Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Homegrown: a Review

For Boston Red Sox fans, the 2018 was truly an unbelievable season. From start to finish, the team was a machine rolling over every challenge in its way to a team-record 108 victories in the regular season and 11 more in the post season for their fourth World Series championship this century. 

For the front office and on-field personnel of the Boston Red Sox, it wasn't unbelievable at all. Maybe the exaggerated win total caused some mouths to drop, but the way that this particular Red Sox team dismantled and destroyed every major league team was not unexpected. 

In "Homegrown", Boston Globe baseball writer Alex Speier goes into great detail about the 2018 team, but also widens the lens to determine how the team was created. Through in-depth profiles on stars such as 2018 American League most valuable player Mookie Betts, 2018 ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr., outfielder Andrew Benintendi, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Rafael Devers and more, Speier chronicles how each of the Red Sox heroes were drafted, came up through the minor leagues and became MLB stars. 

He contrasts the Boston drafted hitters with the pitchers who seemed to be found on the trade market and free agent pool but also the nooks and crannies of baseball. You read about how the deal for Chris Sale came into being and how (now former) Sox President Dave Dombrowski was able to target who he wanted and crafted a deal that allowed him to get it. Free agent acquisition David Price, sometimes maligned by the Boston fans for a number of reasons, goes through his thought process when he chose the Sox over the Cardinals in the winter of 2016. 

You also get a view into a lesser-known, but important pitcher, Ryan Brasier and how his baseball journey included a stop in Japan before being one of rookie manager's Alex Cora's most trusted October firemen. Cora also goes into detail about he handled perennial All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel's hot-and-cold appearances in the postseason and how a former teammate of Cora's was able to alert the manager that his relief ace was tipping his pitches.

Speier is a new kind of baseball writer in that he's unafraid of statistics that are a bit more complex than wins and losses, batting average and RBIs, so he goes into great detail about the numbers behind what the Sox brain trust was thinking in key moments of the 2018 season. However, this is not a numbers books as Speier made sure to do his homework by talking to the grizzled scouts of the team who are more apt to use other less scientific methods to evaluate a player. 

If you're a fan of the Boston Red Sox, you should have this book in your library. It's a compelling and quick read that's almost impossible to put down. I've followed the Red Sox since I was nine-years-old and last season was the most fun that I've had watching a Boston team--they were a wagon that would not slow down. So having a smart and talented writer like Speier chronicle  the ups and (few) downs of my favorite team as they marched their way to the division title, the American League pennant and ultimately the World Series championship is perfect as far as I'm concerned. 

Also, reading this book during a disappointing 2019 made me a little nostalgic for a team that still had most of the same cast, but was missing that 2018 pizazz. 

If you're a fan of the Red Sox, this is definitely a must-have, but even if you're a fan of a well-written book on professional athletes, this is a great book to get too. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes access that Speier is granted and interviews with a lot of the people who make the most important decisions for a professional ball club. You'll be intrigued into their thought processes and how some moves worked and others did not. Also, there is a few interesting stories about the player who got away and a peek down the road not travelled. 

Check it out and keep warm reading it this winter!

BTW, the picture that was used as the front cover for the book might be one of my favorite baseball images ever. Benitendi is poetry in motion there and if that was a picture of me, it would be plastered on every wall in my home. 

I was sent Homegrown free to review and comment on. This did not have any effect on my review. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Wade Boggs 1991 Fleer Ultra

On July 16, 2019 I received this card from the Baseball Card Bandit (BCB):

A few weeks ago I received a letter in the mail from the BCB. It had been a long time since I got anything from him (or her), so I ripped open the envelope and out dropped a Wade Boggs card. Since it's been so long since I received a BCB letter, I forgot to write down the return address for this card. 

Wade Boggs reminds me that you can think that you know a lot about baseball or other stuff, but at the end of the day, no one really knows anything. And what you do know, at times, can make you sound incredibly dumb. 

