“Now I Can Die in Peace” (Book Review)

“Now I Can Die in Peace” (Book Review)

Bill Simmons is my favorite sports writer.

Over the course of his career, he has produced a ton of work, and much of it is focused on the teams that he loves the most: the Patriots, the Celtics, and the Red Sox.

simmonsHis writing can be long-winded, and is always extremely biased, but it can also be very funny, and he truly does care about what he is writing about. He has managed to create a great career as a sports writer, and still manages to love the game he writes about.

Really, there is nobody better to write about the 2004 Red Sox than Bill Simmons.

Over the course of the book, which is now in its third edition, he has accumulated articles that not only chronicle his pained history as a Red Sox fan, but his infatuation with the team, and the ups and downs of the ’04 season that culminated in the historic World Series win for the first time in 86 years.

simmons2The articles do well to show really how painful some of the memories of the Sox are for their longtime fans, and also show their nature of loving then hating someone on the team. The overractions are constant, the idolization of athletes is continual, and it is constantly fun to read.

One of the best parts about Simmons’ writing is the endless pop cultural references, and the tons of footnotes that he adds to his work. It is hilarious, and often spot on. His consistent use of The Shawshank Redemption as a means to compare things is always right, and gives us a firm ground for comparison in many of his articles.

Simmons takes us through the hurt, and the torture, of so many Red Sox moments of infamy: from the harrowing losses over the years, to the players leaving town for greener pastures, leaving behind them a rabid fanbase that wants nothing more than to celebrate a World Series victory with their beloved team. He takes us through the panic-inducing 2004 ALCS, where the Sox fell into a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 hole against the mighty, and hated, Yankees.

And he does it so expertly that he has created a true page turner of a book, even though we already know the ending.

The connection that Simmons has with the team is incredible, and at points, it becomes a book that is more about the relationships he has with people because of the Sox, than about the Sox themselves. His father plays a major role in so many of his stories, and his article after the Sox finally won is something that can truly tug at the heartstrings. Simmons is a versatile writer, who is easily able to make us mad along with him, or vividly recount the tale of a game that we watched, or make us actually laugh out loud while reading.

The '04 Series win was kind of a big deal.
The ’04 Series win was kind of a big deal.

There are tons of books about baseball, and many of them are very well done. Now I Can Die in Peace provides us with a little something more than others, specifically others that have chronicles the championship run: it has soul to it, and that soul comes from an endless passion for the team that the author has.

For any Red Sox fan looking to relive some pain and some glory, this book is a must read. For fans of other teams, it offers a great look at how the team came to be where it is today, now a team that has won 3 championships in the last 10 years.

Goodbye Jeter, From a Sox Fan

Goodbye Jeter, From a Sox Fan

As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, I should hate Derek Jeter. All Red Sox fans should. He was a great ballplayer, one who tormented the Sox for years and years. During the heyday of the Yankees, he always had his hand in shattering the hopes and dreams of Red Sox Nation time and again, as he led the dreaded Yankees to five World Series titles.

jeter2But looking back now, now that we have won three World Series of our own, broken the Curse, and remained one of baseball’s most well-run organizations, it is possible to look back at the career of The Captain with some respect.

Had the Sox never come back from that 3-0 deficit in 2004, and never emerged as champs again in 2007 and 2013, Jeter would probably remain one of the most hated people among Sox fans. But finally, we overcame him and his team, and are champions ourselves, so now we can give him the respect that he deserves.

I know that he is being lauded as such, but I don’t think that Jeter is a top-5 Yankee of all-time. It is impossible to crack that list, with the truly impressive list of some of the best players of all-time sporting the pinstripes during their careers. Despite his Gold Gloves, he was never really the best defensive shortstop out there, and his bat would never destroy you. But his timing would. When there was an incredible play to be made, or a clutch hit to be had, it always seemed that it was #2 doing it.

Off the field, despite having an impressive list of gorgeous A-list girlfriends, a string of beautiful women leaving his apartment, he was never embroiled in controversy, as so many athletic stars are these days. He kept his nose clean, at least to the best of our knowledge. And this allows us to like him even more, because he never became a true villain in the sense of someone like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.

