Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy 2017 To You All

This is my final post for 2017 and I want to wish all of you a happy and prosperous 2017.

This is just my 60th post for 2016 (and 4,800th overall), as I've scaled back my writing considerably on the blog. I write just occasionally about the Red Sox, and didn't do any weekly Trivia contests in 2016. (I'm still hopeful that one day I'll get back into it again. We'll see.)

It wasn't the best of years for me in 2016, but thankfully I'm in good health, and that is most important.

May 2017 be a successful year for you all. Stay safe tonight, and enjoy the holiday. Do yourself a favor if you are in New York: stay as far away from Times Square as you can. It will be an insane asylum down there.  I'll do what I usually do on New Year's: watch the ball drop at midnight on TV, and watch the Twilight Zone, The Honeymooners, and The Odd Couple marathons (the DVR is all set to roll). There will also be plenty of football to watch both days as well.

Good luck to you all, and be well.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas, Everyone

I want to wish all of you out there a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a wonderful holiday season.

As I always do every Christmas, here is the WPIX Yule Log (the original one will be broadcast tonight at 11 PM on WPIX Channel 11 here in New York).

Be well, be safe, and Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2016

"Friday, Saturday, Sunday In Texas"

I don't usually review football books, but I was recently sent a copy of Nick Eatman's "Friday, Saturday, Sunday In Texas". It takes an in-depth look at football in the Lone Star State at three different levels: high school, college and the NFL.

Eatman, who writes for and manages the website, spent the 2015 season with three teams in the state of Texas: the Dallas Cowboys, the Baylor Bears, and Plano Senior High School Wildcats. The book reads like a diary of every weekend of football, starting Fridays with the Wildcats, Saturdays with the Bears, and Sundays with the Cowboys.

The 2014 season had been successful for all three teams, as all three made postseason or bowl appearances.

But 2015 turned out to be down years for all three squads. Plano is a very successful high school program, playing in stadiums on Friday nights that can hold as many as 10,000 people. With Plano, we follow their ups and downs, as well as players making difficult decisions about where they'll be heading once their high school careers come to a close. For Plano, it was a down season, going 4-8 and not making the playoffs. And in the state of Texas, even at the high school level, that is unacceptable.

Baylor had come off an 11-2 season in 2014, and just missed getting into the national championship semifinals. But it was off the field issues that surrounded Baylor as the 2015 season got started, and a sex scandal would cast a pall over it and head coach Art Briles. (It would cost Briles his job in mid-2016 when another sex scandal involving a Baylor player came to light, and Eatman does chronicle that in-depth.)

There's always drama surrounding the Dallas Cowboys, and their controversial loss to Green Bay in the 2014 playoffs opens their story. They would win their first two games before an injury to Tony Romo (doesn't that happen every year?) would lead to quarterback controversies and just about derail their 2015 season, as they finished 4-12.

Eatman weaves all three teams' seasons together, and goes behind the scenes to look at the similarities and differences of winning and losing football in the state of Texas, where the common stereotype is largely true: football is king, and it is a religion.

There are far more lows than highs in the book, and I think Eatman just picked the wrong season to chronicle. (He did point out in the acknowledgments that he originally intended to write the book about the 2014 season, but had to move it back a year because he couldn't find the right publisher for the book.)

I also found a few typos in the book, and a couple of editing errors. That doesn't speak well for HarperCollins, who published the book, but overall "Friday, Saturday, Sunday In Texas" isn't a bad read at all. Texas football is a fascinating subject, but Nick Eatman may regret not having done the book a year earlier.

"Friday, Saturday, Sunday In Texas" was published this past September by HarperCollins Books.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Clay Buchholz Era In Boston Ends

With little fanfare, the Red Sox shipped Clay Buchholz out of town yesterday, and he's headed to the Phillies for minor league second baseman Josh Tobias.

He'll be longed remembered by Red Sox fans for his 2007 no-hitter against the Orioles at Fenway in just his second MLB start. And he was part of two World Series championship teams in 2007 and 2013.

He'll also be remembered for absolutely frustrating the hell out of Red Sox fans. It seems like he was hurt every season, and would go through stretches when it seemed like he was pitching batting practice.

Yesterday's deal was really just a salary dump. The Sox picked up his option for $13.5 million for 2017, and now found themselves with seven starting pitchers. Somebody had to go, and Buchholz was the logical choice. The Phillies will pick up the entire option. Whether Tobias turns out to be anything remains to be seen, as he played at high Single A last season.

We all know Buchholz struggled mightily last season, and banished to the pen in June. Sox fans would have traded him for a used ball bag then. He pitched better in the second half, and even pitched decently in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Indians.

Steve Buckley in today's Boston Herald points out a mind-blowing fact about Buchholz: He played in Boston longer than such Sox greats as Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez and Fred Lynn.

He certainly won't be remembered as one.

I suspect when most Sox fans think of him years from now, they'll think of a pitcher who should have better than what his final Red Sox stats show: 81-61 and a 3.96 ERA. He was an All-Star in 2010 and 2013, but won just 10 more games three times in nine full seasons.

But we maybe seeing him up close again in 2017, as the Red Sox play the Phillies in a four-game series starting on June 12th.

And with his departure (and the departures of David Ortiz and Junichi Tazawa this winter), Dustin Pedroia is the final player left on the Sox from the infamous 2011 September collapse.

I wish Clay well. Thanks for being a part of two championship teams in Boston.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"Characters From The Diamond"

In recent years I have become more and more fascinated by old time baseball. I've read many books from the Deadball Era, which was baseball as it was played before it was revolutionized by Babe Ruth and the home run ball. It is generally assumed that the Deadball Era ended in 1920.

If you like stories from that bygone era, especially from the screwballs who were everywhere in baseball, you may want to pick up "Characters From the Diamond," by Ronald T. Waldo. The author writes about not just the stars of the era like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and John McGraw, but lesser known players who didn't leave a lasting mark on the game, but for their wild and crazy antics they will be remembered.

You couldn't have a book like this without paying homage to the legendary Rube Waddell, the Philadelphia A's and St. Louis Browns hurler who was famous for chasing fire trucks from the mound. He's one of my favorite early 20th century baseball characters, and Mr. Waldo does him justice here.

There's a whole cast of characters you'll get to know and love (and even hate) in the book. From Fred Merkle's infamous boner in 1908, Rube Marquard's success in the early 1910s (and why he wanted his famous winning streak of 1912 to end), to the sad story of infielder Eddie Grant, who enlisted in World War I and was killed in combat.

You'll find plenty to like in Mr. Waldo's book. Baseball attracted a lot of colorful figures in the olden days, and a lot of their hijinx settled around liquor, gambling, women and sheer boredom. And it's not just the players covered in the book, as we hear of stories of umpires, minor leaguers you've never heard of, owners and some fans as well.

You probably have never heard of players like Arthur Evans, Mike Donlin or Ping Bodie. But they come alive in "Characters From the Diamond." They'll never be in the Hall of Fame, but Mr. Waldo has immortalized many of these ballplayers in his book.

"Characters From the Diamond" was released this past March by Rowman & Littlefield Books.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A Good Day For The Nation Yesterday

Yesterday was a very good day to be a Red Sox fan.

Dave Dombrowski pulled off three major transactions. He traded with the Brewers for reliever Tyler Thornburg, and later in the day signed former Texas 1B/DH Mitch Moreland to a one-year deal. And in-between, he shook the baseball world by trading for one of MLB's best pitchers, Chris Sale.

Rumors were rampant Sale was heading to Washington in a blockbuster deal. But yesterday afternoon, the Sox announced they had acquired the lefty from the White Sox for two of the Red Sox' highly coveted prospects, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. They also received infielder Luis Alexander Basabe and pitcher Victor Diaz.

The Sox also shipped Travis Shaw and two prospects to Milwaukee for reliever Tyler Thornburg, who figures to be used as an eight-inning guy for Craig Kimbrel. Trading Travis Shaw tells me the Red Sox think Pablo Sandoval will be a major contributor at third base next season. He supposedly in good shape, and coming along well from his shoulder surgery, as well as totally untradeable right now, so we'll see about that.

According to my friend and Red Sox devotee Mike Kinosian, the Red Sox have traded 18 prospects over the course of the last 12 months in deals involving such players as Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, Aaron Hill, Brad Ziegler and Carson Smith. They have had a deep farm system, and Dombrowski is using it to win right now. As he should.

