Musings: A Game Within A Game

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

A GAME WITHIN A GAME

A fascinating game-within-a-game took place the other night in a contest between the

Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. This was the situation: bottom of the seventh inning;

Red Sox trailing, 2 to 1; two outs and a man on third base; right-handed pitcher Ryan

Tepera was on the mound for Toronto; Eduardo Nunez was at the plate; catcher Sandy

Leon was due up next, but he was in a bit of a slump (he hadn’t had a base hit since

Jimmy Carter was President); so Red Sox skipper Alex Cora put Mitch Moreland on deck

to pinch hit if Nunez got on.

Are you familiar with the phrase, “once in a blue moon?” That’s how often Eduardo

Nunez walks. Nunez walked. Now there were men on first and third. Moreland advanced

toward the plate to pinch hit for Leon. In the Toronto dugout manager John Gibbons had

anticipated the situation, and he had a left-hander warmed up in the bullpen and ready to

face the left-handed-batting Moreland. He was waiting for Moreland to be officially

announced as the pinch hitter before making his move. Now Cora had several courses of

action available. He could have left Moreland in to hit against the lefty or he could use

the recently acquired Brandon Phillips, a right-handed hitter, to pinch hit for the pinch

hitter. But that would mean that Moreland, having been officially announced as in the

game, would not be eligible to be used later even though he never actually played. Cora

wanted to preserve his options. He called Moreland back to the dugout before he’d been

officially announced and sent Brock Holt, also a left-handed batter, up in his place. This

came as a surprise to everyone in Fenway Park, including Holt, and probably Gibbons.

The Toronto skipper then decided that he’d rather see Holt, who at that point had only

three home runs all season, hitting against a right-handed pitcher than have Brandon

Phillips come up to bat against a left-hander, so he didn’t go to the bullpen, but left the

right-handed Tepera in to pitch to Holt. It is one of the anomalies of baseball that a pinch

hitter can be replaced without actually hitting, but a pitcher, once he comes into a game,

must pitch to at least one batter. Go figure.

All this cat-and-mouse action took place in a matter of seconds; if Cora had waited even

another second or two, Moreland would have reported to the home plate umpire, thus

triggering a chain of events beginning with Gibbons replacing Tepera with the left-

hander, Brandon Phillips probably pinch hitting for Moreland, and who knows what

would have happened next?

As it was, Holt settled the matter and the game by launching a three run homer into the

right field grandstand, giving the Red Sox the lead and, as it turned out, the win. And

Alex Cora looked like the smartest guy in all baseball.

In Boston the second-guessers were quiet the next day, but in Toronto one imagines they

must have kicked it into overdrive.

This was unlike what happened a few nights before, when David Price entered the

seventh inning with a 2 to 0 lead over the Houston Astros. But he gave up a leadoff

double to Alex Bregman, and with one out he walked Tyler White. At that point he’d

thrown 101 pitches. Cora, managing at this point in the year with one eye on the post-

season and knowing Price’s history of wearing down at that time of year, went to the

bullpen – with disasterous results. Houston scored three times in the seventh and three

more in the eighth. The 2 to 0 lead had turned into a 6 to 3 loss.

To listen to the talk shows the next day you’d have thought that Alex Cora, the smartest

guy in baseball against the Blue Jays, was the dumbest guy in baseball against the Astros.

Such is the life of a big league manager, especially a Red Sox manager. Today’s genius is

tomorrow’s dunce.

It’s a risky business. Cora knew that he was taking a risk when he pulled Price out of the

game when he did, and he paid dearly for it. But in that instance he was playing the long

game. He bet that limiting Price’s pitch-count in September will pay off in October.

We’ll see.

The truth is that a baseball manager has to make a lot of guesses during the course of a

game. They are more educated guesses than the average fan makes – he has the

advantage of computerized analytics, the input of a whole staff of people in baseball

operations, and vast personal experience (Cora might be just a rookie manager but he has

spent his entire adult life seriously studying the game). In the end, though, he has to guess

how a particular player will perform in a particular circumstance in a particular game.

That’s just part of a baseball manager’s job. He has to keep the clubhouse happy, or at

least not let get out of control or rebellious. Then there is the medical staff and the

coaches and the support personnel to look after, to say nothing of dealing with the media.

Did I mention the baseball operations people upstairs? It ain’t that easy.

Cora has landed on the right side of the genius/dunce equation much more often than not

this year. He’ll be the first to admit that it helps to have a talented ball club and the 2018

version of the Red Sox has a world of talent. As Casey Stengel famously said after

leading the Yankees to a fifth consecutive World Series championship, “I couldn’t a done

it without the players.”

On the other side of the ledger, Warren Spahn, the great left-hander who broke into the

big leagues with the Stengel-managed and super-sized inept Boston Braves in 1943 and

finished up with the woebegone New York Mets of 1965, also managed by Stengel, said

of him, “I played for Casey before he was a genius and after he was a genius.”

