Tuesday, August 14, 2018

No Sale price at Red Sox-Yankees game


The stars were aligned.
A trip to Maine for a surprise party a year in the making had been kept a secret. Everyone in our family had the time off and plane tickets and rental car were purchased long before the summer purge.  Any and all obstacles had been cleared like a presidential pardon.
And, speaking of good fortune, our beloved Red Sox conveniently opened a four-game series in Fenway Park against our hated rivals the Yankees the day after we arrived in Boston and before we departed for Maine. The perfect layover.
Furthermore, the Red Sox had announced their starting rotation post All-Star Game break and its ace pitcher Chris Sale would be scheduled to start against the Yankees at the one and only game we were able to attend! OMG!
Sweet Caroline! It all seemed so good, so good, so good.
I went online in mid-July to see ticket availability for the August 1 game. I had been searching for months and there appeared to be plenty of somewhat reasonably-priced seats remaining to accommodate three of us. I knew on StubHub it would be expensive to find seats for any Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway, yet I didn’t realize how much so until the announcement that Sale – the American League’s starting pitcher in the All-Star Game for the third year in a row – would be in line to take the mound the night we just so happened to be the park to anxious and bent on chanting “Yankees Suck.”
Well, this sucks. Suddenly, rows of seats were gobbled up and most of the remaining tickets for the August 1 showdown were for one or two seats. I needed three. So I searched frantically. I found three near the infield, but the cost was exorbitant for my budget. I wasn’t about to take out a second mortgage for dugout seats. I did find three in the grandstand, but they were obstructed view and I wasn’t going to spend a game watching Sale throw a pitch from the rubber than have to lean to my left and crank my neck around a gilder to see Sandy Leon catch it.
So my options were limited to sitting in the bleachers. It was going to be my sons first ever Red Sox-Yankees game experience at Fenway Park – like the running of the bulls with horns aimed at Aaron Boone’s team – and I was willing to pay the price for admission. Hence, when I purchased three seats in Section 37, Row 21 in the centerfield bleachers way up there somewhere in the proximity of Vermont, I only slightly winced when the bill – with “fees” – came to $341.06.
For bleacher seats.
For Red Sox-Yankees.
For the beard of Zeus.
I opened my wallet and bit my lip.
OK, I might not be in the best site-lines to watch Jackie Bradley Junior make another incredible catch in the Triangle, but at least I wouldn’t be watching the Kansas City Royals play the Sox. The dreaded Yankees were in town and given their games with the Red Sox usually border on four hours I figured that amounted to about $1 for entertainment for every minute, not counting the usual delays for replays. I’m all in.
Plus, I justified, we would see the best pitcher in baseball, Sale, mow down the Yankees and set the tone of the series. My wince-wince went to win-win. If it meant that the Red Sox would likely be guaranteed to beat the Yankees in my sons’ first-ever Red Sox-Yankees playoff atmosphere-like experience I would gladly pay the price to sing Dirty Water with them once Craig Kimbrel closed out the game and Boston added another game to its lead over the Evil Empire in the AL East standings.
It all seemed so good, so good, so good.
Not so good.
Two days before the game, the Red Sox suddenly announced that Sale was being put on the Disabled List with shoulder inflammation. It wasn’t that bad, the team said. He would miss only “one start.”
One start? Our start. My start!
Suddenly, one of the stars in the stars that I thought were so aligned was sidelined. A big star. The Death Star in my mind.
Instead of seeing Sale start, we got Brian Johnson, which is like expecting Santa Claus with a lights-out slider and getting a back-of-the-rotation-one-bad-outing-from-Pawtucket Grinch. The dropoff was Wile E Coyote cliff-like.

