Did You Know? – Derek Jeter and Red Sox Shortstops

Last week, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced that he would retire at the end the 2014 baseball season after 20 years in baseball. The Yankees captain and future first ballot Hall of Fame candidate has been a fixture in the New York lineup since 1996, playing an average of 144 games per season; that figure jumps to 153 if you discount his injury-plagued 2013 campaign in which he managed just 17 games due to injury.

His career appearances at shortstop is by and far the most by a player in a Yankees uniform; Phil Rizzuto is a distant second with 1647 appearances, while Frankie Crosetti is third with 1516. He has also played the most games of anyone in a Yankees uniform, 2602, which is over 200 more than the great Mickey Mantle.

In contrast, over the same time period, the shortstop position has been remarkably fluid for the Boston Red Sox, especially since 2004 when the team traded away perennial All-Star Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs at the deadline. Since 2005, no player has held that role for longer than two seasons and only one player has started at least 150 games in a single season.

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Three Players, Long-Time Broadcaster Earn 2014 Red Sox Hall of Fame Honors

The Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame Class of 2014 is stacked with some impressive honorees, at least one who will be inducted into Cooperstown next year.

Nike Boston Red Sox 2014 Spring Training Grapefruit League Dri-FIT Performance T-Shirt - Red
Nike Boston Red Sox 2014 Spring Training Grapefruit League Dri-FIT Performance T-Shirt – Red

The Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame Class of 2014 is stacked with some impressive honorees, at least one who will be inducted into Cooperstown next year. Announced by the team this morning, this year’s class includes pitchers Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, and radio broadcaster Joe Castiglione. The team also selected one of Martinez’s greatest single game pitching performances as this year’s featured moment.

The Red Sox Hall of Fame, opened in 1995, honors players who spent at least three years with the Red Sox and have been out of uniform as an active player at least three years. Non-uniformed honorees and the memorable moment are chosen by a unanimous vote of the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame Selection Committee, a 15-member committee of Red Sox broadcasters and executives, past and present media personnel, and representatives from The Sports Museum of New England and the BoSox Booster Club.

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Did You Know? – The Red Sox and Losing Seasons

The 2012 Boston Red Sox season is likely one that the organization and fans alike will want to soon forget.  In celebrating the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, the team finished 69-93, which broke a stretch of 14 straight winning seasons.  Before that, the last Red Sox team to suffer through a losing season was in 1997, when first-year manager Jimy Williams and rookie Nomar Garciaparra ended the season with a disappointing 78-84 record.  The team also finished in last place for the first time since 1992, when another first-year manager, Butch Hobson, and pitcher Roger Clemens finished in seventh place in the American League East.

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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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Nomar Garciaparra to Retire as Red Sox Player Today

Is Nomar Garciaparra retiring?  Say it isn’t so.  At age 36, with several surgeries having limited his playing time in recent years, the last rock at the shortstop position in Boston is hanging up his uniform for good – maybe, maybe not – with a press conference this morning in Fort Myers.

The legendary Ted Williams touted “NO-mah” as the game’s next great player and he seemed destined for a Hall of Fame career.  First, he easily won Rookie of the Year honors in 1997, then followed that with a second-place finish in the MVP ballot in 1998 and two batting titles in two years (1999 and 2000).  Five times, he was named to the All-Star while with Boston, and he was often compared to other great shortstops of his time, including Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada.

When Garciaparra returned as an Oakland Athletic last July to Fenway Park for the first time since being traded away in 2004, he received a lengthy standing ovation from an appreciative crowd, to which he tipped his cap and graciously clapped along with them.  It reminded us of the moment following a series-ending loss to Cleveland in the 1998 American League Division Series; as the Indians celebrated on the field by the visitor’s dugout, Garciaparra stepped back out from the Boston dugout, turned to the stands, and began clapping in genuine appreciation of the Red Sox fans that had followed the team all season and every season before then.

Boston is still searching for the answer at short while fans search for answers on why such a promising career ended too soon; some might say that Garciaparra is to this generation what Fred Lynn was to the last one and Tony Conigliaro was to the one before then.  Red Sox fans will always have a place in its collective heart reserved for Garciaparra, who gave all he had with the club for eight seasons, but we will always wonder what might have been for him.

