Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bobby Valentine Joins the Red Sox, and How Does That Help?

He came in first place exactly once.  He's managed in the American League and the National League to moderate success and has been both the victim and the beneficiary of mid season managerial changes.  He had a fairly undistinguished major league career and has been known as a very quirky, some would say eccentric, manager.  And now he's forever associated with a tumultuous clubhouse where the players have openly rebelled against management.  His career record as a manager is 910-790 - barely over .500.

Bobby Valentine, you're probably thinking as the new Red Sox Manager?

No.  I'm talking about Jimy Williams.  The former Red Sox Manager managed for the Astros, Blue Jays and Red Sox.  Williams only played two years in the mid 60's and was the manager when the Red Sox imploded during the infamous Carl Everett-led 2001 Red Sox collapse (well for 118 games of it).  He also won exactly zero World Series for the Boston Red Sox during his five year stint with the Sox.  I hated that team.

Can't wait for this Era to be over
And while he might not have Jimy-isms to snicker over now, we may still chuckle over the enduring image of Valentine sneaking back into the dugout with full disguise after being thrown out of a Mets game. 

I'm digressing from the point, though.  The real issue is not who Bobby V most resembles, but who he is most different from.

By all accounts tonight, the Red Sox ownership has found the mouthpiece that it has wanted ever since that tragic 2009 drubbing by the Angels in the ALDS - when fingers were pointing in all directions, particularly after the Ninth Inning, Game 3 collapse at Fenway.  The Red Sox brass wanted to depart completely from the Francona/Epstein regime after that 2009 season, and with the beer and fried chicken-fueled debacle of late September 2011, Lucchino and Henry finally found their opportunity to clean house.  While one would think that departing completely away from Francona meant hiring a taskmaster manager who kept the Becketts, Lesters and Lackeys in check, we couldn't be more wrong what the Red Sox were thinking.

Terry Francona was always a players' manager and always took a bullet for his players, never blaming them for the team's shortcomings.  The players proceeded to walk all over him.  It was clear that the Red Sox needed to change things up by hiring a manager who wouldn't stand for any of the elitist and entitled attitudes of the Red Sox players.  Valentine, unfortunately, is a change alright.  But instead of being the taskmaster that the team needed, he changes things up by blaming the players rather than protecting them after poor performances. No clubhouse speeches for him, just press and media coverage.  This is good for Larry Lucchino and John Henry because now there will be someone who publicly speaks against the spoiled players, and not just leaks the information from the corner office.

In an admitted hatchet job by Murray Chass, (admitted by me only), the former Times writer has found Valentine to be the most disliked man in baseball, recounting numerous instances where Valentine either publicly called out players for their lack of performance or publicly fought with his own players.  Great.  Honestly, being the most disliked man in baseball is fitting since the last six weeks have demonstrated that the Red Sox are most disliked team in baseball.  It's a perfect match.

And now we're stuck with this crap.  Imagine watching NESN after Red Sox games.  The press conferences and interviews right outside the clubhouse will become Valentine's pulpit.  I thought Valentine was brutal to watch on ESPN, now we have to listen to him 160+ times every year.  And when Valentine gets going after a tough loss, how do you think old souls, like Carl Crawford and Daniel Bard, will react after one of Valentine's public humiliations?  What about the Beckett, Lackey and Lester?  How long before Youk and A-Gone starts complaining?  I really don't think this is going to end well.  Just like with Jimy Williams in August 2001.  I hope I'm wrong.

As a final note, I find it interesting that Valentine's greatest success came in a land where they don't understand a word he's saying.  We would only be so lucky.

photo courtesy of andaplayertobenamedlater.com

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rooting Interest in the Oregon Civil War

When my Brother moved to Oregon more than 10 years ago, one of the first things he told me when I first visited him was that I had to take a side when it came to the Oregon Civil War.  You have to be either a Beaver or a Duck.  You had to wear either Oregon green and yellow (now virtually any and every color) or Oregon State orange and black.  You had to choose sides.  I gave some though to it (at that time Oregon wasn't Chip Kelly-great, but still was winning more than they lost) and decided that I had no desire to be a Beaver.  None.  Ever since then, when my Brother texted me about the game, I greet him simply with a "Go Ducks" text back.  He would get a little pissed, even though we grew up in Connecticut and went to UConn.  But he needs to get a little pissed since he lives inside Beaver territory.  Kind of gross if you think about it.  Oh yeah, their cheerleaders are better looking, too.

