October 2011

THEY MAY NEVER GET OVER IT

     Fans throughout the state of Texas are still stunned after the sixth game of the recently completed World Series. Fans’ champagne botttles remain unpopped, or if they were prematurely opened, they may stil be sitting on the kitchen table, untouched, getting flatter by the day. 

     Good people of the Lone Star State, I am not going to lie to you.  You may NEVER get over it.  This is not hyperbole.  I know from experience.  In 1986, the Red Sox were in the very same position as Texas, a quarter century later.  We had Mookie Wilson to hate, you’ve got David Freese.  Not only did Freese hit the bomb in the 11th inning to force Game 7, he also tied it with a two run triple with two outs and two strikes in the ninth.  TWO STRIKES!  Two lousy strikes.  One pitch away from the first World Series Championship in franchise history.  Unthinkable.  Unfathomable.  Unimaginable.  Do you know how many times I’ve lamented the same fate that befell Boston against the Mets in 1986.  There’s a young man in Fort Worth who will question his allegiance to the Rangers many times over.  There’s an elderly woman in Dallas who will pass away some time before the Rangers ever win it all.  There are thousands of poor saps in Arlington who will continue to toss and turn and ask “Why” for years.  Don’t want to blame Freese?  OK, Lance Berkman then.  The Rangers were a strike away in the tenth inning too!  Josh Hamilton gave Texas a reprieve with a tenth inning homer but Berkman tied it in the tenth.

     My God, Rangers fans.  I know your collective heads are still spinning.  It’s been the topic of conversation at the stockyards, the banks, the supermarkets, the gyms.  Where ever people gather.  Heck, there doesn’t even have to be anyone else around.  You will drive yourselves nuts.  FOREVER! 

     To this day, I look away when I know that ball is going to elude Bill Buckner yet again.  I just can’t bring myself to watch it.  You will hate Neftali Feliz like I’ve hated Buckner, all these years.  I’m sure Buckner is a fine man.  Had a super career, but committed the biggest error in Sox history.  Just have not been able to forgive.

     Maybe I have a problem.  I’m just not ready to let Billy Buck off the hook.  I know I’m not alone.  I’m just the only one honest enough to admit it.  25 years is a long time to hold a grudge.  Half my life, to be precise.  I’ve invested a lot of time in this.  2004 was phenomenal.  So was 2007.  I saw my first heartbreak as a 6 year old when Bob Gibson and the Cardinals stuck it to the Sox.  8 years later, I cried as the Big Red Machine won it in 7 over my hero Carlton Fisk and the Red Sox.  In 1986 I was a grown man, but nothing has ever affected me as much (that didn’t have to do with me or my family directly) as that loss to the Mets.  I, like you Texans, was ready to savor the moment.  A moment that I thought was going to be the greatest moment of my life. (My kids hadn’t been born yet.)

     I know what I’m talking about Rangers fans.  You will never find solace in “being in the Series”.  It was an opportunity you may never get again.  If you do get another chance, you still can’t get this one back.  I know what I’m talking about, all too well.

NO EASING INTO THIS ONE

     It has been widely reported that Ben Cherington will succeed Theo Epstein as General Manager of the Boston Red Sox.  As I’ve said before, I really think Ben will do a great job.  He is very smart and thoughtful, and a good baseball man.  His first days as Sox G.M. could go a long way in defining him.  His first days will test his mettle.  no easing into the job.  There is work to be done and a lot of it.  By the time the Trick or Treaters hit the road on the 31st of October, Cherington will have formulated a list of candidates to succeed Terry Francona as Sox manager.  It’s almost like reaching into a big bowl of candy and hoping you pull out a peanut butter cup or a Kit Kat.  At worst, M & M’s.  You don’t want to reach in and get licorice, or worse, a piece of fruit.  There are a lot of choices out there.  And please remember, NONE of us did cartwheeels when Tito was introduced as Sox skipper.

     Hopefully, by the time we are carving turkey, there will be reason to give thanks.  A new manager in place and the memory of “Black September” fading.  My colleagues will already have written or spoken the multitudes of reasons “why” the new man will be successful, or a flop.  A taskmaster, a players’ manager, or somewhere in the middle?  It remains to be seen.  Perhaps Ben will see fit to hire Cathy Donovan.  Cathy Donovan was the girl who lived next door to me when I was a little kid.  She babysat my brothers and I.  She was good at it.  I’m certain she could keep an eye on those naughty boys in the Sox clubhouse.

