Mookie Betts can become first MVP winner for Red Sox since Dustin Pedroia in 2008. He would be second-youngest Sox MVP, behind only Fred Lynn. (Red Sox photo/Michael Ivins)
This is awards week in Major League Baseball, and two Red Sox players, right-fielder Mookie Betts and pitcher Rick Porcello, are finalists for the American League’s Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards, respectively. The Cy Young will be announced Wednesday; the MVP will be announced the next night.
Betts is bidding to become the 11th Red Sox player, first since Dustin Pedroia in 2008, to win the MVP Award. Ted Williams is the only multiple winner in Red Sox history, Williams winning in 1946 and 1949. The only right fielder in Sox history to be named MVP is Jackie Jensen, in 1958.
Porcello has a chance to become the fourth pitcher in Sox history to win the Cy Young Award, first since Pedro Martinez won in consecutive years, 1999-2000. Jim Lonborg was Boston’s first Cy Young Award winner in 1967; Roger Clemens won the CY three times, in 1986, 1987 and 1991.
Betts, who turned 24 on Oct. 7, could become the second-youngest player in Sox history to be named MVP. He is 119 days older than Fred Lynn was when he won the MVP in 1975.
Check out the uncanny similarity between the numbers Betts posted in 2016 and those of Jacoby Ellsbury, who was still with the Red Sox in 2011 when he was MVP runner-up to Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander, who also won the Cy Young that season. A third Sox player, Nomar Garciaparra, also posted comparable numbers in 1997, when he was the American League Rookie of the Year.
Like Betts, Ellsbury won a Gold Glove. Garciaparra never did in his 14-year career.
The 2011 season became an outlier for Ellsbury, who was 27 that year. He has not hit for a .300 average since, has never driven in more than 70 runs, and has had just one other season in his 10-year career in which he reached double figures in home runs, 16 in 2014.
Garciaparra, who turned 24 in 1997 just 76 days before Betts reached the same age, hit a career-high 35 home runs in 1998, and won back-to-back batting titles in 1999 and 2000—his .372 average in ’00 the highest by a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio batted .381 in 1939. Except for 2001, when he played in just 21 games because of injury, Garciaparra never hit under .300 while with the Sox.
Rick Porcello’s ability to generate swings and misses, along with pinpoint control, is why he is a Cy Young contender and in rarefied company with Sox (Red Sox photo/Billie Weiss)
There is a compelling statistical comparison to be made for Porcello, too. Porcello went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA, striking out 189 and walking just 32. If you look at his walks, strikeouts, and hits per 9 innings, these are the only seasons in Sox history that are comparable across the board.
*ERA plus adjusts ERA to a player’s ballpark and to the league average.
Martinez’s 2000 season is in a class of its own, arguably the greatest single season by a pitcher in history. And there are other statistical categories that would generate a different list of outstanding performances by a Sox pitcher. But for a combination of swing-and-miss ability with pinpoint control, Porcello is in elite company.
Red Sox radio broadcaster Joe Castiglione has called Ned Martin (above) the “most literate of all broadcasters.” (Photo, National Baseball Hall of Fame)
I wanted to share a letter I wrote to the members of the committee who will be selecting this year’s winner of the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award, given to a broadcaster for “major contributions” to baseball. Among the eight finalists for the 2017 award is Ned Martin, a Red Sox broadcaster from 1961-1992 and a beloved voice in New England. The winner will be announced at the baseball winter meetings in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 7.
Here’s my letter:
Dear committee members:
Enough politicking has taken place in 2016 to last us a lifetime but in my role as Red Sox historian I wanted to offer a few words about Ned Martin, who is on your ballot for the 2017 Ford C. Frick Award.
For most, if not all of you, Ned is hardly an unknown. I look at the names on your committee, and I see many who surely crossed paths with Ned over the course of his career. And I am certain that many of you don’t need me to tell you how great a broadcaster Ned was.
But as someone who grew up in small-town Massachusetts listening to Ned, marveling at his elegant use of the language and understated grace, I feel strongly that he warrants a place in Cooperstown. Even his signature catchphrase—“Mercy,” which he often said when something extraordinary had just taken place—epitomizes the low-key manner he maintained behind the mike.
Low-key, however, hardly connotes boring. Ned infused his broadcasts with a style that reflected his love of language. “Active verbs are really helpful,’’ he once said. “It isn’t an awful thing to have a vocabulary and use it.’’
Our long-time radio broadcaster, Joe Castiglione, has called Ned “the most literate of all broadcasters—a scholar of literature and a great Hemingway expert. He had a way of describing things very succinctly, honestly and openly. He never interfered with an event.’’
Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy, another small-town Massachusetts boy, has written he belonged to “the chorus of those who worshiped the late, great Ned Martin. He was smart, understated and classy. We were blessed to have him on our airwaves for so many years.’’
Jack Craig, the long-time sports media critic for the Globe and Sporting News, termed the seven-year pairing of Martin and Jim Woods in the ‘70s as the “finest baseball play-by-play ever heard in Boston.’’
“Martin became more than very popular with his listeners,’’ Craig wrote. “They felt genuine affection for him.’’
New England schoolchildren grew up learning to recite “Paul Revere’s Ride.” But this, too, they committed to memory when the Impossible Dream Red Sox won the 1967 pennant.
“The pitch is looped toward shortstop. Petrocelli’s back…he’s got it! The Red Sox win! And there’s pandemonium on the field! Listen.’’
That admonition to “listen” so epitomized Ned’s ability to allow a scene to breathe.
