Wednesday, July 04, 2007

In a recent comment about my last post, a reader took issue with my criticism of the Red Sox for failing to come back to win more than one game in their final at bat this season. His rationale was that the stat itself was not particularly useful. As he said most teams lose in that situation. Now, I tend to pay surprisingly little attention to what I say from one post to the next, but I'm pretty sure that I said that I expected the Sox to lose much more than they win when they trail after 8, but I could be wrong. Stranger things have happened, like America's prosecutor Fred Thompson turning out to have been a mole undermining his committee's case during the Watergate investigation.

I do, however, believe that it is a relevant stat. The playoffs are an entirely different dynamic than the regular season. Should the Red Sox encounter the Detroit Tigers in an opening round series, for instance, they will face a team with better starting pitching and a deeper offensive lineup. To beat a team that is as good as your squad, you need to be battle-tested. Beating the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, even with Wakefield on the mound doesn't make count.

When you consider the fact that the Red Sox have come back in their last at bat to win a game only once this season and that it was against the Baltimore Orioles and that the game in question was the catalyst for the epic losing streak that cost the manager his job, this Red Sox team ceases to impress. Let's not forget that the travesty in 2004 was built on late inning rallies, prevailing against the odds and Kevin Millar being the single dumbest human being to escape a Darwin award.This current edition of the Boston Red Sox has yet to prove that it has heart, guts, balls or any other anatomical feature that can stand in for constancy, courage or any of the other cardinal virtues in a half-assed metaphor. They just might want to do that before all of the chips are down.

Of course, I suspect that my reader is lashing out at me to exercise his angst that the Celtics have compensated for their lack of success by whoring out the image and likeness of Red Auerbach so that Adidas can throw his face on some special basketball shoes. I think that just clinched the Rookie of the Year and multiple MVP awards for Jeff Green. As though Red weren't suffering enough in his twilight years between Banner 17 gutting the team and adding cheerleaders, now they have to make his stay in the afterlife unpleasant?

But back to Red Sox fans. On Sunday, the guy who comes to me with his Red Sox info (my own personal answer to questions I've never asked) came into my home. Where I sleep. Where I come to play with my toys. And he was sickeningly full of that which makes the grass grow green. The Red Sox game was on, JD Drew was coming to the plate and he hit me with the buzz kill.

He got into the classic Red Sox fan argument position, thrust his chin forward as though he were capable of bringing the pain should the situation require it and said in his big boy voice that if I were to look at the numbers over the course of his career, JD Drew's stats were comparable with A Rod's. On some level, I imagine that they are comparable. In the same way that a kick in the groin is comparable to a steak dinner.

As we live and breathe, Alex Rodriguez is batting .314 with 28 HR and 80 RBI. JD Drew is breathing down his neck with a robust .261 batting average, an awe-inspiring 6 home runs and 33 RBI. I'm not a mathematical genius, but I don't think those statistics are comparable at all, except of course by our old friend the inequality.

Now, I imagine I would be irresponsible if I were to allow the fact that I just used a very small sample size to contrast the performance of two ten year veterans. So here you go, sticklers for statistical accuracy, go to Baseball Reference and tell me their career numbers are comparably in the good way. JD Drew has only just managed to hit more home runs in his entire career than A Rod hit as a member of the Texas Rangers. A Rod has batted in nearly three times as many runs as JD Drew managed to this point. The fact that A Rod has played 800 more games than Drew isn't enough to offset the fact that A Rod has 330 more career home runs than Drew and is only two years older.

Of course, this is a guy who maintains that Jim Rice was the most feared right handed hitter of his era. And he defends his position when one mentions Mike Schmidt by pointing out that Rice had a much higher batting average. Which is true, although it leaves out the fact that Schmidt played in a much bigger ball park against the National League (which was the stronger league at the time) and with a dead spot in the lineup where the pitcher batted. And it also leaves out the fact that Schmidt his 160 more home runs than Rice did in 400 more games. All while playing a much more demanding defensive position and winning Gold Gloves. Jim Rice might belong in a Hall of Fame, but it just isn't the one in Cooperstown.