Crunch time is just around the corner for Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox. Stay tuned.

Musings: A Complicated Story of American Heroes

By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author

A COMPLICATED STORY OF AMERICAN HEROES

The one hundredth birthday of Ted Williams and the funeral of John McCain took place
just two days apart, Williams’ centennial was on August 30 th and McCain’s farewell
service on September 1 st . The juxtaposition of the two events was a coincidence, to be
sure, but the two men’s lives were closely intertwined with one another.
They were born a generation apart, but both were combat pilots, Williams a marine and
McCain in the navy. Both were in planes that were hit by enemy fire. McCain’s plane had
a wing sheared off, crashed, and he was captured by the North Vietnamese, held prisoner,
beaten, and tortured for five and a half years. Ted managed to somehow steer his badly-
damaged plane out of enemy skies (the enemy in his case being North Korea) and
miraculously land it, barely escaping with his life.
But the connection between the two went much further than that.
In his memoir, Worth the Fighting For, John McCain devoted an entire chapter to Ted
Williams, who was his boyhood hero. In his youth, when he was living in suburban
Washington, D.C., his uncle, who was the Washingon bureau chief of the New York
Herald Tribune, used to take him to Griffith Stadium when the Red Sox were in town to
play the old Washington Senators. It was in those years that he developed his affinity for
the great slugger. Converesly, he developed a distinct distaste for the New York Yankees
(something which even those citizens of Red Sox Nation who are partisan Democrats can
admire about him). He felt no particular connection to the baseball Senators; as the scion
of a military family (his father and grandfather were both famous admirals) he moved
often, sometimes to the other side of the world, depending on where his father was
posted, so he never really had a hometown. As an aside, when he first ran for Congress in
Arizona, he was constantly accused of being a carpetbagger, and he was queried about it
again in a debate. Exasperated, he snapped, “Listen pal….when I think about it now, the
place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.” So much for the carpetbagger issue. He won
that campaign easily.
John McCain didn’t have a favorite baseball team but in Ted Williams he had a favorite
player and a hero.

In the late 1990s Esquire Magazine did a feature story on the heroes of celebrities.
McCain, then finishing his second term in the U.S. Senate, immediately named Williams
as his hero. As a result he traveled to Ted’s home in Citrus Hills, Florida, where the two
would be jointly intervewed by the magazine. They spent the better part of a day
together, and a bond of friendship developed between them. McCain for years retold the
story of Ted’s reaction when he asked why he didn’t eject from his plane after it had been
hit. Ted had been genuinely ambivilent about whether or not he’d play again after his
hitch in Korea was over. But when faced with the option of ejecting from the plane, Ted
had looked at his lanky frame jammed into the cockpit, decided that ejecting would break
his kneecaps and that he’d never play again. It was at that moment that he decided that,
yes, he wanted to play baseball again. Despite the long odds and with his very life
hanging in the balance, he took the wounded plane back to friendly territory and safely
landed it. Then he played for the Red Sox for seven more seasons.
McCain and Williams discovered that day that they shared a similar conservative
philosophy with a large dollop of independence thrown in. For his part, Williams greatly
admired the senator’s heroism and integrity and he made no secret of it.
Fast forward to January, 2000. McCain was making his first run for the presidency. The
first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary was just around the corner. In what would be
one of the final public appearances of his life, Ted Williams traveled to the Granite State
to endorse the candidacy of – wait for it – George W. Bush, McCain’s opponent in what
would be a bitterly contested campaign.
What??!!
Had Teddy Ballgame, always known as a standup guy, stabbed the war hero in the back?
Not exactly.
Ted had another relationship with another navy war hero, a pilot whose plane had also
been shot down by enemy fire, and that relationship stretched back far longer than the
one with McCain.
In September, 1944, George H.W. Bush, the father of McCain’s opponent, then 20 years
of age and one of the youngest pilots in the navy, had participated in a bombing raid off
the coast of mainland Japan. His plane was hit by enemy fire, and he was one of nine
pilots who had to ditch their planes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Somehow his tiny
life raft was spotted by an American ship before the Japanese could find him – as they
did find all the others. He was the only one of the nine who survived. He went on, of
course, to have a distinguished career in the service of his country, including becoming
the forty-first President of the United States.
During the years that Williams was managing the Washington Senators the elder Bush
was a congressman from Texas. They got to know each other and found out that they had
more than their wartime experiences in common; they also had baseball. Bush had been
the captain and the first baseman, though admittedly a light hitting one, at Yale

University. Ted had campaigned for him in 1988 and 1992, and he wasn’t about to leave
the reservation in 2000, not because of who the candidate was that year but because of
who the candidate’s father was.
McCain, though disappointed not to have his hero’s support was neither surprised nor
angry. George W. Bush eventually won the nomination and the presidency, but McCain,
despite the non-endorsement of the great Ted Williams, was the clear winner in New
Hampshire.
All of that happened not so many years ago, but it seems quaint nowadays to think there
was a time when actual American heroes walked among us and even ran for president of
the United States.

