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The Nation Speaks

November 2001

Thursday, November 29,  2001

Subject: Replacing Dan Duquette

I think the Red Sox need to replace Dan Duquette, even though I'm not going to be happy to see him go. Although I can't really say he's been successful in Boston, I'm not sure any other general manager would have done better. I think the problems with the Red Sox are endemic to the team, and replacement of one person isn't going to solve them. New ownership will help and may solve the problems -- provided that ownership recognizes they exist.

1. First, I think Duquette has to be replaced, not because he is a success or a failure, but because the situation around him has deteriorated to the point where he can no longer be effective. Whether you think the fault lies with him or with the press is, at this point, essentially meaningless. He is routinely ridiculed in the national media to a degree that I don't see how he can possibly effective. Maybe he can rehabilitate his image, but I don't see how.

2. I don't think Dan Duquette has been either a good or a bad general manager -- merely a strange one. His record is a combination of conspicuous successes and failures. I think the work he has done in Asia and Latin America, if it can be sustained, will be a great benefit to the Red Sox in the future (anybody out there who doesn't like Seung Song as a prospect?). I also think his ability to pick up valuable players off the scrap heap is an asset (it is exactly the skill most important in building a bullpen -- the Red Sox hidden weapon the last four or five years). And the Red Sox scouts seem to have become extremely adept at spotting pitching prospects, even if too many of them have been traded for little or no return. On the other hand, the system is almost completely bereft of positional players, the payroll is bloated with overpaid players, and the system doesn't seem to have the slightest clue as to how to develop the prospects it does have (it is more than a little alarming how few players seem to improve as the go up the Red Sox system).

3. However, almost all of the most conspicuous shortcomings of the Red Sox during the DD era are NOT new, which leads me to believe, the fault does not lie solely with the GM. For example:

Exhibit A: Team Chemistry -- The Red Sox were the team of 25 players/25 cabs long before Dan Duquette ever came to town. When I was a kid I had a Sports Illustrated Baseball game, and it's comment about the 1971 Red Sox began, "This year's version of the battle between the Red Sox . . ." The Red Sox either consistently find players who don't like each other (unlikely) or they allow a situation to exist in which personal grievances are aired more freely than they are elsewhere (far more likely). It is possible (even probable) that the Boston press has developed a somewhat predatory attitude toward the Red Sox. However, it is equally likely that this attitude is fed from within the organization. No matter what your opinion of Gammons, McAdams, Shaughnessy, etc. they wouldn't have rumors to peddle if people in the organization weren't supplying them.

Exhibit B. Getting poor return on prospects: This is something the Red Sox perfected LONG before DD hit town. The 1978 Red Sox could have had Cecil Cooper at first and Sparky Lyle in the bullpen. The 1986 Red Sox could have had a starting rotation of Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst, Oil Can Boyd, John Tudor and Bobby Ojeda. In the mid 1990's Red Sox could have had Brady Anderson and Ellis Burks in the outfield, Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaoparra, Jeff Bagwell and John Valentin in the infield and a starting rotation featuring Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Aaron Sele -- Ouch!!!! Add Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe and . . . Of those players, the only one given away by DD was Sele. The Red Sox have ALWAYS chosen the short term fix over the long term solution -- one has to wonder to what extent Duquette chose to deal prospects for veterans, and to what extent he was complying with the wishes of his bosses.

Exhibit C. Incompetence in negotiating with players: in 1979, the Red Sox issued contracts to Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn and Rick Burleson three days late, causing all three to become free agents. Do I need to say more? You don't have to be a DD supporter to recognize that the Clemens negotiations had Harrington's fingerprints all over them.

Exhibit D. Inability to develop prospects: This was an issue long before DD showed up in Boston also. I can't back this one up with examples quite as well, but I suspect that Duquette inherited an old-fashioned organization set in its ways and wasn't able to do all that much with it. The one example I can cite (although he might well be a Duquette hiring) is Ken Macha. The Boston media seems to love this guy, but I remember reading that he used to routinely let 20 year olds throw 120 pitches a game. Carl Pavano and Brian Rose got to work with this gem for three years -- and look what happened to them. I believe (can't prove it, though) that the Red Sox organization has been loaded with these guys for years and still is.

None of this actually meant to be a defense of Dan Duquette. As I said earlier, I think he has done both a good and a bad job. It is meant to point out that I don't believe he is the Red Sox biggest problem, and that I think broad organizational changes will be required before this team is able to compete year in and year out with the elite teams in baseball (being stuck in the same division as the Yankees, and being the target of King George's most competitive instincts compounds the problem).

The Red Sox are an odd team. They have had a .500 or better record 29 of the last 35 years, and have yet not won 100 games even once during that time frame. It is a statistically odd record that suggests both that the team has some conspicuous strengths, and some debilitating weaknesses. Dan Duquette is neither the problem nor the solution. Let's hope the new ownership recognizes this.