Fans are woriied about the Sox trading such stud prospects as Moncada and Kopech. Could they end up being superstars? Of course, and it has happened to the Sox in recent years (see Anthony Rizzo). But most prospects don't end up being big time players. Anyone remember the write-ups that Anthony Ranaudo (now playing in Japan), Lars Anderson and Casey Kelly got?

And please keep in mind the Sox did NOT trade Jackie Bradley, who the White Sox really coveted, or any other player from their 2016 MLB roster. And they did not trade Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, Jason Groome or Sam Travis. Dombrowski didn't gut the farm system yesterday. He saw needs the Sox had, and went for it. And I'm really glad he did.

Sale is under the Red Sox control for the next three years, the last two being team options worth a total of $26 million. Not bad for one of the MLB's best hurlers. (Considering David Price will make that and $4 million ALONE next season.)

We'll see down the road if anyone traded yesterday becomes one of MLB's elite players. But that will be years from now. The Sox want to win it all in 2017, and should the fans they are dead serious about dominating next year. It was indeed a good day yesterday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge"

Lenny Dykstra has lived quite a life.

To most baseball fans, he's remembered as the sparkplug of the 1986 World Series champion Mets and 1993 National League champion Phillies. But in recent years, he's known as an entrepreneur who has done time in prison fraud and money laundering.

A former assistant of his wrote a book three years ago talking about the hell it was to work for him, and certainly didn't cast Dykstra in the best of any light. Now, we get Lenny's side of the story, in a recently published autobiography called "House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge." (William Morrow Books) (And by the way, the former assistant appears nowhere in this tome.)

Lenny absolutely lets it ALL hang out this book. It's filled with tons of colorful language, so if that offends you, it might not be the book for you. But, like passing a total car wreck, you might want to check this out.

Even in his young life, he was always a confident guy, bordering on total cockiness. Despite being young and smaller in stature than most baseball players in high school, he forced his way on to his high school team, and it served him well. (He tells a funny story about meeting Fred Lynn, then of the Angels, back in the early 1980s at a tryout at Angel Stadium.)

Dykstra came to prominence as an outfielder with the Mets in early 1985, and his hard style of play earned him the nickname "Nails." He talks plenty about his time in New York, and his relationships with the Mets stars, like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. But not all of them come away with his admiration. He has no use for manager Davey Johnson, who he claims was either drunk or hungover most of the time he was with the Mets. And he gets the knives out for one-time Mets phenom Gregg Jefferies, who he called "clueless" and "bizarre." (Dykstra calling anyone "bizarre" is pretty out there.)

He moved on to the Phillies in 1989, and opens up on his use of amphetamines, and especially, steroids. Dykstra says he had to go on the juice if he wanted to play baseball on a full time basis, and of course, make big money.

Sports were a big part of his early life, but once he retired in 1996, he turned his attention to the stock market, and making REALLY big money. He also opened a string of very successful car washes in Southern California, and he was allegedly worth about $50 million at one point. Dykstra takes his readers on his journeys, about what it was like to have his own private jet and fly around the world at a moment's notice.

Dykstra also goes into plenty of detail about his celebrity friends, including Charlie Sheen. He claims he was the one who urged Sheen to come clean to the world about his HIV diagnosis, and tried many times to get him clean of his addictions to drugs and alcohol. He also tells a rather strange tale of his relationship with Robert DeNiro, how they parties and did drugs together, but after Lenny met him a few years later, DeNiro had almost no idea who he was.

Lenny's book rivals that of any rock star's biography, with talks of wild excess. He paints a picture of an indestructable star, but of course, the fall headed his way was inevitable. He talks about how he tried to get clean (with a harrowing account of going to Israel to try some new way not approved in the US). But the fall that comes his way is over buying Wayne Gretzky's California estate in 2007, and the stock market tanking. He eventually gets nailed (if you'll pardon the pun) for bankruptcy fraud, and goes away for 2 1/2 years. He paints a very dismal picture of his life behind bars.

Dykstra's book is a cautionary tale for sure. In the final end, he realizes what's really important in life, namely his kids and a new grandson. But it is an enjoyable read (whether Lenny's telling the whole truth is anyone's guess, to be honest). You feel like you are sharing a beer with him as he tells you the ups and downs of his life.

And Lenny Dykstra's life hasn't been boring, that's for sure.

Monday, November 21, 2016

"Cuba's Baseball Defectors"

Cuban baseball is largely unknown to most American baseball fans. What most do know are the current crop of players from that island, like Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu.

They all have fascinating backstories, and author Peter Bjarkman, one of Cuban baseball's foremost authorities in the US, has put together a fascinating look at the island's baseball history in "Cuba's Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story", which was released earlier this year by Rowman & Littlefield Books.

Bjarkman is the senior baseball writer for the web site Baseball de Cuba, and he takes the reader on the journeys of many Cuban baseball players through the years, those who left for the United States in search of greater riches, and those had stayed behind and became icons in their home country.

Bjarkman tells some incredibly fascinating stories of some of the most celebrated Cuban defectors (Leonys Martin's story in especially incredible), and it tells stories of kidnapping and drug smugglers from the Miami syndicate and Mexican drug cartels. The Cuban players keep on coming, and with the thaw in relations between the US and Cuba, the concern is that Cuban baseball will continue to decline (Bjarkman makes a comparison to the Negro Leagues after Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color barrier in 1947, and how that slowly went out of business by the late 1950s).

As a Red Sox fan, I read the Yoan Moncada and Rusney Castillo stories with particular interest. (Remember Castillo? The Red Sox would love to forget this tale.)

Bjarkman was given special access to baseball players throughout the island of Cuba, and you get a good reading on the day-to-day lives of those who play the sport for a living in the baseball-crazy country. He talks in great detail of Cuba's incredible record in international tournaments throughout its history (but doesn't have much use for the World Baseball Classic, as he believes it is just in business to bring more Cuban players over to the US and enrich MLB's coffers).

If you enjoy Cuban baseball, "Cuba's Baseball Defectors" is a book you must read. Bjarkman goes into some minute details about it, and at the end of the book lists not only the Cubans who have played in MLB since 1871, but has a comprehensive list of all players who have defected from the island since 1980.

There are plenty of stats, but there's even more intrigue and cloak-and-dagger stuff behind those men who left the country for various reasons to play ball in America.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

MLB Awards: Porcello Takes the Cy, Mookie 2nd in MVP

MLB handed out their awards this past week for 2016, and there weren't many big surprises.

Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award, in a very close race with Justin Verlander. Verlander had more first-place votes than Porcello (14-8, out of a possible 30 votes), and he was left off two voters' ballots entirely. But Porcello had more first and second place votes than Verlander did (24-16), and that was difference, with Rick taking the award by five points (137-132). Corey Kluber finished third and Zach Britton was fourth.

You may have heard that Verlander's girlfriend, model Kate Upton, wasn't happy with the results.

Mookie Betts finished second in the AL MVP award, losing out to two-time winner Mike Trout. You can make a strong case for both, but Trout's win wasn't really close. He received 19 first place votes, and Mookie garnered 9. Trout won by 45 overall points. Jose Altuve finished third and Josh Donaldson, last year's MVP, finshed fourth.

The only other person connected to the Red Sox in an awards race was John Farrell, who finished fourth in the AL Manager of the Year award. Old friend Terry Francona won the award for the second time, having previously won in 2013 with the Indians. (How didn't Tito not win in 2004?). Jeff Banister finished second, and Buck Showalter finished third.

Nice to see another old friend in the awards winner circle in 2016, as Dave Roberts won the NL Manager of the Year for the fine work he did with the Dodgers in his first year as a manager, leading them to the NLCS this season.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

America Has Always Been Great, and Always Will Be

Well, this is the day when the United States of America will elect a new president, and it has always been a big deal and an important day for the country.

Today, the majority of the nation just wants to get it over with.

One of today's candidates has a slogan that says "Make America Great Again." I would argue that America has ALWAYS been great, going back to our painful divorce from the British Empire. We were the first to give democracy a go, and it has attracted people from the four corners of the earth wanting to be free.

America has gone through a lot in more than two centuries. We went through a civil war to rid the nation of the scourge of slavery. We've gone through two world wars, a terrible Great Depression, other wars that tore at the fabric of our nation, and a terrorist attack 15 years ago that sought to disable our way of life.

We've come through it all. And we're still here.