It was a flashback to a childhood dream-turned-nightmare about my first game ever in Fenway Park. I made a six-hour bus trip from Maine with Little Leaguers to Boston to see my first Red Sox game in person and we had seats in the leftfield corner near my hero, Carl Yastrzemski, the legendary leftfielder for the Red Sox.
It all seemed so good, so good, so good. I walked from the Fens past the brick exterior into Fenway Park and came up through a dark tunnel, emerging into the leftfield corner to bright sunshine and the brightest green I have ever seen. The sight of the field was spectacular – like heaven with a lawn – and I was like Ned Beatty going to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time to see his son, Rudy, play.
“This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen.”
But there was something missing. I looked down into left field. Wait. That’s not Number 8 Carl Yastrzemski…. that’s … that’s … Floyd Robinson? Playing leftfield?! In his final year big leagues?
Where’s Yaz? What? Playing first base? That’s over there on the other side of the ballpark near Cape Cod.
You’re kidding me? Really? I drove in bus 12 hours round trip to see Floyd Robinson play the carom off the Green Monster. Floyd Robinson?
No Yaz.
And now almost 50 years to the date No Sale.
No Bucky Bleeping Dent way.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

With or without Curry, Warriors' playoff plight is dicey


Steve Kerr on Tuesday night stepped to the podium in the Media Room in the bowels of Oracle Arena and raised the roof with an update on the health of injured two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry.
It was like telling the whole world that Barack Obama is moving back into the White House’s starting lineup next month.
“I think just watching him today I’m ready to announce that he will actually play in the first round. I’ve changed my mind on that,” Kerr said.
Wait. It’s not April Fools Day yet is it? Seriously? Steph Curry, who Kerr said on Sunday would not suit up  for the first round of the NBA Playoffs, has in a Wayne’s World-like proclamation gone from “no way” to “way” 48 hours later!?
Wait. Look close. Kerr’s tongue was squarely and firmly in cheek. He was joking, people!
When it comes to injured players – and the Warriors seemingly have a Titanic-sized boatload of them -- negotiating their return to the lineup, Kerr made it clear who is judge, jury, and jumping center.
“It takes two to negotiate so there’s actually zero negotiation,” quipped Kerr, sliding tongue out of cheek. “The player might say `I’d like to play’ and I say `You’re not’ and that’s the end of it.”
Warriors fans wish differently. When it comes to the rash of injuries dogging their team, they pray that it will all end soon before the team collides with the Houston Rockets, easily the most consistent, persistent team in the NBA this season.
Hence the NBA playoffs are now but three weeks away and the plight of the defending champions is rather simple.
Clap on. Clap off.
The consensus seems to be that the Warriors – if and when healthy – can power up for the playoffs and make another run at the NBA Finals by flicking on the proverbial PG&E switch. That may be true and remains to be seen, but given the injuries and inconsistencies this season, the team could pull a collective muscle reaching for the wall.
Last night Kerr’s starting lineup  -- his 24th different starting lineup this year compared to eight his first year four years ago -- consisted of the Drab Five --  a quintet of players with a grand total of 29 NBA playoff games in their careers. The four starters currently missing from the Warriors lineup – Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green – have started 327.
Of course, Durant (incomplete ribs cartilage fracture), Thompson (fractured right thumb) and Green (cold and flu season) are expected to rejoin the starting lineup as early as this week, which will lower the collective anxiety level of Dub Nation from Game of Thrones-like to SpongeBob SquarePants.
If the Master Plan goes according to Master Plan, the Warriors will regain their rhythm without missing a beat and set the cocky Rockets, the NBA World and Charles Barkley back on their axis. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are akin to someone in Section 220 winning the 50/50 Raffle at Oracle with one ticket.
Here is the flaw with that plan. The Warriors normal starting five has played together in only 32 games this season (with a not-awe-inspiring 22-10 record when they do) and they haven’t all started at the same time since Valentine’s Day. Furthermore, Kerr’s wobbly bench badly needs a realignment. He has not had the benefit of having his regular bench rotation in place since February 24 when the Warriors beat the Oklahoma Thunder 112-80 in Oracle and had a six-game lead over the Rockets in the Western Conference.
Entering last night’s loss against the Indiana Pacers – the team’s sixth defeat in its last nine games -- the Warriors trailed the Rockets by six games, a swing of 12 games in a matter of weeks. Stormy Daniels has had a better month than the Warriors.
Yes, the Warriors have been missing their big guns, but they have had too many bad losses lately for Bob Fitzgerald to offer an alibi. A 17-point defeat at Portland, a loss at home to Sacramento, and an awful 19-point embarrassment at Oracle at the hands of the Utah Jazz, a possible first-round playoff opponent. The Warriors can easily dismiss those losses as being out of sync, but look at the Boston Celtics the past week. Without Kyrie Irving and with guys named Yabusele, Ojeleye, Larkin, and Nader coming off the bench, the Celtics came from behind in the second half to win at Portland, at Sacramento and they play the Jazz in Salt Lake City tonight.
The Celtics, the likely No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, are more playoff ready right now than the Warriors, the likely No. 2 seed in the West. The Celtics, though shorthanded, somehow continue to grind out wins. The Warriors, meanwhile, can’t keep leads and have lost their edge. Their used to be praised for their explosiveness. Now they are being praised for their “effort.”
“Two weeks ago it felt more natural trying to give guys some rest,” Kerr said after his team blew a 15-point first-half lead to the Pacers. “It’s felt abnormal the past two weeks.”
Kerr – and Warriors fans – long for a return to normalcy when threes reign and the Dubs impose pain.
The belief is when Durant, Thompson, and Green all return to the starting lineup and Curry falls into place in the second round, the Warriors will have their ducks in a row and regain the mojo it will take to shed the Rockets and return to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.
The belief is the bench, once everyone returns to their accustomed roles, will provide positive reinforcements instead of defensively challenged Nick Young and the island of misfit toys.
The belief is everything’s going to be all right.
Warriors motto for the NBA playoffs this year: You better believe. Clap on.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

