Tag Archives: BASEBALL

THE BEST TEAM EVER?

Were the 2018 Boston Red Sox ‘the Best team ever to walk the planet’ as Chris Sale said in August, or were they just another really good team?

They won 108 games in the regular season and defeated a Yankee team that had won 100 games in the ALDS, three games to one, easily. They defeated the Astros, who were the defending World Series Champions and had won 103 games in the ALCS, four games to one, easily. They beat the Dodgers, who had won the National League pennant, in the World Series, four games to one, easily, and would have swept them had not the turf given way under Kinsler’s foot in the13th inning of Game 3.

As a team, they had the highest batting average in baseball, at .268, the most runs scored, 876, only five teams gave up less than the 647 they gave up, the most doubles, 355, the best on base percentage, .339, the best slugging percentage, .453, the highest OPS, .792, the third most stolen bases, 125, and were at or near the top in most other offensive categories.

There is an old adage in baseball that every team, no matter how good, has at least one slump every year, this year’s Red Sox were the only team in baseball that never lost more than three games in succession all year.

In Interleague Play, they won 16 and lost 4 against National League opponents, the best Interleague record in baseball.

They had everybody’s Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts, who led the league in batting average at .346, runs scored with 129, slugging percentage at .640, extra base hits, 84, and was the first player in baseball history to win the batting title and join the 30-30 club with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same year. He also won a Gold Glove as the best fielding right fielder and a silver slugger as one of the three best hitting outfielders.

They had J. D. Martinez, who finished fourth in the MVP voting, but most experts felt should have been second behind Betts. He led all of baseball in runs batted in, with 130, in total bases with 358, finished second in the batting average race, .330, and second in home runs, 43, and came that close to winning the Triple Crown, which has been done only once in the last fifty years. He also won the Silver Slugger as an outfielder and as a designated hitter, the first person in baseball history to win the award at two positions in one year, and the Hank Aaron Award as the best hitter in the League.

They also had Chris Sale who, despite missing most of August and September with a shoulder problem still won 12 and lost 4 with a 2.11 earned run average and managed to strike out 237, sixth best in baseball. Rick Porcello won 17 and lost just 7, David Price was 16-7 and Eduardo Rodriguez who also missed a lot of the season with injuries, was 13-5. Their Closer Craig Kimbrel saved 42 games in 47 opportunities with a 2.74 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 62 innings.

The bull pen won 40 games, third best in the league and had the least losses, at 16. They had the fourth best ERA in the league at 3.72 and the third most strikeouts at 628.

Jackie Bradley, Jr., won a Gold Glove in the outfield as did Ian Kinsler at second base. Bradley also had the highest success rate in stealing bases in all of baseball at 94.44%. Andrew Benintendi was tied for first in the league in outfield assists with 12.

Their shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, had an outstanding year at the plate and in the field, hitting .288 with 23 homers and 103 runs batted in while left fielder, Benintendi, hit .290 with 16 homers and 87 runs batted in.

Their depth was an important part of this season. They had 15 position players who had 100 or more at bats and 12 who played in over 80 games. In addition, eight players hit 10 or more home runs and there were 10 grand slam homers hit during the year

Manager Alex Cora, who led the team to its fourth World Series win of the century, and its highest win total in history, 108, finished second in the American League Manager of the Year voting.

They did all this without their leader, Dustin Pedroia who spent almost the entire year recuperating from knee surgery. It is expected that he will be back at full strength to lead the 2019 Sox.

There is no question that the 2018 Red Sox were the best team to play the game that year. Were they the best team ever? That seems a question that no one would ever be able to measure accurately enough to give a definitive answer.

They have been compared with the Yankees of Murderer’s Row, the Reds’ Big Red Machine, and many others, including the 2004 Red Sox.

There is no question that the players of 2018 are bigger, faster, better conditioned and throw harder than the players of a century or even a decade ago. The players have evolved over time like every species of animal does but each eras players played against similarly equipped players.

Trying to compare players or teams from different eras is like the proverbial comparison of apples and oranges.

The game is still played on the same size diamond, with 90 foot base paths, there are still three outs to an inning, nine innings to a game and the team with the most runs still wins but the players and the equipment they use to get ready and play the game are different.

The only realistic comparison we are able to make accurately is in the area of statistics and, in that area, this team was at least one of the best.

The bottom line is, we will never know if it was the best team ever but anybody who saw them play can testify to the fact that this was as exciting, motivated and talented a team that has played in Fenway Park, or any park for that matter, in a long time.

That should be sufficient for any baseball fan. I know that I feel fortunate to have watched this team do their thing and, whether they were the best team ever or not, they gave me a season for the ages, and that is enough for me.

THE MAN BEHIND THE SOX INFIELD

As the Red Sox enter the second month of the season, I thought it appropriate to recognize the role played by a native Mainer in their success.

Before the season started, people had questions about the ability of the pitching staff, both starting and relief, and whether it would perform better than last year with the additions of David Price, Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith.

The next big questions Sox fans had revolved around Hanley Ramirez, who the Red Sox had paid a small fortune to and turned into the worst left fielder in baseball last year and were planning to make a first baseman out of this year and what would happen at third base now that Pablo Sandoval, who had also gotten a small fortune to play third base, and had turned out to be a flop last year and showed up at Spring Training out of shape and bigger than ever.