Boggs was a true Boston star when baseball meant everything in the world to me. I didn't like him. At all. I hated getting his cards in wax packs, even though I knew that he was good. I told everyone that he was a decent hitter but there was always a caveat. "Sure Boggs will get you a few hits in the first four innings but where is he when it really matters?" "Yeah Boggs will hit over .350, but where's the power?" "I know that Boggs gets on base, but he has no speed. He goes from station to station to station. It takes four hits to drive him in! Why do you lead this guy off, he's not Vince Coleman!" 

I'm pretty sure that I wasn't alone. There was a very loud group of Boggs haters in Boston. Many came from the city's papers and a lot called on the talk shows. For a guy who was so great, he got no love in his home park. 

As the years crawled by, I started to really think that Wade Boggs out-and-out sucked. And that's because I was too dumb to appreciate what it was like to watch baseball before Boggs showed up. When I was a kid and I played Red Sox General Manager, first I'd have a big lunch (just like real GM Lou Gorman) then I'd pretend to call any team and beg them to take Boggs off my hands.

"Hello Seattle? Sure, I'l trade you Wade Boggs straight up for Jim Presley!"

"Yes, I know that Gary Gaetti was a key member of your World Series team, Minnesota. Take Boggs AND Jeff Sellers for him! Please! I'm begging you!"

Mike Schu (the Phillies moved Mike Schmidt across the diamond to make room for him, he must be good!), Terry Pendleton (dude played third base and was fast -- he really wasn't that fast, TBH), Mike Pagliarulo (Pags and Don Mattingly were my version of Maris and Mantle) and Carney Lansford (why couldn't the Sox have traded Boggs to Oakland for Tony Armas!), were all players I held in higher regard than Wade Boggs. 

I wasn't being a troll, I wasn't looking at numbers in a weird new way, I wasn't even being a contrarian; I just thought that Wade Boggs blew. I thought that all of his numbers were hollow (remember that time that he struck out in the ninth inning against Dennis Eckersely of Game 1 of the 1988 ALCS, WTF man?) or that he was selfish (he hit 27 homers in 1987, that proves that he can hit with power if he wanted to!) or that Fenway helped him (if it wasn't for the wall, all those doubles would be outs). But the fact was, I was just never advanced enough to get Wade Boggs*.

* This is not like how I don't get Bruce Springsteen. I get Bruce Springsteen, I get why he's popular and good and why people love him. I'm not one of those people. I mean, I like him just fine and he checks off a lot of boxes for me, he's just not my cup of tea. I don't own anything by the man and probably never will. But I don't feel about Springsteen the way that I do about Billy Joel or Rush. Those dudes are terrible. It's the same thing with Radiohead and Pink Floyd. I know that they're good, I just don't dig them. I can't tell you why. 

Back to Boggs. This sounds absolutely stupid, but I never appreciated what he brought to the table; which was a 338/428/462 slash over 11 seasons with the Sox, only striking out 470 times in 7200 plate appearances. Not only that but he worked his ass off to be one of the best defensive third basemen in the league. With or without the Wall, he was a doubles machine, cranking 420+ over his Sox career and was patient as hell walking over 1000 times. 

But I didn't want that. I wanted a third baseman who hit bombs. Home runs. If you played either of the corners or the outfield and you didn't hit at least 20 dingers, you weren't worth a greasy shit to me. If you asked me in 1989, I'd say Wade Boggs hit like a second baseman, just a bunch of singles and dinky doubles (this was patently untrue, BTW, Boggs rocketed balls off the wall, absolute peas). And yeah I was kind of right, Boggs did hit like a second baseman if that person's name was Rogers Hornsby. 

After Boggs moved on to the Yankees (HA! He's your problem now New York) and had a bunch of good years, I had to watch the likes of Scott Cooper and Wilton Veras and Tim Neahring and Chris Donnels try to play third. And it was brutal. They either couldn't hit, couldn't field, couldn't stay healthy or sometimes all three. 

At some point in the mid 90s, I realized that I missed Wade fucking Boggs. I missed his insanity, he once tried to will himself invisible when someone pulled a knife on him (his titanic drinking exploits didn't come out until much much later). I missed his tales of OCD, chicken every day, drawing the Hebrew symbol Chai in the dirt before every at bat, taking ground balls at the same time. I even missed the lurid tales of Margo Adams*. 