Manny Ramirez To Los Angeles, Jason Bay To Boston

In a move reminiscent of the trade that sent former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs just before the 2004 trading deadline, Boston made a three-way trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers that sent future Baseball Hall of Fame slugger Manny Ramirez out west to join Garciaparra and former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre in L.A., while the Sox received Jason Bay from Pittsburgh in exchange for outfielder Brandon Moss and reliever Craig Hansen. The Pirates also received two players from the Dodgers to complete the deal, third baseman Andy LaRoche and pitcher Bryan Morris.

Ramirez, who earlier this season hit career home run number 500 to become just the third player to reach that mark in a Boston uniform, had recently and publicly voiced his unhappiness with team management for failing to pick up his option for the 2009 season; he had even offered to waive his option to void the trade as a 10/5 player (ten years in the league, five years with the same club). In the end, the Red Sox decided that it was better to part ways with the disgruntled slugger, who was batting .299 with 20 home runs and 68 RBI through action on Wednesday; in return, they get the 29-year-old Bay, who was batting .282 with 22 home runs and 64 RBI to this point in the season with the Pirates. Bay is expected to join the club in time for the opener of a three-game weekend series with the Oakland Athletics beginning Friday night at Fenway Park and will play left field in front of the Green Monster where Ramirez stood for many years.

Despite the ugly departure of the eight-time Boston All-Star, Ramirez will be remembered as one of the greatest right-handed batters in club history. Over seven-plus seasons, the eccentric flycatcher hit 274 home runs, which currently places him fifth all-time amongst Boston sluggers past and present, at an amazing rate of 14.4 at-bats per home run. His other numbers with the club speak for themselves; amongst franchise career leaders, he ranks ninth all-time in batting average (.312), sixth in runs batted in (868), fifth in on-base percentage (.411), and fourth in slugging percentage (.588). The respect opposing pitchers had for Ramirez also had a hand in building the career of David Ortiz; after a sub-par start to his career in Minnesota, Ortiz joined the Red Sox in 2003 and, with the perennial All-Star hitting behind him, developed into one of the most feared left-handed power hitters in the game. Eventually, the two sluggers became one of the greatest one-two punches in recorded baseball history, hitting a combined total of 422 home runs in five-plus seasons together; the two also combined over 40 times for home runs in the same game, the most by two teammates over that span.

Notably, Ramirez was at his best when it counted most for the Sox: the post-season. In 165 at-bats over nine playoff series, he batted .321, averaging .375 or better four times, hit 11 home runs, drove home 36 runs, and even won World Series MVP honors in the 2004 Fall Classic batting .412 with a home run and four RBI. In part due to his efforts, the Red Sox won two world championships in four years after the team went 86 years between titles.

There’s No “I” In This Team

At least it’s not as bad as last year when, from day one following a disappointing end in 2003, all the talk focused on the numerous potential free agents on the Red Sox roster and who, if any, the organization would sign to new contracts at the end of the 2004 campaign. Whether it centered on the disgruntled Nomar Garciaparra, the egomaniacal Pedro Martinez, or the temperamental Derek Lowe, the media had its hands full trying to juggle these questions along with Boston’s magical run to a post-season championship for the first time since the end of World War I. Instead of focusing on the field, as most fans were, they were too busy fiddling with some magical decoder rings that are apparently issued with press passes these days, trying to decipher the language from both sides of the issue, the players and the organization, and second-guessing the motives of each party. Surely, they thought, one of these three would be back, or the team would be hard-pressed to remain competitive with the Yankees, who threatened to break the $200 million payroll threshold.

Fast-forward to the present and, with none of these aforementioned players still wearing a Red Sox uniform, Boston sits at 41-30, one win better than the club’s record at this time last season. The loss of these key players have been, for the most part, offset by smart management decisions made by Theo Epstein, who spent his third off-season putting his spin on this organization’s building legacy. With free agents like Edgar Renteria and Matt Clement plugging some of the gaps and seasoned Red Sox players like Jason Varitek still tasting champagne on their lips, it’s been another up-and-down first half but Boston remains hungry to repeat the success of 2004, even with the final outcome still lingering high in the air.

So, of course, with nothing else to interest them as mid-season approaches, it must be time to start talking about free agent possibilities again. This year, the Red Sox again have more than a few guaranteed contracts coming to a conclusion at season’s end, perhaps none bigger than that of center field Johnny Damon, who was a key member of last season’s championship squad and has continued to dominate at the plate over the first half of the season. He might even have the opportunity, if he is not voted in by the fans, to make the American League All-Star roster representing Boston for the second time in his four seasons here.

