Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Three baseball related thoughts for the day:

(1) Manny Ramirez is selling his condo at the Ritz near the Boston Common. Only $6.9 million gets you a 4,500 square foot place, four bedrooms, six bathrooms and herringbone floors (I'm not even sure what the heck they are). Unfortunately, the giant Pedro Martinez bobblehead is not included.

Now, this could mean one of two things. It could mean that Manny is so sure he's going to get out of Boston that he is selling his place here. It could also mean that Manny is going to move his family out to the suburbs during the season to give them a bit more privacy.

(2) Mets GM Omar Minaya continues to spend like a drunken sailor, picking up Carlos Delgado in a fire sale trade with the Marlins and signing Billy Wagner to a free agent contract this week. These signings come a year after Minaya opened up the Mets vaults to Pedro and Carlos Beltran last off-season. And Shea Stadium continues to be mentioned as a landing spot for Manny and the $57 million remaining on his contract as well. If this keeps up, the Mets could very well leapfrog the Red Sox into second place for highest payroll in MLB.

(3) Finally, Paul Konerko signed a 5-year, $60 million contract to return to the White Sox today. As much as I would have liked to see him change his Sox to Red, it was nice to see a guy who decided that squeezing out every last dollar was less important than being where he wanted to be. Konerko was reportedly offered another $5 million by the Orioles, but decided to stay in Chicago for a bit less. And anyways, $60 million is still a pretty obscene amount of cash, isn't it?

Monday, November 28, 2005

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving weekend. We had a great time seeing everyone. R., in particular, had a great time with a new baby in the family, a 10 month old who she helped feed and play with. It was very cute, although I keep reminding her that babies aren't so much fun until you're around 25-30 years old.

I got to see three new movies over the last two weekends. Here are some mini-reviews.

Zathura: The storyline on this one is like this: a kid finds an old space-themed board game in his father's house. On every turn, the game spits out a little card that tells you to do something in the game. When he and his brother start to play, the stuff that comes out on the card actually starts happening (meteor shower, malfunctioning robot, aliens attack). The house ends up in orbit of an unknown planet and they have to play out the game to get home, while avoiding getting killed as the various game-generated calamities occur.

It wasn't a bad movie, but I thought the storyline was a bit difficult to follow. It also tended to get preachy in places. J. liked it, but I could tell he wasn't real enthusiastic about it.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The adaptation of the 4th year at Hogwarts might be the best Harry Potter movie yet, although I still like The Prisoner of Azkaban quite a bit as well. The movie pares the 700+ page book down to the barest essentials that keep the story moving forward. Probably my biggest complaint about the movie is that Harry's Muggle family, the Dursley's, are denied an appearance. The special effects are wonderful (especially the dragons), and the all-star team of British character actors does it's usual wonderful job.

The kids acting gets better with each movie. In fact, my only complaint about the acting is Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. In both the books and in Richard Harris' portrayal in the first two films, Dumbledore is an extremely calm individual. Gambon seems to get way too excited about things in this movie, especially when Harry's name comes popping out of the Goblet.

One more thing - take this PG-13 rating seriously. There are some very frightening images in this movie, and Ralph Fiennes Voldemort is the stuff of nightmares. J. won't be seeing this movie for quite a while, no matter how much he begs. Oh, and I wouldn't reccomend this film as your jumping on point into the Harry Potter universe. If you haven't read the books, or at least seen the previous movies, you are going to get lost very quickly.

Chicken Little: This one is far from a Disney classic, but it has some funny moments in it. The movie is Disney's first all-CGI effort, and it looks great, but the story doesn't really hold together. Disney has a ways to go to match Pixar in the animated movie department at this point.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

We had a bit of an accident here a couple of nights ago. R. dropped my iBook and the screen is coming away from the case. A. took the laptop to CompUSA to see what they could do. They wanted $169 just to look at it, plus they estimated it would cost at least $150 more to make the repairs. I really didn't want to spend $300+ to fix a four year old computer, so I had kind of resigned myself to replacing it with a Mac Mini, which would go into the basement mostly for the kids to use. I don't use the laptop on the train as much anymore, so I could certainly go without one for a while, with the possibility of picking up a refurbished iBook at bonus time next spring.