Nobody thought that one month into the season, Ramirez would be playing first base like he’d been there all his life and that, before Sandoval went on the disabled list with an injured shoulder and/or pride, that young first baseman Travis Shaw would be playing third base like a veteran and hitting the cover off the ball.

Ramirez, who couldn’t be bothered to try to learn to play left field last year, worked every day in Spring Training to develop the skills to allow him to play a position which, according to Baseball Reference, he had never played at any level in the minors or majors.

Shaw had started a total of just 59 games at third base in his five year minor league career while starting 335 at first base. Last year, after coming up to the Sox late in the season, he played only eight games at third, 55 at first and one in left field.

What is the one thing that these two, who have been important cogs in the Red Sox defense so far, have in common? The answer is Brian Butterfield, the Red Sox, 58 year old third base coach, who also doubles as the infield instructor and base running coach. Butterfield is one of the most respected infield coaches in all of baseball. He has worked tirelessly with Ramirez since he arrived at Spring Training hitting literally thousands of ground balls and imparting his special brand of wisdom.

Butterfield was an infielder himself, a second baseman who played five seasons in the minor leagues in the Yankees system but never made the big leagues. He started at Oneonta in the New York/Pennsylvania League in low A ball in 1979 and worked his way up to AAA with the Nashville Sound in the International League in 1982, where he hit .238 in 71 games. The next year, he was back with Miami in the Class A Florida League and that was the end of his playing career.

Butter, as he is affectionately known around baseball, was born in Bangor, Maine, on March 9, 1958. His father, Jack, was the University of Maine baseball coach from 1957 to 1974 and also served as Vice President for Player Development and Scouting for the New York Yankees from 1977-1979.

After attending Maine briefly, Butterfield got his B. A. from Florida Southern in 1980 while playing in the minors and filling in as an Assistant Coach at Southern and then at Eckerd College.

After his playing career, he served in various positions in the Yankee system including as roving infield instructor at different levels throughout the organization. In 1988, he was named Gulf Coast League Manager of the Year after leading his Sarasota team to the league title.

He managed at different levels in the minors and in 1994 and 1995 he was Buck Showalter’s first base coach with the Yankees and, coincidentally, a player who turned out to be a pretty good infielder, Derek Jeter, came up with the Yankees at that time.

He left the Yankees to go to the new franchise Arizona Cardinals in 1996 and helped get the franchise ready to begin play in 1998 when he became third base coach. He managed the Tampa Bay Yankees in the Florida State League to a share of that league’s title in 2001 and started the following season as the Manager of the Columbus Clippers in the AAA International League. After a bad start, he was fired on May 6 and, less than a month later, was hired as third base coach with the Toronto Blue Jays.

He was with Toronto until 2013, serving as Bench Coach in 2008 and 2009 and going back to third base coach in 2010. In 2010, when Toronto hired John Farrell as Manager, Butterfield had been a finalist for that position. When Farrell left to go to Boston as Manager in 2013, Butterfield was again a finalist for the position but when John Gibbons was hired for the job, Butter went to Boston with Farrell as third base coach and infield instructor.

He is in his 37th year in professional baseball and his 20th as a Coach at the Major League level. He was elected to the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

If the Red Sox should go all the way this year, much of the credit should go to this Maine native who solved their corner infield problems and may very well have saved Hanley Ramirez’s career in baseball. Whatever happens with the Red Sox team, watching the Red Sox defense, particularly the corner infielders, from the dug out this year must be providing some of Butterfield’s proudest moments in a long and productive career.

BOB FELLER – PITCHER AND PATRIOT

On April 16, 1940, seventy-six years ago last Saturday, Bob Feller pitched the only Opening Day no-hitter in the history of baseball. The following article about Feller is excerpted from my latest book, The Baseball Buff’s Bathroom Book.

On August 23, 1936, Bob Feller made his first Major League start as a pitcher with the Cleveland Indians. He faced the St. Louis Browns in Cleveland’s League Park # 2 and pitched a complete game six hitter, giving up just one run in the sixth inning as the Indians won, 4-1. Feller struck out 15 Browns’ batters that day, getting every batter in the Browns starting lineup, except third baseman Harlond Clift, at least once.

On August 30, he made his second start and lasted just five innings, giving up four runs on six hits to the Red Sox in Boston as the Indians lost, 5-1, and he got the loss. He got his second loss on September 3, when he only lasted one inning, giving up five runs on three hits and three walks, against the Yankees in New York.

Four days later, he got his second win, again pitching a complete game, again against the Browns, this time giving up seven hits and one run and striking out ten against the Browns. Six days later, he struck out 17 Philadelphia Athletics batters, while pitching another complete game, giving up two runs on two hits.

He ended the 1936 season with five wins and three losses, throwing 62 innings and striking out 76, with eight starts and five complete games. Not a spectacular beginning but not bad for a seventeen year old.

That’s right, at age 17, three months and two weeks before his eighteenth birthday, Bob Feller was already making a name for himself as a strikeout pitcher. Major League batters were already finding out what Hall of Famer Ted Lyons said later ‘ It wasn’t until you hit against him that you knew how fast he really was, until you saw with your own eyes that ball jumping at you.’

Robert William Andrew Feller was born November 3, 1918, in Van Meter, Iowa. He was signed as a Free Agent by the Indians at age 17.

