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May 15, 2012

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

As if giving instructions to a cadre of tykes for a Red Sox Small Talk segment Bobby Valentine said in the postgame press conference, “Just for you younger reporters out there that was called a complete game. The starter starts it and…” Jon Lester pitched a complete game loss in Toronto a little over a month ago on April 11, so this time the innings invested paid off. It does help that the Seattle Mariners are a bunch of lambs (in Dennis Eckersley jargon).

Lester chatted up a perfect game until fourth inning. With two down Ichiro Suzuki interrupted Lester’s flow with a comebacker that the hurler couldn’t get a handle on and Lester couldn’t seal the deal. He should post in Craigslist: “To the perfect game I carried into the 4th. Meet me in Chicago the weekend of June 15. I have an old friend to impress.”

Unlike they did in Lester’s April effort the Red Sox lineup provided adequate run support. Even the bottom third of the order experienced a power surge in the fourth inning. Seven-hole hitter Daniel Nava dropped the ball in the front row of the Monster seats with Cody Ross on the basepaths. Sadly for the outfielder Erin Andrews wasn’t in attendance. One batter later Kelly Shoppach blasted his first home run in a Red Sox uniform over the left field wall. The no-doubter didn’t make it into the parking lot, but surely such a historic shot would have caused a ruckus amongst the Landsdowne loiterers and attendants.

Lester’s return to form reminded me of the folksong that shares a title with this column. The ditty seems to have been borrowed from an Irish song called “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye” by Boston band leader Patrick Gilmore. Coincidentally, Gilmore immigrated from Ireland in 1848. But do not hold his appropriation against him as no less a personage than John Philip Sousa called Gilmore “the Father of the American Band.”

Gilmore was charged with training bands in Massachusetts and deploying them for the Union. When the Civil War ended President Abraham Lincoln requested that Gilmore organize a music festival in New Orleans to celebrate the peace. Spurred by this accomplishment Gilmore doubled the participants (from 500 to 1,000 band members and 5,000 to 10,000 singers) for his next endeavor: the National Peace Jubilee and Music Festival of 1869 in Cooley Square.

Perhaps like Gilmore the Red Sox can build upon this streak of success.

Game 35: May 14, 2012
Seattle Mariners
16-21
1
L: Jason Vargas (4-3)
2B: Justin Smoak (2)
WinBoston Red Sox
16-19
6
W: Jon Lester (2-3)
2B: David Ortiz (15), Adrian Gonzalez (14), Cody Ross (8)
HR: Daniel Nava (1)

September 14, 2011

Vortices and Ovations

Tim Wakefield won his 200th game, at last. It was his 186th win in a Red Sox uniform. He is just six wins shy of Cy Young and Roger Clemens’s shared franchise record of 192 victories. Given Wakefield’s struggles to attain his career milestone and the threat of the Rays in the wild card race the knuckleballer may not have a chance to surpass the current record holders, but he would be the first to disavow the importance of this individual accomplishment.

Wakefield’s specialty, the knuckleball, flits erratically because there is no spin on the ball. If the ball were to rotate on its way the plate the motion would cut through the air to fly a truer path. When Wakefield pitches the ball vortices form around the stitches. The variances in drag causes the sphere to flutter on its way to home plate.

Wakefield’s presence in Boston is like the baseball he throws. He doesn’t spin, gyro, or, blaze. He is steady while the forces around him react. He survived the vortices of ownership change, front office upheaval, and field manager shifts. Skippers shuttled him between bullpen and rotation with the predictability of one of his pitches.

And yet he endured and excelled.

Congratulations, Tim Wakefield.

Game 147: September 13, 2011
Toronto Blue Jays
74-74
6
L: Brandon Morrow (9-11)
2B: David Cooper – 2 (5), Eric Thames (22)
HR: J.P. Arencibia (23), Jose Bautista (42)
WinBoston Red Sox
86-61
18
W: Tim Wakefield (7-6)
2B: Dustin Pedroia – 2 (34), Jacoby Ellsbury (42), Carl Crawford (25), Marco Scutaro (19), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (23)
HR: Ellsbury (27), Pedroia – 2 (20)

September 9, 2008

Full House

I got to the park too late to be greeted by a Red Sox player, but I was handed a nifty over-sized ticket commemorating the breaking of the MLB record for consecutive sellouts by a Fenway Ambassador. Before heading up to my designated standing room only space in the left field pavilion I hung around the left field boxes hoping for a foul ball.

When Josh Kantor played “Day After Day,” a song that means a lot to me, I had a feeling that it was going to special day, not just for the history books but for the AL East standings. Jere came by and we chatted about the upcoming book he wrote with his mom, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Dirty Water), his birthday, and the horror of the John MacCain/Sarah Palin ticket.

As first pitch time drew near, I made my way up the many stairways to the top of the park. I think the staircases alternate between Fenway proper and the neighboring Gino building; they are a mishmash of brick and green steel that could only be a feature of our idiosyncratic park.

Every moment of the evening was near perfect, from the tributes to the game to the weather. If anyone wonders how a venue can fill to capacity for every ballgame it hosts, one only needed to be there last night. Thank you, Red Sox.


Now that Joe Maddon is a big time manager with a winning record he can afford (ugly) prescription sunglasses rather than fit-overs.


Newest member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and Rays fan, Dick Vitale.


The gap narrows.

Continue reading “Full House” »

October 10, 2007

One Billion Dollars

There has been a lot of talk lately about how the New York Yankees have blown over one billion dollars since their last championship. I did some research to discover that the Yankees are not alone; eight other teams have also spent upwards of ten digits in their respective quests to attain baseball’s crown. It took more than seven years for them to spend that billion dollars, of course.

Data for teams whose drought stretched into the Reserve Clause era were not readily available. My method for extrapolating team payrolls for the years prior to 1977 was to take the average player salary of $81,565 in 1965 (the earliest year in Michael J. Haupert’s The Economic History of Major League Baseball) and apply an inflation rate of 4%. That provided the basis for an average player salary from 1908 to 1964. I then multiplied the average player salary by 30 to represent a typical club’s payroll.

