We’ll be silent here today in memoriam for the Sox’ undefeated season.
I’m going to Wrestlemania on Sunday. That’ll be good.
Well that was worth waiting for, huh? I have to admit I didn’t see any of it until just now. I went to Mets Opening Day, mistakenly thinking that the Sox and Yankees were playing Monday night instead of at the exact same time. But man oh man, was it fun watching those numbers on the Citifield scoreboard. 2-0. 5-2. 8-2. It was like watching a bear market spring to life. It was tomorrow, and, like Annie promised, the sun had finally come out.
Since this is a Jackie Bradley, Jr. blog, let’s focus on dude’s three walks and ridiculous catch in left. Walking in your first at-bat against CC Sabathia, as a lefty no less, is a good sign. Maybe the service time discussion is moot — why would the Red Sox send him down to Triple-A when they’re on pace to finish 162-0? — but it’s likely still a major issue, now that Bradley’s got to be sent to the minors for 20 days in order to delay his free agency until 2020. There seems little question that Bradley gives the Sox the best lineup they could have right now, and Ben Cherington is determined the figure out the rest later. Everything broke right for the Sox in this game, and that won’t happen every day, but it’s pretty great when it seems like ages since anything went right. The Sox are off today, then back at it tomorrow night in the Bronx. I might be there, but the Mets emptied my pocketbook to the tune of $115 per ticket for the opener. Those Mets fans love their Opening Days.
Anyhow, it was the Sox’s day. Take it away, Rodney:
Monday’s Opening Day lineup should look something like this:
Jacoby Ellsbury’s a known unknown; he’s like watching a roulette wheel, in that it could end 38 different ways and we’ve thought of them all. The beauty of the contract year is that it’s a batter’s contract with his bat, every damn day, and Ellsbury, no doubt coaxed by Boras, has put himself into something of a tight position. The variable for which they didn’t account — and why would they? — was Jackie Bradley’s blitz toward Fenway, which puts Ellsbury in the Boston media crosshairs, a place from which there is only total and permanent escape.
I like the Shane Victorino signing. Shane Victorino is a baller. When people say “veteran leadership,” what they really mean is “going out and busting his ass every damn day.” It’s quantifiable: Productivity can be a volume business, and it can be easy to miss. Bill Simmons is pissed about the $39 million but really, so what? The Red Sox are in an extremely well-defined transition. If Shane Victorino isn’t a transitional player, I don’t know who is.
The father to Dustin Pedroia’s style has still not been located, and the search has been called off. The only difference between him and you, in its entirety, is that he decided at some point, “Fuck everyone, I’m gonna be the best player in baseball,” and then he basically went and did it by repeating that to himself every five seconds from age nine until whenever you’re reading this. It shouldn’t work, but it does, and let’s just be happy about it.
I’m bullish on Napoli. ESPN’s injury grim reaper Stephania Bell said that he feels totally fine after he adjusted to the news of his hip condition; I believe her. I’ll enjoy watching Will Middlebrooks this year, given the safe distance I kept from the nightly Human Centipede performance art shitshow that they ran out there in 2012, starring Pedro Ciriaco in the role of “Designated Hitter.” Saltalamacchia is too dull and too many letters to write about, given that I’m not gonna call a dude “Salty.”
I’m bullish on the Jonny Gomes/Daniel Nava platoon in the outfield, but that’s mostly because I’m bullish on Gomes in general. Gomes seems to think he got put into the platoon box so early in his career that he’s never gotten a fair chance to scramble out of it. He would say that, but in Fenway, it seems plausible enough, unless you figure the Red Sox looked this scenario in the eyes and decided to bring up Jackie Bradley to do an end run around it. That would figure that the Sox didn’t, uh, believe him, or believed that their platoon combo was so good — and it’s pretty damn good — that Bradley plus the platoon gave them a chance to contend. Not one Fangraphs analyst picked the Sox to make the playoffs, and there were a lot of them. The Red Sox are solidly under the radar. That’s where you want to be. It wouldn’t hurt the cause if Jose Iglesias was Ozzie Smith, though. Which he might be, if we just pray hard enough. It’s up to us. Duh.
Marc Normandin made a convincing case on the Over the Monster podcast today that putting Jackie Bradley Jr. on the Opening Day roster would not cause the seas neither to go dry nor boil, despite the hang-wringing of those including yours truly. I urge you to listen. The crux of the argument is that Bradley can always do an end run around his service time requirement, and there have been cases as recently as last year, with Mike Trout, where keeping a player in the minors for service time reasons may have cost a team a playoff berth — that is, when David Ortiz comes back (Ortiz’ absence having indirectly created the space for Bradley in the first place), if Bradley is good enough to keep in the majors even then, well, then, let the guy play. There was some joking about Bradley signing an “Evan Longoria contract” within a couple weeks of being called up, which I’d love, but they Bradley is a Scott Boras client, and Boras’s clients don’t often sign those. Still, dare to dream, you know?
