On Wednesday of this past week, I was getting ready to write this week’s column and, as usual, there was so much going on in baseball that I was having difficulty settling on a subject.
Should I write about the latest in the sterilization of baseball, Joe Torre’s letter warning the teams that arguing balls and strikes was ‘detrimental’ to baseball and would be punished severely in the future? I decided against that one as I have complained about instant replay, banning collisions at home plate, the new slide rules at second base and all the other attempts to make baseball as soft as the rest of our society that people will think I’m just a crotchety old complainer.
We live in a society where everyone questions authority at every level but a Manager or Player complaining that a judgment call by an umpire, who happens to be human, will be detrimental to the game is a little much.
Anyhow, now that I have complained, briefly, about the thing that I decided not to complain about, let’s talk about something more pleasant.
As you know if you read this column regularly, I grew up a Yankee fan in Connecticut but have been writing about the Red Sox for the past six years, both in this column and in two books I authored. I grew up watching Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin and some of the greatest teams ever to play the game.
I saw the Yankees clinch the pennant in 1951 against the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium when Allie Reynolds not only no hit the Sox but got the great Ted Williams for the last out of the game. Later that same year, I watched Bobby Thompson’s Shot Heard Round The World from a hotel room in Florida.
I watched from right field as Roger Maris hit two of his 61 homers against the Sox in Fenway on May 30, 1961. I could go on and on about the exciting baseball I have been fortunate enough to have seen, but believe me Red Sox fans, I have never seen anything as exciting as this year’s edition of the Boston Red Sox.
Think about it!! You take a 40 year old man, with bad feet, a bad Achilles, who hurts so bad that he decides he will retire at the end of the year and who, at this time last year, was hitting .233. As of Wednesday, he is hitting .327, the second highest average in the American League, leads the league in doubles with 34, slugging percentage at .670, OPS, that ridiculous combination of on base percentage and slugging percentage, with 1.091, total bases with 181 and extra base hits with 58 and has 23 home runs.
You surround him with a team of unproven youngsters whose only claim to fame was the fact that they had had a forty game period last year under an interim Manager when they looked like they could be a ball club. You then bring back the Manager that has had them in last place for the last two years and sit the interim Manager who they played so well for on the bench in case you should need him.
Last week, with Bogaerts at .318, Bradley at .293, Betts at .299 and the rest of the youngsters doing their part, the Sox had the best team batting average in baseball at .288, 17 points higher than their closest opponent, the most runs at 505, hits at 928, 50 more than anyone else, doubles at 217, 24 more than the second best, and total bases at 1531, 54 higher than anyone else.
You spend $217. million dollars to obtain one of the best pitchers in baseball to be the Ace of your staff and the Ace of your staff turns out to be an aging knuckleballer who almost quit baseball two years ago but who leads the league in ERA at the All Star break and the high priced Ace is 9-6 with a 4.34 ERA at the break. The biggest disappointment of last year’s pitching staff, who won just nine and lost 15 with a 4.92 ERA last year, is 12-2 with a 3.47 ERA and just shut out the San Francisco Giants, the team with the best record in baseball, for 6 1/3 innings.
Did I forget, while all this was going on, Hanley Ramirez, the worst left fielder in baseball last year has turned out to be more than effective at first base and is hitting .280 and Dustin Pedroia is healthy and hitting .298 while still playing like the best fielding second baseman in baseball?
Oh, yes, and then there’s Sandy Leon, a career .187 hitter, relegated to the minors with Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart and Ryan Hanigan battling for the catching job, who got called up when they needed help and hit .455 with 25 hits in 55 at bats for the highest batting average in baseball history at the All Star Break.
David Dombrowski, the Sox new President of Baseball Operations, who seems to be working around the clock, has not just sat back and watched all this happen. They needed a right handed bat in the infield and he came up with Aaron Hill, from Milwaukee, an 11 year veteran infielder with a career average of .269. The bull pen needed some help and there came right handed, nine year veteran, right handed side winder Brad Ziegler from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Drew Pomeranz was next in line to join the Sox. Dombrowski acquired the 27 year old, 6’6”, 240 pound, left handed starter from San Diego where he was 8-7 with a 2.47 ERA and made the American League All Star Team this year.
As of today, the Sox trailed the first place Baltimore Orioles by 1 ½ games in the Eastern Division race. They have a long way to go in the season and one of the hardest schedules left of any team in baseball. After this home stand, they have 63 games left to play, 41 on the road and just 22 at home and the schedule includes two trips to the west coast.
Will they be able to stay with the Orioles the rest of the way and win the division ? If not, can they hang on to win a Wild Card spot? Only time will tell but, whatever they do, this has been one of the most exciting years in Sox history and don’t bet against Big Papi getting another World Series MVP trophy to add to his collection.