What bothers me most about my friend tormenting me with his Red Sox absurdities is that he lacks a sense of honesty and even worse irony where the local nine are concerned. JD Drew's numbers might compare favorably with A Rod's when you throw in all kind and manner of qualifiers and modifiers to adjust for the fact that JD Drew has only a slightly smaller chance of becoming the next pope than he does of finishing a season. But qualifying and modifying stats undercuts the argument in the first place. It's like saying that if grasshoppers were armed with automatic weapons, they wouldn't be on the bird's dinner menu.

As for the sense of irony, I seem to remember A Rod as the villain in the il-conceived farce that is Red Sox Nation. I am constantly being told that A Rod is the embodiment of all that is wrong in baseball today and when so inclined, he eats unattended children for a light snack. But it's OK to pay a right fielder $14 million to hit .260 with 6 home runs and 33 RBI because his numbers can be compared to A Rod's? Maybe I'm missing the facility for intellectual dishonesty and mental gymnastics that enables a man to be a Red Sox fan, but I just can't buy it.

Before I sign off, I have to weigh in on the Boston Pops performance this evening. I have a bachelor party, a golf game and a wedding in the next three days, so I don't know when I'll get another chance to post. And if I do get the chance to post in that time, I'm sure that I will be past the point where I can blog coherently. So it's now or never.

I must say, I was colossally disappointed with the concert. From the get-go, I didn't see the point of the whole set up. Why John Cougar Mellencamp? I am not one of the Bill Simmons disciples who found the Sports Guy's cute little epigrams mocking Our Country particularly piquant. I hate the song, but no more or less than any other song appearing in an overexposed commercial campaign. But why is he coming back?

I try to keep my political views distinct from my aesthetic judgements. I don't care that John Cougar Mellencamp has become a darling of the anti-war movement. That doesn't change the inherent merits (or utter lack-thereof) of his music. Mellencamp was a very inferior Midwestern version of Bruce Springsteen, in much the same way as Jon Bon Jovi is a very, very inferior New Jersey knock-off of the Boss. His music was (and is) blue collar, but generic, cliched and without the thinking-man rebel's edge one can find Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, the River and the rest of Springsteen's music. In short, John Cougar is basically Bill Simmons to Bruce Springsteen's F. Scott Fitzgerald.

But enough on John Cougar. During the fireworks display, there were various recordings played over the loudspeaker system. Rest assured, I am scandalized with that decision on two levels. First, nobody went to the Esplanade or turned their TVs on to see some tool's i-Pod. The damn Boston Pops could have learned/rehearsed 3-4 more songs (or is an orchestra of that eminence confined to using selection to refer to the material they play?), after all it's not like this was an impromptu gig. The Fourth of July happens every year. Right in the same spot on the calendar too, not like Labor Day which skulks its way through that first week of September.

In addition to being scandalized by the fact that the Pops let recorded music be played at their signature concert, I was also deeply disappointed by some of their choices. Kenny Chesney was on the play list, and while he might be elevated in the esteem of New Englanders because he rocks a Red Sox hat from time to time, it doesn't change the fact that his music is shallow and childish even for a country singer. I could have done without the Sesame Street theme as well, but such is life.

Far worse, in the collection of "patriotic" music played throughout the program, the Battle Hymn of the Republic didn't make the cut. Of course very few songs manage to offend the real core of America the way that song does. For Southerners and racists, it calls to mind places like Antietam, Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg and Appomattox, and God forbid we hurt their feelings. And then the overt religious sentiments of the song offend Massachusetts residents who wear their atheism as a badge of honor. But we did have 3, maybe 4 different George M. Cohan selections. Kind of warms the cockles, doesn't it?

And finally, I found myself wondering what a British soldier might have felt seeing the Middlesex Volunteers march onto the stage at the beginning of the festivities. I'm betting that a member of the Queen's Own Closet Case Grenadiers must wonder why his great-great-great-grandfather lit out running so fast from a rabble like that in Concord. And in case you're wondering, I am, in fact, aware that John Cougar Mellencamp has dropped the Cougar from his stage name, but I'm not going to let him get away with that.

All that, and I didn't even take the CHB to task for acting like he's broken a story on Julio Lugo's offensive struggles.

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