Thursday, March 29, 2007

Missing Persons

Rob's been dominating the MLC space of late, and this cameo won't offset that, but let this be a mini-trailer for the feature presentation. Misery Loves Company has always been an April-October production. Though other blogs carry on throughout the off-season, we still fend off the pressure to resemble the 24/7/365 sports news media monster, full of sound and fury with the fabled significance.

We'd rather go ice fishin' in the winter and keep just enough of a hot stove lit to keep us warm. We'd rather engage in other pastimes beyond baseball. Hell, we'd rather work on other related and unrelated projects and steer you there. But come April Fool's Day, we'll be here waiting for you with plenty of prose -- equal parts pithy and pissy, to be sure.

Until then, we'll just be getting settled in here. In case you missed our comments on the subject, we've agreed on the terms of the 2007 Case Bet with the usual accusations and regret:

Rob predicts the Red Sox will win 97 games
Whitney predicts the Mets will win 95 games
Boston Red Sox -2

And let there be 24 malted beverages of choice delivered from the loser to the winner. Game on.

In actual Met news, Duaner Sanchez's comeback trail now resembles the Ho Chi Minh Trail, minus the fun stuff. It's about now that we among the Township start to peer at that roster cautiously, helplessly hoping that the bullpen holds fast. It's only March, and there's a tiny bit of tension that wasn't there in February, but it's a far cry from the muscle-tightening that will take place if the Metmen stumble out of the gate.

There's every chance that the 7-8-9 frames could feature Schoeneweis, Heilman, and Wagner; "The Fourth Reich" seems to be a nickname in very poor taste, but strap on the lederhosen when these guys get the ball, because once they start serving up their Bavarian cream, it could get interesting. (You'll note that I avoided any references to a certain infamous Deutsche zeppelin and homonymous usages of the word "worst." I'm just not in mid-season form yet.)

Every analysis of every team at this point in the calendar must contain a few question marks. Some are larger than others. After the performance of the '06 Mets, the ifs aren't quite as fearsome, but they're still there. It's odd how comfortably calm Rob and I both are, just eager to get this thing rolling.

Three and a half days until the New York Mets re-enter my life like a space capsule returning to earth. Expect a lot of sudden heat, some dead air, a big splash, and a lot of cheering. There's always a chance of tragedy, but we've got a lot of good people working on ways to minimize the chance of that happening. All right, folks . . . it's go time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The always on-target lads at Fire Joe Morgan have noted with particular interest the escalation of the ongoing feud between Curt Schilling and Dan Shaughnessy (read No. 38's take here). I'm interested, too, if only because it's unique to see an athlete fight back effectively in this usually one-sided battle. The disintermediating power of the internet must be terrifying to Shaughnessy and his ilk, as his cowardly (and poorly aimed) column illustrates in stark relief.

But I come here not to bury the CHB, but to gawk incredulously at the following commentary from Schilling, also unearthed by the FJM team. Here's Schilling discussing what appears to be a particularly gnarly episode from Everquest, an online roleplaying game:

Q: Tell us some of the most interesting adventures you have had while playing Everquest? Did you ever do something really stupid? Something that you are really proud of?

A: My first foray into Lower Guk was a lot of fun. My favorite memories are pretty basic. Completing the Robe of the Lost Circle quest was a blast. Camping Raster was a nightmare, but I got stupidly lucky. I had pretty much resigned myself to camping Scythehands in the Mino room, logging in, seeing another monk already there camping, and waiting. One night I log in, and there's a 55 level monk there. Great guy. He's been there for like 12 hours. No Raster -- pop, despawn, pop, despawn -- still no Raster. Now I'm in about my 3rd day there -- total time camping him maybe 5-10 hours tops -- but getting some good groups when I did have the camp (lotsa guild mates showed up and we pulled and got great exp). Anyway, this guy says ok, one more spawn and it's yours. So I wait and this guy says 'screw it' and leaves. I get a full group and we get the camp. We are there for about 2 minutes when we are in a major, major brawl and we barely survive. I'm laying there, feign death style, and no one in the group is hurt but me. I have no mend and about a bub of health. My group runs some frogloks down the hall to finish them off and POP! RASTER! If there was a way to scream louder than caps in EQ I was doing it. Man I am straight panicking because I know I have NO CHANCE soloing and the party has run off. I'm in my hotel room; it's like 5am, and I am straight hollering, in EQ and in real life. Bottom line is the group comes back, heals me, and kills Raster! WOOT!

