Tagged: Boston

No Ace? No Problem (So Far)

Ever since Clay “J.D.” Bucholz last pitched in early June, the Boston Red Sox have been without a truly dominant starting pitcher. Bucholz, who has not pitched since his daughter slept on his shoulder awkwardly, has been out with shoulder soreness for two months, was off to the best start of his career. The Red Sox have been winning regardless. Clay is content to sit out through this injury while the rest of the Sox’ very average rotation plays through pain and gives their team a chance to win every night. It’s reminiscent of the Detroit Pistons team that won the NBA Finals without any legitimate superstars or the “No Name Defense” of the 70s Miami Dolphins.

As Red Sox fans, we used to hate John Lackey, as one of the faces of Fried-Chicken-and-Beer-gate, and for sounding like an excuse making Muppet, but he’s been a model of toughness this season. Jon Lester hasn’t been the dominant force he was when he was younger, but at least he takes the ball every fifth day. Ryan Dempster was a great pitcher in 2008, and newly acquired pitcher Jake Peavy won the National League Cy Young in 2007, but neither one is that pitcher anymore.

As the regular season goes on the Red Sox are still hanging on to first place in the American League East with the Tampa Bay Rays constantly knocking on the door. When the playoffs arrive, the Red Sox do not have a dominant starter that they could throw out there against someone like David Price or Max Scherzer and expect to win the matchup, but they have a lot of guys who can keep them in it if the offense holds up their end of the deal. Acquiring Peavy from the Chicago White Sox gave them depth in the starting rotation in case Bucholz does not return, but they still do not have someone with as electrifying stuff as Bucholz. The best hope is that the guys they have elevate to another level in the playoffs, although only Lester and Lackey have any kind of postseason success on their resumes.

Last week, Jake Peavy changed from White Sox to Red.

I was sad to see Jose Iglesias go to the Detroit Tigers in the three team trade that brought Peavy to Boston, but the Red Sox are confident in the depth at shortstop and third base in their farm system. Iggy will certainly help the Detroit, who lost their starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a season ending suspension for his connection o the Biogenesis scandal. Iglesias improves the Tigers’s infield defense and could take some of the load off reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera who is not the greatest defensive third baseman in baseball by anyone’s scale.

There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but the Red Sox are still in great position at the beginning of August. They started the month with two walk-off wins against the Seattle Mariners, and it seems like there is a different hero every night. Besides David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and the ailing Clay Bucholz, this is not a star-studded Red Sox roster, but they are making baseball fun again for the Fenway Faithful. These guys look like they actually enjoy playing baseball and it’s rubbing off on the fans. The malcontents Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford are long gone, and it’s just a hard working roster with low expectations that make us remember why baseball was fun to begin with. Ace or not, the Red Sox are still very much in it. They’ll be playing meaningful games in September and October if Clay ever wants to join them again.

Advertisements

State Newspaper in Red Sox Nation

With Peter Gammons reporting that John Henry will buy The Boston Globe, the landscape of Boston media is changing drastically. The most prestigious newspaper in New England will now be owned by the same guy who owns one of the most written about institutions in the region: the Boston Red Sox. How can this possibly be good news?

The newspaper industry is not what it used to be. When the New York Times Company purchased The Globe twenty years ago, it cost them over a billion dollars. Today, the asking price is 100 million… which is less than Henry will be paying second baseman Dustin Pedroia over the next eight years. The Red Sox (along with the Bruins) already own NESN, and it’s not easy finding negative viewpoints about the team on the sports talk radio station WEEI, so the purchase of The Globe likely means one less news outlet where fans can find objective reporting about the hometown ball club. There is still the Boston Herald and 98.5 The Sports Hub, but The Globe and Boston.com are too important to the city to fall into this trap.

I find it concerning that Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs were also linked to buying the paper. John Henry may be the one to do it, but the thought crossed the other owners’ minds as well.

