Saturday, October 3, 2015

From the Pedro Binder

2003 Donruss

Sometimes things are just wasted. A Monet decorating a master bathroom. Or, a good book in a Yankees fan's house. 

This is one of those times.

This card is a fantastic design. I can't think of away to make it better. It has full bleed picture on all four sides. The important information is in a floating banner that is about as small as it could possibly be. The floating banner allows the picture to perfectly extend below it. Even the Donruss logo is hidden in the corner. Everything is done to allow the picture to stand out. To be the most important part of the card.

Then they pick this picture.

Pedro on the mound, stretching his shoulders a bit.

Are you kidding me? This design just calls for an intense action shot. Even a pretty common shot of Pedro throwing a pitch. Or, a clever shot of Pedro being goofy in the dugout, or signing autographs, or wearing a Yoda mask. But, no, Donruss went with a picture of Pedro standing still, doing nothing.

Sorry...he's not doing nothing. He's shrugging his shoulders. As if even the picture knows this is a "blah" card. I wouldn't mind so much if the rest of the card was a disaster. But, so often companies take a great picture, and hide it behind an obnoxious design. Here they've done the opposite. They did the hard part. They found the design that showed off a really great picture. And, they screwed it up.

What a waste.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Collecting the Sox

Schedule Cards

OK. I have no idea what these are. I’m also having a tough time deciding if they’re the strangest Red Sox collectible out there, or the greatest collectible in the history of time.

Or, maybe a little bit of both.

A friend of mine handed these to me the other day. Apparently he was fortunate enough to go to a Red Sox game during the last home stand, and have seats in one of the suites. Inside there was a basket or bowl full of these packs.

Looks like a pack of baseball cards to me. But, it calls itself a “schedule calendar.” Huh?

Here’s what is inside.

They’re schedule cards. They’re basically baseball cards, showing the 2015 Red Sox schedule. Clearly, they’re sponsored by jetBlue. Each card has one month’s schedule on the back with a clever illustration on the front commemorating an important Red Sox event that occurred during that month. The back also has a short write up on the event being depicted. As a special feature, some away games are marked with a jet icon to show that you can “fly non-stop to these games.” (I assume that means from Boston…and on jetBlue.)

How fantastic is that? Is it a baseball card? Is it a David Ortiz card? Is it a pocket schedule? It’s all in one!

But, the bigger question to me is their intended purpose. Since they depict the 2015 schedule, I can only assume they were meant to be distributed before the season. But, the guy who got the packs had been to Spring Training, in jetBlue Park, no less, and did not remember seeing these packs. I have another friend who actually flew on jetBlue to Spring Training, and she didn’t see the packs either. So, where were they distributed? When?

And, why the packs? I only have the one open pack, but I assume they’re all the same. I’m guessing that other packs didn’t contain different months, or even different card fronts. Was there a purpose to having people open a pack in order to see the schedule?

What are you supposed to do with the cards? Does each month’s card go in your wallet, to be replaced as each new month arrives? Or are they stacked on your desk, with the current month on top?

Or, am I thinking too much? Is it just a gimmick by jetBlue to do something different as a giveaway? Is it just a clever way to get the name out there that some people can have fun with? If that’s the case, I guess it worked like a charm.

After all, I’m still talking about it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Frank Thomas Live

I realized it’s been a while since I flipped though the scorecards. I decided it was time to see how another player performed in games I attended. This time I went with Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. With a long American League career, including some time in the AL East, I assumed I could get a decent sample of his games.

Here’s how Thomas did while I was in the park.

Six games. Not bad, really, for a visiting player. It’s no Derek Jeter. Or, even Paul Konerko. But, it’s a nice little sample. Unfortunatley for Frank, two of those games were against Pedro Martinez. Those games will bring down anyone’s overall numbers.

Which it must have done, because his numbers were terrible when I was in the park. A .111 average? That’s not quite Hall of Fame caliber. A .439 OPS? That’s just pathetic. He also struck out a ton. But, the Pedro games certainly skewed those numbers, since those were the two 2-strikeout games. He also walked a ton, so that aspect showed the true Frank Thomas.

(Actually, this makes me wonder. How many HOF pitchers have I seen face HOF batters? Since the Sox haven’t had many HOF hitters themselves lately, it might just be the batters I’ve seen Pedro face. But, maybe I saw Rickey Henderson or someone like him face an opposing future Hall of Famer. I should research that number at some point.)

Unfortunately, that was all that represented his great career. While I certainly don’t want to see a player dominate the Sox, it would be nice to see a great player be great. Maybe a four hit game in a 10-8 Red Sox win. But I didn’t get that with Thomas.

And that’s too bad.

