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On Mankins, the Red Sox, and more

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff July 20, 2011 08:42 AM
Hitting on an array of topics from the sports world as if skipping rocks on a hot summer day…

Logan Mankins and the other plaintiffs in the NFL antitrust lawsuit may no longer be requesting special consideration, but that hardly means they were wrong to ask for it. In the case of Mankins, especially, it is difficult to find a player more victimized by the terms of the NFL bargaining agreements, old and new.

First, because of an uncapped season resulting from the owners’ decision to opt out of the last CBA, Mankins has now twice lost his right to become an unrestricted free agent. Along the way, he was saddled with the franchise tag. Now he may end up with nothing more than a one-year deal, albeit for greater than $10 million, still only that half the guaranteed money he might receive in a long-term deal.

Meanwhile, Mankins has never missed a game to injury and has been elected to three Pro Bowls.

Last year, in their first eight games – Mankins joined them for the eighth – the Patriots averaged slightly more than 107 rushing yards per game. After Mankins returned, the number increased to just under 140 yards per game. That number is even more impressive when you consider that the Patriots’ second-half schedule included the Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears and New York Jets, teams that ranked a respective first, second and third in the NFL in rushing defense.

And people still think Mankins would have been selfish to hold up a labor deal?

Please.

Love Tiger Woods or hate him – and many now choose the latter – golf needs him back. The last 12 major championships have produced no repeat winners and the list of recent major champions now includes Y.E. Yang, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl and Schwartzel. Foreign players now have won the last six of the majors and seven of the last eight.

Meanwhile, as Tiger deteriorates, so, too, does the PGA.

In the 2005 draft, the Red Sox had five selections in the first round or sandwich round, using those choices on Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie and Michael Bowden. Four of those players are still with the organization and all four have contributed in the major leagues this season, suggesting all have value to the franchise either on the roster or as a bargaining chip.

In the four subsequent drafts, from 2006-2009, the Red Sox had nine selections in the first round or sandwich round. Only one (Daniel Bard) now has any value to the organization. And while the Sox used many of those picks to acquire players like Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez – good deals both – one cannot help but wonder if this all means that the club must now protect many of its more recent, higher selections in the draft.

Translation: don’t expect any blockbusters at the deadline, no matter what you read or hear. The Sox have invested a great deal in this team, both financially and otherwise. Theo Epstein should add some depth before 4 p.m. on July 31, but his emphasis on the player development system suggests he will now guard his prospects more closely.

Of course, if Clay Buchholz has a more severe injury than the Sox are letting on, all bets are off.

By the way, when the Red Sox and Indians were negotiating the Martinez deal in 2009, Buchholz and Lars Anderson (remember him?) were among the names discussed. Cleveland officials privately indicated at the time that the Red Sox were overhyping Anderson, and Indians officials also were concerned about Buchholz’s durability.

Since the start of the 2009 season, Masterson now has pitched nearly 100 more innings than Buchholz. He also currently ranks among the American League leaders in ERA.

With all due respect to the United States women’s soccer team, they sound like a bunch of excuse-makers in trying to justify their choke job against Japan in the World Cup final. For men and women both, the standards are the same on this sort of thing.

If it looks like a choke, sounds like a choke and feels like a choke, it’s a choke.

Just a reminder that the Patriots open on Monday night, Sept. 12, against Dolphins in Miami. That means you’ll have to wait longer than most to see another NFL game involving your home team.

The good news? You won’t have to wait as long as the folks in Denver and Oakland, the teams that play the later game on Monday night.

If you’ve already seen the Bruins championship DVD, you are encouraged to post a review at the end of today’s blog. Please refrain from things like, “It’s awesome!” or “I got chills!” or “I almost cried!” Please offer constructive criticisms about what may have been lacking, what worked, and what didn’t.

Just sayin’.

As good as the Red Sox have been of late, they are still in a virtual dead heat with the Yankees. As of this morning, the Sox and Yankees are separated by one game in the loss column. Boston and New York each have outscored their opponents by precisely 114 runs, and the clubs have strikingly similar records at home and on the road.

Remember that the next time you start rambling about how the Yankees are old, or that they lack depth in the starting rotation, or that they have bullpen issues.

By the way, for what it’s worth, Adrian Gonzalez last night grounded into his 21st double play of the season, second most in the major leagues. Given that the only player to have grounded into more double plays that Gonzalez is Albert Pujols, this is hardly something to worry about.

But it does indicate, if nothing else, that Gonzalez is not perfect.

Amid Riggleman resignation, give thanks for who we've had, Boston

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff June 24, 2011 09:08 AM
Managers are coaches are hired to be leaders, to be, in many cases, the bridge between upper management and the work force. The idea is to emphasize the whole over any individual parts, to ensure a flow of communication and get everyone pulling in the same direction.

Apparently, Jim Riggleman didn't get the memo.

In case you missed it, Riggleman resigned yesterday as manager of the Washington Nationals, who have won 11 of 12 and thrust themselves into playoff contention entering this weekend's interleague series against the Chicago White Sox. With more than a half season still to play, the Nationals are now five games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League wildcard race. Apparently, Riggleman thought this gave him some kind of leverage with higher-ranking team officials, who hold an option on his contract for next season.

Riggleman wanted the option on his contract picked up now. The team declined. So he quit.

Way to go, Jimbo. No "I" in team, pal. "We" not "me."

What a disgrace. Really, Jim? You quit? Now there's a lesson all parents try to teach their kids. Ask for something. Pout when you don't get it. Then quit. As well as anyone, Riggleman should know this. As the manager of baseball team, he has to routinely make decisions that affect Washington players. Some get to play. Others are told to sit. To the best of anyone's knowledge, no member of the Nationals has resigned this year because the manager failed to give him what he wanted.

In the world of managing and coaching, this is the ultimate sin. In baseball, the manager is entrusted with the best interests of his entire team, from the first spot on the roster to the 25th. Individual pursuits are, at best, secondary. There are undoubtedly players on the Nationals who have contractual clauses and bonuses that reward them based on games played, or at-bats, or innings pitched. Riggleman deprives them of money every time he passes them over.

But do they quit? Hell no. Because to do so would be the ultimate act of selfishness.

Here in Boston, we've had more than our share of disputes and issues regarding intra-management relationships. In just the last 20 years, we have had had Bill Parcells vs. Bob Kraft; Kevin Kennedy vs. Dan Duquette; Jimy Williams vs. Dan Duquette; Theo Epstein vs. Larry Lucchino. Even Doc Rivers gave consideration to walking away in the middle of his contract, albeit for personal reasons. And yet, despite all of those soap operas, not a single one of those managers or coaches mentioned ever walked away in the middle of a season, let alone with his team in the midst of a winning streak that conjured up thoughts of postseason play.

In the cases of Red Sox managers Kennedy and Grady Little, each was allowed to enter the final season of a deal with the club holding an option for a subsequent season. In fact, the same is true of Terry Francona at this very moment. Unless Francona walks before the end of this year - and the only way that would happen is if he had a recurrence of health problems - all three of those men will honor their commitment to the team.

Of course, Kennedy and Little were fired at the end of their deals. In the case of Kennedy, in September of his final season (1996), the Red Sox were required to make a decision on his option. The Sox asked the manager if they could delay the decision, setting off alarms that Kennedy was cooked. Kennedy tried to leverage the team and use back channels to leak word of the team's decision to the media, but at least he didn't quit. He was fired the day after the season.

Oh, and as for Francona, he was fired from his post as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies on the final weekend of the 2000 season before the Phillies played their final game. He stuck around anyway and managed the Phils to the final out. Maybe now we know why Francona has won two World Series and ended up in a baseball hotbed like Boston while Riggleman has been forever viewed as either a stopgap skipper or fill-in.

Think of that. Knowing he had already been dismissed, Francona still honored his commitment to the tea. In the case of Kennedy, he could have quit late in the year and sacrificed little or no salary. He also played it out. Riggleman, by contrast, is in the middle of a contract he agreed to, with a $600,000 salary, and he walked in the middle of a playoff chase. What character.

By the way, have we mentioned that Riggleman has managed 1,486 games in his career and has precisely 162 more losses (824) than wins (662)? In his next job, if he gets one, Riggleman would have to go unbeaten in his first season just to get back to .500. In fact, in stints covering 12 seasons with four organizations, Riggleman has had three winning seasons (including this one, 38-37) and never made the playoffs.

Maybe, as any manager would tell you, Riggleman has merely had the misfortune of guiding bad teams.

Or maybe there is a flaw in his personality or methods that would deter good teams from ever entrusting him with a contender.

Given Riggleman's history as a skipper, one would expect him to relish the opportunity manage a team in playoff contention. Instead, Riggleman took the opportunity to use it as a slight. How misguided. Maybe Riggleman was tired of being a stopgap and a fill-in, and maybe he was intent of making someone pay for it. Baseball has a way of rewarding those who put in a lifetime of hard work, and maybe this year was going to be the year that Riggleman cashed in.

Instead, Riggleman checked out, which can't help but make some of us now start rooting for a Nationals team that has been abandoned by its manager.

Or maybe we're just rooting against Riggleman.

I mean, would you ever hire this guy now?

Making up for lost time

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff June 20, 2011 09:51 AM

Catching up on happenings in the sports world after the black hole that was the NHL postseason...

  • Even after the black hole that was 0-6 and 2-10, the Red Sox are on a pace to win 98 games, a number that have achieved only twice in their history since 1946. The first occasion came in 1978, pre-wildcard, when the sox won 99 games and missed the playoffs. The other came in 2004, when the Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.

    Beginning with a sweep of the Yankees at New York in May, the Red Sox have won 11 of 12 series and gone 26-8.

  • Rory McIlroy is off to a terrific start in 2011 and in his career, but any comparisons to Tiger Woods at this stage are completely and utterly ridiculous. Even at a young age, Woods never collapsed in a major championship the way McIlroy did at the Masters earlier this season.
  • By the way, comparing McIlroy to Tiger Woods at this stage is a little like comparing Andrew Miller to Randy Johnson. Miller has terrific raw ability and will make his Red Sox debut tonight against the San Diego Padres, but let's see if he can throw consistent strikes in the big leagues before we turn him into a multiple Cy Young Award winner.

    Especially when Miller has heretofore been closer to Nuke LaLoosh.

  • Don't look now, Celtics fans, but your beloved team has slipped to No. 4 in the local power rankings. And if we were to factor in projected future performance of our four major teams, the Celtics would also have the bleakest outlook.
  • In this market, at least, the NFL picked a good time for a labor dispute. But with the usual start of training camp now rapidly approaching, how much longer can this go on before Patriots fans really start to get agitated?
  • I mean, the end of last season was disappointing. But the Pats did go 14-2 with a generally young roster and seem positioned to make noise again in 2011.

    Sorry, I meant 14-3.

  • Now this is the kind of year Jacoby Ellsbury deserves a great deal of credit for -- and for an array of reasons. Ellsbury currently has the highest OPS of his career and is on pace for 18 home runs, 82 RBI, 166 runs and, yes, 55 stolen bases.

    Oh, and did we mention that he's played in every game?

  • In this market, one of the major drawbacks of the Bruins' title run was that we did not get to fully celebrate the failure of the Miami Heat in general and LeBron James in particular. Talk about irony. While the Bruins were winning a title as a team, LeBron was explaining another disappointing end to a season by repeatedly using his favorite letter in the alphabet.

    Of course, that would be I.

  • Yes, I'm biased, for obvious reasons. But since the Red Sox started giving Tim Wakefield a regular turn in the rotation, he's 4-1 with a 3.60 ERA in six starts.

    Just sayin'.

  • By the way, can people in this market stop talking about the Yankees as if they're ready for the senior tour. Fine, the Yankees are old. They still have the second-best record in the American League and are 1.5 games out of first place.

    If you are a Red Sox fan, the Yankees should still be your biggest concern in the American League.