Even if Henry doesn’t have an active role in the paper’s agenda, it will be hard to shake the perception that Henry’s Globe is a public relations publication for the Red Sox. The New York Times Company used to own a minority stake in the Red Sox, and I couldn’t help but call that business partnership into question (in an article I wrote for The Point at Fitchburg State University) with the way The Globe smeared Terry Francona on his way out the door. This new dynamic where any reporter or columnist thinking about criticizing the team would be criticizing their own boss in print is even worse for the integrity of the paper.

How long will someone like Dan Shaughnessy last in this new regime? Shaughnessy has made a career out of taking what the Boston teams tell us with a grain of salt. As fans, we may not always agree with what they say or write, but Boston is a better sports town because media members like Shaughnessy, Ron Borges, and Mike Felger are willing to be skeptical and ask the tough questions. There are a lot of talented sports writers at The Globe right now, but their journalistic integrity could be compromised by this.

Will the Red Sox get a higher priority in April than the Bruins and Celtics in the playoffs that same month? Will the Patriots make the back page before the World Series ends? There are too many questions like this that need to be asked, and the answers do not seem promising.

Ultimately, time will tell what will happen with John Henry, and The Boston Globe, but things do not look good right now. As bad as this may be for sports fans in Boston, at least he’s not buying up the media to sway an election or something, so it could be worse, right?

Rajon Rondo and the NBA’s Point Guard Problem

With the Boston Celtics making big changes to their roster this summer, the biggest issue going forward for the team is what to do with point guard Rajon Rondo. Currently recovering from season-ending knee surgery, Rondo no longer has the talent around him to make the Celtics a championship contender, but he himself might be too good of a player to allow the team to tank and get a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Next year’s draft is supposed to be the best draft since the LeBron James/Dwayne Wade/Chris Bosh/Carmelo Anthony draft in 2003, and there are a lot of terrible teams in the NBA, so tanking is not going to be easy.

Rondo, while very intelligent and very talented, has some major flaws in his game that would prevent him, in my opinion, from being the elite franchise player many Celtics fans think or hope he is. He is a bad shooter, which makes him a liability at the end of games since he is afraid to go to the three point line. While Rondo is a great performer in big games, his complacency in games that are not nationally televised is staggering. People seem to forget that before Rondo got hurt last season, the Celtics had a losing record and were out of the playoff picture. Rondo has gotten into conflicts with his coaches at every level, whether at the University of Kentucky or the Boston Celtics or Team USA. While he is talented, the idea of having him be your best player should scare Celtics fans.

One of the most frustrating things about Rondo’s game is that he’s found a way to make the assist into a selfish statistic. He is a phenomenal passer and his ability to distribute the ball adds a great dynamic to the Celtics’ offense. The problem is that sometimes it looks like he’s choosing the plays he makes based on what will most likely credit him with an assist and not necessarily the most efficient scoring play. Too many times I’ve seen him have an open look to drive to the hoop, only to make a flashy pass behind his back at the last second instead and risking a turnover instead of taking the easy two points that were in front of him. Rondo is also one of the most overrated defensive players in the NBA today a as he cheats and plays for the steal instead of focusing on the man he should be covering. These are fixable flaws, but NBA stars tend to get stubborn the longer they play and the more people tell them how great they are.

John Stockton: one of the best ringless players in NBA history.

The issues with Rondo being a franchise player go beyond Rondo himself. In recent years, it seems that basketball fans and writers have overrated and overvalued the point guard position. The last team whose best player was their point guard to win the NBA Finals was Isiah Thomas’ Detroit Pistons in 1990. Take a look at the best PGs of the last 30 years excluding Thomas and Magic Johnson. John Stockton is the NBA’s all time assist leader and widely considered the best pure point guard (since Magic could play any position if needed) in the history of the game. Stockton has as many championship rings as I do. The same can be said for Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook. While one of the best point guards of all time, Jason Kidd was 38 years old and the fourth or fifth best player on his team when he won his championship ring in 2011. Rondo’s one ring came as a young player and the fifth or sixth best player on the Celtics behind Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kendrick Perkins, and (arguably) James Posey. Tony Parker is a great player and has three rings, but Tim Duncan has been the man in San Antonio as long as he has been there. For all the hype these players have gotten, it hasn’t amounted to championship glory when they were their team’s best player.