In 1937, at age 18, he won nine and lost seven, with a 3.39 ERA. In 1938, he began, at age 19, to come into his own, winning 17 and losing 11 and leading the league in strike outs with 240.

In 1939, he won 24 and lost 9 with a 2.85 ERA and 246 strikeouts. In 1940, with 27 wins, 11 losses, a 2.61 ERA and 261 strikeouts, he won the Triple Crown for pitching and was named the Major League Player of the Year. On April 16 of that year, he threw his first of three no hitters, beating the Chicago White Sox, 1-0.

In 1941, he won 25 and lost 13, led the league in strikeouts with 260 and had a 3.15 ERA. In that period, from 1939 to 1941, he won 76 and lost just 33 while striking out 767 batters.

On December 9, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy, even though he had a deferment, and was the first of many Major League players to do so. He was in the Navy from then until late in the 1945 season, missing almost four full seasons at the prime of his career.

He returned to the Indians on August 24, 1945, nine years and one day after he made his first Major League start. He started nine games at the end of that year, won five and lost three and had six complete games.

In 1946, he came back like he’d never been away, winning a league leading, 26, and losing 15 with a 2.18 ERA and 348 strikeouts, a modern record total, which stood until Sandy Koufax struck out 382 in 1965. He also had his second no hitter on April 30, beating the New York Yankees 1-0. He also had 36 complete games to lead the league.

In 1947, he led the league in wins again with 20 wins and 11 losses and a 2.68 ERA and 196 strike outs. It was his fifth season with 20 or more wins and he he also threw his third no hitter on July 1, beating the Tigers 2-1.

In the five full seasons, before and after his service time, he had won 121 and lost just 59 while striking out 1,311 batters, an average of 24 wins and 262 strikeouts per year. If he had been able to pitch those four years, at the peak of his career, it is not unreasonable to assume that he would have at least had four average years. If he did, he would have finished with 357 wins, tenth highest of all time, and 3,670 strikeouts, sixth highest of all time.

In 1948, when the Indians won their only pennant while he was with them, he won 19 and lost 15 with a 3.56 ERA. In the World Series, against the Boston Braves, which the Indians won four games to two, he lost the two games his team lost. In Game 1, with Johnny Sain pitching a four hitter for the Braves, Feller gave up just one run on two hits to lose, 1-0. The run scored in the eighth with two outs when Braves right fielder Tommy Holmes hit a little bloop pop fly down the right field line to drive in the only run of the game. In Game 5 he gave up seven runs in 6 1/3 innings as the Indians lost 11-5.

In 1951, at the ripe old age of 32, fifteen years after his debut, he had his sixth season with 20 or more wins, winning a league high 22 and losing just eight with a 3.50 ERA. He also had his third no hitter on July 1, beating the Detroit Tigers, 2-1.

He spent his entire career with the Indians, winning a total of 266 games while losing 162 and compiling a 3.25 ERA. He made 484 starts and threw 279 complete games with 2,581 strikeouts. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962 and made the All Star team eight times.

In 2013, the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award was created by MLB and the Navy to honor baseball players and Navy personnel who reflect the values of honor, courage and commitment in recognition of Feller’s dedication to his country. Feller received six campaign ribbons and eight battle stars during his almost four years service.

On his page at the Hall of Fame, he is quoted as saying about his service ‘ I didn’t worry about losing my baseball career. We needed to win the war. I wanted to do my part.’

THE NEW HANLEY RAMIREZ

009Any resemblance between the Hanley Ramirez that played left field for the Red Sox last year and the one that is playing first base this year is purely coincidental.

The Hanley Ramirez that played left field, and I use the term ‘played’ loosely, couldn’t field, had no interest in learning to play the position, could only hit occasionally, never seemed to be trying very hard, seemed to have little interest in the game while it was going on and generally looked like a player past his prime who had a BIG, GUARANTEED contract and was just going to play out the rest of his contract without exerting too much effort.

The Hanley Ramirez playing first base worked his butt off in spring training to learn a new position, has been doing a more than credible job of playing it, is hitting like the younger Hanley Ramirez and looks comfortable at the plate, runs the bases like his run is the game winner, has twice hustled to stretch a single into a double, ( once successfully, once not ), is at the top of the dugout steps to congratulate other players and, in general is acting like a winner on a team that has the ability to be a winner.

What caused this miracle turnaround? Is it because he is playing with a team of young players who believe in themselves and are playing the game the way it should be played, like it’s fun? Is it because he has always thought of himself as an infielder and, like most infielders views outfielders as people who are there because they can’t play the infield?

I have my own theory, based upon nothing but my own inexpert observations. It goes like this. Do you remember Carl Crawford? The Sox got Carl Crawford from the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011. He had hit .305 there in 2009 and .310 in 2010 and was a better than average fielder. In his only full year playing with the Sox he hit .211 and played left field like he’d never had a glove on before. In 2013, his first full season after going to the Dodgers, he hit .283.

The Sox got Hanley Ramirez from the Dodgers in 2015. In 2014, he had hit

.283 with the Dodgers as an infielder. In 2015, he hit .249 with the Red Sox and was considered the worst left fielder in all of baseball.

