Archive for the 'Baseball' Category

28
Apr
08

Doug Mirabelli: An Appreciation

“Like some cult religion that barely survives, there has always been at least one but rarely more than five or six devotees throwing the knuckleball in the big leagues… Not only can’t pitchers control it, hitters can’t hit it, catchers can’t catch it, coaches can’t coach it, and most pitchers can’t learn it. The perfect pitch.” ― Ron Luciano, former AL umpire

Last March, the Boston Red Sox released backup catcher Doug Mirabelli. Ok, I know this is old news. And even if it weren’t, you’re probably saying, “Backup catcher? Who cares?” And some will say I must be completely bonkers to do another baseball post, since my post on Bill Buckner crashed and burned so miserably (it has the distinction of being the only post I’ve ever written not to generate a single comment, so I guess the Red Sox aren’t the only ones who suffered from the curse of the ex-cub). But my conscience will not let me live with myself if I don’t pen a little something about one of my favorite players. Of course, recalcitrant blogslacker that I am, I have allowed over a month to go by since this happened, so I thought I had better get on the stick before the season is over.

It might seem strange that a backup catcher should be one of my favorite players. The backup catcher is one of the most unglamorous positions in professional sports, ranking just ahead of backup quarterback. Backup catchers don’t get lucrative endorsement deals. They don’t see their picture on the cover of Sport Illustrated. Hell, they’re lucky if the manager remembers their name.

But one of the things I admired about Mirabelli is that is that he was a true professional. He not only accepted this role without complaining, he embraced it and made it his own in a way rarely seen in professional baseball.

Luckily for him, Mirabelli did possess one rather unique talent: he could catch a Tim Wakefield knuckle ball. Or rather, about 100 Tim Wakefield knuckleballs in one game. For those of you who don’t know, the knuckleball is the most difficult pitch in baseball; difficult to pitch (accurately), and maddeningly difficult to hit. The antithesis of the 95 mile per hour fastball, the knuckleball has almost no rotation, which means it literally wanders in an unpredictable trajectory toward the plate. While the typical knuckleball only travels about 60 mph or so, batters often look silly trying to hit it.

Remember that old Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs was a baseball pitcher? Remember how the batter would swing the bat about a dozen times in the time it took for the ball to float up to the plate? That’s pretty much what a knuckleball does (while originally held with the knuckles, nowadays it is actually held with the fingertips rather than the knuckles, so the name has become something of a misnomer).

And as difficult as it is to hit, it is equally difficult to catch. Legendary manager Joe Torre once said, “You don’t catch a knuckleball, you defend against it.” Broadcaster and former catcher Bob Uecker quipped, “I always thought the knuckleball was the easiest pitch to catch. Wait’ll it stops rolling, then go to the backstop and pick it up.”

Yet Mirabelli had the soft hands necessary to catch this most elusive of all pitches. He became Wakefield’s personal catcher, guaranteeing him playing time every five days, and Wakefield had some of his best years with Mirabelli as his personal batterymate. I once referred to Gerald Ford as the “Doug Mirabelli of American Presidents”, and I meant it as a compliment. Both were given difficult and thankless jobs to do. Both excelled beyond anyone’s expectations.

Offensively, Mirabelli provided some occasional pop; he was the only player in Major League Baseball history to hit six or more home runs in six consecutive seasons of fewer than 200 at-bats (from 2001 to 2006). But it was his defensive abilities that made him an indispensable part of the Boston Red Sox from 2001 until this year.

It is comparatively rare for a backup player to be one of the clubhouse leaders, but that’s exactly what he was. No less a personality than Curt Schilling wrote on his blog that Mirabelli was one of only two players he’d known “who’s presence in the clubhouse carried onto the field.”[sic]

Mirabelli had an endearingly puckish sense of humor. During the 2003 ALDS against the Oakland A’s, he was one of the players standing on the dugout with letters on their backs spelling out “LILLY”, as a way of getting the Fenway crowd to chant “Lilly! Lilly” at unfortunate A’s pitcher Ted Lilly. During a Terry Francona press conference, Mirabelli playfully talked a reporter into asking Francona why Mirabelli didn’t play more often. Immediately copping to the prank, Francona responded “because he’s such a shitty player!”.

