RIP Tom Menino

Tom Menino got one final parade as a going away gift in 2013 (RLRS Photo).

Tom Menino got one final parade as a going away gift in 2013 (RLRS Photo).

The longest serving mayor in Boston history, Thomas Menino, has died today at the age of 71.  Menino would certainly qualify as a friend to the Boston Red Sox and sports teams in the region.  Not only did he preside over an era of great on field success he was instrumental, for better or worse, in some of the changes that happened at Fenway over the past fifteen years.  Changes that from a fan’s standpoint have been incredibly welcome.

Menino could be a bit embarrassing.  He may have mistakenly said that Jason Varitek split the uprights in the 2002 Super Bowl and you never quite knew what he was going to say or even what the hell he was saying as he said it.

What made Menino endearing to me was that he never put on airs.  He never tried to portray himself as a superknowledgable sports fan, just as a guy who liked sports.  He was the goofy uncle we all love.  Sometimes you rolled your eyes but when you laughed whether with him, near him or at him, he laughed with you.

Menino joined “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald’s grandson Thomas and granddaughter Caroline Kennedy in recreating the original Fenway Park first pitch on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the old building.  This was hardly the only first pitch he threw but it symbolized his connection to the history of the Red Sox and the Red Sox’ connection to the city.

Those of us who have spent considerable time in Boston know the transformation in the city over the past couple of decades.  Regardless of your politics the impact of Tom Menino on the city of Boston is undeniable.  He always had a smile on his face and will be missed.

These Are The Good Old Days

The Giants earned this (RLRS Photo).

The Giants earned this (RLRS Photo).

I wrote this over at Baseball Think Factory before the ninth inning;

This is genuinely chill inducing. This is the sort of thing we tell our grandkids about. We are in “I had a commitment to his heart” territory.

The quote is from Johnny Keane discussing Bob Gibson in the final game of the 1964 World Series.  So often baseball fans glorify the past at the expense of the presence but Madison Bumgarner‘s remarkable performance in the World Series, particularly in Game Seven, had echoes of Randy Johnson, Jack Morris, Cristy Mathewson and so many more.

He belongs to the ages now.

People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.

Rogers Hornsby

Game Seven – A Short History

World ChampionsGame Seven is the ultimate in baseball lore.  This is what we dream of as a kid in the backyard, we’ve all done it “bottom of the ninth, up steps Jose, -crack- and THERE’S A LONG DRIVE TO LEFT AND IT IS GONE!! THE RED SOX WIN THE WORLD SERIES!!!!” (fake crowd noise).

Game Seven does not always bring drama.  Let us take a little look back at the history of the game during the divisional era.

2011 – Texas 2 – St. Louis 6 – WP: Chris Carpenter, LP: Matt Harrison

After one of the truly great games in World Series history this one was a bit of a dog.  The Rangers jumped out fast with two runs in the first and then went in the tank as the Cardinals thwarted Ranger dreams.

2002 – Giants 1 – Angels 4 – WP: John Lackey, LP: Livan Hernandez

Another one where game six is the memorable game.  The clubs exchanged runs in the second then in the third then Garrett Anderson’s three run double provided the winning margin.  The highlight of Anderson’s double was some crazy lady whacking Reggie Sanders with a thunder stick as he scooped the ball up.

Mariano Rivera2001 – Yankees 2 – Diamondbacks 3 – WP: Randy Johnson, LP: Mariano Rivera

An absolute classic.  Hat tip to Tim McCarver who early in the game said to watch players like Alfonso Soriano and Tony Womack as the types of players who would impact the game.  Soriano’s homer gave New York the lead and Womack’s double in the ninth was the key blow that drove that inning.  Luis Gonzalez of course was the ultimate hero with his blooper over Derek Jeter‘s head for the win.