What’s the common denominator here? Both fell apart when exposed to left field in Fenway Park. How would if affect you if you were an outfielder playing in normal sized and shaped outfields or an infielder not used to the outfield if all of a sudden you found yourself playing right behind the shortstop with a 37 foot wall right behind you?

They both were victims of what I call Green Monster Syndrome. The stress of being thrust into the black hole between short stop and the wall in Fenway affects different people differently. If the Sox had put either Crawford or Ramirez in right field instead of left, both stories might have been different.

Whatever the reason for Hanley’s problems last year, I like the Hanley Ramirez that is playing first base now. He is a positive force on this Red Sox team and may be the veteran leader that this team needs to make the difference between worst and first.

OPENING DAY IS FINALLY HERE

Today is the day we baseball nuts wait for all winter. The Major League Baseball Season opens up with three games on tap. At 1:05, the St. Louis Cardinals play the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park with Adam Wainwright, coming back from Tommy John surgery against the Pirates Francisco Liriano, 12-7 last year.

In the second game, at 4:05, the Tampa Bay Rays host the Toronto Blue Jays in Tropicana Field with the Jays Marcus Strohman, who missed most of last year with a knee injury but came back to go 4-0 at the end of the year and had a great Playoff run, against Chris Archer, 12-13 last year and expected to be the Ace of the Rays staff.

The third game, at 8:37, a replay of last year’s World Series puts the New York Mets with their Ace, Matt Harvey, also back from Tommy John surgery, against the Kansas City Royals and Edinson Volquez, 13-9 last year. All three games are on National Television. Five of the six teams in the Opening Day Games made it to the Post Season last year, with the Rays the only exception.

There has been a proposal to make Opening Day a National Holiday as a large portion of the American public take the day off anyway to see the spectacle. Whether that happens or not, Opening Day will always mean full houses for all but few teams.

This is the first year in the last seven that I have not been physically present at an Opening Day. Last year, we were in Tampa’s Tropicana Field for Opening Day, on April 6, between the Rays and the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles won that one 6-2, beating Archer in front of 31,042 fans. The next day, the Orioles won again 6-5 and there were only 13,906 fans present.

The previous year, 2014, we were in Chase Field in Phoenix for the Opener between the Diamondbacks and eventual World Series winning San Francisco Giants. With 48,541 fans on hand, the Diamondbacks lost the opener 9-8 on a Buster Posey two run homer in the top of the ninth. The next day, the Giants got off to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against none other than Wade Miley. After giving up the four runs in the first, Miley then shut out the Giants for six more innings as the D’Backs came back to win 5-4.

The crowd that day was only 18,974. Obviously, the magic of Opening Day goes away quickly in some ball parks in different cities. Not everyone can sell out almost every day like the Red Sox do.

If you have never seen an Opening Day, with its pageantry and drama, you are missing something that every baseball fan should experience at least once. There is usually a special event scheduled for that day in every ball park but watching the introduction of the players and the teams lining up on the base lines to start the season is worth the trip.

In 2015, we saw the Rays honor Don Zimmer, posthumously, on his 65 years in baseball, on Opening Day in Tropicana Field and, in 2014, we saw Joe Garagiola, who passed away last week, receive an award for his ball playing, announcing and charity work before the Opener in Chase Field.

Tomorrow, the rest of the teams take the fields for their openers. The Boston Red Sox open in Cleveland against Tito Francona’s Indians with newly acquired Ace David Price, 18-5 last year, with the Tigers and Blue Jays, and runner up in the Cy Young race after winning it in 2012, before signing as a Free Agent with the Sox. He will face Corey Kluber who was 9-16 but had a 3.49 ERA.

The Yankees open at home against one of last year’s big surprises, the Houston Astros, who will put their Ace and Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA against Masahiro Tanaka, 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA.

The Chicago Cubs, who I expect to win the National League Central Division, start out in California against the Angels. The Cubs will start Jake Arrieta, last year’s National League Cy Young winner, with a 22-6 record against Garrett Richards, 15-12 last year. This is the first year in the last eight that the Angels have not started Jered Weaver on Opening Day. He has had his problems and may start the season in the Minors rehabbing and trying to get his velocity back.

Of course, since this is an even numbered year and the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series in the last three even numbered years, fans will be watching them closely. They open at the Milwaukee Brewers and will start Madison Bumgarner, their Ace, who went 18-9 with a 2.93 ERA last year after winning the World Series MVP Award in 2014. The Brew Crew will counter with young Wily Peralta, who was just 5-10 last year with a 4.80 ERA but is expected to be at or near the top of their rotation this year.

By the end of the day on Monday, if the weather is good, every team will have at least one game under its belt but with 161 more to go we will be no closer to being able to predict the ultimate winner. At the end, there will be ten teams in the Post Season.

For the fifth year in a row, there will be two Wild Cards in each league who will play a single elimination game to decide which team goes to the Playoffs against the three Division Winners. In the last four years, at least one of the Wild Card teams has made it to the League Championship Series in every year except 2013. Of course, in 2014 both the Giants and Royals, who made it to the World Series, were Wild Card Teams.

IMG_1423Those Playoffs are a long way off and there will be lots of drama and, I am sure, many surprises along the way. Exactly 26 weeks from today, the Yankees will be at home to the Orioles and the Red Sox will be playing the Blue Jays at Fenway on the last day of the season and we will be wondering how the season went by so quickly, but, for now, we are just happy that we will hear the cry of ‘Play Ball’ at last.