Money Spent During Championship Droughts
Team Founded and
World Series, if any
Most Recent Drought Payroll During Drought
Arizona Diamondbacks 1998
2001
6 years $427,338,687
Atlanta Braves
(Boston, Milwaukee)
1876
1914, 1957, 1995
12 years $961,489,711
Baltimore Orioles 1901
1966, 1970, 1983
24 years $1,046,357,141
Boston Red Sox 1901
1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, 2004
3 years $386,631,163
Chicago Cubs 1876
1907, 1908
99 years $1,231,387,281
Chicago White Sox 1901
1906, 1917, 2005
2 years $211,422,500
Cincinnati Reds 1882
1919, 1940, 1975, 1976, 1990
17 years $767,345,316
Cleveland Indians 1901
1920, 1948
59 years $995,322,744
Colorado Rockies 1993 14 years $708,712,364
Detroit Tigers 1901
1935, 1945, 1968, 1984
23 years $854,274,547
Florida Marlins 1993
1997, 2003
4 years $148,057,376
Houston Astros 1962 45 years $1,037,322,914
Kansas City Royals 1969
1985
22 years $692,979,761
Los Angeles Angels 1961
2002
5 years $490,014,989
Los Angeles Dodgers
(Brooklyn)
1884
1955, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, 1988
19 years $1,205,694,674
Milwaukee Brewers
(Seattle Pilots)
1969 38 years $757,729,207
Minnesota Twins
(Washington Senators)
1901
1987, 1991
16 years $549,612,77
New York Mets 1962
1969, 1986
21 years $1,223,870,695
New York Yankees
(Baltimore Orioles)
1901
1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000
7 years $1,167,768,431
Oakland Athletics
(Kansas City, Philadelphia)
1901
1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1989
18 years $696,452,534
Philadelphia Phillies 1883
1980
17 years $881,694,379
Pittsburgh Pirates 1882
1979
28 years $624,286,058
San Diego Padres 1969 38 years $836,264,287
San Francisco Giants
(New York)
1883
1905, 1921, 1922, 1933, 1954
53 years $1,141,895,138
Seattle Mariners 1977 30 years $1,041,126,766
St. Louis Cardinals 1882
1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982, 2006
1 year $90,286,823
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 1998 9 years $357,305,111
Texas Rangers (Washington Senators) 1961 46 years $1,137,764,366
Toronto Blue Jays 1977
1992, 1993
14 years $698,954,506
Washington Nationals (Expos) 1969 38 years $644,907,269
Payroll data from 1988 to the present from USAToday, 1977 to 1987 from The Business of Baseball, and extrapolated payrolls from prior to 1977 from The Economic History of Major League Baseball.

September 22, 2007

Score

Game 154: September 21, 2007
WinRed Sox 8 W: Josh Beckett (20-6)
H: Manny Delcarmen (10)
H: Javier Lopez (12)
91-63, 1 game winning streak
31-14-5 series record
Divisional magic number: 7
Postseason magic number: 2
Devil Rays 1 L: Scott Kazmir (13-9) 63-91, 4 game losing streak
15-29-6 series record
Highlights: The one thing old school about Tropicana is that the bullpens sit in foul territory without heed to safety or common sense. In the fifth, Jacoby Ellsbury hurtled his body into the Red Sox bullpen at full speed, blithely maneuvering over pitchers’ mounds, training equipment, and chairs. As he slid over the hills the ball precariously peeked out of his glove. He lay supine near the left field wall surrounded by relievers; the rookie outfielder was seemingly in shock over the rashness of his decision to pursue Greg Norton’s fly ball regardless of consequences. A few of the pitchers made the out sign; Ellsbury had held on for the second out.

Josh Beckett became the 27th man to win 20 or more regular season games for the Red Sox in a season. Early in the game it didn’t seem likely that Beckett would endure for the required innings for a decision. He threw 34 pitches in the first, eight of which were to Delmon Young for an epic standoff that resulted in a game-tying double to right.

It wasn’t one of his longest outings of the year, but it may have been one of the most pivotal collectively and individually. The Red Sox ended their four-game schneid and Beckett tallied his first 20-win season. The worries over his chronic blister problem and disappointing inaugural Boston season have dissipated and reformed into a Cy Young-caliber year.

The Red Sox bats that were silenced in Toronto made a statement in this contest, although Dioner Navarro amplified the noise with his two errors. Jacoby Ellsbury, who had doubled to lead off and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, so unnerved Tampa Bay’s backstop with his feints to home that Navarro threw galley-west to third. By the time Akinori Iwamura caught up with the ball Ellsbury had crossed home for the first score of the evening.

Scott Kazmir struck out David Ortiz and Mike Lowell to finish off the first, proving Navarro should have just kept the ball in his pocket. Navarro also hurled badly to the keystone sack in the second in an effort to stop Coco Crisp’s steal, but instead the ball pranced into shallow center. No runs would come of that error, but in the next inning Kazmir unraveled.

The bounty on Red Sox first basemen must be high. Eric Hinske was hit by Kazmir’s first pitch of the third inning. Dustin Pedroia walked without swinging while Ortiz took the opposite tack; the designated hitter was all over the first pitch he saw, lining it far enough into right to plate Hinske. Young missed the cutoff man and Pedroia advanced to third.

Given Bobby Kielty’s splits Kazmir was cautious, but overly so. He pitched wildly, allowing Pedroia to score and Ortiz to proceed to second.

That was all the breathing room Beckett and the relief trio of Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, and even Eric Gagne needed, but Jason Varitek, Ortiz, and Lowell homered in the late innings for more cushion.

There could stand to be more cushion in the AL East division race, but at last the Yankees provided some padding with their 14-inning defeat by the Toronto Blue Jays last night.

Every milestone a member of this year’s club attains leads inevitably to an appreciation of Red Sox history. The highest ERA+ of any Red Sox pitcher with 20 or more wins was Pedro Martinez’s 1999 campaign of 245, and that wasn’t even his career high ERA+. In 2000 Martinez’s racked up an inhuman 285, the highest in history.

Wins are a misleading statistic to gauge starters, but in the context of his team’s recent woes and the playoff drive, the importance of Beckett’s win cannot be diminished to simple numbers. This is a mere “W” as Ellsbury’s catch was “FO7.”

