All posts by baseballworldbjt

About baseballworldbjt

Carl Johnson writes a weekly column entitled Baseball World for the Biddeford Journal Tribune in Biddeford, ME. The column features current and historical articles about Major League Baseball. He has just released his latest book THE BEST TEAM EVER? which follows the Red Sox through their historic 2018 season. He is the author of the popular series THE BASEBALL BUFF'S BATHROOM BOOKS, VOLUMES 1-3, which each contain fifty articles about major events and players in baseball., both historical and contemporary are available on Amazon, Kindle and in local book stores throughout New England.

EVALUATING SOX START

Red Sox fans and the media that cover them are a difficult bunch to keep happy. The Sox came home to Boston Thursday from 50 days in Florida, including all of Spring Training and six regular season games against the Rays and the Marlins, two teams not exactly the cream of the crop in either the American or National League. They won five of the six games and were in first place, one game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and a game and a half ahead of the New York Yankees.

Alex Cora had started out with a better record, five wins and one loss, after his first six games as Manager of the Sox than the Red Sox had had in any of the three seasons they won the World Series in this century. In 2013, under John Farrell, their future World Champions were 4-2 after six games, in 2007, under Terry Francona, ( some Red Sox fans would genuflect at the mention of his name ), they won three and lost three and were in second place, one game behind the Blue Jays, and in 2004, the year they broke The Curse, Francona’s boys were three and three, tied for first with the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.

The 5-1 record after six games was the best start the Sox had had since 2006 which was the only other year in this century when they were also as good as 5-1. That year, with Francona at the helm in his third year, the Sox finished in third place with an 86-76 final record. What is it they say as a disclaimer in financial management advertising, past performance is not a guarantee of future success. Let’s hope that this team fares better in the long haul than that team.

Cora’s team started the season with three of their top six starting pitchers, Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez on the disabled list and, in those first six games, with young Hector Velasquez and Brian Johnson in the fourth and fifth slots in the rotation, the starters had given up just four runs in 35 innings for a 1.03 earned run average.

The offense had been weak to say the least. They were 14th in all of baseball in batting average, .240, 17th in runs scored, 21 (3.5 per game), 16th in slugging percentage, .373, and had just four home runs, 21st, and one of those homers was Nunez’ pop fly that was misplayed from a single to an inside the park homer.

Aside from the first game where Joe Kelly was, by his own admission, ‘pathetic’ and Carson Smith no better, the bull pen had been magnificent. Cora is intent on not having the kind of melt down at the end of the season that the Sox have seen the last two years and has instituted a policy of resting position players frequently to save them for the long haul. He has also started his pitchers, particularly Sale and his other starters, off slowly for the same reason.

In the first six games, Betts, Benintendi, Devers, Ramirez, Bradley and Martinez have all been given days off. I am sure that part of the reason for him taking this position is the fact that he has more than adequate numbers of quality players everywhere and resting them allows him to give more people playing time, a nice solution to a wonderful problem to have.

Whether this will pay off on the long run, only time will tell but he has a plan and is sticking to it. His team was 5-1 and had come within a whisker of being 6-0 when it came home.

Two old adages come to mind when you think about this first road trip of the year. The first is ‘ A 1-0 win counts the same as a 14-0 win.’ In the five they won there were three one run games and two two run games, one of them a 13 inning game, while only scoring 17 runs. The other adage is ‘ Pitching is the name of the game. ‘ They have plenty of pitching, with three more quality starters set to come off the disabled list soon.

Branson Carusille in Fansided, on line, asked Wednesday morning ‘ Should Cora be sitting players so early in the season, especially when the lineup hasn’t produced? ‘ The media criticized Cora for not using Craig Kimbrel in the first game when they blew a 4-0 lead and Cora responded ‘ For what we are trying to accomplish here we need him for the long run not just for one out on Opening Day.’

Whether you agree with his plan or not, you can’t refute the evidence that he used to develop his plan. The Sox won 93 games in each of the last two years, won the American League East and then were knocked out in the first round of the Playoffs.

The one thing Alex Cora has learned early on is that Red Sox fans, who went without a World Series win for 86 years and have been spoiled by three in the past fourteen years, are not going to be happy without a World Series win. The other thing that he is aware of is that this team knows they have the horses to at least go deep into the Playoffs and he and his players seem happy with his plan to get them there.

As Scott Lausen of ESPN said after the disappointing loss in Game 1 ‘There will be other difficult days, probably more than Cora wants, but that’s life as the Manager of the Red Sox.’

What Alex Cora has to keep in mind is that, if he motivates his players to produce at the level they are capable of producing, those fickle Red Sox fans and their media will not care if it’s pitching or hitting that wins the last game of the World Series or whether they won 2-1 or 16-0. In Boston, as in many big league cities, it’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose. Welcome back to Boston, Alex.

SOX READY FOR SEASON

We’re almost there. This Thursday, the Red Sox open their 2018 regular season against the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in Florida. They have four games there and then go south 250 miles to play two against the Marlins in Miami’s Marlins Park starting Monday.

Opening up in stadiums with roofs, in Florida, in March, against opponents who are both predicted to be among the weakest in baseball, is a mixed blessing for the Sox. The good news is, they won’t be opening outside in the cold north and they will be facing weak opposition, as Dave O’Brien would say, right out of the gate.

The bad news is that they will not be given the extra day off in the first two series that teams who open in the north are generally given in anticipation of weather delays. For example, the Orioles open at home in Baltimore, which can be as cold as Boston in March, and, after playing Opening Day against the Twins, they have the next day off. If weather should require canceling Opening Day, they have the next day to do it.

Having to play the first six days without a break doesn’t sound like a big deal until you start to look at the Red Sox starting rotation. With three of their anticipated top starters, Drew Pomeranz. Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright recovering from injuries and most likely unavailable to start the season, that extra day off in the first week would make a big difference in Alex Cora’s plans for scheduling his pitchers.

The plan, if nothing changes between now and Opening Day, is for Chris Sale to open against the Rays’ Chris Archer, who, despite his 10-12 record and 4.07 earned run average last year, is a much better pitcher than that record indicates. Sale seems to have suffered just a minor bruise when hit with a ball on Saturday. David Price, who has looked good in limited action in the Spring, will start Game number two in Tropicana Field. Price said this week that he is in better condition at this stage of the preseason than at any time in his career.

Rick Porcello who, coming off his Cy Young season in 2016, struggled to an 11-17 record last year with a 4.65 earned run average, has had the same kind of troubles he had all last year in Spring Training. He is scheduled to start the third game at Tampa Bay. In two of his first three starts in the Spring he gave up runs early, two in the first against Baltimore and one each in the first and second against the Twins reminiscent of last year. He gave up six runs on 13 hits in his first 11 innings of the Spring. As last year, he has gotten more effective as the outing went on, giving the Sox a lot of innings but resulting in a lot of losses as well.