1997 – Indians 2 – Marlins 3 (11) – WP: Jay Powell, LP: Charles Nagy

Just going to throw this out there; Powell and Nagy as the pitchers of record is not as impressive as Johnson and Rivera.  This series was the opposite of 2011, a bit of a snoozer rescued by a great game seven.  The Marlins tied it in the ninth on Craig Counsell‘s sac fly then won it in the eleventh when Edgar Renteria singled passed Nagy’s glove plating Counsell.

1991 – Braves 0 – Twins 1 (10) – WP: Jack Morris, LP: Alejandro Pena

This game has been discussed at great length yet I think Gene Larkin is forgotten about as the guy who got the game winning hit.  Morris’ post-season record gets overstated by his supporters but his effort in this game was truly remarkable.  Without a lot of thought I would consider this the best pitching performance I have ever seen considering the circumstances.

1987 – Cardinals 2 – Twins 4 – WP: Frank Viola, LP: Danny Cox

I remember watching this game and I do not remember anything about it.  Greg Gagne‘s RBI single in the 6th plated the decisive run and Jeff Reardon retired Willie McGee to end it.

1986 – Red Sox 5 – Mets 8 – WP: Sid Fernandez, LP: Calvin Schiraldi

Game not played due to the Mets being poopy heads.

1985 – Cardinals 0 – Royals 11 – WP: Bret Saberhagen, LP: John Tudor

As Bill James noted the Cardinals were only the second team behind the 1934 Tigers to get humiliated in a seventh game like this and the Tigers did not handle it well either.  I distinctly remember the explosion of blue down the left field line when Daryl Motley’s second inning homer curled around the foul pole.  It remains one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

1982 – Brewers 3 – Cardinals 6 – WP: Joaquin Andujar, LP: Bob McClure

A pitchers’ duel gave way to a shoot out as a 1-1 tie saw the Brewers score twice in the sixth and the Cards answer with three in the bottom of the inning. Two eighth inning runs provided some cushion for Bruce Sutter to close it out.

1979 – Pirates 4 – Orioles 1 – WP: Grant Jackson, LP: Scott McGregor

The Bucs completed a comeback from 3-1 down in the series.  Earl Weaver used five pitchers in the ninth but it did not help as the Pirates got two critical runs.  As a quick perusal above will reveal, this is the last time a road team won a game seven on the road.  This extends to other sports as well.  Since this game the game seven road wins in final series are;

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates

2009 Pittsburgh Penguins

2011 Boston Bruins

That’s it kids.

Yaz Statue1975 – Reds 4 – Red Sox 3 – WP: Clay Carroll, LP: Jim Burton

Like they would do eleven years later the Sox jumped to a 3-0 lead but could not hold it.  Tony Perez launched a two run homer to get the Redlegs back into it and Joe Morgan‘s dying quail won it.  Heartbreakingly Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski, who built his legend with a spectacular clutch effort in 1967, made the final out here as he would in the 1978 playoff against the Yankees.

1973 – Mets 2 – Athletics 5 – WP: Ken Holtzman, LP: Jon Matlack

Of some note is that Darold Knowles got the save in this game.  By pitching in this game Knowles became the first and to date only pitcher to appear in all seven games of a World Series.  This mark will remain untouched in 2014.

1971 – Pirates 2 – Orioles 1 – WP: Steve Blass, LP: Mike Cuellar

Single runs in the fourth and eighth were all Blass needed to outduel the Cuban Cuellar.  Oh the way the game has changed as this was played in just 2 hours and 10 minutes in the sunshine.

 

Hey Bruce, Start Bumgarner

I mean if you can't trust this guy, who can you trust? (USA Today photo).

I mean if you can’t trust this guy, who can you trust? (USA Today photo).

So the title kind of covers my general thought on who Bruce Bochy should start in game seven.  While Tim Hudson did not pitch badly in game three I did not think he was especially sharp and as good as Madison Bumgarner has been I do not think you want to miss out on anything he might have to offer.

