Friday, October 21, 2011

Idle baseball chatter ...

Idle chatter while wondering when baseball became a winter sport ...

One of the worst aspects of the World Series in this era is watching baseball players run around dressed like they're about to take part in the Iditarod.

I can't watch this. Seeing Game 1 of this year's series in St. Louis gave me the same feeling I get when I see the movie Fargo on TV. It could be 90 degrees, with matching humidity, and I go running for a quilt when I see Frances McDormand and all those crazy accents coming at me.

I remember the first two games of the 2004 series at Fenway, when nighttime temperatures hit the low 40s, with drizzle to match. Game 2, the second of the two Curt Schilling Bloody Sock Stigmata affairs, was so bad at the Red Sox, who won it, booted the ball all over the field.

Afterward, someone asked Terry Francona if he should be worried about his team's wretched defense ... an odd question since the Sox won the game pretty handily.

Francona replied that he wasn't ... and that it was tough to really judge anyway since the games are being played in winter.


If Major League Baseball ever sits down long enough to wonder why it has to end its season in midweek, and otherwise tiptoe around the National Football League, it can start by acknowledging that playing night games north of the Mason Dixon Line, in late October, is somewhat like trying to play pond hockey in Miami. The game is absurdly out of its element.

Baseball has enough going against it already. It has no sustained action, it has nuances that are totally lost on an entire generation of people who have grown up with continuous action, whether it's in their sports or their video games, and it's best aspects are both pastoral and cerebral.

It is a sport made for lazy summer days (and nights), and its best attraction might be the warm weather that goes with it. You can put up with the odd chilly April day because you know that better weather's coming.

But frigid nights in late October? Not only is it depressing to watch players with ear flaps coming out of their baseball caps, it's distressing because there's no harbinger of warmer weather. Winter just pounces on us like a sumo wrestler once the final out is made.

Why would you want to reinforce that by putting your showcase event in such horrible elements?

And Major League baseball wants to add another game to this madness? Good luck with that.


I'm watching Josh Hamilton in Game 2, and he's hurting so badly he can barely swing the bat. But he's in there.

Cut to this year's Red Sox team, where J.D. Drew hurt his knuckle and missed a month.

And people wonder why this team hit the skids so badly in September.


David Ortiz now says he wants to come back to the Red Sox. Apparently someone must have pointed out to him that nobody else is going to give him anything close what the Red Sox will pay him to stay.

But let's not bash Ortiz entirely. He's the second Red Sox player in a row to win the Roberto Clemente Award. And while that might not get you far in the game of baseball, it goes a long way in the game of life. Whatever else you can say about Ortiz, you can't question his commitment to give back some of what he's been given.

And for that, he deserves credit and a tip of the hat.


I've never been a big Tony LaRussa fan. When he was with the Athletics, Peter Gammons often acted as a one-man press agent for the man that my sister affectionately calls "Pruneface."

I've been in on a couple of LaRussa post-games, and he's not the friendliest guy around. But that's not why I'm not a fan. He, more than anyone else, turned baseball into a game that approaches four hours to play. He's the guy, more than anyone else, who began this parade of what I call situational pitching that results in three pitching changes in an inning, with the requisite warmups, ad nauseum.

It's stuff like this that makes baseball such a chore to watch, especially if you're stuck in a ballpark in freezing cold Octobers.

But ...

Here he is, in another World Series he has no business being in. The Cardinals were deader than Elvis in August, and their rise to the MLB playoffs mirrored that of Tampa Bay's in the American League. The difference between TLR and Joe Maddon: The Cardinals kept going. The Rays fell hard, for the second straight year, to the Texas Rangers.

I used to laugh every time Gammons sang his praises in a column, because, to me, LaRussa's teams underachieved twice when he was with the A's. They lost in 1988 to a Dodgers team that had about one-fifth the talent his A's had; and they fell again, two years later, to the Cincinnati Reds and Lou Piniella (how hard was that for me? I can't stand the Reds, even though I have always liked Sweet Lou).

In his next foray into the Fall Classic, LaRussa and the Cardinals were cannon fodder for the dramatic rise of the Boston Red Sox, who broke the "Curse of the Bambino" at their expense.

But he redeemed himself in 2006, winning a World Series against another of today's great managers (Jim Leyland), and -- I think, anyway -- is poised to win another one this year (I hope I don't jinx anyone).

So, maybe he's not so bad after all.


Am I the only one around here who wishes Theo Epstein would just go already? Look, the Red Sox won two World Series on his watch, but if you examine it a little bit closer, you'll find that he was nowhere near the principal architect of that first team.

To me, the player who did more to change the culture of that clubhouse in the early 2000s was Johnny Damon, and Dan Duquette brought him in. The Duke also brought us Manny, Padro, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield and Trot Nixon.

I'd give Theo more props for the 2007 team except that the biggest reason they won, Josh Beckett, was also a product of someone else's watch. The Red Sox made that trade while Epstein -- gorilla suit and all -- was home sulking after having quit in a huff following the 2005 season.

In truth, Theo is no better or no worse than most GMs. His free agent track record is definitely a case of hit or miss ... and the misses have been by a mile.

He's fortunate that he has one of baseball's biggest budgets, and he can always go out and try again without losing too much in the process. But the last two big-money signings (John Lackey and Carl Crawford) have proven disastrous. No amount of money can make up for those.

When the Red Sox and Francona parted ways, the general party line was that managerial gigs don't last forever, and that every now and then you need new blood.

Gee. That's exactly how I feel about Epstein.


I'm picking St. Louis in seven.

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