THE GIANTS YEAR, AGAIN?

From 2009 until 2015, the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series in each of the three even numbered years, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Most serious baseball fans might be aware of that fact, it has been written about so many times. Not as much attention has been paid to the fact that, in the odd numbered years in that period, not only have they failed to win the World Series, they have failed to even make the playoffs.

That’s right, this team that has won three World’s Championships in the seven year period, only matched in this century by the three the Boston Red Sox have won, has been an also ran in the other four years. In that seven year period, the Giants have won 274 and lost 212 during their Championship Years, a .564 percentage while, during their also ran years, they have won 334 and lost 314, a .515 percentage.

It isn’t as if the Giants fell apart in the years they didn’t win the Championship. They finished in third place in 2009, with an 88-74 record. In 2011, they finished at 86-76, eight games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2013, they finished a dismal fourth, with their worst, and only losing record of the period, 76-86, 16 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. Last year, they finished in second, 8 games behind the Dodgers, with a record of 84-78.

Well, here we are in an even numbered year again. Can the Giants rebound again and win their fourth World Series in eight years after failing to make the Playoffs in the other four of those eight years?

Despite losing key players for long stretches in 2015, the Giants finished with a respectable 84-78 record. Second year second baseman Joe Panik, played in only 100 games after a lower back inflammation sidelined him and right fielder Hunter Pence played in just 52 games.

Aging veteran, 40 year old Tim Hudson made 29 starts and posted a 4.44 ERA with an 8-9 record and 38 year old Ryan Vogelsang was 9-11, with a 4.67 ERA in 22 starts. The Giants added right handed starter Johnny Cueto, who was 11-13 last year between Cincinnati and Kansas City, but who was 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA in 2014 finishing as runner up for the Cy Young Award. They also picked up Jeff Samardzija, who was 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA with the lowly White Sox last year.

These two starters, will be added to their Ace Madison Bumgarner, who was 18-9 last year, with a 2.93 ERA, Jake Peavy, 8-6 and a 3.58 ERA in 19 starts, after missing much of the first half with back and hip problems, and Matt Cain, coming back from two bad years and working on a new release and expected to be the fifth starter. Chris Heston, who, as a rookie, was 12-11 with a 3.95 ERA in 31 starts can help with the starting and can relieve as needed.

Buster Posey will be back behind the plate. Probably the best all around catcher in the game today, Posey played in 150 games last year, some at first, but most behind the plate, and hit .318 with 19 homers and 95 RBI’s. Slugging Brandon Belt, who hit .280 with 18 homers and 68 RBI’s will be back at first and Joe Panik, who hit .312 in just 100 games should be healed and ready to go at second. Brandon Crawford, who won the Gold Glove at shortstop and hit .256 with 21 homers and 84 RBI’s will join third baseman Matt Duffy coming off a rookie season in which he hit .295, and drove in 77 runs.

Posey, Belt and Duffy were all finalists for the Gold Glove Award at their positions and, with Gold Glove winner Crawford at short and slick fielding Panik back at full strength at second, this could be one of the best defensive infields in baseball.

The addition this past week of 32 year old Denard Span who will probably take over on center field strengthens them even more up the middle. Span, who only played 61 games last year and is a career .287 hitter, had a surgery for a torn labrum in his left hip in September and is expected to be ready to go by spring training. Angel Pagan, who played center last year and hit .262, will probably compete with Gregor Blanco for the left field spot. Blanco hit .291 in 115 games last year. Hunter Pence, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, will be back in right after recovering from a strained left oblique which limited him to 52 games last year.

The bullpen has Closer Santiago Casilla, who saved 38 of 44 tries last year with a 2.79 ERA with workhorses Sergio Romo, 70 games 2.98 ERA, Javier Lopez 77 games, 1.60 ERA, George Kontos, 73 games, 2.33 ERA and Hunter Strickland, 53 games, 2.45 ERA, and is more than adequate.

As of this writing, veteran Giant starter and sometimes reliever, Tim Lincecum, who was 7-4 last year, with an ERA of 4.13, has not signed a Free Agent contract with anyone. He could add depth to the bullpen and as a spot starter should the Giants decide to bring him back.

Manager Bruce Bochy says that this team could be the best defensive team he has ever had in 21 years as a Manager. They have the potential to put a lot of runs on the board as well. Can the Giants do the improbable and go from also ran to winner for the fourth time in eight years?

At this point, I would not advise betting against them but don’t forget that team on the north side of Chicago. Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon and their young Cubs may have something to say about that.

FROM WORST TO FIRST, PART II

A. Bartlett Giamatti, the seventh Commissioner of Baseball, once said ‘ Baseball is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the Spring, when everything is new again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.’

With a young, talented group of players, most of who should be with them for several years, the Red Sox have the potential to go all the way in 2016. Boston baseball fans are a strange lot. The team has finished last in three of the past four years but the typical Boston fan expects nothing less than a World Series win in 2016 from this group.

If they go all the way, Boston fans will be ecstatic but, should they fail because they are not as good as we think they are, the fans will be left to face the fall and winter alone, as they did this year.