After Porcello, everything depends on who is healthy and available to start Game 4. On Thursday of this week, Alex Cora told the media that both Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright were ‘in play’ as far as Game 4 at Tampa Bay. Rodriguez, coming off right knee surgery has been recovering quicker than expected and could be available. Wright, recovering from left knee surgery, could also be ready but neither has had any amount of actual game time and using them could be dangerous to their long term physical health.

Pomeranz, who was a major factor in the Sox regular season success last year with his 17-6 record, suffered a flexor strain in his throwing arm on March 2nd and had not pitched in a Major League Spring Training game as of Thursday of this week.

Realistically, Brian Johnson will probably start the last game of the series at the Trop. Johnson, despite giving up three runs to the Rays in one of his four starts, did not give up a run in his other three starts and has looked good and may find himself the sixth man in the rotation as the season progresses.

If there was a day off in that first series, the Sox would be able to come back with Sale in the first game in Miami and Price for Game 2. As it is, if none of the three injured starters are available, the starter for the Game 1 in Miami is up for grabs.

Don’t be surprised if Hector Velazquez doesn’t start either the last game in Tampa or the first game in Miami if Pomeranz, Rodriguez and Wright are still unavailable. He was 8-4, with a 2.21 ERA, at Pawtucket last year and spent some time with the Sox, going 3-1 with a 2.92 ERA. The 29 year old, right hander has not had a great Spring but may be the answer to their interim problems.

The other good news is that, assuming Pomeranz, Rodriguez and/or Wright are able to return in the first few weeks of the season, the Red Sox have, potentially, one of the strongest starting rotation in all of baseball.

As far as the rest of the team is concerned, it looks like Alex Cora’s two biggest problems are which of the talented non-starters to keep. With talent like Blake Swihart, Sam Travis and Deven Marrero vying for one or maybe two positions, it’s a good problem to have.

Once that is done, how does he divide the playing time to give all his talent enough of it? With J. D. Martinez, Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez all available for DH and Moreland and Ramirez for first base and Martinez expressing a desire to play the outfield when you already have the best defensive and, potentially, the best all around outfield in baseball out there, this may not be so easy to resolve.

Eduardo Nunez will fill the second base hole until Dustin Pedroia is available, but what do you do with him when Pedroia returns? By the same token, if you keep Swihart, who can catch or play the outfield, where you don’t need him, what do you do with Sandy Leon as Christian Vazquez is your first string catcher?

Lots of decisions and potential problems facing Alex Cora as his first season at the helm looms. Most people would say that they are all good but the fact is that each of them will have a positive or negative effect upon the team’s season.

Everybody in Red Sox Nation is expecting great things from their defending division Champions who may be one of the three or four best teams in baseball on paper. After two 93 game winning Division Championships under John Farrell, Red Sox fans will not be happy with less than a trip to the World Series in Cora’s first year.

THE HOME RUN DERBY

The Yankees’ Aaron Judge, the spectacular rookie who won the Rookie of The Year Award in 2017 and finished second in the Most Valuable Player race, with his .284 batting average, 52 homers, 114 runs batted in, while also winning the Home Run Derby, told reporters this past week that he would not participate in the Home Run Derby this year. Judge was hitting .312 with 30 homers and 66 runs batted in prior to the Derby but, in the 52 games following it, he hit for just a .182 average with nine homers and 21 RBI in his next 52 games.

ESPN reported that, when asked if his decision had anything to do with the post-Derby slump, Judge said “Not at all. That’s the least of my concerns. I know everyone always talks about [how] the Derby will do that, but it didn’t have that effect on me.”

The Major League Baseball Home Run Derby is held annually, the day before the All Star Game in the park hosting the All Star Game. It draws a sell out crowd and produces some exciting moments and lots of home runs, many for a distance you would never see in a regular Major League Game.

The event began in 1985 and Dave Parker of the Cincinnati Reds won the first championship. There have been many rule and format changes since the beginning but the original intent, to create a contest where the players can hit the ball as far as a ball will carry by making the environment as hitter friendly as possible has not changed.

Any relationship to the game of baseball is purely coincidental. Contestants select their own pitcher, in some cases a relative or favorite batting practice pitcher and work together before the event to maximize the potential for the pitcher putting the ball in the exact spot where the hitter can hit it the furthest.

Major League baseball players work throughout their career to develop a swing which will allow them to make solid contact with a ball thrown by a pitcher who is trying to get them out by throwing it where they cannot hit it long and far. That pitch comes in at a rate far faster than that of a batting practice pitch, generally in the neighborhood of 90 miles an hour or higher and is almost always moving side to side or up and down rather than following a straight trajectory like a batting practice or Home Run Derby pitch.

The swing required to make the kind of contact a player in a ball game needs to make is much flatter than that required to launch a ball over the wall consistently. In today’s ‘baseball talk’ the ‘launch angle’ has to be more severe, which just means that the swing is more of an uppercut rather than flat intended to hit the ball higher so it will travel farther.

Anybody who has played wiffle ball in the back yard knows that an uppercut swing will hit the ball higher but also knows that that results in more pop flies and swinging strikes than a flat swing. Did anybody notice that, while Judge was hitting his 52 home runs, he also led the league in strikeouts with 208? Before the Derby, he struck out 36.2% of the time and after the Derby, he struck out 41.1% of the time.

Does anybody but the ‘Geeks of the Game’, as I like to call them, that gave us meaningless statistics like the OPS which adds on base percentage to slugging percentage together, (talk about combining apples and oranges), or WAR, wins above replacement, which supposedly measures the number of wins a player adds to his team compared to what a replacement player from AAA would have added, care at what angle the ball left the bat of their favorite player as long as it landed in the seats and drove in the winning run?

Many experts have contended, over the years, that the preparation for the Home Run Derby interferes with the muscle memory required for a batter to make consistent contact with the ball in game conditions once the Derby is over.

Some of the ‘experts’ have downplayed the effect of the Home Run Derby on Judge’s second half slump saying that it was effected by a shoulder problem. Looking at the players who have won the Derby over the years, there seem to be as many who did not experience reduced production in the games after their win as there are who did.

Parker, for example, in the year he won the first contest, increased his average from .304 to .320 and his homer total from 16 to 18. The next year, Darrell Strawberry went from .298 before the Derby to .214 after it. ( Home run totals are difficult to compare because over the years, the All Star Game break has occurred later in the season, reducing the number of games after the break and increasing the number before, therefore batting averages are probably the best stat to compare.)

