For sports teams in New York, the competition is always more than just within the division. The Yankees compete with the Mets, the Giants with the Jets, the Knicks with the Nets, and the Rangers with the Islanders and Devils, for attention and fan interest within the city, for ticket sales, for TV ratings, and for headlines in The Times, The Post, and the Daily News. For this reason, the Yankees and Mets are not afforded the luxury of being able to rebuild slowly through their farm system like the Red Sox or Phillies might. At least for the Yankees, they have produced results, winning the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009, and winning the American League Pennant in 2001 and 2003 as well. Since the Mets’ improbable (and devastating for Red Sox fans) World Series victory in 1986, they have only won the National League Pennant once… when they lost to the Yankees in the 2000 World Series.
Both teams have used the method of signing expensive free agents to bolster their rosters, but while the Yankees brought in guys like Jason Giambi, C.C. Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira, the Mets have overpaid for the likes of Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and Johan Santana. The Yankees are in danger of missing the playoffs for only the second time since 1995, while the Mets are have not made the playoffs since 2006, when they choked the National League Championship Series away against the eventual World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets’ ownership group ran into financial trouble after losing money to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and they lost good players like 2011 National League Batting Champion Jose Reyes to free agency. It looked like things would be turning around for the Mets, not for this season, but for the future, with the emergence of starting pitcher Matt Harvey.
Harvey was awesome this season. The 24 year old righty started the All-Star Game for the National League, which the Mets hosted. He’s been a bright spot for a mediocre Mets team, and with the circus going on in the Bronx all season, it gave people hope that the Mets might be better than the Yankees going forward while the Yanks continue to be weighed down by expensive contracts for aging and injury prone players. Then Harvey hurt his elbow this past week.
Harvey has an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his throwing elbow. It has yet to be determined whether or not he will undergo Tommy John Surgery to reconstruct his elbow, which would put him out for the entire 2014 season, but it’s bad news no matter what. The Tommy John Surgery might make him a stronger thrower, but there’s always risk in a procedure like that. This is just business as usual for the Bad Luck Mets. Just when they have a legitimate young start to build around, he suffers a devastating injury.
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.
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.
In the days and weeks leading up to the 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the narrative presented by sports media in Boston and around the country was that of a once great event, that has plummeted in TV ratings and is no longer something sports fans get excited about. They said making the outcome of the game determine home field advantage in the World Series. They said baseball had fallen out of the national discussion and would never catch the NFL or NBA again. They said kids these days don’t have the attention span for a sports without a time limit. In the eight inning on Tuesday night, the great Mariano Rivera reminded us why we used to love the Midsummer Classic.
Mo Rivera is a living legend. He is the greatest closer in the game has ever seen. He is a five team World Series champion who has played his entire major league career for the New York Yankees. He is the last player to wear the number 42, after MLB stopped issuing it in 1997 to honor Jackie Robinson. He is easily the best baseball player his homeland of Panama has ever produced. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, he was always a player I was afraid to see come into the game because I knew what he was capable of–a very different kind of fear than what I get whenever the Red Sox’ closer of the day takes the mound. Mo is a model of consistency, and a true professional in every sense of the word. He, along with Derek Jeter, was always yearned to see in a Red Sox uniform, and as America rolled on like an army of steamrollers, with Rivera marking the time (enough with the baseball cliches already!) he became impossible for even the most passionate Sox fan to hate. It seemed like he would pitch forever, which is why it was such a shock when he announced this spring that this season would be his last.
Credit needs to be given to American League (and Detroit Tigers) manager Jim Leyland for deciding ahead of time that Mo would pitch the eighth inning no matter what. With the National League being the home team, there was a chance that the game could end before the bottom of the ninth, and Rivera might not have gotten this last hurrah. In the bottom of the eighth, Mo’s entrance song “Enter Sandman” began playing and Rivera was the lone player to take the field. Players from both leagues stayed in the dugouts to give him a standing ovation. Yankees fans and Mets fans alike were on their feet to salute one of the all time greats and genuine class acts the National Pastime has ever seen. Though an international superstar and an icon in North America’s largest city, Rivera never let his fame get to him. He tipped his hat to the crowd, appreciating them as much as they appreciated him. He recorded a perfect inning and ended his All-Star career with an unforgettable moment. That’s baseball. That’s what it’s all about.
The reason we still have an All-Star Game is for moments like this. With cable TV and the Internet, you could watch and follow any team from anywhere in the country if you wanted to, so it’s no longer the once chance to see the stars from the other league. It is, however, a chance for legends to be appreciated with the whole world watching. My favorite All-Star moments as a kid were when Ted Williams threw out the first pitch at Fenway in 1999, when Pedro Martinez struck out five of the six juiced up batters he faced that same year, and when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run in his All-Star swan song in 2001. Rivera’s final All-Star Game ranks right up there. The game also does a great job of showcasing the next generation of superstars. Rivera, Jeter, and David Ortiz will not be around forever, but there is a lot for baseball fans to be excited about with guys like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado taking their places.
Thanks for the memories, Mo. The game is losing a true great, and I’m sad to see you go. Then again, I never tried to hit your cutter, so I’m sure most of the hitters in the American League don’t feel the way I do.
Last night San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim “The Freak” Lincecum threw the first no hitter of his already impressive career against the lowly San Diego Padres. Lincecum is a two time National League Cy Young Award winner as well as a two time World Series Champion who has spent his entire big league career in San Fran. Although he has not been the same dominant force that he was earlier in his career, this no-no is a strong statement that he’s not done yet and can still fire bullets.
The easy comparison to Lincecum in baseball history is Pedro Martinez. Pedro and Timmy were both little skinny guys who could really throw heat. Both of them made baseball more exciting every time they took the mound. Pedro, was for a five or six year period, the most dominant pitcher in baseball. What was perhaps most impressive about him was that the little guy did his best work in the height of the Steroid Era where the home run balls were flying like a flock of pigeons getting chased by a dog or a small child. Pedro couldn’t pitch at that level forever as his electric delivery really did a number on his throwing shoulder. Since winning the Cy Young Award as the league’s best pitcher in 2008 and 2009, and winning the World Series in 2010, I figured it would only be a matter of time before The Freak’s body started to break down. In 2012, when the Giants won their second World Series since moving to San Francisco, Lincecum had struggled as a starter in the regular season and was limited to pitching out of the bullpen during the playoffs. While he helped bolster the Giants as a whole, and made their relief squad the best bullpen in all of baseball, it sent up a red flag to any team who might be interested in signing him as a free agent in 2013.
In the no-hitter, Lincecum threw a career high 148 pitches and struck out nine batters. His 5-9 record and 4.26 earned run average have been less than stellar this season, but he is also sixth in the National League in strikeouts, so his record could be attributed to the Giants’ poor performance as a whole during the first half of the season. This could be the game that revitalizes Lincecum’s career, as well as the Giants’ season.
The defending champs are currently seven games below .500, but have won three straight. There is still a lot of baseball to be played, and the combination of the winning streak, the no hitter and the upcoming All Star break, where Bruce Bochy will be managing the National League squad, this could be the spark that the Giants need to go on a run. Baseball is a marathon and not a sprint, and these Giants have certainly been there before. There are more holdovers from last year’s Wold Series team than any defending champions in since free agency began in Major League Baseball. It’s still way to early to count Frisco’s comeback kids out just yet.
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.
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.