My favorite Mirabelli story involved former Sox pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim. Frustrated by his lack of success and the fans’ subsequent hostility, Kim flipped the Boston fans the bird during the 2003 playoffs. Next spring, during opening day ceremonies, Mirabelli jokingly held Kim’s arms behind his back when the announcer introduced Kim to the fans.

And of course, no one can forget May 1st, 2006. The Sox had traded Mirabelli to the San Diego Padres for second baseman Mark Loretta. In fairness to the Sox, the trade made perfect sense. The Sox were getting a first rate starting second baseman for a back up catcher. The only problem was that Mirabelli’s replacement, Josh Bard–ordinarily a fine catcher in his own right–simply couldn’t handle the knuckler. The Sox were so desperate they traded Bard as well as promising pitcher Cla Meredith back to San Diego just to get Mirabelli back. He was greeted at the airport by the Massachusetts State Police at 6:48 pm, actually changed into his uniform while in the cruiser en route to the park, and arrived at the park at 7:13 pm to a standing ovation from the crowd.

How many backup catchers have that on their resume?

I hope he catches on with another team, either as a player, or perhaps as a coach. At 37, he’s no youngster, and with his combination of personality, leadership, and baseball smarts, I think he’d make an excellent coach. I hope we haven’t heard the last of Doug Mirabelli.

-Smith

10
Apr
08

Way to go, Billy Buck!

The late, great Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko once wrote, “sports fans are the biggest assholes in America”, and unfortunately, he has all too often been proved correct. Sports figures themselves are also more than capable of sophomoric behavior. So it was nice to see an example of real class on the part of both fans and player yesterday at Fenway Park, as long vilified first baseman returned to Fenway Park for Opening Day.

If you’re a Red Sox fan, the memory of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series is seared in your soul like a brand, a brand that’s shaped like an “L” for “Loser”. The Red Sox on were on the brink of winning their first World Series title in 68 years. And then, like the cursed team they were, the Sox just let it slip away.

Calvin Schiraldi had entered the bottom of the 10th inning with a two-run lead. After retiring the first two batters, it was announced by the sportscaster (prematurely, as it turned out) that Bruce Hurst had been named as the series MVP. But Schiraldi allowed three straight singles to Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight and was replaced by Bob Stanley. Stanley, who himself has had a love-hate relationship with Sox fans over the years, proceeded to throw a wild pitch, which allowed Mitchell to score the tying run. Then Mookie Wilson, whose name is almost as hated in Boston as Bucky Dent’s, followed by hitting a ground ball that rolled between Buckner’s legs, scoring Ray Knight and giving the Mets a victory that left Sox fans believing in the Curse of the Bambino like never before.

When the Red Sox lost game seven the following night, it just all seemed so inevitable, so very, very fated.

And Buckner got all the blame, of course. The film of the ball rolling through his legs has been played thousands upon thousands of times. The poor decisions of feckless manager John McNamara and the erratic pitching of Schiraldi are noted by knowledgeable baseball fans. But it was Buckner’s error that became the stuff of nightmarish legend for the eternally tortured Red Sox fans. The memory of that game has been become so distorted over the years that there are some Sox fans who actually believe that Buckner’s error came in game 7 and thereby cost the Sox the World Series.

And so it was gratifying and heartwarming to see Buckner return to Fenway Park to a standing ovation. Not since May of 1999, when the Fenway Faithful gave a standing ovation to Joe Torre upon his return to the game after missing time due to prostate cancer, have I been so proud to be a Sox fan. Buckner was a fine player whose career has been unfairly tarnished by one play. It was high time that Red Sox fans showed some respect to one of the players who got them to the World Series in the first place.