Red Sox Pitchers with 20+ Wins
Player W L Year Age GS CG SHO IP SO ERA+
Joe Wood 34 5 1912 22 38 35 10 344 258 180
Cy Young 33 10 1901 34 41 38 5 371.1 158 216
Cy Young 32 11 1902 35 43 41 3 384.2 160 166
Cy Young 28 9 1903 36 35 34 7 341.2 176 145
Cy Young 26 16 1904 37 41 40 10 380 200 136
Wes Ferrell 25 14 1935 27 38 31 3 322.1 110 135
Dave Ferriss 25 6 1946 24 35 26 6 274 106 113
Mel Parnell 25 7 1949 27 33 27 4 295.1 122 157
Babe Ruth 24 13 1917 22 38 35 6 326.1 128 128
Roger Clemens*† 24 4 1986 23 33 10 1 254 238 169
Bill Dinneen 23 14 1904 28 37 37 5 335.2 153 122
Joe Wood 23 17 1911 21 33 25 5 275.2 231 162
Babe Ruth 23 12 1916 21 41 23 9 323.2 170 158
Sam Jones 23 16 1921 28 38 25 5 298.2 98 131
Ellis Kinder 23 6 1949 34 30 19 6 252 138 130
Pedro Martinez* 23 4 1999 27 29 5 1 213.1 313 245
Jesse Tannehill 22 9 1905 30 32 27 6 271.2 113 109
Carl Mays 22 9 1917 25 33 27 2 289 91 148
Tex Hughson 22 6 1942 26 30 22 4 281 113 144
Jim Lonborg* 22 9 1967 25 39 15 2 273.1 246 110
Luis Tiant 22 13 1974 33 38 25 7 311.1 176 132
Bill Dinneen 21 21 1902 26 42 39 2 371.1 136 122
Bill Dinneen 21 13 1903 27 34 32 6 299 148 134
Jesse Tannehill 21 11 1904 29 31 30 4 281.2 116 131
Cy Young 21 15 1907 40 37 33 6 343.1 147 129
Cy Young 21 11 1908 41 33 30 3 299 150 194
Carl Mays 21 13 1918 26 33 30 8 293.1 114 122
Dave Ferriss 21 10 1945 23 31 26 5 264.2 94 115
Mel Parnell 21 8 1953 31 34 12 5 241 136 137
Luis Tiant 21 12 1976 35 38 19 3 279 131 128
Roger Clemens 21 6 1990 27 31 7 4 228.1 209 211
Derek Lowe 21 8 2002 29 32 1 1 219.2 127 171
Curt Schilling 21 6 2004 37 32 3 0 226.2 203 150
Tom Hughes 20 7 1903 24 31 25 5 244.2 112 117
Hugh Bedient 20 9 1912 22 28 19 0 231 122 118
Buck O’Brien 20 13 1912 30 34 25 2 275.2 115 133
Ray Collins 20 13 1914 27 30 16 6 272.1 72 107
Howard Ehmke 20 17 1923 29 39 28 2 316.2 121 108
Lefty Grove 20 12 1935 35 30 23 2 273 121 176
Wes Ferrell 20 15 1936 28 38 28 3 301 106 128
Tex Hughson 20 11 1946 30 35 21 6 278 172 134
Bill Monbouquette 20 10 1963 26 36 13 1 266.2 174 99
Luis Tiant 20 13 1973 32 35 23 0 272 206 120
Dennis Eckersley 20 8 1978 23 35 16 3 268.1 162 138
Roger Clemens* 20 9 1987 24 36 18 7 281.2 256 154
Pedro Martinez 20 4 2002 30 30 2 0 199.1 239 196
Josh Beckett 20 6 2007 23 29 1 0 194.2 188 TBD
Bold: Active players
*Cy Young award winner
†Most Valuable Player

June 16, 2007

Titanic

Game 66: June 15, 2007
Giants 2 L: Barry Zito (6-5) 30-36, 2 game losing streak
7-11-4 series record
WinRed Sox 10 W: Julian Tavarez (4-4) 42-24, 1 game winning streak
15-6-2 series record
Highlights: Alive! It’s alive! The Red Sox offense notched six runs against old friend Zito. Tavarez went seven for the second time this season with a line of two earned runs, two walks, and three strikeouts. Hideki Okajima and Joel Piñeiro got some low-leverage work in the eighth and ninth; each allowed one hit and walked and struck out none. Manny Ramirez legged out of a double play in the bottom of the third, dreadlocks jouncing in tandem with his rapid strides.

Dustin Pedroia was unstoppable with the bat last night, going 5-for-5 with five RBIs. He fell a triple short of the cycle; if he had Kevin Youkilis’s wheels he may have been able to stretch his eight-inning double to the left-center gap into a triple.

Yerkes1912 Another second baseman proved pivotal in the last series the Giants played at Fenway. It happened to be the eighth and deciding game of the 1912 World Series. The series stood tied 3-3, as Game 2 was a tie that was called on account of darkness. (I like that this weekend’s games are being played in the afternoon, probably because of network contracts and travel obligations more than anything, but it lends a throwback feel to the series.)

Contemporary written accounts of Game 8 are riveting, as this article by John Foster in Spaulding’s Official Base Ball Guide - 1913, demonstrates, but the series finale at Fenway was sparsely attended because there were rumors that the fix was on. Foster did not allude to this possible malfeasance, attributing the smaller crowd to fans’ displeasure over seating.

Giants ace Christy Mathewson started against Hugh Bedient, who had not won any of his series starts. The game was scoreless until the seventh when Jake Stahl popped a single to center and was driven in by Olaf Henriksen, who batted in place of Bedient.

Smoky Joe Wood and Mathewson matched goose eggs until the 10th. The Giants took the lead with Red Murray’s one-out double and Fred Merkle’s RBI single. Wood got the final two outs of the frame but not without being injured by Chief Meyers’s comebacker.

Clyde Engle batted for Wood, and it was his fly to deep center that Fred Snodgrass would bungle. With Engle on second, Snodgrass would make an outstanding catch of Harry Hooper’s shot to center.

Yerkes1912backYerkes, representing the series-winning run, finagled a free pass from the great Mathewson.

Mathewson bent every energy to strike out Yerkes, but the batter would not go after the wide curves which were being served to him by the New York pitcher and finally was given a base on balls.

The Giants could have ended the series but for Merkle, Meyers, and Mathewson failing to come up with Tris Speaker’s foul pop. Speaker plated Engle on a single to right which also advanced Yerkes to third. Yerkes scored on Larry Gardner’s sacrifice fly.

Yet so keen had been the struggle, so great the excitement, so wonderful the rally of the New York club after having once given the series away, that it was the opinion generally that the defeated were as great in defeat as the victors were great in victory.

Yerkes proved the difference between a $4,024.68 payday compared to $2,566.47. Yerkes jumped to the Federal League in 1914 to earn $6,500, which was $3,000 more than his Red Sox salary.

There was never a golden age of the game except in our own grandiose imaginations. Greed, hubris, vanity, and all the rest of the seven sins are the mainstays of this sport. Any player who says he plays for the love of the game is lying. If that were really the case, he would be on a dirt field in the Dominican, a side street in Kyoto, a field in Missouri, reveling in the ebb and flow of the sport without spectators; in short, anywhere but a perfectly manicured major league playing surface.

Controversy and great baseball are ever entwined. Is this classic series from 1912 any less because of unproven allegations that the series was fixed?

I am not a fan of Barry Bonds. But would he have done those things he is alleged to have done had fans like us conjured glamor in the longball? An infatuation aided and abetted by the commissioner’s office, who turned a blind eye to wrongdoings because money overflowed the league’s coffers.

Bonds is a perfect confluence of personality and circumstance to produce a scapegoat for Bud Selig’s blatant neglect to clean up his league.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Dennis Eckersley was in fine fettle. When asked what would he do if faced Bonds in an at bat that would be the record-breaking homer, Eckersley sportingly said he’d take his chances given the slugger’s age. He said, paraphrasing from memory, “I’m not shy. I’ll throw my 89-MPH heater up there. So what if it’s history? Everywhere I go it’s Gibson, Gibson, Gibson.”

In the background, the man on stilts swerved through the crowd donning a 1908 uniform. The 1912 uniform isn’t very much different from today’s save for the lack of red piping around the placket and collar.

Dave Roberts received a thunderous ovation from the Fenway audience. Everything that could be said about him and Game 4 has been said and much better than I ever could. Bob Ryan’s column is a shining example of what The Steal meant and continues to mean.

