New England Patriots Super Bowl Champs

All-Star Shame

In a little over a month from now, Houston will host this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park; it will be second big sporting event for Space City this year after hosting Super Bowl XXXVIII in February. As they have for so many years now, the league has encouraged fans to vote for the starting nine for both the American and National League squads; fans will also get the opportunity to vote for the last selection for each team for the third year in a row. Oh, and just so we’re all clear on this, as former Chicago mayor Richard Daley once proclaimed, vote early and vote often.

Earlier this week, they announced some of the leading vote getters for the American League and, surprise; the leading candidate to play shortstop has been on the disabled list for Boston since before the season began. In second place is another player who has struggled at the plate this season for New York. There are probably many more deserving players that should be named as a starter in their place, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?

The obvious truth is that the All-Star game is nothing more than an overblown, hyped-up spectacle that gives owners a chance to rake in some extra cash for the coffers. The game, for all intent and purposes, has become more and more meaningless as time passes. Players no longer even want to participate, and at least a few bow out for “personal reasons” so they can instead spend a few days off soaking up the sun on a beach somewhere or visiting family and friends. Even offering home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league is a joke.

It would not be surprising to me if television ratings were better for the Home Run Derby the night before than for the game itself. I had the opportunity to sit in the bleachers and watched Mark McGwire hit the light pole over Fenway’s Green Monster a few times in the 1999 home run exhibition. I’ve noticed on many occasions that ESPN likes to rebroadcast that event to fill some space on its Classic channel, but I have never once seen a repeat of that All-Star contest. People are obviously interested more in watching super-human forms smack a few dingers than see Randy Johnson pitch to Larry Walker.

All-Star games have suffered in every major league sport in America; that is no mystery. The NHL All-Star game throws checking and defense out the window less anyone gets hurt, the NBA All-Star game is anything but fantastic, and the NFL Pro Bowl gets lower ratings than local access. That’s because the contests are clearly void of any form that is representative of the game itself. Plus, the passion of the participants is noticeably missing; there is no care for whether or not your squad wins the match, but whether a bonus clause in your contract guarantees a little extra pay in your next check.

Perhaps the time has come to rethink the significance of these games and ask whether they are even worth the effort. Years ago, it might have meant more to read about Bob Feller facing Stan Musial or Ted Williams playing in the same outfield as Joe DiMaggio. Today, a wealth of media services gives people the chance to follow a player from any team on any given day swing for the fences or pitch a perfect game, so the mystique is just not there. Sorry, Major League Baseball, but I’m going to save my opportunity to vote for this November; the outcome of those contests means more to me and many other people than that of next month’s competition.

Mourning The Yankees?

Passionate Red Sox fans are still trying to wash the bitter taste of defeat from their mouth after watching the Red Sox hand a sure victory over the New York Yankees last October. Once again, we had to endure the taunts from the Yankee faithful and talk of an unspoken curse made by a dead ballplayer. Then, we watched these two teams play hardball in the baseball market; the Sox lured Curt Schilling away from balmy Arizona and the Yankees while New York snatched Alex Rodriguez, a player that was thisclose to being in a Red Sox uniform. In March, spring training tickets between the Sox and Yanks were fetching $500 each for a game that no impact on the upcoming season except to evaluate non-roster invitees vying for a spot on the parent club. As the season began, the rivalry was about as heated as it has ever been and we wondered what stories would be written this year.

So Sunday afternoon, as I watched Gary Sheffield weakly swing at strike three from Scott Williamson to end a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, I had to stop myself from clapping and cheering too loudly in my living room, less I wake up my sleeping son on the other end of the house. Boston has just managed to take six out of a possible seven games in ten days from New York and, while fans of Boston were trying their best to stay grounded and remind themselves that championships are won in October, Yankee fans were jeering their beloved nine. Peering into the enemy dugout, the pinstriped hosts looked as if they had just been to a funeral. Meanwhile, the visitors casually filed onto the field to congratulate each other and fans wondered if they were not feeling as elated as the rest of New England.

Something just did not feel right, though. Granted, as it has already been established, it’s only April and the Sox have plenty of games left to play before the season ends. However, that was not what bothered me. Had the Yankees, with eight All-Stars in the starting lineup for Sunday, been unable to beat a Red Sox team that was missing Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon? Were they not able to get into the mind of Pedro Martinez, who had single-handedly (with some help from Grady Little) given Game Seven of last year’s American League Championship series back to the Yankees? What happens when our team is finally together as it was put together on paper in the off-season; what will happen then when these two collide later this season?

