November 2016

And the winner is…

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox

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.

Name PA BA H 2B HR R RBI SB B OBP SGP OPS WAR
Mookie Betts 730 .318 214 42 31 122 113 26 49 .363 .534 .897 9.6
Jacoby Ellsbury 732 .321 212 46 32 105 119 39 52 .376 .552 .928 8.1
Nomar Garciaparra 734 .306 209 44 30 122 98 22 35 .342  .534 .875 6.6

 

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.

Cleveland Indians v Boston Red 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.

 

Name Season H/9 B/9 K/9 K/B W L ERA *ERA+
Rick Porcello 2016 7.79 1.290 7.63 5.91 22 4 3.15 145
Curt Schilling 2006 9.71 1.240 8.07 6.54 15 7 3.97 120
Curt Schilling 2004 8.18 1.390 8.06 5.8 21 6 3.26 148
Pedro Martinez 2000 5.31 1.330 11.78 8.88 18 6 1.74 291

 

 

*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.

‘Mercy’

ned-martin-1

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.

 

RED SOX SPORTS ANNOUNCERS POSE FOR PHOTO

‘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.

Gordon Edes