* Well maybe not. When this story broke, I was the world's youngest prude. "Ballplayers fool around on their wives with other women? Land sakes! I need my fainting couch!" I was so appalled at Boggs for ruining the Red Sox' good name (and this was maybe a year or two after the team was involved in some racist shenanigans at the Winter Haven Florida Elks club) that I wanted him gone. "Gary Gaetti? We'd be lucky to get Steve Lombardozzi and Al Newman for him." I kept a clipped newspaper article of every trade that Boggs was ever rumored to be in and read it over and over and over. There was one particular great deal for the Sox: Boggs to Atlanta for Ron Gant and Tom Glavine. But none ever came to pass. 

Here's the thing, when I was having these obviously idiotic thoughts about a sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famer, I thought myself as a particularly smart and nuanced baseball fan. Not only did I think that understood the game on the field, but I thought that I knew what the front office looked for off the field too. 

And I wasn't shy about it either, I had a weekly column in the school paper where I'd write this insanity for the entirety of my high school to read. I'm glad I don't have those AHS Weeklys any more, I'd probably use them as kindling to light myself on fire. 

The point isn't to beat myself up over wrong headedness from 30 years ago, it's more to say: we're all wrong about certain things. We can get something stuck in our head and just obsess about it over and over and over again until it becomes their truth. I was wrong America, Wade Boggs is and was pretty god damn good at baseball. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Now Taking the Field: a Review

It's not as if I didn't enjoy "Now Taking the Field" by Tom Stone, I just thought that I'd enjoy the book a lot more.

That's a dubious opening sentence, but it doesn't exactly encapsulate what I'm trying to say. The elevator pitch of "Now Take the Field" (NTTF) is this: every Major League franchise has its stars. But what if all of those stars were able to come together--regardless of era--and fill out a roster. What would that roster look like? Stone answers that question in this book.

In his forward, Stone said that he had spent about 20 years researching and perfecting the idea of this book. And that shows. There aren't a lot of books (baseball or otherwise) which are as doggedly researched as NTTF. When reading this, it's abundantly clear that Stone did his homework and didn't cheap out by just grabbing the most recognizable name and throwing them in a position. Nor does he move player around too much so that the best team could be assembled.

For example, if a team had two great first basemen and a handful of average third basemen, Stone didn't simply transfer one of the great first sackers across the diamond to make the best team. He stuck to his rules and had two great first basemen and a few mediocre guys at the hot corner.

Unfortunately, what's great about his book is also where it starts to bog down. There was a lot of information and statistics in this book--there had to be--but after awhile all of the numbers, all of the names, all of the teams started to run into each other. Stone kept the same dry format over and over and over, for over 600 pages.

It got to be a little too much.

Not only that but in every chapter were lists from the past of how other publications viewed each franchises' all-time teams. This was a good idea, in theory, it's interesting to see what people in 1950 thought that the Red Sox all-time team looked like. But there were so many examples, and so many of those lists were virtually the same, that it almost became in exercise in typesetting.

There were not a lot of real insights or interesting stories about the players that he selected. Most paragraphs would start out with the player's name, a rehashing of his statistics (which were printed above the paragraph) followed by a line or two of what the player did best. These are the best-of-the-best, so I knew about 95% of the players and while I may not have known every number, I had a pretty good idea of why they would be chosen.

For example, former Boston Braves infielder and Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville was chosen as one of the backup second basemen for the Braves. Stone said he chose him because while he couldn't hit, he was fast and played good defense. That was pretty much it. These few lines were sort of flat and lacked a bit of life.

I know that it's sacrilege (and almost unfair) to compare a modern baseball write to Bill James, but when Bill James released his Baseball Almanac almost 20 years, he had a top-100 player list at every position. James would cite some stats, but then wouldn't just regurgitate the stats in the paragraph; he'd write something that you may not have known about the player.