  • The Bruins will soon be onto the business of the offseason, so let's all agree that Tomas Kaberle should go and the Bruins should consider bringing Michael Ryder back at a reduced rate. Other than that, priority No. 1 in 2011-12 is for the Bruins to put Tyler Seguin in the best possible position to succeed.
  • By the way, purely for the record, the Vancouver Canucks were 2 for 33 on the power play in the Cup final, a paltry 6.1 percent. The Bruins, by contrast, went 5 for 27, a far more respectable 18.5 percent.

    For the entire postseason, the Bruins were 10 for 88 (11.4 percent) on the power play, which included a 5 for 61 performance (8.2 percent) before the final round.

  • Adrian Gonzalez is on pace for 230 hits, 34 home runs, 55 doubles and 146 RBI.

    Sounds like a formula for MVP, no?

  • We all love David Ortiz and what he has given the Red Sox over the years, but the truth is that the Yankees should have plunked him a long time ago given the damage he has inflicted on them over the years. In 2009, the in head-to-head play, Yankees pitchers hit Red Sox batters on 14 occasions while Red Sox pitchers plunked the Yankees only seven times. During that season, before a game at Fenway Park, one uniformed member of the Red Sox warned Derek Jeter that if Yankees pitchers didn't start behaving themselves, the Red Sox would retaliate.

    And they would retaliate, he said, by going after Jeter.

  • I still bet the Cleveland Indians will finish below .500.
  • Silver spoon update: In this millennium, in the four major sports, that is now 13 trips at least the semifinals (Patriots 5, Red Sox 4, Celtics 3, Bruins 1) and nine trips to the championship round (Patriots 4, Red Sox 2, Celtics 2, Bruins 1) with seven titles, including the proverbial Grand Slam, accomplished in slightly more than six calendar years.

    Good heavens.

    Will it ever end?

Touching all the bases during this time for all seasons

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff May 11, 2011 07:45 AM
Firing away while taking a very deep breath between rounds of an NHL postseason that has been delightfully draining on emotional, psychological and physical levels ...
  • Please, no complaining about the Celtics. When Danny Ainge made his deal with the devil four years ago, we all knew the proverbial window would be small. In retrospect, the only real question we should ask now is whether Ainge should have blown the whole thing up last summer and started the rebuilding process then, if only because the Celtics would now be better off for it.

    I mean, if Ainge was going to trade Kendrick Perkins and neuter the Celtics in February, shouldn't he have just pulled the plug in July?

    And yes, I'd trade Rajon Rondo in a minute.

  • Looking at the bigger picture, do we have any more answers about the Red Sox now than we did on April 1?

    The offense has been inconsistent.

    The starting pitching has been streaky.

    The bullpen has been bad.

    Maybe the Red Sox built the bridge in 2010 and intend to push us off it in 2011.

  • While you were sleeping, according to NFL types, Tom Brady slipped in and out of town to get a progress report on his foot in the wake of offseason surgery and was told that everything is progressing nicely, meaning that Brady should be ready to go some time during training camp.

    Assuming there is a training camp.

    We just figured we should tell you that now rather than wait for a more relevant occasion.

  • Tiger Woods will win a major this year.
  • Here's another prediction: Patrice Bergeron will play in the NHL Eastern Conference finals between the Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

    And when he does, he will receive an ovation like no other in recent memory when he steps onto the TD Garden ice.

  • What Andrew Bynum did to Jose Juan Barea was nothing short disgraceful and the NBA should have suspended him for 10 games, not five.

    And it has nothing to do with the fact that Barea went to Northeastern.

  • Speaking of those Lakers, don't you just love how they go down fighting?

    I mean, in the last two games that ushered them out of the playoffs, the Lakers have lost by 36 points to the Dallas Mavericks (in Game 4 of this year's Western Conference semifinals) and 39 points to the Celtics (in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals).

    No quit in that team, I tell you.

    How is that not a reflection on both Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant?

  • The Blue Jays have now stolen 11 bases in five games against the Red Sox, which cannot help but make you wonder if former pitching coach John Farrell wants to show up his former team every chance he gets.

    Can you imagine what Farrell would do against the Red Sox if he had, say, Carl Crawford?

  • What, exactly, does Bill Belichick have against pass rushers? Has anyone ever asked him this on the record? Does he believe that a pass rush is the product of scheme more than skill or ability?

    I want details on this.

  • If the Bruins were to get to the Stanley Cup finals, defeating the San Jose Sharks and Joe Thornton would be the most symbolic way to end a 39-year drought without a championship.

    In retrospect, after all, dealing away Thornton was the blow that dealt the franchise a severe concussion.

    Nonetheless, I fear that Broken Joe and the Sharks are up to their old tricks, about to collapse against the Detroit Red wings in the NHL Western Conference playoffs.

    And that Red Wings-Canucks series would be a doozy.

  • Years ago, some of us mocked Major League Baseball for the manner in which the sale of the Red Sox was conducted, the process so seemingly shady that the state attorney general got involved.

    In the end, we ended up OK, didn't we?

    And given how things are going in Los Angeles at the moment, one can only wonder what we would be saying and doing now if Frank and Jamie McCourt had acquired our beloved baseball franchise.

  • As far as the positional players go, Adrian Gonzalez has been the most consistent performer for the Red Sox. To his credit, Jacoby Ellsbury is second. All things considered, Ellsbury is playing his tail off and is having a nice bounce-back season so far.
  • I'll take Dennis Seidenberg on my team anytime, anywhere, against anyone.
  • Same for Delonte West.
  • Brad Marchand, too.

    Sorry, I mean Marshmont.

  • Betcha Doc Rivers wishes he never came back.
  • In the last two weeks, we have the celebrated the 25th anniversary of Roger Clemens' first 20-strikeout game and the 41st anniversary of Bobby Orr's Cup-clinching goal on Mother's Day, which is further reminder of something we should never, ever forget.
  • This remains the single, best sports town in America.

And, as a result, this is the best time of year to live here.

Of Meriweather, Chara, Perkins and more

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff March 11, 2011 07:48 AM

With regard to Brandon Meriweather's guilt or innocence, let's reserve judgment. Sports are sports, life is life, and fair is fair. But the one question we should all ask at a time of duress is obvious:

What could I have done differently to avoid this?

In the case of Meriweather, maybe that means being smarter about where he goes, what he does, whom he consorts with. His future in New England may depend on it. Meriweather was a somewhat controversial selection for the Pats in 2007 due to his involvement in the infamous Miami-Florida International brawl, and he has been linked with guns before. Now he has is being accused, perhaps frivolously, of involvement a shooting that took place weeks ago in Orlando.

For those of us who grew up in this area, this is not something to which we can easily understand or relate. You didn't grow up in the same world that Meriweather did. And yet, Meriweather has a great deal at stake as a two-time Pro Bowler, and there comes a point where all boys must become men by simply making better decisions.

In the interim, let's be careful about what we assume based solely on reputation. We have learned this lesson before. In 1997, a Cleveland-area man named Scott Byrd accused Mo Vaughn of punching him in the face during an altercation at a strip club. Vaughn was there, to be sure, but he was never found to have thrown the punch. By that point, Vaughn's reputation as something of a playboy was well established, and it wasn't much longer before Mo flipped his car on the way home from the Foxy Lady.

Vaughn was lucky to have survived that episode. Regardless of what happens legally, Meriweather was fortunate to have survived this one. What the Patriots' safety needs to learn now is that life off the field in professional sports has very different rules than life on it.

In cases like this, Brandon, it's advisable to lead with your head.

More on Chara

As for Zdeno Chara's hit on Max Pacioretty, we can agree to disagree as it pertains to Chara's hit. Some of us believe Chara knew precisely where he was on the ice when he leveraged Pacioretty toward the turnbuckle on Tuesday. Some of us do not. Few of us believe that Chara did so with any intent to cause injury, particularly to Pacioretty's head.

But is this really a case where legal authorities in Montreal need to conduct an investigation to either appease the masses of examine whether criminal charges should be brought against the Bruins' Bunyanesque defenseman?

At this rate, can it be long before Interpol is involved?

Obviously, criminal investigations in sports, particularly hockey, are not unprecedented. Marty McSorley, Todd Bertuzzi, Dave Forbes and Jose Offerman all faced legal ramifications for things that took place on the ice or on the field. All were warranted. In three of those instances, the transgressor clearly used a stick or bat as a weapon. In the other, he clearly used his fist and delivered a punch. Any suggestion that Chara's hit on Pacioretty enters the same realm is utterly asinine.

And are Canadiens fans serious with those 9-1-1 calls?

As for Pacioretty, he knew where the turnbuckle was, too. He has a spottier reputation than Chara. Given the tactless manner in which he heaved allegations at Chara on Wednesday, Pacioretty only fueled the fire over this entire episode, acting with far more recklessness than, say, the Bruins did after Matt Cooke's far more egregious hit on Marc Savard roughly a year ago.

Some of us still believe Chara should have earned some sort of suspension for his hit on Pacioretty. But the Canadiens, their owner and their fans are hardly handling this matter with dignity or grace, which is not making things any better.

Celtics needed Perk
If you watched the Celtics' loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, you came to an obvious conclusion: the Celtics missed Kendrick Perkins in that game. Despite coach Doc Rivers' assertions that the defeat had nothing to do with last month's surprising deal, the Celtics were lacking in those two areas where Perkins served them: energy and interior defense.

Whether this flaw is chronic or potentially fatal is an entirely different matter, but the facts on Wednesday were difficult to ignore. The Clippers had six dunks or layups in the first quarter, when the game was effectively decided. They had nine in the first half. Rivers and his players clearly have a great deal of work to do between now and the playoffs, particularly given the seemingly never-ending succession of injuries.

In four of their last five games - and against weak competition - the Celtics have allowed 100 points or more.

But like Rivers said, at least they're not crying about it.

Talking point
Finally, purely for the sake of discussion, here's a question that will be explored at greater depth in coming weeks:

If you had to decide today, would you take Mark Teixeira for the next six years or Adrian Gonzalez for the next seven?

Discuss.

What a difference a year makes for Bruins

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff March 4, 2011 06:50 AM
Spinning the roulette wheel while wondering why the Red Sox even allow Ino Guerrero to handle a bat ...

For those who may not remember, Sunday will mark the 52-week anniversary of the day that changed Marc Savard's life. That was the day that Matt Cooke blindsided Savard and dealt him a devastating head injury that derailed Savard's career and began a two-week stretch that was the low point of the Bruins' 2009-10 season.

One year later, the Bruins are a very different team in the wake of last night's 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning that gave the B's the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins are playing together. They are fighting for one another. And they are the midst of a seven-game winning streak that has experts around the country, including team president Cam Neely, identifying them as one of the true threats to win the Stanley Cup.

Of course, there is a great deal of hockey remaining in this season and we all know how the story goes. The Bruins haven't won a title in nearly 39 years. They are the obvious ugly ducklings among Boston's four major sports teams. Playoff hockey and regular season hockey are two entirely different things, and yet one must be encouraged by how the Bruins have performed, in the front office and on the ice, throughout this regular season.

The results are what they are, but the Bruins are where they are at the moment for a very simple reason.

As head coach Claude Julien told reporters in the wake of last night's victory, "Let's not focus so much on the end result more than what we have to do to get it."

At a time like this, it is important to remember who the Bruins are. The team built by Peter Chiarelli has ample talent, but Bruins do not have more talent than, say, Detroit, Vancouver, Chicago or Philadelphia. Nonetheless, talent alone does not win hockey games. What the Bruins have become is a nice blend of offense and defense, youth and experience, talent and hard work. What the Bruins are, more than anything else, is consistent and deep, a club that sends waves of skaters at the opposition.

Still, Julien is right.

If the B's at all forget what it has taken to get them to this stage, someone should remind that, a year ago at this time, they looked like the club that wouldn't even fight for itself.

As for the Celtics, Danny Ainge's most recent makeover raises obvious questions, and not solely because of the Kendrick Perkins departure. How the bench comes together over the final quarter of the season will have a significant bearing on just how far the Celtics go. The Celtics must get Delonte West healthy and settle into a rotation before the playoffs start, something Doc Rivers is entirely capable of doing.