I mean, wow. That's really...something. If we could get more professional athletes involved in the world of multiplayer gaming, Roger Goodell could certainly sleep more easily, among other things. Pacman Jones would be making it rain in Lower Guk instead of Las Vegas, and Joey Porter would be using feign death style instead of uppercut/roundhouse against Levi Jones. The world would be a much safer, if far, far geeblier place.

WOOT!, indeed.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Southern Culture on the Skids

I'm not certain, but I think I saw Ebby Calvin Beckett throw not one but several curveballs for strikes during the first inning of this afternoon's Grapefruit League tilt against the Devil Rays. It was a bit warm here today, and I might have been feeling the effects of my first cold beer of the day, so don't go running off and spreading the news. Beckett didn't get any help from his defense, with errors by both Julio Lugo and Kevin Youkilis costing the Sox an early unearned run, but he did settle in for a tantalizing 7-inning, 3-hit, 0-earned run outing.

Beckett's prediliction for rearing back and trying to throw his redass gas past everybody got him into significant trouble last season, in combination with his thick-headed Texan independent streak. If he's really learning to pitch instead of get by on his God-given talent, a wing and a prayer, then 2007 could be fairly well spectacular for the still-young righty. If, as Mr. Kipling noted, is a mighty, mighty word.

That aforementioned beer, by the way, came courtesy of a neighbor who received a Beer of the Month Club subscription as a gift but...doesn't drink beer. I'm enjoying his largesse while trying to figure out how to break the news to his wife that he's gay. Today's selection was Santa's Butt, a tasty winter porter from England's Ridgeway Brewery. Not exactly apropro for the warmest day of the year, but delicious nonetheless.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Smoking Popes

Long day of mostly forgettable meetings yesterday, so this is my first opportunity to really think about the news that erstwhile Sox closer and projected starter Jonathan Papelbon is heading back to the pen for the forseeable future. All signs seem to indicate that both Papelbon and the Sox' front office wanted to make this move, which bodes well for organizational harmony. Additionally, the media is reporting that the ballclub is pretty happy with it, which is a positive from a confidence and chemistry perspective.

On the other hand, this leaves a bunch of questions, the answer(s) to which will reveal the ultimate value of the change.

1. Julian Tavarez is now the Sox' 5th starter. Tavarez pitched pretty well in 6 starts at the end of last year, but that was garbage time with far less pressure than he'll face now that he's critical to the Sox' pennant chances. If he's solid, say 150 innings at league-average ERA, then I have to like their odds. If he stinks, though, the Sox 5th starter slot could be the source of much consternation, at least until we know...

2. The status of Jon Lester's recovery. The Sox are better informed (y'know, duh) than anyone about Lester's health and strength. If they feel he'll be able to contribute during the second half of the season, then Tavarez is a reasonably low-risk gamble. If they don't expect much from Lester, then the Tavarez experiment could really blow up, unless...

3. This opens a door for Roger Clemens to come back to Boston. It's now a pretty compelling fit both for the Sox and for the Texas Con Man. My disdain for Clemens is well documented and remains active. I'd have no choice but to hold my nose and root for the Sox if they hired that mercenary bastard, but man would I feel dirty doing it.

On balance, then, I'm supportive of the move. Papelbon seems much happier, and is saying all the right things about his excitement for closing for now and for the next 10 years. The Sox plug a major hole while creating a much smaller one (because the incremental lift in going from Pineiro et al to Papelbon is a hell of a lot greater than the incremental loss in going from Papelbon to Tavarez) and have some options if Tavarez doesn't pan out. All's well that ends well, so long as the ending doesn't feature a 44 year-old douchebag wearing No. 21.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Story

My oldest daughter has been agitating for a family trip to IHOP for some months now. I suppose to a 5 year-old, the idea of a house of pancakes holds a certain undeniably literal appeal. Because she was a fairly good little girl last week, I put aside my long-held food snobbery (temporarily - definitely temporarily) and piled the family into our truckster on Sunday morning for some delicious mass produced breakfast products.