For example, when discussing Rickey Henderson, James mentioned that if you took away his stolen bases, Henderson was still a Hall of Famer thanks to his other numbers. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, there was a school of thought that Rickey was mainly a speed guy. He had some power too, but he was kind of pigeon-holed into a stolen base threat. James changed some of that perception by pointing out that his other numbers were incredible too.

I don't think that Stone really did that. He took a very straight path in explaining why a player deserved to be on the team. Baseball is a game of circuitous routes and rabbit holes, Stone didn't explore those holes. And that's a shame because I think that would have made this a better book. Instead of relying on what the 1959 readers of Sport Magazine thought about who the best all-time White Sox were, it might have been better to explore other areas.

I think that Stone had a great idea for a book, Rob Neyer (a Bill James acolyte) wrote a similar book 15 years ago called the "Big Book of Baseball Lineups" and Stone would quote his all-time teams as comparison to what he thought. Neyer's book was just as regimented, but shorter and filled with more interesting tidbits.

I don't want to dump on this book a lot, because it was a decent read and I was really excited at the premise of the tome because I really do love baseball history. And maybe I should review the book that I read rather than the book that I wished it could be. It's more than apparent that Stone is a huge baseball fan and obviously did a ton of work on his research and he has a gift for turning a phrase. It may not be ideal to read this book from cover to cover, it's probably best to bounce around from team-to-team like I did. To be honest, I found the strongest part of Stone's work is when he was able to use his voice more and pick the rosters of the newer teams like the Mariners or Rockies or Diamondbacks. There he was writing without the net of past all-time teams and he was a little more free with his prose. I likes that a lot.

For a first book, I thought that this was a really good effort. If you're on the beach this summer and need something to peruse, you could do much worse.

I was sent Now Take the Field free to review and comment on. This did not have any effect on my review. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Jeff Sellers 1989 Topps

On April 15, 2019 I received this card from the Baseball Card Bandit (BCB):

I haven't written anything about this card on Facebook, because I'm writing about it here first. Pictured in the above card is former Red Sox prospect Jeff Sellers. 

Was he a real prospect? I'm not sure if he was really a prospect or just a young pitcher who Boston hoped would be the next big thing. I've discussed this before, but after Roger Clemens came along until Aaron Sele, the Red Sox had a dearth of pitching prospects. All of a sudden they couldn't  find a pitching prospect at all, which is weird because there was a pretty good pipeline of Sox hurlers who debuted in the early 80s and went on to have pretty good careers: Clemens, Bruce Hurst, Oil Can Boyd, John Tudor, Bobby Ojeda and Al Nipper. Just look at the starting four of the 86 ALCS team, it was Clemens, Hurst, Boyd and Nipper (with an aging Tom Seaver). That's not a bad rotation at all. All I know is that the Sox front office seemed to pivot from finding pitching to finding hitting sometime in the 1980s -- don't ask me why they couldn't concentrate on both. 

Back to Jeff Sellers. Before we get into the tragedy that was Jeff Sellers' career, guess where he was born? Compton, California. I wonder if he knew Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, Eazy-E and Yella? Even if you hated rap, wouldn't you buy "Straight Outta Compton" because of civic pride?


I became obsessed with baseball beginning with the 1986 season, but when I opened packs of 1987 Topps, I had no idea who Jeff Sellers was. I don't recall him pitching for the Red Sox in 1986, but it turns out he pitched in 14 games that season and four in 1985--his first start was a win against the Milwaukee Brewers.  Maybe he was some sort of secret rookie, the kind that comes out of nowhere and has a great career, completely flummoxing those whose job it is to know better. 

But he wasn't a ninja rookie. He was just a guy with a perfectly square head who get would get said head kicked in most times he started a game. He didn't have a lot of strikeouts--he was a sinker baller--and his career ERA was a whisker away from 5.00 (it was 4.97). He probably should have been a back-of-the-bullpen, swingman type; but at least according to the back of his baseball card, the Red Sox didn't think so. He appeared in 61 games and started 51 of them. 