David Ortiz acted the part of Julian Tavarez in the first, throwing a tantrum after striking out looking. The designated hitter was ejected when, after getting in home plate umpire’s face to argue balls and strikes, he hurled his helmet and bat down near at the top of the steps of the dugout. Terry Francona defended Ortiz’s actions to no avail.

Interestingly, Randazzo was part of a physical confrontation with Clint Hurdle in 2006, which was documented by Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. Ray King, who complained about the strike zone, was ejected along with Hurdle.

“This guy, Tony Randazzo behind the plate today, was totally out of line,” King said. “This guy was walking right up the line, getting in your face and hoping to agitate. The guy behind the plate today, from pitch one, I thought missed a lot of calls.”

Such an erratic strike zone suits an unconventional pitcher like Tavarez. Yet again Tavarez bowled a batted ball to this first baseman, this time in the fifth with Randy Winn attempting to extend the inning. Tavarez’s momentum took him towards foul territory. He looked as if he couldn’t keep his balance and since he had touched the ball without seeing if it would dribble foul anyway, the roll seemed justifiable. Winn was in the correct path to first, so even if a relay to first hit Winn he would probably be allowed to remain on first.

Momentum, they say, only goes as far as the next day’s starting pitchers. If anyone can derail Boston’s rediscovered offense it would be ace apparent Matt Cain. He opposes another emergent star, Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Images of baseball card courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Lot 13163-30, no. 117.

June 8, 2007

Almost

Game 59: June 7, 2007
WinRed Sox 1 W: Curt Schilling (6-2) 38-21, 1 game winning streak
14-5-2 series record
Athletics 0 L: Joe Blanton (5-4) 31-28, 1 game losing streak
10-8-2 series record
Highlights: Well, duh. Coco Crisp made like Randy Moss in the sixth on a deep fly off the bat of Mark Kotsay. Another Mark was foiled by Mike Lowell in the seventh. Ellis was thrown out at first thanks to Lowell zipping the ball across the diamond after knocking it down. Kevin Youkilis’s attempt to outpace Marco Scutaro to third on David Ortiz’s ground ball in the eighth was comical. Youkilis saw that third base was vacant because of the shift and became a little too greedy. Someone has let an inside-the-park homer distort his perception of his speed.

Some may be thankful Curt Schilling didn’t twirl a no-hitter. If he was insufferable before, imagine how he’d be after such a feat. He’d be in front of every microphone and camera for weeks on end, but he and Shonda would also find some way to use paraphernalia from that game to generate money for his various charitable foundations.

For that, and for him stanching the four-game losing skid, it’s difficult to fault Schilling for being the blowhard he is. With his braggadocio comes generosity, so it’s a forgivable fault.

In a post-game clip, David Ortiz intimated that he didn’t know that a no-hitter was in progress until the ninth. He looked up at the scoreboard, saw all the goose eggs, and turned to the dugout with the same sort of look that spectators do when they watch one of his home runs sail out of the park. He was quickly shushed.

Interestingly, the first-inning Papi bomb was the only offense of the afternoon.

Schilling shook his backstop off on the pitch that would be his undoing. He hefted over a fastball that had too much of the plate to Shannon Stewart in the bottom of the ninth with two out. Stewart got a hold of the heater and lined it to shallow right. One would think that Schilling would listen to Jason Varitek, who is renown as one of the best game-callers in the majors and has presided over two no-hitters.

The near-miss prompted me to research all of the no-hitters in the long history of the Americans, a.k.a. Red Sox.

Boston Americans and Red Sox No-Hitters
Pitcher Date Notable Facts
Cy Young May 5, 1904* Against the Philadelphia Athletics at Huntington Avenue Grounds. The Americans won 3-0. The opposing pitcher, Rube Waddell, was notorious for having wrestled an alligator. Boston won the American League pennant that season, but no World Series was played that year.
Jesse Tannehill August 17, 1904 The southpaw was opposed by the White Sox in South Side Park. Tannehill’s brother Lee started at third base for Chicago.
Bill Dineen September 27, 1905 The White Sox were again victimized but this time at Huntington in the first game of a doubleheader. Chicago stormed back in the second game. Home plate umpire Francis “Silk” O’Laughlin called six no-hitters, more than any other official. O’Laughlin died in 1918 in the flu pandemic.
Cy Young June 30, 1908 Young manhandled the Highlanders at Hilltop Park. New York ended the season with the second-worst season winning percentage in franchise history, going 51-103 for a .331 winning percentage.
Joe Wood July 29, 1911 Wood no-hit the St. Louis Browns, a team that was the Milwaukee Brewers and would become the second incarnation of the Baltimore Orioles. The game was played at Sportsman’s Park, which would become the first Busch Stadium in 1953. The next year Wood would be the first pitcher to play the Yankees in their new pinstriped uniforms on April 11. He won 5-3.
Rube Foster June 21, 1916 Again the Yankees are no-hit by a Boston pitcher. It was the first no-hitter at Fenway.
Dutch Leonard August 30, 1916 The hapless Browns again were the paradigm of futility against the Red Sox. Leonard was one of the 17 pitchers who were grandfathered in 1920 when spitballs were ruled illegal.
Babe Ruth
Ernie Shore
June 23, 1917 The so-called “combined no-hitter;” it was called a perfect game until a rule change. Ruth had walked Ray Morgan and was ejected from the game for punching umpire Brick Owens. On two days rest, Shore caught Morgan stealing and proceeded to retire the next 26 Senators in order.
Dutch Leonard June 3, 1918 The lefty notched his second and final no-hitter against the Tigers in Boston. He would not pitch the entire season due to World War I.
Howard Ehmke September 7, 1923 Ehmke pitches the second no-hitter against the Philadelphia Athletics in four days. Sam Jones of the Yankees no-hit Connie Mack’s boys on September 4 without striking out a single batter.
Mel Parnell July 14, 1956 The South Siders were blanked by southpaw Parnell at Fenway, breaking the 33-year drought of Red Sox no-hitters. Sadly Parnell’s career came to end in 1956 because of a torn muscle.
Earl Wilson June 26, 1962 Wilson tossed the first no-hitter against Angels and helped his own cause in the third with a home run. Malzone crossed the dish in the fourth after reaching on an error.
Bill Monbouquette August 1, 1962 In a 1-0 squeaker, Monbouquette walked one and struck out seven at Comiskey Park. White Sox third baseman Al Smith walked in the second. The single run came in the eighth. Gary Gieger reached on a base on balls but was caught stealing second. Carl Yastrzemski struck out. Pagliaroni, Runnels, and Clinton all singled, with Clinton’s driving in the winning run.
Dave Morehead September 16, 1965 In an otherwise lackluster 100-loss season, Morehead dominated the Indians 2-0 at Fenway, allowing one base on balls to Colavito while striking out eight. The Red Sox were opposed by Luis Tiant, who twirled a complete game loss, allowed just two runs, and struck out 11.
Matt Young April 12, 1992** Not technically a no-hitter since he pitched only eight innings to the Indians at Cleveland Stadium. Kenny Lofton scored in the first after walking, stealing second and third, and tagging up on an Albert Belle sac fly to right. In the third Mark Lewis led off with a walk, advanced on a free pass to Lofton, ran to third on a force play at second, and was plated on a fielder’s choice by Carlos Baerga. Boston managed just a single run in the fourth thanks to Ellis Burks. John Flaherty made his debut in this game.
Hideo Nomo April 4, 2001 In his first appearance as a Red Sox pitcher, Nomo hurled a no-hitter at Camden Yards. He was the fourth pitcher to have no-hitters in both leagues. His first was on September 17, 1996 against the Rockies at Coors Field.
Derek Lowe April 27, 2002 Lowe had carried a no-hitter into the eighth in the start against the Orioles just prior to his no-hitter.
*Perfect game
**Pitched eight innings