With his deal, signed by Dan Duquette just before the former general manager got the boot by the new ownership, drawing to a close, the 32-year-old Damon and his agent, the notorious Scott Boras, a “bulldog” as described by one of his other clients, Varitek, are looking for a five-to-six year guaranteed contract. Although no dollar figures have been give, it is likely that he will command considerably more per season on the free-agent market than the $8.25 million he is due to collect by the end of the season.

It is possible that Damon will remain in Boston if he is willing to take the “hometown” discount and accept a contract with shorter terms and only a moderate increase in salary with club options for later years. On the other hand, he also represents the Red Sox through the Major League Baseball Players Association, which endorses the free market system for its players and therefore does not encourage members to negotiate contracts in this manner. Having been elevated to celebrity status since showcasing his talents during last year’s playoff run, he knows that he should be able to command top dollar, even if legions of loyal Red Sox followers want to see him finish out the remainder of his career in Boston, and it will be difficult for him to pass up lucrative opportunities.

As head coach Bill Belichick and vice-president of player personnel Scott Pioli have proven with the New England Patriots over the last five seasons, it is not the value of the individual but rather the collective whole that determines the success of its team, evident by the three Super Bowl victories over than span. Great players like Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy whose demands would have been met less the organization feared a backlash by its fan base have, without much fanfare, been shown the door. Egos are checked outside the clubhouse and players have seen the benefit of putting the team before the individual, knowing that the collective contributions of each member are proof positive of continued success.

I have no other objective this season as a Red Sox fan except to continue to bask in the glow of Boston’s championship for as long as it lasts and see if Boston can win back-to-back titles, even with the knowledge that a few team members may be wearing another uniform next season. As is the nature of sports in the 21st century, the days of a player remaining with one organization for an entire career are fading, for better or worse. It’s a harsh reality for those who remember the days of placing a name to the face of an organization, like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, or Cal Ripken, players who never knew the feeling of changing loyalty to a club.

I’ve followed the Red Sox faithfully for more than twenty years; even if they never win another championship, they will always have my unwavering support. That’s not to say that I have no respect for those who wear the Boston uniform; I cheer as loudly as everyone else in the Red Sox family when one of our players makes a diving catch, helps turn two to end an inning, or drives home the game winning run in the ninth. However, as represented by the fact that home uniforms for my beloved team do not have the names of each player sewn above the number on the back, my loyalty will always be to the name on the front of the jersey.

2005 Season Preview

It’s almost with sad reserve that we open the 2005 season after Red Sox fans enjoyed the fruits of a successful 2004 campaign. Yes, Boston will often be referred to as the defending World Series champions this season but, for all intent and purpose, last season’s amazing accomplishment doesn’t count for anything in this year’s standings. Still, with renewed enthusiasm, this team is looking to realize something even more astounding: repeating as champions for the first time since the Red Sox won back-to-back titles in 1915 and 1916. The team returns looking pretty much the same as last season’s squad, even with a few additions and subtractions, so how will this season compare to last? Hopefully we answer some of those questions here.

How much with the loss of Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez hurt?

Both guys played key roles in the 2004 post-season; Lowe was the winning pitcher in all three series-clinching games and Martinez dazzled in his only World Series appearance. They also combined to win 30 games during the regular season and both stayed healthy for the entire season. Only time will tell if Matt Clement, Wade Miller, and David Wells will be able to combine their efforts to repeat, but we have to remember that the Sox also have one of the best lineups at the plate. While the win totals were impressive, both Lowe and Martinez had their earned-run averages jump considerably, combining for a 4.59 ERA. Lowe’s 5.42 ERA was almost three runs higher than his stellar 2002 campaign numbers, and Martinez’s 3.90 ERA was almost double his Red Sox career average. The point is that, barring an unlikely drop-off in production at the plate, the Sox will continue to win, even with these two wearing different uniforms this season.

Should we be concerned with Curt Schilling missing the opener?

If you believe Schilling, the only reason that he is heading to the DL to start the season is because he needs another week or so to work on his mechanics. His infamous ankle, which was surgically repaired last November nearly a week after the World Series ended, is not the problem; it has fully healed and trainers gave him the green light early enough in spring training that he would otherwise be in the Bronx next Sunday night to open the season for Boston. Luckily, the Sox have enough off days during the first two weeks of the season to go with a four-man rotation and Schilling should be available before the schedule becomes more demanding.

Has Edgar Renteria stabilized the shortstop position?