‘Pandemonium on the field’: Ned Martin, Ken Coleman and Mel Parnell shared the broadcast booth for the ’67 Impossible Dreamers (Boston Red Sox archives)
We admired Ned for his intelligence but loved him for his whimsy. Like the penultimate day of the 1966 season, in which a dreadful Red Sox team was wrapping up against an equally dreadful Senators club in Washington before an announced crowd of 485. Instead of beginning his broadcast with the usual “Welcome to Red Sox baseball,” Ned began his broadcast with, “Hello?…Hello?…Hello?’’
You have a ballot with worthy names, but I leave you with this thought from Ned Martin:
“Red Smith used to say he loved ‘the music of the game.’ What a great line. There is a music to it, whether it’s the first crack of the bat in Winter Haven, a full house on Opening Day, the murmuration of a meaningless game in July, or the buzz you feel at a World Series. You can still see something in almost every game that you’ve never seen before. That’s the beauty of baseball, I guess.”
Thanks for reading. I hope you vote for Ned.
It lasted just moments, the aching silence that descended on Fenway Park when Travis Shaw’s flyball expired in the glove of Cleveland right-fielder Lonnie Chisenhall, and with it another Red Sox season.
And then it lifted.
“Thank you, Papi,’’ they chanted, as only a handful of fans made their way to the exits. Everyone else remained standing in place, unwilling to hasten the knowledge that they would never see No. 34 in a Sox uniform again.
A semicircle of photographers and TV cameras gathered expectantly in front of the Red Sox dugout. On the other side of the diamond, the Indians celebrated in near-privacy, until the home crowd, in a burst of annoyance, began to chant, “Off the field, off the field.’’
Draped over the front of the center-field bleachers, a banner flapped in the air. If you closed your eyes, you could still see the ball fly over the glove of the caterwauling Torii Hunter into the Red Sox bullpen, the cop thrusting his arms in the air, as if Dave O’Brien himself was reciting again the three lines printed on the banner.
“We want Papi,’’ they chanted, their voices rising and ebbing.
“We’re not leaving,’’ they cried, the biggest crowd (39,530) to see a baseball game in Fenway in at least 50 years, and no one doubted their resolve.
And then he emerged. Gods do not answer letters, John Updike had famously observed of Ted Williams in 1960 when he crossed the plate after his last at-bat home run and disappeared into the Sox dugout without tipping his cap.
Maybe gods have undergone sensitivity training in the interim, or maybe Big Papi never aspired to separate himself from the ranks of the mortal. Either way, David Ortiz, who had retreated to the Sox clubhouse and addressed his teammates, came back out for the people who had grown to love him over the last 14 seasons.
He walked slowly toward the mound, his cap upraised, then pivoted slowly, acknowledging from every corner of the ancient edifice the applause that swept over him. In the eighth inning, when he had drawn a four-pitch walk to become the tying run, he had brought down thunder when he raised his arms and exhorted the crowd to elevate the noise level beyond the fever pitch it had already achieved.
He repeated the gesture twice more, once as he was headed back to the dugout after being replaced by pinch runner Marco Hernandez, then again upon his return.
“I was cheering so bad,’’ he would say later. “Once I got out of the game I was screaming at my team to put me back in it. Make me wear this uniform one more day. Because I wasn’t ready to be over with the playoffs.’’
The crowd had given him everything he had asked, but it was not enough. There would not be one more day.
Instead, tears. They filled David Ortiz’s eyes and coursed down his cheeks. His were not the only eyes that were wet.
“I’ve been trying to hold my emotions the most I can, but that last second I couldn’t hold it no more,’’ Ortiz would say later in the interview room. “And that’s how we feel about what we do, because we love what we do. So I respect this game so much and I love this game so much that as long as I play I want to always be one of the best.
“Not because of me, not because of my person, because I don’t really care about that; I really care about the fans. I really care about the emotion that they live through it. I really care about everything that comes with it, community-wise, what we do off the field. It’s the whole package. It comes with a lot of things. So I really care about all of that.’’
When David Ortiz arrived here Monday afternoon, he circled Fenway Park in his car, trying to lock into memory things he may not have even noticed in so many countless trips before. In the clubhouse after the game, he signed a bat for Ryan Hanigan, embraced Steven Wright, posed for a picture with his father, Enrique, and Bob Tewksbury, the mental skills coach. A Major League Baseball authenticator put some of Ortiz’s articles in a satchel, as he has all season. Ortiz told clubhouse manager Tom McLaughlin he’d be by in the next few days to pack up his things.
There were more hugs, but the tears had evaporated.
“I can’t ask God for no more than what he gave me,’’ Ortiz said. “I’m a guy that came out of the Dominican one day, I had just turned 17 years old, and all I wanted to do was have fun at what I do.
“Through my career, I saw a lot of things happen. I saw a lot of guys being lost in their lives, not just their career, but their life in general. Because this is everything that they have and they never made it. And seeing those things I always have been a guy that my mind and my eyes, I always used them at their best. And everything that I saw that cut them short, to not make it in their career, I kind of played it out like it was myself.
“And the experience, the getting to know things, viewing things from the outside, keeping my feet on the ground and trying to learn through the process and not taking anything for granted, gave me a 20-year career. So that one kid that was expecting just to have fun, here it is, 23 years later, having a career and walking home, there were not too many of us who get it done.’’
David Ortiz was going home. For the rest of us, for whom Ortiz had become such a constant, enriching presence, it was winter, suddenly.
Photo by Gordon Edes
He was just 12 when he arrived at the Port of Immigration in Boston. The year was 1906, or maybe 1908; memories blur. He had traveled alone on the passenger boat from Sicily, with a few precious dollars in his pocket, bound for Little Italy in New York, where his father and sister were waiting.
