The Pride of the Red Sox…
I am sure that there are Yankee fans rejoicing tonight at the news the Boston Red Sox and manager Terry “Tito” Francona have mutually decided to part way. There is no rejoicing on this Blog. I have a great deal of respect for Tito and he was/is arguably one of the best managers in baseball.
When Joe Girardi was named manager of the Yankees, I was a bit disappointed. Of course, I’ve been a huge fan of Don Mattingly since he came up through the Yankees farm system and he was my favorite choice for manager despite his lack of managerial experience. I liked Girardi the player, but he was never one that I was able to fully embrace. I was concerned about the red flags that he exhibited during his year of managing the Florida Marlins and didn’t think that he’d be able to make the transition to the ‘Bright Lights, Big City’. I was envious of the Red Sox and their manager because he was the standard that I wanted Girardi to achieve. To Joe’s defense, he has but he is still not quite on the same level as Tito.
When the Red Sox first hired Tito, I simply viewed him as a Philadelphia Phillies reject. To me, he hadn’t proven himself as a manager and it was hard for me to take him seriously (kind of reminds me what I felt when the Yankees named Joe Torre as their manager). For years, the Red Sox had brought in guys that I just viewed as the manager of THAT team. None were able to capture my respect and admiration, and that includes Don Zimmer who I didn’t develop respect for until years later as a Yankees coach. But Tito was different. In 2003, the Red Sox lost a heartbreaker in the ALCS, thanks to Aaron Boone’s home run. Yet, the following year, the Sox were back. Even though his team fell down 3 games to none, they stayed calm and persevered toward the AL Championship, and the first World Series Championship since 1918. He was responsible for the end of the phrase “Curse of the Bambino”. He followed up with another World Series Championship in 2007, making him the most successful manager in the modern history of the Red Sox.
When I look at the 2011 Red Sox, it is a team that should have prevailed. They had a superior pitching staff, and the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford made it a much better team than the 2010 version. But the injuries, most notably, starting with starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and later Kevin Youkilis, were devastating. That’s really beyond the control of the manager. He has to play with the hand he has been dealt. The Red Sox recognized the flaws in the starting rotation, yet the best they could do was former Seattle pitcher Erik Bedard. Nothing against Bedard, but it has been years since he was considered a stopper due to injuries. So, if there is any blame, it has to reside with GM Theo Epstein for failing to make the right move. While Epstein made the unsuccessful Bedard deal, the Detroit Tigers made a deal with the same Mariners team to bring them a starting pitcher (Doug Fister) that is as responsible as any for the Tigers’ late season success. Epstein was clearly outdone by Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, and had he made the right move, the Red Sox would be playing Game 1 of the AL play-offs tonight and Tito would still be manager.
If I am Jerry Reinsdorf, I am already on the phone calling Tito’s agent. He is the perfect choice to follow the highly volatile Ozzie Guillen for the Chicago White Sox. Chicago has a sound and supportive ownership group and the team is willing to make the necessary moves for success. I think it would be a great fit, although it would probably be better as a Yankees fan to see Tito in the National League. Another option would be the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s not that I want to see Don Mattingly fired, but I think any change in ownership will also result in a change at the managerial level. Regardless of where Tito goes, some team is going to benefit greatly. If he doesn’t take a managerial job and becomes an ESPN analyst, we still win because we’ll get a first-hand view of his wisdom and insight.
Tito, you were a worthy opponent and a great champion. I wish you nothing but the absolute best in whatever the future holds for you. We look forward to your next adventure!
There’s great and then there’s Mo…
Seriously, he didn’t need to record 602 saves to prove that he was baseball’s all-time best closer. Today, Yankees legend (go ahead and attach the tag) Mariano Rivera became the all-time saves leader, eclipsing former San Diego Padres great Trevor Hoffman by one. I don’t want to take anything away from Hoffman who clearly was one of baseball’s greats, but he clearly limped to 601 saves in those final years with the Milwaukee Brewers. Rivera, in contrast, retains his position as one of the best in the game despite his age. Hoffman’s final year, despite his record 9 years with 40 plus saves, did not include at least that threshold. Rivera, on the other hand, captured the record with his 43rd save of the season.