In 1988 he, Todd Benzinger and the always-popular Player to be Named Later were sent to the Cincinnati Reds for Nick Esasky and Rob Murphy. Murphy had a real good year coming out of the pen in 1989, but was awful in 1990. Esasky had a monster year for the Sox in 1989, before signing  big deal with the Braves in December 1989 and then contracting vertigo and never playing again. Benzinger played a couple of seasons with his hometown Reds, catching the final out of the 1990 World Series, before bouncing around the league and retiring in 1995. 

After the 1988 season, Jeff Sellers never threw another pitch in the major leagues. With his new team, he got injured in Spring Training with Cincinnati and his arm never healed right. Like his trademate Benzinger, Sellers spent the next few years trying to hook on with the Yankees, Rangers and Rockies before calling it quits in 1994. Unlike Benzinger, Sellers banged around the bushes and played in the minor leagues for those organizations. 

What really must make Sellers angry is that his last game was by far his best. On October 1, 1988, Jeff Sellers had ten strikeouts and a no-hitter through 7 2/3 innings before Cleveland Indian outfielder Luis Medina launched a homer. That was the only run Sellers gave up, but he lost 1-0, former Red Sox manager John Farrell got the victory. That was Sellers' final major league game ever. 

When I started thinking about this entry, the only thing that I remembered about Sellers is the Cincinnati/Boston trade. As I was thinking about it, I started trying to think of angles of how to approach this blog: imagining what it's like to be the "throw-in" in a multiplayer deal or trying to figure out how I would feel about being the fourth best player in a four-person transaction. But after doing a little bit of research, the Jeff Sellers story is bigger than that one transaction. 

It has to suck to be 24-years-old and on the last day of the year, pitch the best game of your life. You spend your entire winter thinking of that last game and how things are going to start changing. Then you get traded. The Reds wanted him, maybe they thought that they'd catch lightning in a bottle with a youngish guy who had already made some mistakes. 

Sellers probably heard this too. You think about how you're starting your prime now and getting a whole new start with a new team in a new league, this is going to be your year. Then, BOOM!, you get hurt. Of all the things that can happen, that's the worst. Especially when your manager is notorious steak head Pete Rose, who was also going through some stuff in 1989. Things were starting to finally line up your way, you know that baseball is full of stories of guys who go to a new team and get a new lease on life, why couldn't you be the next chapter of that story? But instead you got really hurt. 

I wonder how often Jeff Sellers thinks about that moment in 1989 Spring Training? I wonder how many times he talks about how things were this close to changing for him and then he hurt his shoulder, got sent to the minors, tried to pitch through it, hurt his shoulder more, had surgery and was never the same. 

If it was me, I'd probably think about it every single day. 

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Dennis Eckersley 1992 Pinnacle

Sometime in the last year or so I received this card but I'm not sure if it was from the Baseball Card Bandit (BCB):

There are a few things that separate me from a professional athlete: innate ability, hand-eye coordination, a desire to practice and hone a skill, a killer instinct, the ability to always want to win. But another thing is that when I played sports and I screw up, with a strike out, missing a free throw, clanging a ball off the cross bar, I'd let it fester and bother me. And that would compound the error because inevitably, I'd think so much about the last miscue, that I'd make another. I couldn't get over things easily when I was competing. 

Sports isn't about perfection because no one can be perfect all the time. All athletes who compete at a high level understand this. So when they screw up, the acknowledge it and move on. Some guys get the yips, but it's rare. Perseverance and a short memory is the key in athletics. The quicker you understand that, the better you'll do. 

No one understands that more than Dennis Eckersley. 

If you were to sit down and have a few drinks (actually, how about a few club sodas) with an ex-major leaguer, I don't think that you could do better if you were swapping stories with Dennis Eckersley. The dude has lived many lives and the fact that he seems like a genuinely good guy without much bitterness is pretty amazing. 

His life had more twists than a bag of spicy curly fries. 

Eckersley grew up with Rick Manning. They played on the same high school baseball team, got selected by the Cleveland Indians in the same draft and were on the same minor league team together. They were inseparable, as was Eck's girlfriend, turned fiancĂ©, turned wife. They climbed the ladder of the Cleveland organization together and by the mid-70s were the best pitching and hitting prospects the Indians had. 

