Did You Know? – Red Sox MVP Honorees

The 2009 season begins with second baseman Dustin Pedroia set to defend his title as American League Most Valuable Player, the first since former first baseman Mo Vaughn began the 1996 season in the same position. In team history, only ten Boston players have received the AL MVP award. The first was outfielder Tris Speaker, who received the Chalmers Award in 1912, created as a promotional gimmick by an automobile company owner, Hugh Chalmers, in recognition of a player from each league who proved himself as “…the most important and useful player to his club and to the league at large in point of deportment and value of services rendered.”[1] Speaker was one of only eight players recognized over a four-year span in which the honor was made, which included the awarding of a Chalmers Model 30 automobile for that player’s efforts. (The award was discontinued after the 1914 season due to diminished interest.)

Efforts by the Baseball Writers Association of America eventually led to the creation of the MVP award as it is recognized today, decided by 28 seasoned sportswriters using a positional voting system where each voter ranks his or her top ten players. Jimmie Foxx was the first Boston player recognized by the baseball writers who gave him the honor in 1938, though for him it was his third award after having been recognized twice before with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1932 and 1933. Ted Williams remains the only Red Sox player to have been named twice (1946 and 1949). Other winners have included Jackie Jensen (1958), Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Fred Lynn (1975), Jim Rice (1978), and Roger Clemens (1986). Clemens remains the only Boston pitcher to earn the distinction, though since 1967 only seven pitchers have been so honored.

Of course, due to the subjective native of the MVP vote, Red Sox players have found themselves the focus of controversial outcomes, more often as the odd man out. Though Williams was honored twice in his illustrious career, there were also four instances in which he finished second in the voting where he might have been considered the more deserving candidate. In 1941, he batted .406, the last player to hit .400 or better in the regular season, but lost to New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio, who has amassed a 56-game hit streak that same year. The next year, he finished second again, this time to Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon, despite having won the batting Triple Crown with more hits in fewer at-bats, twice the number of home runs, and an OPS almost 250 point higher. In 1947, Williams again won the batting Triple Crown, the only player other than Roger Hornsby to win that recognition twice, yet he again lost to DiMaggio by a single point in the vote, again with far better numbers across the board. Finally, in 1957, he won the batting title with an impressive .388 average and hit 38 home runs while setting a modern-day record of reaching base in 16 consecutive at-bats, all at the age of 39, yet finished second once more to another legendary Yankees outfielder, Mickey Mantle.

Other Boston players who fell just shy in the voting include Pedro Martinez, who had one of the best seasons ever by a pitcher in modern baseball history and won the pitching Triple Crown and the Cy Young award. Yet, despite having more first-place votes, he lost to catcher Ivan Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers by a narrow 13-point margin in the vote. It was later discovered that two sportswriters, which included George King from the New York Post, had omitted Martinez from their ballots with the argument that the contributions made by pitchers were not significant enough to earn MVP consideration, though King had included two pitchers on his ballot the previous season. David Ortiz also fell just short of the honor in 2005 as he finished behind Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez in the vote. Though both players finished the season with impressive numbers, the argument was made that Ortiz, as a designated hitter, did not contribute as much to his team’s success as Rodriguez, so much that two sportswriters left Ortiz off their ballots.

On the flipside, Vaughn finished a mere eight points ahead of Cleveland slugger Albert Belle in the 1995 vote, despite Belle having far more impressive numbers on offense, including a higher number of home runs, runs scored, RBI, slugging percentage, and total bases; he had also become the first player in major league history to hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in the same season that same year. Vaughn, however, had a far better relationship with fans and the media, whereas Belle routinely refused to grant interviews to reporters and had engaged in several controversial incidents with fans both at and away from the park. Ted Williams was also well-known for his sour relationship with the media, whom he mockingly referred to as the “kinights of the keyboard,” and, like Belle, may have been the reason in part for losing several close MVP ballots.

[1] Deane, Bill, Thron, John, and Palmer, Pete. Total Baseball. HarpersCollins Publishers, New York, 1993.

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.

A Grand Scheme – Lowell and Drew Clear The Bases with Slams

Besides winning the final game of a home series against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park this afternoon, 11-8, to complete a four-game sweep, the game also featured grand slams from Boston Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew and third baseman Mike Lowell in the second and sixth innings, respectively. Drew’s home run came after Manny Ramirez, Lowell, and Kevin Youkilis hit consecutive singles off starter Brian Bannister, his third career grand slam. Lowell’s base-clearing blast came with two outs after the Royals intentionally walked a struggling Ramirez, who remains stuck on 498 career home runs; it was Lowell’s sixth career slam and his third since joining Boston.

