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Posts Tagged ‘Boston red sox’

Here are some of my favorite pictures I’ve taken from ballparks around the country.

For the record, my favorite major league park is PNC Park in Pittsburgh and the best minor league is Fifth Third Field in Toledo.  Click on the photos to enlarge.

 

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In terms of the postseason, the one thing that differs baseball from other sports is it’s the sport most difficult to reach the playoffs.  There are 30 teams in major league baseball and eight move to the postseason unlike basketball and hockey where 16 teams advance.  In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams advance.  There has been talk recently that baseball could expand its postseason to include two additional teams.  Here’s what one baseball fan thinks.

It’s not easy reaching the baseball playoffs and I hope it stays that way.  However, if done properly, the playoffs could be just as challenging to reach if more teams are included.  As of now the division winners of each league (three in each) automatically reach the postseason.  There is one wild-card team in each league that represents the team with the best record that did not win its division.  The first round of playoffs is a best-of-five series.  The winner of those playoffs reach the league championship series in each league for a best-of-seven battle and the winner of those two reach the poorly named World Series (thanks for that egotistical title, 1903 sportswriters). 

To add the most excitement along with television ratings, it would be great to see baseball add one wild-card team to each league.  The two wild-card teams would play something similar to what two teams that tied to end the season.  Some call it a 163rd game and others a one-game playoff.  The winner of that game would go on to play the team with the best record in its league regardless of what division they play in.  Today’s rules state a wild-card winner cannot play a team in its own division in the first round.  Why does this rule exist?  My guess is so the Yankees and Red Sox can play seven games instead of five and increase television ratings. 

There is nothing more exciting than a one-game playoff.  One-game tiebreakers were necessary in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and ratings were great.  This cannot be said for the 2010 World Series which ended after only five games.  Playoffs ratings for the NFL are always great and a big part of this is the importance of each game: loser goes home.  When this instance happens in baseball, ratings skyrocket and baseball benefits for more than one reason. 

One-game postseason drama. The Tigers-Twins 2009 one-game playoff was ranked as the No. 1 regular season game of the decade on si.com.

Many coaches will argue that a team’s destiny shouldn’t be based on one game after playing 162 during the regular season.  My response is: Then maybe you should have won a few more games between April and October.  A team has plenty of time to earn a division title.  Wild-card teams shouldn’t earn the same privileges of division winners. 

Having a one-game playoff also won’t add onto the length of the playoffs.  It can be played the day after the regular season ends and the winning team can have one day off before the division series begins.  Should the players union demand for a best-of-three series, a doubleheader should be played one day and if the games are split, then the decisive third game should be played the next day.  Having the wild-card team play extra games with its rotation out of order will also add to the disadvantage of playing the league’s top team.

If this system were in place for the 2010 season, the Yankees and Red Sox would have been the wild-card teams in the American League.  This means there would have been a winner-take-all Monday night game between these two large-market teams.  Not only would baseball pull in huge ratings, but it would have created huge interest for the remainder of the playoffs and lasting highlights and memories.

In the NFL, the top teams are given first-round byes: extra time to rest and prepare.  This is wise.  Baseball should find a way to better reward the best teams while making wild-card teams work to make up for their lack of wins during the regular season.  As of now, the only disadvantage the wild-card team has is lack of home-field advantage.  Ask the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins and the 2004 Red Sox if home-field advantage makes a difference.

More teams and playoff levels aren’t needed to spice up baseball’s postseason, but suspense and drama is.

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The first criticism I heard about Ken Burns’ new documentary, Baseball: The 10th Inning, was from my parents.  Being the good mid-west people they are, they’re tired of hearing about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.  So am I, but at the same time: what’s done is done.  They told me it contained too much Yankees and Red Sox.  This turned me off, but then I thought about it and realized it would be very difficult to make a documentary about baseball from 1992 through 2009 without including those two teams.

