Sunday, February 26, 2006

That's Our Foulkie

A key factor in the Red Sox' success in 2006: Keith Foulke's happiness. Watch out, Georgie. (From the ladies at OntheDL)

Boston West

If you haven't noticed, the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to have become a sort of MLB version of Ellis Island for displaced (and disgraced) former Sox.

For starters, Grady "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There" Little was named the manager of the hapless Dodgers this offseason.

Nomar Garciaparra (his name comes up as "Mammary Grasshopper" in Blogger's spell check - seriously) landed there as a free agent, not entirely surprising given Nomar's SoCal roots and vehement dislike for aggressive East Coast beat writers.

Billy Mueller - a consummate pro - signed on in LA to play the hot corner, which he did as well as anyone else in the American League last year. The Sox, though, were clearly worried about his balky knees and drop-off in offense.

And of course, Derek Lowe - the guy who hit the trifecta in that magic 2004 season, pitching the clinching games in the ALDS, ALCS and WS - has already made for good tabloid fodder in the LA.

Last but not least, the owner, Frank McCourt, is a Boston guy who is obviously hellbent on importing as much of that Fenway magic as possible to Chavez Ravine.

I wish no ill will on the former players - yes, Nomar had become a poisonous personality when he was traded at the deadline in '04, but he remains one of the all-time Red Sox greats, and one of the best hitters I've ever seen. During the offseason, he even became a different sort of hero in Boston. Nomar and his soccer-star wife Mia Hamm owned a condo in the Charlestown Navy Yard (home of Old Ironsides), and they were painting the place one night when they heard a splash and screams from outside. Two girls had fallen into the drink after having too much to drink, and old No. 5 was there in a flash to jump in and get them to safety. I wonder how much time he spent on the dock adjusting his fins and fidgeting with his swimming goggles before he dove in...

Grady Little, however, is another situation entirely. Yes, I know the Red Sox finally got the gorilla off their back, but I can't forgive the hayseed for his actions (inactions) in Yankee Stadium in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Even my wife, who knows little about baseball, openly wondered why Pedro was still in the game. Everyone in the world was asking that question, and Grady still defends himself to this day. Why can't he just come out and say, "you know what, I fucked up. But life goes on." Why?!? Isn't a leader supposed to take accountability? Now Grady's in Southern California where nobody cares. He finally made a smart move, three years too late.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Losing the Idiot Culture

The Boston Red Sox front office clearly wasn't enamored with the mentality the team had adopted over the past couple of years, even though it's quite possible that the looseness Head Idiots Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar brought to the team was a chief catalyst behind the joyous world championship of 2004, and the complete undressing of the Yankees along the way.

Damon, by taking George's millions and donning the pinstripes for 2006, makes it harder for people across New England to watch their DVD's of that historic postseason, as his momentous grand slam in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium provided the signature moment. Johnny remembers it well, as I saw him quoted last week saying, "I think the Yankees wanted some of what they saw in Game 7 in 2004." Yeah, um, whatever you, ah, say, um, Johnny. Can't wait to see Coco Crisp turn a single into a triple off your pop-gun arm.

As for Millar, we knew he was a goner in May of last year, and watching his final days was painful. The guy was just awful at the plate, and you began to wonder if it was possible to pay a guy just to be a cohesive locker room clown. (It wasn't.)

The result, which Big Papi talked to the Herald's Tony Massarotti about yesterday, is that the first week of spring training has been "quiet." Don't worry, big feller. That's just the sound of professional ballplayers practicing their craft and trying to get better. This team has had a huge cosmetic makeover, and it's only a matter of time until it finds its identity. First game is Thursday, March 2nd, against the neighboring Twins. Jonathan Papelbon gets the ball. Bring it on!


... to Hardball Heaven, an outlet for sharing my lifelong passion for all things baseball. I want to personally thank my parents, Peter Gammons and Don Shula (I'll 'splain), my many English and journalism teachers through the years, and my sports-loving day job bosses for inspiring my muse and instilling confidence. I especially want to thank Blogger, Al Gore (or maybe the US government), and whoever came up with wireless internet access for making it so easy for closet-sportswriters-who-can't-afford-to-be-real-life-sportswriters to share their viewpoints with others.

Okay, enough of that. Allow me to quickly the explain the Peter Gammons/Don Shula connection, and then it's onto the purpose of the site -- talking about and dissecting all aspects of the greatest game on planet Earth, baseball.

The setting was 10th grade English class, at Beverly (Mass.) High School. The teacher was a kindly old lady named Joyce Poirier. The assignment was to do a book report on a subject you cared about. Pretty simple.

The impressionable student cared a whole lot about sports, and picked a biography on Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula - somewhat odd considering his strong affinity for the (at the time, bumbling) New England Patriots. I read the book in a day, and quickly put pen to paper - and the words and thoughts just flowed. It was so easy to write about something you loved. But the real epiphany came when it was time to read Mrs. Poirier's comments. "This is truly a terrific piece of writing, Rick," she wrote. "I think you should send this off to Coach Shula in Miami and see what he thinks." The crazy thing is she was serious. Inspired, I quickly typed up a letter to the Miami Dolphins Football Club (care of Mr. Don Shula), and sent a copy of the report to the Sunshine State in hopes of receiving some type of reply. I also took the initiative to send the book report to Peter Gammons, who at the time was the master baseball beat writer for the The Boston Globe. Cripes, I'm surprised I didn't sent this thing off to President Reagan and Pope John Paul for their thoughts.

Gammons responded first, and I still have his letter. On Globe stationery, he wrote, "Rick, I read your book report on Don Shula, and while football isn't my strong suit, it was a very enjoyable read. In my writing, I try to always educate the reader with a couple of points they may not know about. I learned a few things about Coach Shula from reading your book report. As for being a sportswriter someday, you're on your way. Keep working on your writing, and your dreams can come true." Peter Fricking Gammons!! The best baseball writer in the country actually read my report and took the time to write me a personal letter. How cool was that? Two weeks later, an envelope arrived in the mail with an embossed Miami Dolphins logo on the front. My mom couldn't wait to hand it to me when I walked in from school. Shula's letter wasn't quite as articulate, but it was surely gracious. "Rick, thank you very much for sending the book report you did on me. I can tell you are a great sports fan and a good writer. Best of luck."

An unlikely pairing of legendary sports figures had suddenly made a 15-year old kid realize what he wanted to do with his life. Even though I'm not a sportswriter by profession today, I have managed to forge a decent lifestyle because of my ability to string words and thoughts together. I don't know if I ever would have found this path without the positive reinforcement I received from Mrs. Poirier, and the excitement and awe I felt in reading actual notes from Mssrs. Gammons and Shula. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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