The other factor is defense, which — let’s be serious — wouldn’t be a big deal to bite the bullet on for nine games, but Bradley’s is apparently outstanding, and would be an upgrade from anyone they could dredge up. None of this made any sense to Matt Kory, who was shocked to the core that this is a serious possibility. At this point with this Red Sox team, this is such a good problem to have that I can’t get too worked up about it anymore. I’m with Normandin, If he plays, he plays. The team plays most of the first month at home, and it would be easy to sneak him back down to AAA to get his time once they hit the road. And if he’s just *that* good, Jeremy Lin-style? You don’t keep that lightning in a bottle. The real math is: 9 games now or 20 days later, and the value over replacement production Bradley provides in 9 games now versus however many later. This is probably close, and in favor of starting him later even given the rash of injuries now, but the Sox have a problem now to which he’s the solution: The question that’s unknowable is whether or not they ultimately care about the service time. Kory’s frustration presupposes that they don’t. I have no idea of knowing whether they do or not. If Bradley starts on Monday the Sox aren’t fucked. They’re fine.
And if that didn’t convince you, well, check this out, from Buster Olney via OTM again:
Player carries the ‘it’ factor. Presidential presence to game. Regal. However, the player has been the most popular man in Columbia, S.C. from the 1st day he walked on campus and he had me glued to the TV last year watching the College World Series. Mesmerizing defender. Jaw-dropping defensive skills. Patrols CF with a determined grace, with flare. Would have happily paid good money just to watch his pregame batting practice and infield. Acrobatic and skilled. Catches every ball with flare. Covers ground like a gladiator. Plus handles the glove in CF like Omar Vizquelwould in the infield. Amazing defensive skills. Innate ability to hawk the diamond. Better defender in center field than majority of major leaguers right now& [You] can’t teach the things this kid can do defensively. Made the parallel play coming directly in on a ball ala 1998 Andruw Jones. Sick defender.
The dude was glued to a television. That’s a lot of fumes. They worked.
It’s easy to take any individual story from the New York Post during baseball season and shake your head at its stupidity. Stories like “Sources: A-Rod and Derek Jeter Don’t Have Sleepovers Any More” and “Video Shows Sheffield Scowling At Kitten” resonate in the public memory (whether I just made them up or not) precisely because they seem to have a news value of exactly zero, yet are repackaged in one form or another over and over from March to October, usually dwarfing the game stories and getting a second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth life on ESPN. Nine for the kitten.
If the shitshow following the Red Sox collapse has taught us anything, it’s the functional utility of these stories. The culture of the Yankees extends beyond silly-on-the-surface rules like “No facial hair below the lip.” A player is, when signing in the Bronx, effectively relinquishing his right to privacy. It’s not in the contract, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It’s why the Yankees pay you more than you’re worth—in a very real way, it sucks to play for them, and everyone knows it.
The stories in the Post and Daily News, day after day, regularly trump anything the zaniest bloggers could come up with, and are legitimized by being printed on dead trees. The players have to talk about this stuff. It’s part of the job. It’s a small, constant distraction that seems wholly impractical, but if the Red Sox/Red Sox media (and really, they’re one and the same to the consumer) implosion has taught us anything, it’s that this sort of release valve isn’t only coldly practical, it’s actually kind of good. Red Sox fans fantasize that everything will be alright right up to the point it’s not, then point fingers at everyone. The media won’t report on drinking in the clubhouse during the season because they don’t know about it or don’t think it’s an issue if the team is winning. Their intention is not to rock the boat, it’s to ride it.
The New York media is not so callow. It knows its job is to sell papers, and if selling papers takes down the personal reputation of the GM, a manager, or star player, so be it. All in the game, homey. Even when Joe Torre got ridden out of town after a playoff loss, it was a story months in the making.
Boston fans can’t accept that the team just sucked for a month and lost because they got all this nonsense news they should have had way before their period of mourning. Correlation equaled causation, and that was that. Meanwhile, players who thought that they signed to play for a “new” Red Sox organization realize that they’ve been sold a bill of goods. The Sox are not the cuddly Yankees. They’re the backstabber, wannabe Yankees. The Yankees, as odious as they can be, are usually honest about their brutal intentions, and when they’re not, the media is honest with them.
Boston fans want a fiction, and they are uneager to have that fiction disturbed during the season. They project their own fears onto the team more readily than any fans in sports and think it won’t effect the end product. They watch and spend money after all, right? It’s easy for the Epstein-era fans to be ignorant of a time that no free agent wanted to come to Boston, to the point that when Manny showed up, and even then only for an Edgartown’s worth of money, it was a shock to the system. Somebody chose to play in Boston? That was a new one. Yes, players wanted to play for Red and K.C.’s Celtics and now Belichick’s Pats, but those are exceptions—they have nothing to do with Boston culture. KG had to be convinced to play there, and then it worked only because people reminded him he never, ever goes out on the town.