     By the time Santa rolls into town, Ben will  be making some personnel decisions.  Won’t be easy.  Starting with Big Papi.  He was on the nice list for a long time.  In fact, winning the Clemente Award as baseballs’ top humanitarian, keeps him in the plus column, despite his indiscretions of late.  Bursting in on one of Franconas’ news conferences to complain about a scorers’ call.  His unsolicited (from management) thoughts on Alfredo Aceves being moved from the bullpen to the rotation, and his biggest booboo of all, saying he might like to play for the Yankees, while Rome was burning.  (There has to be some tie-in with the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park and the Titanic, which sunk the week that Fenway opened.)  All that aside, if Cherington and his staff feel Ortiz can continue to contribute and the price is right, he’ll be there in April as the Sox open in Detroit.  (By the way, has Ortiz ever looked thinner than he did when he accepted his Clemente Award?)  For that matter, has he ever looked more like actress Esther Rolle, “Florida Evans” of “Good Times” fame?  (Google their pictures if you don’t believe me.)

     This is not an easy time to be the General Manager of the Red Sox.  All eyes are upon you.  Not only in the “Nation”, but throughout the entire baseball world.  The Red Sox are no longer the loveable losers, cursed by the Bambino.  They are a two time World Series winner.  They are a free-spending team, with an obscenely high payroll.  Others certainly have taken delight at their free-fall.  Cherington can assure that the Sox get the last laugh.  If he does, he’ll be a hero.  Our hero.  God speed, Ben Cherington.

DAMAGE CONTROL

     It seems that the latest thing to do if you are a member of the Red Sox is to get out there and give your side of the story.  After all, fair is fair.  If you feel you’ve been misrepresented, clear the air.  John Henry did it.  Terry Francona did it.  David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and the list goes on.

     I do have what I’d call a Red Sox bias.  By that, I mean the men who came through the Sox system and spent time in Pawtucket.  Every man currently on the Sox roster that played at McCoy, without exception, I know to be a good person.  That was Jon Lesters’ message earlier this week, as he launched a media blitz, trying to clear his name and the names of his alleged beer-swilling, chicken-chomping, video game-playing cohorts.

     Jon Lester is a very good pitcher, coming into his prime.  Admittedly, we don’t speak very often, but when we do, it’s like we’ve reverted back to his days in a Pawtucket uniform.  Lester was an unassuming young man with a boat load of talent.  Pre World Series hero, Pre cancer, Pre everything.  Before 99% of the world got to know him, I did.  They say that you make your friends in the minor leagues, before the fame and fortune arrives.  I would not go as far as to say that Jon and I are friends, but I like him very much.  I vividly remember sitting in the bar of the hotel in Rochester, NY when Jon was just a pup working his way through the system.  It was a cold Spring night and we were both looking for a late night meal.  As we ate, we talked about a variety of topics, just getting acquainted.  It was something I’ve done with hundreds of athletes ove the years.  I had a broadcast partner once who never spoke to the guys unless he had the microphone on.  Couldn’t have cared less about them as people.  My philosophy has always been, if I get to know the player as a person, so will my listeners.  That has served me well over the decades.  I learned about Jons’ love of the outdoors, especially hunting.  He’d head south to Georgia and test his skils with former Pawtucket third baseman Chad Spann.  That’s the Lester I got to know.

     I remember when Jon made it to the Big Leagues, one of the things they wanted him to do, was “follow” Josh Beckett around.  Learn from him.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Lester defended Beckett and John Lackey and their “rally beers”.  When Kevin Millar and the “idiots” chugged their Jack Daniels and went on to win the World Series, it was quirky, and it was celebrated.  When the “Red Flops” of 2011 completed their epic collapse, Colonel Sanders, Anheuser Busch and X-Box took the hit.  Hypocritical? Maybe, but we need someone to blame.  A team with that much talent just can’t go 7-20 down the stretch.  To his credit, Lester admitted that he “stunk”.

     I am certain that in the coming days and weeks there will be other stories told  by other members of the Sox.  When I see Jon Lester, it’s always a positive experience.  He treats me with a great deal of respect.  We talk about our families and how we’ve been.  My colleagues in the media may think I’m naive but I am giving Lester the benefit of the doubt.  He’s a grown man.  He doesn’t need to follow the example of Josh Beckett, or anyone else for that matter.  He’s the ace of the staff.  He can lead the Sox back to glory.  On my refrigerator, there’s a photo taken a few years ago at McCoy Stadium.  It features Jon standing between my daughters, Eva and Carly.  It’s going to stay up on the fridge.  You would be proud to have the Jon Lester I know as a friend, son or brother.  