Renteria should cement himself in that position for many years to come, especially given that the Sox signed him to a four-year contract at $10 million per season. He is a year younger than fellow Colombian Orlando Cabrera, whom he replaces in the Red Sox lineup and a couple years younger than Nomar Garciaparra, who seemed to be a permanent fixture in Boston until last year. Like Cabrera, he is a Gold Glove winner and has flashed the leather many times this spring, already winning over the hearts of Red Sox fans. He also adds more punch in the lineup, with a lifetime batting average of .289 and 10 or more home runs each season over the last six years. Prospect Hanley Ramirez, who impressed coaches and the front office this spring, waits in the wings in Portland but don’t be surprised if he’s never seen in Boston, so long as Renteria performs as expected.

What more can we expect from David Ortiz this season?

There is just so much beauty in that man’s swing, it almost brings a tear to my eye. Looking at his statistics from last season through the regular season and into the playoffs, it’s just amazing what he has done since the Sox picked him off waivers from Minnesota. Last year, “Big Papi” amassed 41 home runs and 139 RBI, spending more than three-quarters of the time in the DH role, and his post-season heroics earned him MVP honors in the American League Championship Series. This spring, it’s evident that his powerful stroke has not diminished, even if he’s taken off a few pounds during the off-season. Terry Francona expects to use him as the everyday DH, so there’s no reason that he can’t continue to compile the numbers that make jaws drop everywhere.

Who will be the surprise of the season?

Jay Payton grabbed headlines when he was traded to Boston in December for Dave Roberts, but perhaps overlooked in that deal was the acquisition of infielder Ramon Vazquez. The four-year veteran from Puerto Rico, who has averaged 78 games in that time, plays all four infield positions and sports a .979 fielding percentage. Remember how valuable Pokey Reese was for Boston last season? Perhaps he might not get as many opportunities as Pokey, who took advantage of Nomar’s absence for the first half of the season, but he should prove valuable as a late-inning defensive replacement. Plus, when one of the veterans needs an off-day to recover from aches and pains, Vazquez should prove adequate with a .262 lifetime average.

Will Adam Stern remain with Boston for the entire season?

Being a Rule V pick-up, Stern would be shipped back to the Atlanta Braves if the Sox are unable to find a permanent place for him on the major league roster. Unfortunately, there are five Red Sox outfielders in front of him: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon, Payton, and Kevin Millar. Adam Hyzdu has already been sent packing this spring for that very reason. Barring an injury to one of the fore mentioned players, Boston will not jump through hoops to retain his services, so expect him back with Atlanta by mid-summer.

Isn’t Francona deserving of an extension now?

Francona managed in his first year at the Red Sox helm to win a World Series championship, something that no Boston manager had done since Ed Barrow, also in his first season as manager, in 1918. To some, that would seem like reason enough to sign him to a new contract right now; however, the Red Sox front office is not going to rush to get him guaranteed for anything past the current length of their agreement with him, at least through this season. Should his fortunes continue, then it’s possible that he would be granted an extension after that, as well as a statue right next to Ted Williams‘s, but both Francona and the Sox are content to let sleeping dogs lie for now.

Will they or won’t they?

It bears repeating that all roads to the championship will lead through New York and the Yankees spent the winter reloading the arsenal as usual. However, the Red Sox are just as strong themselves and should be able to rise to the challenge once more. Winning the division has become inconsequential thanks to the Wild Card draw; Boston should do well enough again to earn at least that prize and make the playoffs. As long as they play to their potential and Francona continues to make smart coaching decisions, the Red Sox should get another chance to meet a National League opponent in late October for all the marbles.

A Reward Well-Earned

It’s two days later, I’m still on cloud nine, and I’m counting the number of Red Sox World Series championship T-shirts I’ll have to buy for my wife’s family in upstate New York who ragged on me for years about my beloved Boston team always falling short of the Yankees. Not only did Red Sox version 2004.1 – they won, get it? – finally get past their archenemies, they then went out and all but destroyed the St. Louis Cardinals, never trailing in all 36 innings of what proved to be a four-game sweep for a title that, as has been repeated ad nauseum, eluded the Boston nine for 86 years.

For years, my biggest beef in regards to a championship having eluded the Red Sox for so many years was that, even from the mouths of self-described Yankee fans, I would hear how much the franchise deserved one. To me, that was the equivalent of a backhanded compliment; it was as if the Red Sox should just be handed baseball’s most exalted trophy without having to spend eight months sweating through the promise of spring training, the grind of the regular season, and the pressures of the post-season. If there were any team that deserves the trophy more than Boston, it would be the Chicago Cubs, whose drought now extends 96 years after they failed to qualify for the post-season this year, in part thanks to a horrible final week in the regular season.