We were only able to hate him because he was good.

I watched his final game at Yankee Stadium the other day, and when he came up in the bottom of the ninth, it was almost guaranteed that he would do something. Hitting a walk-off single to secure a victory for his team was pretty much expected. Sure, they may have tossed him a ball that was easy to hit, but he still got it done. And that is all that matters. It was a perfect sendoff for a magnificent career.

jeterI always liked that he wore #2, now the final single-digit number that a New York Yankee will ever be able to wear, as his will be retired soon. Letting him have that number was a historic move, and he honoured it throughout his career. He does stand with the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle, and that single number on his back was always a symbol of that, of his greatness.

Even as a fan of his most hated rival, it is easy to look at Jeter with respect, and some admiration. He had a great career, and in five years, it is all but guaranteed that we will be seeing him again when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

It is a place that he belongs, among all the other greats of this amazing game, and as much as I don’t want to see another Yankee cap in bronze there, he deserves it, and he belongs there. Even just being the all-time hits leader on such a hallowed team is enough to get him in to Cooperstown, in my opinion.

In a season that served as a year-long sendoff for #2, it has become tiresome reading all of the articles about him. Seeing all of the strange, and somewhat cheesy gifts that teams presented him with over the course of his farewell tour. But now that it is over, with only two games left on his career (being played in Boston, no less), we can really look at him and appreciate what he has done for the game of baseball.

He played, he won, and he did it with class.

Congratulations to Derek Jeter on a great career. I won’t miss seeing you rip the hearts out of Red Sox fans, but I will miss having you be a part of baseball.

Because that’s where a true ballplayer belongs. A part of the game, forever.

Retooling the Red Sox

Retooling the Red Sox

The non-waiver trade deadline day was a bittersweet one for me, as a Red Sox fan.

It is time to admit that there will not be playoffs in Boston this season, but I can accept this “do poorly one year, make some smart moves, and compete every other year” concept that seems to be happening there over the past couple of seasons. There is no question that moves needed to be made this year, that the team assembled just wasn’t working out. There are significant gaps in that lineup, and some changes needed to be made.

The Red Sox ended up making the most moves on deadline day of any of the teams, getting back some good major league talent in exchange for some pretty central pieces of their championship team of a year ago.

And this is where the bittersweet feelings come in.

When the rumours surfaced that Jon Lester was on the trading block, I didn’t want it to be true. I know the way the Sox operate, that they don’t want to dole out massive contracts for aging players, but I wanted them to break their own rule for Lester. He is my favorite pitcher, and I have followed his career since he first started with the Sox and threw his improbably no-hitter right at the start of his career. I always figured that he would rack up a couple of Cy Youngs over his career, and while we still may be waiting for the awards, he has had some outstanding seasons and shown himself to be a great playoff pitcher in the Series wins in 2007 and 2013.

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red SoxFor me, Lester was the Red Sox, as much as Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are. He was the core, and despite him coming up on 30 years old, I wanted him to remain with the organization for his whole career. Sure, there is talk that he could re-sign with the Sox in the off-season, but let’s be honest. That almost never happens, and there will be plenty of teams that will offer him the term that the Red Sox won’t, given his age. I just pray that he won’t end up on the Angels or Yankees.

If he had to be traded, I wanted him to be traded to the Pirates or the A’s, teams that I like, and that do still have playoff aspirations this year. In the case of the A’s, he now can join the best team in baseball, in hopes of leading them to a championship that has eluded them for 25 years.

It was surprising that the Red Sox managed to get back an All-Star player for Lester, given that teams are often looking for top prospects when the big names are traded. Instead, we are treated to a big player-for-player trade, that rarely happens in the MLB anymore. It made for exciting discussions, and while the loss of one of the best left-handed pitchers is crushing for the Sox and their fans, it was no secret that their outfield needed a lot of help.

I will miss Jon Lester, and while I will still cheer feverishly for the Red Sox, I know that they are done for the year. I will cheer along the A’s as they try to make their way through the postseason, hopefully making it back to the World Series.

