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Did You Know? – Best Southpaws In Red Sox History

There is little doubt that Jon Lester, in his eight-plus seasons with the Red Sox, was an invaluable contributor to its recent success. So how does he compare with others southpaws who have pitched for this franchise?

With the trade of Jon Lester to Oakland this past week, so departs one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in Red Sox team history, with 110 wins, a no-hitter, and two World Series championships to his credit. Among southpaws in team history, his 110 wins is second-most behind the legendary Mel Parnell and his 1386 strikeouts leads all others.

There is no question from anyone who has watched him over his eight-plus seasons with Boston that he has been an invaluable contributor to its recent success and there’s a possibility that we have not seen him pitch for the last time in a Red Sox uniform. So how does he compare to others greats who have pitched for this franchise?

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Johnny Pesky, Former Red Sox Infielder, Passes Away at Age 92

Former Boston Red Sox infielder Johnny Pesky, who was a loyal part of the Boston organization for more than 60 seasons, passed away today at the age of 92.  Pesky played eight seasons between 1942 and 1951, missing time between 1943 and 1945 serving in World War II, and also managed the club twice, first for two years between 1963 and 1964, and then briefly at the end of the 1980 season.

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Book Review – Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends

So, what in fact happened one October afternoon in 1932 as the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees battled for the World Series title? Did the larger-than-life Babe Ruth really call his shot as legend has laid claim? That is just one story explored by baseball author and ESPN writer Rob Neyer in his latest book, Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, The Lies, and Everything Else.

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Pedroia, Youkilis Highlight MLB Awards Season for Red Sox

One year ago, he was American League Rookie of the Year; Tuesday, Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia was named the AL Most Valuable Player as the club was well-represented in the 2008 Major League Baseball award season. Pedroia walked away with three major awards while first baseman Kevin Youkilis earned recognition as one of the top offensive performers.

Pedroia earned 16 first-place votes out of the 28 ballots cast by baseball writers, beating Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP, by 60 points, 317 to 257. He also became the first AL second baseman since Nellie Fox in 1959 to win the award and the ninth player in team history to take home the league’s top honor. the first since Mo Vaughn in 1995. Pedroia also took home Gold Glove honors at his position as well as the Silver Slugger award as the best offensive player at his position.

Meanwhile, Youkilis, who last year took home a Gold Glove for playing error-free defense at first base, was honored as the Hank Aaron award winner based on ballots cast by broadcasters, analysts, and fans. First awarded in 1999 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Aaron’s accomplishment of surpassing Babe Ruth’s career home run mark, Youkilis is the third Red Sox player to earn the honor in the ten years of the award’s existence, the first since designated hitter David Ortiz in 2005. Youkilis also earned consideration for MVP honors, receiving two first-place votes and finishing third in balloting.

Did You Know? – Red Sox Shutouts

With a no-hitter thrown in May and last Thursday night’s win over New York at Yankee Stadium, starting Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester has pitched two shutouts in 2008, the first Boston pitcher to toss more than one in a season since Hideo Nomo threw two in 2001. He is also the first Red Sox southpaw to toss multiple shutouts in one season since Bruce Hurst threw three in 1987. As pitch counts have limited the opportunities for starting pitchers to throw a complete game, let alone toss a shutout, these feats have become more and more the rarity in today’s ball game. Over the past 25 seasons going back to 1984, only 12 pitchers have multiple shutouts to their credit as a Boston starter; of those pitchers, only seven have at least three and only two, Roger Clemens (38) and Hurst (11), have a double-digit total. Former ace Pedro Martinez is third in that span with eight, throwing four in 2000; fourth is Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, who tossed six over the 1984 and 1985 seasons and fifth is another former Red Sox lefty, Bob Ojeda, who recorded his five career shutouts with Boston in 1984.

In team history, Clemens is tied with another former Boston great, Cy Young, for the most shutouts in team history, although Young did that over eight seasons while Clemens accomplished his total over 13 seasons with the club. Standing alone in third place in Smoky Joe Wood with 28 over eight years with the club, while Luis Tiant is fourth with 26 over eight seasons and Dutch Leonard is fifth with 25 over six seasons. The single season record for the franchise is 10, accomplish by Young in 1904 and Wood in 1912; Babe Ruth is third with nine in 1916, and Clemens (1988) and Carl Mays (1918) are tied for fourth with eight.