Amid all of the maneuvering that has taken place with the Celtics over the last week, let's not forget the simplest truth: when Kevin Garnett has been fully healthy, the Celtics essentially have been the best team in basketball. In retrospect, the difference in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers last year was not the absence of Kendrick Perkins - Lakers center Andrew Bynum was hobbled and rendered virtually useless, too - but rather the failings of Garnett. Playing at something less than 100 percent after a knee injury the previous season, Garnett had three rebounds in Game 7. Pau Gasol had 18. The Lakers won that matchup throughout the series - Gasol, and not Kobe Bryant, should have been series MVP - and the Celtics have virtually no chance of beating anyone when Garnett loses his matchup.

For what it's worth, Garnett has posted a double-double in six straight games and seven of the last eight. In the last nine games, he has averaged 11.4 rebounds. If Garnett keeps playing like that and the bench at all comes together, nobody will remember who Perkins is come May and June.

Logan Mankins has had Tom Brady's back for the last six years, but even with Mankins joining the list of plaintiffs in a potential antitrust suit against the NFL, do not be fooled: Brady has Mankins' back this time around. Brady has a new long-term contract and absolutely no reason to concern himself with what happens in the NFL labor dispute, but he is proving now more than ever that he is a team player.

The NFL Players Association is still going to have trouble convincing people like Antonio Cromartie to hold firm when the time comes, and in that way Brady obviously has less to lose. He has made a lot more money than someone like Cromartie has. And yet, because men like Brady, Peyton Manning and quarterback Drew Brees have been rewarded by NFL owners as much as any players, it is an encouraging sign to finally see NFL players all standing on one side of the line with the owners on the other.

Brady, Brees and Manning do not need the union.

The union needs them.

The Red Sox will open their 2011 season in precisely four weeks, and we all know that Jon Lester should be the starter, just as he was in Game 1 of the 2009 playoffs. That is hardly anything new. But while we're on the topic of lineups and pitching order, let's remind everyone of the simplest reason some people pitch first or bat first.

It gets you more chances.

With regard to the pitchers, here's what that means: in theory - and isn't all of this theoretical? - each of the five spots in the Boston will get at least 32 starts. Only the Nos. 1 and 2 positions will get 33. That makes the No. 2 starter, in theory, as valuable as the pitcher who takes the ball on Opening Day, at least if you base importance on opportunity.

Of course, the Red Sox are unlikely to keep all five starters healthy for an entire season, as they did in 2004. The rotation will be juggled and changed to accommodate off days, injuries and other variables of the like. But if you're basing your argument on logic and math, the second spot in the rotation is every bit as important as the first because those two pitchers will get more starts than any others on the team.

When you look at it that way, does Opening Day really matter at all?

Green Bay clearly ahead of the pack

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff February 4, 2011 08:52 AM

Objectively, from purely a football perspective, the Green Bay Packers should win on Sunday. The Packers can score. The Packers can play defense. And for those of us who believe that both remain equally important, even in the increasingly offensive world of the NFL, the Packers represent the closest thing the NFL has to a perfect balance.

None of that guarantees anything, of course, because as the Patriots will be first to tell you, what should happen and what does happen are two very different things. Speaking yesterday in Dallas, former Chicago Bears coach and NFL legend Mike Ditka said he was stunned by the outcome in Foxborough earlier this month; by contrast, NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes said the Patriots’ 14-2 regular season was "fool’s gold" and that the Patriots were not as good as their record suggested. Whatever the case, the beauty of the NFL – and the playoffs in particular – is that the most talented team does not always win, something the Patriots again know well in the wake of Super Bowls XXXVI and XLII.

In one of those games, the Patriots were the more talented team. In the other, they were not.

In both cases, the team with less talent played better and won.

And yet, if the Patriots' 14-2 record this year was indeed "fool’s gold," there is every reason to believe that the 10-6 campaign compiled by the Packers was exactly the opposite. Green Bay’s six losses came by 3, 3, 3, 3, 4 and 4 points. In two of the defeats, backup quarterback Matt Flynn was thrust into the starting role. (One of those games was against the Patriots.) The Packers played with anyone and everyone, no matter who was healthy or hurt, and they may be the only team in the NFL this year to legitimately claim that they could have won every game in which they played.

And the Packers did so despite the extended absence of linebacker Nick Barnett, running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley, all starters who were placed on injured reserve.

Let’s be clearer: the Packers are the most talented team in the NFL. Whether that translates into victory is certainly open to debate, but the point is that if the Packers play to their full capabilities, they should win Super Bowl XLV – and they might even win it in relatively easy fashion.

Some of us even believe they will.

The flaws in this Green Bay team? They are obvious, particularly to those who like to punch holes through the Packers' roster as if they were riddling the Wisconsin cheese. The Packers can’t run. (During the postseason, they have run every bit as effectively, if not more so, than the Steelers.) The Packers can’t protect. (During the regular season and postseason both, the Steelers have allowed more sacks.) The Packers are stupid. (During the regular season, the Steelers had twice as many penalty yards.)

And so, are we really seeing this game clearly here?

Or is everyone placing far too much emphasis on a Pittsburgh mystique that might have less to do with these specific Steelers than it does with those of, say, the 1970s?

It’s just a question.

In terms of pure matchups in this game, they favor the Packers. Most everyone in football agrees that the mighty Pittsburgh defense is weakest at the corners, an area the Patriots exploited while shredding the Pittsburgh defense during a nationally televised meeting in November. The Patriots spread out the Steelers defense and forced fearsome outside linebackers James Harrison and Lamar Woodley into coverage, and Tom Brady carved up the Pittsburgh pass defense without enduring so much as a single sack.

The Packers have the personnel to do the same, even in the absence of Finley, who would have been an invaluable weapon in this game. They have the quarterback (Rodgers). They have the receivers (Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James, Jones, Jordy Nelson). And they have a third-down back who can come out of the backfield and serve as a viable pass-catching option (Brandon Jackson) to further complicate things for the Steelers.

As for the running game, almost nobody runs on the Steelers. Ever. All the Packers have to do is sufficiently call enough runs to keep the Pittsburgh defense honest. Actual gains are of secondary importance.

Were this game played outdoors, in the cold, we would all have reason to expect a close, hard-fought affair. (We might, anyway.) This postseason, the Packers have won an opening-round game outdoors in which they needed to play well on both sides of the ball (27-20 at Philadelphia); a shootout indoors (48-21 at Atlanta); and a physical game in the cold (21-14 at Chicago). That type of pliability is what a team like the Patriots lacked. Now the Packers are back indoors for the Super Bowl for the biggest game of every football season, armed with as much mystique as the Steelers and more comprehensive talent.

Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 20.

Of course, many of us thought the Patriots would win going away, too.

Hall of Fame now a heck of a dilemma

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff January 5, 2011 08:13 AM

bagwell.jpgIn this Hall of Fame election, Jeff Bagwell always has been the man to watch. On paper, Bagwell should be a lock. But thanks to the steroid era, he may now be nothing more than a guinea pig, a test case for whether baseball needs reform in a voting process that was controversial to begin with.

So let me get this out there: I did not vote for Bagwell, opting to exercise my right to wait for more information.

And if you called that a copout, you’d be right.

For the sake of clarity, let’s start at the beginning. To obtain the privilege to vote for the Hall of Fame, one must have covered Major League Baseball for at least 10 consecutive seasons. Once that happens, you keep the vote for life. Players appear on the ballot for the first time five years after playing their last game. Assuming that a player receives an approval rating (or yes vote) of at least five percent, he remains on the ballot for a period of no more than 15 years. If and when a player gets 75 percent (or more) of the vote or more, he gets in.

As for the voting guidelines, they are generally as follows: voters are asked to consider a player’s on-field accomplishments as well as his "character." (More on that later.) And on any given ballot, a voter may vote for as few as zero candidates but no more than 10.

Before we get to Bagwell, let me give you some background on my voting history and general philosophies with regard to this process, all in the interest of full disclosure. If you see inconsistencies here, you would certainly be entitled (and encouraged) to point them out. I long ago accepted the reality that my voting history would likely be imperfect.

I started covering baseball full-time in 1994 and, thus, have been voting since December 2003 (for the Class of 2004). Generally speaking, I have tried to rate players relative only to their era. I have tried to place more emphasis on on-field performance than the dreaded "character" clause, largely for the fact that the museum in Cooperstown is a baseball Hall of Fame and not a shrine dedicated to the memory of Mother Teresa. The reason I have a vote is because I watched a lot of baseball, not because I attended clubhouse chapel meetings on Sundays or because I have some great sense of morality.

On the whole, I have operated with the belief that less is more. I have never once used all 10 of my eligible votes in any given year, believing that to do otherwise would dilute the Hall of Fame. I started voting in 2004 and have voted every year since, and I believe that all ballots should be public.

So here you go:

2004: Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley (enshrined), Paul Molitor (enshrined), Jim Rice, Ryne Sandberg, Bruce Sutter. (Eckersley and Molitor were on the ballot for the first time.)

2005: Wade Boggs (enshrined), Dawson, Rice, Sandberg (enshrined), Sutter. (Boggs was on the ballot for the first time.)

2006: Dawson, Rice, Sutter (enshrined).

2007: Dawson, Tony Gwynn (enshrined), Rice, Cal Ripken (enshrined). (Gwynn and Ripken were on the ballot for the first time.)

2008: Dawson, Rich Gossage (enshrined), Rice.

2009: Dawson, Rickey Henderson (enshrined), Rice (enshrined). (Henderson was on the ballot for the first time.)

2010: Roberto Alomar, Dawson (enshrined), Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez. (Alomar, Larkin and Martinez were on the ballot for the first time.)

2011: Alomar, Larkin, Martinez.

Let me save you some of the trouble of second-guessing by pointing out the one most obvious inconsistency: Gossage. When I started voting in 2004, Gossage was on the ballot and I bypassed him, something I continued to do through 2007. In 2008, my fifth year of voting, I added him. By that point, the support for Gossage had grown, so I went back to look at his record again. I came to the conclusion that, along with Sutter, he was the most dominating reliever of his era. Gossage’s 310 saves initially failed to convince me, but as a product of the late '80s and '90s, I put too much emphasis on saves.

So I changed my vote.

Beyond Gossage, I’ve tried to remain consistent in my voting methods. In comparing players to their peers, I’ve tried to put great emphasis on things like the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award balloting, as well as the Silver Slugger Award and Gold Glove Award. All of these, in some capacity, reflect a level of excellence at a given position. (The Gold Glove certainly comes with its share of politicking, but we generally know who the legitimate fielders are.) In the case of Barry Larkin, for example, he won nine Silver Sluggers and three Gold Gloves as well as an MVP, making him (in my opinion) the best National League shortstop of his era. So I voted for him.

Roberto Alomar was a no-brainer and should have gotten in last year. Shame on us as voters for blowing that one. As for Edgar Martinez, he stands out in my mind as the greatest designated hitter of all-time. Unfortunately, there continues to be a bias against the DH in voting of any kind, from the MVP to the Hall of Fame. The DH position has been in existence for nearly 40 years now, but many baseball people still thumb their noses at the DH because, you know, DHs don’t play the field. Somehow, that makes them lesser players, even in age when some teams (like the Red Sox) build their rosters around people like David Ortiz.

Using that logic, no reliever should ever get in based on workload alone.

All of this now brings us to Bagwell, one of the great first baseman of his era and someone who had very few (if any) holes in his resume. And yet, partly because Bagwell hit six homers in his minor league career before reaching the major leagues, many wonder about the legitimacy of his power numbers. Physically, Bagwell exploded during his major league career, all of which was effectively played during the steroid era. His name has never turned up in a drug investigation and he has never failed a steroid test of any kind (as far as we know). But the steroid era has now cast suspicion on players of every kind, and there is no right answer with how to treat people like him.

Please understand that Bagwell is now a barrier-breaker of sorts. Guys like Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken played a significant chunk of their careers in the '80s. (They’re in.) Mark McGwire played in the '90s, but has admitted to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. (He’s out.) Bagwell now falls in to the grayest of gray areas in between, someone who might have been comparable to, say, Kevin Youkilis had Bagwell's power numbers not become what they are.