Many Yankees fans worship Derek Jeter. While I admire Jeter, and I am glad that he has spent his career with the Yankees, my favorite current Yankee has been Mariano Rivera. Going into 1995, my favorite player had been Don Mattingly for a number of years. Despite his back ailments toward the end of his career, I always appreciated the character and the quality of the individual. When you think of guys you’d like to emulate, Donnie Baseball was certainly one of those guys. He was always genuine and sincere, and the one opportunity I had to meet him in person only reaffirmed that he is a quality individual. When Mattingly retired, I obviously continued to follow the team but I can’t say one player stood out among all others to me. That is, until Mariano Rivera emerged from the shadow of closer John Wetteland, who departed via free agency after the 1996 season. At first, I was skeptical to see the break-up of the awesome duo of Rivera-Wetteland. I loved the way Mo would come into the 8th inning throwing nothing but pure heat with his cutter, and then Wetteland would come on in the 9th like a psycho and retire the side, albeit with a few nervous moments. After Wetteland moved on to Texas, I wondered if Rivera would be able to make the conversion to closer. Rich Gossage had been my all-time favorite closer for years, and I didn’t think the team would have another who could match the Goose, let alone exceed him.
Rivera, from the moment I first saw him appear in the Yankee pinstripes through today, has been nothing short of the consummate professional. He is clearly the type of guy you want to be like. He accepts and forgets setbacks, and he never gloats in victory. I have never seen or heard him criticize others, and he has always accepted responsibility (which is huge for me). I will be sad when Mo takes the mound for the final time, but the way he has continued to pitch, that day isn’t coming any time soon. It has always been hard for closers to make the Hall of Fame, but I have no doubt that Mo will be a first ballot selection. Some guys are good, some guys are great, but none of the guys are Mo.
Frankly, I am quite surprised the Yankees find themselves in first place with a fairly comfortable lead in the AL East over the Boston Red Sox. If the Yankees had been able to play at least .500 ball against the Sox this year, they’d have the division clinched by now. On paper, I really believed that the Sox had the best team. But of course, you have to play the games, and the Sox have had health challenges that have caused them to fall behind the Yankees. When the Sox picked up former Seattle pitcher Erik Bedard at the closing deadline, I mistakenly thought it was building excess capacity. In retrospect, the Red Sox needed more help in the starting rotation, and even over-paying for health risk Rich Harden would have been worth it. I know that the Red Sox could still rally to capture the AL East flag, particularly considering the Yankees sluggish play of late, combined with the fact that they still have to play the hard charging Tampa Bay Rays seven more times. But with just a couple of weeks left in the regular season, I’d rather be up 5 games than down by as many.
That schedule hit me like of wind chill of 40 below…
I am closing out my first baseball season as a resident of Minneapolis, and I was able to see the Yankees when they were at Target Field in late August. Nevertheless, I was a bit dismayed when I saw the 2012 Yankees, and realized that the Yankees wouldn’t make the trip to Minneapolis until late September. On one hand, you want your team to clinch early, but I hope the team is still playing meaningful baseball when they make the trip to the Twin Cities.
My first season as a “local” Vikings fan is not going so well…
Speaking of Minnesota, life as a Minnesota Vikings fan has definitely not been fun this year. The Vikings have been a great first half team against both the San Diego Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they failed to make the necessary adjustments at halftime. In both games, a miserable second half led to a close defeat. As the Vikings stand at 0-2, it’s clear that they could have easily been 2-0. I am not a fan of Donovan McNabb, but I recognize that having rookie Christian Ponder at QB would not have meant automatic victories. Teams can rebound from 0-2 starts, but they really need to win this coming weekend. That’s no small task given the opponent is Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. No NFC North games are easy, but Lions definitely have the players for an offensive juggernaut. The Vikings need to reach deep within themselves, and play like they are capable of. They can beat the Lions, and hopefully they’ll prove that ‘on any given Sunday…’.
Have a great week, everyone!