How did Frank Thomas do with you in the park? 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hazen Drive

I don’t pretend to be in the inner circle when it comes to these things. But, I was a bit surprised when I heard that Mike Hazen was promoted to be the new General Manger for the Red Sox.

Now, obviously, it’s hardly ever surprising when an assistant is promoted to the main job. That’s how the last few GM’s have been selected, after all. But, from all I’d heard about Dave Dombrowski, he was an old school guy who would be looking for an old school GM. One who believed that stars were the key to winning. One that wanted to be great this year, not merely good for the next five. So, it was a bit of a shock to see him pluck someone from the current regime.

I have to admit, part of me was initially disappointed with the choice. I had been excited about the prospect of not idolizing prospects. Finally we’d have a GM who wouldn’t have two phenoms at catcher. The Sox wouldn’t have seven young outfielders. The extra prospects would be dealt off to fill other holes, not guarded like they were made of solid gold. So, to see that Dombrowski selected a former Red Sox VP of Player Development was a bit deflating. He wasn’t going to be objecting about this collection of kids the Sox have. He was never going to let Mookie slip away in a trade. He wasn’t going to decide which catcher the Sox should keep, and which they should flip now. This was going to be more of the same.

But, then I wondered…if this was the way things were going to end up…what chased away Ben Cherington? What made Ben think he needed to get out? Clearly Dombrowski was honest when he asked Ben to stick around. It wasn’t a pretend offer to save face when he hired “his” guy. He ended up hiring Ben’s guy. So, one can only assume this was the mindset he wanted to have all along.

Is he just looking for someone to argue with him before he does whatever he wants? Maybe that’s the part that drove Cherington away. I admire Dombrowski hiring someone with different views. Smart people do that. Maybe Cherington wasn’t willing, however, to simply offer up a conflicting viewpoint? Maybe he thought he’d grow tired of “Thanks for your suggestion, Ben, but we’re trading Vazquez anyway.”  Maybe it was worth it to Hazen, if that’s what it took to get his foot in the GM door. 

So, after thinking it over, I like the move. While I love the idea of using prospects as trade bait, it’s nice that there’s someone there who can say, “Dave, we REALLY like this one.” Sure, nobody on the team is untouchable anymore, but somebody needs to know how think your gloves need to be before you can touch them. Hopefully the whole will end up greater than the sum of the two parts. Because, I do like the idea of growing a farm system. I wouldn’t want the entire thing completely stripped. I just want some selective trimming. 

As long as someone knows you can’t save every branch.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

From the Pedro Binder

2002 Fleer Platinum

For a school field trip once my class went to Washington DC. While I was there I bought a poster titled "How Ronald Reagan Sees the World" or something like that. It was a satirical look. California was enormous, for instance, taking up half the country. the USSR was simple labeled "Bad Guys." That sort of thing. I'm not even really sure I understood every reference at the time, but it had funny pictures on it, so I liked it. It hung on my wall for a while. But, after Reagan left office, it seemed dated. So, I took it down and threw it out. Several year, for instance, I realized that it would be pretty neat to still have around as a nostalgia type thing. It was with that poster that I realized things seem to have a natural cycle as they age. Current. Old. Classic. If you can make it through the "old" section intact, then you've accomplished something.

What on earth does any of that have to do with the Pedro card at the top of the page?

In 2002, for the Platinum set, Fleer decided to copy the design from the 1987 Fleer set. At that point, 1987 Fleer was 15 years old. It had somehow gotten past the "old" timeframe intact. No matter how corny it seemed for the years not long after 1987, by the time the new millennium came along, it was a classic design. Funny how things work.

There's really not a lot going on with this design. But, it does have one feature that I adore. Can you spot it? I will forever be in love with the fact that Pedro's head sticks out over the border of the card. It's the best design element ever created. Sure, the Platinum logo is 1000% too large, and the picture is dull. The picture extends over the border! Nothing else matters.

No wonder it was able to make it to a "classic" design.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Can the Red Sox be More Like the Patriots?

Should they be?

I was watching the Patriots game yesterday and noticing, like I usually do, that they can beat you in so many ways. For instance, in the first game of the season, Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns…all of them to a tight end. Yesterday, he threw three TD’s, but only one to a TE. It’s not a perfect example, but it shows how the team shifts its focus depending on what will work, or should work, best against the other team. Is a team bad against the run? Let’s force it down their throats and rush for four TDs. Next game against a better run defense? Might as well just leave that running back off the roster. Play the best players for that particular game. Even if that means your leading receiver doesn’t get a touchdown that day.