It will be interesting to see how the team handles their star point guard this season. They could sit him out for an extended period of time to make sure his knee is fully healed. New coach Brad Stevens will need to assert himself with a player notorious for undermining even established coaches like Doc Rivers and Mike Krzyzewski. If things are not going well, maybe the Celtics could move him at the trade deadline. It would be nice to have Rondo around to help the new lottery player the Celtics could potentially draft, but the prospect of Rajon Rondo being the leader and the best player in the next Celtics championship team seems far fetched.

Papi to Cooperstown?

With Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz setting a new record for career hits as a designated hitter, thoughts of Big Papi one day being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame have danced in the heads of Sox fans everywhere. Ortiz has been a fixture in the BoSox lineup for a decade and his frequent and timely hitting throughout his tenure in Boston, most notably in the 2004 playoffs when he helped the Red Sox win their first championship since 1918, has made him a fan favorite. In this decade of dominance that the Boston sports teams have enjoyed, David Ortiz has been arguably the most popular individual athlete in the city, with the possible exception of some guy named Tom Brady. Normally with a guy like this, I would be a lot more comfortable saying that he is a definite Hall of Famer, but baseball is a lot more complicated than it used to be.

The biggest thing preventing Ortiz from getting to Cooperstown is the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). They are the voting body that determines who gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as the MVP, Cy Young Award, and Rookie of the Year. The BBWAA has yet to vote a full time DH into the Hall, despite compelling cases for Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines. They, as a whole, seem to think that the DH position is not an important enough because it didn’t exist before 1973, and still doesn’t exist in the National League. To me, the designated hitter issue is the same as the Ray Guy argument with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ray Guy is the best punter in the history of the NFL, but people think the punter position isn’t important enough to the game of football to let the best player of the position into the Hall.

The other issue the BBWAA has with Ortiz and players of his generation is the whole steroid thing. This is the issue that really bothers me with the baseball writers. To be a Hall of Fame voter, you need to cover the major leagues as a beat reporter for at least ten years. These reporters were as oblivious as the rest of us in the late 90s, and since then, they’ve overreacted by keeping some of the best players the game has ever seen on the grounds of morality.

Admit it. The Steroid Era was a lot of fun.

Really? Steroids in baseball needs to be a moral issue? Come on. I first got into baseball with the 1998 season. The Red Sox made the playoffs on the back of Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn, Pedro Martinez, and Tom “Flash” Gordon. Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr. decided to take a day off that summer, ending a streak of 2,632 consecutive games played–502 more than Lou Gehrig. In the National League, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased and passed the single season home run record of 61 dingers held by Roger Maris since 1961. Sosa finished the season with 66 and McGwire hit 70. All of this was four years removed from the World Series getting cancelled when the players went on strike in 1994. Heading into 1995, interest in the National Pastime was at an all time low. Baseball players, owners, and writers alike needed a season like 1998 or the could lose an entire generation of young fans. Steroids saved baseball for a time. It made the game fun again after decades of labor unrest. While regulating steroids now is a good idea, punishing the players that used what was available to them to be better at their jobs isn’t the right way of going about it either. Sure, everyone was juiced up, but it was a fun ride and you’re lying to yourself if you think it ruined baseball.