Yoenis Cespedes, when he won the Derby in 2014, raised his average after the Derby from .246 to .279 while Miguel Tejada, the 2004 winner, hit .311 before the Derby and .311 in the games after. Obviously, all these samples are small and conditions have changed greatly in the 33 years since the Home Run Derby began. My limited research indicates that the younger a player is and the less experience he has might make him more apt to be negatively affected by the experience.

During the 2017 season, when Judge hit the ball on the ground, he average .286, when he hit a fly ball his average increased to .362. Those of you who have played the game may find some consolation in the fact that, when he hit a line drive his batting average increased to .841, but it doesn’t take a statistical genius to explain the difference in the results there.

In the ESPN article, Judge is quoted as saying “I’m a Home Run Derby champion. It was a cool experience. I enjoyed it all but I don’t think I really need to go out there and do it again. I won it once.” I don’t think he’d have the same reaction to winning his first World Series. And therein lies the difference between real baseball and the Home Run Derby.

THE OTHER CURSE

On December 26, 1919, in perhaps the most talked about transaction in the history of baseball, the Boston Red Sox sold George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth to the New York Yankees for the princely sum of $100,000. That transaction would be blamed for the many failures of the Red Sox for the next 85 seasons.

The year before, 1918, with the Babe winning 13 and losing 7 as a pitcher and hitting .300 with 11 home runs, which tied him with Tillie Walker, of the Philadelphia Athletics, for the lead in all of baseball, the Sox had won the American League crown with a 75-51 record. They had gone on to win the World Series beating the Chicago Cubs in six games. In 1919, despite the Babe hitting .322, leading all of baseball with 29 homers and winning 9 while losing 5 with a 2.97 ERA while on the mound, the Sox had slipped to sixth place with a 66-71 record.

Red Sox fans couldn’t believe that the Babe was gone, to of all places, the Yankees. And so, the Curse of the Bambino was born. Red Sox fans would blame The Curse for every bad thing that happened to their Sox, until 2004, when the Sox finally broke The Curse winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years. That year, as all Red Sox fans know, the Sox were down to the Yankees three games to none and facing elimination in the American League Championship Series but came back to win four in a row to defeat the Yankees and then went on to sweep the Cardinals in the World Series.

Few, if any, Red Sox fans would be able to name the trade which was perhaps the second worst the Red Sox ever made. Four years after trading the Babe to the hated Yankees, on January 30, 1923, the Sox traded right handed pitcher Herb Pennock to the Yankees for Norm McMillan, George Murray and Camp Skinner and $50,000. cash. McMillan, an infielder, played one year with the Sox and hit .253 with no homers and 42 RBI’s. Murray, a pitcher, won 9 and lost 20 in two years in Boston with a 5.48 ERA. Camp Skinner, an outfielder, lasted just one year, getting 3 hits in 13 at bats.

On the other end of that trade, Pennock, who had won 62 and lost 59 with a 3.67 ERA at Boston in the eight years from 1915 to 1922 went on to win 162 while losing 90 for the Yankees in the next 11 years.

In that time, he played in four World Series with the Yankees. In 1923, when the Yankees beat the New York Giants in the Series, he started two games, won them both and had one complete game. In 1926, when the Yankees lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, he started two games, pitched complete games and won both. In 1927, when the Yankees beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, he started and completed one game and got the win. In 1932, when the Yankees defeated the Chicago Cubs, at age 38, he didn’t start a game but relieved in two and got the save in both. In four World Series with the Yankees, he was 5-0 with 4 complete games, 2 saves and a 2.07 ERA.

It probably didn’t hurt Pennock at all that, during the 11 years he played for the Yankees, he had an outfielder named Babe Ruth who hit .346 with 448 homers, 1,365 RBI’s and a .694 slugging percentage, playing behind him.

To make matters worse from a Red Sox point of view, Pennock had remarkable success against the Red Sox while with the Yankees. In his first year at New York, he won 19 and lost just six games but, remarkably, only faced the Sox once, in relief, pitching one inning and giving up one hit and no runs, with no decisions.

The next year, 1924, the Red Sox began to pay dearly for the trade. Pennock faced them in five starts, won four of them and the other was a tie called after five innings. He pitched two complete games, one of them a shutout, beating the Sox on September 3, 5-0, on five hits. He won 21 and lost 9 that year and finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting and had a 40-15 record overall since coming to New York from Boston.

In 1925, he started six games against them and won four while losing two, four of them, including one of the losses, were complete games. They beat him on May 26th, 3-2, despite him throwing a complete game and giving up only eight hits. In his first three years as a Yankee he had beaten the Sox 8 times while losing just 2 and had six complete games. His overall record slipped to 16-17 that year.

In 1926, while posting a 23-11 regular season record for the American League Champion Yankees, he started against the Red Sox five times, won four of them, all complete games and had one no decision. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting that year.

He only started against the Red Sox three times in 1927, beating them 7-3 on June 3rd in a complete game, 7-4 on July 1st and 14-2 in another complete game on September 6th. He had now won 15 and lost 2 against the Sox in the last four years, while compiling a 98-61 record.

In 1928, at the age of 34, he won 17 and lost 6 overall with a 2.56 ERA. He started four games against the Sox, beating them with a complete game, 7-2, on April 19th, losing to them 7-1 on June 23rd and shutting them out, on three hits, for a complete game win 8-0 on August 12th. He also started and went seven innings with no decision against them on July 24th, leaving behind 3-1 in a game the Yankees scored four runs to win 5-3 in the ninth.

From 1929 until 1933, his last year with the Yankees, Pennock won 47 and lost 33 and was 13-5 against the Red Sox with 11 complete games in 18 starts.

After the 1933 season in which he won 7 and lost 4 but was used mostly in relief, starting only five games, at age 39, he was released by the Yankees on January 5, 1934. The Red Sox signed him as a Free Agent on January 20th. That year, he started only two games and had a 2-0 record as a reliever. Ironically, after winning 30 and losing just 8 games for the Yankees against the Sox, he faced the Yankees three times in relief for the Red Sox and got no decisions but the Sox lost all three games. In games in which he pitched that year, the Sox won 6 and lost 24. He retired as a player after the 1934 season.

Herbert Jefferis Pennock was born on February 10, 1894 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. He was signed as a Free Agent by the Philadelphia Athletics in May of 1912 at age 18 and went right to the Major Leagues. In four years with the Athletics, used primarily in relief, he pitched in 70 games and won 17 and lost 13 with a 3.77 ERA.

He spent 1912 until June of 1915 with the Athletics. In 1914, he won 11 and lost 4 as the Athletics won the American League League pennant with a 99-53 record. They were swept in the World Series by the Boston Braves and Pennock only got into one game in relief, pitching three scoreless innings and giving up two hits.

On June 6, 1915, the Red Sox claimed him off waivers from the Athletics and he won 55 and lost 52 with a 3.68 ERA from 1916 until 1922.

