TALKING WITH TOMMY

     There are few people in baseball that I respect more than Tommy Harper.  The former outfielder spent three seasons with the Red Sox in the early ’70s.  He is now a player development consultant with the Sox, bringing his vast knowledge to young Sox prospects.  Tommy was at McCoy a couple of days ago, checking n on the troops.  He was pleassed with what he saw.  “I like this team in Pawtucket.  They’ve battled back.  They’ve got good pitching and the hitting has been timely.  I congratulate them because they got off to a shaky start.  Everything has come together for them and they’re in first place and they’re playing well.”

     Tommy is always ready to talk about his prize pupil, having an All Star year for Boston.  Jacoby Ellsbury.  Harper himself was a 30/30 guy  early in his career.  He doesn’t necessarily think Ellsbury has traded speed for power in 2011.  “He keeps telling people that he’s still playing the way he always has.  He’s got a better approach at the plate and he’s putting himself in a better position to hit.  The home runs are just a by-product of his work.  That entails cage work and practice and so forth.  It’s not that he consciously tried to increase his home run power.  He’s just playing his regular game.”

     After missing most of last season, Ellsbury has come back with a vengeance.  As teamamte John Lester said the other day, that was probably a good thing for anyone with the Red Sox.  Harper agrees.  “He did have a tough season last year.  He’s overcome a lot.  He said he’d go home and work hard and he did.  It’s paying off for him.”

     Harper says, no matter the era, base stealers steal bases.  “Jacoby and Carl Crawford are base stealers.  There’s no doubt they can do that.  They know the right time to run.  If you dpon’t have the proper opportunity, don’t do it.  It’s when you steal the base that counts the most.  70 steals, 80 stolen bases.  That doesn’t matter to me.  If you are hitting home runs or doubles, you don’t have the chance to steal bases.  Let’s put it this way.  Everyone talks about Adrian Gonzalez.  The fact that he hawsn’t had a home run in so many at bats.  SO WHAT!  The guy’s hitting .350, he’s got RBI’s.  He’ll hit homers at some point.  I’m not concerned.  It just doesn’t mean that much in the realm of winning a baseball game.”

     Harper held the single season record for the Sox with 54 stolen bases until it was eclipsed by Ellsbury, who stole 70 in 2009.  He intimates that stealing bases may be tougher than “going yard”.  “I’ll put it this way.  I once stole 73 bases in a season for the Seattle Pilots.  I stole 54 in a year in a Red Sox uniform.  I also once hit 31 home runs in a season.  David Ortiz once hit 54 homers in a year.  Which is tougher?  Could he steal 31 bases??  I don’t think so.”

     Tommy Harper has ties to the two men not enshrined in Cooperstown who probably deserve it most.  As a former Cincinnati Red and Red Sox player, he knows first hand about the all-time hits leader, Pete Rose and former Boston great, El Tiante, Luis Tiant.  “I don’t know if Tiant is ever going to get in,  I think Pete has a chance because of his record.  I don’t know if the veterans’ committee is going to ever include Luis.  It’s a shame, because he does have the credentials to be in the Hall.   Every year, there’s someone left out.  Every year!  Look at (Bert) Blyleven.  Look how long it took him to get in.  Maybe I’m wrong about Luis Tiant.  He has the pitching record to be included in the Hall of Fame.”

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