Once-In-A-Lifetime Experiences Are Not For Me

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME EXPERIENCES ARE NOT FOR ME

2018 was, for the Red Sox, a franchise record-setting season, totaling 108 regular season

victories and a post-season record of 11 wins aganst only 3 defeats on their way to a

World Series championship. It was a season for the ages, a triumphant march into the

history books, and a glorious experience. But was it a once-in-a-lifetime achievement?

God, I hope not.

“Once-in-a-lifetime” means just what it says, that you’ve never experienced that thing

before and that there is no hope of ever experiencing it again. We all began the 2019

season expecting to relive the sublime glory of 2018, even though, in the team’s 118 year

history, it had never reached those heights before. It was another case of optimism

winning out over experience. So what else is new?

Back in 2013 no one thought the Sox would win – except the guys on the team. They

rolled to the American League East title with a 97-65 record, then proceeded to march

relentlessly on to the World Series championship. We, of course, expected no less than

the same in 2014, when the team laid an egg approximately the size of Connecticut. It

finished dead last with a record of 71-91. What changed? The most significant change

wound uphaving no significance at all. Centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was lost to the

much loathed Yankees in free agency when he signed a seven year deal with them paying

him $153 million. He hit only .271 with New York that first year (he’d hit .297 in his

seven with the Red Sox), and never again batted close to that. In addition, he’s been

plagued with injuries and has not played even a single inning in more than two years.

And the Yankees are still paying him on that big contract. But that did not change the

reality that the Red Sox stunk in 2014 and were just as lousy the next year.

In 2008 the defending champions won the American League wild card, but lost in the

ALCS to the Rays, four games to three. In 2005, coming off the curse-breaking

championship of the previous year, the Sox finished in a flat-foot tie with New York, at

95-67, but because the Yankees had won the season’s series with the Red Sox, 10-9 they

were declared the American League East winners. Not that it made much difference; once

the post-season began the Sox went into a swoon and got quickly swept out of the way by

the eventual champion Chicago White Sox, 3 games to 0.

Still we hope, as always. The 108 regular season victories of last year might be beyond

reach, but the real prize, the World Series trophy, is very much alive in our dreams,

provided, of course, that we make it to the post season, which is by no means a slam-

dunk.

Back-to-back championships wouldn’t even be a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment for

the Red Sox; they’ve done it before. You have to go back more than a century, to the

1915-16 seasons, but they won it all in both of those years. In 1917 the team suffered a

hiccup and finished second in the league to the White Sox, and in those pre-playoff days

if you didn’t finish first in the league, you were out. The White Sox won the pennant and

proceeded down the road to infamy when some of their players got involved in a scheme

to throw the World Series.

In 1918, though, the Sox made it three out of four, finishing at 75-51 in a season

shortened by World War I, then trouncing the Cubs in the World Series.

Little did Red Sox fans know that unimaginable disaster was just around the corner. It

turned out that World War I had two big losers: Kaiser Wilhelm and the Red Sox. When

the last month of the season was cancelled because of the war, it was a devastating loss to

owner Harry Frazee, who always operated on the edge of financial collapse. Back in the

days when gate receipts represented almost all of a team’s revenue, the loss of a month’s

games was enough to put him over the edge. In addition he was also involved in a power

struggle with American League president Ban Johnson, and that was costing him money.

Only the lawyers win in those kind of struggles. So when the Red Sox had bad year both

in the standings and at the gate in 1919, Frazee sold his soul to the devil, otherwise

known as Jake Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees. Over the next three years he

sold to Ruppert and the Yanks not only Babe Ruth, but also the heart of the pitching staff

(including Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock) and half the starting lineup. It

took the Red Sox eighty-six years to recover.

That all happened years before I was born, but I’m still mad about it.

Anyhow, back to once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I’m against them because you can’t

count them until your lifetime experiences are all used up, and I’m of an age when you

get a little sensitive about such things. I don’t want the 2018 season to be once in a

lifetimefor me. I want to experience it again. And again after that.

I suppose that if I were to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel that might count as a once-in-

a-lifetime experience because the next thing that would happen would be when they

pulled my lifeless body from the water below. There would be no do-overs. I’m afraid

that I might meet up in the hereafter with Harry Frazee, and that we’d be in a location

where neither one of us would be complaining about the cold.

Musings: Mookie Betts And His Missing Smile

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

MOOKIE BETTS AND HIS MISSING SMILE

There is something missing from the Red Sox this year. It’s something that endeared us

to the team in recent years, especially last season. I’m not sure if the fact that it’s gone

missing is a cause of the team’s spotty performance in 2019 or a result of it, but I do

believe there is a relationship there.