His name was Francesco Benintendi. He became a barber, and raised his family in Brooklyn. His last name, translated from his native tongue, means “good intentions.’’ It is merely an accident of history that Francesco’s port of entry into the United States is the same place his great-grandson Andrew has embarked on his journey into the major leagues.
“The road to victory is paved with good intentions,’’ said Bob Benintendi, Francesco’s son and grandfather to the rookie left-fielder for the Red Sox.
So maybe the original proverb had a different destination in mind, but Bob Benintendi makes no apology for leaving hell out of the equation. He’s having too much fun watching his 22-year-old grandson, a year away from playing baseball at the University of Arkansas and in his first full season of pro ball, doing his part to help the Red Sox advance to the World Series.
Bob [“Everybody calls me Ben”] and his wife, Sally, were in Cleveland’s Progressive Field Thursday night when Benintendi homered in his first at-bat, becoming the youngest player in American League history to go deep in his first postseason plate appearance.
“I’m not surprised by what he does,’’ Bob Benintendi said. “He gets better and better every day.’’
“I don’t think we really appreciated—at least I didn’t—how good he is,’’ Sally Benintendi said.
Bob Benintendi grew up a Yankee fan, but his matching T-shirts with wife Sally show that he’s switched allegiance to his grandson Andrew’s team. (Photo by Gordon Edes)
Maybe it sneaks up on you, when you’ve been watching from the very beginning, like Bob and Sally have. The first time they went to see him play, he was around 5 or 6, and the game was soccer.
“He sat down in his little soccer suit on the sideline and cried,’’ Sally said. “He didn’t want to go in.’’
Bob’s son Chris, Andrew’s father, had been a good athlete growing up. So had Andrew’s mom, Jill. She played basketball, and on one memorable occasion, bloodied the nose of an opponent–Kelly Benintendi, her future sister-in-law.
“The only game I ever walked onto the court for an injury,’’ Bob said.
“They still talk about it a lot,’’ Sally said.
Bob Benintendi, raised in Brooklyn, wound up moving to Georgetown, Ohio, a rural hamlet in Brown County, east of Cincinnati, and became a country doctor. He was an obstetrician-gynecologist, and practiced for 46 years out of the same hospital. No, he said, he didn’t deliver every baby in the county.
“That’s an exaggeration,’’ he said. “I had a few helpers.’’
About eight miles away from Georgetown is the town of Higginsport, on the banks of the Ohio River. That’s where Donald Brookbank, Jill Benintendi’s father, lived with his wife Doris and worked as a crane operator on the river. Everybody calls him Brookie, and while the disability that put him in a wheelchair led them to move to Ripley, he can still watch the boats make their way up and down the river. That’s when he’s not watching Andrew on TV, playing for the Sox.
Donald and Doris Brookbank, parents of Andrew Benintendi’s mother, Jill, were in Cleveland to see their grandson become the youngest American League player to homer in his first postseason at-bat. (Photo by Gordon Edes)
Brookie and Doris were sitting just a few rows behind Bob and Sally when Andrew homered, and were in the same spot for the second game.
“Just amazing,’’ Doris said. “This is one of the highlights of our lives.’’
While Andrew is special to these folks, it’s just as apparent that these folks are special to Andrew. He is the oldest of Bob and Sally’s 18 grandchildren, and one of Brookie and Doris’s 12 grandchildren.
“He’s very close to all of his grandparents,’’ Sally said.
It’s that kind of family. Andrew talks to his father after nearly every game. Bob and Sally drove to Oxford, Miss., and Virginia and Fayetteville to watch Andrew’s college game, though Bob, an energetic 84-year-old, had to cut back on some of his driving after developing blood clots in his legs. Andrew is the family’s pride; the family is his refuge.
“He is a man of few words,’’ Sally said.
“He doesn’t talk much,’’ Bob said, “particularly about himself.’’
Which is what made the Benintendi family gathering this past Christmas such a hoot. Andrew played Santa Claus to the whole clan. Wore the suit, stuffed a few pillows inside, emitted a few ho-ho’s, the whole deal.
“It was a side of Andrew I’ve never seen,’’ Sally said.
“We even asked him to dance,’’ Bob said. “Very funny.’’
Of course, the kids loved seeing Andrew, unplugged.
“He’s the oldest,’’ Sally says, “so he says he has to be a good example to the other kids.’’
Maybe, for Andrew, on the field or in the family room, it’s just a matter of living up to the name.
CLEVELAND—Two straight losses to the Tito-drivin’, LeBron-inspirin’, Progressive Field-rockin’ Indians might lead a reasonable person to conclude that there is only one possible outcome to this American League Division Series for the Boston Red Sox.
Party at Napoli’s.
Not so fast, Believeland.
Would someone please cue the team historian?
Oh, right, sorry.
Where to begin? Let’s try 1999, when the Sox dropped the first two to the Indians, Game 2 an 11-1 whuppin’ that ranked as the worst in Sox postseason history to that point. Pedro Martinez came out of Game 1 with a bad back/shoulder and Nomar Garciaparra was about to no-show in Game 3 with a sore wrist.
“We’ve got them right where we want them,’’ chirped Nomar, who had not yet let on that his little buddy, Lou Merloni, would be standing in for him at shortstop when the series switched back to Boston.
Sox manager Jimy Williams wasn’t promising miracles, but in his Jimywocky-inflected way, he wasn’t sounding retreat, either.
“What do you want me to do, boys and girls?’’ he said. “I’m going to bring the same group that brung us.’’