As is nearly always the case on weekend mornings, I eschewed a shower in favor of my standard uniform, redolent as it is of arrested maturity. Of note, in this case, is the battered Red Sox cap that I've "owned" since July 2004 when a friend left it behind on a weeklong trip to Tahoe. My best intentions of returning it to him were waylaid first by my laziness and then by pure superstition as the Sox started winning games. After the World Series, there was no chance in hell he was getting it back. I bought him a new one in appreciation of his contribution to the Sox' victory.

As we took our seats in the restaurant, our waiter took note of my lid and asked, "Are you part of the Nation?" After I affirmed my status as a card-carrying member (and cringed just a little bit at how truly grating the idea of the Nation must sound to the unconverted when mentioned aloud in public), he offered me his take on the 2007 Sox.

"You know what the two biggest keys for the Sox are this year?", he asked.

When I demurred, he informed me that the two most critical factors determining the fortunes of this season's Olde Towne Team were Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.

"Huh", I replied and then got distracted as my daughter fell off her seat onto the floor. I'm sure it was spotless. I never did respond to his analysis, so let me use his thoughts as a vehicle for detailing my own sense of the most important stories to follow in 2007.

Let me start by stating for the record that Wakefield and Varitek - God love both of them - are not among the top five or six things that'll tell the Sox' tale this season. Wake'll most likely take the ball every 5th day, give the Sox 180 - 200 innings of slightly above average starting pitching, and drive me and the rest of the Nation somewhere near lunacy in most of his outings. And if he falls short of that, the Sox appear to have enough pitching depth to overcome a subpar performance by their 5th starter, with Schilling, Matsuzaka, Beckett, and Papelbon lined up in the first four slots, and Lester (mid-summer), Kyle Snyder and Julian Tavarez capable in a pinch. Varitek's on the downside of his career as an offensive performer, so while I'd hope a healthier campaign than 2006, when he only played 103 games, anything significantly better than last year's .238/.325./.400, 12 HR, 55 RBI numbers is gravy.

With that out of the way (and no offense, Mr. IHOP Waiter Dude - I did appreciate the banter, and the kids enjoyed the smiley-face pancakes), the following graphs detail in no particular order the stories I'll be following as the 2007 season kicks off on April 2.

1. Bullpen by...what?

Joel Pineiro was signed in the offseason ostensibly to be the Sox' closer, and he's bounced back from some rough early patches to start to look like he might fill that role. Beyond him, though, things seem wide open at the moment. Mike Timlin's already spent time on the shelf this spring, always a promising sign for a 40+ year-old with a lot of innings under his belt over the past 3 years. Manny Delcarmen continues to flash promise and putrescence in equal measures. Craig Hanson can't seem to get his swagger back and wlll likely open the season in Pawtucket. Brendan Donnelly and Julian Tavarez are adequate but aging. Devern Hansack is...Devern Hansack. Snyder'll probably be the long man/6th starter. And then there's the X-factor, Jonathan Papelbon. Most Sox fans across the blogosphere seem resigned to the fact that he'll reassume the closer role by midseason, maybe after (shudder) the Sox convince Roger Clemens to come back to Boston to break Cy Young's franchise record for wins. Here's hoping that Pineiro and the bullpen by committee (a four-letter word in Sox territory) make both of those moves unnecessary.

2. Whither Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew.

If I were choosing two and only two players like my good man from the IHOP, I might settle on the newest big name acquisitions to wear Boston uniforms. Both embody Peter Parker's Uncle Ben's admonition - of whom much is given, much is asked. Wait, maybe it was, "with great power comes great responsibility". Whatever, it works either way.

All Dice-K needs to do is give the Sox 200+ innings of near-dominant starting pitching and manage not to wilt under the relentless pressure of the Boston market. As for Drew, he's got to post a .950+ OPS while playing 140+ games, and, oh yeah, getting his uniform at least a little dirty to make Johnny Burger King forget about the original Dirt Dog, Trot Nixon.