Having said that, I loved Ken Burns’ new addition to his original nine-part series.  Burns takes his best sources from the original series like George Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thomas Boswell and Roger Angell and puts them right back in front of the camera for a great perspective on the last two decades of the game.  Burns also calls on new opinions to the game like Howard Bryant, Joe Torre and Pedro Martinez.

Burns gives great perspective on the steroids era, starting with Jose Canseco and the Oakland A’s of the late eighties and flows to Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and eventually Barry Bonds.  Almost every story that is told in The 10th Inning I’ve heard before, but never from the perspectives they’re told from here.  It’s great to hear of Pedro Martinez’s dominance from 1997 through 2003 from Pedro as well as noted sportswriters.  I’ve known the story of Ichiro as I’ve been watching him play since his first game in 2000, but never really thought about what an anomaly he was from the rest of the game.  While the name of the game in the beginning of the century was, as George Will puts it, “Get two guys on base, get Godzilla to the plate to knock it into Tokyo Bay,” Ichiro was playing like a throwback to the deadball era and Negro leagues.  Ichiro is Cool Papa Bell!

 

Ken Burns

 

The story of Bonds cannot be ignored and Burns tackles it well from a small biography of his father, Bobby, to his time with Pittsburgh and onto his big signing with San Francisco before the 1993 season.  Burns shows the viewer how Bonds became the egotistical player he was.

I was worried Burns would go through all five of the Yankees World Series victories in depth, but instead, we only get to really know the 1996 Yankees.  That team happened to be the one New York squad I was rooting for (and likely, the rest of the country).  Joe Torre gives great insight to that team along with how the Series went down after losing the first two at home to the Braves.

Burns uses a lot more players than the previous nine innings and every one of them contribute well to the story.  Omar Vizquel, Ichiro, Torre and Martinez all show they have a great personality to match their skills on the diamond.

If it isn’t obvious that Burns is a Red Sox fan by the film, then watch the bonus footage and be thankful most of it was cut.  There is a full games highlights at Fenway Park as well as the entire guided tour in the special features.  Much of the interviews are certainly worth watching, especially from the ballplayers.

Much like my attitude at the time, I was happy to listen to the stories of the 2004 Red Sox, but was glad to move on once it was done.  Thankfully, Burns doesn’t dwell on the 2007 team and only mentions them along with the other World Series winners from 2005 through 2009.

Fans of small market teams may feel left out of this four-hour film, but this isn’t the All-Star Game and everyone can’t be included.  I would have loved to see more on the Twins, but how much is there to tell to the casual fan who’s not from the midwest?

I think the greatest compliment Ken Burns’ original documentary received was from my girlfriend who didn’t know anything about baseball or even care about it.  I was watching the second inning and Ty Cobb was being profiled.  She watched a few minutes and said, “I could watch this.”  When even the non-baseball fan enjoys it that much, imagine how much real baseball fans can get out of it.

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First and foremost this postseason, I hope the Minnesota Twins win it all.  If that can’t happen, all I ask for is some excitement in major league baseball’s postseason.  It’s been a long time since there’s been some serious drama for the baseball playoffs. 

My definition of a great postseason is fairly simple: a lot of series-deciding games and underdog victories.  I need plenty of division series that go to five games and championship series and World Series that reach the seventh game.  By this definition, the last good postseason was 2003.  

In the last decade of postseason play, there have been 70 series: 40 division series, 20 championship series and 10 World Series.  Only 27 percent (19) have gone to a deciding game.  It’s up to you to determine if this number is low, but to me, it’s far too low.  Why?  Because it’s October and soon I’m not going to see competitive baseball for five lonely months and I want to see as much as possible before I spend 10 minutes every morning scraping ice off my windshield while dreaming of the warm breeze running through the upper deck of Target Field. 

I’ll break down the number of deciding games in each series:
Division series – 25% (10 of 40)
Championship series – 35% (seven of 20)
World Series – 20% (two of 10). 