We've had good presidents, mediocre presidents and bad presidents. And we're still here.

No matter who gets elected today, America will go on. Whoever gets elected, we will have a divided electorate, many of whom will be very angry at who was chosen. They'll just have to grin and bear it.

The important thing is to vote. Vote your conscience. If you see fit not to vote for either of the two major party candidates, so be it. Your vote matters, no matter who you decide on.

And it's YOUR choice who to vote for. It's not my place to tell anyone who to cast their ballot for. That's for you and you alone to decide.

Men and women down through the centuries have put their lives on the line so we can have a day like this. We can go to the polls and decide who will run the store for the next four years. We honor their memory and sacrifice so we can have a free election, something that is unheard of in many parts of the world. Keep that in mind when cynicism creeps into your mind. It did for me, and I don't like either major party candidate. But I will do my part and cast a ballot today.

The United States of America IS a great nation. And it will be no matter who gets elected today. We've had our ups and downs, but we're still here.

Abraham Lincoln once said that America was "the last best hope of earth." That is especially true on this day. So, go vote. Make Honest Abe proud today.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Nice to See Another Media-Created "Curse" Fall

That was a World Series for the ages, eh?

And a Game 7 that will go down in Series lore, that's for sure.

The Chicago Cubs finally did it, and won their first World Series since 1908 with a stunning 8-7 win over the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings.

You can argue that this was the greatest Game 7 in MLB history. It had everything: clutch hits, untimely errors, game-tying home runs, head-scratching moves by the managers, and even an extra-inning rain delay.

No question it will be remembered forever. The Cubs blow a three-run lead in the 8th, and it looks like the so-called "curse" would continue, as the momentum was in the home team's favor at that point. But the gritty Cubs held on. A totally gassed Aroldis Chapman got the Indians 1-2-3 in the 9th, and then the rains returned, and held the game up for 17 minutes. The Cubs can consider this a blessing.

Tribe reliever Bryan Shaw walked Kyle Schwarber to open the 10th, and Alberto Almora went in to run for him. Kris Bryant hit a ball to the warning track in right center, and Almora tagged and went to second. It would prove to be the smartest (and most overlooked) play of the game, as the Indians walked Anthony Rizzo intentionally. Series MVP Ben Zobrist lined a double to left, and Miguel Montero singled to left, and the Cubs had a two-run lead they would carry into the bottom of the 10th.

Good thing they scored two. With two outs, 8th inning hero Rajai Davis singled in a run off Carl Edwards to make it 8-7. Joe Maddon brought in Mike Montgomery to face Michael Martinez, the light-hitting outfielder who was brought in in the 9th inning for Coco Crisp. That move would backfire on Terry Francona, as Martinez was the last man on the bench, and he grounded out to Kris Bryant, and the Cubs had their long-awaited third World Series title.

The Cubs became just the sixth team ever to comeback from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series, the first to do it on the road since the Pittsburgh Pirates did it in 1979.

I'll admit I was pulling for the Cubs to win it all since the moment the Red Sox were eliminated in the ALDS. Through their Series run, I had flashbacks to 2004 seeing the Cubs come from 3-1 down. Like the 2004 Red Sox, they had to put their fans through all kinds of hell in the postseason, but they came away with the ultimate prize.

I guess you can get the Hall of Fame plaque ready for Theo Epstein. He's brought championships to two devoted fan bases that longed to see their clubs make it to the Promised Land.

And I feel for Terry Francona today, and the Indians fans. Tito is one of MLB's best managers, and proved it again this postseason. He handled the loss with class and grace, and he should also have sealed a place in his Cooperstown, despite his team's loss.

Joe Maddon maybe the luckiest man in Chicago today. While he's a great manager, he made some moves I still can't understand. Kyle Hendricks was in total command in the 5th inning, the Cubs with a 5-1 lead. He walks a batter with two outs, and brings in Jon Lester. He did the Indians a favor at that point, and after an error by David Ross, he wild pitched in two runs, and the Indians had new life. And Maddon totally overworked Chapman in the last three games of the series. Maddon's very lucky today, as had the Cubs lost, the name "Grady Little" might be following him forever right now.

My congratulations to all Cubs fans out there today, from all of us in Red Sox Nation. It's a great feeling to see your team win it all, after having to endure crap from the media for years and years about made-up curses and all that. Enjoy the afterglow of seeing your team in the winner's circle.

It never will get old, Cubs fans. Trust me on that.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

It's Theo Vs. Tito For All The Marbles

History was made last night as the Chicago Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, as they beat the LA Dodgers, 5-0, to win the National League Championship Series in six games.

Jon Lester and Javier Baez were named co-MVPs of the series.

I was pulling for the Cubs to make it to the World Series throughout this postseason, as it would truly have been fun to see the Cubs play the Red Sox for the World Series title. That was not in the cards. And, as someone born and raised in Brooklyn, it was a pleasure to see them knock the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the postseason. (And now they've got a significant streak of not making it to a World Series: 28 straight years.)

In the ninth inning, I was getting a bit emotional, and I'm not even a Cubs fan. The TV was showing fans praying, and some with tears in the eyes as to what was finally unfolding before their eyes. And for me, it brought back some precious memories of the 2004 postseason. So I know EXACTLY what those fans were feeling at those moments.

The Cleveland Indians wrapped up the AL pennant last Wednesday, beating the Toronto Blue Jays in five games. And now this means that Theo Epstein and Terry Francona will face off against each other to see who will raise the championship trophy this season.

I am very happy for both men. They are two of the classiest baseball men in the business today, and they will forever be remembered for bringing not one but two titles to Boston. And, no matter how this turns out, both will one day be enshrined at Cooperstown.

A lot of Red Sox fans are seeing this unfold with a sense of "what could have been" had both men stayed in Boston. After the disaster of 2011, it appeared that both needed to move on. And they did, both to struggling franchises that needed to be rebuilt. It was sad that both left town under such lousy circumstances, but that's just the way it turned out.

Plus I think to myself, "how many titles have the Red Sox won since they both departed?" The answer to that is one: the glorious win of 2013. There's no telling what would have happened had they both stayed. But the Sox have had success since 2011, and are absolutely headed in the right direction. (And please, don't "denigrate" what happened in 2013 as some kind of "fluke, " as some baseball "experts" have implied. It wasn't. You don't win 108 games in total and call it some kind of fluke. Treasure it, folks.)

I guess the old saying "don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened" applies here. Both Theo Epstein and Terry Francona are great baseball men, and have built their current franchises into winners (it took Theo five years, Tito four, so it didn't happen overnight). They will be forever remembered by Boston and Red Sox fans everywhere as the ones were most responsible for bringing two titles to Red Sox Nation.

I wish them both well, and hope we have a great World Series to conclude 2016.

I like the Cubs in six games.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

2016 Ends Abruptly & Papi Says Goodbye

At 9:51 PM last night, Travis Shaw flied out to Lonnie Chisenhall in right field, and the Red Sox 2016 campaign came to an abrupt conclusion, as they were swept by the Indians three straight in the ALDS.

But it also marked the end of the stunning career of one David Ortiz.

Papi closed his career with 38 HRs and 127 RBI in his age 40 season. It was simply the greatest season any player has had to close a career. None of us wanted it to end the way it did, with the Red Sox losing at home and leaving the playoffs after just three games. But it did. I found myself getting emotional as the ninth inning was beginning last night. The Large Father is leaving all of us a million great memories, and most of them seem to flash back to me in the ninth.

Big Papi came out a few minutes after the game ended to salute the crowd that had not left, and had tears in his eyes as he took in their cheers one last time. He said nothing, as it was clear he was too choked up to speak.

The Cleveland Indians were just better in this series. They hit more, pitched better, and played better defense. This is a very good team, a team capable of going all the way to the end, and they have one of MLB's best managers in Terry Francona. They deserved to win this series.

Was this 2016 season a success or a failure? I would call it a success, no question about it. While David Ortiz is leaving, Mookie Betts is an MVP candidate and Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley have emerged as solid, dependable players. Hanley Ramirez had an amazing bounceback year, and Dustin Pedroia is still a force at age 32. (He should be made captain now that Papi is retired.)

The pitching, both in the rotation and in the pen, needs some fine tuning over the winter, but I would say the future looks bright for the Boston Red Sox. Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada will be stars down the road. There's a lot to love about this team right now. They are young, and like the Chicago Cubs this season, they may have an even better team next year after this early round loss.