If all Bumgarner has is four or three or even two innings, get ‘em while the getting is good.  He is obviously pitching brilliantly and has not worked out of the bullpen since two relief innings in the 2010 NLDS so do not mess around, just give him the ball.

This has two benefits as well.  First you do not want to do is wait until you are down 5-1 or something to get Bumgarner into the ball game. Get him the ball and let him go as long as hard as he can.  The other benefit is that if he is sharp you do not want to plan on using him for an inning or two and then find out maybe he had four or five innings in him.

On the other hand Kansas City manager Ned Yost will start Jeremy Guthrie and frankly it is hard to argue with that. The Royals could in theory do something radical like start Wade Davis but I would not mess around with those guys at all.

A vacant bullpen should not exist on Wednesday night (RLRS Photo).

A vacant bullpen should not exist on Wednesday night (RLRS Photo).

Both managers need to be prepared to go to their bullpens early and often.  One thing I think both managers need to be cognizant of is that they probably should go to typical relievers in a mid-inning situation and let starters converted to the bullpen (Bumgarner, Hudson, Big Game James Shields perhaps) come into start clean innings.

On that front key relievers such as Kelvin Herrera or Jeremy Affeldt should be ready to go from the very first pitch.  There is no reason to get cute and go with Jason Frasor or Hunter Strickland early.  If you need to lengthen the game you have the starters shifted to the bullpen for that situation so you can use your later inning guys earlier in the game.

Free Agent Target – Hanley Ramirez

2015 Opening Day Age – 31 years, 4 months

What Does He Do?

Ramirez has spent the majority of his career at shortstop playing just 98 games at third base.  In many ways he is what Red Sox fans hope Xander Bogaerts will become; a potent middle of the order bat whose defense is a bit sketchy but good enough to stay in an up the middle position.

The question would be where he would play with the Sox.

What Is The Cost?

It is going to be considerable both in dollars and years.  I am usually pretty bad at forecasting contracts but that does not stop me from having a go.  I suspect Ramirez is looking at a 6-7 year deal in the $23-25 million range.  I would bet the 7 year, $153 million contract Jacoby Ellsbury landed last winter is a pretty good estimation of what Hanley is going to secure this winter.

Do The Sox Have What It Takes?

Absolutely.  Alex Speier estimates that the Red Sox have $52 million to spend.  With so many players under contract or team control the Sox in theory do not have to do a lot this winter so they can allocate their money toward a couple of major acquisitions.  One of these is almost certain to be a pitcher either through free agency (James Shields?) or trade (Cole Hamels?) but that leaves the Sox the ability to target a hitter.

Upgrading from him is not difficult (RLRS Photo).

Upgrading from him is not difficult (RLRS Photo).

Would He Made The Sox Better?

Certainly in the short term he would be an upgrade.  Whether as shortstop with Bogaerts shifting to third in place of Will Middlebrooks or whether Ramirez simply slots in at third the upgrade seems likely to be substantial though at least one source is skeptical.

Steamer puts Ramirez at roughly 3 WAR for 2015 while it lists Middlebrooks at 1.3 WAR. To be quite honest I am extremely doubtful of that Middlebrooks projection.  I do not think he is likely to be above replacement level and frankly I think the Sox should be targeting more certainty there if they are serious about contending in 2015.

The reality is that Ben Cherington’s wishlist for the winter likely includes someone to play the left side of the infield and someone to augment the middle of the order.  Hanley Ramirez would accomplish both in one fell swoop.

Is There Anything To Worry About?

Yup.  Let us start with my bias, I do not like Hanley Ramirez.  As talented as he is I think he is a headcase.  His minor league track record with the Sox has been well documented but those transgressions are over a decade old.  During his tenure with the Marlins he was benched by then manager Fredi Gonzalez and when Gonzalez was fired in a very public “we are backing Hanley” move Ramirez IMMEDIATELY went into the tank performance-wise for about a year and a half.