And in this discussion, the difference between Kevin Youkilis and Jeff Bagwell makes all the difference in the world.

If you think Bagwell is being treated unfairly here, you’d be right again. Unfortunately, in the absence of drug testing, Major League Baseball and the players union opened the entire game up to great skepticism. Maybe Bagwell deserves to go in now, maybe he doesn’t. But people like me have never been more grateful for the existence of a voting window that could last as long as 15 years because, in this case, it might allow us the time to learn something that will clarify the place of people like Jeff Bagwell in a grossly tainted era.

And so, with regard to Bagwell, I’m going to wait.

And get used to it.

There are lots of other players coming soon who will get the same approach.

Looking forward to 2011

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff December 30, 2010 08:45 AM

Peering into the crystal ball while bidding adieu to 2010 …

Jan. 5: Playing without Kevin Garnett, the Celtics lose to the San Antonio Spurs, 103-89, at TD Garden. The loss is the Celtics’ fifth in seven games and prompts comparisons to last season, when the Celtics went 23-5 in their first 28 games and 27-27 over their final 54.

"We just need to get healthy," says Paul Pierce.

Jan. 16: The Patriots open the playoffs with a 34-33 win over the Baltimore Ravens in Foxborough behind 341 yards and four touchdown passes from Tom Brady, who does not throw an interception. Incredibly, the Patriots defense allows 550 yards of offense to the Ravens, who do not commit a turnover. Baltimore has possession for 36 of the game’s 60 minutes and gets into the red zone nine times, managing three touchdowns and four field goals. Twice, the Ravens are stopped on fourth down.

"I can’t figure it out," says Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "We held every conceivable statistical advantage and still lost the game. I’m not sure how that is possible."

Jan. 22: Garnett returns and the Celtics throttle the Washington Wizards, 110-82, at the Garden. The victory improves the Celtics to 31-12 and reignites the belief that the Celtics can win their 18th banner.

Jan. 23: The Patriots host the AFC Championship Game in Foxborough and defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, 14-13. Brady is confounded throughout the day by Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, whose schemes lead to four New England turnovers, including three interceptions by Brady. The Chiefs rack up nearly 400 yards of offense, but quarterback Matt Cassel also throws three uncharacteristic picks. Chiefs field goal kicker Ryan Succop misses three field goals – one of the crossbar, one off each upright – including a 34-yarder as time expires.

Asked of his impressions following the game, which delivers the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl appearance of this millennium, coach Bill Belichick replies: "It looks to me like Charlie [Weis] has put some weight back on."

Feb. 6: Michael Vick and the Eagles defeat the Patriots, 43-42, in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. Vick passes for 350 yards and runs for another 150, compiling exactly 500 yards of offense from scrimmage. He also returns a punt 31 yards to set up the Eagles’ final scoring drive. Faced with the prospect of going to overtime by kicking an extra point, Eagles coach Andy Reid instructs his team to try a two-point conversion, which Vick successfully executes with 52 seconds left.

After the Patriots regain possession, Brady attempts to orchestrate a winning scoring drive with no timeouts, but his efforts go for naught when a final pass slips through the hands of wide receiver Brandon Tate and is intercepted by Asante Samuel.

The Patriots finish the year with a 16-3 record, the best mark in football.

Feb. 9: The Bruins rip the Montreal Canadiens, 6-1, to improve to 17-5 over a 22-game stretch, 37-16-4 overall. Rookie Tyler Seguin scores two goals, his 21st and 22d of the season, and owner Jeremy Jacobs tells a Boston radio station that he believes his team has a chance to win a trophy.

Feb. 11: The Bruins lose to the Red Wings, 4-3, on a fluke goal late in the third period. Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom fires a slapshot from the point that deflects off the leg of Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, hits the stick of winger Dan Cleary, grazes the arm of Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron and deflects off the boards before striking the back of Tim Thomas’s helmet and rattling between the pipes and barely crossing the goal line. Irate Bruins fans at the TD Garden, deprived of a trophy for going on 39 years, start calling for the dismissal of coach Claude Julien.

March 13: Before a spring training game, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon expresses frustration at the presence of Bobby Jenks, whom the Red Sox signed to a two-year contract over the winter. Asked how he could be upset at the presence of Jenks when he has repeatedly said that he intends to become a free agent, Papelbon shrugs.

"That’s not my problem, man," he says.

April 1: The Red Sox open the season with a 14-0 victory over the Texas Rangers at The Ballpark in Arlington. Starter Jon Lester pitches seven shutout innings with 12 strikeouts while newcomer Adrian Gonzalez belts a pair of homers, including a grand slam. Carl Crawford steals four bases.

Says Sox manager Terry Francona: "I like our team."

April 8: The Red Sox defeat the New York Yankees in Fenway Park opener, 11-2. Gonzalez hits another homer, his sixth in seven games. Crawford steals two more bases, bringing his season total to 10. Josh Beckett strikes out 13 and does not allow a hit to a lefthanded batter.

After the game, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and shortstop Derek Jeter are seen dining together at Davio’s. Sources indicate that Rivera and Jeter were overheard wondering whether they should have signed with the Red Sox.

April 9: Before a nationally televised game against the Yankees, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino tells Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that the Red Sox have installed smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in the bullpens at Fenway Park, stressing that "bullpen safety" remains chief among the Red Sox’ concerns.

April 10: Freed of all responsibility to other human beings in the wake of his divorce, Tiger Woods wins the Masters by seven strokes. Woods shoots a 66 on the final day and birdies the last three holes.

April 20: After beginning the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the East, the Bruins annihilate the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, sweeping the series in four games. Boston radio airwaves are suspiciously silent as Bruins fans have nothing to complain about.

May 15: The Celtics begin an Eastern Conference Finals series against the Miami Heat after breezing through the first two rounds of the playoffs. LeBron James tells ESPN that the Heat should be regarded as underdogs in the series because the Celtics have more talent and have played together longer. He also says that the Celtics have an edge in coaching.

May 30: The Celtics defeat the Heat in Game 7 at the Garden, 99-94. Dwyane Wade scores 51 points for the Heat and hands out 11 assists while James takes just seven shots. Seemingly disinterested throughout the affair, James says his legs were weary as a result of having played too many minutes during the regular season. He refers all questions to "Coach Spo."

June 18-19: On consecutive nights, the Celtics and Bruins win championships, the Celtics over the Lakers and the Bruins over the Red Wings. In the case of the latter, the Bruins’ victory is anticlimactic because they overcame a 3-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference finals to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.

Apprised by Boston mayor Tom Menino that the city would be hosting a joint "rolling rally," Bruins owner Jacobs is irate because he feels his team deserved its own parade. Bruins fans and Boston media universally agree with him.

July 17: Tiger Woods wins the British Open, making him 3 for 3 in the majors this year. Woods beats the field by eight strokes. During his victory press conference, he flirts with a female reporter.

July 19: Accenture and several other corporations rehire Woods as a spokesman.

July 26: The Red Sox play their 100th game of the season and wallop the Kansas City Royals, 10-3. The victory improves the Red Sox to 65-35 on the season, an even 30 games over .500. His team on pace for 105 victories, Red Sox manager Terry Francona says the club will be active approaching the July 31 trading deadline.

July 31: In need to a power righthanded bat for the middle of their lineup, the Red Sox acquire first baseman Albert Pujols from the St. Louis Cardinals for a package of prospects that includes outfielder Ryan Kalish. The Red Sox say that Pujols will replace David Ortiz as designated hitter and the club has no interest in signing him beyond 2011 because Pujols is seeking an average annual salary of roughly $30 million.

"We can’t afford what he’s looking for,’’ says owner John Henry. "We’re not the Yankees."

September 8: The Pats open the 2011 season with a 27-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Foxborough in the annual NFL Thursday night opener. New England’s defense is stifling and holds the Chiefs to 142 yards of total offense.

"We’re committed to being a complete football team this year," says Belichick.

October 3: The Bruins open the season with a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres that is preceded by the raising of a championship banner. During a pregame ceremony, the Bruins invite back a host of greats, from Bobby Orr to Ray Bourque. Following the banner-raising ceremony, Bourque cracks that he expected the banner to say "Adams Division champions."

October 26: The Red Sox win the World Series in four games over the Milwaukee Brewers, completing a perfect 11-0 postseason. Combined with their regular season, the Red Sox go 118-55 and are regarded by experts as one of the greatest teams of all time. Club officials thank fans for tuning out them out a year earlier, inspiring the Red Sox to get far more aggressive in free agency.

Nov. 2: The Celtics open the season with a 104-92 victory over the New York Knicks and raise their 18th championship banner to the Garden rafters. Celtics fans clap politely during the ceremony and the Garden begins to empty late in the third quarter with the Celtics holding a 30-point lead.

Dec. 24: The Patriots cream the Buffalo Bills, 31-0, in Week 16 of the NFL season. The victory improves the Patriots to 12-3 with one week remaining in the regular season. New England has secured a first-round bye and, with a win over Miami in Week 17, can secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Dec. 30: Tiger Woods is named Sportsman of the Year by both Maxim and FHM, who praise the golfer for winning the grand slam and for "leading the life that every man wants to live." The announcement comes as no surprise following Woods’ completion of the Grand Slam at the PGA championship.

The following morning, an exotic dancer names Woods in a paternity suit.

For Boston, what are the odds of a title?

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff September 29, 2010 09:07 AM

Every so often, the question is worth asking in these parts: which of our professional teams is closest to a championship?

The easy answer today would be the Celtics, who made it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals last season before succumbing to the Los Angeles Lakers. But is it really the right answer? On the calendar, the Patriots will have the first chance. If money is a major factor – and it is – the Red Sox have the most. But if you’re looking for the team with the best young talent to make an extended run, it might actually be the Bruins.

That’s right, the Bruins.

Let’s say that one more time:

The Bruins.

Here’s a snapshot of our four clubs during that rare, fabulous time of year when all four clubs are at work, concluding their seasons, preparing for them, or now smack dab in the middle of them. Championship odds for all four teams start at 4-to-1 (obviously) and move based on relative strength of weakness to other teams:

Red Sox

Before we get too spoiled, let’s make something clear: since 1984, the Red Sox have won this many games (87) and missed the playoffs only once. That came in 2002, when the Anaheim Angels won the wild card with a resounding 99 victories and the Red Sox were undergoing a transition in ownership. The point is that this has not been a bad season so much as it has been a relatively unsuccessful one.

The Red Sox are going to be playoff contenders again next season because their management and pitching staff is too good not to be, but the goal, for some of us, is not to beat out Tampa Bay for the wild-card spot. The goal is to win championships. The Red Sox have some work to do in their lineup and their bullpen, and there do not appear to be any easy solutions. The Red Sox could very easily make the playoffs next season, but many of us felt that way entering this year and projected the Red Sox as an early-round ejection.

Championship odds: 4-to-1.

Patriots

Be honest with yourself: What you saw on Sunday was not anything remotely resembling a championship defense – even in college football's Western Athletic Conference. The Buffalo Bills' lineup is the football equivalent of the Seattle Mariners. The Bills have no real explosiveness whatsoever, and yet they punted once against a Patriots group that is clearly out of WAC.

Yes, it was one game. But the Pats have issues. Go through the AFC (honestly) and you can come up with a group of teams that look a good deal stronger than the Patriots today, including: Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Baltimore, and New York. Houston and Miami are right there, too, which places the Patriots in the middle of the conference.

Can that change? Of course. We’re talking about a team coached by Bill Belichick here. But the defense is absurdly young, which is going to require rapid growth. At the same time, the Patriots will have a crack at a title before anyone else.

Championship odds: 5-to-1.

Celtics

Maybe Danny Ainge should have blown it all up at the end of last year. Maybe preserving this group – and we’re talking formaldehyde – was the more prudent way to go. Regardless, Miami is the obvious and clear favorite in the conference, and there are far younger, more athletic teams (Atlanta, Chicago) that should concern you.