April 29, 2007

Triple Take

Today Troy Tulowitzki became just the thirteenth man to turn an unassisted triple play in Major League Baseball history. See it courtesy of MLB by clicking this link.

It is my favorite play in baseball because it requires a perfect and serendipitous coincidence of circumstances: the person who catches the ball must do so on a line, pivot in time to the base, and tag the approaching runner. All this must be in place and, of course, must be no other outs in the inning.

For these reasons the triple play is more rare than the perfect game. There’s seventeen of those, and two of them have been by Yankees. Only Cy Young has thrown a perfect game for the Boston American League team, while George Burns and John Valentin are immortalized as unassisted triple play turners.

I thought Tulowitzki might have been the first rookie to have made this play, but shortstop Ernie Padgett of the Boston Braves accomplished the same feat on October 6, 1923. It was the first game of a doubleheader and Padgett’s second professional game. Cotton Tierney was the second out of that play, the man who is the namesake for Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

The most amusing aspect of this very specific type of triple play is that the players always overcompensate. After tagging both second base and Edgar Renteria, Tulowitzki threw to first base when it wasn’t required. Valentin tagged both Mike Blowers (who was on second when Marc Newfield was at the dish) and Keith Mitchell (who was advancing from first to second) when he only needed to tag second base and Mitchell.

February 13, 2007

Pitcher, Heal Thyself

This is the third in a series summarizing the presentations from the Martin Luther King, Jr. SABR gathering. The next column will feature Red Sox executive Dick Bresciani.

Craig Breslow
“You will never be able to turn on a TV to see a game without thinking that could have been you.”

When you’re in a room full of self-avowed fans who revel in the lore and formulae of a sport, those who are actual professional athletes tend to stand out.

Not athletes like Craig Breslow. Breslow, a 26-year old left-handed pitcher, was of a modest stature and demeanor despite his accomplishments. He was given the advice to speak of that which he knows best, and he figured “the one thing about which I am an expert in is myself.” His undergraduate degree from Yale in molecular biophysics and biochemistry beg to differ, however.

While at Yale the lefty played for the four losingest seasons in the esteemed university’s history. Despite the squad’s record, however, Breslow performed well enough was drafted in the 26th round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002. So, the youth who had gone to college and happened to play baseball instead of playing baseball while happening to be at college found himself with a shot at living every boy’s dream.

After being released by the Brewers in 2004, Breslow had renounced the sport. He applied for medical school and was prepared to enter New York University School of Medicine in the fall when the San Diego Padres called.

Everyone but Breslow’s agent (of course) said he should go to med school. People in his parents’ neighborhood would ask about when he would open his practice so they could be treated by the neighborhood kid turned physician. His parents’ friends were “aging, and not so gracefully,” relying on him to do their hip replacements in the near future.

Facing the prospect of going back to the diamond or entering med school, it was the first time this young man found himself having to make a real sacrifice to play ball. He decided that school would always be there, but there is a small window to achieve success in the majors. So he would toil in San Diego’s system for two years, not entirely in vain. He appeared in 14 major league games for the Padres before his contract was not tendered.

He had been released before, so rejection’s sting was not as strong. He signed a minor league free agent contract with the Red Sox in January of last year and made his debut on July 16. In that game he struck out two, allowed one hit, and hit Frank Thomas with a pitch.

The Red Sox completely revamped the bullpen in the off-season, acquiring the likes of J.C. Romero, Hideki Okajima, and Brendan Donnelly. Despite the churn, Breslow remains in the mix for a role even though he himself admitted that he is “the most right-handed left-handed pitcher in baseball.” He won’t follow in the footsteps of his role model Trevor Hoffman, but it could be a while before a “Breslow, M.D.” sign is installed over the door of an office in Trumbull, Connecticut.

For more on Breslow, see Gordon Edes’s column about him and his friend Matt McCarthy’s parallel lives.

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.

December 27, 2006

Innings During the Internment

Before Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka, before Hideo Nomo, even before Lenn Sakata, there was Kenichi Zenimura, a shortstop known as the Dean of Japanese American Baseball.

Executive Order 9066 authorized by Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed for the forced removal of approximately 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. Around 62% of these people were American citizens. More than half were children or infants. While 10,000 were allowed to relocate, the remainder were sent to ten different War Relocation Camps scattered across Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.

The great majority of these people were considered potentially disloyal to America only because of their ethnic heritage. Zenimura, along with his family, were among the internees.

So, what did these families and their children do, thousands of miles away from home, dispossessed of their former lives and liberty? They pursued happiness as best they could: going to school, creating art, having dances, and playing baseball.

To relieve the monotony and desperation of camp life, Zenimura had baseball stadia built and organized a 32-team league. The competition was so fierce and play so compelling, inhabitants of the towns came to watch their neighbors’ games.

If that were the only thing Zenimura had done in his life it would have been enough for everlasting recognition. But he had also founded a Japanese-American league in the 20s. The shortstop was so renown he was invited to play in the previously segregated Fresno Twilight League. When Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig barnstormed Fresno in 1927, he was invited to play against these titans of baseball.

Kerry Yo Nakagawa established the Nisei Baseball Research Foundation to memorialize Zenimura and other baseball players of Japanese descent. “Nisei” means “second generation,” children of first group of Japanese immigrants to the US. This past year Zenimura was also inducted into the Baseball Reliquary, an organization dedicated to honoring American culture through baseball history, along with Josh Gibson and Fernando Valenzuela.

Where I merely sketch a thumbnail, Don Malcolm’s “In Praise of Otherness” and Mikey Hirano Culross’s “They Led by Being” paint a canvas of the barriers society builds and baseball breaks down.

Jaintermentbaseballadams

Baseball game, Manzanar Relocation Center, California by Ansel Adams.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

March 11, 2006

Dr. Heckle and Ms. Snide

Inspired by Rick Paulas (a.k.a. Zon Dimmer) on McSweeney’s and his Tales of the Heckle, I wanted to chronicle one of the greatest days in the history of my Red Sox fandom. On April 13, 2002, I helped the Red Sox win a game against the Yankees. I can’t take all of the credit, of course. But I was an integral part of that 7-6 come-from-behind victory.