Shall we remind you how that worked out? Sox won Game 3, 9-3, with Framingham Lou jump-starting two rallies. The Sox evened the series with the greatest offensive eruption in postseason history, opening a 13-run lead after four innings in Game 4 en route to a 23-run, 24-hit stomping of the Tribe, and the Sox finished off Cleveland in a Game 5 in which Troy O’Leary drove in seven runs with two home runs and a wounded Pedro came out of the pen for six no-hit innings that proved he was no mere mortal.
We won’t linger over 2004, other than to mention the Sox were architects of the greatest comeback in sports history, reeling off four straight wins against the high and mighty Yankees after being publicly labeled “frauds” following a 19-8 beating to the Yanks that left them in an 0-3 hole. Schoolkids in New England don’t get promoted to the next level unless they can correctly identify who said “Don’t let us win one” (Kevin Millar), who delivered two walkoffs in the span of one calendar day (David Ortiz), who slapped Bronson Arroyo (A-Rod) and who modeled the bloody sock (Curt Schilling).
Let us instead jump ahead to 2007, where the Indians had taken a 3 games to 1 lead against the Sox in the American League Championship Series and Manny Ramirez had puzzled everyone with his apparent indifference to the Sox plight.
“We’ll go play hard and if the thing doesn’t come like it’s supposed to come, move on,” Ramirez said before Game 5. “We’ll come next year … If it doesn’t happen, who cares? There’s always next year. It’s not like it’s the end of the world or something.”
Manny, of course, was right, in his own Mannyworld way. Armageddon wasn’t right around the corner, and neither, for that matter, was next year, except for the Indians.
With Josh Beckett doing his best Bob Gibson impression, the Sox rolled in Game 5, J.D. Drew hit a galvanizing grand slam in Game 6, and a rookie named Dustin Pedroia drove in five runs in an 11-2 Game 7 clincher.
In the last three games of the series, the Sox outscored the Indians, 30-5, their momentum carrying over to a four-game sweep of the Rockies in the World Series.
So granted, things look a little bleak at the moment for the Sox. Rick Porcello failed to make it out of the fifth inning in Game 1, David Price was gone before the end of the fourth in Game 2. The mighty Sox offense succumbed to Terry Francona’s masterful use of his bullpen in Game 1, then managed just three hits off Corey Kluber in Game 2. David Ortiz has been quiet. Mookie Betts has been quiet. Jackie Bradley (5 K’s), Xander Bogaerts (4) and Dustin Pedroia (4) have struck out 13 times among them in two games.
“I think, coming into this series, we had a lot of guys the last couple of games feeling it out, everybody,’’ Pedroia told reporters. “Me included. I think we lost who we are – we’re the Boston Red Sox.’’
A return to Yawkey Way should help the Sox overcome whatever identity crisis has set in. The Indians might have had LeBron Friday afternoon, but just last Saturday the Sox had Patriots and Bruins legends and the entire Celtics team show up.
“Backs against the wall,’’ manager John Farrell said. “It’s pretty clear what lies ahead of us.’’
Yep. Making a little more history. No guarantees, but you might want to be there to witness it.
CLEVELAND–You’ve seen me many times over the last three years, but we’ve never been formally introduced. This being my first appearance in the postseason, I guess we should get that out of the way, since chances are pretty good I’ll be grabbing your attention a few times this October.
It’s Rawlings Pro Preferred H-Web, though my friends know me better by the initials inscribed on the thumb: JBJ. That’s right. I belong to Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who usually shows me off as often as he can but has kept my private life, well, private.
But with the Red Sox playing the Cleveland Indians in Game 1 of the American League Division Series here Thursday night, Jackie gave me the go-ahead to grant my first interview.
You must admit, from the top, that I’m very good looking. I think it’s the mocha-colored leather, offset by the dark chocolate of the pocket. If you look closely, you’ll see why they call me H-Web: The pocket is criss-crossed by leather straps that form the letter H.
This is Rawlings Pro Preferred H-Web, or as he is known to his friends, JBJ, the initials inscribed on the thumb. (Photo by Gordon Edes)
I wish I could offer a better back story to why Jackie chose me, but the way I hear it, he tried a few different models before settling on me. He likes the H web better than the Trapeze web, which has a “T-shape” and a lot more intricate lacing. Jackie says he feels he has more control using me; let’s just say I haven’t let him down yet.
I learned pretty early that Jackie is not exactly sentimental when it comes to his gloves. I asked him once what he remembered about his first glove, and he told me, Absolutely nothing. He never was much of a glove connoisseur as a kid; he always figured that any fly ball hit in his direction, he could catch, no matter what kind of leather he was wearing on his left hand.
Still, I’ve enjoyed privileged status ever since Jackie began wearing me during the 2013 season. I’m his game glove; my days of having to show up for practice ended once I was broken in to his satisfaction. And I wear no hand but his. Don’t even think to ask him if you can borrow me. He let a few people try me before I was ready for game use, but after that, uh-uh. Well, maybe Mookie tried me once; I’ll never tell.
You’ll find me before tonight’s game on the second shelf of Jackie’s cubicle in the visitors’ clubhouse of Progressive Field. He tells me he really likes me–we’re comfortable together–but that’s as far as it goes. Pampered? Not a chance. No special oils or creams, no nights tucked under his pillow. Even the clubhouse guys are instructed just to leave me be.
That’s OK. There may be other gloves who receive more TLC, but the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen–I’ll put my highlight reel up against anybody. Jackie doesn’t like to talk much about his great catches, but me, I’m more than happy to remind you of what we’ve accomplished together.
It’s not bragging, right, if you can back it up. So think about the catch we made against the White Sox, Rubby De La Rosa on the hill, Tyler Flowers at the plate, the ball hit into the right-center gap, poor Flowers thinking he had a sure double until JBJ and I went all Superman on him.