Did You Know? – Babe Ruth’s Missing Home Run

Through Sunday, San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds has amassed 753 home runs in his career, two round trips shy of Henry “Hank” Aaron’s record for most home runs by a Major League Baseball player (former Japanese Central League baseball player Sadaharu Oh holds the professional baseball record, having hit 868 home runs for the Yomiuri Giants). Last year, on 28 May 2006, Bonds passed former Red Sox and Yankees baseball great Babe Ruth for second-place all-time, notching home run number 715 in the sixth inning off former Red Sox pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim of Colorado in San Francisco as the Giants lost 6-3 to the Rockies.

Then again, had one of modern baseball’s rules been observed early in Ruth’s career, it might have been necessary for Bonds to hit one more home run to pass the legendary ballplayer. On 08 July 1918, with the score tied in the tenth inning at Fenway Park, Ruth ended the game for the Red Sox with a walk-off hit over the outfield fence. Unfortunately, prior to 1931, as soon as the first run necessary to win the game scored, the ball was ruled dead, and the batter was credited only with the number of bases needed to drive in the winning run. In this instance, Red Sox center field Amos Strunk had already reached first base earlier in the inning when Ruth stepped up to the plate; after his hit left the yard, the umpires awarded an RBI triple to Ruth as Strunk crossed home plate one base ahead of “The Bambino” with the deciding run. This was the only instance in The Babe’s career in which this happened, and several other players from that period also lost home runs in this fashion.

In 1931, in part due to the frequency and popularity of Ruth’s home runs, the rule was changed to allow the entire play to be completed, with the ball ruled dead and all runners given the opportunity to move freely around the bases, which in turn allowed for the batter to be credited with a home run and all runs batted in, depending on the number of players on base. To put in perspective today, if the original rule still applied today, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz would have had three game-winning home runs for Boston since 2004 and his two game-winners from the 2004 post-season also changed to triples. As an added note, baseball historians did make an attempt in the 1960s to have the records of those who played prior to 1931 updated to reflect this rule change, but Major League Baseball decided to leave them as they still stand today.

Today In History – Red Sox and Yankees Rivalry Debuts

07 May 1903 – On this day 104 years ago, at Huntington Avenue Grounds, Boston and New York meet for the first time in this storied rivalry as the home team wins over the visitors, 6-2. This was not the first time that the two franchises had played each other, however; in 1901, the future New York Yankees had debuted as the Baltimore Orioles and played for two seasons there before making the move to New York to become the Highlanders (New York would not adopt the Yankees name until 1913). Since 1903 through the 2006 season, New York holds a distinct advantage over Boston in terms of wins head-to-head, 1076 to 882, not including postseason play. Boston’s best season against New York came in 1912, the year in which the franchise won a record 105 games and the World Series, when the Red Sox won 19 of 21 meetings between the two clubs. Likewise, the Yankees’ best season against the Sox came in 1927, when Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the rest of Murderer’s Row took 18 of 22 against the Sox and also went on to win the World Series that fall.

Did You Know? – Red Sox 20-Game Winners

In team history, the Red Sox have seen 26 different pitchers win at least 20 games in a season at least once in a Boston uniform. The pitcher who holds the franchise record for the most victories in one season is Smoky Joe Wood, who won 34 games in 1912 for the eventual World Series champions; he was one of three pitchers on the 1912 staff, along with Buck O’Brien and Hugh Bedient, to reach the 20-win threshold, as the latter two each won exactly 20 games on a team that set the franchise record for wins in a season (105). Only one other pitcher in team history, Cy Young, won better than 30 games in a season; he accomplished this feat twice, once in Boston’s inagural season of 1901 (33) and then again in 1902 (32). Young also holds the record for the most seasons of 20 or more wins with the Red Sox, having accomplished the feat six times in the eight years that he was part of the starting rotation. After him, there are three pitchers with three seasons of 20 or more wins: Bill Dinneen (1902-1904), Luis Tiant (1973, 1974, 1976), and Roger Clemens (1986, 1987, 1990). Other multiple winners include Babe Ruth, Carl Mays, Boo Ferriss, Jesse Tannehill, Mel Parnell, Wood, Tex Hughson, and Wes Ferrell.

