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Baseball Notes

Does game time really have to be show time?

By Nick Cafardo
May 22, 2011

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One of the more enjoyable parts of this season for me came during a Friday night Red Sox-Yankees game when the Yankee Stadium PA system malfunctioned for about two innings. Unfortunately, it was fixed.

No more blaring music or dancing mascots. It was pure baseball, just like the old days, when all you heard was the occasional organ music in the background.

We all understand the “presentation’’ that very talented and creative people put together for a ballgame, but couldn’t those same talented and creative people incorporate a two-inning silent time during the course of the game, when baseball is the most important thing taking place in the ballpark?

At the Yankee game, the crowd got louder, and the players actually could hear the fans.

“I thought it was pretty cool, actually,’’ Adrian Gonzalez said that night. “It was different.’’

It was not only “different,’’ it was great. There was nothing attacking your sensibilities. I’m not saying eliminate all the distractions, but have some quiet time.

They tried this at Fenway last night. The Sox, in celebration of their first meeting with the Cubs in 93 years, were trying to re-create a 1918 atmosphere, with no amplified sound and no video. A man with a megaphone announced batters for two innings, and the teams were decked out in uniforms of the era.

To the Red Sox’ credit, they were going to measure the fan response and gauge whether they could incorporate more silence into future games.

Baseball is a cerebral game. It doesn’t need shenanigans all of the time. Give the electronics a rest. Let the game take over, so people actually can concentrate on it rather than wonder what silly song is about to play when Jonathan Papelbon comes into the game.

Maybe it’s generational. Maybe fans under the age of 35 love all of this other stuff around the game.

In that Yankee Stadium game, the home team rallied, and Curtis Granderson cited a difference in the fan energy.

“They made up for that [lost audio],’’ he said. “It was absolutely amazing. They gave us enough energy to be able to do that [come back]. We just weren’t able to go ahead and finish it.’’

There’s a fine line between what’s enough and what’s too much. Baseball, in general, does a good job drawing the line. But if you’re the home team and you have a chance to rally in a close game, why not shut off the audio for a bit and allow fans to be fans and let the players actually hear them?

Longtime baseball and NBA executive Stan Kasten said that, based on surveys and research, silence is not what fans want.

“I think the line always has to be drawn, and I admit you walk into some places and it’s too much,’’ said Kasten, “but I must say, I think for the most part baseball gets it right. I think it adds to the customer experience and I think the customer wants the entertainment between innings to complete their experience and make their experience more enjoyable.

“The guy who sits in the press box is not the average fan. At the end of the day, if you’re doing your job right, you’re adding to the experience, not taking away from it. The people we have talked to over the years want more of it, not less of it.’’

Come on, Stan. Do we really need a Kiss-Cam?

“Do you not hear people complaining that baseball is boring?’’ Kasten said. “Of course it isn’t. Those of us who love the game don’t feel that way at all. We love just sitting there and watching baseball.

“But we need to appeal to a broad base of people and younger people are a very important demographic.’’

Important, but do they buy the tickets? Aren’t the tickets bought by an older demographic who bring the younger demographic to the games? Don’t those people just come to watch David Ortiz hit a home run or Dustin Pedroia lay down a bunt? Do they come to watch scenes from “Animal House’’ on the Jumbotron?

“If anything, we’re leaning toward more entertainment,’’ Kasten said.

Say it isn’t so.

Sox CEO Larry Lucchino isn’t against limited quiet time.

“I do think we have to manage sensory overload,’’ Lucchino said. “There’s a danger in doing too much and detracting from the game. We worry about that.’’

We were all kids once, and we remember the games, the moments of the games, and not the dugout dancers. Wally the Green Monster is pretty neat, I must admit, but is it really necessary? Ted, Yaz, Rico, Looie, Lynn, Fisk, Rice . . . that used to be enough.

I’m just asking for what we experienced that night at Yankee Stadium and last night at Fenway. Let the game stand on its own. It was so refreshing.

“Novelty is always good,’’ Kasten said.

It’s amazing that in this era, just watching baseball without the show is a novelty.

Ah well, on with the show.

TALENT IS THERE, BUT . . .