It marked the first time since 2003 that the Red Sox hit two grand slams in a single game when Bill Mueller hit grand slams from both sides of the plate on 29 July, the first player in major league history to accomplish the feat. The last time two separate Boston players hit grand slams in the same game was in 1995 when former infielder John Valentin and first baseman Mo Vaughn did it on the road at Yankee Stadium on 02 May, accounting for the only runs in an 8-0 shutout of New York. The last time it happened at Fenway was nearly 24 years ago when Bill Buckner and Tony Armas each hit one off Detroit Tigers pitcher Jack Morris in the first and second inning, respectively, of a 12-7 win.

Vaughn, Greenwell Headline 2008 Red Sox Hall of Fame Class

Monday afternoon, the Boston Red Sox announced that eight people, including Mo Vaughn and Mike Greenwell, were elected to the club’s Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2008. Joining Vaughn and Greenwell will be former pitchers Wes Ferrell, Bill Lee, and Frank Sullivan, shortstop Everett Scott, scout George Digby, and former player development executive Ed Kenney, Sr.. Ferrell joins his brother and former Sox catcher Rick, who was automatically granted induction based on his previous election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984 by the Veteran’s Committee. The committee also selected the home run hit by Ted Williams in his final Major League at-bat as its Most Memorable Moment for Hall of Fame recognition. The induction dinner is scheduled for Friday, 7 November 2008, at the Marriott Copley Hotel in Boston.[1]

This is the seventh class to be honored since the Hall opened in 1995 and elections have been held every two years since 2000. Selections are made by a committee consisting of Red Sox executives and broadcasters, media members and representatives of the New England Sports Museum and BoSox club. To be eligible, a player must have played a minimum of three years with the club and been officially retired from baseball for at least three years, while non-uniformed honorees, like former inducees Curt Gowdy (broadcaster) and Dick O’Connell (general manager), are added only by a unanimous vote of the selection committee.

Did You Know? – Don Baylor

By the early 1980s, former outfielder Don Balyor had been regulated to the designated hitter’s role by the California Angels and remained in that role for three seasons with the New York Yankees between 1983 and 1985. Less than two weeks before the start of the 1986 season, Baylor was traded straight up for Boston Red Sox designated hitter Mike Easler. In the end, Baylor batted just .238 in 160 games played, but he also led the club in home runs with 31, drove home 94 runs, and provided some veteran leadership in the clubhouse as the Red Sox ran away with the American League East division title. The next season, he cracked another 16 home runs and drove in 57 more runs before being traded away to Minnesota in late August.

He also set a record that possibly very few Red Sox batters aspire to hold: given that he loved to lean out over the plate, daring opposing pitchers to throw inside to him, he was hit by 35 pitches over the course of the 1986 regular season, an American League record. Only one other player since 1900 has been hit by more pitches in a single season and, until 2005, he owned the career mark for a major league player, having been plunked 267 times over 19 big-league seasons. To put in perspective another way, Baylor ranks number one and number two in Red Sox franchise history for the single-season record, having been hit another 24 times in 1987. He is also third all-time, tied with Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, for the most times hit by a pitch in a Boston uniform and sits only twelve behind the Red Sox career leader, Mo Vaughn. Perhaps even more interesting is that he reached his personal mark in only 1,096 plate appearances for Boston, less than a quarter of the number that both Fisk and Vaughn had with the Red Sox. Ouch!

Five Future Red Sox Hall of Fame Inductees

The selection committee for the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame isn’t due to make a decision on the next list of nominees until more than a year from now, and the next induction ceremony isn’t scheduled to take place until November of 2008, but just whose career as a Red Sox player or manager might be worthy enough to earn enshrinement at that time? (We won’t consider non-uniformed honorees here nor will we consider a “memorable moment” from team history.) To be eligible, players must have played a minimum of three years with the team and have been out of uniform as an active player for another three years; former managers are generally chosen well after leaving Boston, as was the case for “Walpole” Joe Morgan and Dick Williams, two 2006 inductees. We are also going to shy away from more recent candidates who will be eligible when the next vote is expected, like John Valentin, Mo Vaughn, and Ellis Burks, simply because selections usually happen longer than three or so years after leaving the game.

Continue reading “Five Future Red Sox Hall of Fame Inductees”

Designated MVP

Being the designated hitter does not make David Ortiz any less valuable to his team or unworthy of the American League MVP Award.

