Posted on: April 10, 2011 11:15 pm

Is This Baseball Heaven or Purgatory?

Jered Weaver just pitched the game of his life tonight; he pitched seven innings, allowed one run, struck out a career-high fifteen batters. Absolutely fantastic achievement! As I was reviewing the article about his triumphant game, I started to think about Jeff Weaver's career. Jeff Weaver was a fantastic young pitcher with Detroit when I first started to like him. The Tigers were terrible, but Weaver put up a few winning seasons to start his career. Assuming a normal player will continue to improve, I thought he was going to be a star of the game for years to come.
When he got traded to the New York Yankees, I thought they had stolen him from the Tigers--how could the Tigers give up a guy in his young twenties that they could build their rotation around? I was disappointed also because I am a Boston Red Sox fan. The Yankees had bolstered their rotation with one of the best young arms in the league. The Red Sox had fallen further behind merely because they had gained. Jeff Weaver had a modicum of success with the Yankees. By Yankee standards, he was a failure. He went 12 - 12 over his year and a half in pinstripes.
There are websites and blogs set up around players that flopped for the Yankees. It makes sense, there are numerous players they have traded for or signed that have come to New York and failed. Some were able to get out of New York before they had ruined their careers beyond repair.
Carl Pavano got paid $40M to pitch about 145 innings and go 9 - 8. He was 18 - 8 the year before with Florida. In 2010 he pitched 221 innings for Minnesota and went 17 - 11. What happened in New York? Chuck Knoblach was an All-Star second baseman for Minnesota. After one year in New York, his career fell precipitously until he had to be benched because he couldn't throw the ball to first base, and because his batting had dropped over 100 points. He had never had more than eleven errors in a season, his last full season in New York, he had 26.
Do the Yankees cause these players to fail? Is it the pressure of playing in the American League East? Is it the spectacle of the city, the franchise, the media? Or is it bad scouting and management in the Yankee organization?
Some fans will say that Brien Taylor is the biggest bust in franchise history. He got a lot of money and was the number one overall draft pick, yet he never played in the majors. That is different than the Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez stories--those players were already stars that had established themselves before going to New York. Taylor never had anything more than hype.
George Steinbrenner may have made the Yankees great after purchasing the franchise back in the 1970's. He certainly was willing to put himself out there as a figurehead of the team, but he was also willing to put his money on the line. He could not imagine what the Yankees had become after the decades of amazing teams that he remembered as a kid. He would do whatever it took to return the franchise to its rightful esteem. He was willing to lose money if that's what it took. In some ways Steinbrenner made the Yankees a better team, and in others he was a part of their failure. He had every right to do whatever he wanted, but his style of management cost him and the team. Managers and coaches got fired at the drop of a hat, players were constantly feeling scrutinized about their play, and executives wondered constantly whether their jobs were secure.
Were these conditions the cause of some of the great players' failures in pinstripes? It takes a special type of player to play in New York and succeed. There are expectations on any player on a team that spends that much money with the intention of winning every year. Guys like Chuck Knoblach who play in smaller markets with lower expectations might have a hard time adjusting to the cruel businesslike feel of playing with so much pressure. Perhaps Knoblach would still have played at an All-Star caliber for years if he hadn't gone to New York. Kevin Brown played in Los Angeles for the Dodgers, so he was used to playing in a big market, but the West Coast is considerably different with their sports attitude. Los Angeles really hasn't made a valiant effort to get and NFL team back in the second largest US market. Do you think they put a pile of pressure on its baseball teams? One can understand the trials that Hideki Irabu had coming over from Japan; he was facing social and cultural changes. They play the game differently across the Pacific.
It takes a special type of player to succeed in New York, but with that success comes history. Sure the Steinbrenners will continue to put pressure on their players, perhaps not as much as George did, but they are already making headlines in their own right. The city will continue to revere its sports heroes and criticize those that aren't capable of handling all the spotlight has to offer. The failures of these stars and many others has kept some players from signing contracts there--Cliff Lee comes to mind immediately. One thing is for sure, if money were more of an object, the failures of these players would have had more of a lasting effect on the franchise and its ability to compete. Instead, they throw more money at more players than anyone else can. If you are a Yankees fan, consider yourself blessed that your team can afford to burn money on the failures, and still go out and compete year after year. Major League Baseball would be a considerably different league if all franchises could do this.