It was early in the season and the first series against the Yankees. I hadn’t been to Fenway a lot, so I had no idea that games in April weren’t usually blessed with mellow blue skies hardly marred by clouds. The day wasn’t so clear for Pedro Martinez. In the first inning, Derek Jeter ripped his first pitch into shallow center field for a leadoff double. After striking out Nick Johnson, Martinez walked Bernie Williams in one of their interminable contests. You know how those two are when they face each other: Williams steps out of the box to attempt to disconcert the pitcher, so Pedro steps off the rubber to unnerve his quarry. Lather, rinse, repeat. This time, Williams succeeded in drawing a walk. Martinez hit Jason Giambi to load the bases with still just one out. Three runs scored on Jorge Posada’s ensuing triple, and the pinstriped catcher eventually scored on a Rey Sanchez error.

Despite the four-run first inning, Martinez settled in to hold the Yankees scoreless for the next four innings. The Red Sox had managed to score three runs in the fourth in a scoring outburst that began with Rickey Henderson’s leadoff base on balls. New York increased their lead to three runs in the sixth inning. Emotions were running hot, even for the normally jovial Tony Cloninger. He was ejected in the bottom of the sixth for mentioning to home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth that he thought he missed a few calls while Rolando Arrojo was on the mound. Inspired by Cloninger’s example, I vowed that when it came time for me contribute, I would step up.

I wasn’t alone in my commitment to the team. Johnny Damon doubled to center field in the bottom of the eighth, chasing David Wells from the game and prompting the insertion of Ramiro Mendoza. My seat for this game were right near the visitor’s bullpen. While Mendoza warmed, a pair of wits next to me heckled him. “You’re in for it now, Mendoza!” Then, sotto voce, “Yeah, this guy always gets us. Versatile: short relief, long relief, spot starts.” Out loud: “Look at Nomar, he’s ready to jump all over your slop.” Under breath: “Nomar will probably fly out to short.”

The Nostradamii were wrong. The Mendoza that Red Sox fans would come to know well made an appearance. He hit the Red Sox shortstop and then Manny Ramirez singled to score Damon. The gap between the teams slid to two runs and the crowd was deranged with joy. Joe Torre tarried so that his indomitable closer, Mariano Rivera, could warm up sufficiently to take the mound and staunch the bleeding.

Proper heckling requires intimate knowledge of your target. If you think you’re going to get into someone’s head by yelling, "Hey, 42, you suck!" you are sorely mistaken. Your words must deftly penetrate the neocortex of an elite athlete hardened by years of concentration and fortitude. They must there become seeds of doubt and apprehension that will blossom into your prey’s undoing.

In March of 2002, Rivera’s cousin, outfielder Ruben Rivera, was caught stealing Derek Jeter’s equipment and selling it to turn a quick buck. Shameful enough for a major league team, but devestating for the supposedly pristine Yankee clubhouse. Recall then that mystique and aura were aging yet at least had their reputation unstained. How humiliating then, for the paragon of Yankeedom, the Hammer of God, to have a relative leave in such unsavory circumstances.

I was truly curious about how Ruben was doing, so I posed the question to closer as he loosened up. “How’s your cousin doing? You know, Ruben?” I queried. “Does he like Texas?” After being released by the Yankees, he was invited to the Rangers’ spring training camp. “Tell him I think he has a career in memorabilia brokering.” I thought Rivera would appreciate some career advice for his young cousin. Of course he couldn’t thank me for my input as he was about to exit the bullpen, but I think my words may have resonated with him.

Rivera induced Tony Clark to ground out to first, but since Garciaparra was on third, he scored easily and Ramirez advanced to second base. Shea Hillenbrand came to the plate and Mariano pitched him high and inside. One could say he was head-hunting. Undaunted, the Boston third baseman hit the go-ahead two-run home run into the screen on the Green Monster. Ugueth Urbina shut down the first two Yankee batters of the ninth. Posada reached base on a single and Alfonso Soriano pinch ran for him. Soriano was thrown out by Jason Varitek while attempting to steal second, ending the epic game.

Shea and I haven’t always gotten along, but we worked well together that day.

March 3, 2006

お雛祭 (Ohinamatsuri): Happy Girl’s Day

Mebina EmpressHawai‘i has a large Japanese-American population due to immigration following the social upheavals in Japan during the Meiji Restoration. Farmers could no longer make a living on agriculture due to the rapid industrialization of their country, so from 1886 through 1911 more than 400,000 Japanese immigrants entered the United States, primarily in Hawai‘i and the West Coast. They brought with them their culture, foods, and celebrations, including Girl’s Day, or Doll Festival, which is celebrated March 3rd. Japanese dolls representative of the royal court from the Edo period are put on display and mochi colored pink, white, and green are served. Other than the dolls and treats, it’s also a day to recognize the girl or woman in your life and treat her to a nice dinner or gift.

In honor of Girl’s Day and Women’s History Month, I wanted to mention Effa Manley’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As owner of the Newark Eagles, she was a woman ahead of her time and she will be the first woman enshrined in the hall. With her husband, she was co-owner of championship-winning Negro League team that she believed could have beat the non-integrated teams of the time. In 1934, she carried her influence into her community by organizing boycotts against businesses that refused to hire African-Americans. These businesses relented, leading to the employment of over 300 African-Americans just a year later.

Obina EmperorIn less inspirational news, the UH Rainbows lost to the Arkansas Razorbacks last night. I know I really talked up Steven Wright, but he was inconsistent last night, lasting just six and a third innings yielding five runs and eight hits with two walks and nine strikeouts. Wright looked dominant at times, as evidenced by his strikeout total, but often left too much of the ball on the plate for his opponents. I didn’t see a single non-white Arkansas player or fan, who were obnoxious visitors. They riled up the usually easy-going UH fans with their boisterous antics, prompting some locals to yell at them to shut up. To see Wright pitch, I had to be in person at Les Murakami Stadium last night because the local television and radio stations that cover UH sports were deployed for the basketball game only.

Les Murakami Stadium
This photo is from the Mavericks-Rainbows game that was rained out.

Ohinamatsuri icons courtesy of Cedarseed.

February 19, 2006

Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr.

I found the final resting place of “The Father of Modern Baseball” yesterday. O‘ahu Cemetery is nestled in Nu‘uanu Valley. Past visitors have left baseballs inscribed with notes of gratitude for Cartwright’s contribution to the greatest game devised by mortals. There was even a ball with Japanese written across its face.

While in Hawai‘i, Cartwright assisted in the founding of the first fire department and was its second chief. In honor of that achievement, there is a street named for him in Waikīkī. It is just a few blocks away from the existing fire station. It’s a bit of a seedy street, closer to Kapiolani Park than to the upscale shops. To be frank, it’s that area of the tourist’s mousetrap where vices are satisfied. But when you look down the one-way lane, your eyes are greeted by Diamond Head (called “Lē‘ahi” in Hawaiian, which means brow of the ahi, or tuna).