That’s still a personal favorite, ranking right up there with the one where we did our best Willie Mays in Detroit. Then there’s this twisting-and-turning one we made in Dave Dombrowski’s first game as Sox president. And a bunch of other A-listers this summer that we’ve come to take for granted.
Why do I mention them here, other than the fact I get chills every time I think about ’em? Because I have a feeling, like I said when we first started this chat, that sooner or later you’re going to notice me this October.
I’m not the only one. Check out what our Game 1 pitcher, Rick Porcello, said during his pregame media session Wednesday afternoon.
“When you look at the three outfielders that we have and the ground that they can cover, the speed that they have, the arms that they have, I don’t think you’re going to find a better three,” Rick said.
Good stuff, though I felt a bit slighted he didn’t mention the gloves.
Funny, but while we can all recall all the walkoff hits that have defined October drama, the great defensive plays, not so much. Willie’s catch in the ’54 Series, Brooks Robinson at third in the ’70 Series, Dewey Evans in the right-field corner in ’75. Derek Jeter against the A’s in the ’01 AL division series. I’m sure there are others, but they don’t come as quickly to mind.
“People always remember the homers,” Jackie once told me.
My answer to that? Hey, if anyone is capable of doing it both ways, with the bat and glove, it’s JBJ. He hit 26 home runs this season, more than he’s ever hit in his life. A walkoff and a game-saving catch? Let’s just say I’m not ruling it out.
Turns out that David Ortiz isn’t the only one on the verge of retirement. H-web is nearing the end of his great run, too. (Photo by Gordon Edes)
Hey, does anybody have a Kleenex? I get a little choked up when I get to this part of the story. Jackie hasn’t made it official, but he’s hinted I’m past my prime. Don’t take this the wrong way, he told me, but you’ve gotten old. You’ve grown flimsy. The padding is wearing out. Hey, he said, the time comes for everyone, even Big Papi…and you.
He hasn’t come right out and told me this is it, but truth is, he’s already picked out my successor. Yep, that’s him, going through the same orientation I did once upon a time.
All good glove stories must come to an end…this one is awaiting his turn (Photo by Gordon Edes).
So what is to become of me? Jackie has given me his word: When I’ve made my final catch, he’ll take me home.
I just hope that it won’t be long before I’m joined by a gold-plated cousin. I deserve that much.
Hanley Ramirez models the Sox-intensive suit he planned to wear to Cleveland (photo by Gordon Edes)
He spotted coach Brian Butterfield headed his way from the other side of the Red Sox clubhouse.
“Here we go,’’ Hanley Ramirez said. “Look at that penguin walk.’’
Butterfield stopped in front of Ramirez, who was shirtless but wearing a suit he’d chosen especially for the team’s flight to Cleveland Tuesday night—every square inch of fabric covered by Red Sox logos—the familiar red “B,” the pair of matching socks, square block team lettering. Jacket and pants.
“You’re wearing that?’’ Butterfield said, incredulous.
Ramirez reached into the box behind him and handed Butterfield a package wrapped in plastic. A suit cut from the same cloth.
“I got yours,’’ Ramirez said, smile spreading across his face.
“No way,’’ Butterfield said. “I don’t think I’ll wear it, though I’d love to. At home? I’ll wear it at home. You (kidding) me? You got this for me?’’
So maybe they’re not quite to the point where they wear matching outfits on the road, but if Ramirez and Butterfield had not chosen to become traveling companions back in the spring, this Red Sox journey back to the postseason might never have taken place.
“I don’t know how to explain how much we love each other, how much we like to be around each other,’’ Ramirez said.
That bond began in February on a back field in Fort Myers, where Butterfield was tasked with making a first baseman out of Ramirez, who had been sorely miscast as a left fielder in 2015 and roundly vilified for his failure to make the switch after being a shortstop for most of his career. By the end of the season, there were folks openly lobbying for the Sox to punch Ramirez’s ticket out of town.
Sox president Dave Dombrowski opted to chart a different course, asking Ramirez in September to switch positions yet again, this time back to the infield. Butterfield admitted to having some reservations about how Ramirez would take to the idea.
“Hanley’s the type of guy, I don’t think I’m missing the boat when I say this, I think Hanley might take a little while for him to let people in,’’ Butterfield said. “I know a lot of people like that. Some of my best friends, the people I’m most fond of, at first it was tough to get in there.
“I think he was guarded initially, but as we got to working, I saw a lot of things come out. I saw a great personality. I saw a humorous guy, highly intelligent. Being able to spend every day with the guy, I found out what a good man he was, what a good worker, what a respectful guy he is. I got to know the man a lot better, and it was fun.’’
Ramirez’s mornings took on a familiar pattern.
“Before I got to my locker, he’d be waiting for me with his fungo bat and he’d be whistling,’’ Ramirez said. “Like he was looking around, letting me know he was ready. The first thing he let me know is that it was going to be fun. That was good. He didn’t try to put a lot of pressure on my mind. He just wanted me to relax at the same time we were working hard. He wanted us to have fun.’’
There were few moments in 2015 that qualified as good times for Ramirez, who spent much of the season hurt and became increasingly remote and withdrawn as time went on. It was reasonable to wonder whether Ramirez would prove to be one of those players ill-suited for Boston and its demanding media and fan base, wearing his resentments on his sleeve.
Ramirez said he decided to go a different route after a conversation he had with a woman he respected in the Red Sox front office.
“I won’t tell you her name,’’ he said, “but she told me, I remember this, ‘Hanley you’ve got to let people know that what they’re saying is not you. You’ve got a great personality and you’ve got to let people know.’
“I went home that night and I was like, ‘You know, that’s interesting.’ After that it was like I started to talk more and just be more open.’’