The acquisition of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval over the 2014-2015 off season, which was expected to give the Sox a lot more power, obviously did not work. In addition to failing to fulfill their promise at the plate, both made the worst fielding team, the Brick Glove Award, as selected by Nick Selbe in the on line Journal ‘Point After’ based upon their fielding statistics. If you watched them both play all year, you didn’t need a complicated formula to tell that they had to be among the worst at their positions.

Selbe pointed out that ‘ Some of the players on this list are good enough offensively to compensate for their defensive shortcomings, while others would be wise to spend the off season learning a new position.’ The Sox are planning to make Ramirez into a first baseman. If he doesn’t work any harder at becoming a first baseman than he did a left fielder, he will probably get a second Brick Glove Award. The Sox would do well to find a way to unload both these veterans even if they have to absorb some of their salaries to do so.

So, what will 2016’s version of the Red Sox look like and why am I so high on their chances to get to their fourth World Series in 13 years? Although pitching is the name of the game, the Red Sox position players, who, barring trades, are all coming back in 2016, made a statement during the last 48 games of the season, finishing 28-20.

Blake Swihart, 24, behind the plate, had an excellent rookie season, catching 84 games after the loss of Christian Vazquez to elbow surgery. He hit .274, with five homers and 31 RBI’s for the season but .330 with 34 hits in 103 at bats in the last 48 games under Lovullo. He has the added advantage of being a switch hitter.

Ryan Hanigan, 35, the other catcher, hit .247 in 54 games. If Vazquez returns ready to play in the Spring, watch for the Sox to trade Hanigan and keep Swihart to share the duties with Vazquez. Vazquez, 25, hit .240 in 55 games in 2014, his rookie season.
Travis Shaw, 25, who hit .270, with 13 homers and 36 RBI’s in just 65 games after being installed at first base during the season will give Ramirez some competition at first if he is back. Ramirez, of course, hit only .249, with 19 homers and 53 RBI’s in 105 games in left field. Shaw also has the advantage of being a more than adequate third baseman. Shaw hit .266 in the last 48 games with 50 hits.

Thirty-two year old Dustin Pedroia will be the second baseman, barring injury. He only played in 93 games this year while dealing with a hamstring injury but is still, arguably, the best all around second baseman in the league, if not all of baseball. He hit .291 with 12 homers and 42 RBI’s including hitting .308 in the last 48 games.

Xander Bogaerts, 23, had a breakout year at short in 2015. He proved that he can play the position defensively and he hit .320, the second highest average in the league. He had 196 hits, also the second highest in the league, seven homers and 81 RBI’s while playing 156 games. During the last 48 games, he hit .333 with 64 hits in 192 at bats.

Brock Holt, 27, could play third if Sandoval were traded but probably has more value as a utility player. He has proven he can play any position in the field defensively and continues to hit consistently no matter how much he is moved around. He hit .280 for the season in 129 games and .288 in the last 48 games.

The left fielder, Rusney Castillo, 28, played in 80 games after being brought up in late May and hit .253 with 29 RBI’s. In his first year in organized baseball in this country, after coming over from Cuba, he has shown the potential expected of him.

Jackie Bradley, 25, the center fielder, hit .249 for the season with 10 homers and 53 RBI’s in 74 games. During the last 48 games, he hit .283. In a streak from August 9 through September 9, he hit .442, had 13 doubles, 4 triples, 7 home runs and 32 RBI’s. In the last 48 games of the season, he hit .283.

The right fielder, Mookie Betts, 23, hit .291 with 18 homers and an impressive 77 RBI’s batting out of the lead off spot in 117 of his 145 games. Betts, who was playing second base for Portland at the start of the 2014 season, has successfully made the move to center field and then to right field. In the last 48 games of the season, he hit .342 with 68 hits in 199 at bats.

The designated hitter, David Ortiz, 39, after a slow start, hit .273 with 37 home runs and 108 RBI’s. He also played nine games at first base and handled all but one chance cleanly. During the last 48 games of the season, Ortiz hit .319.

One of the reasons people are so high on the Red Sox chances next year is because the eight position players, Swihart, Shaw, Pedroia, Bogaerts, Holt, Castillo, Bradley and Betts and the designated hitter Ortiz, hit a collective .313 over the last 48 games of the season. The average age of these nine players, even with Ortiz at 39 and Pedroia at 32, is just 27.3 years.

CATCHERS MAKE THE BEST MANAGERS

Did anyone notice that three of the four Managers in the American and National League Championship Series’ were former catchers in their baseball careers? Joe Maddon of the Cubs, John Gibbons of the Blue Jays and Ned Yost of the Royals were all catchers during their playing careers. Only Terry Collins of the Mets was not. Collins was a shortstop during his playing career.

In the beginning of this year’s Playoffs, of the ten teams involved, including the Wild Card Teams, six of the ten were managed by former catchers, including all five American League teams.

In all of Major League Baseball, 13 of the 30 Managers were catchers during their playing career. Why are 60 per cent of the Post Season teams, 75 per cent of the teams in the LCS and 43 per cent of the Major League teams managed by former catchers?

After all, catcher is only one of nine positions on the field at any given time, yet 43 percent of the Managers come from the ranks of catchers. What special ability required to manage a baseball team does a player develop from playing at this least glamorous position that gives him the skills to be a Manager? After all, the catcher’s equipment has always been referred to as the ‘Tools of Ignorance’. One wouldn’t think that ignorance would be an asset in such a complex position.