Some thoughts on the other moves the Sox made:

  • Despite my sadness in losing Lester, I was happy for the return. Cespedes will fit nicely in the outfield, and he should be able to mash in the small confines of Fenway.
  • Surprised they traded John Lackey as well as Lester, but content that they got a couple of big leaguers back in Kelly and Craig. They are both having down seasons, but are “needed a change of scenery” candidates.
  • Glad they traded Jake Peavey. I never liked the deal that got him in the first place, and never felt like he fit with the Sox. Sure, he contributed to the World Series last year, but it was frustrating to watch him this year, because you knew he was going to give up at least one home run every time. He will do much better with the Giants, and being back in the NL.
  • Good return on Andrew Miller, getting a quality prospect.
  • I like the whole idea that they were not gutting the team and rebuilding. They are more doing a retooling, changing things on the fly.
  • They are going to have to go after some pitchers in free agency this winter. They need to try and sign Lester back, and should probably make a play for someone like Max Scherzer. They will need a top of the rotation starter at least, to give the kids coming up some breathing room and some lowered expectations.

I understand that the Red Sox needed to make some moves, and despite so many quality pieces being sent out the door, I understand what they needed, and so I would definitely qualify them as winners on this trade deadline day.

Red Sox Lose 8 in a Row

Red Sox Lose 8 in a Row

What’s wrong with my beloved Boston Red Sox?

Coming off an improbably World Series victory last year, even the most feverish of fan had a tough time believing this group would be able to pull off the feat again. Because one of the key things about last season’s win was that it was improbable. Going from worst-to-first and erasing the stink of the Bobby Valentine era was something incredible, and they were a scrappy team that managed to get the big hits and clutch pitching exactly when they needed it.

Boston_Red_SoxThis season, after falling to 20-27 on the year, and last place in tough AL East, they are not getting the big hits when they need them most, and they seem to be falling behind early in games frequently. Not a good way to play the game. Despite some pretty bad numbers over the past month, I don’t think that the pitching is the real issue here. Sure, there are major question marks in their rotation: why can’t the team score runs when Jon Lester is pitching, or who knows what you are going to get when Jake Peavy is on the mound (answer: at least one home run against and a bunch of walks, it seems), what is wrong with Clay Buchholz this year (he is healthy, but not good), is John Lackey actually their best pitcher (nope, but sometimes he looks that way), and is Felix Doubrount actually good enough to be a No. 5 in the rotation?

This group is good on paper, but has been doing things that they didn’t last year. They are giving up early leads, walking too many batters, and giving up too many dingers. It is tough to play from behind all the time, especially when the hitting is struggling to push runs across the plate, as the Sox are this year. Being behind 2-0 is not a big deal. Being behind 2-0 seemingly every game is much more of a struggle.

Too many times this year, I will watch the Sox get runners on base, and then completely flounder. There are inning-ending double plays, weak fly balls, poor strikeouts, and they are all coming at the wrong time. There is nobody in the lineup at this point that is mashing, and nobody is there to get that key hit that can keep them in these games.

The 2014 Red Sox do not have a stellar offensive lineup, and the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury looks to be more stinging with every loss. But they aren’t getting him back, so they need to adapt. The Sox need to go back to being a patient team, working the pitchers, being patient at the plate, and taking their bases in any way that they can get them. Also, they are not a speedy team, which hurts, because with a stagnant offense like they have now, they need to try and manufacture some runs. Somehow, some way.

One of the many beautiful things about baseball is that the season is a marathon, and an 8 game losing streak does not eliminate them from the playoff chase. In fact, despite their recent slide, they are still only 6 games behind Toronto in the division.

But the time is now to get things going. Hoping for a miracle run will leave them with nothing but that empty hope. The Sox need to play with some urgency. 2013 is over. It was amazing, but it’s over, and they need to realize that to even have a sniff of a chance to play for the title again, they need to start making moves up the standings.

This team needs to start playing its heart out. And soon.