I picked up a copy of Lawrence S. Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times. It’s a bit frustrating to read it without access to Retrosheet, however. I find myself wanting to cross-check the recollections of the players. Not because I think they are willfully trying to mislead, but only because human memory is so fallible.

Cartwright Plaque

Cartwright Headstone

Cartwright Mementoes 1

Cartwright Mementoes 2

Cartwright Road

Cartwright Road View

January 16, 2006

Winter Meeting

Very few things can get me up early on a frigid holiday morning. At the top of that short list would be anything baseball-related. So, I stirred early, bundled up, and made my way to the Friends Meeting House in Cambridge. It would be my first SABR Boston Regional Meeting. It’s incredible to be with a group of people who share the same obsession. I’d say it’s a bit like a support group except rather than forcing you to try and wean you from the addiction they enable it. The chair of the Boston chapter, Seamus Kearney, convened the meeting and introduced the new “Research Miniatures” presentations. This format lets members share smaller scale research projects. Today’s five Research Miniatures covered a wide array of topics:

Mike Fields, a student of the sabermetrics course taught at Tufts by Andy Andres, presented “The ‘Moneyball Effect’: Inefficiencies in the Free Agent Market.” He worked with fellow student Zach Kolkin to determine if general managers have are now overpaying for the skills lauded in the book. Comparing the free agent markets of 2000-2001 to 2002-2004, Fields showed that GMs were indeed paying more for on-base percentage for hitters. However, inefficiencies in the market for pitchers still exist as there was not a high correlation between salary and BB/9 or K/9, which were the stated variables expressing control pitchers. Fields also conjectured that front offices who are looking for the next unexploited skill may have devised a more reliable and predictive model for defense and that are beginning to use this metric as a competitive advantage.

Next, Paul Wendt gave a presentation on the rosters of both the National and American League teams of Boston from 1900-1901. He demonstrated that the NL team was one of the most stable teams in the history of professional ball before they were ransacked by the upstart AL team. I had an inkling that in this particular period of baseball history the AL was seen as a minor league in comparison to the NL, but Wendt confirmed that. I only recognized the big names of the lineups; I have a lot more to learn about the deadball era.

After lunch, Kearney gave a little talk on Gardner Day at Fenway. He had chanced upon an odd picture of Ted Williams on a giant chair at a local eatery and decided to unearth the exact circumstances of what brought about such event. He learned that on August 24, 1946, people from Gardner, the self-proclaimed “Furniture Capital of the World,” came out to Fenway en masse for day in their honor. Johnny Pesky delighted the crowd by taking one of the velocipedes (what we now call tricycles) for a spin.

To me, baseball and poetry mesh together like hand in perfectly broken-in glove, an opinion I thought I was alone in holding. Joanne Hulbert proved me wrong, however. Her specialty is deadball era poetry and she was collected over 1,200 poems to date. After her reading of “The Boston Obsession,” a poem she found in which the speaker wended through his day and each person he met responded to his quotidian questions with baseball talk, she shared assorted snippets from journalists of the past. The lyricism and wit of these past writers are things that I wish were in greater abundance today.

The last Research Miniature was Bill Nowlin’s exploration of Charles Dryden’s account of a foul ball mishap. In 1903 in a game against Philadelphia, Dryden described how a foul ball flew into a nearby bean cannery’s whistle, jamming it into a position so that it blew continuously. Workers, thinking that it was a signal that their day was over left the factory. In doing so, a huge vat of beans was left unattended and such a huge amount of pressure that it blew up. The flying foodstuff reached the fans, causing much commotion. “One man went insane,” stated Dryden solemnly. Nowlin scoured articles from every Boston area newspaper for any corraborating details to no avail. It turns out that it was a bit of humor from Dryden, who was honored in 1965 with the J. G. Taylor Spink Award and was known for jests.

Continue reading “Winter Meeting” »

October 27, 2005

Red-Letter Day

Happy world championship anniversary, fellow fans. Just a year ago today, everything changed. The sun shone brighter, the air seemed fresher. Things fell into sharp focus, touched with a clarity never before seen, not even on the most expensive high definition television available. My life did not change, but I learned that the gulf between what you are told is impossible and what is actually achievable is only as small or large as you make it.

Of the Red Sox, Darin Erstad said, “These boys are winning the World Series, by the way.” His team had been swept by the Red Sox in three games, including an extra innings affair that sustained the lore of David Ortiz. The last game of the ALDS had Ortiz wrenching victory from the clutches of defeat yet again with his 2-run homer in the 10th. Despite their rousing divisional series performance, however, the Red Sox returned to Fenway Park down 0-2 in the ALCS.

On the same evening as Game 3 my friends got married. For the first time I attended a Jewish wedding ceremony, an event that I played a small role in by holding the chuppa and assisting with the layout of the ketubbah. My friends, although they had scheduled the wedding in the midst of baseball’s postseason, knew well enough that there was a pivotal game that night and that I wouldn’t miss it. They understood when I bade them well somewhat early and rushed home from their reception so I could watch the opening ceremonies for the first home game of the series. Had I known the Cowsills would be part of the game’s festivities and the results of that game, I probably would have willingly chosen to participate in all manner of embarrassing dances and behaviors concomitant with receptions.

There was a haiku thread on the Royal Rooters message board initiated by Johnny of Love of Sox that chronicled the 2004 season in concentrated bursts of words. With my team down 0-3, 17 syllables of thought was the outside limit of what I could muster.

Inconceivable?
For a team that has some faith-
Word has no meaning.
October 17, 2004 at 10:14 AM

I sounded confident in that verse. I wasn’t. At that point, I was hoping the Red Sox weren’t going to get swept, plain and simple. I woke up early that Sunday morning and slouched dumbfounded in front of my computer for a long while, waiting for a coherent thought to coalesce. Those three lines were the result.

Sunday, October 17th was a nervous day. Somehow I had made it to game time almost emotionally intact. It’s difficult to write about the waves of anguish and jubilance of the next games. It seemed certain that Boston would lose in Games 4 and 5, a set of games that were a recursion of the postseason run itself. Just as three outs make an inning and 9 innings comprise a game, or how the regular season is divided into thirds and the post season into three series; the repeating of patterns seen at every stratum.

Special hightop cleat
Is the method to avert
“Walking disaster”
October 19, 2004 at 9:16 AM

By the coming of Game 6 I was giddy. My co-workers, all casual fans but enthusiastic, looked to me for some sort of guidance. I thought I should maintain some level of decorum, unlike Gary Sheffield, who conveniently provided bulletin board material with his rantings. So, to them, I obscured my delerium with platitudes: “They have to take it one game at a time.” “Schilling’s not in too much pain, so it’s possible for him to get in some innings.” “They’ll have to turn it over to Arroyo if Curt can’t continue.” “Foulke’s not your typical closer, so he can go longer than others.” But inside me roiled a maelstrom of emotions, most of which were pushing me perilously close to the land of the faithful. It’s not a place I visit often, unlike Schilling, who is one of the evangelical Chritians of that team.