Only two World Series have reached a seventh game and they came in back-to-back seasons (2001 & 2002).  This is the lowest total by decade since the 1930s, when there was also only two seventh games (the highest total was six, in the 1960s).  This cannot stand.  I realize a good seven-game series has a lot to due with luck and getting two very evenly matched teams against each other.  There’s not much more to it than that.  This blog is not about solutions or reasons why baseball hasn’t had a good postseason for a while.  It’s pretty much just a baseball fan venting his frustration.  

Despite Minnesota’s first of four straight first-round exits in the 2003 playoffs, it proved to be a great October to watch baseball.  In the division series the Cubs and Braves traded wins with Chicago taking the final game thanks to the pitching of Kerry Wood.  The Oakland A’s took the first two games against the Red Sox, only to watch Boston win three straight to send them to the ALCS against the Yankees.  The Marlins / Giants series proved exciting even if it was decided in four games with Florida winning the fourth game thanks to the heroics of Ivan Rodriguez.  

The last time there was a great postseason, Kerry Wood was a good pitcher for the Cubs.

 

Then came the championship series.  On paper they look exciting with both games going to a seventh game.  In real life, they were more than exciting.  At the time, I was rooting for the Red Sox and Cubs, as was most of the nation.  The Red Sox hadn’t won their World Series they’d get the next year and spawn millions of bandwagon fans and the same can be said for Cubs fans … minus the World Series title, of course.  Boston held a 5-2 lead of the seventh game entering the eighth inning.  Some Red Sox fans will point fingers to manager Grady Little or Pedro Martinez, but I pointed straight up to Babe Ruth.  It was the last year of the curse of the Bambino as he guided the Yankees to score three eighth-inning runs followed by an eleventh inning home run by Aaron Boone to take the Yankees to the World Series.  

On the north side of Chicago, there was also a curse involved, but this one hasn’t been broken yet and has much more to do with a poorly run organization and play.  With the Cubs holding a 3-2 lead in the series and a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning, Moises Alou threw a conniption fit when he wasn’t able to make a catch on a foul ball in the stands which then caused shortstop Alex Gonzalez to drop an easy ground ball which then caused the Chicago Cubs to wet the bed and allow eight eighth-inning runs and lose 8-3.  Wood was rocked in the seventh game and Florida won to take the NL pennant.  

The World Series didn’t go seven games, but when the Yankees are involved, I also root for a quick finish.  Josh Beckett shut down New York 2-0 in the sixth game, giving the Florida Marlins their second championship.  

That was a good World Series.  The last great World Series was in 2002 when the Anaheim Angels defeated Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants four games to three.  

Seven years!  It’s been seven years since baseball fans have seen a truly great World Series and six years since there has been a good amount of drama throughout the postseason.  We’re due.  

What do I want from my postseason?  I want John Smoltz versus Jack Morris-style pitching duels.  I want underdog victories from the small-market teams as well as teams who haven’t been seen in the postseason for a long time.  I feel like a James Bond villain as I say this, but I want the Yankees eliminated!  I don’t want to see them in the championship series, let alone the World Series.  The same can be said for the Philadelphia Phillies, but not to the same extent.  I like the players on the Phillies, but they’ve been dominating the National League playoffs the last two seasons and I’d like to see someone new in the World Series.  

FOX Sports and Yankees fans are the only ones who would love to see A-Rod go deep in the postseason.

 

There are some great story lines waiting to happen, but none of them include Mariano Rivera getting the last out in another World Series.  No one thought the Reds would be better than the Cardinals, much less the rest of the division.  The Giants lineup, with exception to rookie Buster Posey (great baseball name, by the way), is from the land of misfit toys.  Baseball fans would like to remember Bobby Cox’s last postseason as a competitive one.  No one believes in the Rays, especially in Tampa Bay.  The Rangers have never won a postseason series.  The Minnesota Twins are the greatest baseball organization in the history of mankind. 

There are so many good things that can happen this postseason.  I’m hoping for all the baseball that’s possible.  The postseason will consist of between 24 and 41 games.  C’mon baseball, we won’t see you for a while … let’s make it last. 