Raquel Ferreira, the team’s vice president of baseball administration, has known Ramirez since he was 18 years old and the team’s top prospect in 2005, before being traded to the Florida Marlins.
“We all make mistakes when we are young,’’ she said. “The Hanley who had the bad rap is not the Hanley I know. Hanley has a good heart and means well.”
Ramirez also chose to be accountable for what had gone wrong, instead of turning on his critics.
“The thing I say, it was my fault what they say, it was my fault,’’ Ramirez said. “I needed to let people know I’m not that kind of player. I’m a different person. Everybody was telling me, people in the Dominican, what’s that, and I said, it’s OK, it was my fault, I’ve got to come back next year and prove people wrong, do the work and be me.’’
He found a willing ally in Butterfield, who had some practice in transitioning players to a new position. Former catcher Mike Napoli, now the Cleveland first baseman, had adopted Butterfield as mentor when he was with the Sox, as had Mookie Betts, when he switched from the outfield to second base. He also discovered first base was a much better fit.
“You could tell right away he was going to catch on,’’ Butterfield said. “There’s no panic in his hands. He had been underhand feeding at shortstop on the 6-4-3 double play for a long time, so he’s good as an underhand shoveler. He was quick to make the 3-6 (throw to second) with a strong, accurate arm. The thing you worry most about a guy making the transition is his ability to anchor on base and adjust to throws, because he has three other infielders he has to take care of.’’
What Butterfield found especially gratifying was to find a veteran who had been around as long as Ramirez receptive to being coached. “I told my sons, who were here the other day, what a pleasure it was and an honor to work with a guy like that, to watch him grow as a defender,’’ he said. “He’s done a fantastic job.
“He’s tremendously attentive during games. The last month and a half, he’s been unbelievably engaged with everything we do. When you’re a major league coach and have the honor of coaching ‘up’ a guy who is north of 30 and he’s receptive to everything you do, it’s just exhilarating.’’
No one should be alarmed if they come across Butterfield and Ramirez yelling at each other. It’s what they do. “We know each guy is full of it,’’ Butterfield said, “but we’re getting on each other because we like each other.’’
The change in Ramirez has not gone unnoticed by his teammates. A player who carried baggage from Miami and Los Angeles has emerged this season as a fully engaged part of the team.
“My teammates, after they saw I was committed to win, they had my back,’’ he said. “Even in the tough times this year, when I wasn’t hitting home runs, I never gave up. I stayed the same. I knew my time was going to come. Just stay patient and keep working. Everybody stuck together.
“I’m getting goose bumps right now. It’s not just about good players, it’s about how tight we are. I’m not going to cry, but I want to cry because of the love we got.’’
Hard not to love a guy who has put up the kind of numbers Ramirez has this season—30 home runs, a level he had not reached since 2008, a career-high 111 RBIs, an .866 OPS. He also may have provided the season’s most electrifying moment, a walkoff three-run home run against the Yankees in a September game in which they had trailed 5-1.
His reward? Among other things, a heartfelt embrace from the coach with the penguin walk when the Sox clinched the division title in New York last week.
“A thing Hanley and I spoke about for a long time is that the people in this town, this is the most passionate city in the world, the most passionate sports town, passionate people, blue collar,’’ Butterfield said. “He understands if he does things right and he plays hard and he competes on a daily basis, these people will love him.
“I think he’s reaping the dividends.’’
The first time Pat Goggins came to Fenway Park to say goodbye, he was 13 years old and riding in the back seat of his father’s 1956 Plymouth station wagon with his younger brothers, 11-year-old Tim and 6-year-old Mike. His dad, William, was driving. The boys’ grandfather, William Sr., sat alongside. Three generations come to bid The Kid, Ted Williams, adieu.
It was Sept. 28, 1960. The turnpike had not yet been finished, so the drive from Northampton in the western part of the state seemed endless. All was forgotten, though, when they took their seats on benches set atop the grandstand roof, between home plate and first base, and they gazed down upon an emerald sea. It was from that perch they watched the 42-year-old Williams, in his last at-bat, hit a home run. “He hit a fly ball earlier in the game that looked from where we were sitting like it was going out but was caught,’’ Pat Goggins said. “So I tried not to get too excited. But then, on the last one, it was like, ‘Holy cow. Unbelievable.’’’
They didn’t know until they were driving home, the car radio tuned to WBZ, that Williams had elected not to play when the team traveled to New York for the final series of the year, thus making them witnesses to the final act of a great player’s career. “Ted was my guy,’’ Pat Goggins said. “He was my dad’s guy. My grandfather’s guy.
“I have a picture of that home run, signed by Jack Fisher.’’ Fisher was the Baltimore pitcher who surrendered that home run. “Of course, I wish I had it signed by Ted.’’
For his next Fenway farewell, Pat was behind the wheel of his 1982 Jeep Wagoneer. His youngest brother Mark, who had not yet been born when Williams retired, was with him, along with two Northampton buddies, Denny Nolan and Mike Noonan. They were all working men by then, the 36-year-old Pat Goggins already well established in the real estate business, and by 1983 had already been sharing season tickets for years. They were sitting in Loge Box 136, row LL, just to the left of home plate. Prime real estate from which to observe the final hours of Carl Yastrzemski’s career.
They had come of age as Red Sox fans while rooting for Yaz. Impossible dreams and a Triple Crown, the near-misses in ’75 and ’78, and the slow but unmistakable decline in the twilight years. They had suffered alongside Yaz during the stalled countdown to his 3,000th hit, relieved when Willie Randolph of the Yankees gave unhindered passage to a ground ball through the right side.