In total, there have been 46 instances where a pitcher won 20 games or more in a season for the Red Sox. Nine times, the starting rotation for Boston has had multiple 20-game winners. Between 1902 and 1904, Dinneen and Young won at least 20 games in each season for the Red Sox and, with Boston pitchers Tom Hughes (20 wins in 1903) and Tannehill (21 wins in 1904) also reaching that plateau, fans were witness to eight instances in three straight seasons that a Sox pitcher accomplished this feat. The most recent instance in which two players on the Red Sox pitching staff won at least 20 games in a single season happened just five years ago in 2002, when Derek Lowe (21) and Pedro Martinez (20) both managed the feat; before that, you have to go back to 1949 to find multiple 20-game winners on the Red Sox pitching staff for one season: Parnell (25) and Ellis Kinder (23). Curiously, there have been ten Boston pitchers in franchise history to fall just one win short of the mark for a single season; of those ten, both Martinez and Howard Ehmke did reach the mark in another season for the Sox. Martinez fell one win shy his first season with the club in 1998 but won 23 the next year, while Ehmke won 19 in 1924, one year after winning 20.

That’s The Way Love Goes

It’s not easy being a sports celebrity in the Boston metropolitan region, no matter whose uniform you wear; if there was just one word used to describe the fan base in this area, it would be intense. One day, you’re given a parade downtown along with the key to the city; the next day, you wouldn’t win an election for dog catcher. The banter on the airwaves suggest that fans here tend to expect nothing less than perfection on the field; when a player suddenly slips a few notches below the level that we expect them to player, it doesn’t take long for the media to begin questioning how good a player he is, no matter what he’s done in the past. That is soon followed by every arm-chair quarterback and fantasy league manager offering every possible, off-beat solution to the problem, most of which involve shipping that player in an air-tight container to the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

So when the unofficial Red Sox head cheerleader, first baseman Kevin Millar, came to Edgar Renteria‘s defense last weekend and told the club’s fan base to stop giving him so much grief, it wasn’t long before the assault began. As expected, Millar got grief for trying to stick up for his teammate and even more grief for highlighting the fact that his level of play thus far this season had been sub par at best; meanwhile, Renteria continued to hear it from everyone within earshot regarding his lack of offensive output and clutch hitting.

If nothing else, the veteran shortstop has learned quickly in just his first few months in a Red Sox uniform that becoming a member of one of the most storied franchises in baseball means the eventual discovery that Boston fans are among the most passionate sports fans in the world. Every season, we turn on our radios and televisions or make our way to Fenway Park and cheer for our beloved Sox in numbers. We study the box scores, review the upcoming schedules, and follow the team from the very first game right down to the very last out on the last day of the season. Generations of fans from Boston and beyond have stood behind this team and relentlessly cheered every year for that season to be the one that a long-awaited championship was finally rewarded to our team.

The fascination with the Sox is so intense, players who otherwise might have had a rather quiet major league existence find their lives forever changed when they put on a Red Sox uniform. Sam Horn, for instance, played just over a hundred games with Boston over three seasons and accomplished very little in his baseball career, but his name is synonymous with one of the World Wide Web’s most popular chat rooms. Dave Roberts, another player whose career has been relatively quiet, will be remembered until the end of time for his stolen base in the bottom of the ninth in Game Four of the 2004 American League Championship Series that led a moment later to a game-tying run and the beginning of something very magical for Sox fans.

As odd as it sounds, Red Sox fans boo players because they support the team. Go to Tampa Bay or Milwaukee and I bet the home team hardly hears a discouraging word from the crowd during the games, no matter the situation; at least, that would be the impression I’d get looking at those half-empty stands. Boston, however, loves its team for better or worse and, for every time they jeer a player during a prolonged slump or a bad outing, they cheer even louder when he redeems himself with a diving catch, a timely hit, or a quality start. Manny Ramirez, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth – all of these players went through rough stretches in their careers and the fans were quick to give them an earful. In the end, however, when their fortunes turned, those same fans were the ones who applauded these efforts the loudest.

Radio and television shows with overly-opinionated hosts don’t really do it for me because, often times, the discussions border on the level of immature blather; they seem to exist only to work up listeners over the frustration of watching a player struggle on the field, whether or not it has hurt the team. Often time, these diatribes border on the harsh and insensitive and that doesn’t seem fair to our players. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get angry when a guy suddenly goes cold at the plate but, like most fans, I am quick to forgive and forget the next time he sends a pitch into the Monster Seats to tie the score or makes the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth. From being a Red Sox fan for many years, I can fully appreciate the fact that a season has its ups and downs and a streak of bad fortune can turn quicker than the tide.