After all, how could you not think this year was a success after two straight last-place finishes? The Sox went back to first place after two seasons of looking up at everyone else. The pieces are in places for a nice run for this team. I'm betting John Farrell returns as manager in 2017. I had my issues with him this year, but the late-season surge almost guarantees he will be back for another year at the helm.

The 2017 season begins in 174 days, as the Sox open at Fenway on April 3rd against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I close with this personal note to David Ortiz:

Thank you for 2004. Thank you for 2007. Thank you for 2013. Thank you for giving me more thrills than I could ever have imagined getting as a Red Sox fan. Thank you for making my life in New York City so much more bearable. Thank you for everything, David Ortiz. Thank you.

Monday, October 03, 2016

93 Wins. 11 More To Go.

A memorable 2016 regular season came to a close yesterday.

The Red Sox ended their regular campaign with a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, but most importantly, they finished with a 93-69 record and on top of the AL East. The 11-game winning streak gave the Sox the title, and they coasted in the rest of the way to win it, and will face the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS beginning Thursday at Progressive Field.

Where to start with this team? The Sox had the best offense in baseball, and scored 878 runs this year, and the next closest team, the Indians, were 101 runs behind them. The Sox led the AL in just about every meaningful team hitting statistic: total bases, hits, doubles, batting average, OPS, OBP and slugging percentage.

Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia finished second and third for the batting title, both at .318 (Jose Altuve won it easily at .338). And David Ortiz finished sixth at .315.

What can you say about Big Papi? It was a tearful, memorable day at Fenway, as we said goodbye to the Cooperstown-bound legend, as a bridge and a street were both named in his honor, and Red Sox legends from far and wide came to bid him adieu. His number 34 will be retired at Fenway next season. He gave all us fans a season that we will never forget, blasting 38 home runs, driving in 127 runs (tied for the AL lead), and making a strong case for AL MVP in final season.

He'll have competition for the award from one Mookie Betts, who hit 31 HRs, drove in 110 runs, and had an amazing WAR of 9.6. He also established himself as one of the AL's best outfielders, a man with an arm to be feared.

And the Comeback Red Sox player of the year? How about Hanley Ramirez? The fans were full of trepidation that Hanley was being moved to first base this year, but he calmed all those fears with some outstanding plays at first this year. (How about those two over-the-shoulder catches he made this past Friday night?) He looked like a natural at the bag, and made just four errors all year. And his bat was back, hitting 30 home runs, 111 RBI and batting .286.

The Sox also got solid years from Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. And isn't everyone excited to see what Andrew Benintendi will do going forward from here. More than a few comparisons to Fred Lynn were made with his late-season callup.

On the pitching side, Rick Porcello and David Price were a terrific 1-2 top-of-the rotation. Porcello made a great case for the Cy Young Award, winning 22, finishing fifth in ERA at 3.15, and excellent WAR at 5.0 and an outstanding WHIP at 1.01. The trade that Ben Cherington made with Detroit for Yoenis Cespedes was highly criticized last year with Porcello's struggles last year, but it doesn't look so bad now. Price struggled early on, and many a fan was wondering why the Red Sox got stuck with this guy. But Price got hot after the All-Star break, winning seven straight at one point and winning 17 for the year.

Steven Wright was a nice surprise, coming out of nowhere to win 13 games before that shoulder injury he suffered as a pinch-runner ended his regular season. Clay Buchholz was a Jekyll and Hyde pitcher for sure, and many fans wanted him gone after he was demoted to the bullpen. But to his credit, he hung in there, made some adjustments, and was simply outstanding in September.

The pen was a horror show early on, but was a big reason the Sox got hot in September. Craig Kimbrel had some struggles early on, but straightened himself out before suffering a knee injury in July, and was terrific after his August 1 return (although the final week might have you thinking differently). The return of Koji Uehara was exactly what the pen needed in August. It was a rough year for Koji to start with, and it looked like he'd hit the end of the line. But he was terrific in the 8th after returning. It allowed John Farrell to use Matt Barnes and Brad Ziegler in various roles, like the 7th or 8th and even the 9th where necessary.

I had predicted the Sox could win 90 this year, and they even exceeded that. The slump in the last six games cost them the 1st and 2nd seeds in the AL playoffs, and the offense slumped a bit, even during the 11-game hot streak. They can use these three days off to rest up for the ALDS and rejuvenate them.

11 wins to go, and it all gets started in Cleveland on Thursday. It should be exciting, and could be very memorable and special, as the boys attempt to send off David Ortiz with his fourth ring.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

AL East Champs Again

As the top of the ninth ended at Yankee Stadium last night, the Blue Jays had lost to the Baltimore Orioles in Toronto, 3-2, so that made the Red Sox the AL East champions for the second time in four years.

Hyun Soo Kim hit a pinch-hit two-run homer in the top of the ninth at Toronto to give the Birds a much-needed win for them. And what happened in the next few minutes in New York, the Sox owe Kim a debt of thanks.

Craig Kimbrel came on for the save with a 3-0 lead and had nothing. Gave up a hit, three walks and was gone. Kimbrel has been very good since returning from knee surgery on August 1st and it was his first bad outing since.

Joe Kelly came on and got two quick outs, but gave up a grand slam to Mark Teixeira and it was over. New York was celebrating like they had just won the division, but they'll be playing golf shortly.

The Sox players entered the locker room depressed after losing a game like this, but manager John Farrell set the troops straight with a short talk how they had just won the division after such a long grind and how one inning should take nothing away from that. He was absolutely right, and from the there the party started.

Farrell became the first Red Sox manager to win two division titles since Walpole Joe Morgan won in 1988 and 1990.

Winning a playoff spot on a night you've lost is nothing new in baseball. I can't ever recall a team celebrating after a team beat them in the ninth on a grand slam. But Farrell is absolutely correct. The Sox went through a lot in 2016, and pulled away this month with the amazing 11-game winning streak. They deserved to celebrate last night.

I went on social media after the game and could not believe how many Red Sox fans were depressed over the loss, some even writing about how Kimbrel should be run out of town over this loss. Hey people, last night's loss will be quickly forgotten. Can you tell me who the Sox beat and what were the scores of the playoff clinchers of 2004, 2007 or 2013? Me neither.

The important thing is that the Sox have had a fabulous September, going 18-7, one of the best September's in their history. There is so much to love about this team, and to a man they want to win it all for the retiring David Ortiz.

Forget last night's loss. It's ancient history. Now it's time to fully look forward to next week's playoffs, which begin on Tuesday with the Wild Card games. Who the Sox will play in the ALDS is still to be determined. And there's still plenty to play for this week, as the AL seedings are still up in the air (Sox trail AL leader Texas by two games).

Enjoy the AL East title, folks. But still much work to be done.

And thanks, Hyun Soo Kim.

Monday, September 26, 2016

11 Straight, and History Made

Back on September 15th, Hanley Ramirez blasted a three-run shot that gave the Red Sox a stunning 7-5 win over the Yankees, and ended a small two-game slide, and it sent New York reeling. But it started something really special for the Red Sox, and Hanley's blast may go down in Red Sox lore if it leads to bigger and better things.

As I write this, the Sox have not lost since, winning 11 straight. They have not blugeoning teams during this run, as they have scored as many as seven runs twice (in their first two wins). They became the first team in MLB history to score exactly five runs in five consecutive victories.

Four of the eleven wins have been won by one run, something that was a big problem for the Red Sox earlier in the 2016 season. The starting pitching has been very good, but the bullpen has been close to lights-out. The return of Koji Uehara and Joe Kelly has boosted the pen tremendously, and Craig Kimbrel has been nearly unhittable since he returned from knee surgery in early August. The Sox have held the opposition to two runs or less in five of the games during the streak.

The pitching has made the difference, and it was on display yesterday in St. Pete against the Rays. Eduardo Rodriguez had one of the finest outings of his young career, striking out 13 in just 5 1/3 innings. (That means just three of the Tampa Bay outs were NOT Ks.) But he threw 113 pitches, and John Farrell went to his pen for Heath Hembree, and he was spectacular, striking out all five hitters he faced.

When Hembree fanned his last hitter, the Sox had combined to strike out 11 straight hitters, a new MLB record, breaking Tom Seaver's record of 10 straight he set against the Padres in 1970. But the pitchers were far from through. Joe Kelly struck out two batters in the ninth, and the Sox had fanned 21 Tampa Bay Rays though nine innings, the first time in history that had happened. But since the game was tied at 2, the record won't count, as the game went to the 10th inning.