It reminded me of something Buster Olney said earlier this season. He was asked why the Rays always seem to have a strong team, while teams like the Red Sox and Padres who have big off-seasons seem to struggle. His answer was flexibility. With the Red Sox, they have several star players. Those players deserve the benefit of the doubt sometimes when it comes to their struggles. If David Ortiz is starting the season poorly, he’s earned the right to work through it. Just as important, if he does work through it, he’s by far the best option the Sox have. Or, if a particular pitcher gives Hanley Ramirez more trouble than others, he’s still going to start that game. You don’t sit your stars. The Rays, Olney said, don’t have that problem. Nobody has earned that status. So, the manager is free to make a line-up out of the nine best hitters for that day. Maybe the hottest guy plays instead of the “starting” shortstop. Maybe the guy who is 8-10 against a pitcher starts over the guy who is 3-10. There’s the freedom and flexibility to do whatever is needed. Can you imagine the Sox sitting Pedroia because he’s only 3-10 against a pitcher, while Rutledge is 8-10? It reminds me of the way Jimy Williams used to manage with his “they’re all major leaguers” strategy. He’d sit Nomar if he was 2-9 against a pitcher and throw up a bench guy who was 2-3. Is that the right answer?

Is it the answer that the Patriots would give?

Right away, I can think of a big difference. Baseball players don’t have the opportunities to take advantage of a good match-up. If the Steelers can’t guard Gronk, or choose not to guard him, Brady can just keep throwing it to him. Ten, twenty times if that keeps working. Baseball, however, limits that impact. Even if a hitter owns a pitcher, he’s only going to face him three or four times in any given game. So, even making a great substitution isn’t going to really affect things. Getting three hits in ten at bats and four hits in then at bats is less than a hit per game. So, even though over time the numbers would suggest a bigger impact, it’s not enough to sit down Mike Trout against a guy he’s “only” hitting .265 against.

Really, the only time I see that flexibility being a big help is if a player is injured. If Gronk has a sprained ankle, he may have a smaller role in the game plan. Be flexible and play to strengths. If Pedroia has a sprained ankle, though, he’s still going to get just as many at-bats as he would otherwise. Having to play him so that he will look tough is forcing you to play a player that you know isn’t going to perform as well. Just because David Ortiz doesn’t hit lefties as well as righties doesn’t mean he won’t have a two home run game against one. But, if Pedey can’t hold a bat because his thumb is throbbing, he definitely won’t. So, in those cases it would be nice to have the flexibility to say that his image isn’t as important as the team’s performance, so Brock Holt will be playing in his place. 

But, other than that, I think the star power of a player will outweigh any sort of game plan decisions. Even if Xander Bogaerts is only hitting .275 against a pitcher, I like his chances better than Rutledge…even if he happens to be hitting .285 against the guy. 

Naturally there are exceptions. At one point Chipper Jones was, like, 0-30 against a pitcher. When he finally got a hit off him, he asked for the ball. Might not have been a bad idea to start giving him the day off once the number got to 0-20 or so. Similarly, some bench players hit Pedro better than the stars. Players who could just make contact sometimes blooped in a hit. Maybe that’s a good way to give the star a day off. That would put together a game plan based on style.

But, other than that, I think playing the “hot hand” is just another way to over-manage. 

Having talented players is not a hindrance. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Happy 36th Birthday Lenny DiNardo!

Ok. Quick confession. This is the second post I wrote today. The first one was a glowing retelling of DiNardo's huge contribution to the Red Sox. After all, I wrote. Not many people remember that he was actually the winning pitcher in game four of the 2004 ALCS. Without that win, after all, who knows what would have happened to the Sox since then? Many of you may have noticed the tragic flaw in that post.

That wasn't Lenny DiNardo.

It was Curtis Leskanic who got the win when David Ortiz drove home Manny Ramirez to avert the sweep.

So, I'm left with an interesting question. What did Lenny DiNardo do? I mean, I don't wish every Red Sox player even a happy birthday. Sometimes I go down the list, and can't think of anything worthwhile to say about the player. But, when I saw DiNardo's name, my eyes lit up. It was like seeing the name of an old friend. I knew he was a player I would recognize. But why?

It's not because if the ALCS. He didn't pitch in game one of the World Series that year, so I didn't see him there. Looking back at old scorecards, I can only find one game I was at where he pitched. It was an unremarkable inning in an unremarkable game. So, there's no fond memories of him trotting out from the bullpen.

The only thing I can find is that he was a member of the 2004 Red Sox. He has a ring to prove it. (Well, I assume he still has it.) And, frankly, that is enough for me to wish a player a happy 36th birthday. With DiNardo, though, it just feels like there's more.

Anyone else have a DiNardo memory that I'm forgetting?

In any case...

Happy 36th Birthday Lenny DiNardo!