On a less intangible basis this is a player in his early-30s who is going to command a sizable and long contract.  Many of the reasons behind not signing Ellsbury exist with Ramirez.  I have to confess that Steamer forecast was surprising to me.  If he is starting at 2.9 WAR the contract is going to be a bad one.

At some point a team that wants to contend is likely to have to absorb a bad contract.   The hope is that the success in the good years makes the bad years palatable.  That starting point is unsettling.

Conclusion

Despite my concerns I think the Sox have to strongly consider Hanley Ramirez.  He fits the club’s needs so perfectly that just ignoring him would be foolish.  The problem is that it would kind of jam things up a bit.  Bogaerts would be locked at shortstop and guys like Deven Marrero and Garin Cecchini would be blocked.  If Bogaerts cannot hack it at short the Sox would have some issues to work out.

I suspect he does not come here though.  The Sox have been pretty clear about their hesitancy with big money, over-30 free agents and Ben Cherington already traded the guy away once during his interim tenure as GM in 2005.  I expect that the Sox are not likely to make a major move for a free agent hitter this winter.

This Day In 2004 – THE RED SOX WIN THE WORLD SERIES!!!!!!!!!!

Johnny Damon got the Sox off to a good start (Boston.com photo).

Johnny Damon got the Sox off to a good start (Boston.com photo).

Red Sox 3 – Cardinals 0 (Red Sox win series 4 to 0)
WP: Derek Lowe, LP: Jason Marquis, SV: Keith Foulke

7:26PM – I am sitting in the Baseball Tavern with my best friend.  In my pocket is a cigar I had bought ten years ago on my one trip to my father’s home country of Cuba.  The rest of the box had been smoked years ago but this cigar had been saved for the day the Red Sox won the World Series.

7:27PM – On the fourth pitch of the game Johnny Damon slams one into the bullpen for a 1-0 lead.  The Sox have now scored in the first inning for the fifth consecutive game.

8:18PM – Trot Nixon rips a 3-0 pitch off the right-center field fence.  Two runs score and the Sox have a 3-0 lead.  Tim McCarver says he missed a homer by five feet, Jerry Trupiano says it is eight feet.  I don’t care, I am going out of my mind.

As the game carries forward I run into a system, every other inning I go to the men’s room.  For the only time in my life I return to find my bar stool untouched.  No one in the bar is changing anything.

9:50PM – We have a total lunar eclipse.  Bonnie Tyler jokes are made by everyone and it is universally accepted that this is a good sign for the Red Sox.

11:22PM – Larry Walker pops to Orlando Cabrera.  The Red Sox are three outs away.

11:36PM – Albert Pujols singles to start the ninth.  At this point I can barely watch.

11:37PM – With one out in the inning half the TVs in the Baseball Tavern go out.  I may have taken my own life if I did not see the final out.

11:39PM – Edgar Renteria stands in.

Just catch it Dougie!!!! (Boston.com photo).

Just catch it Dougie!!!! (Boston.com photo).

11:40PM – Joe Castiglione, do you have any thoughts you would like to share?

Swing and a ground ball, stabbed by Foulke. He has it. He underhands to first. And the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions! For the first time in eighty-six years, the Red Sox have won baseball’s World Championship. Can you believe it?

In his essay about the 1985 Kansas City Royals Bill James talked about the way it felt like everyone in the ballpark was drunk after the final out.  It was the same disorienting feeling, your head spins, you can’t stand up straight, you are dizzy and out of control.  He absolutely got it right.

I leapt off my barstool and jumped onto my friend’s back.  Had I not been holding onto him I would absolutely have fallen on the floor.  We went bananas.  I hugged more people in the next hour than I had hugged in the other 34 years of my life at that point.  We paid our tab and stepped out onto Boylston Street.