And now on Oct. 2, 1983, they were there to see off the 44-year-old Yastrzemski, who in the closing stages of his career had been used primarily as a first baseman and designated hitter, but on this final day had returned to left field, the position he had inherited from Williams more than two decades before.
Like Williams, Yaz at the end was playing for a losing team that generously could be called mediocre. There was no dramatic last at-bat; instead, Yaz popped out to a Cleveland second baseman named Jack Perconte.
But there was something better. The pregame ceremony had been simple but emotional, Yaz shedding a few tears. Then after the game, this great ballplayer but reluctant celebrity emerged from the dugout in his jacket and spontaneously circled the field, shaking and slapping hands with fans and taking in the cheers of an adoring throng, this most private of men cracking the door open for the occasion.
“We were so surprised,’’ Pat Goggins said, “because he was such an introvert. There wasn’t a lot of warmth. But Yaz in 1967 turned the experience of what it meant to be a Red Sox fan around, and we all loved him for it.’’
Pat Goggins (in gray jacket, left), with Denny Nolan, Mark Goggins and Mike Noonan, has been present to say goodbye to Ted, Yaz and Big Papi (photo by Gordon Edes)
On Sunday morning, Pat Goggins drove east on the Turnpike in his 2012 Rover, accompanied by the same three men who had made a similar drive exactly 33 years earlier. David Ortiz was playing his last regular-season game; another farewell was in the offing. Pat Goggins is 69 now; Big Papi turns 41 in November.
Goggins, still an occupant of Section 136, Row LL, imagines there must be others who said goodbye first to Ted and then to Yaz and now to Papi, but surely they are few in number. “Each one was special, in its own way,’’ he says of the three sendoffs that have marked the decades he has spent as a Red Sox fan.
The Big Papi goodbye is an elaborate affair, scaled to the expectations of its time. There are politicians and former teammates, glamorous singers and 6-year-old heart patients, anthems from three countries, video tributes and a bat hewn out of gold.
Gov. Charlie Baker is there to present Ortiz with a sign that officially makes the Brookline Avenue overpass from Kenmore Square “Big Papi David Ortiz bridge.” Pat Goggins’ father had worked for an earlier Massachusetts governor, Foster John Furcolo, in the ‘50s. William Goggins was the governor’s patronage secretary. “Back then, they believed to the victor go the spoils,’’ Pat Goggins said. “My father gave out the jobs and the drivers’ licenses and the favors.’’
It is spectacle, but with a soul, never more so than when Ortiz takes to the microphone, his father Enrique next to him, and offers a litany of thanks—tearfully to the mother, Angela Rose, he had lost in a car accident 14 years before, and then to so many others.
And then came the moment that will stay with Pat Goggins the longest: Big Papi dropping to one knee, offering his gratitude to the fans.
“It was a really wonderful ceremony,’’ Pat Goggins said. “Exhilarating. It made everyone enjoy him even more. His speech at the end was really well thought out and right on target, and I thought it was such a nice gesture when he knelt down to thank everybody.
“Papi is beloved from the inside out and from the outside in.’’
Pat Goggins has placed on hold the sadness engendered by the imminent departure of Ortiz. This is different from saying goodbye to Ted and Yaz; with Papi, there is still the promise of more games to be played. The playoffs open Thursday in Cleveland.
“He has such a flair for the dramatic,’’ Pat Goggins said. “I’ve got a feeling we’ve got a lot more celebrating to look forward to.
“It’s been a wonderful time to be a Red Sox fan.’’
Will Snow will be at Fenway Park Saturday morning with his daughters Teegan and Adair, watching his wife Amber in the Run for Home Base by New Balance. It is her third race. It will be his first. It took a great effort by both of them to be here.
Will Snow is one of ours. He is from Foxborough. Amber is one of ours, too. She is from Attleboro. They met when he was a medic in the elite Army Rangers. Three months later, they got married. Soon, they will be celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. They have been dealing with the consequences of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) for the last six years. There is unfinished business.
Will Snow is the type of person, Amber said, “who was put on this planet to watch out for other people.’’ He never felt more helpless than when his little sister, Courtney, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 16 and he could do nothing while watching the life ebb out of her until she was gone at age 21.
Unable to afford medical school, he said, he turned to the Army. His grandfather was military, and he was inspired to join the Rangers, he said, after watching one of those old D-Day flicks in which Rangers scaled cliffs with grappling hooks.
“I thought, ‘If I ever go into the Army, I want to join people crazy enough to do that,’’’ he said.
Amber was eight months pregnant with Teegan in Fort Lewis, Washington, and Will was on his third deployment to Iraq when the Stryker armored vehicle he was riding en route to engage the enemy drove into a 21-foot deep canal and overturned. He sustained head, neck and back injuries. “I tried to walk if off,’’ he said. “I was the only medic in our platoon, and I didn’t want to leave.’’
The plan was to return home for the birth of the baby. The first Amber heard about what had happened in Iraq was when Will called and complained about a headache. “Something happened,’’ he said, using the cryptic language so typical of Rangers. “I’ll tell you about it when I get home.’’
It did not take long for Amber and Will to discover they were dealing with more than a headache. Will had gone to pick up some food at a takeout restaurant they frequented, and called Amber from a roundabout that was on the way back. I don’t know how to get home, he said.
“That was terrifying,’’ Amber said, recounting the story.
The personality changes were even more so. Nowhere to be found was the man who was the life of the party when they met, quick to make friends. In his place was a virtual recluse, one who says he does not remember the birth of his child or the first year or two of her life.
“I thought he’d come home, I’d have the baby, and we’d get back to life,’’ Amber Snow said.
