Tag Archives: Terry Francona

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Awards Ballot: American League

BBA

Ballots for Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) awards are due prior to the first pitch of the World Series tomorrow night at Fenway Park. Fulfilling our duty as part of the BBA, here are Fenway Pastoral’s picks for 2013 American League awards.

AL Manager of the Year (Connie Mack Award) – John Farrell
The decision came down to a couple of first-year managers–Terry Francona and John Farrell. It’s been two years since Francona’s exit from Boston and the subsequent smear campaign that some front office members inexplicably deemed to be somehow necessary. It is worth noting that Tito is the most accomplished manager in Red Sox team history. And somehow his success in Cleveland this year may have been his best managing job yet, once the talent level and payroll he was working with in Boston is taken into consideration. Francona deserves all the accolades that comes his way.

If ballots for this award were due prior to the start of the playoffs, Tito would have been the clear-cut selection. By late September, Farrell had already been getting more than his fair share of credit for the job he did turning the Red Sox around from worst to first in the AL East. But postseason games dictate that managers employ their highest level of intelligence and in-game strategy. Unfortunately for Tito, his playoff run ended after a loss in the one-game Wild Card play-in. So far, Farrell has had 10 games over the ALDS and ALCS to show his true skill. And that’s where he wins out. He has been close to unassailable in his deft bullpen usage, lineup changes (i.e. Bogaerts better late than never) and other various play-calls. He is working with a ton of talent on his roster – more than Francona – but in terms of the sheer act of “managing,” what Farrell has shown this October is just too impressive to overlook.

John Farrell ALCS

AL Top Reliever (Goose Gossage Award) – Koji Uehara
Uehara has had one of the best seasons for a relief pitcher in the history of the game. Koji just did not have many peers in other AL bullpens heading into October. After taking over the reigns as closer, Koji took his dominance to a new level. By September, every time Uehara threw the first pitch of a given appearance that the umpire called a ball, there was a feeling of deflation distantly akin to those Pedro Martinez starts after he gave up the first hit of the game. With that out of the way, since we considered October performance in the manager voting, we did the same here. Even if the home run Uehara allowed to Jose Lobaton in Tampa had ultimately helped to cost Boston the ALDS and he never had the opportunity to win ALCS MVP honors, his regular season resume was way too commanding to lose this “crown.”

AL Top Rookie (Willie Mays Award) – Wil Myers
As Red Sox supporters, it’s important for us to note that it wasn’t exactly Fred Lynn in ‘75 or anything…but the Rays outfielder had a pretty solid rookie season.

AL Top Pitcher (Walter Johnson Award) – Max Scherzer
There wasn’t a ton of difference between Felix Hernandez, Anibel Sanchez and Max Scherzer aside from the number of Wins accumulated. Whether you prefer to lean on FIP or noisier statistics like ERA, the case for Sanchez is very strong. Meanwhile, both Sanchez and Scherzer were nearly unhittable during their first starts against Boston in the ALCS before looking significantly less dominant the second time around. We settled on Scherzer based on the 30-plus extra innings he threw during the regular season and the fact that his bullpen made his postseason stats look a lot worse than the reality.

AL Top Player (Stan Musial Award) – Mike Trout
God bless the BBA for its simple terminology here. Nobody is going to parse the definition of “top” as a modifying adjective, right?

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On the (in)fluency of professional umpires

Es muy fácil: The Boston Red Sox lost their best hitter and fielder last night because some fill-in umpire named Dan Bellino don’t speak Spanish no good.

Bellino’s ignorance likely did not cost Boston a win. After all, the Sox were facing Felix Hernandez, who would be a frontrunner for the AL Cy Young if the season ended today (assuming the Boston media’s unhealthy obsession with Clay Buchholz’s win total and ERA has not spread into some kind of national pandemic).

On the other hand, Bellino did succeed in embarrassing the integrity of Major League Baseball—coincidentally, much like his crew chief (Joe West) has done so many times before.

In theory, the notion of a “human element” in baseball is a good thing. Unfortunately, kind of like the whole “bullpen-by-committee” idea, it is a concept that can too often be sabotaged if the right personnel are not in place. Bellino is just the latest example of too many umpires’ inherent desire to become part of the story. (There are some journalists in this town who often suffer a similar affliction.)

Bellino’s ignorance of what was actually transpiring on the field (two former teammates engaging in some fairly innocent trash-talk) injected a “human element” that has no business anywhere in America, particularly on a baseball diamond: cultural insensitivity.