Posted on: April 8, 2011 11:11 pm

This is How You Treat Us?!

Manny Ramirez retired today. It's the end of an era that should have probably ended a couple of years ago. This isn't Manny being Manny as his attitude has so affectionately been described, this was Manny getting out with the last shred of respectability that he could leave with. If he had stuck around, he would have undoubtedly been suspended. The last time he was suspended it was for 50 games; I don't recall right off what the suspension for subsequent issues involving performance enhancing drugs (PED's) is. Would this have been a one year suspension? If so, did Manny just speed up the inevitable? He retired rather than face the humiliation of another suspension. Another suspension would have brought his career to a halt anyway.
Manny hasn't been exceptionally relevant in baseball for a few years now. If you are into fantasy baseball, do you remember when Manny was his generation's Ryan Braun? He was a first round pick, which as an outfielder is huge. My guess is that you probably didn't even consider drafting Manny in this year's fantasy baseball draft. If you did, other owners in your league snickered as you picked him up, but secretly hoped that he didn't perform to 75% of what he used to do, and probably still could do. If so, he was a steal. Imagine picking up a player in the 20th round of the draft that batted .275, hit 20 homers, had 85 RBI with 75 runs scored--that would be the find that won your league!
Thanks for the memories Manny. You provided that lethal combination with David Ortiz that got the Red Sox a couple of World Series rings this century. You provided a bit of comic relief in an otherwise stodgy old sport. It was fun cheering for you to take those massive swings against the rival Yankees, and be successful. I remember hearing that the Red Sox signed Manny and thought: this is the guy they need in the middle of their lineup. I wasn't excited about the amount of money, but wasn't it great when the commissioner's office devalued the contract so that it ultimately became less than what he would have gotten if he had gone and resigned with the Cleveland Indians with the contrac they offered? Still eight years and $160M was a lot of money to a guy that was arguably a poor outfielder with a bat.
I remember being at the Philadelphia Phillies game that first time they were playing interleague play at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia. I had seats right over by the third base line and quite near the front--it was the section of the stands that juts out very close to the foul line. Manny made an amazing catch while sliding into the wall that night. I was so close to the play that I couldn't see Manny because he had disappeared below the level of the wall. He got up with that wry smile that he had when he knew he just exceeded people's expectations of him, but not his own expectations. The guy I had gone to the game with had gotten up to go to the bathroom; when he got back, I told him that he had just missed the play of the game.
I remember that same smile while watching the Red Sox against the Yankees--I forget the year and the circumstances. I do remember the opposing player. Enrique Wilson had just nutted a fly ball over the left field wall in Yankee Stadium. Manny somehow got to the spot at the wall where the ball was going over. It seemed like he was jumping seven rows into the stands to rob Wilson of his homerun, but it was probably just the front row. Because it was Manny, it was larger than life. Enrique was rounding the bases in the fashion of a person who had known that he hit it out of the park. As he rounded second, the look on his face went from glowing delight to bewilderment; why were his teammates not lauding his achievement?! He looked at Manny, and there was that wry smile. Manny had not only robbed Wilson of that homerun, he had robbed the entire Yankee team and all of their fans in attendance, watching on television, and those that would later find out as they watched the highlights.
I just wish those were the ilk of memories that flooded my thoughts. Instead, I'm stuck with the memories of how Manny left Boston, how his attitude became bigger than the team could handle. I remember the irritation I felt when Manny refused the Dodgers' contract offer of one year and I believe $20M. He wanted two years and $50M. Nobody else was bidding anywhere near that, but he refused to believe that his career was ebbing. He got big money and two years from the Dodgers. I don't believe it was $50M, but I think it was close. I really stopped paying attention during that ordeal. Manny was overpricing himself, and distancing himself from his adoring fans. The game was no longer the game that it was while he was playing in Cleveland. It was no longer the game/business it was while playing in Boston, where he was worth the hassles because he truly was one of the few difference makers in the game. This was Manny's narcissism. Unfortunately, there were still some that were willing to feed that hubris.
Posted on: April 7, 2011 10:25 pm

