Here are some observations and ramblings on several things while we await proof the late blossoming of real live pennant races actually has legs. The smart money remains contemptuous even as sheer panic begins to grip the ever easy to rattle Hub:
Wasn’t the Fenway confection alleged to be the best team money could buy? A lead-pipe cinch to win more than 100 games? The second coming of the 1927 “Murderer’s Row” Yankees. In the mindless excesses of a Herald headline writer, the greatest baseball story ever told?
What the sudden convolution now engulfing your pets means is that the only thing dumber than proclaiming a winner in spring training is pronouncing the season over on Labor Day. One pleads guilty, although only to the latter charge, while noting he has lots of company.
Hang on. Another week can turn the thing upside down all over again, as we have just witnessed. So, climb down from that ledge, dear fanatic devotees of the Nation.
In the meantime, some thoughts on other sporting issues:
Regarding the possibility that Justin Verlander, the Tigers’ superb pitcher who is certain to be acclaimed the league’s best, should also be voted the AL MVP. The possibility is gaining serious momentum. One senses a stampede taking shape led by new breed baseball pundits who believe that if you don’t buy their saber-metric jabberwocky you are some sort of Neanderthal.
Sorry, boys, but pitchers ought not be eligible for the MVP and it’s not merely because the best starters appear in little more than a fifth of their team’s games while relievers never work as much as 100 innings a season anymore.
There is no diminishing of pitching. It’s the most difficult thing to do in sports, in my opinion; tougher than quarterbacking or goal-tending, or standing out there all alone at Centre Court at Wimbledon mano a mano for four hours in the broiling sun. There is nothing in sports more demanding than having to throw a baseball with consistent brilliance.
That’s why pitchers have their own lofty annual award for epic achievement. Catchers don’t have one. Center-fielders, first basemen, and shortstops don’t have them. Only pitchers. It’s called the Cy Young Award and it’s very nice.
While Rogers Clemens’s 1986 season was indisputably sensational (24-4 and 2.48), he didn’t deserve both the Cy and MVP especially as he was competing with so worthy an MVP candidate as Don Mattingly. That year Mattingly hit .352 with 238 basehits, 53 doubles, 31 homers, 113 ribbies while answering the bell in all 162 games, and yet he went home empty-handed. Six years later, Dennis Eckersley should never have won both prizes for pitching only 80 innings, however impressively (7-1 and 1.91). Then there was the travesty of the long-forgotten Tigers’ reliever Willie Hernandez, who won both prizes in his only decent season (1984) then promptly faded away.
Verlander should win the Cy Young by a landslide. But if he’s also eligible for the MVP then Adrian Gonzalez, Michael Young, Curtis Granderson , Jose Bautista, and all the other legitimate MVP candidates ought to also be eligible for the Cy Young. That would make as much sense, which is none at all.
Regarding the poignant end of Peyton Manning’s fine consecutive game streak, which probably pre-sages his fading away altogether: One of the all-time class-acts of football, or any game, Manning now faces lengthy recovery from his fourth neck surgery, and second this year. At 35, it’s possible we’ve seen the last of him on the field or at least the last of him as the formidable force he’s been since he arrived in the NFL 13 autumns ago. Even manic Patriot Nation should weep.
Already ended and history is Manning’s mighty streak: He played – indeed, he started and took most every snap -- in 227 consecutive games, rarely missing even a set of downs from the moment he debuted as an elegant prospect from a royal football family. Never once did he sully that legacy, and nothing better spoke of the man than this streak. Only Bret Favre played in more games consecutively, but Favre’s run didn’t begin the day he arrived nor always feature him as the main man. That distinction belongs to Manning alone. It’s one of the great sporting endurance marks of all-time, ranking with the iron-man routines of Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken.
Gehrig’s streak famously stretched 14 years almost to the day. Peyton’s ran precisely 13 years, including playoffs. Surely they compare. It’s one thing to doggedly stay the course come hell or high water for 13 years playing first base in baseball’s Golden Age. It’s quite another doing it as an NFL QB in the age of football triage.
Regarding the persecution of John Lackey, a failed pitcher with heavy burdens whose greatest crime may be that he just makes too much money in the opinion of the armchair cognoscenti. Even veteran observers of the whacked-out world of Red Sox Baseball cringe over the wrath and contempt being visited upon the lumbering Texan, heisted from the Angels for ridiculous money two years ago. Lackey is being ridiculed on talk shows, defiled on the internet.
He’s fair game, of course, and, being a mature fellow, he knows it. But is there no slack cut for a man who is laboring under the gravest of personal stresses? It’s no secret that his young wife has been seriously ill all year. If he had no such awful distractions might Lackey still be a veritable punching bag getting paid $18 million for lugging around the highest starting pitcher’s earned run average in the bloody game? Maybe! But then we don’t know that for sure, do we old Sport.
To a lesser degree (and without the personal issue), Carl Crawford suffers from the same malaise, that furious backlash that can engulf a player when he struggles to live up to an absurdly bloated contract stupidly conferred upon him by misguided management. Every half-witted citizen of the Nation now recognizes the front office grossly overplayed its hand when they dumped well more than $100 million on Crawford last winter. But is that his fault? Was he obliged to spurn it on the grounds he might not be worthy?
How much has Crawford failed? It’s interesting to note how his performance this year compares with that of, for example, Johnny Damon, a similar and very fine player over the years now nearing the end of the line. It’s further relevant that Boston allowed Damon to wander away a half dozen years ago, with no weeping on management’s part.
This season Damon leads Crawford in every offensive category except stolen bases. He leads him in hits, runs, ribbies, homers, doubles, triples, average – again, everything save steals -- and even there Crawford has only three more than old Johnny-Boy. To be sure, Crawford also contributes on defense but you get the point. Further illuminating this outlandish discrepancy, the Red Sox are paying Crawford more than three-times what the Rays are paying Damon, and Tampa is not on the hook for a single dime next season.
The game has changed. It is not the game of your fathers. It’s all about the money and every factor is measured by the money. How it’s managed is the most critical factor. If citizens of the Nation have a legitimate beef, it’s not so much with Crawford or Lackey or any of the resident mercenaries. It’s with management. It’s not the players you should be booing, but the general manager.
Lastly, regarding your old pal “Roger the Rocket.” The mistrial declared in July does not get him off the hook and this fiasco persists into next spring.
It’s an odd business that only gets weirder. The judge didn’t want it to go on but said the law left him no alternative. Members of the Congressional committee Clemens allegedly misled, thereby getting himself into this mess, have literally begged to have the charges dropped. Legal observers seem overwhelmingly to agree he has been punished enough for his rank stupidity. But the bounty hunters of the Justice Department refuse to give up.
Say what you will for Clemens, and I was never chairman of his fan club, but this is ridiculous!