Early returns for both are positive - Matsuzaka's got nasty, nasty stuff that he seems to be able to locate effectively, and he seems typically Asian in his stoicism on the mound. Drew's an obviously gifted ballplayer who'll have a great opportunity to hang out in the shadows cast by Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Curt Schilling and get tons of opportunities to drive in runs batting from the 5th spot. He needs to produce from Day One, though, as the Fenway crowd will have less patience with him than they might ordinarily.

3. The health and effectiveness of the starting rotation.

On paper, the Sox' rotation of Schilling, Matsuzaka, Beckett, Papelbon, and Wakefield is arguably the league's best top-to-bottom roster of starting pitchers. In the real world, two of those guys are over 40, one is entering his first season in the American major leagues, one begins the year as a full-time starter for the first time, and one is coming off an ugly campaign marked by gopher balls and a 5.00 ERA. If Spring Training is any indication, they all look poised to deliver on their promise. Of course, if Spring Training indicated anything, Cesar Crespo would've won the AL batting title in 2004. Of all the question marks, this is the biggest.

4. Can Dustin Pedroia make the Leap?

As an avid observer of Red Sox second basemen, I'm perhaps most eagerly anticipating the diminutive Pedroia's inaugural campaign as the starter. He's been compared this spring with Marty Barrett, and if he can approach No. 17's offensive contributions and play solid defense, Pedroia will be a valuable contributor. If he fails to carry his weight, the Sox don't really have many other options, so the little guy will be a more important cog than many may realize.

5. Coco and the Crispettes

In any successful campaign, a whole bunch of little things need to go right to complement the major players. Manny and Papi are going to get their 80 homers and 250 ribbies. The 2007 Sox will need timely and consistent contributions from the likes of Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp, Mike Lowell, and Kevin Youkilis if they hope to finally get the Yankee monkey off their backs. Crisp's 2006 was highly disappointing, but he's received a pass from Sox fans, most of whom realize how much pressure he had on him to follow in Johnny Damon's shoes, and understand that he was never healthy last year. That pass, however, is not a lifetime version. The enigmatic Wily Mo Pena probably needs an effective 2007 to stay in Boston beyond the trade deadline.

In the annual MLC case bet negotiations, I'm calling for 97 wins from this team. With great luck and perfect health, they could win more than 100. With a repeat of 2007's fortunes, they won't win 90 - which will be a shame, because this is a pretty damn good team. My angst level is at record lows as the season approaches, something that ought to be truly frightening if I spent more than a scintilla of time thinking about it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ugly Kid Joe

Attuned as I am to the viscissitudes of the modern sports fanscape, the post-2004 backlash against the noble and righteous Boston Red Sox and their backers has come as no real surprise to me. A disappointment, perhaps, but one more than countered by the sweet, sweet memories of those 2 weeks in October.

Shit like this, though, really doesn't help the cause. We get it, Ben. You're a Sox fan. You grew up in Boston. You and your lovely wife get great seats in Fenway and get to hang out with the players. You hate the Yankees. Blahdee fucking blah. Can you just keep your rich piehole shut for a few months about the Sox before the entire free world decides we're worse than Yankee fans?

Monday, March 12, 2007


Among the scant morsels that pass for “news” in the Township this week, we hear that two-time New York Met Jeromy Burnitz has announced his retirement. It’s interesting, at least mildly, for a couple of reasons.

Skipping ahead to my second thought – upon scanning the blurb, it was: “Jeromy Burnitz hit 315 home runs?” . . . thereby tipping my hand as an old guy amidst the blogosphere’s youth. 300 dingers used to be far more of a respected milestone than it is today, and Burnitz’s entry into the 300 HR group is a pretty strong example of just how wide the doors to this once-worthy club have swung open.

The list of sluggers in baseball history who notched between 300-400 home runs includes names that exude thoughts of long balls. Names like Greenberg, Kiner, Kaline, Foster, Luzinski, and Rice; nicknames like Boog, Hondo, Cobra, and Kid. How many taters would Joe DiMaggio have hit in the modern era? More than 361. Way, way more. Hall of Famer Johnny Mize won four HR titles and finished in the top 5 in the NL nine times; he finished with 359 home runs. (Burnitz never finished in the top five, and only twice in the top 10.) How are we to compare eras properly when baseball continues to use one master list for every player to knock a ball that clears a fence?