Dustin Pedroia scored in the top of the 10th on David Ortiz' double (in one of the craziest home plate slides you will ever see), and Kelly came back out for the 10th. He allowed two hits, but struck out two batters as well, and after Brad Miller lined to left, the Sox had their 11th straight win, and set an MLB record for most strikeouts in a 10-inning game, with 23.

The Sox are peaking at the right time, and now have a Magic Number of 2 to win the division (they have already wrapped up a postseason berth). It is also interesting to note that the Yankees, who have been eliminated from the AL East race, have an elimination number from the Wild Card race of 2. It is possible that the Sox could win the AL East and eliminate the Yankees from the postseason on the same night, possibly as early as Tuesday.

Boy, how sweet would that be?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Boston Massacre 2016

Last Thursday, the New York Yankees came into Fenway Park four games behind the Red Sox in the AL East race. And naturally, more than one pundit had to bring up that four game disaster of 1978, when New York came into Fenway and took four straight from the Sox and left tied in the division.

That, of course, is ancient history. Hanley Ramirez made sure there would be no repeat of that.

Hanley was a one-man Yankee Wrecking Machine, as he hit four home runs and drove in nine runs, as the Sox all but ended New York's chances of winning the division.

His first blast was the soul crusher, as the Yankees were one out away from winning the first game on Thursday, and had a four-run lead as late as the 8th inning. A win would have put them three games back, but Hanley's three-run blast in the center field bleachers gave the Sox an amazing 7-5 win.

Home run number two was on Friday, another bleacher shot to center field that put the Sox up 3-0 on Friday, and they coasted to a 7-4 win.

Ramirez hit the last two on Sunday night. The first brought the Sox back from 4-0, another three-run blast off the light tower in left. At that moment, I knew the Sox were on their way to a series sweep. After the game was tied, Hanley became the difference in the game in the bottom of the seventh, a bomb onto Lansdowne Street to make it the eventual final at 5-4.

The Sox had lost two of three to Baltimore coming into the series, and I was hoping they could take three. They won the four games despite having two of their starters not get past the fourth inning (Eduardo Rodriguez on Thursday and Drew Pomeranz on Sunday). The bullpen picked them up on both nights (who would have thought it now appears to be a strength), and the offense bailed both pitchers out as well.

The Red Sox are showing that no quit attitude in September with three come-from-behind wins against their archrivals. They wre down in three of the four games by three or more runs and came back to win. They now have a three game lead over second place Baltimore, and a four game lead over Toronto. The Magic Number to win the AL East is now 11.

For New York, it was a devastating weekend. It was series they could have won all four games, but blew three late leads to allow the Red Sox to take charge and win. They are four games behind Toronto for the final Wild Card spot, with three teams (Detroit, Seattle and Houston) in front of them. Dosn't look good for the Yankees. Their elimination number is 10.

It was a sensational weekend for the Red Sox, and now they head to Baltimore for four games. This four-game series win over New York may not be an historic one (I still like the sound of "Boston Massacre 2016" nevertheless), but quite satisfying nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Sox In San Diego

I had the pleasure last week of visiting the incredibly beautiful city of San Diego, and it's the third time I've been there.

Of course, I had a great reason for going there, as the Red Sox were playing a three-game series against the Padres. I have two dear friends who live in the city, Peggy and Ken Gartin. As soon as the 2016 schedule was set in stone, Peggy contacted me and said that the Sox would be playing in her hometown, so come on out!

I have been in San Diego twice before, in 2004 (when Peggy and Ken got married) and in 2007, the last time the Red Sox were in town. I think we know how both of those seasons concluded, don't we?

Anyway, Peggy and Ken were wonderful hosts, and they showed me around San Diego, which included a tour of beautiful Balboa Park. We also drove up to Los Angeles to catch the Padres play the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. It was my first time in LA, and I have to admit the park is very nice. (And the stereotype of the typical Dodger is true: they arrive late and leave early. I saw it for myself.)

Back in San Diego, we saw the Tony Gwynn Museum, which contains all sorts of Tony's accolades from his brilliant career, such as his bats, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, and many other incredible trophies and memorabilia he accumulated. (Unfortunately, there was no photography permitted, as asked for by the Gwynn family.) He is truly a revered figure in San Diego, at almost godlike status. (The above picture is the statue of him at Petco Park, which is stunning to see up close.)

Petco Park is truly a jewel of a ballpark. Everyone is very nice who works there, and the park is almost immaculate. Ken and I arrived for batting practice all three days, and I met many of his friends who came out for the series. It's been another tough year for the Padres, now on their sixth straight losing season. I felt badly for the good folks I met, as they support their team passionately. The Friars are still looking for that elusive first championship, and it brings back memories of those years supporting the Red Sox during their mediocre-to-lousy years, just hoping to see one in my lifetime. (I have also adopted the Padres as "my favorite team west of the Mississippi.")

The Padres won the first game of the series, 2-1, as Edwin Jackson outpitched Drew Pomeranz. Ken and I walked back to his house after the game, and we saw some homeless guys on the street. One guy looked at me and saw I was a bit down and said, "Don't worry, they (The Red Sox) will will the next two games." I had to smile at that, and as it turned out, maybe that fella knew something I didn't at the time.

The Sox did indeed win the next two, both handily by scores of 5-1 and 7-2. The Sox supporters came to San Diego like it was an invasion, and the park had at least 60% Sox fans all three days. There was a sense of good sportsmanship through the crowd, and certainly no fights of any kind.

If I were to ever live in California, I would pick San Diego in a heartbeat. Great climate and wonderful people. And I do hope the good fans there will one day experience a World Series championship.

I know Tony Gwynn would be smiling, wherever he is right now.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Joyce and Alice

It's that time of year again.

Sunday will mark 15 years since the World Trade Center was attacked by radical Islamic terrorists, and we lost nearly 3000 beautiful souls here, at the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania. I will be at the World Trade Center remembrance for the 15th straight year on Sunday to remember all the victims.

And those of you who know me, I honor my dear friend Joyce Carpeneto every year on this blog. We worked together at Tower Records in Greenwich Village for over four years, and we also worked together at the company's distribution arm called TRIP (Tower Records Import Product).

Joyce worked for General Telecom as a sales rep after leaving Tower in 1998, and her company transferred her into a new office in the North Tower, on the 83rd floor. She had the terrible misfortune to be at the work that awful morning, and she and her 12 colleagues all perished. Nothing was ever found of any of the thirteen.

Shortly after I found out that Joyce was missing, I had a memory of her that came flooding into my mind. And it was one of the happier memories I have of her.

Right after I started working with her at TRIP, we were together in the Greenwich Village office we had. I was doing some checking of the inventory work I had done when she walked over to me and said, "Do you want to see some pictures of me with Alice Cooper?" He had recently done in an in-store appearsnce at the Tower Village store to support his latest album. "Absolutely," I said.

She handed me a couple of pictures of her with a few other Tower employees posing with the legendary rock icon. He had his arm around her and it was a great picture. But I will remember forever when I looked up at Joyce after I saw the pictures. (I really wish I had the pictures to share with you, but I don't have them.)

She had a smile from ear-to-ear, like this was one of the most special moments of her life. Even now, I can close my eyes and still see that beautiful smile she had. It always brings me a feeling of great comfort.

In 2005, I did a special recording for StoryCorps, which records remembrances of all kinds. And this was one for the 9/11 victims. I am very proud to say that my remembrance of Joyce is in the Library of Congress, and I also dedicated it to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. When the museum opened in 2014, they used three snippets I recorded for her interactive profile, which also includes many lovely pictures. The Museum picked my telling "The Alice Cooper Story" for its main snippet for Joyce's profile.

I have done many, many things in my life I am very proud of, but nothing tops this.

And I hope one day I can meet the great Alice Cooper and tell him this story.

This is the 11th year I have remembered my dear friend here on my blog. If you'd like to check out any of the previous years remembrances, please click any of the links below.

2006: Forever Missed. And Forever Loved.
2007: Never Forget. Ever.
2008: We Can Be The Ones Who Remember
2009: The Most Sacred Of All Days
2010: 3000
2011: Ten Years After
2012: 11 Years
2013: No Other Place In The World I Could Be Today
2014: Always And Forever Family
2015: I'm The Lucky One 

Please say a prayer for all the 9/11 victims today, all the first responders (especially the ill ones) and all those left behind with broken hearts.