There are issues with Hanley being Hanley

As good as Hanley Ramirez is, the Red Sox should never regret trading him to the Marlins in the deal that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston.

Ramirez became a far better hitter than the Sox thought he’d be, much as Jeff Bagwell did when he went to Houston. But Ramirez probably wouldn’t have fit in with the Red Sox because he has been a moody player, prone to moping when things aren’t going well.

The late Felix Maldonado, a wonderful man who took care of so many Latin players for the Red Sox, was like a father figure to Ramirez. While Maldonado was blown away with Ramirez’s talent, he always questioned his desire.

What could motivate Ramirez — who has gotten off to a dreadful start — was a sign of disrespect by the Mets last week when they decided to walk Chris Coghlan intentionally with two outs in the ninth inning to get to him. Ramirez was already 0 for 5, and Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez got him to ground out to end the game.

The last time anyone was walked in front of Ramirez, according to Elias, was Aug. 10, 2009, when former Houston manager Cecil Cooper did it and Ramirez responded with an RBI single.

“I feel good,’’ said Ramirez. “I can’t be hitting worse right now, but we’re only one game behind the Phillies and I don’t want my team to just be thinking about me and what I’ve been doing wrong when we’re doing pretty good right now.

“They know I try hard and every day I get my work in to improve. We have a long way to go.’’

Ramirez, 27, won the NL batting title in 2009 with a .342 average, and is a career .308 hitter with an .890 OPS. He’s dropped to .217 this season with three homers, 15 RBIs, a .296 OBP, and .607 OPS.

Will he come out of it? Probably. But the Red Sox got great production from Lowell and Beckett, who looks as if he’s back to his old form.

CENTRAL CASTING

Despite injuries, Tribe major force in division

The Red Sox take on the Indians tomorrow at Progressive Field for the start of a three-game series, and they might be catching Cleveland at the right time.

The Tribe has been the best story in baseball this season in part because of the emergence of young players such as Justin Masterson, Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta, and Asdrubal Cabrera, and the comeback of veterans Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner.

The Indians have an excellent lineup when everyone is healthy, but unfortunately, Hafner and Sizemore are back on the disabled list.

Hafner was hitting .345 and almost .500 with runners in scoring position, and looked like the Hafner of old, when he was a power-hitting force. He has an oblique strain but is not expected to miss considerable time.

It doesn’t appear that Sizemore’s knee injury is serious, either, and he should come off the disabled list when he’s eligible Friday. Sizemore, who had microfracture surgery on his left knee last season, suffered a contusion on his right knee May 10.

Cleveland’s offense is potent. The Indians put up 19 runs in a game against Kansas City last week, including a 10-run fourth inning. They went from 4-0 to 13-0 in a matter of seven batters.

They were leading the AL with a .265 average heading into yesterday, were second to the Yankees with 214 runs, and were tied for second with the Yankees with a .335 on-base percentage.

They also were second to Tampa Bay for the fewest errors in the AL (20) and had a team ERA of 3.45, tied for second in the league.

“Those who think they will fade just don’t understand this team,’’ said a National League scout. “When you watch them day in and day out, they’re not a flash in the pan. They have a very talented lineup, good young pitching, and bullpen pieces.

“Do they have enough to stay in first place and be a playoff team? Maybe they’re not quite ready for that, but they will be in contention and be a thorn in the sides of Detroit and Chicago once they get their act together.’’

Etc.
Apropos of nothing 1. To swing or not to swing? As of Wednesday, former Red Sox utilityman Bill Hall was leading the majors with 42 swinging strikeouts, while Jack Cust was tops in called third strikes with 22. Jacoby Ellsbury was among the leaders with 17 called third strikes; 2. David Ortiz, Brady Anderson, Roger Maris, and Prince Fielder are members of the 50-homer club who haven’t hit three in a game. Jose Bautista took his name off the list last week; 3. The Rays are 24-14 since Manny Ramirez hit the dusty trail; 4. Time to start considering Joe Castiglione for the Ford C. Frick Award, isn’t it?; 5. Must admit, never heard a major league baseball player talk about playing the lottery until Rich Hill mentioned it.