Red Sox Sign Stephen Drew (SS)

Red Sox Sign Stephen Drew (SS)

Not enough production out of the 3B position, and another injury to Will Middlebrooks has forced the Boston Red Sox to re-sign free agent Stephen Drew, he who turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer during the offseason. Drew will make a pro-rated $10M for the rest of the year.

New York Yankees v Boston Red SoxThe good news is that this allows rookie Xander Bogaerts to slide over to 3B, where he was successful during last year’s run to the World Series. Bogaerts wasn’t bad at SS, but he is still learning the position, and will probably still be considered the short stop of the future for the club. Bringing back Drew provides an upgrade at defense, as well as offensively, as the Sox need more than they were getting from Middlebrooks at the hot corner.

This will also lead to the inevitable demotion of Brock Holt, who I quite liked at third for the Sox. He has played well in his limited time with them this season, managing to do a little hitting, and playing some solid D. He plays baseball hard, which is what I love to see. But the Red Sox are not a developmental team, and changes needed to be made before they fall out of the race in the always tight AL East. Even with a losing record, they are hanging around, but they can’t hope for that for too long.

Overall, this is a good move for the Sox, and it should only be a couple of weeks before Drew is able to get back into major league action.

Lester K’s 15

Lester K’s 15

For years now, I have predicted that Jon Lester would win the American League Cy Young award as the best pitcher. Sure, he hasn’t really come close, but he has always been so full of promise, that it seemed like he was always ready to take another step in his development, from being a big, strong staff ace to one of the best in baseball.

He has had some really good years, and some forgettable ones (like most things from the Bobby Valentine era in Boston).

lester2On Saturday, Lester put together one of his best ever outings, by striking out 15 Oakland A’s. I was lucky enough to be watching the game on MLB.tv, and it was impressive. It is exciting to see any pitcher hit double digits in K’s in a game, but 15 is almost unheard of. Sure, there were the days of Roger Clemens fanning 20, but even in today’s pitcher dominance, this many strikeouts is unheard of.

Over the course of 8 innings, Lester fanned 15 and allowed only 1 hit. Of course, the Red Sox bullpen made it interesting by almost letting things fall apart in the ninth, but the Sox won 6-3.

This is the type of game that I always knew Lester was capable of, and that is able to do every time he takes the mound. His stuff was almost unhittable, and he demonstrated tons of movement on all of his pitches. Throughout the game, he was focused on working hitters both outside and inside, painting the corners of the plate to the endless frustration of the A’s. And this included many borderline calls that didn’t go in Lester’s favour. He probably could have had more strikeouts than he did.

So far this season, Lester has been the victim of a low-performing offense when he is on the mound, but his strong stats cannot be ignored, despite his 3-4 record. In only one game has he had an ERA above 3.00, and he has had at least 6 strikeouts in every start. His season ERA sits at an impressive 2.59, with 58 K’s in 48 innings and a pretty good 1.09 WHIP. And don’t forget, he pitches in the tough AL East, where he has already faced the Orioles, Yankees (twice), and Blue Jays. Throw in the MLB-leading Brewers, and division leading A’s, and the competition he has to face is pretty solid.

Maybe it is no surprise that Lester is in a contract year, and only received a lowball $70 million dollar offer from the Sox in the offseason. Lester is pitching for his $100 million+ contract, and it is tough to argue that he doesn’t deserve it, especially when you see the other 9-figure extensions less comparable pitchers have been receiving.

For now, Red Sox fans should be pleased with the fire Lester has pitched with this year, and rejoice in the 15 K gem he tossed on Saturday. It was something to behold.

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Part of the Boston experience is so uniquely intertwined with the Boston Red Sox experience. You need to try and take it all in, in one of the cities that truly is a baseball-first place. In a massive market like Boston, there are plenty of sporting options. The Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, Revolution, all take their draws from the citizens of the city.

But no draw compares to the popularity of the Red Sox.

Based on this, the Fenway area of Boston is one that must be visited when in town. A big part of this, are the sports bars that surround the legendary Fenway Park, the largest being the Cask n’ Flagon.

caskThe Cask n’ Flagon does what sports bars are supposed to do. It offers a wide selection of bar food, and a really strong list of beers to keep you entertained while the game is on the multitude of TVs placed around the bar.