It’ll be interesting to see the long-term repercussions of this fiasco, whether this is just a bump in the road or a reversion to the Boston sports culture pre-literally everyone winning. That’s not a happy place. If we can’t handle the truth about our players—if we don’t actively seek it—it’s the one we deserve. We care, and we have no business pretending we don’t, yet we do, over and over and over. Spread the pain out and it’s more manageable. Hold it in and it’s not.
It’s hard for me to make sense of this whole drinking-in-the-clubhouse-and-possibly-dugout story. I do not care, but apparently I am lonely in not caring. Unless I am just one of many, many people who do not care and continue to click on the articles, thus giving the (digital) impression that I care.
I think people are frustrated with the collapse, and are looking to pin it on booze, a Massachusetts tradition dating back to 1620. Let’s be clear: the beer drinking, if an issue at all, was a symptom of the collapse, not a cause of it. Doc Gooden announced this week that he missed the 1986 Mets parade because he was on a coke binge. If he was sober during the World Series, I will eat my backpack.
Yes, in the 25 years since then, baseball players have developed better training regimens. Often, these training regimens have included steroids, and it should be noted that the 2004 Red Sox—who openly drank Jack Daniels in the clubhouse during the playoffs—looked like a Marvel Comics lineup out there. What can we do? We won, and we’re not going to apologize. Now we lost, and the players must grovel and cop to substance problems they don’t have. If it’s that easy, it’s a fixable problem. Ban booze, and up goes banner number eight.
It’s not that simple. I believe it was the philosopher Kenny Powers who observed that “fundamentals are a crutch for the talentless.” You don’t get to the show without being able to play. You need to resist the temptation to give yourself to booze, but a 240-pound man drinking a beer with the alcohol content of Poland Spring? Come on.
This not to say there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the 2011 Red Sox, by the end. This team lost all hope in a way a team this talented really never has before. Losing seemed like a fait accompli from the moment the downward drift started, but that doesn’t mean it was one. They came perilously close to making the playoffs as it was. They didn’t. Oh well.
The players have owned up to drinking beer, and called it a non-issue. It’s the one thing they’ve gone out of their way to stress means absolutely nothing in the context of the current discussion. The collapse, the sense of dread, all of it was real. The team pushed each other to fail, but it’s not life and death, and certainly bears no relation to 17th century ideas about drinking. End the witch trial, and watch the Bruins.
BEN CHERINGTON: Hey Jed?
JED HOYER: What’s up, Ben?
BEN CHERINGTON: Would you be interested in a pitcher who gives up 380-foot bombs on the regular? He’d be great for your park. We’ll pay for it.
JED HOYER: Dice?
BEN CHERINGTON: No.
JED HOYER: Wake?
BEN CHERINGTON: No.
JED HOYER: Lackey?
BEN CHERINGTON: Yes.
JED HOYER: Let me crunch some numbers. [Punches furiously at keyboard.] Yeah, I think we could do that.
BEN CHERINGTON: Sweet. God bless NESN. Talk to you later.
JED HOYER: Later. [Hangs up, dials new number.]
ALBERTO: Alberto’s Charter Fishing.
JED HOYER: Hey, I know you said you need 24-hour notice, but can I charter a boat today? My work’s done.
ALBERTO: I’m sorry, we can’t—
JED HOYER: It’s Jed.
ALBERTO: Come on down, my man! Who’d we get?
JED HOYER: Lackey. They’re paying for everything.
ALBERTO: Hurry up. They’re really biting.
That’s the gist of a post on ESPN.com right now. The Red Sox are going after Blue Jays starter Roy Halladay. I hate to break the news to them, but no sh!t. We all know the Red Sox are going after Roy Halladay. It’s what the Red Sox do. It’s what makes them so loathed nation-wide among non New England ex-pats. “You hate the Yankees? You are the Yankees!” When you can’t afford your players, we take them.
I have mixed feelings about this. I like seeing the Red Sox win but I don’t like seeing smaller-market teams losing their best players because they can’t afford to pay them. In this case, it’s on priciple, because Toronto can go f*ck itself (that’s another story). At least in the world’s other great uncapped sports leagues—European soccer leagues—there’s an element of teamwork that’s incumbent for overpaid players to learn playing together. In baseball, it’s as simple as calling for a fly ball so you don’t knock heads; otherwise, just do what you’re going to do. There’s very little chance for a team to get any element of “teamwork” down to overcome their enormous disadvantage. It’s either shrewd management or luck. Usually the second one.
That being said, my favorite thing about watching the Yankees win this year was Mark Teixeira. That guy knows how to play defense, which is refreshing for an AL first baseman. Not knocking Kevin Youkilis, who’s also very good, but Tex made a few plays that I’d never seen anywhere else. Sometimes it’s nice to see that if you pay for the best you do get it, and there is some sort of aesthetic reward for those who get to watch. Most modern iterations of the “buying the championship” team aren’t as lively and obviously multitalented as these Yankees are; such is the result of the wild card and the resulting “two great pitchers and you win” ethos.
Blah, blah, blah, baseball. That’s how I feel about Roy Halladay stories on ESPN.com. Let me know when there’s actual news.