when they really, really needed a sweep to keep this thing alive.

As of this morning, they’re 6½ games out of both first place and the wild card. They’re missing their center fielder, left fielder, and the right side of their infield, which all includes their leadoff hitter, emotional core, best hitter and two gold glovers, and still, they’re probably going to finish with something between 90 and 95 wins.

And they’ll still miss the playoffs.

Sometimes, all you can do is throw up your hands, turn off your brain, and try to enjoy another month of baseball. It’s not like they quit, and I’ll remember the high points of this year fondly.

I’m an eternal optimist; I can’t help it. I’ll still keep watching and hoping. But I’m prepared for them to not make it any further than the last series against New York, and I’m … I’m OK with that.

Johnny Damon - Topps 2010

This will continue to be Johnny's uniform for the rest of the year.

Johnny Damon is a Detroit Tiger, and will remain so for at least the last six weeks of the 2010 season. And that’s as big a non-injury bummer as I can think of this year.

The Red Sox, as you well know at this point, put in a waiver claim on Damon, for a couple of reasons. First, they didn’t want him to go to Tampa Bay or New York, but most importantly, they do have holes in their outfield. Damon would’ve stepped in and been the everyday left fielder immediately, and would have slotted in nicely in the number two hole in the lineup as a lefty hitting behind right-handed Marco Scutaro. It would’ve been a jolt of energy and, most importantly, a jolt of talent to a team desperately trying to climb back into the playoff race.

Of course, Damon had a no trade clause. Not a full one, but one that said he couldn’t be sent to Boston. And after a day or so of wrangling, he turned down a chance to come back to the Red Sox.

There’s a lot of speculation floating around as to why he would turn that down. Damon’s line is that he loves Detroit, loves playing for Jim Leyland, and thinks that the Tigers still have a fighting chance in the American League Central.

There is plenty of chatter about the hard feelings he has harbored for Boston since his exit in the 2005 offseason. There are rumors that he didn’t like the way the Boston brass (who were without Theo Epstein for that brief period) made him an afterthought in their negotiations, and the reception he’s received in Fenway Park since has apparently worn him down.

It should be noted that about 90 percent of Red Sox fans are complete morons, and have been booing this guy for being a “traitor” ever since. I’m on record as stating that that mentality is idiotic. World Series trophies don’t grow on trees, and without Damon, the Red Sox don’t win the 2004 crown.

Over the course of his four-year contract, Damon did his job. He played hard, he played hurt and he was an excellent teammate. Then his contract ran out, and, as adults often do, he moved on to his new, higher paying job. And Red Sox fans, seeing him playing for the team they don’t like, booed him like there was no tomorrow.

Of course, any fan who has actually turned down an additional $12 million is free to boo.

I was furious when he left, but my fury was directed at the team for not doing more to keep him. The Red Sox are swimming in cash, and the thought that they wouldn’t pony up for an elite player was ridiculous. I’ve heard the arguments (he was getting older, he might get hurt), but I’ve still never bought it.

I’m hoping, praying even, that his poor treatment at the hands of this very vocal, very ridiculous majority didn’t have anything to do with him saying no to a Boston encore. If so, that makes all of us look terrible. It makes every Red Sox fan a member of a screaming, drooling pack of hypocrites. I like to think that I know how the (sports) world works, and that I’m a little more thoughtful than that.

Good luck, Johnny. I’ll go back to dreaming what could’ve been.

Roger Clemens Heading for the Hall Leaf 93

Heading for the Hall? Not anymore.

I wouldn’t have remembered the date if not for every article lately, but I do remember where I was on Feb. 13, 2008.

I was living in Arizona and working from home that morning, and I had Roger Clemens’ Congressional testimony streaming in one corner of the screen while I worked. Even then, most of what he was saying didn’t jive — taking vitamin B-12 shots and nothing else because he heard from his mother once that it was good, that he’d never spoken to anyone about drugs ever in any sense, that his best friend misremembered gigantic details of their relationship, that he had no idea his trainer and his wife ever spoke to each other, and so on.

Immediately following the testimony, a few things were already clear.

