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Home » Monthly Archive » January 2007

January 30, 2007

Oldies But Oldies

Not So Hot Toddy
Talks between the Red Sox and Rockies for the services of one Todd Helton are dead. Helton was due for $16.6M a year until 2010 and $19.1M in 2011. The Rockies were going to pay a portion of that gargantuan salary, but the deal never coalesced. The humidor at Coors Field has severely hampered Helton’s power, but I suspect his advancing age has played a role as well. Helton will turn 34 this August.

I would just like to remind Theo Epstein that one of his former colleagues runs a baseball club in the state adjacent to Colorado and that they have a first base prospect named Chris Carter he may consider inquiring after.

Still Over the Plate in 2008
Forty-year old Curt Schilling doesn’t know when to quit, be it talking to the media, endorsing Republicans, or pitching. Schilling plans to return to the mound in 2008 and is seeking a deal close to the $13M he will earn this season.

This Time For Sure
J.D. Drew signed with the Red Sox fo real kine, as I would say when I lived in Hawai‘i, on January 26. Should Drew suffer a baseball-related injury to his right shoulder that forces him to be put on the disabled list for 15 to 40 days, there is an out clause in effect the third year of the deal. This would allow the Red Sox to void the remainder of the contract in either the third or fourth year. Not that he’ll need it, right? Right?

I can sense the office pools gearing up now. Who will visit the DL first, Trot Nixon (who signed a one-year, $3M deal with the Indians and let his son pick his number) or Drew?

January 19, 2007

Minding the Farm

This is the second in a series summarizing the presentations from the Martin Luther King, Jr. SABR gathering. The next column will feature Red Sox left-handed pitching prospect Craig Breslow.

Bob Tewksbury
“When you throw 85 you can’t arm pump someone.”

Journeyman Bob Tewksbury, born in Concord, New Hampshire and a member of six teams in his career, took a path back to his home region through the discipline of sports psychology.

He began his presentation by noting the victory of Patriots over the San Diego Chargers. “The Patriots,” he emphasized, “expected to win. The Chargers hoped to win.”

Similar to how the “less talented” Patriots toppled the Chargers, Tewksbury defied the odds to make the majors. Not blessed with the physical gifts of a Nolan Ryan, the New Englander exploited an often untapped advantage over his peers: the power of visualization.

In 1981, those halcyon days before over-reliance on radar gun results, a 20-year old right-handed pitcher who couldn’t break 90 could be scouted and drafted. The 19th rounder lingered in the minor leagues for five years.

Progress for him was gradual. He ascended the ladder from Oneonta to Columbus in a manner much like his pitching: not with blazing speed but rather with a workman’s consistency.

Tewksbury combated the frustration of lingering in the lower levels by applying lessons learned from books we now call “self-help.” Coincidentally, he met one of the greatest gurus of this genre while selling shoes.

Since Tewksbury wasn’t a bonus baby, that half-decade found him holding down part-time jobs in the off-season, including working in a shoe shop. Who should walk in one day but Og Mandino. At the time Tewksbury was reading The Power of Positive Thinking and mentioned it to Mandino, who happened to be friends with the author, Norman Vincent Peale.

It was Peale’s method of visualization that guided Tewksbury when he was on the cusp of making the big leagues. In the spring of 86, the 25-year old drove his brown, two-tone 78 Mercury Zephyr to the Yankees Spring Training camp. His girlfriend (now wife) had made a mix tape of music for him that became the soundtrack of his success.

The goal he visualized was Lou Piniella calling him into the manager’s office and telling him that he made the Yankees. He pictured this with his Walkman on, soundtrack pouring into his head while he practiced pitching everywhere at anytime. So motivated by this goal he found himself throwing while walking the beach, jogging, or even in a deserted parking lot against a building wall in the dark of night.

When he got the summons from Sweet Lou, it was more déjà vu than a scene of astonishment. It was the culmination of his years of perseverance where he expected to be in the majors, not merely hoped.

These days, Tewksbury brings his own major league experience, which he calls is Ph.D. in baseball, along with his Master’s degree in Sports Psychology to impart Red Sox farm players with the cognitive tools to overcome the hardships of life in the minors.