Signs of Hope

The good news has to be that Jon Lester pitched a true gem tonight against the Indians. Kudos to him for doing his part to get the first Red Sox win of the year, unfortunately, he couldn't pitch the entire game. The bad news has to be that Daniel Bard lost the game again. This wasn't a full-out wheels-off-the-bus sort of meltdown like he had his previous outing; this was merely that lone run that was one run too many. The fact that he could lower his ERA while inking a game ERA for himself of 9 isn't so promising. I have faith in him, I just need to see reciprocity from him soon.
This whole situation reminds me of that infamous circumstance that Grady Little got himself into by leaving Pedro Martinez in one out too long. Pedro was having trouble getting wins that year because the bullpen kept giving away his leads. They had solid guys in the bullpen that year too; they just couldn't pull it together. Was it complacency? Did people tell them that they were supposed to be that good, so they started to believe it? Regardless, is Jon Lester going to start having those same situations arise? We all know this is a bad thing to feel like as a starting pitcher, as a manager, or as a fan. Grady Little got fired at the end of that year--thank goodness. We as fans hung our heads. But as a starting pitcher when you can't feel comfortable handing over a lead to your bullpen, you know they just start to try a little too hard for a little too long. They try to make every pitch perfect, and work through Jello-arm and dead-arm because they feel like the team needs them to.
The Red Sox don't need anyone to try to be the hero on the mound. They have a very nice pitching staff, from the starters to the closer. Each guy has got to have the comfort of knowing that the guys around him are capable of bailing anyone out on any given night.
The pitching effort by Lester was fantastic tonight, but let's not forget that Fausto Carmona did nearly an equal job. I'd take Lester's nine strikeouts and three walks over Carmona's four strikeouts and two walks. I was excited to see that Fausto may have returned to his front-of-the-rotation ability. He was exciting a few years ago and has had his share of injuries and setbacks.
I'm a little worried about the Yankees visiting Fenway tomorrow and having Lackey start. I know he's still a quality pitcher, but his confidence didn't seem like it was in the correct spot the other night after the Rangers beat up on him. Here's hoping that we don't have to hear about him never pitching well against the Yankees. Goodness knows we need a guy to step up for the Sox and do his job while all the others are doing their jobs too.
Posted on: April 5, 2011 3:56 pm

Beckett Poised to Jumpstart Red Sox Season

Hopefully Josh Beckett can get the Red Sox started on the path everyone believes they are destined to go down this year. I'm not sure what sign Beckett is, nor do I particularly believe in astrology, but everything seems to be aligned to make this a nearly perfect situation to begin a bounceback year for both Josh and the Sox.
Josh Beckett is a big game pitcher; there is no better proof than his 2003 World Series MVP Award against the New York Yankees. More relevant to Red Sox fans was his pitching against Cleveland in 2007 that sparked a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS. His record in that series was a stellar 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA; this effort garnered him the ALCS MVP Award. He continued that effort with a winning effort in the World Series that year in game one against the Colorado Rockies by pitching seven innings and only allowing one run off six hits, with nine strikeouts.
This game is not of the same magnitude as those previous, but the Red Sox need a jumpstart, and Beckett may be just the person to give it. His psyche still tells him that he's capable of being the ace of that staff, even with great young pitchers in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. He's still got the heart of a champion, and he knows how to carry a team that needs a lift.  
There are other factors that may lead to a breakout game by the Sox. Red Sox hitters aren't accustomed to long losing streaks, and the mix of veterans and young players should lend to a hitters' delight tonight. It's also the Cleveland Indians; this isn't to say that the Indians aren't a good team, it's just to state the obvious that they aren't on the same level as the Sox. They can certainly beat the Sox on any given night, but I'd be willing to bet that out of 100 games, the Sox would win 95 of them with current lineups. This isn't the Indians team of the early nineties when Manny roamed their outfield, and Bartolo Colon aced a staff that annually made them contenders. This is a team working with some young talented players to rebuild.
Josh Beckett will undoubtedly get these young and veteran free-swingers to flail hopelessly at his pitches. He worked on some mechanical issues in the spring, and showed some comfort in his last outing of the spring when he pitched five innings allowing only one hit. Those mechanics are starting to feel more like second nature to him, hopefully that means great things for the Red Sox. They certainly need a shot in the arm at this early juncture in the season. Hopefully one of the most clutch pitchers in recent memory can prove that he's just the guy to give the ball to.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com