No one should feel sorry for the New York Yankees with the 26 world championships and the $183 million payroll. No sympathy cards must be mailed to George Steinbrenner. No flowers need to be delivered to Joe Torre or Brian Cashman’s office. No Get Well cards must be sent to Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez. If the Yankees have proven one thing over the years, it is their resilient nature and the ability to bounce back from troubled times. No one truly believes that the Yankees are done; it’s only April, remember?

Yet, what if this is the season that the Yankees finally come apart at the seams? What if they are doomed to a .500 season, or worse? What if the team doesn’t improve much from its abysmal .217 batting average, 53 points less than opponents are batting against them? Have teams from the AL East finally figured out how to pitch around these guys? Have they lost the ability to produce runs when needed, one at a time? Will the jeers from the minions at Yankee Stadium continue into May, then June, and perhaps all the way into September?

As a Red Sox fan, my first priority is to see that the Red Sox win the World Series. My only contribution to this effort is my unyielding support through thick and thin and perhaps the purchase of some tickets every season. However, what I would love nothing more is to see that, on the way, they stomp on New York to earn that title. I don’t mean win 15-of-19 games during the regular season and finish 20 games in front of them; I want another classic ALCS showdown.

I want to see a series between them that ends with the Red Sox streaming onto the field, jumping on each other’s backs, spraying champagne on reporters, and blowing smoke from nice juicy cigars. I want to see the ghost of Ted Williams in a corner of the clubhouse standing there with a knowing smirk. I want to see Johnny Pesky cry tears of joy. I want to see a dejected Yankee squad slowly file back to the clubhouse, hanging their heads, and wiping a few tears from their eyes.

Truthfully, at this point, I and the rest of the Boston faithful just want to see the Red Sox win their first championship in 86 years, and it doesn’t matter to me what teams they must push aside to get there. What would give me the most satisfaction, however, is to know that we went through New York to do it. Having been in their shadows for so long – 86 years, to be exact – nothing would be sweeter than to finish what was started in 2003, when the Red Sox came so very close to making this wish come true.

Ted Williams: 1918-2002

Ted Williams
Ted Williams

(Note: This article was published by the author on another Red Sox web site prior to the establishment of this site.)

One cannot talk about the history of the Red Sox without included one of the most prominent figures in its history, Theodore Samuel Williams. Known as the Splendid Splinter, the Thumper, the Kid, and the self-proclaimed Greatest Hitter That Ever Lived, he was just a boy from San Diego who loved to swing a bat. With his mighty swing, he stormed through the record books and left behind marks that may never be reach again.

Besides being the last man to hit .406, he also had a lifetime on-base percentage of .482, best in the history of the game. He also had a slugging percentage of .634 (2nd), a career batting average of .344 (7th), 2654 hits, 2021 walks, 1798 runs, 1839 RBI, and 512 home runs, numbers that would be even more impressive, if not for the fact that he gave up nearly five years of his career to military service. He also won not one but two batting Triple Crowns, a feat that was last accomplished by another Red Sox legend, Carl Yastremski, in 1967.

As I never got to see him play (I was not born until nearly 12 years from the day he retired), I have only film reels, pictures, and reference material to teach me all there is to know about his baseball career. But there was more to the man as demonstrated by his commitment to his country in time of war when he could have opted to let his baseball career exempt him from service. It even happend during the prime of his career; his stint in World War II came just after completing his 1942 Triple Crown campaign. He also played a significant part in raising money for the Jimmy Fund, an organization he championed on behalf of former owner Tom Yawkey, to help support cancer research. He also made baseball realize that the Hall of Fame should recognize the records of those who played in the Negro Leagues of the past during his acceptance speech to the baseball shrine in 1966.

My one true memory of him will always be when he came onto the field to throw out the first pitch prior to the 1999 All-Star game. As he was carted onto the field to make what would be one of his last public appearances, he tipped his cap to the crowd, something he did not do when he homered in his final career at-bat in 1961. When he came to the center of the diamond, he was immediately surrounded by players past and present, those there to participate in the contest, and those who had been introduced on the All-Century team as Ted had. It was a magical scene that left not a dry eye in the house, not if you understood the significance of some great ballplayers of the present paying respect to arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived.

It will be hard to imagine that someone else will come along and make Williams look mortal in comparison. Williams stood tall in his time and he stands tall by today’s standards. Though he is gone now, it is not likely that he will be forgotten; even years from now, he will stick around in the hearts and minds of those who love the game of baseball.