The end of the last great postseason.

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With the importance of the World Series and the excitement of the league championship series (the Final Four of baseball), the division series often gets overlooked.  Sometimes it’s for good reason, but not always.  The division series marks the beginning of the baseball postseason and is about a month away.  It’s only a best-of-five series and many times is over in the minimum games.  But there is an excitement to the division series and is slowly developing its own history.  The World Series began in 1903.  The championship series began in 1969.  The division series is only 15 years old, having begun after the 1995 season (technically, it would have begun after the 1994 season if there hadn’t been a strike).  

Major League Baseball has just the right amount of playoffs.  There’s not too much like the NHL and NBA and there’s not too little like college football.  The NHL and NBA welcome 16 teams into its playoffs while college football only has one game to determine the national champion.  

Unfortunately, much of the division playoffs are over far too soon.  Eight teams make it to the major league playoffs; four from each league.  There’s the three division winners and one wild-card team.  The division winner with the most wins in each league plays the wild-card team, unless that team is in the same division as the team with the most wins.  In that case, the team with the most wins plays the division winner with the least wins.  

Since the division series began in 1995, there have been 60 series.  Of those 60, 25 (42%) of them have been sweeps.  Only 13 (22%) of the division series have gone to a deciding game 5.  This can be compared to baseball’s championship series, which was a best-of-five series until it was changed to best-of-seven in 1985.  From 1969 through 1984, 10 of 32 championships series (31%) went to a fifth game. 

Thanks to Jeremy Giambi's inability to slide into home plate on a close play, the A's managed to drop the fifth game of the ALDS four seasons in a row.

 

There is a lack of excitement in the first round of playoffs.  Is it because the best teams are just that good?  The team with the best record in its league has a 20-10 series record in the first round.  Among those 20 wins, the top team in each league hold a 57-6 record.  In the 10 series losses, the top team’s record is 13-33.  When the favorite team wins the division series, it does so quickly most of the time.  Yes, there are upsets, but the seeding in the playoffs seems to fit well.  

When the division series begins in early October, I’ll be hoping for as many five-game series as possible (minus the Twins).  Never has all four division series in a year gone five games.  In 2001, three series went to a deciding game 5.  That was the only time three series went that far.  Two series in each 2002 and 2003 went five games, but those were the only years more than one series went beyond four games.  

If it’s excitement baseball fans are looking for in the division series, a big thanks needs to go out to the Oakland A’s.  For four straight years (2000-2003) the A’s took their respective division series to the fifth game … and lost every one of them.  In 2001 and 2003, Oakland won the first two games and then dropped three straight. 

Although the Braves played in the division series every year from 1995 through 2005, they didn’t make things all that interesting.  Only three times did Atlanta take the series to five games and they lost all three times from 2002 through 2004.  From 1995 through 1999, the Braves dominated the division series with five series wins and a 15-2 record.  Beginning in 2000, it all fell apart for Atlanta as it would win only one series in the next six years and compile a 10-15 record.  

The Minnesota Twins would love to say it had 10 wins in the division series, but they’re far from that.  After a surprising 3-2 series win over the A’s in 2002, Minnesota has lost four straight division series and a 2-12 record.  The Twins’ last division series win was the first game of the 2004 postseason.  They have lost nine straight since then.  

The greatest division series is arguably from its first year when the Seattle Mariners defeated the Yankees on an exciting fifth game.  After losing the first two games in New York, the Mariners stormed back to win all three games in Seattle (in the first three years of the division series, the top-seeded team would play all three of its home games in the final three games, if they were necessary).  Ken Griffey Jr.’s mad dash from first to home on a double by Edgar Martinez in the bottom of the 11th inning at the Kingdome has become part of baseball legend.  The second game of that series went 15 innings where New York eventually won while the fourth game was tied 6-6 before the Mariners would score five runs in the bottom of the eighth to help Seattle to an 11-8 victory.  