 

 

 

HORRIFYING, AND GETTING WORSE

     I don’t know about you, but the things I continue to read and hear on a daily basis are sickening.  OK, Terry Francona’s gone.  Ron Johnson and Rob Leary are, too.  Now it looks like Theo Epstein is bound for the Windy City and Wrigley Field.  There has been a lot to digest.  (And I’m not talking about fried chicken and beer).  I have read some really interesting accounts over the last week.  Two that stood out in my mind, were Howard Bryant of espnboston.com and his analysis of the Theo Epstein era and Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe and his comprehensive look inside the dysfunctional Red Sox clubhouse.  After reading Hohlers’ piece, it made me yearn for the days when the biggest criticism of the Sox was “25 players, 25 cabs”.  It blows my mind.  I am not a “head in the clouds” kind of guy.  I know these guys and hundreds like them.  If Hohlers’ story is even 50% true, shame on them.  Young men that I respect, because I’ve gotten to know them on a personal level.  It’s shameful.  When I was a kid, I idolized Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzsemski, Rico Petrocelli and Luis Tiant.  Not because I knew them, because they wore the most beautiful uniform in all of sports.  These days, I’ve admired the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, John Lester and Clay Buchholz (among others) because I know how hard they’ve worked to achieve their current status.   If I feel let down, imagine how some 9 or 10 year old kid feels.  It dawns on me that I don’t know this current crop of Sox stars any better than I did the heroes of my childhood. 

     When the season ended years ago, the players went their separate ways and the media that covered them, moved on to football or whatever other sport they specialized in.  Not anymore!  I have probably read more on the Sox over the last couple of weeks than I would have if they’d still been in the playoffs.  If you think that baseball in New England isn’t a 12 month a year proposition, you’re naive.

     The hot topic today seems to be what type of compensation the Sox could get in exchange for Theo.  What would the Cubs owe Boston?  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love some compensation for the G.M., but really, is that fair?  Apples and oranges, my friend, apples and oranges.  Then we move on to Theos’ replacement.  If Boston stays “in-house”, his logical successor, is Ben Cherington.  Over the years, Cherington has been generous with his time and knowledge.  I think he’s a good guy and extremely intelligent and probably has learned a lot from Epstein.  The Sox like to make a “splash”, though.  They could opt for a bigger name from outside the family.  Can’t name a manager until you get a General Manager.  Can’t name as new G.M. until the old one leaves.

     At age 37, Epstein may have already earned a spot in Cooperstown.  He was at the helm when the Sox erased the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 and put an exclamation mark on it in 2007.  This summer, former Blue Jays and Philadelphia architect, Pat Gillick went into Cooperstown with a similar resume.  If Epstein can help the Cubs to their first World Series since 1908, he joins Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Ernie Banks and Bobby Hull on the Mount Rushmore of the city.  In the process, he’ll cement his spot in the Hall of Fame. 

     Right now, here in the “Nation”, I’m not sure there is much good will towards Theo, Tito or any of the players, with the possible exception of Dustin Pedroia.  There’s a lot of talking going on and a lot of changes pending.  What will be the next “bomb” to drop.  Stay tuned, it can’t be far off.

I KNOW I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE

     As the Red Sox season ended so unceremoniously, the 2011 Baseball season drew to a close for me.  When the Sox are out, so am I.  I take some pride in that.   I have not yet watched one inning of the poostseason and I more than likely, won’t.  Just how I am.  You may argue that I’m not a baseball fan.  Maybe, you’re right.  I do love the game, but only when my Sox (Red or Paw) are involved.  I’m the same way with most other sports.  NFL might be the exception.  While I love my Pats, I can enjoy a lot of other teams.  NBA- Celtics only.  College hoops, Big East or ACC during the regular season.  I am always riveted to March Madness.  I am a Syracuse fan (Mostly basketball) and an Ohio State fan (Mostly football)  I built those allegiances while I covered those teams during my career.  My daughter Eva will be transferring to The Ohio State University in January, so I suspect that I will remain loyal to the money I spend there for her education.  It’s like the bumper sticker-  “My daughter and my money go to Ohio State.”  The least they could do is let me “dot the i.”

     I am tremendously unexcited by the names I am hearing as potential successors to Terry Francona.  Then again, I’m not sure I was doing cartwheels 8 years ago when Tito was hired.  I think it will take a while for me to regain my interest in Baseball and the Sox.  Whether you want to, or not, you invest a lot of time and energy in their season.  As a fan and broadcaster, I’m rooting for them.  I have for more than 40 years.  After a while, you learn that it doesn’t matter.  Life goes on.  People are born.  People die.  Bills are paid.  I feel especially badly for my dear friend Ron Johnson and any other coaches that may become casualties.  If these guys had played their cards right, they all should have been able to stay there as long as they wanted.

     I’m pretty certain that there will be more fallout after the disastrous month of September.  Seems inevitable.  I have other ideas regarding other sports, as well.  The Pats better stiffen up their defense.  It will be tougher without Mayo at linebacker  for the next six weeks.  Ya gotta beat the Jets this Sunday.  Ya just gotta.  NBA- they are making a huge tactical error by not having this season.  Fans are going to learn that they can get along just fine without the millionaires in short pants.  College basketball and the Pats and Bruins will carry us through the long, cold winter.  I suspect that the winter is just long enough.  When we get the news that the trucks have left Fenway Park, bound for Fort Myers, loaded with equipment, we will be ready to resume our one-sided love affair.

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