Updates on nine 1. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets — The clock keeps ticking on when he will switch uniforms. The Mets called up their latest infield phenom, 21-year-old Ruben Tejada, last week and will play him at second base while Justin Turner plays third in David Wright’s absence. The fly in the ointment is whether the Mets will hold on to Reyes as long as possible because of Wright’s injury (stress fracture in his back), but an American League scout said, “If they hear the right deal, they do it. They can’t afford not to and let him leave as a free agent and not get value for him.’’

2. Rafael Soriano, RHP, Yankees — There couldn’t have been a worse time for this to come out of Soriano’s mouth: “I don’t think the bullpen is the problem right now. I think it’s the hitters.’’ Ah, let’s see. Mariano Rivera, three blown saves. Soriano, virtually nonexistent and now shut down. Soriano obviously is not happy being a set-up man and does have an opt-out after this season. But who would give him $13 million a year if he continues to stink up the joint and have elbow issues?

3. Charlie Morton, RHP, Pirates — A candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. He was 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA at one point last season, finishing 2-12, 7.57. After seeing a sports psychologist, reintroducing himself to his sinker, and dropping down to three-quarters, Morton is 5-1 with a 2.62 ERA. He’s now the ace of the staff and has piqued interest around the league.

4. Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves — Obviously a huge piece of the lineup, he is trying to play with a small meniscus tear in his right knee. He has had two cortisone shots and seems to be tolerating the discomfort, but for how long? The Braves would like to add some offensive insurance because Jones is such a vital cog. Other than Alex Gonzalez’s skills at shortstop, the infield is really limited with Dan Uggla at second and a less mobile Jones at third.

5. Jim Crane, owner, Astros — He paid Drayton McLane $680 million for the team, and when he gets approved by the other owners, we’ll see what type of owner he’ll be. There are a few players who should draw interest if the Astros become sellers. One is Brett Myers, who seems to have Yankees written all over him. Right fielder Hunter Pence and center fielder Michael Bourn will be attractive to teams in need of outfielders. The initial feeling is that Crane will spend to rebuild the Astros in the offseason, but he may sell off before that.

6. Adam LaRoche, 1B, Nationals — He is off to a bad start, but that’s not unusual. In six of his eight seasons, he has reached May 18 with an average of .238 or worse, though he manages to elevate that eventually into the .270s. But at .169, he is almost 100 points lower than his career average. LaRoche has been a good get at the trading deadline, because that’s when he starts to heat up. He is also a good-fielding first baseman, and as his short time in Boston showed, he loves to hit the other way.

7. Tommy Hunter, RHP, Rangers — He went 13-4 as a starter last season, but with Alexi Ogando’s success (4-0, 2.13), the Rangers may experiment with Hunter in the pen. The Texas bullpen was 32-19 last season, a big reason the Rangers won the AL West. This season, it is 5-9, just slightly better than Seattle’s 3-8. All four teams in the division have losing bullpen records, with the Angels at 7-9 and Oakland at 5-9.

8. Franklin Morales, LHP, Red Sox — A little bird told me to watch Morales’s move to first base. He may get called for a balk or two. The bigger thing is his strike-throwing issues. He was a pitcher the Rockies didn’t feel very comfortable using this season.

9. Matt Barnes, RHP, UConn — Always love to hear the reaction of scouts who have seen some of the best young pitchers in the game over the years. Here’s one National League scout on Barnes: “I’ve seen Beckett, Verlander, Lester, and Buchholz before the draft, and this kid is right there with them.’’ High praise for a guy who should be a top-five pick.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “From 1960-69, nobody hit more homers than the 393 hit by Harmon Killebrew. That includes Hank Aaron (375), Willie Mays (350), Frank Robinson (316), and Willie McCovey (300).’’ Also, “With all the talk about Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, don’t forget the third member of the Yankees’ aging Big Three, Mariano Rivera, who has three blown saves this season and eight in his last 82 appearances, since the start of the 2010 season. He had seven blown saves from 2007-09 covering 197 appearances and 120 save opportunities.’’ . . . Historian Bob Ellis has put together a nice exhibit of Mark Fidrych memorabilia at the Northborough Historical Society . . . Happy birthday to Julian Tavarez (38), Vaughn Eshelman (42), and Walt Hriniak (68).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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