  1. Partisan politcs knows no bounds in Washington, as the Democratic members of the panel were hard on Clemens, while the Republicans came down on Brian McNamee. Disgusting in its own right, but certainly not  surprising.
  2. Nothing particularly new or Earth-shattering was revealed in the proceedings.
  3. Roger Clemens had just opened the door to a perjury investigation.

Yesterday, the indictment came down. Two years in the making, it certainly wasn’t surprising.

♦ ♦ ♦

Steroid use in baseball bothers me, of course. But I don’t lose sleep over it. Most of the fretting occurs because it skews the numbers, making it harder to judge players from the 1990s to their counterparts in the ’70s or ’30s. I don’t see the issue there, to be honest. Whatever Barry Bonds might have done shouldn’t diminish what Hank Aaron accomplished in his time. From 1994 to 2002, or so, it was the culture. It’s no different than the game’s pre-1920 Dead Ball, when 10 home runs would lead the league.

But the issue remains of what to do with the best players from this era, most of whom seem to have become embroiled in performance enhancing drugs. Sammy Sosa. Mark McGwire. Bonds. Clemens. You know the names.

Clemens ascended to absurd heights well into his forties, and there is now a mountain of evidence that he reached those peaks by nefarious means. Sosa has remained quiet on the issue, McGwire has admitted to drug use and Bonds admits to using steroids as well (though not knowingly). Clemens has made it a point to scream from the highest reaches that he is completely innocent, that everyone is out to ruin his good name, and that he will fight anyone who says otherwise, all in the face of a wealth of evidence that says otherwise, and anything resembling sanity.

Maybe it’s just that long-touted desire to win. Maybe it’s a bull-headed Texan mentality. Maybe it’s just gross arrogance at its worst. Or, maybe Clemens is just a bully who can’t stand to be proven wrong.

♦ ♦ ♦

The baseball card included comes from a 1993 Leaf insert set. I can distinctly remember looking at it towards the end of his Red Sox days and thinking, “he’s not a guarantee for the Hall of Fame anymore.” From 1986 to 1992, he averaged 19 wins a year with a 2.66 ERA, a 1.089 WHIP, and 239 strikeouts a year. He was a stud, the unquestioned best pitcher in the game, and for that he was rewarded with a four year, $20 million contract from the Sox for 1993-96, the richest in club history at the time.

During those years, Clemens spent a good deal of time injured, and when he was on the mound, he looked overweight and lost. He went 40-39 in that span (though the team wasn’t great). His 3.77 ERA was solid, but a full run higher than in the previous run. His WHIP was up (1.289), his walks were up (3.7 per 9 innings compared to 2.4), and he wasn’t the other-worldly pitcher he had been.  There was a good chance he would leave when he entered free agency, which was still bad, since it meant that the Red Sox best starters would be Tom Gordon and Aaron Sele.

When he received a record contract from Toronto, there was some sadness at losing a Boston lifer, but also the understanding that he probably wasn’t worth what the Blue Jays were paying him.  He would be 34 years old in 1997, 37 at the end of the contract, and the last four years ranged from disappointing to solid.

That he became superhuman from 1997 to 2005 and still very good in 2006 and ’07 should have raised more eyebrows than it did initially. He adamantly stood behind his training regimen, his work ethic and his integrity. But what good is integrity when considering a bully? From 1997 to 2007, he went from has-been to Hall of Famer to shamed idol. My 14-year-old self might have been correct that he wouldn’t be heading to the Hall, but I had no true idea why.

♦ ♦ ♦

The two most compelling reasons why kids should grow up playing sports are:

  1. They encourage physical fitness.
  2. They instill humility.

At the end of a baseball season, 29 teams are sent home humbled, while one stands alone. Not everyone gets to be the champion. There’s a lesson to be learned from falling short of your goals, retooling, trying again, not giving up, and coming to terms with loss. The lesson is to learn humility, to know to be humble, to be kind to your opponents and teammates alike.

If there’s one trait that Clemens has never, ever displayed as part of his public persona, it’s humility.

Enter Andy Pettitte, who testified to authorities that Clemens admitted his drug use in 1999 or 2000. Pettitte, finding himself in the harsh glow of the steroid spotlight, took the time upon arriving at Spring Training in 2008 to answer every single question that came at him, and was seemingly honest. He never deflected a question, he never skirted around an answer. He did something he felt was wrong, he fessed up, he apologized, and since that day, he’s moved on with his life, resuming his place as an iconic Yankee.