According to Baseballreference.com, the term ‘tools of ignorance’ was ‘…meant to be ironic, contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position with the foolishness needed to play a position hazardous enough to require so much protective equipment.’

The catcher takes a position, generally more that 100 times a game, behind the batter, that puts him at severe risk. Both ball and bat are moving at a speed around 100 miles an hour and arrive at a spot directly in front of the catcher at precisely the same instant. If you have never experienced the sensation when this happens, you don’t have a true understanding of the phrase ‘in the blink of an eye’.

Until the recent rule change, the catcher was the only player on the field that it was acceptable to crash into while running at full speed into home plate. He is an advocate for the pitcher in ball and strike counts, making him a favorite target of umpires. If an opposing batter gets hit with a pitch, the catcher, who obviously must have called the bean ball, is the most logical target for the opposition pitcher’s retaliation.

Given the dangers involved and the options available, why would any sane person choose to catch? While catching may be the most dangerous position on any sports field, it’s where the action is. The catcher is involved in every play. Every play starts with a pitch the catcher calls by signaling to the pitcher what to throw and where to throw it.

While following general directions given by sign from the dugout, the catcher must consider a myriad of things while deciding, in a few seconds, which pitch he will call for next. Among the things he must consider are the ability, condition, mental attitude and performance so far that day of his pitcher, who, by the way, is only one of 11 or 12 different pitchers he will catch this week. He must also monitor the situation on the field, including the ball and strike count, the number of outs, the score, any base runners and their locations, speed and ability and, of course, the batter, including, but not limited to, his physical ability, what he has seen in his previous at bats and what he can be expected to try to accomplish in this at bat.

I have merely scraped the surface of the things a catcher must know and anticipate in every situation. Most of us would need a computer to catalog the things we would need to consider before putting down those fingers to call for a pitch, never mind analyze those factors and come up with a decision.

Once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, the real action begins. The person squatting behind home plate who was just imitating a rocket scientist now becomes an amazing specimen of human agility and reaction. The pitch will come in at anywhere between 70 and 100 miles an hour, may go where it was supposed to go or somewhere else and may not even be the pitch the catcher thought he called for. If you have ever expected an 80 mile an hour slider and, instead, gotten a 100 mile per hour fastball, you’ll know where the term handcuffed came from.

Assuming the ball is not put into play, which it isn’t most of the time, and the catcher catches it, and there is no one stealing a base, the scenario starts all over again. If the ball is hit, depending upon where it is hit and whether is is caught by a fielder, or one of the dozens of other things that can happen, the catcher now has other responsibilities. These include backing up first base on grounders, directing throws within the infield, preparing to catch a ball for a play at the plate and on and on and on. After this play is over, his responsibilities begin all over again.

Considering their responsibilities and all they have to learn to play their position, is it surprising that catchers make good Managers? The catcher is like the football quarterback who must know the role of every player on every play.

That is why catchers make the best managers and why there is a good chance two former catchers will be managing against each other in the World Series this year just as Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost, two former catchers, did last year.

CUBS VERSUS ASTROS IN WORLD SERIES??

AZ 2014 004What could be more exciting than a Playoff Season that started out with all four of the Underdogs ahead of the Favorites two games to one after three games? So far, both American League Favorites, the Blue Jays and Royals, have come back and won Game 4 to avoid being eliminated. But both the Dodgers and Cardinals, winners of their National League Divisions, are down two games to one, to the Mets and Cubs, and facing possible elimination tonight.

What could be more exciting would be an American League Championship Series that pitted the Houston Astros, who finished in fourth place in the Western Division last year, against the Texas Rangers, who finished in last place in the Western Division last year, in an all Texas series. If you have forgotten, Houston won only 70 games while losing 92 in 2014 and finished 28 games out of first. The only thing that kept the Astros out of last place was those Texas Rangers, with a record of 67-95, 31 games back. Texas was the only team in the American League that lost more games than the Astros, who were tied for the second worst record in the League. Tomorrow night both of them have a chance to advance to the American League Championship Series.

What would be just as exciting would be a National League Championship Series with the Chicago Cubs, who finished in last place in the Central Division last year, facing the New York Mets, who finished in third place in the Eastern Division last year. The Cubs won 73 and lost 89 last year and finished 17 games out of first. The Mets finished with the same 73-89 record and were also 17 games out of first. The Mets are up two games to one over the Dodgers while the Cubs have the same advantage over the Cardinals. If the Mets and Cubs can each win one of the last two games against the Dodgers and Cardinals, the Mets and Cubs will meet in the National League Championship Series.

The four Underdogs finished with a combined record of 295 wins and 353 losses last year while the other four teams finished with 356 wins and 292 losses. This year, the Underdogs finished with a combined 361 wins and just 287 losses compared to the Favorites record of 380-268.

Imagine a World Series with the Chicago Cubs, who finished last in their division the past two years and the Houston Astros who finished in fourth last year and last the previous year after being moved from the National League Central to the American League, facing each other. Remember also that the Astros finished in last in the National League Central their last two years there and were the only thing that kept the fourth place Cubs out of last.