There have been far worse stains on baseball than performance enhancing drugs. Baseball had rampant gambling problems throughout its history. The 1919 World Series was fixed by the soft-spoken New York kingpin from Boardwalk Empire. When Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, he did so without ever facing a black or Hispanic pitcher. When Cy Young won 511 games, he did so without ever facing a black or Hispanic hitter. Josh Gibson should have been in the discussion with Ruth, Young, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson as one of the best players in Major League Baseball’s early history, but he isn’t because he was never allowed to play in the National or American League because of the color of his skin. Gambling, racism, and segregation are much greater black eyes on baseball’s history than guys bulking up and hitting home runs for a few years.

Now the BBWAA is picking and choosing the guys they think did or did not use steroids. It should be based on who the best players were, regardless of the era they played in. Any Hall of Fame that admits Craig Biggio before they let Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz is a joke. Hopefully, they will see the error of their ways before it alienates baseball fans.

Iginla to Boston… For Real This Time

Jarome Iginla has signed a one year, six million dollar contract to play for the Boston Bruins. This is the second time since March that Bruins fans went to bed believing Iggy would be joining their team, but this time it was still true when they woke up.

Iginla has been one of my favorite players in the NHL for a long time. The guy plays the right way, and is as good at dropping the gloves as he is at finding the back of the net. I was thrilled when it was first reported he was being traded to the Bruins, and then livid the following morning when he called off the deal and went to Pittsburgh because he thought they had a better chance at winning the Stanley Cup.

While fans were initially demoralized after yet another player Peter Chiarelli wanted ended up being traded to a rival (former Bruin Michael Ryder was dealt to the Canadiens, and Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow also chose Pittsburgh over Boston before Iginla), but it was used as motivation for the team. Whether they ever publicly admit it or not, it had to get the guys in the Bruins’ dressing room angry that these guys didn’t want to play with them. When the B’s played Pittsburgh in their final regular season meeting, Nathan Horton fought Jarome Iginla and separated his shoulder. These details made it that much sweeter when the Bruins swept the Penguins out of the playoffs in their way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Talk about karma.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

That’s in the past now. Nathan Horton decided last week that he’d rather not play in a hockey obsessed market like Boston despite being a stellar playoff performer during his time here. Horty signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, perhaps so that he and Marian Gaborik could go to Ohio State football games together (or he just likes money, who knows?). In addition, Tyler Seguin was dealt to Dallas and Jaromir Jagr is really old, so the Bruins have some serious holes to fill at right wing if they want to remain competitive for championships. This is something the Bruins are more than willing to forgive because it’s a new season and all parties involved want to win.

Perhaps the saddest salary cap casualty this summer for the B’s was veteran defenseman and alternate captain Andrew Ference. Ference embodied the heart and soul of the Bruins and was proud to call Boston his adopted home. According to Joe Haggerty, Ference’s last act for the Bruins was help convince his former teammate and captain in Calgary to sign with Boston. Besides Ference, the only other Bruins players who have played with Iggy are Zdeno Chara in the All Star Game and Patrice Bergeron for Team Canada in the Olympics. While Ference is returning home to play in Edmonton, Bruins fans will never forget what a great guy he was and how he helped us win the Stanley Cup in 2011.

There are still plenty of moves the Bruins might make, but the roster is starting to look pretty good. Hockey season can’t come soon enough!

Seguin Out, Eriksson In

Just like that, the Tyler Seguin Era in Boston Bruins history is over. Seguin, along with Rich “High Glass” Peverley, was traded to the Dallas Stars for 27 year old Swedish forward Loui Eriksson and a handful of prospects including defenseman Joe Morrow.

Seguin was supposed to be the next great thing in Boston after being drafted 2nd overall in 2010, but he hadn’t been able to make the leap and play up to his potential. He’s only 21 and has a lot of hockey left in him, but his lack of discipline frustrated the Bruins coaching staff, front office, and fans during the playoff run this spring. Seguin was a non-factor for most of the playoffs and the team was frustrated with the amount of partying he was doing. After Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli publicly criticized Seguin at the NHL Draft last weekend, I’m not surprised that they shipped him out of town. If I were the one running the Bruins, I might have given him another year to prove himself, but Chiarelli liked the offer he got from Dallas and decided to make the move. That’s why he’s an NHL GM and I’m just a guy to types his thoughts about sports and pop culture to his ten readers on a semi-regular basis.