Clemens, meanwhile, insisted on a Congressional hearing to proclaim his innocence. It’s important to remember that he did not appear under subpoena, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) offered him the chance to skip the hearing entirely. Clemens turned that down, and appeared anyway. He needed to push around his accusers. He needed to win.

In his moment, Pettitte revealed himself as utterly human, earning sympathy and benefit of the doubt that, yes, he was truly sorry, and did intend to play clean. Clemens, at no point in his career, has been able to display any sort of humility. From refusing to carry his own bags through customs with the Sox in the early ’90s, to forcing his trade out of Toronto, to throwing at players’ heads, to slinging a bat at Mike Piazza (who had the nerve to swing at an inside pitch), to … really, will it ever end?

♦ ♦ ♦

It’s very hard to feel anything resembling sympathy for Clemens. Perhaps he deserves pity, but he forfeited that long ago, as well. He’s not a tragic hero, he’s a bully who pushed too many, too hard. If there’s a moral to the story (beyond “don’t lie to Congress”), it’s to be humble. Be good to people. Don’t treat people like bumps on the road to personal glory. Don’t act above the law, or above the standards of everyone else. It will all catch up, and there won’t be anyone left to pick up your shattered pieces.

Be humble. Be kind. Admit fault. And know that the next pitfall could always be around the corner, and when it comes, folks won’t be willing to lend a hand to the bully.

There’s a lot of news to get to in the baseball world (it should all be coming this weekend), but in the meantime, if you have a moment and the means, please make a donation to the Jimmy Fund today:

The Jimmy Fund and the Red Sox have been together for years, and they’ve done a tremendous amount of work helping kids struck with cancer, guiding them through while raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer institute.

Thanks,

– Nick

Dustin Pedroia 2010 Topps

Oh thank Jesus, Buddah, Allah, Lemmy and whoever else you want. Dustin Pedroia comes back today.

Today, when the Red Sox take the field, neither Jed Lowrie, Bill Hall nor Eric Patterson will line up at second base.

Today, J.D. Drew will not hit second behind Marco Scutaro.

Today, no one will take ground balls from their knees during batting practice.

Today, the opening day double play combination will be intact.

Today, the 2008 American League MVP will bat in front of Victor Martinez and David Ortiz.

Today, after more than six weeks, the heart and soul of the Boston Red Sox returns to the lineup.

Today, Dustin Pedroia will be activated from the disabled list.

And not a moment too soon.

The Red Sox enter the standings 6 games behind 5½ games behind Tampa Bay for the A.L. East lead and the Wild Card. Jacoby Ellsbury is out again indefinitely, Jason Varitek is still a week or so away from rejoining the team, and Kevin Youkilis is gone for the year, but if the Sox are ever going to make their push, today would be the day to start.

No more blown games, no more wasted runners in scoring position. Things need to fall in line, and it starts today.

There’s a lot on the shoulders of a 5’6″ second baseman today. I don’t think he’d want it any other way.

Update — Here are tonight’s lineups:

Boston Red Sox (67-52)

1. Marco Scutaro SS – 16
2. Dustin Pedroia 2B – 15
3.  David Ortiz DH – 34
4. Victor Martinez C – 41
5. Adrian Beltre 3B – 29
6. J.D. Drew RF – 7
7. Mike Lowell 1B – 25
8. Ryan Kalish CF – 55
9. Darnell McDonald LF – 54
P – Clay Buchholz (13-5, 2.49 ERA) – 11

Los Anaheim Angels (60-59)

1. Bobby Abreu LF – 53
2. Macier Izturis 2B – 13
3. Alberto Callaspo 3B – 12
4. Torii Hunter RF – 48
5. Hideki Matsui DH – 55
6. Erick Aybar SS – 2
7. Mike Napoli 1B – 44
8. Bobby Wilson C – 46
9. Peter Bourjos CF – 25
P – Jered Weaver (11-7, 2.87 ERA) – 36

Update 2 — And he’s back on the disabled list. So it goes…

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