He had won 10 and lost 17, with a 4.32 ERA in 1922 and the Red Sox traded him to the Yankees and the Knight of Kennett Square, as he was known, made them pay for it in the next 11 years. In the 11 years Pennock and Ruth teamed up on the Yankees, they finished first five times, second four times, third once and seventh once. In the same period the Sox, without Ruth and Pennock, finished in last eight times, seventh once and sixth once.

Pennock was named to the Hall of Fame in 1948. In his career, he won 241 and lost 162 with a 3.60 earned run average. After he retired from play, he became General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies and stayed in that position until he passed away in 1948.

The Curse of the Bambino got the publicity but the trade of Herb Pennock may have hurt the Sox just as much.

CORA HAS HISTORY ON HIS SIDE

Much has been written and said about the fact that the Red Sox and Yankees, the two teams viewed by almost everyone as the two strongest teams in the American League East and likely to battle each other for the Division Championship, are both being led by Managers with no managerial experience.

The Red Sox Manager, Alex Cora, was the Bench Coach of the World Championship Houston Astros last year, which most people feel gives him an advantage over the Yankees Aaron Boone who jumped into managing straight from the broadcast booth.

On paper, the teams look pretty evenly matched with the Yankees having the edge in the power and offensive departments and the Sox with the stronger pitching staff.

How important is the Manager? Don’t ask a Red Sox fan who gloried in the Francona years, only to have to endure a year with Bobby Valentine. But, on the other hand, John Farrell, who most members of Red Sox Nation were unhappy with, gave them three regular season Division titles and a World Series win in five years as Manager.

Cora recently said that the Red Sox are a strong team, having won two Division Titles in a row, while winning 93 games both seasons, but he also said that Red Sox fans are generally not happy with less than a World Championship.

The 2016 and 2017 Red Sox will be a hard act to follow for Cora. Coming off two 93 game win seasons and adding J. D. Martinez to the mix, a lot will be expected of him. Even though they won those two regular season titles, they were defeated in the first round of the Playoffs which, in Boston, is the equivalent of a bad year. It was especially bad in 2017, when the hated Yankees won the Division Playoff round and came within one game of making the World Series after the Red Sox had bowed out in the Division Series.

Cora has history on his side in his first year as he takes over the Red Sox. The franchise started out as the Boston Americans and became the Red Sox in 1908. Since 1908, the Sox have won eight World Series of the 11 they have played in.

In 1912, when they won their first World Series as the Red Sox, Jake Stahl was in his first year as Manager of the Sox. In 1915 and 1916 when they won the next two, Bill Carrigan was the Manager and he was in his third and fourth years as Manager. In 1918, Ed Barrow, in his first year as the Sox Manager, took them to a World Series win.

Of course, from 1916 until 2004, there were no World Series victories for the Sox but, in 2004, when they won their first title in 86 years, their leader, Terry Francona, was in his first year as Manager. The next Series win was in 2007, with Terry Francona still at the helm. In 2013, John Farrell, in his first year as Manager of the Sox, took them to a World Series win.

There have been seven Red Sox World Series victories in 111 years, since they became the Red Sox in 2008. Only five Managers of the 40 who have led the Sox in that time have brought a World Series Title to Boston. Four of the five Managers who have led the Sox to a World Series Championship did so in their first year at the helm. Stahl, Barrow, Francona and Farrell won in their first year. Of the five, only Carrigan did not win a title in his first year.

Does this give Cora an advantage as he enters his first year? I don’t think so but it won’t be like he’s trying to do something that has never been done before. On the other hand, there have been 35 Managers since 2008 who have not won a World Series in their first or any year compared to just the five who have won.

So far, I like what I have seen with Cora. He seems more involved with his players, coaches and the game than Farrell was. I was impressed with the way he interacted with the players from Boston University and Northeastern during their exhibition games. He is obviously getting an early look at his core players while giving those players who might make the team, like Blake Swihart, Sam Travis and Deven Marrero plenty of opportunities to show what they can do.

I like that he is in the game and talking with his staff and the players, teaching when it’s needed and congratulating when it’s earned. I like it that, when Roenis Elias obviously balked twice in the Minnesota game on Tuesday, Cora took the time to talk with the umpire who made the call to find out just what he saw so he could correct it.

( Do they really believe that Elias, who was 2-7 at Pawtucket last year with a 5.59 earned run average, has a 15-21 overall record in the Majors and has thrown just eight innings, giving up 11 runs, in the Majors, in the last two years, can be an effective part of their starting rotation this year? )

I like the fact that the players seem to be comfortable with approaching their new boss in the dugout and that he is just as comfortable with them. He seems to have the desire and the personality to lead this talented team to success.

I am sure that we have a lot to learn about Alex Cora, some things that we will like and some that we won’t. Knowing Boston fans, the things that they found they didn’t like will be forgotten if history repeats itself and he gives them a Championship in his first year. If not, Cora may find that, in the pressure cooker that is Boston, it can get really hot.

THE RIGHT TIME FOR J. D.

On the surface, it looks like the Red Sox got J. D. Martinez at just the right time in his career. He started the 2017 season with the Detroit Tigers and was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 18. He had missed the first 33 games of the season after suffering a sprain in his right foot in Spring Training.

After coming back, he played 119 of the two teams’ 129 remaining games, a larger percentage of his teams’ games than he had played in any of his seven seasons with the exception of 2015, when he played 158 games for the Tigers. In his 119 games, he hit 45 home runs and drove in 104 runs while posting a .303 batting average and a .690 slugging percentage which was the highest average in the Majors but he did not have enough at bats to qualify for number one.

Forty-five home runs in 119 games is the equivalent of 61 home runs in a 162 game season and 104 RBI’s is the equivalent of 142 over the whole season. In addition to playing more than he usually does, he was more productive than he had ever been.

Martinez, as I am sure every Red Sox fan knows, was signed by the Sox on Monday of last week as a Free Agent for five years at $110. million. He is a 30 year old right handed hitting, outfielder/designated hitter that everyone expects will take over the role of DH in the Sox lineup to fill the hole that has exited since David Ortiz retired at the end of the 2016 season.

His doing so will allow the Sox to platoon the right handed hitting Hanley Ramirez and left handed hitting Mitch Moreland at first base. Neither of those two were very productive last year. Moreland hit .246 with 22 homers and 79 runs batted in, just about his average over the past five years, after a good start. Ramirez, who had hit. 286 with 30 homers and 111 RBI’s in 2016, fell of to a .242 batting average and 62 RBI’s. If one of the two should have a good year, the other may get lost in the shuffle. Ramirez can opt out of his contract and become a Free Agent in 2019 if he gets less than 497 at bats and the Sox may want that to happen to free up his salary to use to retain other players.