“But I sent one guy to war, and I got another one back. Which I’m very thankful for, but it’s not who I sent.
“I had friends who didn’t get anybody home, so who was I to complain? I had a body next to me in my bed. But you still mourn the person you lost. I lost somebody.’’
Will Snow’s battles did not end in Iraq. He faced a formidable foe back here at home, coping with anxiety attacks, mood swings, depression, sleeplessness—an array of symptoms we have come to recognize as the consequence of TBI and PTSD. There was also the frustration that came from dealing with those who were skeptical of how badly he was hurt, or incapable of offering him the assistance he truly needed.
“He became,’’ Amber Snow said, “the most introverted introvert you could find.’’
Amber Snow recalled a particularly frightening incident after Will had been transferred out of his battalion to another Special Operations facility in Yuma, Arizona, and suffered an allergic reaction to a medication he was given.
“His entire body turned purple, his tongue swelled up, and he was talking nonsense. He was holdings his socks in his hand, asking ‘Where are my socks?’ It got to the point where his skin was falling off.
“When his fever went down, they let him out of the hospital, but when he walked around he felt pins and needles in his feet. That’s when people started taking us seriously and said something was absolutely wrong with him.’’
The Care Coalition, which assists special operations veterans, offered some relief. So did time spent at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. They were still in Yuma when Amber saw an ad for the Run to Home Base. She vowed that when the young family returned to Massachusetts, she would participate.
“I started running that summer (2013),’’ she said. “Running was my therapy to get out and take care of myself. One of us in this marriage has to be healthy. He doesn’t have a choice; it’s got to be me.’’
She ran her first race for Home Base in 2014. Her sister ran, too. They raised a lot of money. More importantly, Amber heard the stories of some of those who had been helped by Home Base. She told Will about the program.
Last August, another round of anxiety attacks struck, accompanied by nightmares. There was also an unexplained weight loss; Will dropped nearly 50 pounds. He picked up the phone and called Home Base. He had decided, Amber said, that he didn’t want to be miserable anymore.
“I didn’t know where else to go,’’ he said, “but once I got there, the place just reeks of competence. You sit down with people, they know what they’re doing. They give you hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.’’
The care at Home Base was deeply personal, and dependable. He could text his caregiver, and know that he would get a quick response.
“You walk in, and the second you get in there it makes you feel good,’’ Will said. “I had been in such bad place, but they don’t talk to you in military lingo, they talk to you just normal. They know what they’re doing. We feel lucky to live in Massachusetts and have this place.’’
The progress has been incremental. Will has gotten to the point where he can take the train in alone for his appointments, take to the kids to the grocery store, take them on Saturday to see their mama race.
“The therapy is one of the toughest things I’ve ever attempted,’’ he said. “You basically have to relive the experiences that are impeding your life. They recorded me talking about those experiences over and over until you can put them away in your brain. If you don’t put in the work, you’re not going to get better.’’
Will Snow, the man whose wife says he was placed on this planet to help others, now hopes to speak with other veterans about Home Base, and how they might find hope, too. On Saturday, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, a driving force in the creation of Home Base, intends to introduce Will and Amber Snow, two very courageous souls.
“We bought a house, we’re moving on as best we can,’’ Amber said. “It’s part of our life. I forget my life is different from anybody else’s, but it is. It’s weird, but it’s all I’ve known for six years.’’
Between the support from their families here back home, and Home Base, Will and Amber Snow know that someone has their backs.
“Give us a minute,’’ Amber said. “Wait for us. We’re going to catch up. We’re going to get there.’’
If you would like to support Amber in her run, the link to her fundraising page is here: http://www.runtohomebase.org/2016RuntoHomeBase/ambersnow. If enough of you are moved to do so, maybe we’ll just blow them away.
I wish there was a ready explanation. Really, I do. More importantly, so do Dave Dombrowski and John Farrell.
Craig Kimbrel has been spectacular in save situations, with a 1.45 ERA, 17 saves, a 0.643 WHIP, and an average of 13 K’s per 9 innings. That’s why he’s going to the All-Star Game in San Diego next Tuesday.
In non-saves situations, however, it has been a strikingly different story: Kimbrel, who gave up four runs in the ninth inning Tuesday and failed to record an out in a 7-2 loss, has made 14 appearances in non-save situations, and has a 6.75 ERA. In 13 1/3 innings, he has allowed 12 hits and 10 walks, leading to 10 runs.
“I can’t say it’s a lack of adrenaline. Even in tonight’s situation, we’re in a one-run ballgame,” Farrell told reporters Tuesday night. “You can say the same is still on the line. The numbers bear it out, it’s been a difficult spot for him.”
It hasn’t always been this way for Kimbrel. Look at these numbers since he first became a closer in 2011:
Save situation Non-save
2011 2.22 1.85
2012 1.01 1.00
2013 1.35 0.66
2014 0.89 4.76
2015 2.06 4.02
2016 1.45 6.75
We wanted to see if other closers are afflicted in a similar fashion, so we looked at all the closers who have exceeded Kimbrel’s career saves total of 242 since 2001.
Here are the numbers:
Mariano Rivera 1.95 2.29
Francisco Rodriguez 2.71 2.70
Joe Nathan 2.40 2.68
Trevor Hoffman 2.71 3.15
Jonathan Papelbon 2.37 2.39
Francisco Cordero 3.61 3.10
Huston Street 2.97 2.79
Jason Isringhausen 3.49 2.76
Jose Valverde 2.52 4.22
Fernando Rodney 3.45 3.76
Craig Kimbrel 1.49 2.51
Clearly, it’s not a universal affliction. And chances are it’s correctible. Kimbrel certainly believes it is. There’s lots of season left to do so.