Sox Fan In D.C.

Thursday, November 22,  2001

Subject: Impressive

I'm sure a lot of you saw this quote in the Globe today. It's a little off topic, but it's Drew Bledsoe's response to a question on the QB "controversy" in Foxborough.

''This is the only way I know how to conduct myself. If you're intelligent enough to see the big picture, there's really no good that comes from trying to be divisive. You may have 30 seconds that feel good, but the rest ends up reflecting back on you. The way I was brought up was to conduct myself with some dignity and class. If you do that, ultimately, you come out on top.''

A lot of the latest "Hot Stove" talk has been about Everett, Coleman, Offerman and some of the rest of the "lost sheep" in the Red Sox organization. Some of the other whiners and malcontents (Lansing, Bichette, etc.) have gone or are soon to go. After one of the most bitter unsatisfying seasons in recent memory, I really wondered whether any professional athlete in the Greater Boston area would be capable of seeing past their own nose on team issues. I was delighted to see that I got my answer today.

Many of the more cynical will probably point to the fact that it's easy to be noble when you get paid 10 million dollars per year. Also, I suppose there is no guarantee that Bledsoe will continue on the high road that he has charted out for himself.

Nevertheless, it was refreshing to hear someone say that they understood that they were part of something bigger than their own career track. I haven't seen or heard of anything like this since Nomar got on the dugout steps to applaud the crowd after the '99 ALCS.

Moffatram — ProJo.com "Your Turn"

Thursday, November 15,  2001

Subject: Open Letter to Peter Gammons

You're an intelligent man. How, then, can you spout conventional wisdom, that the Yankees don't have a financial advantage over every team in the league because Boston and L.A. spend just as much as New York, just not as well?

You, like so many others, point to the Red Sox and Dodgers as equal spenders, but that just isn't true. Their major league rosters may be (approximately) equivalent, but Steinbrenner's massive local New York TV contract allows him to invest more in the minor leagues, scouting, etc. What other team can afford a $5 million gamble on a Cuban defector like Andy Morales, only to have him unable to compete in minor league ball? What other team can afford to scout every potential playoff opponent in August, September and October with ever-larger numbers of analysts (this was praised -- praised! -- in a recent ESPN column, when it's just another sign that the Yankees can outspend everyone else)?

An even more pertinent question: how much more will The Boss be able to spend with his new cable network? Columnists and pundits are already saying that the Yankees could upgrade in every weak area with all-star caliber players (Giambi at first, Floyd in left, Vlad Guerrero in right, and who knows who they'll get for third -- Rolen?).

Yankees fans -- and you -- point to the home-grown players as a sign that the Yankees do it right (Posada, Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, etc.); but part of that is how much money they can spend on paying the best minds in the business to help make the decisions which lead to October success, right? Not to mention the edge they have in paying the signing bonuses players ask for; this may not have been a major factor until the last few years, but you can be certain it will be yet another dividing line between the rich and poor organizations within the next decade.

Let's talk about Lady Luck a moment, while we're talking about Boston, New York and L.A.: I'm sure you've heard this argument ad nauseum, but how well would the Yanks have done with Jeter out for all but 20 games, Clemens or Mussina pitching only half a season, Posada out for much of the season, and Williams with an injured knee? The Sox had to deal with injuries to Nomar, Pedro, Varitek and Everett... pretty much every all-star they've got. The Dodgers, meanwhile, had to deal with Beltre's appendix, and a devastated rotation, with Dreifort, Ashby and Brown all spending significant time on the DL.

Please don't hide behind the argument that the Red Sox and Dodgers carry bad contracts -- EVERY team does, including the Yanks. Scott Brosius was injured for part of the season, and error-prone the rest of it -- along with his anemic bat, that makes for a bad contract. Chuck Knobloch was, statistically, horrid in left field. Justice and Tino Martinez were overpaid. Sure, the Red Sox had a whole host of bad contracts, too, but thankfully most are gone this winter.

(Side note: Wasn't Knobloch offered a back-alley deal, much like Clemens was, which involved a larger long-term contract when his current deal expired? Now, it would seem the Yankees are backing out... what do Knobloch and his agent think of that? On a related note, will the league ever step in -- like the NBA did in Minnesota -- to stop these handshake deals from taking place?)

As a Red Sox fan, I have to admit -- begrudgingly -- that the Yanks are a good team which always find a way to win in October (until this year, thank you, Arizona... and the SI cover curse). But don't you think that some of New York's success is directly related to how much the team spends not only on the 25-man roster, but the entire organization?

I don't mean to suggest that the Red Sox are above reproach -- they're one of the "haves" in a league full of "have nots." As a fervent member of the Red Sox Nation, however, I hope they remain big spenders long enough to win a series before my father, who has been following the team since age 8, in 1922, is no longer with us. Who knows what the new owners will spend; let's hope just enough.