This is what they play for?
But the 115th meeting of Oregon and Oregon State would have a new viewer.  G was interested in the game only as solution to his boredom problem.  His interest started growing, however, when I told him that the teams' names were the Beavers and the Ducks.   And the intrigue involving the Platypus Trophy (the trophy was found in a UO janitor's closet after being missing for over 40 years) was enough to seal the deal. 

"Ha ha, I like those names, Dad!" he giggles  sitting down on the couch with me.

"And your uncle like the Oregon State Beavers."  I explain to him.

"So you are rooting for the other team?"  I guess brothers never get along, since G roots for the Ducks with me and his brother begins to root for the Beavers - just because.

But the rivalry, similar to a brother who is 4 years older, hasn't been fair for the past several years.  After seeing OSU win 10 of 11 Civil War games through 1974, University of Oregon has dominated the series ever since going 26-9-1.  In fact, the series has been marked in the last three years with a 65 point drubbing by Oregon in 2008 and a win last year that catapulted Oregon to the National Championship game against Cam Newton's destiny.

This year's Oregon team is again led by Junior standout LaMichael James - the only player I know in this game.  His career started when LaGarrette Blount popped a Boise State kid after a loss in 2009.  James is now the leading rusher in Oregon history and the fourth leading rusher in Pac-12 history - as a Junior.  Because of his injuries, and the fact that the NFL motto is not "Suck for James" he's not going to win the Heisman Trophy, but he's a good little player.

We only end up watching the game off and on...it wasn't much a war.  James unbelievably dislocated his other elbow (he dislocated his first elbow in the first game of the season), but Oregon still won handily, 49-21.  G left for a friend's house at Halftime and C sat down for a little while when he got home, only to get up 10 minutes later to play with his nerf basketball set.  I guess these games don't matter as much here on the East Coast.

But you know what?  Go Ducks!  I think I'll go call my brother.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cooperstown: In Search of the Bloody Sock

Cooperstown 2.0.  I should have realized that the old adage "What goes around, comes around" is not an old adage for nothing.  It was 1984, and my parents had driven adolescent JMR to Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I was a baseball stat geek and my parents thought that bringing me to the baseball mecca would bring a smile to my face.  Despite the length of the drive and all of the effort that my parents made, I was in and out of the Hall of Fame in about an hour.  And I wanted to go home.  Even the promise of baseball cards couldn't sway me.  I really wanted to go home.  So home we went.  They probably figured why waste the money on a hotel if the reason why they were there in the first place (me) didn't want to be there either.  Ever since then, I wanted to go back to see what I missed.  To really SEE the Hall of Fame.  I waited for nine years after my first son was born, but I finally got a chance to go back to the Hall of Fame.  Would Karma be a bitch?

That's the backdrop to our Cooperstown jaunt this past weekend.

9am.  Cooperstown, NY.  After leaving at 4:30 in the morning, stopping three times and making our way through numerous county roads reminiscent of a scene out of The Ring, we arrived to a burgeoning snowstorm outside of the Hall of Fame.  We did manage to park in one of the diagonal spots right in front of the Hall of Fame, so that was a good thing considering the weather.  Or was it sign that we picked the wrong time of year to visit this place?  I think my daughter can answer that for me with the look on her face as I reach out to take her out of the car.  That's OK, she'll have fun looking at old gloves, baseballs and bats.  I just know it!

Right Before the Snow
"Dad, can we go home now?"  She asks me.

"No sweetheart, we just got here.  Maybe in a couple of hours."

"A couple of hours later?"  She looks at me like I just lost her blanket.  Jeesh.