And speaking of Mike Royko, this ill-fated game also had the effect of perpetuating the myth of the “Ex-Cubs Factor”. Created by freelance journalist Ron Berler but popularized by Royko, the theory stated that any team headed into the World Series with three or more former Cubs (a team every bit as accursed as the Red Sox) on its roster had “a critical mass of Cubness”, and was doomed to failure. From 1946 until 2001, this theory held true with the sole exception being the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Care to take a guess which team Bill Buckner played on before he came to the Red Sox? You got it: the Cubbies. And if that’s not weird enough, it has been discovered that Buckner was actually wearing a Chicago Cubs batting glove under his first baseman’s mitt when he made that error that forever etched his name in Red Sox infamy.

The final irony? Calvin Schiraldi, an extremely talented young pitcher who had been a teammate of Roger Clemens at the University of Texas and had helped pitch them to a College World Series victory, had been traded to the Red Sox that very year from the New York Mets. He was never the same after the 1986 World Series. After spending one more year with the Sox he was traded to–guess who–the Chicago Cubs.

Congratulations to Bill Buckner. It’s good to see him back.

-Smith

29
Oct
07

How sweep it is!!

A picture is worth a thousand words, folks! And lest anyone forget, you heard it here first!

To their credit, the Colorado Rockies made it interesting right to the end, but ultimately they were mowed down by the Red Sox’ baby faced assassin, closer Jonathan Papelbon.

One hundred years ago, the Boston Red Sox were the dominant team in baseball.  After an 86 year drought, the Sox have won two World Series in four years.

Those days have returned.

-Smith

27
Oct
07

Joe Torre: a tribute from a Red Sox fan

We have to get one thing straight right off the bat: I am a hard core Boston Red Sox fan, born and raised a proud and long suffering citizen of Red Sox Nation. I used to get hives at the mere mention of names like Bill Buckner, Bucky Dent, and Aaron Boone. But all that changed in 2004, when the Red Sox banished the curse of the Bambino, (a curse of years of inept management, if the truth be told) humiliated the New York Yankees right there on their home field, and blew away the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series almost as an afterthought.

That part of me, the yahoo Red Sox fanatic, is glad that Joe Torre is finally gone. Joe Torre’s Yankees made my life miserable for eleven years, starting in 1996, Torre’s first year as manager of the Yankees. In those eleven years, the Yankees finished first ten times, the sole exception being 1997. After that, it was nine straight years of having to endure the Yankees finishing first, the Red Sox finishing second. Every freakin’ year.

But I am not just a Red Sox fan; I am also a human being who loathes injustice, which is just a fancy way of saying I don’t like to see anyone getting screwed. And Joe Torre got screwed. Big time. By the very people who should have been the first ones to appreciate everything that he did for them. By offering him a one year contract with 2.5 million dollar pay cut, the Yankees management may not have actually fired him, but they basically insulted him into quitting.

Any baseball fan worth his Cracker Jacks has to appreciate the greatness of Joe Torre, irrespective of their hometown allegiance. Prior to his arrival, the Yankees were a collection of overpaid perennial mediocrities. Apart from a Wild Card berth in 1995, the Yankees last visit to the playoffs prior to Torre’s arrival was 1981, when they went to the World Series, blowing a 2-0 series lead to lose to the L. A. Dodgers in six games.

Torre changed all that. His managerial record with the Yankees will be the stuff of legend: 12 seasons, 10 American League East first place finishes, six American League pennants, and four World Series championships. It is an astounding record of uninterrupted success.

But even more than that, what always impressed this Red Sox fan was his dignity and class. In the old days, Red Sox fans really did hate the Yankees, and they were a pretty unlikable bunch. Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella, Reggie Jackson, and of course, the odious Billy Martin were like comic book villains to our Red Sox heroes like Luis Tiant, Bill Lee, and Carlton Fisk.