Ken Griffey Jr.'s mad dash from first to home on a double by Edgar Martinez to end the 1995 ALDS with the Yankees may be the best moment in Mariners history.

 

It’s difficult to pick a best game of the division series.  There are no Major League Baseball “Best of the Division Series” DVDs or highlight shows on ESPN Classic.  The division series is largely forgotten after it’s done.  The championship series doesn’t get the hype the World Series gets, but there have been many memorable moments documented on film.  The one division series game that sticks in my mind was the fourth game of the 2003 series between the Giants and Marlins.  Florida was up 2-1 in the series after losing the opening game.  Playing in Miami, the game was tied 5-5 going into the bottom of the eighth.  Two quick outs were recorded before Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez singled.  Derek Lee was hit by a pitch, putting Pudge on second.  Miguel Cabrera lined a single to right field.  The throw home beat the runner, but Rodriguez put all of his pudge into catcher Yorvit Torrealba and knocked the ball loose allowing Lee to score as well.  

The Giants needed two runs to keep the game going in the top of the ninth and it looked like they might get both of them after pinch hitter Neifi Perez doubled and J.T. Snow singled to score the runner.  The next two Giants batters were not able to advance Snow on their outs, but Ray Durham did the hard way when he was hit by a pitch.  With the tying run on second, the go-ahead run on first and two outs, Jeffrey Hammonds stepped up for San Francisco.  His single on a line drive to left field gave the Giants a chance for revenge on Rodriguez.  The throw arrived ahead of the runner, but J.T. Snow had the same idea Pudge had a half-inning earlier – knock over the catcher and get the ball loose.  But Pudge is not known as one of the greatest catchers of his generation for nothing.  Pudge held the ball for the final out of the division series and began his celebrating laying on his back, clutching the ball and screaming at the sky while his teammates hog piled on top. 

Despite the hard hit from a charging J.T. Snow, Ivan Rodriguez did not drop the ball and helped the Marlins to an eventual World Series championship.

 

Many see the division series as a formality before the championship series.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  It’s still a do-or-die situation for every team.  So let’s root for as many five-game series as possible.  There’s not much baseball left in the year once the division series rolls around, so let’s get the most we can while we can.  The first round of the playoffs should be remembered because without winning the first round, you’ll never get to the World Series.

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It’s okay.  Don’t feel bad for not going to any Astros games this year.  I don’t blame you.  Yes, I believe you when you say you’re still an Astros fan, but you don’t need to waste your disposable income on a bad team.  It’s okay.   

Many times I’ve heard sports fans accuse others of being fair weather.  Some take it as a personal insult when called fair weather as if they were just accused of a felony they didn’t commit.    

“Their fans aren’t hard core like we are!”    

Is it really a compliment to be considered hard core?  What defines a hard-core baseball fan from a fair weather fan?   

In terms of baseball, most real hard-core fans are quietly so.  They’re not self-appointed hard core.  They quietly follow their favorite team through the standings, statistics, television, radio, columns, features and, occasionally to frequently, attends games.  Then there are the self-appointed hard-core fans who generally flame out when the team drops below .500 and/or beer vendors pack up for the night after the seventh inning.    

The teams most associated with hard-core fans are the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.  These also happen to be large-market teams.    

New York Yankees
There are many ways to define a fan base.  Are Yankees fans hard core, or fair weather?  I’ll keep this simple and look at attendance figures.  If a fan base is fair weather, the attendance would rise and fall with the team’s win-loss record.  It’s difficult to gauge with the Yankees because they’re almost always good.  We’ll have to go back to 1992 for the Bronx Bombers last losing season (they were 76-86, fourth of seven teams in the AL East).  That season the Yankees drew just 1,748,737 fans to Yankee Stadium, 11th of 14 American League teams.  In 1991, when they won only 71 games, they drew about 100,000 more fans and were 11th in the league.   Wouldn’t a hard-core fan base show up for more games?   