This may have to be the year the Red Sox make their move to go all the way as anyone who thinks that the young nucleus of this club, Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, Vazquez and company are all going to be here for many more years does not understand the lure of Free Agency that will be facing them all soon.

This week, the man that I think of as ‘The Idiot in the Commissioner’s Office’ announced his latest attempts to tinker with the game of baseball, which he appears to know less about than a young Tee Ball player.

In an attempt to speed up play, he and his Pace of the Game Committee have convinced the Major League Baseball Player’s Association to agree to changes in the rules which will take effect at the start of the 2018 season.

Manager’s, Coaches and players will be limited to a maximum of six visits to the mound during each nine inning game. If a game goes into extra innings, one additional visit will be allowed for each inning. These six visits will not include trips for purposes of cleaning cleats on rainy days, injuries or visits caused by an offensive substitution. It will not include communication from players to pitchers if either does not leave his normal position. Umpires will also be allowed to grant an exception where a catcher and pitcher have gotten crossed up on a sign.

Breaks between innings will be limited to 2 minutes five seconds for locally televised games, 2 minutes 25 seconds for nationally televised games and 2 minutes 55 seconds for tie breaker or post season games. The pitcher will not be limited to eight warmup pitches between innings but the amount he gets will be limited to the amount he can throw up to 20 seconds before the start of play. The pitcher must deliver the first pitch and the batter must be ready for it before the end of the break. The timing above applies to relief pitchers as well and the time starts when the pitcher crosses the warning track on his way in.

Given the fact that baseball’s previous attempts to make a pitcher deliver a pitch in a timely fashion have failed because of the umpires inability or unwillingness to impose penalties, this will probably fail, too. The next step will probably involve some other stupid idea like setting up time clocks in the dug outs, bull pens and batter’s box so that players can sign in.

Trying to fix some of the problems caused by lengthy instant replay delays, each team will be provided with slow motion cameras in the club house and telephones between the clubhouse and the dugout to relay information about questionable calls. Of course, because the communications systems could be used for sign stealing, all calls will be recorded.

If the instant replay system, which slows down the pace of play, were never started, we wouldn’t have to worry about this. What would have been wrong with leaving baseball as the one place where the technological explosion did not rear its ugly head?

On Wednesday of this week, John Healy, reported in the New York Daily News that, according to Rich Eisen, on his radio show, said “an MLB executive told him of an idea about allowing the manager of the trailing team to bat whomever he chooses in the ninth inning in an effort to ramp up more excitement.”

Baseball is the only sport by mere randomness and happenstance, the best players are not out on the field with the game on the line,” Eisen said. “Potentially down by two, ninth inning, you got 7-8-9 up.”

There have been some ludicrous ideas disguised as methods to make the game more exciting but this one literally takes the cake. Get ready because the next idea may be participation trophies for everybody who doesn’t make the playoffs to keep the weaker teams’ fans excited and involved.

On a brighter note, here we are on February 25th, just 32 days from the Red Sox opening game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field and things look a lot better for the Sox than they did a week ago.

YANKEES VS. RED SOX, 2018

BigPapi ScanWhen the Yankees got Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins on December 7, 2017, for second baseman Starlin Castro and two minor leaguers, it was the Chicken Little story all over again in Boston. The sky was falling!! How could this happen?

The Red Sox had barely edged the Yankees for the American League East championship in 2017. The Yankees had gotten into the Playoffs as a Wild Card and knocked off the powerful Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series before taking the eventual World Series winning Houston Astros to seven games in the American League Championship Series before bowing out.

They had led all of baseball with 241 home runs, in the year of the homer, and were second in scoring with 858 runs. Rookie right fielder Aaron Judge had driven in 114 runs, led the league in home runs with 52, runs scored, 128, walks, with 127 and strikeouts, with 208, won the Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the voting for Most Valuable Player.

Catcher Gary Sanchez, 25, had hit 33 homers and driven in 90 runs. Derek Jeter’s replacement, as he will always be known, Didi Gregorious, came into his own and hit 25 homers and drove in 87 runs. First Baseman Marlon Bird, who only played in 48 games after his injury, hit nine homers and drove in 28 runs. Veteran left fielder Brett Gardner had 21 homers and 63 RBI’s despite batting lead off most of the year and center fielder Aaron Hicks had 15 homers and 52 RBI’s in just 88 games.

Now you add Stanton, who, by the way, had hit 59 homers and driven in 132 runs, both league leading numbers while playing in all 162 of his team’s games and winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. He has hit 267 homers in his first eight seasons and is just 28 years old.

Boston fans immediately assumed the worst, it was almost the Curse of the Babe all over again. Of course, the fact that Derek Jeter, the scourge of the Red Sox when he played with the Yankees, and now part owner and CEO of the Marlins, had been involved with the deal that sent Stanton to the Yankees, did not go unnoticed.

The Yankees, of course, are supremely confident. Just this past week, as Spring Training began, Gardner said, in an interview with Tom Hanslin of Bronx Pinstripes “Come out early and watch these guys take BP. I think it’s gonna be fun,” he said. “I think I’m gonna start taking batting practice inside so those big guys don’t make me look bad.”

So what does this all mean for the Red Sox? Will they have to play second fiddle to the Yankees again. The Yankees are a strong club, there is no argument there. But, and it’s a Big But, no pun intended, they have some weaknesses.

To get Stanton, they gave up the All Star second baseman, Starlin Castro, who hit .300 with 16 homers and 63 RBI’s last year. Todd Frazier, one of their third basemen, who hit 11 homers and drove in 32 runs in 66 games after coming over from the White Sox last year, signed a Free Agent contract with the Mets the week before last, and the other, Chase Headley, was traded to the San Diego Padres.

It looks like Greyber Torres, the number five prospect in all of baseball, who lost most of last year to Tommy John surgery, may have the inside track at second but Ronald Torreyes, who hit .292 in 108 games, 43 at second, with the Yankees will challenge him. Whichever of the two ends up at second, my money is on the other to at least start the season at third. Either way, they have really untested rookies at two key infield positions. Greg Bird, if he stays healthy, gives them a potent bat and good glove at first and Didi Gregorious appears to have come into his own at short.

The outfield, with Gardner in left, Hicks in center and Judge in right is among the better in baseball with plenty of power. Jacoby Ellsbury looks to be odd man out and Stanton gives them a potent designated hitter and extra outfielder.

Their starting pitching with Luis Severino, 14-6, with a 2.98 ERA, Masahiro Tanaka, sore elbow and all, 13-12, 4.74 ERA, C. C. Sabathia, at age 36 and injury prone, 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA, Jordan Montgomery, 9-7 and a 3.88 ERA, Sonny Gray, 4-7 and a 3.72 ERA, after coming over from the Athletics at the trading deadline, is far from strong and has the potential to be a disaster. Those five had a combined ERA of 3.80 last year. Of course, often injured , Michael Pineda, who won 8 and lost 4 with a 4.39 ERA in just 17 starts last year, was lost to the Twins over the winter.