Musings: Being Dave Dombrowski

                 

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

                                               and New York Times Best Selling Author

 

 BEING DAVE DOMBROWSKI

 

Let’s say that you are Dave Dombrowski. You and Sam Kennedy are the bosses of the Boston Red Sox. Sam takes care of the business side of the operation, which are extensive, complicated, and require great skill and long hours, while you, Mr. Dombrowski, handle the baseball operations. Here’s what it adds up to - Sam is in charge of making the money and you are in charge of spending it.

 

 

Oh, we should also mention that, boss that you may be, you have bosses too. They are John Henry and Tom Werner and their partners, the owners of the team, the guys whose  money you spend.

 

You are blessed in that Sam does his job really well and that your bosses have deep pockets, really deep pockets. And they love baseball. They are also very smart guys. How else do you suppose they got to accumulate all that dough in the first place? They have entrusted you to spend it wisely. They, like you, are committed to winning; and they pay close attention.

 

 

Red Sox Nation, the fan base, is focused on closing out the 2018 season successfully and winning in the post season, but as the boss you already have to be looking ahead to the off-season and planning for 2019 and beyond.

 

 

One issue that must be faced is Craig Kimbrel’s pending free agency. Last year he was absolutely lights out as the Red Sox closer. This year there has been some drop-off,  but he’s still been pretty good. He’s making 13 million bucks this year but chances are that he’ll be looking for a deal comparable to the one Aroldis Chapman landed with the Yankees, $17.5 million a year for five years. That’s a total of $87.5 million, not all that much for a front-line starter but a new frontier for someone who only pitches an inning or so at a time. What do you recommend to your bosses? That they let Kimbrel walk rather than pay him all that money? If so, how do you replace him and with whom? What if he turns out to last a long time as an effective closer, pitching for some other team? And what if it’s for a team like Cleveland or Houston, a real contender, in other words, the competition? Of course, you could recommend that the Sox resign him. But that would require a multi-year commitment, and what if Kimbel’s drop-off this year is just a forerunner of what happens next year and the year after that? My God, we’re still paying Aroldis Chapman kind of money to Pablo Sandoval. Don’t think that has slipped the mind of your bosses. It’s your call, Mr. Dombrowski, and remember, the bosses are keeping score, and they know how to add.

 

 

While we’re at it, what about David Price? He can opt out of his contract after this season, a contract that calls for him to be paid $31 million next year and $32 million for each of the following three seasons.That’s a lot of dough. Conventional wisdom has it that he could never command that kind of money anywhere else because he’s been spotty thus far in his Red Sox career, but ever since the all-star break he’s been terrific, one of  baseball’s best pitchers. Whether to stay or go is Price’s decision to make, and leaving would be a big roll of the dice for him. The ballclub and its attitude toward him can be a big factor in what he decides. What do you encourage him to do?

 

 

If you look ahead to the off-season after 2019 it gets really interesting – and more than a little frightening. Chis Sale will be eligible to become a free agent and J.D.Martinez can opt out of his contract. I suppose, Mr. Dombrowski, that you’re already busily at work trying to work out contract extensions for both of them before they hit free agency. I also suppose that there are people around them who want them to test the market, which, provided that they stay healthy, should mean barrels of money for them and their families. Sale is the best bargain in baseball right now. He makes $12.5 million this year, and that goes up to $15 million in 2019. On the open market he would get more than double that. Do you commit to paying him $35 to $40 million a year for multiple years, say, six or seven? You have to assume that the Yankees would if they had the chance. Is a bidding war between you and the Evil Empire in the stars?

 

 

J.D. Martinez  could win the Triple Crown this year. If, in 2019, he has a another year anything like this he’ll certainly opt out of his current deal, which will pay him $23.7 next year. Someone – maybe the Red Sox, maybe not – will be paying him telephone numbers kind of money after 2019. What do you recommend to your bosses?

 

 

I hate to even think about the off-season after 2020 when Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, both still young players, will be eligible for free agency. You, however, as the boss of baseball operations, have to think about it. There are all kinds of other spending issues – including other contracts - to worry about, to say nothing of payroll taxes. But the pending contracts of just four players: Sales, J.D. Martinez, Betts, and Bogaerts, will likely add up to more than half a billion dollars. A hundred million here, a hundred million there, pretty soon you’re talking about serious money, you know what I’m sayin’?

 

 

Can you sign them all? If not, which ones do you let walk? Your bosses are keeping a close eye, not only on what’s being spent but also on what the results on the field will be. You’ve got some big decisions to make, Dave, and, unlike those of us who’ll be second guessing, you’ll be held accountable.

 

 

Good luck to you and the Boston Red Sox.