Boston owns the title of 2004 World Series champions because they went out and earned it. They qualified for the playoffs with the third-best record in baseball, cruised past the Anaheim Angels in the division series, came back from a 0-3 series deficit to win the pennant over New York, and then capped the season by dominating St. Louis in four games to vindicate those whose past efforts were rewarded only with bitter defeat. Whereas the 2003 season ended in disappointment and heartache, the 2004 season ended in fulfillment and celebration as the team poured onto the field at Busch Stadium and rejoiced like the past champions of Major League Baseball.

That does not mean that there are some things that the Red Sox deserve. The players deserve recognition for gutsy performances and doing what it took to win, even if it meant yielding the spotlight to others for the good of the team. Terry Francona deserves kudos along with his staff for taking this self-described band of idiots and molding them into champions, even under the pressures of being a first-year manager on a team that was expected to win. Theo Epstein deserves praise for adding the elements that were necessary to better those chances and, in the case of Nomar Garciaparra, taking risks that had the potential to blow up in his face. John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino deserve praise for guiding this team from the front office and giving the club a fresh identity that created less hostility and a more open and friendly atmosphere. Finally, Red Sox fans from Boston to Bangladesh deserve recognition for 86 years of loyalty, even through those years of failure and frustration, having never seeing this moment come to pass.

This 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series championship – I just enjoy saying that! – came to be because, from the moment this team lost Game 7 of the American League Champion Series last season, the entire organization banded together and worked towards achieving that goal. This season came down to what happened between the lines on the field, but it also came to be because the right decisions were made at every level of the organization. As in life, the greatest satisfaction comes from those goals that you achieved through hard work and dedication to the task; it might take 86 years but, when you do make it, the success is even sweeter.

Give Credit Where It’s Due

The Anaheim Angels were still looking for the license plate of the bus that ran them over repeatedly for three straight days at Fenway Park, having been swept by the surging Boston Red Sox. The win gave Boston a 4-1/2 game cushion in the American League wild card race over the same Angels and a six-game lead over the Texas Rangers, who will pay a weekend visit to Boston starting tonight. The win also kept Boston just 3-1/2 games behind the New York Yankees, whose once seemingly insurmountable lead of 10-1/2 games had been whittled away in just over two weeks. Life is good for the legion of fanatical Red Sox fans that is suddenly savoring the possibilities of some exciting October baseball.

Looking back just over a month ago, this same legion was scratching its collective head as it tried to make sense of a team that seemed to be underachieving. Was this not practically the same team that just last year was five outs away from heading to a World Series for the first time in many years at the expense of the dreaded Yankees? Were they not that much better with the addition of Curt Schilling in an already strong rotation and Keith Foulke as the dominant closer?

Even more so was the question of the team’s leadership. Was manager Terry Francona, who has not much more experience than his predecessor, Grady Little, just not the dugout leader this team needed to motivate the club to win consistently? Had the young general manager, Theo Epstein, gone mad by trading one of the most popular players in Red Sox history, Nomar Garciaparra, in return for a one-time Gold Glove first baseman and an anonymous shortstop from a lame-duck Canadian team?

Much has been said about the roles of these two gentlemen on this team and not much of that has been positive. Francona, with just four years of head coaching experience at the major league level, did not carry with him the awesome respect of a Joe Torre or a Jim Leyland when he was brought in during the off-season to take over for the disgraced Little. Epstein, at age 30 years the youngest GM in MLB history, had been given leeway during his first year in 2003 and was applauded for his success, but some wondered if that aura was wearing thin.

While it would have been easy to make excuses in relation to the injuries and the clubhouse distractions, the two instead ignored these critics and did their parts; Francona continued to find a game plan that worked while Epstein continued to look for ways to improve the club. Now, the team has gelled at the right time and has left a path of destruction over the last month of baseball like a twister through a trailer park.

For that, you almost have to tip your cap to these two for staying poised and true to task. The two have also put the club on a road to future success; Francona has shown the flexibility to go with the flow of the game and Epstein, with Nomar in his rear view mirror, has set the club up to sign two of its key players that will become free agents at the end of the season, Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek.

True, at this point, even with 30 games that remain to be played, there are no guarantees. A team does not make the playoffs because the club is more deserving; to paraphrase former actor John Houseman, it must earn that shot. However, with a team an upstart general manager has assembled and a no-nonsense manager now leads, you must feel pretty good right about now. At least, you must feel better than the Angels.