Just as the Sox are O-U-T, the Celtics are O-L-D old. We mean really old. If and when the Celtics plod through the regular season in uninspiring fashion, none of us will be as concerned this time around because of what we saw last year. If the Celtics are healthy when they make the playoffs – and they will – they will frighten teams because of their know-how. And they should.

No one would call the Celtics favorites, but their chances look better than the Red Sox or Patriots at this point.

Championship odds: 3-to-1.

Bruins

This might be a different question, admittedly, but ask yourself this: at the moment, if you had to invest in a team as if it were a stock, which would you pick? If you say anyone other than the Bruins, you’re wrong. Go right down the line. Tuukka Rask. David Krejci. Milan Lucic. Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron. Nathan Horton. Jordan Caron. Joe Colborne.

Know what they have in common? They’re all 25 or younger.

Obviously, Marc Savard remains a concern, but the biggest thing working against them is this: history. As was the case with the Red Sox prior to 2004, Bruins followers are conditioned to think the worst, an entirely understandable condition given the events of last postseason, in particular. But in terms of youth and talent, the Bruins appear to have a very good supply of both.

A suggestion: Buy in. This team could be fun for a while. And good.

Championship odds: 5-to-2.

Making up for lost time

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff August 23, 2010 08:18 AM

Learned a new term during a family trip out to see the in-laws: the obli-cation. This cannot help but make one wonder: whatever happened to the island getaway?

Catching up on the news and trying to make up for lost time …

  • Departed on Aug. 12, when the Red Sox were five games back in the division and 3 1/2 games back in the wild-card race. Returned on August 20 to find the Red Sox 6 1/2 games back in the division and five games behind in the wild card. This is hardly what one would call progress.
  • Josh Beckett may be unmovable in the wake of a four-year, $68 million contract extension that begins next season, but now is the time if the Red Sox ever have any intention of exploring a trade for him. Beckett will become a dreaded 10-5 man late next season – at least 10 years of major league service, at least the last five with the same team - which means he will have the right to veto any and all deals from that point forward.
  • The more you think about it, the more you cannot help but feel that the Red Sox season ended on that June weekend in San Francisco when Dustin Pedroia fouled a ball off his foot.
  • By the way, Bill Hall now has more home runs than J.D. Drew.
  • Amid all of the unending discussion about Jacoby Ellsbury now that he has returned to the disabled list, just how are the Red Sox going to get equal value for him following a season in which Ellsbury has played in 18 games and had his attitude openly questioned?
  • As for Jed Lowrie, on the other hand, now seems like a golden opportunity to strike while the iron is hot and sell high.
  • With regard to Roger Clemens, here’s the part that just won’t go away: does Clemens really think he’s pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes? As one longtime baseball executive noted, the Texas courts don’t believe him; the media doesn’t believe him; the government doesn’t believe him; and the public doesn’t believe him.
  • In the baseball world, this is known as an 0-fer.

  • Since we’re on the topic of chronic liars and general disingenuousness, now might be a good time to wonder whether Brett Favre and Roger Clemens have ever actually met, or, for that matter, exchanged recipes. You know, from one southern boy to another.
  • Which reminds me: Favre emphasizing commitment to the team in any meetings is like Tiger Woods preaching fidelity.
  • So would you take Tiger on the Ryder Cup team?
  • Let’s not get too excited about the Patriots just yet. In any professional sport, the preseason is utterly worthless when it comes to handicapping the field. The good news is that the Patriots appear to be emphasizing a return to basics and that the very early signs are good with regard to some of their most recent draft picks. At this stage, we’re just looking for progress.
  • Is anyone else completely unsurprised by the fact that Stephen Strasburg is ailing? Take a good look at those rookie pitchers with whom Strasburg compares with regard to strikeouts per nine innings. The majority of them flamed out.
  • Just for kicks, let’s review some of the players the Red Sox have picked up during this season: Jonathan Van Every, Niuman Romero, Kevin Cash, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Shealy, Eric Patterson, Rich Hill, Argenis Reyes, Jack Hannahan, Daniel Turpen and Carlos Delgado.
  • Does that sound like a management group that is serious about contending, particularly given a history that has included some absolute blockbuster, midseason deals?

  • By the way, Kerry Wood, who cost the Yankees nothing but a little cash, now has a 0.84 ERA with New York and has racked up seven straight scoreless appearances.
  • Don’t look now, but the start of Bruins training camp is rapidly approaching. Salary cap issues aside, the Bruins should keep Marc Savard and Tim Thomas, then roll out the pucks.
  • If the Celtics hadn’t made that run to the NBA Finals, does anyone else think we’d be talking about Doc Rivers right now the way we’re talking about Lou Piniella?
  • On the flipside: do you think Piniella would have skipped out if the Cubs were in contention?

    We think not.

Once again, it's just Brett being Brett

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff August 4, 2010 05:34 AM

The large majority of us fail to qualify as psychologists, but this really does come down to one of two things. Either Brett Favre is someone who likes to make people beg and craves attention to the point of addiction, or he is an inconsiderate, entirely self-absorbed narcissist who has no understanding of how his actions impact other people.

Unless, of course, someone can be all of those things at once.

Every year it’s the same thing: Favre finishes the season, jerks people around, plays with the lives and fortunes of those unfortunate enough to be wearing the same uniform. Through it all, he never seems to feel the least bit guilty. In this case, the Minnesota Vikings are conducting training camp without a real quarterback, and their Super Bowl odds in Las Vegas are dropping by the day.

Too bad for you, Jared Allen. You, too, Adrian Peterson. You’re a sap, Sidney Rice.

As for someone like defensive back Lito Sheppard, who presumably signed with the Vikes in April thinking he was thisclose to a Super Bowl, it may be time to reassess the situation. Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson is every bit as capable as Favre of throwing a back-breaking interception in the NFC Championship, but each is far less likely to get the Vikings there in the first place.

Think there’s any chance Sheppard’s contract has an out clause in the event Brett was, you know, being Brett?

But seriously: what sort of cheap thrill does Favre get from pulling this stunt every summer? And just as importantly, why do people continue enabling his megalomaniacal behavior?

We know the answer, of course. Because Favre is a quarterback. Because the position is thinner than the Olsen twins. Because there are coaches and organizations willing to sacrifice all of their values for the chance to win, if for no other reason than the fact that sports have become big business and butt-kissing has become commonplace.

After all, it wasn’t enough for the New York Yankees to give Alex Rodriguez $275 million over 10 years; they had to give him season tickets and up to $30 million in bonus money for reaching certain milestones in home runs. (Huh?) Guys like Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez got to jump into pennant races, mid-stride, as if they were Rosie Ruiz. And conniving attention-seekers like Favre snub their teammates at the start of the season (by blowing off training camp) and at the end (with ill-advised throws) without the slightest bit of regret or remorse.

All of this brings to mind the saga of Carl Everett, the mercurial and former Red Sox outfielder who had, er, issues with authority. Everett believed his standing and accomplishments as a player allowed him certain privileges, like, for instance, showing up late. (Martinez, too, perceived this as an acquired perk.) Everett often argued that he deserved to be treated differently, failing to recognize that he was, in fact, getting preferential care.

Said former Sox coach Tommy Harper when asked about advising Everett: "I told him he is treated differently -- on the first and 15th of every month.’’

Oh, right.

So that’s why people earn different salaries?

In the case of Favre, his behavior is now nothing short of pathological, no matter how you slice it. For the moment, let’s give Favre the benefit of the doubt and say that, on the first occasion, following the 2006 season, he truly did not know whether he wanted to play until he got to training camp the following year. Then he pulled the same trick in 2007. And in 2008. And in 2009. On the last two occasions, Favre ended with the New York Jets and then the Vikes, who are now falling all over themselves to grant Favre anything he wants so that their Super Bowl odds improve again.

At some point, it’s hard to know who we should feel sorriest for. The annual Favre story is now beyond a soap opera. Save for the Green Bay Packers, who finally told the quarterback to take a powder, everyone else involved in this never-ending satire has been downright pathetic.

Two years ago, when Favre un-retired and applied with the Packers to be re-instated, the Packers ultimately rebuffed him. Favre ended up being traded to the New York Jets. It was during this time that aging former Pats linebacker Tedy Bruschi was asked about the distraction Favre had caused in Green Bay, offering a rather succinct explanation for where the problem rested.

"I would take that responsibility as a player," Bruschi said. "As a player, the decisions you make, you have to realize the ramifications of them. When you say you're going to hang it up, that's got to be your (final) decision. If anything, I'm learning from this. Certainly, when my time comes, I'm going to take my time."

Last summer, Bruschi walked.

Too bad for the rest of us that Favre didn’t do the same.

For A-Rod and others, 600 just doesn't add up

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff July 28, 2010 08:54 AM
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Alex Rodriguez is sitting on 599, but raise your hand if you are also among those who do not give a hoot. From the owners to the players, baseball wanted it this way, after all. Now, as the game is being detoxified, shame on them if they are disappointed by our reaction.

Six hundred homers? It was once sacred ground in baseball, a place reserved for Aaron, Ruth and Mays. Then came the steroid era. Baseball owners and players took the most awe-inspiring sanctuary in sports and built condos on it, all with the idea of restoring value in the cold, hard American dollar. That is when baseball officially became a business more than our national pastime. Gordon Gekko became commissioner.

So now A-Rod is on the cusp of 600, an event that should be cause for national celebration. Well whoop-de-do. For those keeping score at home, Rodriguez has hit all 599 of his career home runs after the 1994-95 work stoppage, the official starting line of chemical breeding in baseball. A-Rod might as well be Dolly, the genetically engineered sheep. If he breaks down anytime before eclipsing the equally mutated Barry Bonds, fear not. We can always make another one.

Wisecracking aside, we crunched some numbers here. From 1920 to 1994, throughout the major leagues, home runs were hit at an average pace of one for roughly 48.5 at-bats. From 1970 to 1994, the number was roughly one homer for every 43 at-bats. Since the start of the 1995 campaign, homers have come at the stratospheric rate of one for every 32 at-bats, a preposterous increase that has made a mockery of the record book. Men like Aaron, Ruth and Mays worked far, far harder for their accomplishments than men like Rodriguez and Bonds did for theirs, a fact that requires some obvious adjustment. A home run now does not equal a home run then. Think of it as comparing the yen to the dollar.

So, using our currency converter to compare Rodriguez's numbers to those who came before him, here’s what we came up with: Depending on which standard you elect to use – the 1920-94 average or the one from 1970-94 – Rodriguez actually has somewhere between 389 and 446 home runs. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and call it 446. That leaves him more than 300 homers short of Aaron on the morning after his 35th birthday, all in the wake of hip surgery and coming at a time when Rodriguez seems to be deteriorating at a rapid pace.

Don’t misunderstand. Rodriguez was and forever will be one of the game’s greatest players. This has nothing to do with him personally. (Using the same formula, Bonds would have had somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 home runs.) Rather, it has to do with the complete lack of respect owners and players simultaneously had for a game that, as James Earl Jones told us as Terrence Mann in "Field of Dreams," has marked the time. Baseball was a relatively rare constant in our history, at least until the historic work stoppage of 1994-95. Owners and players both understood the damage that resulted from that debacle, so they both looked the other way when Dr. Feelgood walked into the room and stuck a needle into the game’s behind.

Voila. Just like that, Ivan Drago was hitting cleanup for just about every team in the major leagues and the game was back, feeling better than ever. Attendance went up and the game hasn’t had a labor issue since.

The damage, in retrospect, was considerable. Can we honestly look at anyone in baseball the same way now? Can we really mention A-Rod in the same breath as Aaron, Ruth and Mays? Can we truly regard David Ortiz’ club record of 54 home runs in the same way we looked at, say, Jim Rice’s 46 (in 1978) during a week that marks the one-year anniversary of the news that Ortiz's name was on the famed 2003 steroids list? The answers are obvious. No way, no chance, not ever. More than anything else, baseball wanted to restore its business in the wake of the strike. In the short term, the game got it. In the long term, the game sold its credibility, or at least a good percentage of it, which is why A-Rod homer total needs to now suffer a hefty tax.