Attendance records show Yankees fans aren't as hard core as they'd like you to think.

 

Fast forward to one of the greatest baseball teams in the history of the game: the 1998 Yankees.  New York won 114 regular season games and then breezed through the playoffs and won the World Series.  Their attendance that season (2,955,193) ranked third in the league.  Perhaps the fan base needed to witness history to get back on board?  Their 1999 attendance also ranked third.  It wasn’t until 2003 that New York topped the American League in attendance and has stayed on top since.    

Based on these numbers I’m going to label Yankees fans as fair weather … not that there’s anything wrong with that.   

Boston Red Sox
… or as a friend of mine likes to call them, the New England Yankees.  Baseball fans know how hard it is to find a ticket at Fenway Park these days.  The team is a step below the Yankees (though, a big step) in terms of payroll and Theo Epstein has made the right moves amounting to two World Series championships in the last decade along with six playoff appearances.  The fans are known as extremely loyal as most of them had to endure over 80 years of the curse of the Bambino.    

It’s a bit tougher to gage the team’s fan base by attendance as Fenway Park can house only about 39,500 fans.  Like the Yankees, we’ll have to go back to the nineties to find the last sub-.500 season from Boston.  In 1997 the Red Sox were just under .500 (78-84) and ranked seventh in attendance with 2,226,136.  With capacity at Fenway Park at 34,218 in ’97, this averages about 27,500 fans a game.    

Strangely, in 1998 the Red Sox won 92 games, yet only 2,314,704 fans went through the turnstiles, ninth in the American League.  Did the low attendance have anything to do with the fact that the Yankees, their biggest rival, were spectacular?    

Like the Yankees, it’s hard to decifer hard core from fair weather as the Red Sox are really good most of the time.  Boston has had six losing seasons in the last 30 years and none since 1997.  Are Red Sox fans fair weather or hard core?  They’re more hard core than Yankees fans, but they’re still fair weather … not that there’s anything wrong with that.   

Chicago Cubs
The north side of Chicago has not seen a World Series since 1945, but Cubs fans still don’t give up.  They’re known as the lovable losers even though Philadelphia Phillies fans have seen a lot more of it.  Wrigley Field is almost always full despite how horrible the Cubs may be.  Looking at attendance figures, 1986 was the last time Chicago didn’t draw at least two million fans for a full season.  That’s devotion.  After years and years of losing, it slowly got cool to root for one of the least successful teams in baseball history.    

Cubs fans show up to beautiful Wrigley Field no matter what.  Of course, it helps the team plays in a big market and WGN has spread the word through cable wires and satellites across the country.  Like the Red Sox and Yankees, the Cubs spend a lot of money on their payroll, but with far worse results.    

With this being said, Chicago Cubs fans are not fair weather (at least, in the last 20 years) and are hard core … but there’s something wrong with that.   

Every (sane and mature) fan is fair weather
There’s no shame being labeled a fair-weather fan.  It’s the level-headed choice.  If your team isn’t playing well, or downright horrible, there’s no sense in spending your money on them.  How else should you let the owner know you’re disappointed?  Sure, a good fan will keep an eye on the box scores and any transactions.  But a good fan will also not follow the team blindly by spending lots of money on tickets, souvenirs and concessions at the game.    

As a Twins fan, I’ve been lucky in the last decade.  It’s been easy to follow the team and go to games when everything’s still meaningful in late September.  Of course, before Minnesota won 85 games in 2001, it endured eight consecutive losing seasons.  No matter how horrible the team was, I always check the box scores and game stories and watch them on TV if it fit my schedule.  Am I fair weather because I paid less attention to the Twins when they were in last-place team than now?  Or am I hard core because I will always root for the Twins no matter what the standings and never turn to whatever team has done well in the last decade?             

We’re not cattle.  You won’t keep going to a restaurant if the food didn’t taste good and you got bad service, so why complain when fans don’t show up to the ballpark for a bad team?

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