As it has been noted ad infinitum, so much failure is built into baseball even when you are successful. Combine that with the hitters’ daily drudgery or pitchers’ long periods to dwell on mistakes, sprinkle in the stereotype of men seeking help for problems being perceived as weak, and you will have the perfect recipe for crippling self-doubt.

The Red Sox are one of the few organizations with full-time sports psychology professionals serving all levels of talent. As there were waves of fads to enhance performance -- the strength movement of the 80s, the nutrition (and other more nefarious compounds) fad of the 90s -- the Aughts may be a decade of further harnessing the mental aspect of sports.

January 16, 2007

Settling the Score

Mondays are typically a day to throw off the weekend torpor in preparation for the work week tedium. But for baseball fans near the Hub, the third Monday of January is an opportunity not only to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. but also to attend the Boston Chapter of the Society of American Baseball’s regional meeting.

A diverse group of speakers entertained and informed at the Friends Meeting House in Cambridge. From the musty reaches of history to current minor leaguers reaching for the brass ring, all angles of baseball were covered.

This is the first in a series summarizing the presentations from this SABR gathering. The next column will feature sports psychology consultant Bob Tewksbury.

Chaz Scoggins
“I scored a lot more games than [Terry Francona] ever played in the major leagues.”

When you first hear Scoggins’s resonant voice, you wonder why he is a writer rather than a broadcaster. Rather than meticulously noting the progress and outcome of each play, you can almost hear him through your radio mellifluously recounting the sequence of events with unequaled accuracy. Then you learn of his rigorous process for giving life to Game of My Life, however, you are glad he chose to be a scribe.

Sports Publishing has a formula for their book series: twenty-odd players covered in 50,000 to 60,000 words. And, since the deal came on the heels of 2004, they requested two or three players from that mythic team to be chronicled in Scoggins’s book.

You would think that Scoggins, the official scorer for the Red Sox, a stickler to the rules and unflinching arbiter of the truth of the field would abide by the letter to the terms set forth in the contract.

Instead he became an unlikely maverick. As monumental as the first Red Sox championship in 86 years was, Scoggins found it highly presumptuous that these players would not go on to do something more magnificent later in their careers. He devised his own rule that he would only interview men whose playing days were over.

Scoggins sought out the oldest of the living Red Sox players first to make sure he got the stories directly from the source. Although in general the memories of the players were excellent, he found that the athletes appreciated it when he winnowed down the games to a select few, particularly for the hitters. He would scour box scores to furnish his subjects with an array of games most exemplary. Out of 20 players, eight selected the games he predicted, which is outstanding in batting average terms and exceptional in terms of on-base percentage.

Other books in the “Game of My Life” narrowly cling to the preordained format, but Scoggins found the word limit constraining. He believed it would be an injustice to allot just 2,000 words per player. When he crafted a game summary and biographical sketch of a player, he found that he had tipped the scale to 80,000 words for 20 players, or 4,000 words per life. He managed to whittle down the manuscript to 72,000.

The editor loved it. Not a word was cut.

Not everyone loves what Scoggins does, however. Players on both sides of the ball have petitioned him to have errors turned into hits or vice versa, more so in seasons where the pennant is out of sight and individual accolades are all one can hope for. The last few years the field manager has been especially persistent with his entreaties to alter calls to favor the home team.

Sometimes a prophet is not accepted in his own land.

January 3, 2007

Apropos of Pineiro

Joel Pineiro is on the verge of signing a one-year deal of approximately $4M. The deal is dependent upon the right-hander passing a physical, hopefully one more stringent than the one given to Matt Clement. Pineiro will likely audition for the role of closer and could make the occasional spot start should injuries arise.

Pineiro made nine starts against the Red Sox as a Mariner. I actually got to attend one of his starts this past season; Seattle left Tim Wakefield with a complete game loss that game. This outing wasn’t representative of his season, however. He notched a 6.36 ERA in 2007, the worst of his career. It explains the low price tag, a rarity in this off-season.

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