First, a couple of negatives from my trip there.

  • The lines are really long on game days. Be aware of that if you plan to go when the Sox are playing at home. I was there when they were on the road, so it wasn’t an issue.
  • The TVs aren’t as big as they should have, or could have been. For a bar that thrives on sports, there should be some monster screens in there, in my opinion.
  • The staff couldn’t seem to figure out how to get the Red Sox game on. Seriously? The place was packed with people, there specifically to watch the game. And it took them nearly an inning to figure out which channel it was on, and how to get their TVs to the right place.
  • We ordered some wings. They forgot to place that order. After watching tables around us get the food they ordered, and an hour having passed, we finally asked about them. Our waiter was very apologetic, and we did get our wings. On the house. With some extra wings on there. This is excellent service, and they more than corrected their mistake.

Some of the good.

  • They fixed their mistake, and not having to pay for the wings was an added bonus.
  • The wings were actually incredibly delicious and filling.
  • Very good beer selection, especially for a sports bar. And quite reasonably priced.
  • Huge establishment, with tons of seating to help deal with their game day crowds.
  • A fairly attentive staff, definitely friendly.

The Cask n’ Flagon does not merit a special trip or anything, but if you are in the area, it is a good, sports-centric place to pop in for a beer and a snack, maybe before or after a game, or when the Sox are on the road and you want to watch the game surrounded by their fans.

At the Ballpark: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

At the Ballpark: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

For baseball diamonds, Fenway Park was always the ultimate destination. It was the one place I had to see games, no matter what. It was a bucket list item. Fenway is home to the Boston Red Sox, my favorite baseball team, the team I have cheered with for years, being fortunate enough to watch them through three glorious World Series runs.

And it did not disappoint.

On the streets of Boston, Fenway is nestled in there, almost unnoticeable until you are standing right in front of it. It is not a gargantuan behemoth of engineering placed far away from the city, surrounded by parking lots and a couple of bars. It is right in the heart of it all, lined by the famous Yawkey Way and Lansdowne Street, which is chock full of bars and restaurants, all geared towards the Red Sox crowd. From the outside, you see the green that has been made so famous by the ancient stadium (going on year 102 now).

And you simply can’t wait to get inside.

I took the ballpark tour, because, come on, this is Fenway. The tour was good, and the guide was an excellent source of knowledge, telling stories about the park and about the teams that had played there.

monsterFirst walking into the stands behind home plate, you have arrived. You stare out at the field, you look at the Green Monster in left field. You see Pesky’s Pole out in right, the famous scoreboard on the Monster, the current AL East standings, the signs for W.B. Mason. It is all so iconic, and it takes a moment to stand there, take it all in, take your pictures.

The tour was good, taking us to some of the most memorable and historic parts of the park. The ancient stands, the bleachers and the lonely red seat (which denotes the longest home run hit inside Fenway, by none other than Ted Williams), the press box, the outdoor patio high above left field, the Red Sox museum, and of course, the seats on top of the Green Monster, which have become the most coveted tickets in all of baseball.

The only disappointing thing about the tour was that we didn’t go to the locker rooms, or onto the field. This is understandable, as it was the day before Opening Day, but still…to stand on the shale of Fenway would have been something incredible. For $17, the tour was a good way to spend a little over an our, in the baseball cathedral that is this park.

My initial impression, walking up that ramp to see the field for the first time, was that this park is small! Fenway is intimate, and this only adds to the lustre of the place. It is not a mega-stadium that sits fifty-some-thousand. It is a small place, where fans gather to cheer for their beloved Sox. The beautiful thing about the smallness of the park, is that there is not a bad seat in the house. Wherever you are, even though it may seem like miles away from home plate, you still get a really strong view of the game. That is, of course, unless you are stuck with one of the obstructed view seats, but you would know that going into it.