Rumor had it last week that the Yankees might still have a shot at getting right handed starter Jake Odorizzi from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA last year. Should that happen, they would be a lot stronger but there would still be too many IF’S in the rotation.

Closer Aroldis Chapman, whose ERA ballooned to 3.22 last year from 1.55 the year before and who had only 22 saves and Dellin Betances, with perhaps the best stuff in baseball, if he could only control it consistently, had 10 saves while filling in for Chapman, will both have to improve on last year’s performance.

Their set up man, David Robertson, who has closing stuff, was 5-0 in 30 games with a 1.03 ERA, after coming back from the White Sox with Tommy Kahnle who had a 2.70 ERA in 32 games. With Chasen Shreve, 4-1 with a 3.77 ERA in 44 games and Adam Warren, with a 2.35 ERA in 46 games, they have a fairly strong bull pen.

Head to head, the Sox starting pitching, with left handers Sale, Price, Pomeranz and Rodriguez, in the starting rotation, they match up pretty well against the Yankee sluggers. Judge, for example, although a right handed hitter, hit only .230 against lefties as opposed to .298 against righties, Sanchez, another right hander, hit .266 against lefties and .282 against right handers, Gregorious, .264 against left handers and .295 right handers, Gardner, .209 against left handers and .283 against right handers. On the other hand, the new Yankee, Stanton, hit only .270 against right handers but bombed left handers for a .323 average.

Unfortunately, most of the other teams the Yankees will face have a majority of right handed starters and the Sox will only have 18 times, out of 162 games, to throw their left handers at the Yankees during the season. The Yankee lineup is as powerful as any in baseball but good pitching will almost always beat good hitting in the long run so don’t look for the Yankees to run away and hide from the Red Sox unless there are major personnel changes or injuries between now and Opening Day, which, by the way, is just 39 days from today.

Absent any major changes, it looks to me like the Sox and Yankees will be locked in a great pennant race while the rest of the American League East watches. At this point, Yankee and Red Sox fans just can’t wait for it to get started.

THE 2018 RED SOX

Last year, at this time, with Spring Training ready to start, Red Sox fans were wondering what their boys were going to do without David Ortiz and the huge offensive boost he gave them in 2016, his last year. Big Papi, at age 40, in his final year in baseball, had put together a last season unmatched in the history of baseball. He had hit .315, with 38 homers, led the league in runs batted in with 127, doubles with 48 and slugging percentage with an average of .620.

With him leading the way, the Sox had won the American League Eastern Division with a record of 93 wins and 69 losses but had been swept by the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series. They had led all of baseball with a .282 team batting average, a .348 on base percentage, a .461 slugging percentage, 1,598 hits and 878 runs scored. They had the Cy Young winner in Rick Porcello, who won 22 and lost 4, the runner up in the Most Valuable Player voting, Mookie Betts who had hit

.318, with 24 homer and 102 runs batted in and led the league in total bases with 359.

Until the meltdown in the last week of the season, when they led by 5½ games with six to play and lost five out of their last seven and still won by four games, and the collapse in the playoffs, 2016 had been a magical year. Xander Bogaerts had hit .294 with 21 homers and 89 runs batted in, Hanley Ramirez, out of left field and playing first base, hit .286 with 30 homers and 111 runs batted in, Jackie Bradley, who had a huge hot streak mid season, batted only .267 but had 26 homers and 87 runs batted in, Dustin Pedroia hit .318 with 15 homers and 74 runs batted in and Sandy Leon had a career year, batting .310.

In addition to Porcello’s great year, David Price, although not living up to expectations, won 17 and lost 9, Steven Wright, although he missed the whole month of September, won 13 and lost 6. Craig Kimbrel had 31 saves with only two blown saves.

Over the winter, before starting Spring Training in 2017, the Sox got left handed starter Chris Sale from the White Sox. Sale, in five years as a starter with Chicago, had won 74 and lost 50 and had finished in the top six in the Cy Young voting each year. They also picked up Mitch Moreland, a left handed hitting, first baseman, who had batted .262 with 110 homers and 354 runs batted in in seven years with the Texas Rangers.

In the 2017 season, the offensive production of several key players in the Sox lineup fell off dramatically. Mookie Betts hit .318 in 2016 and just .264, in 2017, Xander Bogaerts fell from .294 to .273, Hanley Ramirez from .286 to .242, Jackie Bradley, from .267 to .245, Sandy Leon from .310 to

.225.

In addition, Betts fell from 31 homers in 2016 to 24 in 2017, Bogaerts from 21 to 10, Ramirez 30 to 23, Bradley 26 to 17. On top of this, Dustin Pedroia who played in 154 games in 2017 and batted .318, missed a large part of the 2017 season with injuries and hit just .293 with 82 less hits and 8 less homers. These five players had 42 less homers than they did in 2016.

Mitch Moreland, the first baseman who was acquired from Texas and was expected to provide a boost offensively, batted just .246 with 22 homers and 79 RBI’s. Between Moreland and Hanley Ramirez, there is bound to be more production this year than last in the first base/designated hitter slot.

Sale, despite faltering toward the end of the season, won 17 and lost 8 with a 2.90 ERA and Drew Pomeranz, after a 3-5 season with a 4.59 ERA in 2016, won 17 and lost 6, with a 3.32 ERA. The rest of the staff left a lot to be desired. David Price after a 17-9 season, won just 6 and lost 3, Rick Porcello went from his 22-4 Cy Young season to 11-17 and David Wright, who had won 13 and lost 6 in 2016, won only one game and lost three before being lost for the season to surgery.

With all the disappointments of 2017, the Red Sox managed to win 93 and lose 69, the same record as the previous year and won the American League East for the second consecutive year, edging out the surprising, young Yankees by two games, despite losing five of their last seven games again in a collapse as bad as that in 2016. They then faced the Houston Astros in the ALDS, the eventual World Series winners, and lost in four games to end the season.

All through the winter, there has been speculation that the Sox would pick up a power hitter and some pitching help but, as of this writing, there have been no significant acquisitions in those areas. There is the possibility that they might resign Eduardo Nunez, who became a Free Agent at the end of 2016, but is still available as of this writing.