A special shoe was constructed by Reebok for Schilling, customized to hold his capricious tendon in place. Schilling didn’t have enough range of movement in that hightop, however, so he submitted himself to a novel tendon-stapling surgery. Team physician Joe Morgan practiced on a cadaver before attempting the same operation on the starting right-handed pitcher. Seeing Curt Schilling on the mound with his slapdash ankle fix convinced me that there would be no way that his team would disappoint.

On October 27, 2004, my every baseball wish was fulfilled in a manner most improbable. The game that had mellowed my summers since I moved here in 1997 had finally gifted me with everything I could request. And yet, baseball was still over and I would miss it. I was struck by a pang of loss despite the title. I feared that the little details that made up the totality of the season would dissipate with time. So, this is why I chronicled the past season here.

Happy anniversary, and may there be many more memories for us all to share.

May 28, 2005

Past Programs

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March 6, 2005

Making Amendments

robinsonThis past Thursday, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was posthumously bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award. Jackie Robinson is only the fourth athlete and the second baseball player to be so honored; the others were Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, and Roberto Clemente.

The Red Sox have a shameful historic connection to Robinson. On April 16, 1945, the team held a tryout session with Robinson and two other Negro League players, Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams. It is alleged, but not confirmed, that it was Tom Yawkey himself that yelled, “Get those niggers off the field” during the sham event. At any rate, only Red Sox management was in the stands. It was clear to Robinson that he and his fellow Negro Leaguers were there just to placate a Boston City Council decree and the Red Sox had no intention of integrating the team. Just eighteen months later, Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Robinson would likely be rendered ineligible for the award by recent House-approved legislation that restricts posthumous medals to a 20-year period beginning five years after a person’s death and also limits the award to two medals a year. With these possible restrictions impending, two Massachusetts legislators, Senator John Kerry and Reprepsentative Richard Neal, co-sponsored the bill to award Robinson the medal. The John W. Henry ownership group actively worked with Kerry and Neal to pass the Robinson bill. Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe reports that George Mitrovich, a former press aide to Robert Kennedy and a close friend of Larry Lucchino, also contributed to this effort.

Rrobinson Under the Henry ownership group, a much coveted and long awaited championship came to New England. But more importantly, while bringing baseball and commercial success, the group has acknowledged their organization’s previous shortcomings and have actively made amends for the racist and intolerant regimes of the past. The group has a multi-layered approach to promoting diversity, including: “trying to find a black or Hispanic multi-millionaire to join their new ownership group; starting a scholarship program for city kids; doing business with black radio stations; and organizing visits by Red Sox officials to black and Hispanic civic and religious groups.”

In 2002, Henry stated, “I think we have to make a statement not just in baseball but in our community that diversity is an issue that hasn’t been fully addressed in the past and certainly has to be fully addressed. I think it’s important what your actions are. That will really define the franchise going forward.” Henry has largely abided by his statements.

For my part, I think Henry and the Red Sox could exert more pressure on their radio broadcast partner, Sports Radio WEEI, to diversify their programming. Tiny steps forward are made, with Michael Holley named as co-host for the 10 AM to 2 PM show with Dale Arnold. I understand that programming is reflective of audience demographics, but WEEI assumes that only white males listen to its broadcasts. Wouldn’t more African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and women listen to WEEI if they felt the were being represented? Isn’t it in the station’s best interests to broaden their audience base rather than merely cater to a vociferous subset of the population?

I’m not saying that WEEI should be NPR, as the topic is “only” sports. But we see the impact that Robinson had and continues to have on American civil rights history and he was “only” an athlete. Participation in the discourse on sports and society, much of which takes place on talk radio, should not be limited to those of a particular race or gender.

February 27, 2005

Setting Tongues A-Wag

IsgI’m sensing another olde towne team song revival, alà the Dropkick Murphys’ remake of “Tessie.”

In the Boston Globe, Joshua Glenn writes about Isabella Stewart Gardner’s passion for the Red Sox, a diehard fan. To show her devotion, in December of 1912 she attended Symphony Hall wearing a banner emblazoned with “Oh you Red Sox,” the title of a ditty popular with the Royal Rooters. Let it be known that Gardner was no casual fan bitch; she braved the comments of a gossip columnist, who wrote that “it looked as if the woman had gone crazy ... almost causing a panic among those in the audience who discovered the ornamentation, and even for a moment upsetting [the musicians] so that their startled eyes wandered from their music stands.” The scandal of it all!

February 18, 2005

Flashback to September 26, 2004

Permit me to show how my dedication has turned a bit into madness. I spent all Saturday morning making a sign for the game. It said “Bill Mueller: Yankee Kueller.” A detail you can’t see is that instead of stars on the top hat in the Yankee logo, there are skulls and crossbones. Also, there’s a Royal Rooters shout out in the upper right.

Billmuellersign

I was absolutely determined to have Bill Mueller sign my creation. I left at 11:00 AM for a 2:05 PM game. I arrived at Fenway at 12, just in time for the opening of the gates. Usually the visiting team is taking batting practice as the first fans arrive. Today, however, it seems the Red Sox front office had the Sox take BP while fans were there.

I made my way to the seats behind home plate. I got there just as Mueller finished up his turn at the plate. He came by the stands to start signing autographs. There were two rows of people in front of me, but not many for clamoring for him to sign. Many were there mainly to be near the players. He saw my sign and autographed it for me. It didn’t seem he thought it funny or anything, and that disappointed me somewhat, but he signed it, and it was the last thing he signed before he went down to the clubhouse.

Continue reading “Flashback to September 26, 2004” »

January 1, 2005

Fading Images

Late last night I was browsing through the Boston Public Library’s online gallery of past sports venues called Sports Temples of Boston. I started getting chills as I combed through the images of Fenway Park through the decades.

Ted Williams appears in several pictures. Long, awkward, gangly. It’s hard to imagine him being the greatest left-handed hitter ever. One of the photos has him in his akimbo batting stance wearing nothing but his briefs. You would imagine in that more restrained era Williams would be hesitant to pose for such a photo, but, as in other things, he wasn’t like those of his time.

There are also some photos of football games being played in Fenway. While I do enjoy that sport, it seemed to border on desecration to me. I am told that Gillette Stadium can accomodate baseball, and I find that similarly unappetizing. The only way football and baseball should be combined on the same field is when members of the World Champion teams make guest appearances.

Many photos are of Fenway teeming full of fans. I thought about the people in the stands, some still with us, most probably not. I wondered if they had children in whom they instilled a love of the game, and the Red Sox. Though separated by time, I felt that kindred sense of being that comes with rooting for the team, our team, reaching across the decades.

Tonight’s Red Sox Stories on UPN 38 is about “Tessie,” the song that propelled the 1903 team through the first World Series. The modern reworking of the melody carried us through 2004. There are, and always will be, threads of faith, a skein of memory connecting us to the past.

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