 

The view from the back of the stadium.
The view from the back of the stadium. (not my photo)

The seats: I was lucky enough to be in Boston for Opening Day 2014, where the champs raised their banners and got their rings, celebrating an amazing season that culminated in an almost improbable World Series win last October. I will write a separate post on Opening Day itself, so for this one I will stick to the stadium. For Opening Day, we sat in the bleachers, section 62 (same section as the red seat), row 50 (actually the last row in the place). Tickets cost us $30 (we were lucky enough to buy them at face value before going to Boston, on StubHub before the game, those seats were going for close to $200- Opening Day!). Despite being as far from home plate as possible in right field, the seats were still great, and this speaks to how intimate the stadium is. There was a good view of the action on the field, and although you can’t call balls and strikes from that far away, it is still pretty awesome. You can soak in all the views from the bleachers, watch as balls ring off the Monster, and see the plays made in the infield with amazing clarity.

The seats, for being the bleachers, were pretty comfortable, and you are never too far from a beer stand, concession, or washroom. There is definitely a passionate fan base that sits in the bleachers, which gives the game more personality than it already has. I have never been to a sporting event where the fans are as knowledgeable as they were in Boston. They love baseball, and they LOVE baseball. It was amazing. No fair weather, just checking out a game because it sounds fun crowd here. The people of Boston live and breathe the Red Sox. I loved this.

Fenway_Park05The Monster: For the second home game of the season, of course we needed to sit on the Monster. This was a life goal, and both of us were pretty giddy to actually be able to get seats. Since we hadn’t initially planned on a second game, this one was more last minute. We paid $90 for standing room tickets on the Monster, for a night game on Saturday night. Even before getting there, we knew it would be worth it. And we were not disappointed.

There is no better place to watch a game than from the Monster seats. Standing room, while it sounds like a massive inconvenience, was actually kind of perfect. It gives you the chance to move around (which was great, considering it was bone chillingly cold that night). There are under 300 seats and standing spots on the Monster, so it is like a little community up there. There are two concessions just for the Monster people, with beers and Monster dogs (definitely better than the Fenway Franks!), and very close access to a bathroom. For those going for standing room, get there earlier than you normally might, claim your spot, and enjoy. Plus, if you are on the Monster, you really need to get there for batting practice, as the odds of snagging a home run ball are pretty good. All standing room seats are lined up against a bar, where you can lean, and rest your food and drinks. It makes the whole standing thing much more comfortable, as you don’t have to stand awkwardly in one position for hours at a time.

On the Monster, there were some of the nicest, and well-educated, fans I had been around. We made friends with all of the people in our standing section, and looked out for one another by saving spots when they would have to go to the washroom, top up a beer, or need to walk to warm up. Out little piece of the Monster was a nice one, and the great people made this one of the most fun ball games I have ever been to.

The views from on top of the most famous wall in baseball are incredible. In the crisp, cool night of April baseball, under the lights of Fenway, you see it all. You are on top of the action, and even closer to it than I would have thought. You look down at the left fielder, you see the pitches clearly (which makes yelling at the umps easier), and you are literally on top of the action.

If you are planning on going to Fenway as a vacation, see a game from the Monster. Despite the steeper prices, you will not regret it. Apparently standing room tickets are normally about $60, which is well worth it. Plus, as it was freezing cold, and the game ended up going in to extra innings, we ended up with Monster seats for about half the game, as some who were not as prepared for the temperatures ended up leaving early. Since it was so frosty, we still ended up standing, but we had moved closer to the famed edge of the Monster, and it was glorious. Plus, it gave us the chance to sit if our legs were feeling tired.

Prices: It is not cheap to go to Fenway. But I’m sure there isn’t anybody out there who are hoping for a cheap night out by going there. Beers cost nearly $9 for a can, a Fenway Frank is $5 (they are not large), and a Monster Dog is $9 (but good!). The service is fast and friendly.

champsAtmosphere: Simply put, there is no better place to watch baseball than at Fenway Park. Period.

The combination of the team, the city, the fans, the knowledge, the history, and the ballpark all make Fenway THE place to see a game.