Rodriguez, in particular, quite literally sold his soul. As part of Rodriguez’ epic, $275 million deal with the Yankees, the player has $6 million bonuses when he hits career home run Nos. 660 (Mays), 714 (Ruth) and 755 (Aaron). He will earn an additional $6 million each for both tying and passing Bonds (762), meaning he could earn an additional $30 million that would bring the total value of the contract to in excess of $305 million.

For Rodriguez, that is the potential reward for being baseball’s home run king.

If only in title.

Mail call

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff July 16, 2010 11:36 AM

The truth, of course, is that we have yet to even begin feeling the impact of the LeBron James decision. That will not come until next fall or next summer, or for the months and years beyond. Nonetheless, James’ act last week clearly struck a nerve in many of us, as evidenced by the fallout.

To wit:

Huss2960 wrote: Massarotti, you do make some interesting points in this article, and I read it for obvious reasons - though I vowed to never read your dribble - but I feel the same way about you now as I did then ... you too are a clown, and packing all media in with you and saying ``shame on us’’ is a typical move for a self-absorbed, self-promoting hack ... yeah Massarotti, you're just like LeBron, sans the money, fame, and powerful ability to steer yourself through life ... James is a clown? ... perhaps; but in this case, it takes one to know one.

TM: Sounds to me like you had your mind my made up before you even read the column in question, but that is certainly your right. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t trying to drag anyone down with me. If you’d rather I sink alone, I’d be happy to do so. Thanks for the note.


proftom wrote: ESPN's coverage was obsessive. LeBron's behavior is narcissistic at best and his actions toward his hometown team and fans was sociopathic. I thought the owner of the Cavilers reaction was brave and needed to be said. The people of Ohio didn't deserve the public humiliation that got. We are very lucky the Sox, Pats, and Celtics send their bad apples to the packing house before they rot our sports culture.

TM: Obviously in total agreement with you on LeBron, but we’ve had our share of self-absorbed narcissists here, too. Trust me on that one. Nonetheless, the culture in Boston has been dramatically different over the last 10 years or so. Whether character facilitates winning – or the other way around – is a chicken-and-egg argument, but there’s no doubt that we have been removed from much of this for many years.

Wait, what about Manny?


usbdas wrote: Tony, you hit the nail on the head once again. The only people more ludicrous than LeBron James were the morons that actually watched the spectacle on TV. I can't imagine my life being so bereft of meaning and things to do and importance that I would sit in front of the TV and watch James tell us where he is going to play basketball. The world to Lebron: 99 percent of us don't give a crap!!! What would be most fitting is if he NEVER wins a championship!!

TM: Clearly, my life is bereft of meaning … and things to do … and importance, if only because I did watch the LeBron infomercial. Then again, I knew those things a long time ago. Thanks for the note.


kmatthew68 wrote: Can anyone imagine Jordan leaving his team to go join some other superstars to help carry the load? I can't. Lebron ain't no Jordan or Magic or Bird.

TM: Amen. Couldn’t have said it better myself. This question gets to the core of LeBron’s competitiveness. Most guys prefer to work for championships because the true value comes in earning it. LeBron seems to regard a championship less as a crusade and more as a necessary ingredient to convince the rest of us of his greatness. What a sad, misguided man.


jphaneuf1 wrote: Really Mazz? You feel that the media should "control" stars and celebrities? REALLY?!?!?! I thought the media's job was to report. Period. Don't elaborate the media's role in this whole thing. The bottom line is, if LeBron had come to you and said, "Hey Mazz, I want you to be the guy interviewing me at my announcement", you would have done it with bells on and probably asked him what to wear. So get off your moral soap box and quit your whining. Boo Hoo, so some people are mad about his actions and his decision. It was going to happen no matter what his decision was. Sports as it existed 30 years ago is DEAD. Times have changed, the rules have changed, players have changed, and fans have changed. Deal with it and move on, and stop lamenting about the old ways.

TM: I’m not lamenting the old ways; I’m lamenting the new ones. And when I was suggesting is that the media has a significant role in any system based on checks and balances. That’s why we exist. We can only report what we learn to be true, which requires the cooperation of sources, etc. Don’t shoot the messenger. Always appreciate any feedback – positive or negative – but do you understand how the system works?


ProSox wrote: Mazz, I think this is the first time you've written a great article.
LeBron really is a Horse's behind.

TM: Chalk it up to the blind squirrel theory. Nothing can bring people together like a common enemy, eh?


brevets wrote:
Mazz, you are the clown. Like it or not, but LeBron is exactly what the NBA needs to fuel interest. HE is not creating a spectacle. WE are fueling it. Get off your high horse and enjoy the show.

TM: Just wondering, is LeBron what the NBA needs or is he what the NBA has? I think there’s a difference there. The NBA has long promoted its stars, which is fine. But that TV show last week brought self-promotion to an embarrassing new level. Going into that charade, I actually thought LeBron was a decent, well-grounded young man. Coming out, I thought he was a buffoon. Even David Stern panned the performance.


brokenbil wrote: Mazz, why are you getting your panties in a wad over this? You act like LeBron James just took a dump on the American flag and ESPN cablecast it. May I remind you that the NBA is an entertainment business. The spectacle of one of it biggest stars announcing his "decision" about which big-money contract he wants to sign for next season is all part of the show. I'm just disappointed that his decision wasn't much of a surprise. How awesome would it have been if he had chosen to go to the Clippers?!? As long as James continues to entertain me on the court, I really don't care what decisions he makes about his career.

TM: I guess that’s the difference between me and you. Some of understand that sports have become synonymous with business and entertainment, but we still like to think of the players as, you know, competitors. Until Thursday, I thought winning was the central, driving force in all sports. That’s why I found the entire episode so sad. James convinced me he is more interested in the entertainment value and the money, not necessarily in that order. He doesn’t see himself as a basketball first, so why should I see him as one?


yamomma wrote: The only clown, Mazz, is you for wasting your time writing an article stating the obvious. You may as well have just written a bunch of paragraphs telling us about how the sky is blue. Who cares about James? Who cares if he is a self-promoting egomaniac? What pro athlete isn't? Tell us something we didn't know. James is one of the premier players in the game. James has already done more than you could ever dream of, Mazz, and he has earned the right to promote himself however he wants, so quit being such a whiney baby all the time.

TM: You’re right. He has the right to promote himself however he wants. And I – along with millions of others – have the right to tell him how foolish he looked. Do you honestly believe that how James announced his decision was good for basketball, professional sports and himself?


hssak1 wrote:
Disagree with most of what was written in this article. A 25- or 26-year-old man or woman today is more mature and more informed than a 30- or 35-year old 10 or 15 years ago. Lebron has proven, at his age, that he is more mature confident and with an ego in check compared to most athletes.

TM: Actually, I think he’s proven the opposite. I think he’s proven he’s less mature. The 25- and 26-year-olds of today might smarter and more knowledgeable than those who preceded them, but maturity is another matter altogether. Maturity comes from perspective and experience, which go hand in hand. Lemme guess: you’re 25?


jkorandanis wrote: Sorry Mazz... you're just another example in a long tradition of Boston sports writers hating superstars. Although I found the coverage to be completely boring, you've glossed over the fact that Lebron raised $2.5 million for Boys & Girls Club last night. Regardless of whether or not he could afford more out of his pocket, at the end of the day, that's something worth praising, not mocking. I'd also like to point out that Lebron is 25 years old. I'll give him a few more years before I declare him a loser. I'm assuming you're about 40, and have never done a thing worth writing about.

TM: Can we please stop giving LeBron credit for raising money for the Boys & Girls Clubs? I mean, how transparent can one man be? As for your suggestion that I’ve never done a thing worth writing about, I have this great thought. And you’re right.


Jakethesnake53 wrote: Tony, as USUAL you wrote a meaningless article! For some reason you are in bed with [Theo] Epstein. How come you don't mention all the lousy trades and over-the-hill players - Smoltz, Penny, Lackey etc. etc!!!!! The paperboy’s spot is open in Andrew Square. Maybe you can sell the Globe on that corner.

TM: Silly, silly man. Nobody reads the paper anymore. Everything is the web, which is why I write for boston.com. Wanna buy a computer? (Thanks for the note.)


getsomerest wrote: Why do you assume that if we beat out Tampa Bay for second place, we win the wildcard? It's just as likely, if not more so, that the wildcard will emerge from the Central Division or, for that matter, even the West.

TM: This is a good point. While I still believe the Wild Card will come from the East, as it almost always does, the idea of two teams emerging from the Central is not farfetched, particularly with the recent surge made by the White Sox. I honestly don’t believe there is any chance the wild card will come from the West, but stranger things certainly have happened. Regardless, you’re right. But if the Sox finish no better than third, they have no shot whatsoever.


EdA wrote: I wouldn't say the John Lackey signing went wrong, but his first half performance was not what we expected. So his performance went wrong not his signing. He still has time to improve in the second half and hopefully into the postseason. We need to wait a year or two before we can judge the signing itself.

TM: For what it’s worth, the comment on Lackey was written in a midseason assessment. Obviously, he has four-and-a-half years remaining on his deal. I never said the Lackey signing was mistake. All I said was that he thus far has failed to live to the deal the Red Sox have given him. I expected more from him, especially after Josh Beckett went down.


mandrake wrote: That bullpen number is deceiving, Mazz. It’s the starters not going deep into games that makes the pen ineffective. I'll take the Sox pen over the Yanks pen any day (with the exception of the great Rivera of course, but to me "closer" is a distinct category from "bullpen"). Look at the innings the Yanks’ starters log, and then consider their 10 pen losses! That is much more disturbing that the Sox' 13 losses in my mind. Much more.

TM: OK, just looked this up. Through 88 games, Yankees starters had pitched about 10 more innings than those of the Red Sox. Were that number, say, 40, I might agree with you. I’m not saying the New York bullpen is good – it isn’t – but the numbers are what they are. Even Papelbon continues to slip. The Red Sox have an absolute issue there.

The King is a clown

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff July 9, 2010 08:05 AM

The latest deconstruction of an American sports icon took place on live television, in prime time, during a one-hour broadcast so surreal it felt as if we were watching "The Truman Show." LeBron James proved that he is a self-absorbed, egomaniacal child. Jim Gray and ESPN proved that they are shameless stooges. And we proved that we are now completely lost, wandering along without any moral compass whatsoever.

So James is going to play for the Miami Heat. Great. Good luck to him and to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the rest of the Heat. None of that should really bother anyone. But the manner in which James announced his decision last night brought American sports to a new low and made a complete mockery of our core beliefs, most notably the ones that declare no individual to be bigger than the team, league, or, most importantly, game.

But then, all we’ve been doing for 25 years is telling LeBron James how great he is, all while happening to omit a fairly important detail: You have to win something, LeBron. You can’t really become a megastar until you earn it at the highest levels. At this moment, the sad truth is that James is more like Freddy Adu or Michelle Wie or Anna Kournikova than he is Tiger Woods or even Alex Rodriguez, if only because the last two men actually have some titles. LeBron has none. And yet, ESPN all too willingly indulged James last night by kissing his bottom like no major media outlet ever has done before, providing him with the pedestal from which James could look down on, well, everyone.

There are lots of angles to this story, beginning with simple truth that professional sports have devolved into something quite sad. The winning just doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. ESPN, in particular, spends an inordinate amount of time celebrating people like James, Rodriguez, and Brett Favre, whose colossal insecurities have caused them far more tragic failures than true successes. And the network has done it all in the interest of ratings, destroying any remaining measure of reality from a world in which there was relatively little to begin with.

Really, were they kidding us with that garbage? Gray’s questioning of LeBron James made those Ahmad Rashad-Michael Jordan exchanges look like the Spanish Inquisition. Do you still bite your nails, LeBron? Maybe, at some point, it would have served Gray to ask James what all of us were thinking: if the team is important LeBron, then why are you here alone? Why aren’t Dwyane and Chris here with you? For that matter, why aren’t the Miami Heat, who will be paying you an extraordinary amount of money, here to share in the celebration of the self-proclaimed King?