Nunez, who hit .321 with 8 homers and 27 RBI’s in just 38 games, while playing second base, third base and all three outfield positions, after being acquired late in the season, should be brought back. When he played his first game for the Sox on July 28th last year, the Sox had won 56 and lost 47, a .544 win/loss percentage. From then until September 25th, when, if you remember, John Farrell tried to play him when he could barely walk, the Sox were 35-18, a .660 win/loss percentage. Even on one foot, he doubled off the wall in his first at bat and lined out in his second before having to be helped off the field, ending his season. His bat and versatility could be key to the success of this team. If Moreland and/or Ramirez should fail to produce he could fill in at either first or DH.

The position players, Moreland at first, Pedroia at second, Bogaerts at short, Devers at third, Benintendi in left, Bradley in center and Betts in right, with Vazquez and Swihart or Leon behind the plate, all have the ability to produce offensively at a higher level than they did last year.

Sale has never had a bad season, Price appears to be healthy and Porcello should rebound from last year’s off season. With those three Cy Young winners and Pomeranz who seems to have come into his own, Rodriguez, if he can stay healthy, and Steven Wright regains close to his 2016 form, the Sox have, potentially, as good a starting staff as anybody in baseball.

The bullpen, with Closer Craig Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Blaine Boyer, Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly, Kyle Kendricks, Carson Smith and my favorite youngster Austin Maddox, can compete with any team in baseball.

This Red Sox team, if they stay healthy and produce to levels at or close to levels at which they all have shown they can, could win the Eastern Division again. If they produce as they have shown they can, even that young powerhouse in New York will have trouble staying with them.

THE FACE OF THE RED SOX

THE FACE OF THE RED SOX

Since 1967, fifty years ago, the year of The Impossible Dream, the Boston Red Sox have made it to the Post Season 16 times. They have been eliminated in the Division Series six times, made it to but been eliminated in the League Championship Series five times and five times they have made it to the World Series. They have won the World Series three of those five times, in 2004, 2007 and 2013.

During that time they have had some of the greatest ballplayers in baseball. Players like Hall of Famers Carl Yasztremski, Jim Rice, Pedro Martinez, Carlton Fisk and Wade Boggs, and others like Luis Tiant, Roger Clemens, Jim Lonborg, David Ortiz, Mookie Betts and many, many other standouts.

They have been managed by people like Dick Williams, Don Zimmer, Ralph Houk, Grady Little, Terry Francona and John Farrell.

But with all that success and all those talented ballplayers and managers who have thrilled the Red Sox fans and shown their talent in Fenway and around the Majors, the one person that most New England baseball fans readily identify as the Face of the Red Sox is a former left handed, banjo hitting, second baseman who spent just seven years as a member of the team, hit .286, pounded out just two home runs and never played for a team that made it to the Playoffs.

Jerry Remy, the 5’9”, 165 pound, second baseman is the Honorary President of Red Sox Nation, perhaps the largest organization of baseball fans supporting a team in the history of the game. He has been the color commentator for Red Sox baseball on the Red Sox Flagship Station, NESN, since teaming with Ned Martin in 1988. With Don Orsillo, as Play by Play announcer from 2001 until 2015, they formed one of the most popular baseball broadcast teams in the country.

When the popular Orsillo was ousted by management in 2015, Red Sox fans were in an uproar. No one could believe that this team could be broken up but the very professional, personable and competent Dave O’Brien stepped into replace him and he and Jerry quickly became as or almost as popular as Orsillo and Remy. Jerry’s blend of expertise, his seemingly endless supply of stories of the greats and not so greats of the game, his sense of humor and, perhaps most of all, his straightforward, honest and knowledgeable analysis, good and bad, have made the team work, no matter who sits in the other seat.

Jerry was drafted out of High School in Somerset, Massachusetts, by the Washington Senators in the 19th round of the 1970 draft and again, after spending a year at Roger Williams College, in the 8th round of the 1971 draft by the California Angels. He signed with the Angels and spent 1971-1974 in their farm system, working his way up to AA, El Paso and AAA Salt Lake City, between which he hit .323 in 1974.

He was promoted to the Angels in 1975 and hit .258 that first year in 147 games. He made up for his lack of power by excelling at small ball. He stole 34 bases and had 12 sacrifice bunts, more than most teams have in a year today. In addition to his 34 stolen bases, he was thrown out stealing 21 times, the most in the league. From my research, it appears that that was the only time he ever led the league in any offensive category.

In his three years with California they finished under .500 every year and Jerry had a batting average of .258 with 110 stolen bases and 44 sacrifice bunts. On December 8, 1977, he was traded to the Red Sox for Don Aase and cash and had his best year in baseball that next year.

In that first year in Boston, he batted .278 in 148 games and was named to the American League All Star Team but did not get into the game, which the National League won 7-3. The Sox won 99 games that year and had trailed the first place Yankees by one game with one game left to play. On the last day of the season, the Yankees lost to the Cleveland Indians 9-2, opening the door for the Red Sox to move into a tie.

Luis Tiant pitched a complete game, two hit shutout to beat the Toronto Blue Jays to force a one game playoff with the Yankees to see who would go to the World Series.

Remy went 2-4 in that game. After an unsuccessful bunt attempt in the first, he doubled in the Sox second run in the fifth and singled with the score 4-0 in the seventh but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double.

In the playoff game that followed in Fenway, the Sox, behind Mike Torrez, were ahead of the Yankees’ Ron Guidry, 2-0 after six innings. Yaz had homered to lead off the second and Rick Burleson doubled to lead off the sixth. Remy then bunted to third to sacrifice Burleson over and Rice singled to drive him in and make it 2-0.

In the seventh, the Yankees’ Bucky Dent hit his infamous three run homer to put the Yankees ahead and Thurmon Munson drove in another. Reggie Jackson led off the eighth with a homer to make it 5-2.

In the Sox eighth, Remy led off with a double to right and scored when Yaz singled and Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn singled to bring in Yaz and it was 5-4 after eight. It went to the last of the ninth, 5-4, and with one out and Burleson on first with a walk, Remy singled to right to put the tying run on second but Goose Gossage got Rice to fly out and Yaz to pop to third and the Red Sox season was over.

With an All Star season behind him and a huge contribution to the Sox effort in the last two days to try make it into the Playoffs, going 4 for 8, Remy seemed on his way to stardom in Boston. He was the Sox lead off hitter and second baseman for most of the next six years, however he was plagued by injuries. In 1979, he missed most of July and August and was out from September 14th until the end of the season, in 1980 he was out from July 10th until the end of the season and in 1981, he was out from June 11th until August 10th but still managed to hit .305 in 231 games for those three years. Although he missed the start of the 1982 and 1983 seasons, he managed to hit .280 and .275 in 155 and 146 games respectively.

He started 1984 with the Sox and was hitting .250 after playing in 30 of the team’s first 38 games when a knee injury caused him to call it a career.

He was elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Red Sox held Jerry Remy Day on June 24, 2008 to recognize his 20 years of service as their color commentator.