The surrounding area: Is there more famous streets that surround a ballpark? Yawkey Way is the place to be on game day. The bars are lined up around the block, and the street is jammed full of people, elbow-to-elbow. There is a buzz there that is unprecedented in my experience. I can’t even imagine it during the playoffs. There are plenty of options for food and drink before and after the game. Either get there early (most places were open at 8:30 AM for Opening Day), or be prepared to wait in line for a decent amount of time. It is cool, because everybody is there for the same reason: because they love baseball, and they love the Red Sox.

Final Comments: Having the opportunity to fly across the country to watch baseball is one that I am grateful for. Seeing a game at Fenway really was a dream come true, and getting to see two was just adding to the perfection. Leaving the park after the end of the 11th inning on Saturday night, I simply thought to myself that I can’t wait to go back.

The Bad Guys Won! (Book Review)

The Bad Guys Won! (Book Review)

This book is a few years old already, so this review is definitely about a decade late, but I just finished reading it, and decided to write about it anyways.

First off, I love books about baseball. No other sport has created volumes of great work, created so many timeless stories, as baseball has. Perhaps it has something to do with the pace of the game being slower than other major sports, perhaps it is because it is easier to describe a one-on-one pitcher versus batter matchup, than it is to describe the actions of 22 men on a football field, or all of the insane action on the ice in a hockey game.

Books about baseball are the best. My bookshelves are packed with them. I find that I will read about anything, since the history of the game is so chalk full of great characters, heroes and villains, stories of the impossible, or improbable.

The story of the 1986 New York Mets is a great one. And it is put together extremely well in The Bad Guys Won!

badFrom the beginning, Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman paints the ’86 Mets as being a group of degenerate, hard-partying, self-obsessed, overly cocky jerks, who happen to, together, be one of the great teams in baseball history. People didn’t like them, other teams hated them, there was even a fair amount of self-loathing going on in the locker room. They knew that they were crazy, and they were mean to each other, but they won together.

Often, the ’86 World Series is remembered best because the Boston Red Sox blew the series, and Bill Buckner went down in infamy. The fact is, the Mets were the favorites to win it all (according to experts, and to the players themselves), and they were a team coming off a 108-win season, which is nothing to sneeze at. They were good. And they knew it.

Pearlman pieces together the season, including the lead-in years where the Mets were a league laughingstock. Smart moves, drafts, and trades created a team that was poised to dominate for years. With these Mets, and their hard living ways, they ended up having one great season, and then been broken apart, bit by bit. Some of their destruction was due to their own foolishness (just look at the nefarious careers of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry), others due to poor decisions after winning it all in ’86, and part was due to an organizational shift in philosophy, where ageing veterans were favored over youth. The fact is, the Mets were an incredible team, but they were only truly incredible once, which makes them that much more magical. Because it never happened again.

Rightfully, Pearlman laments the death of the fun ballplayer, of which the Mets had several. Today, people are trained on being politically correct, saying the right thing at the right time. The Mets were trash talking, rude, destructive. And they could back it all up on the field, by being a great team.

The narrative here is strung together well, and the book reads at a fast pace, much like the way the Mets lived. Pearlman doesn’t get too bogged down in unwanted details, instead focusing on what is important. He doesn’t spend too much time discussing the debauched evenings the Mets had (and I’m sure there would be a million more stories), as that can be saved for a Motley Crue biography. He talks about the partying, focuses on some of the major stories, and moves on. Even the cocaine problems that were rampant at the time are discussed, but not dwelt upon. If someone wanted to read a history of Darryl Strawberry and cocaine, there are plenty of other sources. The Bad Guys Won! is about the whole team, and for this, it is a very interesting read.

There is enough in here for baseball geeks to sink there teeth into, as there is no shortage of statistics or descriptions of games. For those who are not huge fans of the game, there is still much to savor here, mainly the rowdy off-field behavior and personalities of the players.

As a kid (I was 7 at the time), I remember these Mets, and I remember them winning that World Series. I thought Doc Gooden was the greatest pitcher even, and that Gary Carter was the best catcher I would ever see. Maybe I was partially right. Reading this book now, gave me insight into that team I never could have imagined as a kid, and I’m glad I did.