Six years ago in 1999, former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez pitched the first of two great seasons, perhaps one of the most dominant seasons ever in the history of baseball. On the way to his second Cy Young award, his first with Boston, he won 23 games in 29 starts, threw five complete, struck out a franchise record 313 batters, and led the staff as well as the American League with a 2.07 ERA. After the departure of slugger Mo Vaughn following the 1998 season, the sole reason that the Boston managed, against all odds, to return to the playoffs for the second year in a row was because of the 27-year-old Dominican native who made the opposition look foolish in almost every start.

However, when it came time to award the Most Valuable Player honor, Ivan Rodriguez, then of the Texas Rangers, won it with his .335 average, 35 home runs, and 113 RBI, arguably the best season of his career as his team won the AL West Division. Martinez, who earned one more first-place vote than “Pudge,” finished second by a margin of just 13 points.

Continue reading “Designated MVP”

Who Will Stay? Who Will Go?

Next Tuesday, 07 December, marks the final day that the former Major League Baseball club of a free agent will be allowed to resign said player or, at a minimum, offer salary arbitration. Otherwise, a player may not resign with his former club until 01 May. That means that, in seven days, Boston Red Sox fans will have a better idea of what face the club will have on Opening Day in 2005 as the organization prepares to defend its World Series crown. Of the 16 free agents that played last season for Boston, one has fled to Japan, utility outfielder Gabe Kapler, and one has resigned with Boston, Doug Mirabelli. Of those remaining players, four big names top the list of players that may or may not return in a Red Sox uniform next season; what chance will they be back?

Jason Varitek – C
Chances: Better than 75%

Varitek’s agent, the infamous Scott Boras, has told all interested parties that his client is looking for a five-year deal around $50 million with a no-trade clause; Boston has countered with a four-year deal in the neighborhood of $36-$39 million. In Varitek’s words, what he wants is stability so that he won’t have to worry about moving his family for a number of years to come. Having spent his entire career in Boston since his trade from Seattle in 1997, staying put would be the ideal situation. Varitek is a fan favorite because he always plays at full speed and probably reached an elite status alongside Sox legend Carlton Fisk when he shoved his mitt in Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez’s face in July.

There are very few free agents on the market that play to the caliber of Varitek; however, having said that, he is also not among the top players at that position. Varitek will turn 33 on 11 April and, historically, catchers do not play well into their late thirties. Reports last week arose that Boston will likely offer Varitek salary arbitration by the deadline and he would have 12 days to decide whether to accept. If he declines, the club would then have until 08 January to try and negotiate a new deal. Boston wants him here and Varitek wants to stay here, especially if he is serious about doing what’s best for his family. A final deal will probably pay him $10 million per season, and some of that will be paid out up front as a signing bonus, but the maximum number of years that Boston would be willing to commit would be four years.

Pedro Martinez – P
Chances: Fifty-fifty

Before the start of the 2003 season, the Dominican dominator began to squawk about a contract extension and told the media that, every day, his price would continue to climb. Instead of going into a panic about the Boston ace bolting to the Yankees when his contract expired, the organization simply kept its mouth shut and instead picked up the club option on a seventh year a week after the season began. Fans began to wonder if the Red Sox would eventually watch another big-name player walk as they had with former studs Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn but, two seasons later, no one is in a panic and Boston looks like they played those cards right.

Boston has offered a two-year deal at $25.5 million with an option for a third year if he remained healthy that would bring the final value of the contract to around $38 million. Interest from the Yankees has been lukewarm at best; Pedro and his agent called a meeting with Steinbrenner early this month, but the Yankees have not verbalized an offer and it appears to have been more of a ploy to try and force the Red Sox to up their offer. The New York Mets are now willing to offer Martinez a guaranteed three-year contract at the same $38 million level, but it’s not the four years that the ace wanted and New York isn’t exactly on track to win another World Series in the next few seasons. Right now, the Red Sox are holding firm and they are willing to let Pedro walk, something that perhaps no Boston fan would have fathomed even before the 2004 season began. Pedro may get his best all-around deal from Boston, but it will be up to him whether his ego will allow his supposed loyalty to Red Sox fan to keep him in a Boston uniform for another few seasons.

Orlando Cabrera – SS
Chances: One-in-three

Cabrera was a nice pick-up for the Sox and made everyone forget that he was traded for perhaps the most popular Boston player in recent memory, especially in helping his new club win a World Series. Now the 30-year-old Columbian is looking to cash in on the national exposure that you just didn’t get playing for Montreal and is looking for a nice long-term deal. While Boston has some interest in retaining his services, they are not interested in signing him for more than a year or two, especially if Pawtucket prospect Hanley Ramirez is ready for the big leagues by 2006. Boston might try to offer him arbitration, but it’s a better bet that he will try to sign elsewhere because he may not get a better opportunity for more money as a player.