It’s been a week now and, since his 0-for-4 performance last Sunday, Renteria has been on an unbelievable tear; over his last six games, he has gone 16-for-24 to raise his average from .239 to .295. In that time, he’s had three or more hits in four of those starts, two home runs which include a grand slam in Saturday’s thumping of the Yankees, and scored seven runs while knocking in six. When the Sox return to action tonight against the Orioles at home, expect the young ballplayer to hear a resounding cheer throughout Fenway Park and beyond when his name is announced during the pre-game ceremonies and when he makes his way to the plate for his first at-bat. Though it’s unlikely that his recently hitting display will continue, he should finally understand tonight just what it means to play for this club and its fans and that should feel very good indeed.

Fenway Park Forever

For just once, the little guy won, and I’m not speaking to last year’s amazing run to a World Series title by the Red Sox. I refer instead of those fans of Fenway Park, Boston’s majestic old ballpark, who launched a campaign that opposed the former owners’ plans to tear her down in favor of an exact replica but with all the amenities of the modern sports facility. Save Fenway Park!, a grassroots campaign, was launched in 1998 soon after these plans were announced and most individuals familiar with Fenway, including yours truly, viewed them as another far-reaching group just looking to stir emotions when it seemed obvious that a new facility was the answer to the park’s shortcomings. I was most interested in losing those cramped seats and obstructed views in the grandstands where I have sat on many evenings hoping that this would be the year.

Fast-forward seven years later; suddenly, with several changes made to the park over the past few years by a new Red Sox ownership, there is renewed commitment to the oldest active park in the majors. With a championship team playing to a packed house every night, the organization announced in late March that the club would remain at Fenway for generations to come. As John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino stood before the media publicizing a foregone conclusion, you could almost hear the soul of the park breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Fenway Park may be the most aesthetically-pleasing park in major league baseball today, although I admit that I may be slightly biased in that opinion. True, it still has shortcomings that will never be solved even with extensive renovations, but perhaps that is part of the attraction. Enter the gates, circle underneath the grandstand to find your section, and then climb the concourse to emerge to perhaps the most inviting site: the clay infield, the fresh-cut grass, and that left field wall that arises high above the playing field, beckoning batters to try and scale its heights with a perfectly-executed swing of the bat. Foul lines hug the walls as the park wraps itself right around the action on the field, with the attention of nearly 35,000 pairs of eyes on every delivery to home plate and the outcome that follows.

Less than two weeks ago, we were witness to an ugly incident in which a fan not only interfered with play in the right field corner near Pesky’s Pole but, on camera, appeared to take a swing at an opposing player. That fan was subsequently ejected from the ballpark and ultimately lost his season ticket privileges, a move made by the organization to make an example of that individual for trying to smear the spirit of the game. While some might see the punishment as harsh or extreme, the purpose was to save the intimacy of the park. While the owners want to keep fan interaction as a part of Fenway’s attraction, they don’t want fan interference to detract from its beauty.

Witness one hundred years ago when the Red Sox, then commonly referred to as the Americans, played at the old Huntington Avenue Grounds just across the tracks from the South End Grounds that the old Boston Braves called home. It was not uncommon for fans to stand along the foul lines and wrap themselves around the infield dirt. How often do you suppose that fan interference played a role in deciding the outcome of those games? Even after moving into Fenway Park in 1912, fans use to sit on what was known as “Duffy’s Cliff” in left field, the slight incline in front of the left field wall as the action took place.

These days, at many other ballparks around the majors, the average ticket holder sits far away from the action, so much so that you need binoculars just to recognize who’s playing where. Even those who get front-row seats usually find themselves with generous amounts of foul territory that buffer them from the action. That’s part of what makes Fenway such a unique place to watch a ball game; that intimate feeling, even with the addition of several thousand seats before all is said and done, has not vanished. The place where we watch today’s players like Curt Schilling, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, and Manny Ramirez is not much different from the time that saw such greats like Tris Speaker, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Carl Yastrzemski cover the field. While the names have changed, the aura of Fenway is still there.

Over the years, baseball stadiums have come and gone, like Ebbets Field, Sportsman’s Park, the Polo Grounds, and Tiger Stadium; some day, they may be joined by other storied stadiums like Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, and our beloved Fenway Park. For now, the Red Sox have realized that while Fenway, like a classic car, may not have the attractions of these modern stadiums, but it’s the simple beauty of the old girl that continues to bring fans through the turnstiles.