The obvious answer: because James didn’t want them there. Because he wanted the spotlight to himself. Because he’s more important than they are and he has yet to recognize the value in being part of something bigger than you. Because he’s more interested in promoting the James brand – and, for that matter, that of ESPN – before those of Wade, Bosh, the Heat, and Pat Riley. If LeBron truly wanted to do something for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, he didn’t have to funnel them the money of advertisers and sponsors. He could have signed a blank check.

But then, in that case, he actually would have had to give something.

In the bigger picture, of course, ESPN is just the biggest and most obvious example of a media world gone awry. In the age of the internet and cable television, the proliferation of media outlets has intensified problems that admittedly were there to begin with. With competition for the scoop now being conducted on broader scales and at higher speeds than ever before, access has become the easiest route to an original story. Accordingly, reporters are sacrificing standards. We have become lackeys and mouthpieces, apologists and enablers. We tell people like LeBron how great they are, over and over again, and we withhold the truth because it might cost us a competitive advantage.

Clearly, James’ family and friends are doing the same thing. Were that untrue, somebody would have stepped up and told James how positively pathetic his performance was destined to be last night – and someone would have stopped it. Instead, presumably, James’ sycophantic team patted him on the back and told him how perfect he was – you da man, LeBron! – all while James and ESPN shamelessly promoted one another under the guise of a charitable endeavor.

Here’s another thing: these hand-picked interviews are starting to get real old, real fast. Mark McGwire had Bob Costas. Woods had Tom Rinaldi and Kelly Tilghman. Michael had Ahmad and LeBron has Gray. The obvious public relations strategy here is for the star to control the media – and not the other way around – and desperate media outlets have been all too willing to acquiesce. In the process, as a group, we have sacrificed any chance at accountability, which is what we were intended to obtain in the first place.

Now, more than ever, we truly give free press.

Shame on us.

We’re a joke.

The saddest part in all of this is that LeBron is being celebrated as some kind of enormous success in the sports world, which is laughable given his resume. He’s a great businessman, of course, but so was Brian Bosworth. When Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce came together in Boston, they did so as 30-somethings on whom reality had long since dawned. They needed each other and they were willing to do whatever necessary to make it work. The subjugation of egos was a critical development in that, something Garnett has proven time and time again by making himself part of a team rather than isolating himself from it. That is why Tom Brady, too, continues to hold weekly media sessions at his locker rather than at a podium.

Maybe that is all real, maybe it’s not. But it is symbolic if nothing else.

In the case of James, he is 25. He will turn 26 on December 30. He doesn’t know a fraction of what he thinks he does. The unification of James, Bosh, and Wade feels more like an arranged marriage than anything else, as if LeBron is using Bosh and Wade (already a title winner) to get his championship the way a mail-order bride gains citizenship. Thus far, James has not been able to win a title on his own merit, and he has heretofore blamed everyone but himself. During Cleveland’s loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals – the King’s last act as a Cav – James sometimes seemed to play as if he wanted to lose, as if he wanted to make a point, as if he wanted to grease the skids for his departure from Cleveland. You see? I just can’t win here. A truly great player, of course, would have hoisted the team on his back – or at least tried.

Instead, James is off to Miami, a decision he was fully entitled to make. It’s just his motivation that many of us question. Does James want a title because he thinks he deserves one? Or does he want to actually, you know, win it? His behavior suggests the former more than the latter. James seems to regard a championship as a birthright, as if it is something to be given to him rather than to be earned. And the more time that passes, the more you cannot help but wonder if James is just another damaged, spoiled, and self-absorbed brat who cannot understand the simplest rules in life.

Generally speaking, you get what you deserve. And you deserve what you go out and get.

Attempting to cover all the hot topics

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff July 7, 2010 08:27 AM

Hopping from one foot to the next because the ground is so darned hot …

LeBron James had this all orchestrated from the beginning, right down to the absurdity of a prime-time reality show that ESPN was all too eager to embrace. Like Brett Favre, James effectively owns ESPN anyway. At least now we know there is a formal business agreement between the world’s most self-indulgent network and its most self-absorbed star.

It’s official, folks. In this age of Facebook, Tweeting and personal, up-to-minute updates – Sitting on my deck – isn’t summer gr8? – the ice cream truck just went by! – LeBron is updating his web page via cable television. Who needs Twitter, anyway? Via your laptop or iPhone, all you need to do tomorrow night is to tune in to LBJTV. The proceeds may be going to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, but do not be fooled. Ultimately, this is all about promoting the brands of King James and the marketing machine that is ESPN.

Really, does everything have to be a show now? Are we required to play these silly games of one-upmanship? When are we going to learn that people like James need more humility and less attention, at least until they do something entirely worthy of our praise.

Like winning a championship, for example.

Tyler Seguin currently is participating in the Bruins rookie development program, which is growing more and more ironic. The more you watch and listen to him, the less Seguin (pronounced like Reagan) seems like a rookie. The less he seems like an 18-year-old. Seguin looks more and more like the antidote to someone like LeBron, a young man who seems more interested in self-improvement that self-promotion.

So Taylor Hall has a three-year contract. So what? Seguin has that air of professionalism, of poise and tact that cannot help but make you wonder if he has the intangibles of a Patrice Bergeron, maybe even a Ray Bourque. The kid reeks of dignity. In the Hollywood production of the Hall-Seguin story, Val Kilmer would play Hall. Seguin would be played by a young Harrison Ford or maybe even Matt Damon, someone far more interested in substance than in flash.

"I’m not expecting anything," Seguin told reporters at development camp when asked about Hall’s new deal with the Oilers. "We’re in two different positions. He’s in Edmonton and I am in Boston here, where they have almost already a Stanley Cup contending team and [the Oilers] are rebuilding. So, I could get signed soon or I could get signed in two years. Really, I’m just coming in here trying to prove a point and earn a spot."

He added: "My philosophy all year has been to do my own thing and stay focused. … My goal is to come into these camps, make an impression, work my hardest, earn a spot, and be an impact player my rookie year. Obviously if that doesn’t work out, I’ll be disappointed, but it’s just adversity and I have to face it head on and go out there and keep improving in the OHL."

Don’t you already love this kid?

OK, I admit it. When Kevin Youkilis grabbed the back of his ankle while sitting on the Tropicana Field turf last night, I immediately thought it was an Achilles injury of some kind. That is just how things have been going for the Red Sox. The injuries obviously are starting to catch up with the Sox and, in the loss column, Boston could be three games behind Tampa Bay depending on the outcome tonight. The Sox will play the majority of their games this month both undermanned and on the road, which is a scary combination.

The Patriots are a mere 22 days from the official start of training camp, and this figures to be one of the more intriguing Patriots seasons in quite some time. I mean, what are the expectations for this team? The Pats have aging stars entering the final years of their contracts (Tom Brady, Randy Moss), an array of new, young players (Brandon Spikes, Devin McCourty) and, it seems, a brutally difficult schedule. There is Wes Welker’s rehab. There is Torry Holt. And, with the NFL labor issue in a state of flux, there is the feeling that this is very much a rebuilding year.

Or is it?

During his tenure as Pats coach, this is typically when Bill Belichick has done his best work. Typically, younger plays are far more malleable than veterans because they simply do not know any better. In 2010, Belichick does not have any Adalius Thomases or Shawn Springs to worry about. He just has a bunch of young guys who had better do things the way Bill wants them done or their careers in New England will be decidedly brief.

And so, in the end, doesn’t this really come down to whether the Patriots identified the right players in the April draft? And by that, we mean the players who can both learn and apply Belichick’s methods?

Pending the James announcement, the greatest free agent class in sports history thus far has been a relative dud. Amar’e Stoudamire went to the Knicks. According to ESPN, Chris Bosh is headed to Miami. Along with those announcements has come the news that Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki, Darko Milicic, Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay, among others, all have remained with their existing teams.

Of course, there are still free agents on the market, including Carlos Boozer, David Lee and Ray Allen. But if James ends up remaining in Cleveland, as many suspect, the NBA landscape really will not have changed that much despite all those forecasts of summer anarchy.

All of this brings us to the Chicago Bulls, who seemingly had the most to gain entering this market. Again, depending on James, the Bulls now may have the most to lose. And if LeBron stays in Cleveland, is that at all any reflection on Tom Thibodeau, the former Celtics assistant and new head coach of the Bulls?

Of course, for those answers and more, tune in tomorrow night.

Emptying out the mailbag

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff June 9, 2010 07:56 AM

I'm finally sorting through a mountain of mail while wondering whatever happened to Karl Malone …

Paula: I let a few days pass before sending this in the hope of tempering my remarks. Were you on something when you penned this (It's official: umps and refs getting in the way, June 3)? To lump Jim Joyce in with Tim Donaghy is beyond my understanding. One is a convicted (I think) criminal - the other an umpire who obviously followed his conscience, made what he perceived to be the right call, and committed an error. …I'll be 67 on Wednesday and have followed the Red Sox since I was 7 or 8. Usually I enjoy reading you, but this was absurd. Just to satisfy my curiosity, have you had any second thoughts?

TM: In all honesty, no. However, you were not the only person to make this criticism of the column, which means I did a poor job expressing my thoughts on the bigger picture. The idea was not to equate Joyce with Donaghy. The idea was to point out that, for a number of reasons, officiating seems to have deteriorated over the last couple of years, to the point where we have had some very high-profiled missteps by officials in all sports. There are obviously degrees of these transgressions, but it seems to me that fans now have the right and capacity to second-guess officials like never before.

Joyce obviously made an honest mistake. I was not suggesting he is corrupt. His mistake obviously does not put him in the same class as Donaghy. Nonetheless, it was a blown call. Thanks for the note!

Donald: In your column "Public trust has officially been lost," I would have understood you calling for an overturn of Jim Joyce's call or an increase in video replay. You instead chose to question the integrity of Jim Joyce and mention him in the same article as Tim Donaghy, which I find reprehensible. How an honest mistake compares to a dishonest career is something I fail to see. Using your logic, all fielding errors or failures to hit in scoring position also undermine the public trust in the players. … Maybe what we are really experiencing is an eroding public trust in sports columnists.

TM: Donald, I’d be hard pressed to argue your final point. Again, I wasn’t trying to equate Joyce with Donaghy. I do believe that some people saw both names in the same column and jumped to that conclusion, but nowhere did I suggest that the two were even remotely comparable. Still, given that many readers made this connection indicates a flaw in the manner my opinions were express. That’s poor writing. Thanks for the note.

Mike: It is a mystery to me that most really bad calls are clearly visible on replay within 5-10 seconds of the occurrence and yet there is no means to change the calls and make them right. It is one thing when a call is disputable on replay - it is another when millions of people know a bad call was made long before play resumes. Why not have a official in the booth watching the TV?

TM: In baseball, at least, this very solution has been proposed by none other than Red Sox manager Terry Francona – and it makes perfect sense to me. There are obvious things to consider – delays in play, additional costs for officiating, uniformity of television coverage in lesser markets – but I generally couldn’t agree more. Nobody wants games to be bogged down by replay. But there has to be a better way.

John: I'm on lunch and thought I would take a few minutes to commend you on your column today (about the deteriorating performance of officials). It is simple, accurate and brilliant. … Oversight authorities are, essentially, now paid to cover up public corruption and crime. …The Justice Department and the FBI has learned that crime pays and it pays big.

TM: Uh-oh. Can’t be a good sign if I’m getting support from the conspiracy theorists. Nonetheless, at a moment like this, I’ll take any reinforcement I can get. Thanks for the note.

John: You're dead wrong on the Ellsbury column (Central issue concerns his desire to play, May 28). If you had ever broken ribs yourself, you would understand the amount of pain -- unimaginable, persistent and long-term pain -- involved. And every attempt to "play through" that pain only makes the condition worse. Having been through this injury myself, I speak from experience. Every time I tried to "play through the pain," the condition only became worse, and the recovery time longer.