Forgive my trite point, that the majority of the statistics of the modern era have no business being compiled with those of baseball’s past. (OPS+ should be the only stat celebrated in milestone form, since it at least attempts to make side-by-side comparisons more of a relative function.) My reason for mentioning all of this is less grand, though; I guess it was just a mild shock for me to see that stat in Burnitz’s bio when . . .

My first thought at the mention of Burnitz’s retirement was a quick, sorrowful reflection upon the dreadful era that was Mets baseball in the early 1990’s. Ugh, what a disaster. Rob and I used to play APBA computer baseball (an almost prehistoric game, by today’s technological standards), and we had the full complement of teams from the strike-shortened 1994. Rob would complain about having Hobson’s Choice when it came to his rotation, but in truth, he was able to better Butch’s managerial record much of the time. I, however, piloted the ’94 Mets to loss after loss – and found myself cursing Dallas Green a fair bit less than ever before. “How’d we ever win 55 games? It’s a miracle.”

There have been books written about “the worst team money could buy,” the 1992 Mets. After that club bottomed out, however, there was something of a rebuilding that took place, and by all accounts the Mets of a few years later should have been one whose prodigious youthful talent met with serious success. Jeromy Burnitz was an integral part of that movement. It’s hard to call him the centerpiece, since the shoulda-been triumvirate of Isringhausen/Wilson/Pulsipher stole the press of that time and came to signify the disappointment later on, but Jeromy was a key cog in the machine that jammed and broke. A 1990 first-rounder, he’d played his way to the bigs in ’93, showed some pop, and just needed a last bit of fine-tuning . . . which wouldn’t arrive, or at least until after he was gone.

The lineup of the new Mets of the early 90’s featured a slew of homegrown up-and-comers (Burnitz, Hundley, Huskey, Vina, Bogar) with a few young prospects garnered in trades (Kent, Brogna, Everett, Thompson). The rotation, it seemed, would soon be fleshed out by the aforementioned trio – known to the dweebiest among us as “Generation K” – plus the likes of Bobby Jones, Jason Jacome, and Dave Telgheder, all Mets draftees in the bigs with significant upside. Honestly, with a few well-placed vets (Saberhagen, Franco, McReynolds), the future seemed limitless. The result was plenty of descriptors with the suffix “–less,” not one of them positive.

Injuries destroyed a whole lot of the “upside,” especially in the area of the pitching staff. And the vets who weren’t as well-placed (a drug-addled Gooden, a revolving door of wash-ups, and most notably, Bobby Bo-gus) eroded all sense of “team” in the clubhouse. But what killed this club as much as anything else? The eventual mediocrity of its young players. What breakouts came from the 1994 Mets, for example? Well, Jeff Kent did – about eight months after the Mets traded him to Cleveland for Alvaro Espinoza and Carlos Baerga. And I guess you could say that Burnitz did, shortly after also being shipped to the Tribe. (Note to Omar: under no circumstances will you make a deal with the jinxifying Indians. Should they offer you Travis Hafner and C.C. Sabathia for Mike DiFelice, politely decline and move along. Remember Roberto, it should be painted on your office wall.)

Any of the aforementioned bright-futured youngsters who stuck around Shea would suffer through slumps and injuries, with only flashes of the talent touted by the scouts. The promise of a new heyday was mostly a lie.

Burnitz would indeed garner some accolades, mostly as a Brewer around the turn of the millennium. His “swing hard in case you hit something” approach at the plate shouldn’t have worked, but he managed to muscle a good deal of mammoth shots into the Wisconsin night. Then he came back to the Mets and almost magically returned to form: .251/34/100 became .215/19/54. When his 2003 started well, the Mets quickly dumped him on L.A. in a deal that brought Victor Diaz and similar chaff. And thus ended the Mets’ head-shaking Jeromy Burnitz Experience.

The guy was a product of the era, taking advantage of the many theorized gopher-inducing changes to the game in the 1990’s. Smaller parks, thinner pitching staffs, and the highly-hypothesized “juiced balls” all helped bolster his numbers. And perhaps some “really good vitamins,” as one of his outfield predecessors quipped? Actually, I liked the guy – he was humble as hell and likeable throughout it all, and he was someone to root for if only for the swing that mirrored my golf hack, so I won’t hurl any unfounded accusations his way. I should just leave it at the “product of his era” comment and bemoan his Mets of 1993 and 2003.