This year's Baseball Hall of Fame voting process needs investigating



This is my 20th year of voting for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame and I have never been so confused. More conflicted than the Last Jedi I am.
It’s hard enough differentiating between the Steroid Era and the Golden Age of Baseball – I like to call it the “Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle Era” – but now we, fellow Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voting members, have one Hall of Famer essentially telling us who not to vote for and a bunch of other Hall of Famers basically telling us who we should have voted for years ago.
I used to simply rely on the Baseball Encyclopedia and my own eyes to decide which candidates to check on my HOF ballot, but now I feel Special Counsel Robert Mueller is needed to investigate and sort out this mess.
It started, of course, with a mysterious email from Joe Morgan that, in the eyes of some sportswriters and talking heads on TV, is as curious and controversial as any email Hilary Clinton produced. Or didn’t produce.
Morgan is royalty, a two-time National League MVP who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990. He is also Vice Chairman of the Hall of Fame. In his out-of-leftfield email the HOF second baseman pleaded that known or suspected steroid users should never be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, i.e. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Wink. Wink.
I had two questions when I received the email: 1) How did Joe Morgan get MY email address? and 2) why is he speaking out now when Bonds and Clemens have been on the HOF ballot for five years?
Well, 1) I have never met or ever spoken to Joe Morgan and from what I have been told he has long disparaged baseball writers and now he is appealing to them for logic and reason, i.e. help? I suspect he got my email from the Baseball Hall of Fame roledex, which made me wonder if his email is a rogue act against ‘roids or part of a wider Hall of Fame conspiracy to block Bonds and Clemens from having their plaques in Cooperstown? Like keeping Roy Moore and his horse out of shopping malls.
And 2) Because Bonds and Clemens are creeping closer to receiving the required 75 percent from the voting body of eligible BBWAA active and honorary members, Joe decided he needed to get his feelings off his chest and confess as if it was his last dying wish. I do not know if he has a serious illness because he has not consented to numerous interview requests since the email.
So what am I to make of this?
I have never voted for Bonds – by far the greatest, most amazing player I have ever watched -- and Clemens, though I am inching closer to it. The email did more to turn me off than tune me in. It stopped me dead in my track of thinking. I do not like being told who to vote for – or not – but it causes me to pause and reassess.
For example, Sammy Sosa hit 609 career home runs, 243 in an incredible four-year period, and wound up ninth on the all-time list. Would he be Hall of Fame worthy without the use of performance enhancing drugs? Mark McGwire is 11th on the all-time HR list and yet he’s already been banished from the ballot.
We could go on and on debating this. Like CNN and Fox debating who had a better year: Alec Baldwin or the President he impersonates?
I have previously stated my reasons for not checking Bonds and Clemens on my ballot for the fundamental reason of not respecting the game. But a column by Sport Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, another HOF voting member, touches on all the bases about I how I feel about not voting for steroid users.
Hence, I cannot yet vote for Bonds and Clemens – or other steroid users such as Manny Ramirez in his first year on the ballot -- with full conviction. I am not comfortable. Not yet. Game of Shadows, Greg Anderson, and Brian McNamee were not Fake News.