The fact that Bellino wasn’t smart enough to realize Adrian Beltre wasn’t speaking to him as he took grounders at third base is bad. That Bellino did not or could not accept that he wasn’t part of the story, that Beltre and King Felix were merely engaging in some friendly jawing, is worse. And, on top of it all, that a 31-year-old, over-his-head, just-called-up, mercenary of a home plate umpire was not man enough to take the opportunity to correct his mistake is a downright embarrassment. (Beltre, for his part, hadn’t been ejected from a game since he was a Dodger six years ago.)

The precedent is set. (Bellino ought to understand this, as he actually holds a law degree.) An umpire may stand behind the veil of lingual ignorance if he feels the need to make a statement. Worse, unwritten code dictates that fellow members of the crew (Angel Hernandez) should stand by ejections, no matter how indefensible they may be. Both Bellino and Hernandez must have realized the error of Beltre’s ejection, as neither would provide Terry Francona with an explanation, whether spoken in English, Spanish or Pig Latin.

Given the demographics throughout professional baseball, both major league and minor league umpires should be required to speak Spanish beyond just recognizing cuss words when they are tossed around on the field. After all, their primary job is to communicate various decisions with the players and coaches on the field.

On occasions when someone a bit less…”cultured” must umpire home plate in a pinch, perhaps they could at least be reminded of their rightful place within the game.

On Baseball: Francona off base in mocking Papelbon for lacking Rhodes Scholarship

Red Sox manager Terry Francona crossed the lines of decency earlier this week by offhandedly and irresponsibly characterizing Jonathan Papelbon’s comments about the Billy Wagner acquisition as misunderstood by the media partly because he is “not a Rhodes Scholar to begin with.”

Let us disregard for a moment the damning fact that the 28-year-old Papelbon is no longer eligible to obtain the prestigious scholarship, which is awarded to students between the ages of 18 and 24. Leaving aside this key rule, the preparation and application process alone for becoming a Rhodes Scholar is tedious, time-consuming and uber-competitive. It is next to impossible to expect that a top-tier high school athlete, as Papelbon was at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, Fla., could have set aside the time required to apply for such an elite academic scholarship.

Worldwide, there have only been roughly 7,000 Rhodes Scholarships doled out over the 100-plus years since the award was established in 1904 after the death of Oxford visionary Cecil Rhodes. By contrast, there are only a few hundred baseball players on planet Earth with the skill set and mental makeup of Jonathan Papelbon.

Sure, out of the 4,000 or so Rhodes Scholars still alive today, there may be a handful who could rear back and throw a fastball in the mid-90s MPH range. But how many of them have the ability to mix in breaking pitches and come into Major League Baseball games to record outs in save situations?

The fact of the matter is that very few Rhodes Scholars would be able to both locate high-velocity fastballs–and throw plus-sliders with the requisite controlled movement–to present a serious challenge to professional hitters because they would have dedicated their formative years to intense intellectual development in pursuit of degree courses at Oxford University.

Moreover, Rhodes studies may not officially begin until after an undergraduate degree is completed. In Papelbon’s case, this means he would not have been eligible to begin his education at Oxford until spring 2003, when he officially matriculated from Mississippi State College (an institution that boasts just one Rhodes Scholarship winner, awarded in 1911). By that time, Pap would have had just about 17 months to complete a Rhodes application before turning 24 years old and losing eligibility. As it were, that year and a half was spent fine-tuning his fastball and developing a slider and change-up while playing for the Red Sox’ Class-A affiliates in Lowell and Sarasota.

Between mandatory team workouts, spring training, the regular season, offseason conditioning, in-season weight work, side sessions, long tossing and maintaining a healthy athlete’s diet, Papelbon would have been lucky to simply read the text of the Rhodes Scholar application, let alone actually fill the thing out and begin studies under the Oxford University degree program–the rigors and geographical limitations of which would have undoubtedly stunted his rapid development into a top pitcher in the Red Sox farm system.

Theoretically, even if Papelbon were to consider playing a sport while studying in Cambridge, England’s baseball equivalent (cricket) could never be seriously viewed as a viable alternative to playing the American past-time. Single at bats in cricket have been known to last several hours and would severely limit Papelbon’s availability to pitch in following matches due to his prior shoulder problems and innings restrictions that have since been imposed on the All-Star closer.

Red Sox players face enough unrealistic pressure from the media and fan base without Francona tightening the vice of scrutiny a few extra notches. OK, so Jonathan Papelbon ain’t no Rhodes Scholar. And he never will be unless Oxford University were to suddenly relax its stringent guidelines for admission. But surely he need not be belittled with these facts any more than Francona need be harassed for never becoming an astronaut.