After reading The Bad Guys Won!, it is easy to wish for the athlete who spoke his mind, for the team that knew it was great, and was willing to tell the world about it.

But, at least for now, we are stuck with our heroes giving their tired cliches, trying not to offend anybody on the entire planet.

Makes us wish for those ’86 Mets again.

A great baseball read.

2014 MLB Predictions

2014 MLB Predictions

Even though I will surely regret trying to pick the standings for the upcoming season, I might as well give it a shot. Last year, I was way off in my bold prediction of a Washington Nationals vs. Kansas City Royals World Series. I guess there is no harm in trying again! Except for my inevitable hurt pride in being so wrong about things.

AL East

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. New York Yankees
  • raysAlways the most difficult division to pick, because there are three very good teams in here, and two others that have great teams on paper but have yet to deliver it on the field. It’s hard to argue with the Rays’ success over the past years.
  • So much went right for the Red Sox last year, it will be difficult to duplicate that. But, they made some smart, low-cost moves over the summer, and should very much be in contention again. I like these guys, because they are tough and scrappy.
  • Yes, I’m picking the Yankees for last place. That rotation is just a huge question mark for me, and that starting infield is brutal. One injury to their old men roaming the shale, and they’re done. Their outfield is definitely improved, but that is only three of nine positions. Brian McCann is an upgrade at catcher, however.
  • I thought about going with the Orioles to win this division, but they are always such a tease. Third is where they belong.
  • Those poor Jays. Even if they put together a year that is injury-free, they will have too tough a time getting past the other monsters in the division. Too many questions in the rotation, as well.

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins
  • tigersHard to pick against the pitching of the Tigers. They can basically roll out three aces in a row, and the rest of the rotation is pretty solid, as well. I think their bullpen is improved.
  • This year, the Royals start to put it together. After a few seasons of expectations, they started to get it together in the second half of last year. They keep it going. Definitely a team trending upwards.
  • The Indians put together something special last year, making it to the one-game playoff. I don’t think they can do it again, but they are another fun, scrappy team. Love what Francona has done there.

 

AL West

  1. Oakland A’s
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. LA Angels
  5. Houston Astros
  • a'sNot much changing at the top. The Rangers have still more firepower, but there is something about this team that is lacking over the past couple of years, and doesn’t seem to be fixed. It’s finish. They lack finish. Prince Fielder could have a huge year there, if he doesn’t wilt in the Texas sun.
  • The A’s are just consistent. They are a good team, even if they seem to lack good players.
  • Finally, an off-season where the Angles don’t overpay someone. Trout is incredible, but the aging lineup around him won’t do much to help him out.

 

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. NY Mets
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Miami Marlins
  • natsThe Mets will actually probably be the bottom of this division, because there is a lot to like about the young Marlins.
  • I feel that last year was a season-long mistake by the Nats. They are better than what they showed last year, after their success the year before. They pull it back together this year.
  • Is it just me, or does the Phillies just seem like a collection of dinosaurs at this point?

 

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs
  • cardsShould be the most interesting division race again this year.
  • Impossible to bet against the always-consistent Cardinals. That rotation is excellent, arguably the best in the NL.
  • I think the Pirates contend again. They had players last year, on their miracle run, that had off-years. If they get it going as well, they can be good. Exciting team to watch, as well.
  • The Reds just kind of stay the same. Pretty good. Not excellent.

 

NL West

  1. LA Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies
  • dodgersThat LA payroll is crazy. As is their roster. Even with the inevitable injuries, they have bought the depth to stay competitive. Another very good stable of pitchers. Seems like they have a dozen starters to choose from.
  • Arizona is building, and this division always seems to have tons of movement in it.
  • The Giants are usually good every second year, and this would be their year again. Don’t count them out, but I feel there are a few too many gaps to oust the Dodgers here.

 

AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Royals

NL Wild Cards: Braves, Pirates

AL Champion: A’s

NL Champion: Nationals

World Series Champion: Nationals