I will love you forever, Joyce.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Yoan Moncada Era Begins

The Red Sox closed out the month of August at 17-13, and find themselves in second place as September begins.

They split the last six games at home against Kansas City and Tampa Bay, and got really lucky yesterday, as the offense bailed out yet another loopy bullpen decision by John Farrell. (PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not use Junichi Tazawa in any high-leverage situation again. I'd rather see the ball boy coming in to pitch.)

The Sox are two games in behind AL East leaders Toronto, and lead the first Wild Card position by two games over Baltimore.

There's so much to like with this team, and we will now get to see young stud infielder Yoan Moncada, as he was recalled from AA Portland today, to play third base, which has turned into a black hole. Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill are struggling, so Moncada will get a chance to see if he can light a spark at the position. He'll join the club in Oakland on Friday night.

The starting pitchers had an overall solid month of August. Rick Porcello now has 18 wins, and is 13-0 at Fenway this season. The last Sox hurler to do that was Boo Ferriss in 1946. Porcello has turned into a reliable stopper of losing streaks. David Price continues to pitch strong, as he's won his last four decisions and he now stands at 13-8 with an ERA finally under 4.00 (3.97). Drew Pomeranz continues to impress. His last two starts against Tampa Bay were excellent, except for throwing a hanging curve to their backup catcher Luke Maile last Tuesday. He has a no-decision and a loss to show for it unfortunately, but he's become more reliable as he's gone on. Steven Wright has been a concern since returning from the DL. Yesterday he allowed four runs and four innings, and his knuckler was too flat too often. You have to wonder if he's hit a wall after his early season success (think Tim Wakefield in 1995).

The bullpen may still be this team's downfall. The only truly consistent pitcher in August was Craig Kimbrel, who has been terrific since coming off the DL early in August. (And manager Farrell, please let get a four-out save in important games.) Matt Barnes is wildly erratic, getting lit up last Sunday without getting an out. Brad Ziegler should be the eighth inning guy, no matter what. He's the Sox' most reliable bridge to Kimbrel.

The offense has its share of strugglers, with Jackie Bradley and Travis Shaw at the top of the list. Bradley went deep yesterday, but Shaw struck out four times on Wednesday, and found himself on the bench yesterday. Here's where the call up of Moncada is important. When the Sox brought up Andrew Benintendi in August, he immediately brought a spark to the bottom of the lineup. All eyes will be on Moncada, but the 21-year-old from Cuba has a rep for handling tough situations he's been in. It's the perfect time to bring him up.

I'll get a chance to see him play live, as I'll be in San Diego next week for the three-game series the Sox are playing with the Padres starting on Labor Day. I'll have a post about it after I return to New York on September 8th.

The Sox now embark on another long trip, three cities in nine days: Oakland, San Diego, and really big series in Toronto. The Sox return to Fenway on September 12th against Baltimore. Five wins away from the Fens should be a must right now.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Successful Road Trip That Didn't Feel That Way

The Red Sox came off a road trip that saw them go 7-4 in 11 games from Cleveland to Baltimore to Detroit to St. Petersburg. I was hoping they could go 6-5 on the road. So why did it seem when it concluded it was like a real downer?

They raced off to three wins in the games against the Indians and Orioles, and extended a winning streak to six games. They looked like they might be catching fire (finally). But John Farrell singly cost the Sox the streak when he thought bringing in a washed-up Junichi Tazawa was a good idea in the eighth inning of a 3-1 game against the Tigers.

But still it appeared the Sox righted the ship, taking two of the last three games in Detroit, and winning the first two games against Tampa Bay. They were 7-2 on the road trip and it felt like an overwhelming success.

Then they lost the last two games against the Rays, and that problem that has plagued this team most of the year reared its ugly head yet again: failure with the bases loaded.

The Sox left runners everywhere on Wednesday's 4-3 11-inning loss. But Thursday's was even more infuriating. Drew Pomeranz pitched a solid game, going six innings, striking out 11. He allowed two runs and took the loss. In the sixth inning, the Sox loaded the bases with no outs, but came away with just one run, on Mookie Betts' sac fly. Hanley Ramirez walked, but Jackie Bradley, who has been in a prolonged slump, hit the first pitch into a DP to kill the inning.

As I write this, the Red Sox are an absolutely anemic 4-for-their-last 32 with the bases loaded. And they are hitting an astoundingly bad .212 on the season when the bases are full. (The league average is .262.) How can a team that is at the top of nearly all the major offensive team hitting categories be so bad in those situations? Only Tampa Bay is worse at .207. Can you imagine where the Sox would be if they were just at the league average with the bases loaded? Three or four games leading the AL East, in my opinion.

I was watching last night's game on NESN, and when the Red Sox had the bases loaded in the first (and they naturally scored just once, while two hitters struck out), Dave O'Brien may have said it best: "The Red Sox have the bases loaded, something Red Sox Nation doesn't want to hear right now." And by the way, can you remember the last time ANYONE on the Sox got a bases-clearing double? Hard for me to recall right now.

Andrew Benintendi's knee injury on Wednesday night also cast a pall on the end of the road trip. He made a base running goof that led to him being tagged and he awkwardly injured his left knee in the process. It landed him on the DL, but it appears he suffered no structural damage to the knee, and the Sox hope he will return some time in September.

One of the positives of the recent trip is that the starting pitching was excellent, and with one exception (Henry Owens getting hit hard in Detroit), it has become a strength for the Sox. But ominously, the offense slumped late in the trip against last-place Tampa Bay (just six runs scored in the last three games). You can chalk that up to the weariness of the long trip. But another nine-game trip that begins on the west coast next Friday is looming large. It's against two of the lesser lights in baseball (Oakland and San Diego).

The standings this morning show the Sox in second place, one game out of first place from Toronto. They lead the first Wild Card position by one game, so they are still in good shape right now. But a September that finds them on the road more than at home, and mostly against AL East clubs, will tell the final story of 2016. And they better find a way to drive in runs when they count.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty"

Many of you may or may not know that there was a time that the Chicago Cubs were a baseball dynasty, winning back-to-back World Series and four NL pennants in five years.

I can promise you that none of you reading this witnessed it live.

The years the Cubs did this was from 1906-1910. Now with the current Cubs on a rampage through the National League in 2016, award-winning journalist Hal Bock has released a book chronicling the early of one of MLB's most beloved teams in "The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty: Before The Curse" (Rowman & Littlefield).

The book is centered on those great Cubs teams that ruled baseball just after the turn of the 20th century. It features such Cubs legends as Moredcai "Three Finger" Brown, Frank Chance, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers (the last three being the infield immortalized in poetry as "Tinker-to-Evers-to Chance"), Ed Reulbach, Orval Overall (one of my favorite all-time baseball names) and Johnny Kling. (Mets fans of the early 1980s may remember that name well, as Mets catcher John Stearns broke his record for most steals by a catcher one year, and Kling's name has always stuck in my head because of it.)

Bock gives a comprehensive account of Chicago baseball of the 19th century, and how the Cubs reached the pinnacle of the club's success in the first decade of the 20th century. He also talks about the Cubs' two biggest rivals back then, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates, which featued such baseball immortals as John McGraw, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner.

The book also accounts for the Cubs slide into mediocrity after those dominant years, and picks up with their NL title teams of 1918, 1929, 1935, 1938 and 1945. Five pennants but no championships for the Cubs since that last World Series title of 1908.

"The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty" also touches upon some of the Cubs legendary misfortunes that have befallen them over the years, such as the alleged "Billy Goat Curse" of 1945, the "Black Cat" incident at Shea Stadium in 1969, and of course, the Steve Bartman affair of 2003. (As a Red Sox fan, I can understand how painful a book like this is for Cubs fans to read.)

Bock also describes all the places the Cubs have called home (there were many before they moved into Wrigley Field in 1914), and a chapter on all those legendary players of Cubs history, like Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins and Ron Santo. Actor Joe Mantegna, a lifelong Cubs fan, does an interesting foreword to the book.

"The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty" is definitely a terrific read for that Cubs fan in your life. It will be mostly painful, but it brightly illuminates the time when the Cubs were a feared force in MLB. The Cubs may finally be shedding that "lovable losers" image they've had all these years with a dominating team they have in 2016. So, it maybe worth taking one more look back to see how the Cubs got to this point.