Eckersely was brash, arrogant and loud. He had a fastball that was explosive and an attitude that matched. Which was fine for Cleveland because they hadn't had anything to cheer for in years. Eckersley and Manning were going to lead the Indians into 1980s domination. A funny thing happened on the way to multiple World Series, Manning developed feelings for his best friend's wife. And she reciprocated. Next thing you know, Eckersley is on the outside looking in as Manning has a new wife.

Fearing that this would destroy the clubhouse, the Indians had a choice to make: trade the stud centerfielder or the stud pitcher. They sent Eckersley to the Boston Red Sox for a handful of prospects, none of whom ever did much for the Tribe. Catcher Bo Diaz played well for the Phillies and Reds--he was an All-Star selection--but wasn't great in Cleveland. 

Eckersley immediately dominated as a Red Sox and the fans loved him. As the 70s turned into the 80s, Eck began to lose his edge. No one was really sure why, but that fastball that blew everyone away became really flat and hittable. Turns out, Eckersley had developed a taste for the sauce and was out partying every night and not really taking care of himself. So Boston shipped him to the absolute worst place you can send an alcoholic to: Chicago, specifically the Cubs for Bill Buckner. 

Everyone loves Wrigley Field, especially before they added lights in 1988. Every home game is a day game, which means you have your nights free to do what you want. And that's precisely what tripped Eck up. He was a major league baseball player living it up in a place where he could drink all night and deal with the consequences in the morning. He stayed a few seasons in Chicago before the Cubs got sick of putting up with his stuff and released him. 

Eckersley was in danger of getting drummed out of baseball if he didn't control his drinking problem. There was one team that offered him a job: the Oakland Athletics. Manager Tony LaRussa said that Eckersley would be a part of the bullpen (he was a starter for his entire career) and if he wanted more than that, he'd have to earn it. Thus began one of the biggest comebacks in baseball history. 

Eckersley didn't just earn his spot in the Oakland bullpen, he flat-out dominated. Year after year after year, his ERA was ridiculously low, his WHIP lower than that and his save percentage was higher than anyone's had ever been. Ever since he stopped hitting the sauce, he got his swagger, and more importantly, his fastball back. He was pointing to people and yelling at them when he struck them out like he did when he was young buck. Apparently when he was with the Indians, Eckersley was in the midst of throwing his first no-hitter and with one down in the ninth, started yelling at what would be the last hitter of the night (he was on deck), saying that he wanted no part of him, that he sucked and that he was going to strike out. That batter did. 

From 1987 through 1992, Eckersley's ERA was never above 3.00 and in 1990, it was a ridiculous 0.61. The pinnacle of Eck's career was 1992 when he won the American League Cy Young and MVP award. From 1981 through 1992, relievers Eck, Rollie Fingers and Willie Hernandez each won the MVP and Cy Young awards in the same year, while Steve Bedrosian and Mark Davis won the NL Cy Young awards. Since Eck's double-dip, only one reliever, Eric Gagne in 2003 has won either award in either league. Which says something. I'm not sure whether writers in the 80s and early 90s were blown away by relievers and that writers now don't care, but there seemingly was a market correction. 

It wasn't all good times in Oakland, as Eck gave up one of the most famous homers in postseason history in Game One of the 1988 World Series to Kirk Gibson. And he didn't shy away from the goat horns either, he answered question after question after question after that game, during the winter of his discontent and 30 years later with grace and aplomb. If there was a time for a man to turn to drink, that would have been it, but Eck stood resolute. In 1989 he recorded the final out of the 1989 World Series, though he was uncharacteristically shaky in the 1990 World Series loss to the Cincinnati Reds. 

Eck stayed with the A's through the 1994 season before joining his former A's boss in St. Louis. He pitched for a few years there before coming home to Boston for his last season. 

Eckersley was elected into the Hall of Fame in his first ballot and has continued to be a popular broadcaster on Red Sox telecasts, while also doing work for his home-town Oakland Athletics. 