But no one with half a heart could hate Joe Torre. Enjoy beating him? Absolutely. But you can’t hate him. It is no coincidence that in May of 1999, making his first visit to Fenway Park after missing the first several weeks of the season while battling prostate cancer, Joe Torre received a standing ovation from the same Red Sox fans who had spent their entire lives booing anything Yankee.

I was never prouder to be a Red Sox fan than at that moment.

His skills as a manager were never more on display than this season. The Yankees were a train wreck in May, tied with the Tampa Bay Devil Dogs, er, sorry, that’s Devil Rays, for last place in the AL East. Many big league managers would have been hard pressed to keep the players away from each others’ throats, let alone find a way to win consistently. Yet somehow Torre kept it all together and by August the Yankees seriously threatened the Red Sox’ hold on first place.

But evidently that is not enough for the Steinbrenners. Rumor has it that George Steinbrenner is now too ill to really be running things, and it is his son Hank who is actually steering the ship. Significantly, the Yankees didn’t start to recover until George was banned from baseball in 1990. By the time he was allowed to return in 1993, he seemed to have learned a lesson about letting his baseball people actually make the baseball decisions. The less George did, the better the Yankees did. Happily for Red Sox fans, Hank has seemingly inherited his father’s penchant for both wanting to be in control and for making really bad baseball decisions.

This does not bode well for the Yankees.  By all accounts, Torre enjoyed the almost fanatical loyalty of his players.  He could manage the Toledo Mud Hens next year, and his players would follow him there.

Torre deserves to be Manager of the Year. I really hope he gets it, just to spite them.

Classy to the end, he refuses to bad mouth the people who have treated him in such an ungracious fashion. At a press conference today, he again passed up an opportunity to vent what must be some very pent up anger, and instead chose to thank the New York fans for their loyalty.

Of course, one needn’t feel too bad for Joe Torre. He is rich, and famous, and can walk into the office of any baseball or television executive and name his price. And as I said, the Red Sox fan in me is a little glad he’s gone. But I have to admit the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry will not be quite the same without seeing Torre’s ever dour visage glaring out of the Yankees dugout.

This is one Red Sox fan who wishes Joe Torre continued success.

Preferably in the National League.

-Smith

26
Oct
07

World Series Redux

There won’t be a whole lot of blogging over the next few days, as I stay up past midnight each night relishing the sight of the Red Sox dismantling the pretty boy–and hopelessly over matched–Colorado Rockies.

Hey, I have my priorities.

Joe Buck and Tim McCarver and the rest of the ludicrous Fox Sports team are twisting themselves into knots trying to find something positive to say about Colorado. Buck is just trying to make it interesting, but McCarver’s blatant National League bias–which he also displayed during the 2004 World Series–is nothing short of annoying.

The bad news? Blogging will have to wait a few days. The good news? It should all be over by Sunday. My prediction: Sox sweep. And I have a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin champagne sitting on top of my TV, just waiting to be opened when it happens.

My next post will be entitled: Why God is almost certainly a Red Sox fan.

-Smith

06
Oct
07

Start ’em young!

Clearly this little tyke’s parents have done a fine job of indoctrinating him into the ways and mores of Red Sox Nation, a hard core fan base as rabid as any cult of religious fanatics.

They seem to have skimped a little bit on the manners thing, though.

Next post: Seven Reasons Why God is Almost Certainly a Red Sox Fan.

I hope that finger was for the Yankees.

–Smith




taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood" ~ Dr. John H. Watson ************************
visitor stats
Click to see full version by whos.amung.us
Click here if you want to learn the truth about second hand smoke
A Boston University Physician exposes the fallacies of the anti-smoking movement.

My Guests

  • 220,863 visitors
Murder of Ravens' RSS feed
Everything you want to know about the movies of today and yesterday. One of my favorite websites. If you love classical music, you have to visit this site.
March 2017
S M T W T F S
« Jun    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Thoughts from the Past

Creating Order from Chaos