Monday, August 15, 2016

On The Road Again

Thursday night's brutal loss to New York left me with a feeling that this home stand was not going to end well for the Red Sox. They had dropped a series at home to an inferior team, and a much more inferior club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, were about to hit town.

The Sox needed to roll Arizona, and they did just that. They scored 15 runs in the first two wins on Friday and Saturday nights, and did that and some more on Sunday, putting up 16 in game that Zack Greinke started for Arizona.

They got another splendid performance from Rick Porcello, as he went seven innings, allowed just three hits on 80 pitches, and is now tied with J.A. Happ for the MLB lead in wins with 16.

Mookie Betts sat out the last game against New York with a tight quad, and took the collar in his first two games back. But he exploded on Sunday, hitting three home runs (two three-run shots), 8 RBI and 4 runs scored in the rout. It was his second thre-home run game of 2016, and he joined Ted Williams as the only Red Sox players to accomplish that feat, which Ted did in 1957. Dustin Pedroia had his career fifth five-hit game, the first Red Sox player ever to have five five-hit games. (Shocked that Ted never did that.)

After losing two of three to New York, the Sox did what they absolutely had to do against Arizona. I was hoping for 4 of 6 in the home stand before the next road trip started, and got it. The Sox wake up this morning 64-52, 2 games behind Toronto in the AL East. They currently have the lead in the second AL Wild Card position, 1 1/2 games ahead of Detroit.

The Sox hit the road today with a makeup game in Cleveland against the Indians, then head to Baltimore for two, and then on to Detroit for a four-game weekend series with the Tigers, before concluding the trip in St. Pete with four games against the Rays.

This will be the second of the three long summer road trips the Red Sox embark on. They made a number of moves just today, first putting Steven Wright on the DL with that shoulder inflammation he suffered on the bases in LA last weekend. (Why the hell was he used as a pinch-runner to begin with?) He may just miss one start before possibly being back next week against Tampa Bay. Hanley Ramirez will miss three games as he went on the bereavement list. The Sox have recalled infielders Deven Marrero and Marco Hernandez and reliever Heath Hembree from AAA and sent Roenis Elias back to Pawtucket.

Like the last trip, I'm hoping to see the Sox go at least 6-5 on the road swing. The bats came alive this past week, and they need to stay alive on this trip if the Sox want to hang with the Blue Jays and Orioles.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Tonight's The Night

Last night was an absolute shitshow at Fenway Park.

The Yankees lost their starter, Nathan Eovaldi, after one inning, due to elbow soreness (uh-oh). So they had to patch together the rest of the game with their bullpen. Meanwhile, Drew Pomeranz would go 5 1/3 innings, allow just one run. He left with the lead, and you would think the Sox won this game easily, right?

Guess again.

The Red Sox had the New York bullpen on the ropes in the middle innings, loading the bases in the third, fourth and fifth innings, and came away with only two runs, both on ground outs. And worse, they had them loaded in the fifth and got nothing. The same old act in the clutch again. They left 11 men on last night, while going 2-for-11 with RISP.

Matt Barnes came on in the 7th and game went right to hell from there. New York scored five in the 7th and tacked on three more in the eighth to salt away a 9-4 win. Four relievers allowed eight runs. Putrid to say the least.

The Sox continue their slide to mediocrity. Going back to the All-Star break, they came out with 5 wins out of 6, with the high water mark being the 13-2 wipeout of Minnesota on July 22. They are 7-12 since. After the losing road trip that just concluded, I figure they need to go at least 4-2 on this homestand. Toronto currently has the best record in MLB since July 1, and continue to play good ball.

There is just no way the Red Sox can drop this series to New York and consider themselves players for October. The Yankees have long since raised the white flag on the 2016 season and are just playing out the schedule. You can't let a team like this come into your building and push you around. A message has to be sent tonight.

The pressure is squarely on the shoulders of Eduardo Rodriguez tonight. With Steven Wright missing a start because of shoulder tightness, Rodriguez gets the start a day earlier than expected. He's got to give the club a quality start, 6 of 7 innings at minimum. What we don't need to see is another start of him nibbling and getting the pitch count sky-high by the 4th or 5th inning. He's got to prove he's a major league pitcher who is here to stay.

And the offense has to back him up. Stop screwing around in clutch situations letting scoring opportunities go to waste. It's been happening way too often lately. The Red Sox will be without Mookie Betts and David Ortiz, who both left last night's game with minor injuries, and both are day-to-day.

This is a far more important game than it appears. Granted, the season isn't on the line tonight. But it is time for the team to man up and beat a far lesser opponent in their own home building. Another 11-game road trip is looming starting on Monday. The Sox have to dominate at home and split the game away from Fenway.

Time to start dominating. Tonight.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Back Home, Still 2 1/2 Back In Third

The Red Sox left Fenway over a week and a half ago having been swept by the Detroit Tigers, ending a losing home stand. They went out on the road and needed a winning road trip with 11 games on the West Coast.

They didn't get it.

The Sox lost no ground since the Detroit sweep, as they are still 2 1/2 games back in third place in the AL East. That's because neither the Orioles or Blue Jays were great over their past eleven games either. They went 5-6 on the trip, and had their "ace" David Price pitch three times, and came away with no wins.

He was sparkling in first start in Anaheim, going eight shutout innings. But the pen and defense melted down in the ninth, and it was a brutal loss. In Seattle, Price was excellent for seven innings, but he was clearly done in the eighth, as John Farrell left him in way too long, and the Mariners rallied for five runs and won. Another awful loss.

But the road trip finale was telling. The Sox were 5-5 and a win would have made it a winning trip and the team feeling better about things. The Dodgers sent a very erratic Brandon McCarthy to mound, and he was literally all over the place, hitting two batters and throwing pitches to the backstop. But once again, the Red Sox offense couldn't capitalize, scoring just two runs off him. Meanwhile, Price cruised through the first three innings. But he became unglued in the fourth and fifth innings, and the Dodgers scored six runs. Granted, the Sox made two critical errors that made three of the runs unearned. LA went on to an 8-5 win.

Price continues to disappoint. He sure isn't pitching like an ace. He sure isn't a stopper either.  Price is 1-5 in games when he takes the hill after a loss. (Consider that Rick Porcello is 7-1 and Steven Wright is 6-1 after a Red Sox loss.)

But also the offense disappeared on this western trip. Jackie Bradley, David Ortiz and Xander Bogaerts especially struggled throughout the 11 games. In six of the eleven they scored just three runs or less.

As we stand this morning, the Sox are 60-50, 2 1/2 games back in third place. Hardly out of it, but they gained no ground out west. This week they play New York and Arizona at home, two teams that are pretty much playing out the schedule right now. This is where the Sox have to put it together and win at least 4 or 5 of these games. Starting next week, The Sox have an even more difficult road trip than the one they just completed. They open with a makeup game in Cleveland, and then head to Baltimore, Detroit and Tampa Bay. And they have no off days on this swing.

Another 11-game trip. We'll see where they stand on August 25th when it concludes.

Monday, August 08, 2016

The Slappy Era Comes to a Close

The Alex Rodriguez Era in the Bronx officially comes to an end on Friday when Slappy plays his last game for New York and will be unconditionally released following the game.

His days as a player are clearly behind Rodriguez, and the Yankees are in complete rebuild mode. As of right now, they are on the hook for $27 million in salary through next season. It was clear the team had to dump him, and try to find the best to it for all concerned.

It was pretty much a farce of a press conference yesterday, with GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi praising Slappy to the skies. (Where was principal owner Hal Steinbrenner while all of this was going on? He was the one who ultimately pulled the plug.) A-Rod has sat on the bench since July 22nd, and the fact that he sat last week against the Mets' Bartolo Colon, who he has enormous numbers against lifetime, was all you needed to know about what the Yankees were thinking about him.

He "retires" on Friday, and gets to go home and return as a special instructor next season, while collecting every cent of the $27 million still owed him. And that is clearly the most important thing to him, make no mistake about it. (Forget him coming up four home runs short of 700. I'm sure that won't keep him up nights after he leaves.)

It's interesting his last game is on Friday. I'm sure they came to that date because it allows a build up this week for additional ticket sales and TV ratings. How many empty seats would have been in the Bronx for two teams (NY vs.Tampa Bay) going nowhere this Friday night?