When you're kicking ass, life is easy to handle. But when the tables are turned and life starts handing you a beat down, whether it's your best friend stealing your wife, drinking too much or giving up a game-losing home run to a broken down gimp who was waiting for your backdoor slide, that's when people can see what you're made of. 

Eckersley is a tough dude, amigos. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Deion Sanders 1989 Upper Deck

Sometime in the last year or so I received this card but I'm not sure if it was from the Baseball Card Bandit (BCB):

To me, this doesn't even look like a baseball card. It looks like the photographer was at Atlanta Falcons practice and snapped a pic of Deion Sanders without his helmet. 

It was always strange to me that Deion Sanders debuted with the Yankees. Strange might not be the right word, because Yankee owner George Steinbrenner really wanted to sign Bo Jackson, so drafting and promoting Sanders wasn't a crazy idea. What was weird--to me at least--was how much Sanders wasn't a typical Yankee. He was cocky as hell, but so was Reggie Jackson and practically any other person that wears the interlocking NY, right? Yes, but Reggie and his ilk came with a pedigree and was considered a winner. 

But when Sanders came to the majors, he was full of jheri-curl and gold and that's about it. His flash was seen as part of new generation and something that a Yankee would never do. Before every plate appearance, he'd draw a dollar sign in the dirt; something that bugged Carlton Fisk so much that he got into a shoving match with the brash outfielder that set off a mini-revolution of old school versus new. 

A Yankee could be brash and cocky, arrogant and dismissive, but in order to be those things AND be a Yankee, it had to be done the right way. In other words, there had to be two things to back that attitude up: either that person had to be a part of a winning team or that person had to put up huge numbers. 

Sanders did neither. And, unlike Jackson, it was obvious that baseball wasn't his number one sport--he even said as much referring to football as his "wife" and baseball as his "girlfriend". I think that the Yankees were at some sort of a cross road with Sanders, which was to either agree with the player that there is a new, very untraditional Yankee way of doing things and that Yankee baseball wasn't the number one thing in everyone's life or let him go. Sanders didn't hit very well in his year and a half in the Bronx, so that--plus his request for $1 million--an easy decision for General Manager Gene Michaels, and the Yankees let Prime Time expire. 

Sanders found a baseball home in the same city where he played football: Atlanta. He famously did double duty with the Braves and Falcons, even (trying) to play football and baseball on the same day -- something that hadn't been done before. Sanders played a 1:00 game against the Dolphins in Miami then flew to Pittsburgh to help the Braves defeat the Pirates in the NLCS. Atlanta General Manager John Schurholz and manager Bobby Cox weren't crazy about this idea and kept Sanders on the bench for the game. 

Which kind of sucks, because that would have been a cool thing to see. But I understand their reluctance to allow Sanders to do this. 

Sanders always had sparks of brilliance on the baseball field, but it never translated into a consistent success that he had in football. Aside from the Braves and Yankees, he toiled with the Reds and Giants too. Never much of a power hitter, his speed was his main weapon. When that went, so did Sanders' career. 

Sanders lasted longer in the NFL than he did in Major League Baseball, playing with the 49ers, the Cowboys (winning a Super Bowl with each of those teams) before finishing up with the Redskins and the Ravens. 

I'm not sure whether it was because he was the second person to play two sports, but I never thought that Deion Sanders captured the American public's imagination like Bo Jackson*. And it's unfortunate for Sanders to be compared to Jackson because Bo was the first, though one could argue that Sanders was probably better. 

* Before he went to Florida State, Sanders was originally drafted by the Royals. Can you imagine Bo and Deion in the same outfield?

I think primarily because he was the first and also because of his raw power, both on the football field and baseball diamond, Bo was lauded more than Sanders. Sanders would scratch out a single, steal two bases and then score on a sac fly. Bo would hit a mammoth home run. They both count as one run, but one had better optics. Same thing in football, Bo would knock over Brian Bosworth and score a touchdown. As a defensive back, Sanders would hang back and then pounce on an unsuspecting receiver, snatch the ball away and score a touchdown. 