My 7 year old son, on the other hand, was on a mission to find Curt Schilling's bloody sock and bounded right in.  My nine year old was excited to see what this was all about.  At least that what I deducted from him being face down playing with his iTouch.  He did not ask to go home, yet so I feel that I am playing with the house's money right now.

First Floor.  The first Exhibit we see is the baseball-themed art gallery.  Paintings from Leroy Nieman, Andy Warhol and Norman Rockwell line the walls.  We did not spend a lot of time in this exhibit, needless to say.  I have to admit, even I don't get the Warhol painting of Tom Seaver.  Tom Seaver?

Second Floor.  After walking up the stairs, past the Cow dressed up like a New York Yankee (or was Joba Chamberlain's wax figure borrowed from down the street), we sat down to watch the Baseball Experience.  A well done production of the history of baseball and similar to the movie that greets you at the Patriots Hall of Fame.  After that, the Second Floor of the Museum was a mish mash of old stuff that the boys were more or less disinterested in studying.  I thought that the Negro League and Babe Ruth Exhibits were pretty cool, myself.  Unfortunately, they were text and writing-heavy - not a good thing when you have Mom and the kids waiting at the end of the exhibit ready to move on. 

Third Floor.  My favorite floor featuring the Records Room, an exhibit that includes memorabilia from all of the baseball records - famous and obscure alike.  The kids were interested in this section including the year to year records update.  Although it may have been more about the blinking lights than the records, themselves.  I found it especially interesting that Pete Rose's hits record was showcased, but Barry Bonds was nowhere to be found with his two home run records - perhaps this was a sign that Rose would soon be welcomed back.  When I mentioned this to the girls, all I got was "who's Barry Bonds" blank stares.  And later on in the exhibit, G finally got to see that nasty bloody sock of Curt Schilling's.  On top of the gross dried blood, come to find out it was one of those long sanitary socks.  OK G, let's move on this is making me sick to my stomach.

One side note:  My favorite part about my first trip to Cooperstown was the baseball card exhibit.  This time, the baseball card exhibit seemed to be an after thought.  The exhibit didn't seem to have been updated since 1989 and was tucked in a dark corner behind the baseball and cricket makeshift exhibit.  Even the T-206 Honus Wagner Card seemed to be shuffled off to the side.  Too bad.

First Floor.  The piece de resistance of the Baseball Hall of Fame - the plaques of all of the Hall of Famers.  I don't remember this presentation when I first visited the Hall of Fame - a sunlit room down a long corridor.  Plaques lining both sides of the wall with the first Hall of FamersFrick area, a weak exhibit about baseball at the movies and spent about an hour in the gift shop. A little anti-climactic. 

The entire tour took about an hour and a half.  About the same as my first journey.  I can just hear my Mom and Dad laughing at me. 

The kids' favorite parts?  DLG and C said the Baseball Experience movie.  G, of course said the bloody sock exhibit.  At least they remembered enough to have favorite parts.  Good enough for me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's Bowling Night in the JMR Household!

Ten Pin Bowling, or Candlepin Bowling - which is better?  In these parts, that is an age old question.  Every town around here seems to have one bowling alley, most of them being candlepin bowling alleys.  I'm used to ten pin bowling, and MM, after years of watching candlepin bowling on WCVB on Saturday mornings is firmly entrenched on the candlepin bowling side.  Which one would the kids choose?  After years of playing in our candlepin lanes, the JMR household has finally tried them both.  Despite some fits and starts and even more tears, some temper tantrums and some stubbornness, I believe that we have made the decision of which is better.

Ten Pin Bowling.

Granted, I have to explain each type of game with "big balls with the finger holes" or "skinny pins with the small balls," but everyone agreed that the game with the big heavy balls and wide pins was their favorite?  But why?

The kids like the opportunity to hit pins every time that they threw the ball down the lane.  Big balls and wide inviting pins.  Granted, we also bowled with a gutter protectors, but that's beside the point.  The games go faster too when you are only throwing two balls a frame, rather than the three attempts in candlepin bowling.  Finally, ten pin bowling afforded C to experiment with different weights of bowling balls.  He tried a 15 pound ball and the result was a hilarious attempt to throw the ball without hurting anyone.  He settled on a seven pound ball, just like his 5 year old sister.  G, my seven year old decided on a nine pound ball.