And those three games before his last one will be played by the Yankees at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. It will be mighty interesting to see if Red Sox management will even acknowledge Slappy's retirement. You know the fans will let him know how they feel.

I checked in with some my friends on Facebook and Twitter and tried to gauge how they felt about Rodriguez' Yankee departure. I think you can some it up in one sentence: "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out." Of course, there was an exception.

In many ways, the Alex Rodriguez story is a tragic tale. A guy with a ton of talent, who made some really awful decisions and went down some bad roads. "A million dollar swing with a ten cent head" comes to mind. He simply ruined his career and reputation by dabbling in PEDs, and earned a year's suspension for the Biogenesis mess he got involved in. I can't EVER see him being enshrined at Cooperstown. Even while both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens continue to increase their support year-by-year in the Hall of Fame balloting, I can't see A-Rod getting much support at all. You have to wonder if he'll even get 5% of the vote when he first becomes eligible in 2022.

As Red Sox fans, we all remember how Rodriguez was nearly traded to the Sox in late 2003, and he badly wanted to play at Fenway. But the players union wouldn't allow him to restructure his deal to allow the trade to happen (and remember, Jon Lester would have gone to Texas in that deal!), so he was eventually dealt to New York the following February.

I remember the media crowing the day the deal was done, about how the Yankees had one-upped the Sox yet again. I reminded all my friends that New York had just acquired a very good bat, while trading another very good bat away (Alfonso Soriano) and to keep in mind "A-Rod can't pitch."

Some times, the best deals are the ones you don't make.

And here's A-Rod, reminding everyone how many more World Series the Red Sox have won over his team since his time in the Bronx began in 2004:

Adios, Slappy, and we in Red Sox Nation thank you for Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. Always.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

July Was Ending With a Thud. Until...

The Red Sox had a terrible June, and they needed to get their act together in the month of July if they were serious about making a playoff run.

June concluded with a lethargic 4-0 loss at Tampa Bay, and the Sox were 42-36, 5 1/2 games behind the front-running Orioles in the AL East. The Sox went a miserable 10-16 in that month, but as soon as the calendar flipped over to July, it looked like things were coming together.

They got back home to Fenway and won 7 of 9 against the LA Angels, Texas and Tampa Bay, and then they hit the All-Star break. The Sox remained hot, winning 2 of 3 in New York, and won the first three games back home on another nine-game stand. They walloped the lowly Minnesota Twins, 13-2, and found themselves one-half game in first place, on July 21st.

Then all of a sudden, things took another turn. The Sox left a thousand guys on base in a 2-1 loss to Minnesota the next night, and then blew a lead and lost again, 11-9. The next day the Sox barely held on to an 8-7 decision, once again to one of MLB's worst teams.

And then the Detroit Tigers came in and swept the Sox, losing one game on a walk with the bases loaded. The Tigers are fighting for a playoff spot so they are a better quality club. But once again, the Sox were having trouble winning close games. In this series, they lost by two runs (4-2) and one run (9-8 and 4-3). I was hoping for a 6-3 homestand, but losing five of the last six made it 4-5. It also dropped the Sox into third, 2 1/2 games back.

The Sox then hit the road, and would conclude July in Anaheim. I figured they'd need to at least split the series. The Angels are long out of the playoffs, but were having a very good July. David Price opened the trip with eight stellar innings, but the offense could score just one run. Brad Ziegler came on for the save, and had been very good since coming over from Arizona earlier in the month. But the Angels rallied to load the bases with one out. Ziegler got a groundball to first, but Hanley Ramirez through one to the backstop to bring in two runs and give the Angels a 2-1 win.

The Sox rebounded the next night to win 6-2, and lost the following night, 5-2. So Sunday's game was an important one, as dropping three in Anaheim to start an 11-game road trip just wouldn't be acceptable. The Sox did absolutely nothing against the Angels for eight innings, and looked pretty lethargic in the process. But they rallied in the ninth, as Mookie Betts singled in a run, and with two outs and two on, Dustin Pedroia hit a ball off Huston Street over the center field wall and Xander Bogaerts hit a solo shot to give the Red Sox their biggest win of 2016, 5-3. (As a matter of full disclosure, I was writing a very different ending to this blog post, as the top of the ninth had just begun when I started writing.)

It was the biggest win of the season to conclude the month of July.

As July finishes up for the Sox, they are 57-46,  1 1/2 games behind in third place in the AL East. Overall, July was a successful month for the boys, having gone 15-10. They still have seven games on the West Coast, four in Seattle and three in LA with the Dodgers. I would consider a 6-5 road trip a very successful one if they can manage it.

And now we wait for the trade deadline to come, as it will be at 4 PM ET tomorrow. Will the Sox make a big splash, or just add a few more solid pieces like Brad Ziegler or Aaron Hill?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ken Griffey Jr.: All Class

Today, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. Both are highly deserving of the honor.

Griffey made it on the first ballot, getting over 99% of the vote, the highest in history. (Three voters left him off. Lord knows why.)

Griffey has a glowing resume, one that I will not rehash here. But Junior will be wearing something special as he gives his speech.

Griffey has a special relationship with the family of a firefighter who gave his life on September 11, 2001. Kenny Marino was one of 343 of New York's Bravest who perished that day, and Griffey was his idol. Shortly after 9/11, the Cincinnati Reds received an email from Katrina Marino, Kenny's widow, explaining who much Griffey was her husband's idol, and how much it would mean to her family if Griffey could hit home run that night against the Phillies.

He did just that, and it led to a bond between Junior and the Marino family. Here's more about it from 2004. The Marino family also has a website, where you can read more about Kenny, his legacy, and about the family's relationship with Ken Griffey:

As Griffey takes the podium today, he will be wearing a bracelet with Kenny's name on it. It will have been supplied by my good friend Vicki Chapman Peaslee of Bracelets For America. I got to know Vicki shortly after the 9/11 attacks, when she started the company. She makes bracelets in memory of the 9/11 victims (which she has since expanded for many other types of remembrances, such as for those who gave their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). Every day I wear a bracelet she gave me in memory of my dear friend Joyce Carpeneto. It has become a part of me, and I can't imagine not wearing it.

Ken Griffey is without question one of the classier players ever to wear an MLB uniform. It's his special day today, and I'm sure his biggest fan, a hero named Kenny Marino, will be looking down and smiling with Junior today.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

"Handsome Ransom Jackson"

The name Ransom Jackson may not be very familiar to most current Major League Baseball fans. He played in the majors for three clubs during the entire decade of the 1950s, and was an All-Star third baseman. Jackson, who is now 90, has put together a book of his adventures called "Handsome Ransom Jackson: Accidental Big Leaguer" (written with Gaylon H. White).

Jackson, who was born in Arkansas in 1926, had a pretty good MLB career. He was brought up by the Cubs in 1950, and played in the All-Star Game twice, in 1954 and 1955. He hit .260 lifetime with 103 home runs, and was present on the club when Ernie Banks became the first black player in club history in 1953, and speaks glowingly about the late Hall of Fame icon.

Jackson eventually was traded to the World Series champion Brooklyn Dodgers after the 1955 season. He discusses at length the fact that he competed for the third base job with aging Dodger legend Jackie Robinson. Like with Banks, he talks in reverence about Robinson, and the 1956 club, which made it to the World Series, the only one Jackson participated in in his career.

The book contains many fascinating stories, as well as the fact the Jackson is the answer to many trivia questions. He was the last Brooklyn Dodger ever to hit a home run (on the next-to-last day of the 1957 season), the first man to draw an intentional walk (when the statistic became official in 1955), and was nearly the last man to bat during Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956 (Walter Alston eventually chose Dale Mitchell). He's also a college football trivia answer, as he is the only man to appear in consecutive Cotton Bowl games with two different schools (TCU and Texas).

So, Mr. Jackson has a lot he can hang his hat on.

The book is filled with many great stories and old photos, one of my favorites is Jackson sitting on the bench at Ebbets Field with the Cubs in the early 1950s while manager Frankie Frisch is also sitting there reading a book. Jackson also poses with many of baseball's all-time greats in other photos, like Stan Musial, Ralph Kiner and Roy Campanella.

Jackson tells it like it is about the current game, and the one he played in as well. He isn't overly sentimental about the past, but it is clear how proud he was to have played for the Cubs and Dodgers.

"Handsome Ransom Jackson" is a very good read about one of those players who had a solid, if not spectacular career during one of MLB's golden eras.