In Eriksson, the Bruins get a good two-way player. He handles the puck well and plays good defense. He should be able to help fellow Swede Carl Soderberg adjust to life in the NHL next season. It’s not a bad haul for a guy who didn’t produce in the playoffs and is getting a pay raise this upcoming season.

After a couple years of mostly standing pat and keeping the roster together, Chiarelli and the Bruins are wheeling and dealing this summer and I love it. They weren’t good enough to beat Chicago as they were currently constructed and they’re doing what they can to improve while staying under the salary cap. I also love that the Bruins are being linked to the biggest names available on the free agent market this summer. They weren’t able to land Vincent Lecavelier who signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, but there is talk of them trying to sign Danny Briere, Jarome “Pick ‘Em” Iginla, and Daniel Alfredsson. I would be happy to see any of those guys come to Boston to try and win a Cup or two, even if Iginla had his chance in March and chose Pittsburgh. The offseason isn’t even two weeks old and there’s all kinds of buzz around this team. It’s great to know the season will be starting on time, and when it does, the Bruins roster will be retooled and ready to go.

 

Brad Stevens Arrives in Boston from Outside the Box

The Celtics are likely going to be bad this upcoming season, but there’s plenty to be excited about. With Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Doc Rivers all not walking through that door, it’s a new era in Celtics basketball. Although things didn’t turn out so hot for Mr. Pitino when he told it like it is regarding the Original Big Three, there is hope for the latest college coach the Celtics have hired.

Brad Stevens has six years of head coaching experience at any level. During that time, he took the Butler men’s basketball program to the NCAA National Championship game twice, losing to schools with much greater recruiting power in Duke and UConn. People in college hoops circles thought he’d eventually leave for a prestigious program like Duke or Indiana, but the most prestigious NBA coaching job was made available to him before that. At 36, he’s younger than Kevin Garnett, and he has never dealt with egos as big as the ones in an NBA locker room (To be fair, neither have most NHL coaches. NBA players on average are some of the most spoiled athletes you’ll find anywhere.), but his track record of success has shown that no moment is too big for him so far. The Celtics have been at their best when innovating. They were the first NBA team to sign black players, pioneers of the fast break, and of team defense. There will be growing pains, but Danny Ainge may have hired the next great Celtics head coach this week.

In a lot of ways, Stevens reminds me of Chip Kelly. The former Oregon Ducks football coach was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles last winter without any experience playing or coaching in the NFL. The New Hampshire native developed an exciting and creative brand of football as the offensive coordinator at his alma mater UNH which caught the eye of the University of Oregon. After two years as Oregon’s OC, he was promoted to head coach and took the Ducks to a BCS game four times in four years. His fast paced no-huddle offense was adopted by Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, and not the Eagles are looking to turn his collegiate winning ways into NFL wins. It’s a risky hire for sure. Not a lot of college coaches land on their feet when jumping to the NFL, but after the success Jim Harbaugh experienced with the 49ers, it was a risk Philly was willing to take. As a fan of Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks, I am really excited to see what he does in the pros this year, and I’m also more excited about this Celtics season than the last couple for the same reason.

The Celtics will likely be tanking this season to get a high draft pick next year, but that doesn’t mean they cant develop the young players on their roster in the meantime. Who could be better than a college coach to make these kids better while there isn’t any pressure to win now? Doc Rivers struggled in making guys like Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo much better, but he was also focused on winning as much as he could while he still had his aging stars on the roster. The Celtics gave Stevens a six year contract, which means they are serious about having him rebuild the Celtics. This means veteran players like Rajon Rondo need to either fall in line and behave or expect to get traded.

It’s not going to be the best season in Celtics history, but it could be the start of the next great Celtics team.