A couple of weeks ago I had bought a new battery for the laptop, since the old one wasn't holding a charge very long any more. I asked A. to call the company I had bought it from, MacResq, to return it. When she called, they mentioned that they had a repair service. For $49 they would send you a padded box in which to ship your laptop to them. They diagnose the problem and let you know how much it would cost to fix. You can then decide whether to fix it or not. If you decide not to fix it, they buy the iBook from you for parts.

So I'm going to give this a shot. I have been doing business with this company for years, and never had any problem with them. I used another service they provide to replace the battery in my first iPod a year or so ago and it worked like a charm. I figure it's a no-lose situation. Either I get my laptop back for a lot less than I might have otherwise, or I get some cash for it (I would expect at least enough to cover the fee, anyways.) We'll see what happens.

The Marlins continue the fire sale by trading Carlos Delgado to the Mets. They have also been granted permission by MLB to look for a new home city since it seems unlikely that a ballpark is going to get built for them in South Florida. Portland, OR, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico are all possibilities for a new home. The Miami area has never really embraced the Marlins despite two World Series Championships since they came into the league in 1993. At least the government there is not playing into the standard "build us a ballpark or we'll leave" ploy.

Of course, the Delgado trade has an impact on the Red Sox as well. You would think that the Mets are a less likely trade candidate for Manny Ramirez after already acquiring an expensive bat to go along with last season's high priced acquisitions or Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. I really don't have a good sense of where Manny is going to land. One intriguing rumor that was floated today had Manny going to Seattle for Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro is having some issues with Mariners management, but it seems like a longshot.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, everyone. Remember, if you don't eat yourself into a coma tomorrow, you're not doing it right!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Big news in Red Sox nation. The latest rumor, according to Peter Gammons, is that the Sox are trading top prospects Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez, plus another minor leaguer, to Florida for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Beckett, of course, was the MVP of the 2003 World Series and is probably one of the top 10 starters in baseball. Lowell had a poor year with the bat, but won the NL Gold Glove at 3rd base. The Sox have agreed to pay the $18 million left on Lowell's contract over the next two years.

Despite the loss of the two prospects, this trade is a no-brainer for the Sox. Beckett is only 25 years old and already has established himself as a top pitcher. With Beckett, a healthy Schilling, Tim Wakefield and Johnathan Papelbon in the rotation, the Sox could go a long way next year. Anything Lowell gives them would be gravy. Does Kevin Youkilis move across the diamond to 1st base? Maybe.

Gammons said on ESPN that they probably won't announce the trade for a couple of days pending physicals, but if this happens it will be a very good thing for the Sox.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I made my first visit of the season to the newly renamed TD Banknorth Garden last night (or the Gahden in the local dialect). A former co-worker of mine who has moved to a different division of the company got some club seats and invited me and another guy from the department to go. It was good to see him again, and the seats were great.

The game itself was kind of a stinker. The Celtics won 100-93, but if they had been playing a decent team they would have lost. Providing the opposition for the evening were the Toronto Raptors, who are now 0-9 for the season. The Celtics played barely well enough to win, but this is a team they could have blown out by 20 points.

One of the nice things about sitting in the club seats is that the Sports Museum of New England is located in the concourse surrounding the club seats and luxury boxes at the Garden. Before the game started, I wandered around a bit. There was a great exhibit of photographs from McCoy Stadium on the upper level. This level was nearly deserted, and as I was making my way around the exhibits none other than Celtics legend Bob Cousy walked by, accompanied by a member of the Celtics staff. I said "Hi, Cooz." as he walked by and he said "How ya doin'?" Very cool.

