Friday, February 12, 2010

My five favorite non-traditional holidays:

Opening Day at Fenway: probably the most important day each year in Red Sox Nation, it's a celebration of Spring, renewal, hope, hot dogs and beer.

Star Trek's Anniverary: The original Star Trek TV series premiered on September 8, 1966 with the episode The Man Trap (the one with the Salt Vampire). I'm sure that if you had told Leonard Nimoy that day that he would still be playing Spock over 40 years later, he would have had you hauled off to the Federation Funny Farm. I honor the day annually because of all the great friends I have met as a result of my involvment in Star Trek fandom (you know who you are).

Super Bowl Sunday: I got my hair cut the morning of the Super Bowl this year and the woman cutting my hair told me that its her family's second most important holiday. And why not? It's a celebration of sports, violence, commercialism and eating and drinking too much. What could be more American?

Festivus: My favorite part is the Airing of Grievences.

Truck Day: This is the one that inspired this post, since Truck Day was today. The day the moving truck leaves Fenway Park to bring the Red Sox equipment is the first step on the path between winter's chill and the promise of Opening Day. It's a reminder that, while Spring isn't right around the corner, it's also not too far off.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I was on the Baseball Hall of Fame's Web site the other night and they had a poll question: Who would be elected to the Hall of Fame first: Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter or Omar Vizquel?

Now, Jeter is obviously a first-ballot, no-brainer Hall of Famer. Only the curmudgeons who refuse to vote for a guy in his first year of eligibility will keep him from being a unanimous selection. When he goes in depends on when he retires. Vizquel is probably the best defensive shortstop of the last 20 years, but he's probably a bubble guy. He may get in eventually, but I would be surprised if it was the first ballot.

But Nomar? Nomar essentially had 7 good seasons. His first 4 years were amazing and included a Rookie of the Year Award, top-10 finishes in the MVP voting each year, and two batting titles. Then he got hurt and missed most of 2001, had good years in 2002 and 2003 and was traded from the Sox to the Cubs in the epic 2004 deadline deal. After that, he only had one good year (2006) and two years where he played more than 100 games. He basically made J.D. Drew look durable.

Listen, I love Nomar for what he did here. He always played hard when he was healthy until things got ugly at the end. He was spectacular in his first four seasons, and I would have thought he was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame if you had asked me at the end of 2000 (or even 2003). But he didn't play at that level for long enough. The only way Nomar is going to see the Hall of Fame is to go to Cooperstown and buy a ticket.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

I ended a long-term relationship last week.

I have been listening to sports talk radio station WEEI in Boston literally since the day they switched to the all sports format in 1991. Although I occassionally will listen to music on the radio, I would say that 75% of my radio time has been spent tuned to WEEI talk shows and sporting events.

That's now ended. I'm spending most of my time listening to the new SportsHub (98.5 on your FM dial.) So, why the change?

It mostly has to do with the Dennis & Callahan morning show. The talk on that show is so hateful to anything that isn't right in line with the hosts' right wing views that it has been an uncomfortable listening experience for some time. Gerry Callahan is particularly guilty of this. It reached the point where I would switch stations if they were talking about politics.

The tipping point really came during the recent Massachusetts special Senate election. The political talk not only was pretty much full time on Dennis & Callahan, but moved to the Big Show in the afternoon. It basically became a Scott Brown infomercial eight hours a day. One of the blowhard co-hosts actually asked, "When did health care become a right?" To me, this implies that he thinks that if you are poor and ill, well, tough luck, buddy.

So last week I started listening to the SportsHub. And guess what? The hosts actually talk about sports! And even when they stray into more mainstream topics, they aren't trying to shove their personal agenda down your throat. It was refreshing. It was enjoyable. So now my car and office radios are set there.

I'll have to switch back to WEEI to listen to Celtics or Red Sox broadcasts, but as far as their "sports talk"? I'm done.

Monday, February 01, 2010

I saw Peter Gammons speak in Cambridge last Thursday night. Gammons, of course, is probably the best baseball writer of his generation, and has written for publications such as the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated, been a regular on ESPN, and currently works for the MLB Network and NESN.

Gammons was the leadoff speaker in the Cambridge Center for Adult Education's Home Run in Harvard Square series. The series will pick up again in late March with a number of speakers of great interest to me. I will post the schedule down below.

The talk went on from 6 PM until about 7:20. A moderator asked questions and then Gammons took questions from the audience. Here are some highlights of what he said:
  • Gammons thought the Red Sox had improved themselves this offseason. The upgrades to the pitching and defense are pretty obvious (Peter mentioned that by most defensive metrics, the Red Sox were the second worst defensive team in baseball last year.) He also thinks they have substantially upgraded the bottom of the order, with additions like Scutaro, Beltre and Cameron offsetting, to some extent, the loss of Jason Bay.
  • Peter mentioned that he had been in Cleveland and was shown a software program the Indians use that calculates, among other things, an estimate of how many games each team will win. The program had the Red Sox winning 110 games. It also had the Yankees winning 110 games. Sounds like it will be quite a summer!
  • Of course, steroids were a major topic of conversations. Gammons said that players who tested positive after the testing program was in place in 2005 should automatically be excluded from consideration for the Hall of Fame Manny and Rafael Palmiero's names were brought up specifically.
  • Gammons also talked about how sportswriters missed this story when it was happening. He said that when Brian Downing came to Spring Training in the late '80s all pumped up, he and two investigative reporters from Sports Illustrated looked into whether Downing (or anyone else) was doing PEDs. They found a few clues, but nothing that Time, Inc's lawyers would let them publish. He said that a lot of writers who were around in those days feel badly that they didn't pick up on things a lot sooner than they did.
  • Funniest lines of the night: One person asked when (if ever) Mariano Rivera was going to start to slide. Gammons started telling us about Mo, saying that Rivera was one of the most distinguished people he had ever met. The guy asking the question said, "Oh, so he's just like our closer in that way!" Needless to say, the room broke up.
  • My other favorite: Gammons was talking about how Scott Boras' failure to take an earlier offer from the Yankees probably cost Johnny Damon millions of dollars and a chance at 3,000 hits playing a few more years in a ballpark that was practically designed for his swing. However, he said that Damon was "probably not smart enough to figure that out."
So, it was a great night of baseball talk on a snowy, late-January evening. Here's a list of what is coming up this spring at the Home Run series:

March 25: Larry Tye, author of Satchel (a great biography of the great Paige that I read recently).
April 1: Sam Kennedy, Red Sox Chief Operating Officer
April 8: Writers Steve Buckley and Amalie Benjamin and NPR's Bill Littlefield
April 15: Tom DiBenedetto, Red Sox partner and Larry Silverstein, LA Dodgers attorney
April 22: Thomas E. Brady, Sr. (Gisele's father-in-law), former Pawsox 3rd baseman Todd Carey and his mother Pamela, author of Minor League Mom
April 29: Jed Lowrie
May 6: "Designing Great Ballparks" guests TBA (I'm hoping for Janet Marie Smith)
May 13: Ben Cherington, Red Sox VP for player development
May 20: "The Science of Baseball" guests TBA

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