I lit up my cigar.  It was old, it was stale and it was the best cigar I have ever had.  There is a wonderful picture of me at that moment.  I have a smile that is ear to ear and my face is bright red.  I look like I have just run a couple of marathons.  Every bit of emotional investment in this silly baseball team is etched on my face in that photo.

Boylston Street and all of Kenmore Square was organized chaos.  Everywhere you looked there were smiles.  People were carrying brooms and signs.  There was some guy dressed as Mr. Peanut for some reason but hey, it made sense at that moment.  A friend called from Atlanta and said “what did I just see?”  We walked and walked celebrating with everyone.

After an hour or so we got in my car.  WEEI played an audio clip of some song that I assume is called “Believe” interspersed with radio calls of great moments and interviews from the season. My friend and I met our parents at a family friend’s house as we had after the ALCS win.  We shared a glass of champagne from a bottle my friend’s dad had had since turning 18 (the legal drinking age at the time) for this occasion.  Around 2:30 I returned home and watched over and over again the replay of NESN’s coverage finally falling asleep around 5AM.

The next morning I picked up my friend and dropped him at work next to Fenway (his car was blocked in from the road closures the night before).  The line at the souvenir store went down Yawkey Way, around the corner and down Beacon Street.

Finally I could say what I had dreamed of saying, the Boston Red Sox were World Series champions.

Baseball Tavern 2004Kenmore Square WS 2004 Kenmore Square 2004 WS Kenmore Square 2004 WS-3 Kenmore Square 2004 WS-2

 

This Day In 2004 – Oh My God, This Might Happen

After a long wait we saw his World Series debut.  He made it worth the wait (RLRS Photo).

After a long wait we saw his World Series debut. He made it worth the wait (RLRS Photo).

Red Sox 4 – Cardinals 1 (Red Sox lead series 3 games to 0)
WP: Pedro Martinez, LP: Jeff Suppan

At the time I was working at Boston University with the food services group.  We had a meeting that morning and we were discussing our plans for the week.  I then interrupted to open the discussion about what we should do for the safety of our late night staff when, not if, when, the Sox won the series.

I am a pretty superstitious dude but I was flying with confidence at this point.  The Sox would not let me down.

The former Red Sox prospect retired the first two men he faced then Manny Ramirez demolished one that almost hit the Taco Bell win a million dollars sign in left for a 1-0 lead.  Making the World Series start Red Sox fans had dreamt of since November 18, 1997 Pedro got off to a shaky start.  With the bases loaded and one out Jim Edmonds flew to shallow left and Manny threw a strike to the plate to gun down Larry Walker and end the inning.

There was an odd moment where Pedro then whacked his former teammate on the back.  It seemed like a “nice effort” kind of gesture but it was a bit strange.  Manny made the right play in throwing home but Albert Pujols had wandered off second and had Manny thrown there he would have had the double play just as easily.

In the third the Sox caught a break.  A dribbler from Suppan went for a hit then Edgar Renter rocketed one to right-center.  Trot Nixon slipped on the rain soaked warning track and fell on his caboose.  Despite this Suppan and third base coach Jose Oquendo took a conservative approach to hold at third.

Jeff Suppan's best contribution to the Boston Red Sox (InsideStl.com photo).

Jeff Suppan’s best contribution to the Boston Red Sox (InsideStl.com photo).

With the infield back Walker grounded out to second to score Suppan…except…WHAT IS SUPPAN DOING?  HE’S NOT RUNNING!!!  David Ortiz made a really smart play.  Rather than rushing things he took his time, froze Suppan then threw to third to get the 4-3-5 double play.  The best part of it was something I had not seen before or since.  Oquendo just gave up on the play and as Suppan ran around like a chicken with his head cut off Oquendo turned his back on the play at threw his hands in the air.

And that kids, was that.  That out began a string of fifteen in a row that Pedro would retire.  Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke would run that string to nineteen in a row before Walker hit his consolation homer in the ninth.  When Scott Rolen took strike three Red Sox nation was 27 outs away from the promised land.