Two months later, he underwent surgery to remove a ‘ very small, low grade, cancerous area ‘ from his lung. This began a long battle with lung cancer which caused him to lose time from the broadcast booth on several occasions.

In his latest bout with cancer, starting in June of 2017, he had chemo therapy followed by five weeks of radiation.

On August 17th, prior to a game with the New York Yankees at Fenway Park, the Sox honored Remy for his thirty years of broadcasting. He was undergoing his fifth series of treatments for the lung cancer at the time and the crowd and the team showed their appreciation for all he had done as a player and announcer.

On January 16, of 2018, he went to Twitter and Instagram to deliver the following message to his loyal fans ‘ It started in June with surgery, chemo and five weeks of radiation. It ended today. Finished. Thanks to the team at MGH and the support I got from many people. To my co-patients stay strong. Now a little time to gain strength and down to the Fort. Go Pats.’

The Red Sox will open their Spring Training games in Florida against Northwestern University on February 22nd, eighteen days from today, and NESN will telecast that game. Most Red Sox fans turning the game on that day will probably be more concerned to find out whether Jerry is there than they are interested in the exhibition game.

Jerry Remy, who demonstrated such strength on the field in the face of injury and in his battle with cancer, is truly the beloved Face of the Red Sox for most of New England.

HALL OF FAME, CLASS OF 2018

Now that the Hall of Fame Class of 2018 has been announced, baseball fans can really begin to get ready for the end to the long winter. Exactly 17 days, that’s three weeks and three days, from today, the Red Sox pitchers and catchers will hold their first work out in sunny, and, hopefully, warm Florida.

Just one month from today, the Red Sox will be entertaining the Pittsburgh Pirates at Jet Blue Park in their SEVENTH spring training game against a major league rival. When I was driving back from Connecticut with the rain freezing on my windshield on last Monday, baseball seemed a long way away, but today, thinking about the new members of the Hall of Fame and looking at my calendar, I realized it is almost here.

I was really pleased to see one of my favorite ball players get elected to the Hall. Vladimir Guerrero looked like an old farmer when he went to the plate but he could hit a baseball. He got base hits on pitches that would have hit another batter, on balls that a catcher couldn’t reach on the outside, balls that no other player would have paid attention to and it seemed that, as people often said, ‘ he never saw a pitch he didn’t like.’

‘Vlad The Impaler’ as he was called, an outfielder and designated hitter, hit .318 for his 16 year career with 449 homers and 1,496 RBI’s and a career .553 slugging percentage. He made the All Star team nine times and was the American League Most Valuable Player in 2004 when he hit .337 and had 39 homers and 126 RBI’s with the Anaheim Angels.

If you look closely, behind the Toronto Blue Jays’ slugging third baseman, Josh Donaldson, in the Toronto future is a young man named Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Vlad’s 18 year old son. Just named the top third base prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, he hit .323 with 13 homers and 76 RBI’s in 119 games last year at Class A Lansing and Dunedin in his first year in the Toronto system at age 18. Jim Callis at MLB.com said of the young Guerrero, ‘with his advanced feel for hitting, mature approach and exceptional hand-eye coordination, Guerrero should contend for batting titles on an annual basis’. He apparently is more disciplined than his father at the plate so there may never be a hitter again who could hit the ball, wherever it was pitched, like Vladimir Guerrero.

Both Chipper Jones and JimThome were elected in their first year on the ballot. Chipper, who played his entire career with the Atlanta Braves and was a member of the teams that went to the Playoffs every year from 1996 until 2005 was a career .303 hitter who hit 468 homers and drove in 1,623 runs as a switch hitter. He was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1999, when he batted .319, with 45 homers and 110 RBI’s.

Jim Thome played for six different teams, including the Cleveland Indians, where he spent his first 13 years, and played in the post season with five of them. He hit 612 home runs, the eighth most of all time and drove in 1,699 with a career batting average of .276 and a slugging percentage of .554.

Trevor Hoffman, who spent 16 of his 18 year career with the San Diego Padres, saved a total of 601 games, a number exceeded only by the great Mariano Rivera in baseball history. He pitched in 1,035 games and had a career ERA of 2.87 with 1,133 strikeouts in just 1,089 innings pitched. As a Closer, he finished second in the Cy Young Award balloting in 2006 when he saved 46 games, appeared in 65 and had a 2.14 ERA.

All four of these players are legitimate Hall of Famers with no blemish on their record to discourage voting for them. They will be joined at the induction ceremony on July 29th by Alan Trammel and Jack Morris who were named by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December.

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were bypassed again by the voters. Clemens received 57.3 percent of the votes cast and Bonds 56.4 percent. Election requires a player appear on 75 percent of the ballots cast and there were 422 ballots cast this year.

Bonds, in a 22 year career, hit more career home runs, 762, had more walks, 2,558, more intentional walks, 688, and more home runs in a single season, 73, in 2001, than any player in baseball history. He won seven MVP Awards in a career that started with the Pittsburgh Pirates and ended with the San Francisco Giants.

Given his admissions and problems with lying to the investigating committee, about steroid use there could be a question about his qualification. However, baseball puts him on the ballot and makes him eligible for selection therefore, his career should be evaluated based on his performance. After all, when baseball doesn’t feel a person should be eligible, like Pete Rose, he is not even placed on the ballot.

Clemens, however, probably the last player to win more than 300 games, won 354 and lost 184 in a 24 year career with four different teams, was never proven to use steroids, continuously denied their use, never tested positive and was never disciplined for abuse.

He won seven Cy Young Awards and was the American League Most Valuable Player with the Red Sox in 1986, when he won 24 and lost just 4 with a 2.48 ERA. Aside from Pete Rose, who was banned from baseball and thus not eligible for the Hall, Clemens may have the best credentials of any player not elected to the Hall.

Ken Rosenthal, one of the most respected and knowledgeable of the Baseball Writers’ Association members who vote in the Hall of Fame election, recently wrote that he had voted for Bonds and Clemens this year, for the third year in a row, because he is tired of what he called the ‘mental gymnastics’ and ‘hair splitting’ that goes on annually with regard to the question of steroid use.

He said that some players who obviously used steroids are already in the hall, and he named Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza ‘and others we do not know about’ as examples, and the fact that in many cases, ‘we don’t know who did what and to what extent’. He would apparently draw the line at those players such as Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez where there had been proof of steroid use accompanied by punishment.

The Class of 2018 is an outstanding example of elite players who earned their place. Like every class in recent years, the Baseball Writers’ Associations’ actions in denying Clemens a spot puts a dark cloud over the entire process. As usual, the worst Baseball Commissioner in history is doing nothing to resolve this issue. He’s too busy tinkering with the rules of the game.

Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame and it’s time this problem was fixed.