Here is what is missing: Mookie Betts doesn’t smile much anymore. Have you noticed?

In years gone by his enthusiasm and his love for the game seemed to bubble out of him.

Whenever he would make an outstanding play in the field or deliver a base hit, he’d

break out in a spontaneous smile and his whole face would light up. It was infectious;

we’d find ourselves sitting at home in front of the television, smiling along with him. He

might be playing hundreds of miles away, in Houston, Oakland, or New York, but we’d

feel connected to him. It was fun to be smiling back at the TV set.

No more. Mookie doesn’t smile much during games these days. He wears his game face,

no nonsense, all business. Oh sure, there are times before and after the games when you’ll

see that electric grin, like when he met and hugged his distant cousin, the Duchess of

Sussex, over in London. He doesn’t seem to be grouchy or difficult to deal with at all, but

it’s just different than it used to be.

Now when the game starts, there is a serious expression on his face, like just about all the

other players. Is it because he’s having an off-year? He’s hitting about eighty points

lower than last season when he led the major leagues in batting average and was the best

all-around player in the game. His power numbers are down. He made the all-star team

this year but not as a starter. His reputation is not what it was a year ago. That certainly

could have something to do with lack of smiles.

It’s not that he doesn’t care any more or that he’s not trying as hard. No one has ever

questioned his commitment or his effort. Maybe he’s trying too hard.

Whatever it is, baseball doesn’t seem to be as much fun for Mookie as it used to be. And

that makes it less fun for us, too.

Then there is always the business end of things to consider. The Red Sox are fully aware

of what a valuable property Mookie Betts is. Not only has he produced outstanding

numbers on offense and glittering play on defense, but he also seemed to have a special

connection with the team’s fans. So management offered to open the purse strings during

the off-season, essentially asking Mookie to name his price to sign a long-term deal. But,

through his representatives, he declined to bite, saying he’d rather wait to see what the

market-place has to offer when he reaches free-agency at the end of the 2020 season.

There is a certain risk that goes with taking such a position. What if he were to be

seriously injured before he reached free-agency? What if his numbers were to go down?

His numbers have gone down. His perceived worth today is not what it was four months

ago, before the season started. Last year he was compared most often to Mike Trout, the

man who does it all, year in and year out, for the Los Angles Angels. In the spring Trout

signed a contract extension worth $430 million over twelve years. It is unlikely that

Mookie could get a deal now comparable to that, but he might have gotten something

approaching it back in March. He could probably still command something in range of

Bryce Harper’s or Manny Machado’s deals, in the $300 million range, but has he left

$100 million or more on the table? That’s serious money, and missing out on the

opportunity to get it is not something that elicits spontaneous smiles.

Of course, Mookie’s numbers could come back up and he could be the hottest thing on

the market when he’s eligible for free-agency at end of next year. Then again, they could

go back down, or he could be injured.

You know what they say in gambling parlors: “Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer

chances.”

On top of all those pressures Mookie faces is the fact that baseball is a hard, hard game.

Ted Williams used to say that the most difficult thing in sports to do is hit a round ball

squarely with a round bat. It is made infinitely more difficult when the ball is coming at

you at speeds up to, and sometimes exceeding, one hundred miles an hour and with all

kinds of different spins on it; and it might be coming in chest high, or at your knees, or

outside, or inside, or – God forbid – straight at your head.

Mookie Betts achieved superstar status last year. He became one of the best players in the

game. Make no mistake, he is still a terrific player, but an objective assessment would not

even rank him as the best player on the Red Sox in 2019, let alone in all of baseball. Both

Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are having better years. Is this year just an

aberration? Or was it last year that was the divergence from the norm? Does even Mookie

know? Here are his batting averages in the four seasons previous to this, years that he has

been a regular in the Red Sox line up: 2015 - .291; 2016 - .318; 2017 - .264, 2018 - .346.

Thus far this year, he has slipped back into the .260s again. The averages have fluctuated

wildly, but in years gone by his infectious exuberance for the game has been evident by

the constant smile he always seemed to be wearing. That’s what has made him the most

popular player on the Red Sox.

Let’s hope he regains his batting stroke before the year is over and that he finds his

missing smile.

Musings: The Rocketman

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

THE ROCKETMAN

Thirty-five years ago Roger Clemens played for the Pawtucket Red Sox before being

called up to Boston to launch a major league career that was filled with more twists and

turns and dramatic story lines than he or anyone else could ever have imagined.

