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.
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?
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.
A quick recap of the past week and a half or so:
1. Ray Allen won a second NBA Title with that stupid boring dream team thing known as the Miami Heat.
2. Doc Rivers left the Celtics to work for Donald Sterling and the LA Clippers because he didn’t want to be around for the rebuild.
3. Aaron Hernandez has been released by the Patriots and charged with murder and several other gun-related charges.
4. The Bruins lose the Stanley Cup to the Chigaco Blackhawks despite playing really hard. There will be more turnover than we’re used to for the Black and Gold this summer.
5. The Celtics traded away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets for a bunch of players nobody cares about and a bunch of draft picks. It’s the end of an era and it will take some time before the Celtics are a championship contender again.
While all this was going on, the Red Sox have been quietly playing 1st place baseball through the first half of the season. What a difference a year makes. Last year, the Bobby Valentine experiment was going poorly, the players seemed indifferent, and there was nothing to get excited about. The best news Sox fans got all year was that the overpaid malcontents Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and new owner Magic Johnson (yes, that Magic Johnson) was willing to pay for those guys. In the entire 162 game season, the Red Sox managed a whopping 69 wins, but they seem to have turned it around now.
The Sox went with short term, high character free agents this winter, and they have gotten solid contributions from Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Ryan Dempster as a result. We’ve started to see young talent from the Red Sox’ farm system make its way to the big club in the form of Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Allen Webster, but the most pleasant surprise has been 23 year old Cuban-born shortstop Jose Iglesias. Thus far Iglesias, who was touted as a stellar defensive player for years but had been less than impressive at the plate, is batting .414 with an OPS of 1.000. There is still plenty of time for his numbers to fall back to earth, but he is so good in the field (playing both shortstop and third base when needed) that as long as his batting average stays above .200, he deserves to be an every day player.
The American League East division is one of the toughest in baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays are in last place, but are only one game below .500 and had a winning record before playing the Red Sox this week. The difference between the best team and the worst team is not that great. Injuries could be a factor in the division race as well. Clay Bucholz, the best starting pitcher on the Red Sox, is currently on the disabled list and may not pitch again until after the All Star break. Without Bucholz, the Sox’ pitching staff is not nearly as formidable, though they do have some other solid pitchers. The back of the bullpen has had more questions than answers as well. Despite that, the Red Sox have continued to win games. It should make for an interesting summer for baseball fans. Even if the Red Sox miss the playoffs, it’s great to see that they are heading in the right direction and their young talent is improving. It’s good to have Red Sox baseball to fall back on considering the way the other three teams in Boston have been making headlines lately.