One thing I never thought I'd see at a Celtics game while Red Auerback was still alive was cheerleaders. But there they were, a group of young men and women known as the Green Team flipping around and exhorting the crowd to cheer during timeouts. In fact, the whole game presentation with the loud music and flashing lights during player introductions, constant contests and requests from the scoreboard to "make some noise" and such is a little much for me. It almost seems like the game is a afterthought sometimes. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but back in the '70s and '80's guys like Havlicek, Cowens, Bird, Parrish and McHale were enough to keep me entertained.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A couple of quick baseball notes...

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see Alex Rodriguez beat out David Ortiz for the AL MVP award. The whole mindset against designated hitters as the MVP worked against Big Papi, and A-Rod ended up with 16 first-place votes to Ortiz' 11 (one Detroit writer voted for Vladimir Guerrero - go figure). I already laid out my reasoning for voting for Papi over A-Rod here. We Red Sox fans know who the real MVP is anyways.

Baseball finally got really tough with steroid offenders, as the union and the owners got together on a stricter policy. The new penalties are a 50 game suspension for a first offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third. This is up from 10 days, 30 days and 60 days, with a lifetime ban coming only after five failed tests.

I'm really glad to see this. Losing almost a third of a season (and the accompanying pay) may finally be a real deterrent. There is no place in baseball for performance enhancing drugs and this is a big step in the right direction of stopping them.

Last item: The Kansas City Royals and Chiefs are holding the Jackson County Sports Authority over a barrell for over $500 million of improvements to Kaufmann Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium. The teams would pick up $70 million of the cost, with the taxpayers holding the bag for the rest. Amazingly enough, the Authority is having to go back for a second try at getting approval because - guess what? - the voters turned it down last time!

Anyone who has read Foul Ball and followed my blog through the Pittsfield experience last year knows what I think about government funding for sports stadiums. It's corporate welfare at it's worst, building stadiums for millionaire ballplayers and billionaire team owners. Hopefully the Kansas City voters will continue to refuse to take part in it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I went to Brookline yesterday afternoon to see a talk about politics and sports sponsored by the Brookline Booksmith. On the panel were historian Howard Zinn, David Zirin, author of What's My Name, Fool: Sports and Resistance in the United States and the real reason I was there, Jim Bouton, the author of Foul Ball the one and only book I have ever been mentioned in.

My father-in-law accompanied me to the talk. There was a good crowd at the Coolidge Corner Theater for the talk, filling most of the upstairs theater. Jim, Zirin and Zinn spoke for a good portion of the hour, then took questions from the audience. There was some good give and take with the liberal Brookline crowd. I tried to catch Jim after the talk, but he got whisked out a back door and I figured I would catch him at the bookstore.

We went across the street and I picked up a copy of the book for Jim to sign to my friend The Hey, plus a copy of Zirin's book, since he had impressed me so much during the discussion. We were waiting to pay for the book when Jim and his wife Paula walked in. Jim said "There's Capn Ho!" We shook hands and they both asked me how I was feeling and we chatted for a moment, then Jim made his way to the table to sign books.

We got in line to get our books signed. As we got up there, Jim mentioned to Dave Zirin that I was one of the investors in Pittsfield, and that I had attended the Parks Commission meeting. He seemed very impressed, and signed my book, "To Capn Ho, and the saving of all our old ballparks!" A couple of other people overheard Jim and I got to bask in some reflected glory for a few moments, as I talked about my experience, and how the meeting was exactly like what Jim described in the book.

It was great to see Jim and Paula again, and it was a very enjoyable afternoon. I'll let you know what I think of the Dave Zirin book once I read it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I took the kids to see the Star Wars exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science. The exhibit was very well done, and linked Star Wars technology - primarily modes of transportation (speeders, spaceships and such) and robots to today's real technology and what might be coming in the future. There was lots of hands on stuff. The kids got to ride a hovercraft (using a cushion of air, not a repusorlift), make a Lego magnetic levitation car, build your own robot and lots of others. There was also a short show about robots, starring C-3PO and some real robots being developed today. Finally, there were tons of props, costumes and minatures from the six Star Wars movies to check out.