Candlepin bowling is slightly different.  I don't think there are too many people outside of New England and Eastern Canada who have even heard of Candlepin bowling, much less played it.  According to the International Candlepin Bowling Association (yes, there is one), candlepin bowling doesn't seem to exist in the United States outside of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. The rules are generally the same with three main differences.  You have three attempts to get all ten pins down (on the third attempt, you only get a 10 score if you knock all of the pins down, not a spare).  The balls are much smaller (only 4.5 inches in diameter) with no finger holes and the pins are much thinner and 15.75 inches tall.  The final major difference is that the pins that have been knocked down (dead pins) remain in the lane to be used strategically on subsequent balls.

While all types of bowling are generally fun (in theory, in practice make sure there is food for the kids and beer for you), the kids found the target practice nature of Candlepin bowling too difficult - leading one child to even boycott one of the games because he was too frustrated.

In an informal poll, the major advantages of ten pin bowling are (1) it's easier to hit the pins and (2) its fun to find different types of balls to throw.  Case closed.

Next up:  Duckpin Bowling.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reliving the Giants and Patriots Super Bowl Feels Fantastic

Please tell me I'm dreaming.  Tell me that I didn't just see Eli Manning throw a fade over the head of an over matched Patriots defender to pull out a last second win over the Patriots, again.  Tell me I didn't have to endure a bunch of Giants' fans acting the fools in the parking lot after the game (You know you still live in New Jersey, right, and that's not going to change).  Tell me again that Number 77 has checked in as an eligible receiver.

This time some unknown linebacker named Tracy White was the outclassed defender, as Brandon Spikes went down with pulled pansy earlier in the drive.  And this time I had the good fortune of attending the game live as I grew increasingly disgusted as the game went on.  Not so much because of the loss but because I had seen this same exact game played a couple of years ago - February of 2008 actually.  Is Bill "V Rings" Belichick just mailing these games in or something?

Better times yesterday afternoon
The comparisons are startling.  Two high-powered offenses (although not that high powered recently) that didn't come alive until the Fourth Quarter.  The Patriots taking the lead with just a couple of minutes left in the game.  Wes Welker leading the offense, even though the team should be running against this Giants defense.  And plenty of time for Eli to win the game.  I'm still shaking my head just thinking about it. 

But did it have to be this way?  Bill O'Brien has seen the tapes from the Super Bowl, right?  The Giants front four is REALLY good.  They don't need to blitz and try different formations to put pressure on quarterbacks in passing situations.  I'm no genius, but couldn't they have run a little more than they did?  Pound the ball into that line.  Except for some trickery with Danny Woodhead taking a direct snap and handing off to Wes Welker on a reverse (which my friend insisted was tapped up in the air on purpose...yeah I laughed too), the Patriots' offense looked exposed and sorry.  I am actually considering purchasing tickets to this franchise next year?  Lord help me.

But let's not place the blame entirely on O'Brien.  Despite 2 touchdowns and over 300 yards passing, Brady looked awful against the Giants.  People were booing Chad Ochocinco every time a pass sailed over his head or wide left or right.  But that's the point.  Brady wasn't even close on the pass to Ochocinco in the endzone.  A couple of passes to Rob Gronkowski at the end of the game seemed like they should have been caught, but they weren't crisp passes.  I believe the words "Where the Hell was that pass going?" came out of my mouth after each of those passes.  Add to that two hideous interceptions and a fumble, and Brady looked positively Bledsoe-dian.

I'm still not ready to talk rationally abut this.  But where do we go from here?  A tough game against the Jets is looming next week and it appeared that Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes are both hurt.  Not that they're that great to begin with, but I'm afraid we're one more injury away from seeing Junior Seau pulled out of retirement.  Oh God, no.  Please don't tell me.