But foremost, I'm a baseball fan, and I'd like to see a winter of content (rather than the discontent of labor strife and Yankee overspending), wherein the Yanks aren't a virtual lock to land one or more of the top free agents. Don't you think meaningful revenue sharing is both necessary and inevitable? At some point, MLB needs to encourage competition -- the average fan needs to believe that every team has a chance.

When the Yankees get to the Series every year, not only do fans tune out, but the players begin to believe that to get a ring, they need to play in New York. Plaintiff's Exhibit A: Jason Giambi. Exhibit B: Mike Mussina (you say it was Moose's faith in the stability of the Yankee organization... but loosely translated, that means "If I sign with the Yanks, I have a better chance of getting a ring... which makes me one step closer to the hall of fame.")

By the by, why isn't the press excoriating Brian Cashman for his in-season trades? Jiminez played well for San Diego, and will most likely improve; Witasick was shelled in the post-season and Wohlers was a non-factor. Hitchcock was a pleasant surprise (I wanted the Sox to trade for him), but does that make up for Cashman's mistakes? If Dan Duquette had made these trades, you'd go out of your way to point out what a myopic moron he is.


Andy Baker
Mobile, Alabama

Tuesday, November 13,  2001

Dear Taliban and Mr. Bin Laden:

We are pleased to announce that we unequivocally accept your challenge to an old-fashioned game of whoop-ass. Now that we understand the rule that there are no rules, we look forward to playing without them for the first time. Since this game is a winner-take-all, we unfortunately are unable to invite you to join us at the victory celebration. But rest assured that we will toast you -- LITERALLY. While we will admit that you are off to an impressive lead, it is however now our turn at the plate. By the way, we will be playing on your diamond now... Batter up!

Our team line up is as follows: Manager ~ George W. Bush, Ass't Manager ~ Dick Cheney, Head Coach ~ Colin Powell, Assistant Coach ~ Donald Rumsfeld. Starting Pitcher ~ Norman Schwartzkoff, 1st Base ~ U. S. Marine Corps, 2nd Base ~ U. S. Navy, 3rd Base ~ U.S. Air Force, Shortstop and clean up hitter ~ U. S. Army, Outfield ~ Firemen and Policemen, Umpire ~ None Required. *remember - the manager told you there'll be no discussion; no negotiation!

Pinch hitters as needed: U.S. Navy SEALS, U.S. Army Green Berets, U.S. Army Rangers, U.S. Air Force PJs, Delta Force.

And, since there are no rules, we've decided to add: 4th Base ~ United Kingdom, 5th Base ~ Russia, 6th Base ~ China. Other Bases (as desired) ~ Pakistan, Japan, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, "Turkistan and lots of other ...stans" and more.

Opening Ceremonies: Vocal 1: Whitney Houston ~ The Star Spangled Banner, Vocal 2: Lee Greenwood ~ God Bless The U.S.A., Vocal 3: Neil Diamond ~ Comin' To America, Vocal 4: Bruce Springstein ~ Born In The U.S.A., Vocal 5: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir ~ Battle Hymn of the Republic.

You may choose whoever you want for your team... it won't really matter, our guys are gonna win.

On behalf of the 270,000,000 citizens of the United States of America


Monday, November 5,  2001

Subject:  Almost blue

The Yankee dynasty ended with a bloop and not a bomb, so let the record books show the 2001 Fall Classic, rivaling the greatest Series in memory, sent the Bronx nine to the offseason land of Almost, a place the Sox have been for 83 years.

Despite halting years of New York success, the comebacks with two out in the 9th were a Boston fan`s parallel universe, where every believer is rewarded, where Buckner makes the play, where Yaz goes yard against Goose, where Pesky throws the damn ball. It is a dream land of confidence, backed by history and lore, without pointing fingers. In an age where everything is made common, it is a world where Superman still flies.

Yet this year, the Yanks tasted Boston`s Bizarro baked beans sans wouldas, couldas or shouldas. For Torre, "manager`s decision" needed no greater explanation, with respect based on proven success, a blissful mindset away from the Hub.

And while events unfolded, noise emerged about baseball as boring or in need of rejuvenation. Well, if there has been a loss of allure, blame an $18 minimum for a Fenway game, blame television and the decision to broadcast at 9 p.m., blame Florida expansion and Bud Selig, blame craven sportswriters who trash "stars" after the season without name or attribution, blame the cruel fates for not having enough money yourself to buy the team, right wrongs and excommunicate said sportswriters.

But in this winter of perpetual discontent, let us at least recognize what the Series plainly showed: baseball is often as memorable for that not achieved as that which is. In such, the Sox could write and sing an opera, one in which the Fat Lady has not cut a new single since the days of Woodrow Wilson. Therefore, let 2002 bring new arias of realized potential, with the chorus of Almost exited once and forever.


The Nation Speaks:  August - October 2001

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