It was topped off by a separate ride in the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon, which took you into hyperspace, through the solar system and across the universe. It was a bit like Star Tours at the Disney MGM Studios, but more educational and with less bumping around.

I highly recommend checking out the exhibit if you are in the area. It's a lot of fun, and you might even learn somthing.

Here are a few pictures of some of the Star Wars items they have at the exhibit, in case you can't make it to the museum.

Here's Luke's speeder from A New Hope.

Next is a Yoda puppet from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

My favorite Star Wars spaceship, a filming model of the Millenium Falcon

Finally, an X-Wing model they had displayed in the museum's lobby.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

It's been over a week since Theo Epstein's departure as general manager of the Boston Red Sox. Was losing Theo a huge blunder by Red Sox ownership?

We really don't know right now. If the Sox hire a competent replacement and they continue to win 90+ games a year and consistently compete for the playoffs, then it wasn't. If they take a nosedive, then it is. But we won't know for two or three years. I think that you can only truly judge these things in hindsight.

So, presented here for your consideration are my choices for the ten worst management moves in Red Sox history. These are front office moves, not moves on the field. Other than the first two, they are in no particular order.

1. Selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees: This one has been discussed, dissected and analyzed to death, so I won't repeat any of it here.

2. Not signing Willie Mays: This one stands in as a proxy for all the poor decisions made by the Red Sox because of the racist bent of Tom Yawkey's ownership. Here's the basic story: in 1949, the Red Sox top minor league affiliate was the Birmingham Barons. The Barons' owner also owned a Negro League team, the Birmingham Black Barons. Willie Mays played for the Black Barons, and the owner gave the Red Sox the inside track on signing him to a contract. The Red Sox sent a scout to Alabama to see Mays, but it rained for several days and the scout decided that he didn't want to wait around to see this black kid play. The New York Giants signed Mays, and he went onto a career as arguably the best position player of all time.

Of course, the Red Sox didn't have an African-American player until Pumpsie Green came to the team in 1959, twelve years after Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Just to make my point, here is what the first two teams to break the color barrier did. The Dodgers, after signing Jackie Robinson, won National League Pennants in 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956, winning the World Series in '55. The Cleveland Indians, who signed Larry Doby as the American League's first African-American later in 1947, won the AL pennant and World Series in 1948 (defeating the Sox in a one game playoff). They were also one of only two AL teams other than the Yankees to win a pennant in the '50's. They lost the 1954 World Series to the New York Giants led by (who else?) Willie Mays.

3. Losing Carlton Fisk to free agency: The Sox general manager, Heywood Sullivan, failed to mail Fisk his contract in time for the 1981 season, making Pudge a free agent. Fisk, who had already had a great career with the Red Sox, played another 13 years with the Chicago White Sox. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.

4. Jeff Bagwell for Larry Anderson: Bagwell was traded to the Houston Astros just before the trading deadline in 1990, as the Red Sox needed another relief pitcher for the pennant run. Andersen ended up pitching 15 games for the Sox, saving one as the Red Sox took the American League East title. He pitched three innings in the ALCS against the A's, giving up two runs. The A's swept the Sox and went on to be beaten by Cincinnati in the World Series.

Bagwell, of course, has had a probable Hall of Fame career with the Astros, winning the NL MVP Award in 1994. This is widely regarded as the move that Red Sox GM Lou Gorman will never live down.

5. Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater: Sparky Lyle, a relief pitcher for the Red Sox, was traded to the Yankees for first baseman Danny Cater during spring training in 1972. Lyle became a top-notch closer for the Yankees, winning the AL Cy Young Award in 1977. Cater played three seasons for the Sox, never played more than 100 games and hit a grand total of 14 home runs over three years before being traded to the Cardinals.

6. Replacing Joe Morgan with Butch Hobson: The Red Sox fired Walpole native Joe Morgan after the 1991 season and replaced him with former Sox 3rd baseman Butch Hobson. Morgan, a career minor league manager (including a long stretch with the Pawsox) took over from John McNamara during the 1988 All-Star break. The Sox immediately went on a huge winning streak which is still remembered as "Morgan Magic". The Sox won the AL East that season and won again in 1990.