I guess Sanders made things look easy, effortless. Bo was a gifted athlete, and he was hurt a bunch, but that worked for him. People thought that Bo gave more to the games than Sanders did, that he somehow worked harder. I don't think that's fair. Yes, Sanders, whether he was Neon Deion or Prime Time, was way flashier than Vincent Jackson, but to do what he did, you can't convince me that he didn't work harder. 

In subsequent years, guys like Brian Jordan and DJ Dozier would try their hand at dual sports, but they never made the impact that Bo and Deion did. Jordan came close, but couldn't do it like these two did. And if you think about it, playing two sports at a professional level is insane. It's hard enough to be good at one thing, never mind two. Former Patriots receiver and Red Sox outfielder Greg McMurtry couldn't do it. Michael Jordan couldn't do. Tim Tebow is having a tough time.

So while Deion wasn't the first, he was still one of the best of all times. He also dumped a bucket of water on Tim McCarver's head, which was pretty great too. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Mike Boddicker 1989 Topps

Sometime in the last year or so I received this card but I'm not sure if it was from the Baseball Card Bandit (BCB):

On July 29, 1988; Lou Gorman made a trade that worked out well for both teams sending Red Sox prospects Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling to the Baltimore Orioles for veteran right hander Mike Boddicker. Anderson was a big time prospect and broke camp with the big-league at the beginning of the year and was sent back to Pawtucket by May. Schilling was a wild righty with good stuff, but a five-cent brain. At the time, no one really expected Schilling to do anything but Boston fans were nervous about losing Anderson. 

Anderson didn't have his breakout year until four season later in 1992 and became a three-time All Star with O's for the rest of the 1990s. Curt Schilling has a very good shot of making the Hall of Fame (if he can shut his mouth for more than five minutes) but didn't reach his potential until after the Houston Astros (who acquired him from an exasperated Orioles club) sent him to Philadelphia. In the City of Brotherly Love and with the Arizona Diamondbacks and back to the Red Sox, Schilling took off and became a perennial All-Star as well as one of the more dominant pitchers for the next 15 years. He lead his teams to four World Series, winning three of them -- including two all timers in 2001 and 2004. 

Mike Boddicker played with the Sox for two-and-a-half seasons compiling a 39-22 record before signing a free agent deal with the Kansas City Royals in the winter of 1990 and played for the Brewers in his last season. 

Why did this deal work out for both teams? The Orioles received two players that had they used patience with BOTH former Sox prospects would have seen a better return on their investment. But they only stuck with Anderson and he proved to be a player to wait for. Anderson had one of the strangest home run years in 1996 when he 50 round trippers, he never hit more than 24 before or after that year. When the O's began a mini renaissance in the Charm City, Anderson was one of their better players. 

Boddicker was the perfect fit for the Sox needs from 1988 through 1990. In July of 1988, the Sox were hot as hell flushed with Morgan Magic. They had Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst to lead them, but after that, the pitching staff was pretty bleak. Gorman got Boddicker and he was the perfect third man in the rotation, going 7-3 with a 2.63 ERA for his new team. Not too bad. 

And with Hurst departing for San Diego that winter, he fit in nicely behind Clemens as the number two man on the staff winning 15 and 17 games in the next two seasons before taking off to KC. 

The reason why this trade works out for both teams is because where they were at at the time. The Sox were in the middle of a pennant race and couldn't afford to waste time on players that might be good in two, three or in Schilling and Anderson's case, four to five seasons down the road. Baltimore, on the other hand, had nothing but time. That year they started 0-22 and were in the midst of a full-fledged rebuild--wasting Cal Ripken's prime in the mean time--they had nothing else to do but see if the kids they had in their minor league system would hit. And some did. 

Most of the time, baseball trades aren't that big of a deal, they really don't change a team too much. Every once in awhile there will be a steal of a deal (like when Gorman sent Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for Larry Andersen in 1990) but those are few and far between. Even more rarer are the trades that help both teams, like this one.