His time with the PawSox, only two months, was brief because he was already on the

fast-track to the majors, but it was enough to earn him induction last week into the

PawSox Hall of Fame. He and his wife Debbie made the trip up from Texas for the

ceremony at which he was given a hero’s reception. He, in turn, was open, affable and

easily approachable before, during, and after the ceremony at McCoy Stadium prior to a

PawSox versus Indianapolis Indians game. He signed every autograph, shook every hand,

and answered every question from those who were crowded around him.

It was a marked contrast from the atmosphere around him on days when he pitched. His

jaw was set and his eyes had the steely glare of a man on a mission. It was intimidating

just to look at him, one can only imagine what it must have been like to step into the

batter’s box against him. Oh, how we loved him for it when he wore a Red Sox uniform

and how we resented him, especially when he wore the detested pinstripes of the

Yankees.

How did he ever get away from Boston in the first place? It all amounted to a personality

clash between him and then general manager Dan Duquette. Instead of locking him up

with an early offer, the Red Sox let his contract expire and the Toronto Blue Jays were

ready with open purse strings. The rest is history. When he left, Duquette famously, or to

be more precise, infamously, described him as being “in the twilight” of his career.

Eleven years and 162 wins later (he already had 192 with the Red Sox) Duquette was

right. The sun finally set on Clemens’ career, but not before he had won a total of 354

games, struck out 4,672 batters, and won seven Cy Young Awards. He was inducted into

the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2014.

But that was all in the past when Clemens was honored in Pawtucket. In his acceptance

remarks he was exceedingly generous, devoting a good portion of his speech to honor the

late Bill Buckner, who had died shortly before the ceremony. He offered encouraging

words to the players in both dugouts, reminding them of ”how hard” the game is. When

he was presented with two shadow boxes, each containing twenty baseballs labeled with

the name of each of his strikeout victims during his two twenty-strikeout games, he

beckoned to PawSox hitting coach Rich Gedman, who was the catcher in the history

making first twenty-strikeout game back in 1986, and together they reminisced about that

cold night in April thirty-three years ago.

Gedman, by the way, has remained steadfastly loyal to his friend, even in the darkest

days, when the federal government tried to convict Clemens of perjury for testifying

before congress that he had never used performance enhancing drugs. Gedman insisted –

and still insists - that Clemens was not only the best pitcher that he ever played either

with or against, but he was also the best teammate he ever had. At the weeks-long trial, in

case you’ve forgotten, Clemens was acquitted on all counts, making him the only player

of the steroids era who is certified not guilty. Still, the powers-that-be have held back on

voting him into Cooperstown. There is absolutely no one who doesn’t agree that Roger

Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers in the long history of the game, but they haven’t

voted him into the Hall. Go figure.

When he was asked to throw out the first ball following the induction ceremony, instead

of lobbing one in from in front the mound, as is the usual practice, Clemens had all the

tables and chairs that had been set up moved aside, retreated to the mound, wound up,

and delivered, if not a blinding fastball, one with plenty of zip on it, to his old catcher,

Gedman.

He, in fact, throws on a regular basis at his home in Texas to keep in shape. Every year he

makes a trip to Fenway Park to throw batting practice to contributors to the Jimmy Fund.

What a thrill it must be, to step up to bat against the great Rocketman, confident that he’s

not going to throw a fastball high and inside to keep you off the plate. In his days with the

Red Sox he made regular visits to the children who were patients of the Jimmy Fund.

One day a little girl refused to believe he was actually the real Roger Clemens, so he went

back to the park, changed into his uniform, and returned to show her he was, indeed,

Roger Clemens. After that, he always showed up at the Jimmy Fund wearing his uniform.

One can just imagine how many people must have almost driven off the road at the sight

of him jogging the mile or so up Boylston Street between Fenway Park to the Jimmy

Fund Hospital in full uniform.

He’s almost fifty-seven years old now, but looks much younger, still more like a football

tight end than a baseball pitcher. He and Debbie have been married for thirty-five years,

their children are grown, and they have been to the top of the mountain and in the deepest

valley, and still, they were genuinely excited to be in Pawtucket to relive some of the

early days of their baseball journey. It was endearing to see Debbie snapping pictures and

taking videos of him with her cell phone as the ceremony progressed.

Pawtucket, Rhode Island is ahead of Cooperstown, New York. It’s put Roger Clemens

where he belongs, in the Hall of Fame.