Hobson, who was considered such a hot managerial commodity that the Red Sox felt they had to get rid of Morgan so that they wouldn't lose him, didn't exactly live up to his billing. The Red Sox tumbled into last place, and finished below .500 under Hobson, who was finally fired 115 games into the 1994 season. The lasting image of Daddy Butch is him running in the outfield with Roger Clemens, while Clemens is wearing headphones.

7. The "twilight" of Roger Clemens career: This is the one people will never let Dan Duquette forget. Clemens left the team as a free agent after the 1996 season, eventually signing with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox made a token, half-hearted offer to Roger. On his way out the door, Duquette said that Clemens was in "the twilight of his career".

We should all have such twilights. Four Cy Young Awards later, Roger just helped to pitch the Astros to the World Series this season. You could make a strong argument that he is the greatest pitcher of all time.

8. The trade of Earl Wilson: Wilson was traded to the Tigers in June of 1966. He went 22-11 for the Tigers in 1967. Think the Impossible Dream season might have ended on a different note if the Sox had both Jim Lonborg and Earl Wilson at the top of their rotation in the World Series against St. Louis?

9. Cecil Cooper for George Scott: Cooper, a promising young first baseman, was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for George Scott after the 1976 season. The Boomer, a beloved figure in Boston, was on the downside of his career at this point. He did hit 33 home runs for the Sox in 1977, but slid quickly after that and was out of baseball by 1979. Cooper, on the other hand, played 11 seasons for Milwaukee, had five All-Star appearances, compiled a .298 career average and led the league in RBI twice.

10. Signing Byung-Hyun Kim: The Sox, in desperate need of a closer after the failure of the "closer by committee" experiment in 2003, traded Shea Hillenbrandt to the Arizona Diamondbacks for their closer, Byung-Hyun Kim. BK, as he was known, pitched respectably for the Sox and helped them win the wild card in 2003. After the season, Theo signed him to a $10 million contract, with the intention of converting him into a starter. Unfortunately, the experiment was a disaster, with Kim only pitching seven games for the Sox in 2004. Further, he managed to alienate his teammates and even gave Red Sox Nation the finger when he was booed during introductions at a game at Fenway Park. The Sox traded him to Colorado before this season, eating most of his inflated salary.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

I saw one of my favorite writers David Halberstam, at the Brookline Booksmith on Thursday night. He's written a number of my favorite books, including The Teammates, Summer of '49, The Best and the Brightest, and October, 1964. His latest book, Education of a Coach is about how New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick became the most successful coach in the NFL. I'm looking forward to reading it and I'll post a review here when I'm done.

The Brookline Booksmith is a great place, too. It is one of the few remaining independent booksellers that has managed to survive the onslaught of Barnes & Noble and Borders. The place drips with character, and is a fun place to browse the shelves for a bit. If you are ever in the Coolidge Corner area of Brookline, make sure you stop in.

Laugh of the week, thanks to the Brockton Rox. In the wake of Theo Epsteins sudden unemployment, the Rox offered him their general managers job. It would be kind of interesting to see Theo manage the Rox $87,500 salary capped payroll, as compared to the $120 million he had to work with for the Sox this year. If nothing else, the press release was good for a few yuks, and generated a ton of publicity for the Rox.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

My daughter R., who is 6, wrote this today for a school assignment about Thanksgiving. This is exactly as she wrote it, although I corrected some of the spelling. I thought it was well worth sharing here.

I am thankful for the sea, rivers and streams. I'm thankful for fish, birds and animals. Thank you for stars, moon and sun. Thanks for trees and wood to make houses out of. I'm glad people have hope and belief in themselves. Thanks for years, months and centuries. Thanks a lot for dancing, art and food. Thanks so much for moms who help talking over feelings. Thanks a lot more for dads who take you to the park. Thanks for planes to take you places. Thanks for boats who take you places too. Thanks the best for brothers and sisters. Thanks most of all for families who love you!

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