Jeromy Burnitz made over $46 million but never played in a postseason game. He hit those 315 homers but struck out 1,376 times. After my cursory glimpse, he may be the only guy to retire with 300 or more home runs and under 1,000 RBI. I liked the guy well enough but watched him contribute to some serious Mets misery. He should pause and look back on his career fondly, but to me he’ll unfortunately represent a part of what went wrong in both of the recent wretched eras in MetLand. Farewell, Jeromy. May we never again see such times of unrealized potential and disappointment.


Never was a big fan of Boston; not that I'm celebrating its recent demise, but I won't complain, either.

Oh, was it not clear that I meant the band Boston? Lead singer Brad Delp died last week, an event slightly less saddening than the glut of Boston songs hitting the FM airwaves in his stead. I appreciate, if not revel in, the glory of "classic rock" a whole lot more than Rob does, but Boston was one of the few bands that just never did it for me.

"More Than a Feeling" represents not only the single track of theirs that I could stomach, but the likely mantra for Beantowners as they look ahead to the 2007 baseball season with rare optimism. In spring training, you scour the landscape for omens of any kind. I suppose this qualifies; just keep that gut-punch "Amanda" out of earshot, and I'll endorse it.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Dead or Alive

Really just sticking something in here because I'm tired of looking at the same weeks-plus-old post. Whit and I are way too absorbed in the drama of Championship WeekTM to be paying much attention to the Grapefruit League.

I did note with interest Curt Schilling's entry into the blogosphere. Schill's taken a lot of grief in the media and around the blogging community (present company included) for his attraction to the sound of his voice, but much of the criticism seems in retrospect to be a combination of sour grapes and herd mentality. In truth, Schilling's open, honest, self-deprecating, and really seems to care about his teammates - especially the younger ones (see Lester, Jon and Papelbon, Jonathan for current examples). He also uses his access positively to make a difference in worthwhile causes like ALS and his wife's skin cancer foundation. Is he a bit of a self-promoter? Sure, but those of us that would prefer to see more openness and honesty from our professional athletes can't complain when we get just that.

He can keep his piehole shut about the Republican stuff, though.

For those of you that care, I came across a killer live version of U2's "One" on iTunes that's credited to The Passengers, which of course is mostly U2. And the MLC management, in a nod to the kids that read us religiously, give two thumbs up to the new Fall Out Boy single, "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race". Dig along with me, won't you?

Thursday, March 01, 2007


My wife's in Europe for a week, leaving me to try to figure out how the hell she manages to spend all day every day with the kids without sticking her head in the oven. I'm fighting a nasty sore throat that makes every swallow feel like I'm trying to injest a porcupine. Recent events at work have our organization mired in a miasma of uncertainty and doubt. Finally, the media brings news that appetizers are probably bad for us. All in all, not a great week.

All that negativity washed clean away beginning at 7:00 pm EST yesterday, though, as Curt Schilling threw the first pitches of the Grapefruit League season in the battle for the Mayor's Cup between the Sox and the Twins. The Sox' egregiously loud red spring uniforms notwithstanding, baseball on television was a sight for sore eyes. It's worth noting that Terry Francona and most of his coaching staff eschewed the red caps that the players wore, making the squad look like a D-league softball outfit. Good for Terry, giving the Man just a little taste of rebellion.

The game action, it goes without saying, was rough, though Schilling threw 19 pitches in 2 efficient innings. The most notable action was Joe Mauer's opposite-field bomb off of Julian Tavarez - mark it down here, Mauer's gonna explode this year. Dustin Pedroia showed off his new, slimmer physique and looked patient and sharp at the plate. Centerfielder of the Future Jacoby Ellsbury looked a bit reminiscent of a skinny Johnny Damon, and drove in a couple of runs. Brendan Donnelly opened up the closer competition with a tight inning, especially as compared against Joel Pineiro's struggles. Fittingly, the game ended in a tie, as all Spring Training contests probably should.