Derek Lowe – P
Chances: Less than zero

The unsung hero of the 2004 playoffs blew his chance to sign a contract extension with Boston in each of the last two off-seasons and that may come around to bite him in the end. Although numbers haven’t been mentioned lately, Boras reportedly was looking to secure Lowe with a contract worth $11 million per season. Lowe did win 52 games over the last three seasons and was a runner-up in the Cy Young voting in 2002, but he was inconsistent over the 2004 season, finishing with a 14-12 record and an ERA of 5.42, and the offensive juggernaut in the Boston clubhouse helped him record a few of those wins. It should be noted that he become the first pitcher in post-season history to record the decisive win in every one of his team’s playoff series, providing an inning of relief in Game Three of the Division Series and pitching gems in Game Seven of the ALCS and Game Four of the World Series. However, Babe Ruth has a better chance of being in a Red Sox uniform next season. Lowe is obviously a disgruntled employee in the organization and also wants to escape the scrutiny of the Boston media. With the younger Carl Pavano on the market for equal value and less money, Lowe will be dishing his sinker on another club next season.

Nomar’s Gone, Let’s Move On

Nomar Garciaparra
Nomar Garciaparra

The inevitable was approaching whether we wanted to believe it or not and Ted William‘s frozen head must have spun inside that liquid nitrogen-filled container when the news broke. After ten years in the organization and seven-plus years with the parent club, the face of the franchise was sent packing in a four-team deal and a sad chapter closed the book on the relationship between the Boston Red Sox and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. Whereas no one ever expected a few years ago that he would play anywhere but here, the relationship had cooled – perhaps had even become colder than an arctic breeze – and there was no getting around the fact that a break up was necessary. So the Red Sox sent employee number five to Chicago and that was that… or so it would seem.

It’s been less than a week to this point and, already, I’m tired of reading the he said/she said commentary that has been given considerable space in the sport sections of the local papers. The Red Sox organization blames Garciaparra’s agent who told them that his client deserved no less than $16 million per season when Boston had offered roughly $15 million instead. Boston sportswriters, known for being a rather vicious bunch that loves to make mountains out of pitching mounds, tell us that Garciaparra faked the extent of his injury in an attempt to stick it to the organization. They also claim that the organization did everything that it could in the final weeks before the deadline to try and mend fences, only to have it thrown back in their faces and told that he wanted out, whether it was now or after the season ended.

The truth is that we will never really know who is to blame for this mess or if there is any blame to place. The facts were that Garciaparra was coming to the end of his current contract and it was apparent that the two sides could not agree on a new one. It is also fact that Garciaparra will play at least the rest of the 2004 season with another team looking to bring a championship to its city for the first time in many, many years. What is also important is that we put the matter behind us so that we can concentrate on the other fact: that the team that takes the field now is the one that we are counting on to try and help end this championship drought. Whether we agree with the trade or not, there are no do-overs; what’s done is done and we must move on.

There is no question that Garciaparra was, for the most part, a fan favorite during his tenure in a Boston uniform. He dazzled us with his amazing ability to snare ground balls and then whirl around to fire a bullet to first for the out. He peppered the field with hits all over the park, never fearing to swing at the first pitch he saw, and came through in the clutch in opportunities that were too plentiful to count. Most of all, whether he was happy or not with his situation off the field, he played 100% on the field, never doing less than what he felt the fans deserved to see from him.

My most vivid memory of him comes from an October night in 1998 when, following the end of a loss to Cleveland that eliminated Boston from post-season play, Garciaparra came out of the dugout and began clapping his hands in a gesture to show his appreciation for the support that the fans had given his team all season. While the rest of the team, including a soon-to-be-departing Mo Vaughn, quietly filed back into the clubhouse, but the young shortstop was not about to let another disappointing season spoil the chance to let the Fenway faithful know that he considered them the tenth player for that team.

Hopefully, in another week, the sting will be gone and everyone involved will have moved on, as is the business of baseball. Players come and go and it’s never easy to see a fan favorite depart, perhaps for greener pastures. Although it doesn’t feel right to not see employee number five taking the field for Boston, we must not let the bitter taste of what was an ugly divorce ruin the memories of what was a great stretch of time to be a fan of the Red Sox.