The Astros have not been in the World Series since 2005, when they lost their only appearance in the Fall Classic to the Chicago White Sox in four straight. The Cubs have not been in the World Series since 1945, 70 years ago, when they lost to the Detroit Tigers four games to three. They have not won a World Series since 1908, 107 years ago, when they beat those same Tigers four games to one.

The chances of it happening are slim but don’t tell Manager Joe Maddon of the Cubs or Manager A. J. Hinch of the Astros, who, by the way, are both in their first year of managing these clubs. The fact that these four Underdogs have gotten to the point that they all have a shot at getting to the Championship Series should be excitement enough for one playoff season.

As I say every year at this time, how can anyone get excited about football, basketball or hockey when baseball is giving us its usual Fall dose of excitement and suspense?

‘THE FUTURE AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE’ – YOGI BERRA

On September 28, 1951, I was in Yankee Stadium in New York, with my father, to watch the Yankees play a double header against the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees could clinch the pennant over the second place Cleveland Indians by winning both ends of the double header. At age 13 and a rabid Yankee fan, I could not believe I was there.

Allie Reynolds took the mound for the Yankees in Game 1 of the twin bill. Reynolds was at the top of his game that day. He had already pitched one no hitter that year and had a second no hitter going in the last of the ninth with two outs and the Yankees ahead 8-0. The only person between Reynolds and his second no hitter was the Splendid Splinter Ted Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball at that time and probably of all time.

Reynolds got Williams to hit a pop foul and Yogi Berra got under it and, unbelievably, dropped it. Reynolds went back to the mound and got Williams to hit another pop foul and Yogi caught this one, ending the no hitter and clinching a tie for the pennant for the Yankees.

Five years and ten days later, in Glidden Hall, at Nasson College, in Springvale, Maine, I watched on a black and white television as Don Larsen threw the only perfect game in World Series history against the Brooklyn Dodgers in that same Yankee Stadium. When pinch hitter Dale Mitchell was called out on strikes for the third out of the game, the catcher, that same Yogi Berra, charged the mound and leaped into Larsen’s arms and the picture of that happening is one of the most famous pictures in baseball history.

Yogi Berra passed away this past week at age 90. The two events above that I was fortunate to have witnessed were just the tip of the iceberg in the amazing career and life of Yogi Berra. Yes, he was perhaps the greatest catcher ever to play the game but he was much more than a catcher.

He was born and raised in The Hill section of St. Louis where he grew up with his friend and fellow catcher Joe Garagiola. After they tried out, Garagiola signed with the Cardinals and Yogi supposedly turned down a contract offer from them because they offered Garagiola more money than him. Yogi eventually signed with the Yankees.

After just beginning his baseball career with the Class B Norfolk Yankee farm team in 1943, he enlisted in the Navy and trained as a machine gunner on a Rocket Boat and was at Omaha Beach during the
D-Day Invasion of Normandy. He returned from the Navy in 1946 and hit .314 in 77 games with the Newark Bears before being brought up to the Yankees in September.

He played for the Yankees from 1946 until 1963. After his playing career was over, he managed the Yankees to a pennant in 1964, managed the Mets from 1972 until 1975, winning the National League pennant in 1973, and managed the Yankees again from 1984 until he was fired by George Steinbrenner after the Yankees started the 1985 season 6-10.

After leaving baseball, he opened the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University near his home in Montclair, New Jersey. The facility, which, is described in it’s literature as capturing ‘the rich history of baseball and the career of Yogi Berra is a wonderful learning experience for both adults and students alike’, serves thousands annually.

Yogi was almost as well known for his ‘Yogi-isms’ as for his feats as a baseball player. He is one of the most quoted athletes in the world. My favorite quote supposedly was uttered while he was playing in a baseball game when he was in the Navy and stationed at Groton, Connecticut. After not doing well at his first at bats in a game, swinging at bad pitches, the coach told him to think while he was up there. Yogi supposedly went up and took three strikes without swinging and when he came back to the dug out said ‘I can’t think and hit at the same time’.

Yogi, the baseball player, was signed by the Yankees in 1943. He played on 10 World Series winners from 1947 to 1962, the most of any player in history. He was named to every All Star team from 1948 until 1962 and was Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1951, 1954 and 1955.

He had his greatest year at the plate in 1950, hitting .322 with 28 homers and 124 RBI’s. 1950 was the second year of the Yankees all time record five consecutive World Series wins. He also threw out a remarkable 57.6% of the runners who attempted to steal against the Yankees that year. Even more impressive is the fact that he was behind the plate in 148 of his team’s 154 regular season games that year. He caught more games in 1954, totaling 149. For his career, he batted .285 and hit 358 home runs and drove in 1,430 runs.

He was named to the Hall of Fame in 1972. According to the web site Baseball Reference, the highest salary he earned with the Yankees was $65,000. in 1957. Somehow, I think Yogi would have played for nothing, he loved the game that much.

Yogi passed away on September 22, 2015, exactly 69 years, to the day, after he made his debut as a Yankee in 1946. In that first game of his career, which the Yankees won 4-3 over Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Phillies, Yogi batting eighth, went 2-4 with a home run, two RBI’s and a run scored.

Baseball has lost a great player, manager, ambassador and character and the world has lost a great American. Before his death, he was proposed as a candidate for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Hopefully, the movement to accomplish this will continue and he will be recognized for all that he did for baseball and America.