Of course, if Bonds and Clemens are not voted into the Hall of Fame after the maximum of 10 years on the ballot, they can get a mulligan. The Baseball Hall of Fame Modern Era Committee – a 16-member crew that includes Hall of Fame inductees George Brett, Rod Carew, Bobby Cox, Dennis Eckersley, John Schuerholz, Don Sutton, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount – can vote them into Cooperstown.
That’s how pitcher Jack Morris and shortstop Alan Trammel will be inducted into the next Hall of Fame class. After failing for 15 years to receive the prerequisite number of votes from BBWAA HOF voters, Morris and Trammel were out of bounds, yet the new Modern Era panel gave them another shot from the tee on the other fairway.
So what I am I to make of this?
Do I lower the bar on my criteria for HOF induction? If Morris and Trammel are deemed Hall of Famers by Hall of Famers, then should I now vote for Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, who are the cusp of Cooperstown in my mind? Or Fred McGriff and Larry Walker? Or Billy Wagner? Or another shortstop Omar Vizquel, who is on the ballot for the first time this year? He won five more Gold Gloves than Trammel.
This is a time of the year -- when a no-trade clause has more veto power than Santa Claus – that I have come to dread. Time is running out again for me to make up my mind as my ballot needs to be postmarked by New Year’s Eve, which means I could slip past Ryan Thibodaux’s HOF tracking device and escape to the closest rebel base for the Resistance.
I wish I had more time. Or Robert Mueller.
I can vote for up to 10 players. I voted for eight – the most I have ever voted for on one Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 20 years:
Chipper Jones: One of only nine players in history with at least a .300 batting average, .400 on base percentage, a .500 slugging average, and 400 career homes. The others are Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Frank Thomas, and Manny Ramirez.
Jim Thome: 607 career home runs in 22 seasons.  One of only five players in the history of the game – along with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, and Barry Bonds -- with at least 50 home runs, 1,500 runs scored, 1,600 RBIs, and 1,700 walks.
Vladimir Guerrero: I messed up and gave too much credence to his less than glowing career defensive analytics last year instead of going with my gut feeling about his offensive prowess. Only seven other players in history of the game have at least a .318 batting average and .553 slugging percentage. Their names are Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Jimmie Foxx and Rogers Hornsby.
Trevor Hoffman: Seven-time All-Star as dominant relief pitcher. Second all-time in games saves (601). Finished top 10 in Cy Young Award voting four times, including second in 1998 and 2006 – eight years apart.
Edgar Martinez: If we are making room in the Hall of Fame for pitching specialists than we should save space for hitting specialists. Seven-time All-Star with Mariners and two-time AL batting champion. One of only nine players in history with 30 homers, 500 doubles, a career batting average better than .300, a career OBP higher than .400 and a career slugging percentage higher than .500.
Jeff Kent: MVP in 2000 and finished in Top 10 three other times. One of the greatest power hitting second baseman of all-time with 351 career homers, a rare feat among middle infielders. If he had been a corner infielder with those career numbers he would be off the ballot by now.
Mike Mussina: Though he finished in the top three of Cy Young Award voting once in 18 seasons, he is one of only six modern-era pitchers with at least 250 wins and a winning percentage of .638. The others are Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens.
Curt Schilling: Runner-up for Cy Young Award three times. One of only four pitchers with at least 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks. If only he had better control with his Twitter account.