Way off the mark on this one. You are challenging his desire and reputation by way of a mistaken premise. The column constitutes an unnecessary, ill-informed attack on this player.

TM: On this column, too, you are not the only voice to express dissatisfaction. To me, the issue with Ellsbury does not concern this particular injury so much as it does the gap between the team and player with regard to his history in the minors and, to a degree, the majors. That is what compounded this matter and rests at the core of the issue. No one ever suggested he was faking it, but again, any absence of clarity is entirely my fault. Nobody else sat at the keyboard while I was writing. Thanks for the note.

Robert: I just read your story and the arguments that you make for Hanley (Ramirez) to come here are acceptable to me (If it's not one Ramirez, it's another, May 21). After the carnival of fantasy game shortstops that Theo and the James boys have over paid for the past few years, it would great to finally have some legitimate strength up the middle. Even if his defense turns into Julio Lugo or Marco "I have no range" Scutaro or Jed "I’m a nice guy, but I’m injury prone Lowrie," he can play the outfield.

TM: We all love Hanley’s talent, Robert, but let me make my feelings clear with regard to the idea of bringing him back: I don’t have to deal with him daily and neither do you. Hanley sounds like a diva of the highest order – call it immaturity or whatever you want – and that can make life very difficult for a manager and teammates. Nonetheless, the Red Sox won with Manny Ramirez here, largely because they had good veteran leadership in the manager’s office and clubhouse.

That said, I don’t think Hanley is leaving Florida anytime soon. And before you blame Theo for all of the misdeeds at shortstop, remember that Ramirez was traded away during Theo’s resignation. I am among those who strongly believe Epstein never would have dealt young Hanley, which certainly raises questions about whether he (and the Sox) would have won the 2007 World Series.

Paul: When I first heard about Hanley's recent antics I wondered if he was trying to "Hanley being Hanley" his way off the Marlins. Your article on Saturday doesn't mention that directly as a possibility, but I have to think he might rather be showing off his talent in NY, Philly, LA or - dare I say - Boston!? Manny's shooting himself out of town does seems very much like what is going on in south Florida now with his fellow Ramirez. I watched Hanley play when he was a Sea Dog and his talent stood out as special. It is a shame to see some of his talent wasted to his immaturity.

TM: Your theory is a distinct possibility, but Hanley strikes me as far less contrived than his more accomplished namesake. By the end of Manny’s time in Boston, he clearly wanted out. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception Manny receives upon returning to Fenway Park later this month, a return that will receive a considerable share of hype. Bet on it – and thanks for the note!

Jamie: So, the Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants in 2007 wasn't as heartbreaking as those five (Tony's Top 5 most heartbreaking moments in Boston sports history)? And Game 7 in 2003 against the Yankees? That challenges Buckner … but, wow!

TM: Would you believe me if I told you that, in compiling that list, I simply forgot about Super Bowl XLII? Clearly, this was some sort of defense mechanism resulting from the trauma – akin of to post-traumatic stress disorder, perhaps. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. I’m a dope.


Bedwards1216: I really think Brady gets a kick out of watching media clowns like Mazz and (Albert) Breer froth over non-stories, mild speculation from third party sources, and rumor-mill blatherings. … As always, Mazz never fails to provide at least one "what the heck is he talking about?" moment … starting with this comment: "the greater issue here may concern the posturing that is taking place between the Patriots and Camp Brady." (In negotiations, will Brady rule?, June 7). Wait … who is posturing? The only story to have come out at all is the one by (Michael) Silver which essentially said nothing, but the media in Boston seem to think that nothing is a huge deal. I've seen no evidence of any "posturing" from either side, and neither have you, Mazz. But now that there continues to be the insistence of posturing by the media, it will continue to be written that there is. It's self-created melodrama and I'm so tired of it. We don't know what's going on, so we're going to toss in some speculation so we'll have something to write about, by George!

TM: OK, so call me a cynic. (You’d be right.) But those of us who have reported on and covered sports in Boston for any length of time know that what is said publicly and what is said privately are two very different things. Brady had a chance to shoot down speculation and he glossed over it. In fact, he acknowledged a "situation" with the Patriots. The good news is that, shortly after this column was written, Colts president Bill Polian cited labor uncertainty as the reasons that Peyton Manning, Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne remain unsigned, too. Nonetheless, Brady took a hometown discount in his last negotiations and the Patriots rewarded him with a 2006 season in which he operated without a real receiving corps. If I’m Brady, they have something to prove to me this time.

Wildmeff: How about you chill out Tony, watch the Finals and write this column (For this group, is it truly The Finals?, June 2 -- on the impending reconstruction of the Celtics) two weeks after it. They're still playing basketball.

TM: My only objective here was to emphasize how important these Finals are to the Celtics given their age and roster issues. Nothing more. From this point forward, the skills of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen are going to continue deteriorating. That is a fact. All professional sports are usually dominated by players in their 20s and early 30s. Nobody is rooting for the Celtics to fail or dwelling on the negative. What Danny Ainge does with this roster during the offseason will be rather interesting. Thanks for the note!

RickDesper: One suspects that Mazz spent his honeymoon reciting divorce statistics.

TM: Nice try, but you couldn’t be more wrong. However, my wife did.

It's official: umps and refs getting in the way

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff June 3, 2010 05:29 AM

300jimjoyce.jpgThe idea, from the very beginning, was for umpires, referees and all officials to serve as policemen in the competitive arena. They were there to protect and to serve, to maintain order and calm. They were to be, above all else, worthy of our trust.

But today, as the NBA Finals are set to begin and baseball enters the middle stages of another long season, we now have greater cause than ever to wonder about our boys in blue. Where have all the good men gone? From Tim Donaghy and Ed Rush to Jim Joyce, Dale Scott and Joe West, blown calls are piling up like manufactured traffic violations at the end of the latest month. Maybe the officials are all trying to meet their quota. Maybe they are merely in a slump. Or maybe there are far greater problems than most would care to acknowledge, instant replay now hurting officials more than helping them in an age when high definition can reveal every misstep in excruciating detail.

Add in some of the needless theatrics and inexcusable stubbornness, and what you have is a deterioration of public trust.

As any player, coach or manager would be the first to tell you, after all, professional sports are a results-oriented business.

"I just cost that kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw - until I saw the replay," a deeply regretful Jim Joyce told reporters last night in Detroit, where he simply whiffed on a call that deprived Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a once-in-10 lifetimes achievement, a perfect game.

Added the self-flagellating umpire: "I don't blame them a bit or anything that was said. I would've said it myself if I had been Galarraga. I would've been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me."

Others did. More will. And the simple truth is that Joyce (almost universally described as good umpire) deserves all of it for a colossal blunder of historic proportion that may help deliver our trust in officiating to an all-time low, regardless of whether he should be held accountable for the sins of his brethren.

Remember West, the man who publicly scolded the Red Sox and Yankees for painfully slow play? Last week he was in the middle of it again, this time in Chicago, where he publicly jousted with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and pitcher Mark Buehrle. (Buehrle suggested, like many, that West enjoys the spotlight a little too much.)

Remember Scott, who umpired at Fenway Park in May? He so badly botched a called third strike against David Ortiz in the ninth inning of a close game – the pitch was about eight inches outside – that Dustin Pedroia openly wondered whether Scott had a plane to catch. That all came after a postseason in which umpires seemed to mangle one call after the next, leading one to wonder whether technology is making the officiating better or worse.

And then, of course, there is the NBA, where a convicted felon (Donaghy) has been making the tour of Boston sports radio stations of late to both promote his book and cast further suspicion on the NBA refereeing corps. Ask Kendrick Perkins about this. Or Rasheed Wallace. Or anyone who has watched an NBA game since, well, ever. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals last week between the Celtics and Orlando Magic, the Celtics lost the services of Perkins for the entire second half when he was issued a second technical foul. A day later, the NBA rescinded one of Perkins’ technicals so as to prevent him from suffering a mandatory one-game suspension, but the Celtics are still waiting to get a refund on the 24 minutes that the refs stole from them in the second half of Game 5.

Before any pitiful Boston sports follower turns this into some conspiracy theory – we wuz robbed remain the most shameful words in sports – do us all a favor and stop. The Red Sox might very well have lost to the Blue Jays despite Scott’s apparent blindness and the Celtics might very well have lost Game 5 despite the temporary insanity of Rush and Co. That is hardly the issue. The far greater point is that umpires and referees are becoming the story far too frequently during a time when their jobs should be easier than ever, which can only make us wonder about their attitudes, work ethic and, in some cases, integrity.

In the name of Ben Dreith, Larry Barnett and Andy van Hellemond, what the heck is going on here?

Galarraga, to his credit, handled last night’s gaffe with extraordinary dignity, somehow managing to shrug off Joyce’s blunder as what it ultimately was, an honest mistake. Again, that is hardly the point. Tigers manager Jim Leyland referred to Joyce as "a good umpire" following last night’s game, though his tone did little to conceal the frustration he felt for his young righthander. In that way, Leyland spoke for an entire legion of sports fans who have grown understandably skeptical and cynical with regard to the officiating, whether it has taken place on the diamond, gridiron, ice or court.

Jim Joyce might very well be a good guy and a good ump.

But in the eyes of the public, at a time when corruption has been proven to run deep, even the men in blue cannot be trusted anymore.

A night four the local sports fan

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff April 23, 2010 07:32 AM

First the draft, then the Bruins and Celtics, then the Red Sox, albeit by only a matter of minutes. It’s going to be a busy night, honey. Don’t wait up.

But really, what is a dedicated Bostonian to do on a night like this, when the planets are in alignment and worlds collide? Tonight’s menu offers more choices than the Cheesecake Factory, from football to hockey to hoops to hardball. The Patriots own three picks in the second round of the NFL draft. (How many defensive backs can one team have?) The Bruins will look to eliminate the Buffalo Sabres and advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs. (Who would have thought?) The Celtics can jump to a 3-0 lead in a first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat. (Will the real C’s please stand up?) And the Red Sox open a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. (At last, a true doormat.)

The Pats and Bruins get the obvious priority here. But what if your heart rests with the Celts and Sox? Thank heavens for the DVR, ESPN, and the World Wide Web.

And, of course, for picture-in-picture.

In the annual sports calendar, there are two months that stand out above all others: April and September. The latter gives us the start of the NFL season to go along with major league playoff races, all while the hockey and basketball players come back to work; the high school and colleges begin play; and here, in Boston, the PGA Tour comes to town. As for April, we have Opening Day, the Masters, the start of postseason play in the NBA and NHL, the annual NFL draft. Four days ago, lest anyone forget, we celebrated yet another Boston Marathon.

Even so, tonight stands as a rather unique convergence of events during which all of our four professional sports teams will be, for lack of a better word, active. Much of this has to do with a restructuring of the annual NFL draft that has turned what was once a weekend event into a made-for-TV miniseries. The first round of the draft was last night. Rounds 2 and 3 will come tonight. The final four rounds will come tomorrow, culminating with a seventh round during which the Patriots have picks. (OK, if you’re still tuned in for that, see a doctor.)

Tonight, starting at 6 p.m. in Round 2, Pats coach Bill Belichick could be among the busiest men in football. The Pats own over selections No. 44, 47, and 53, currently slated to be the 12th, 15th, and 21st selections of the day. As a result of last night’s trade that delivered Dez Bryant to the Dallas Cowboys, the Pats also picked up a selection (No. 90 overall) in what would have been an otherwise empty third round for them. Thanks to Belichick’s curious decision to snatch yet another defensive back in Round 1, the Pats enter today with the same glaring needs they possessed yesterday: pass rushers and pass catchers, not necessarily in that order.

As for the Bruins, we all know the score in the wake of Wednesday night’s pulsating 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, With a victory tonight in Game 5, the Bruins will advance to the second round of the playoffs, no small feat following a regular season in which they seemed downright comatose. Last night’s series-clinching win by the Philadelphia Flyers makes it even more likely that the Bruins would face the defending world champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the next round, though the Pens lost a potential clincher last night on their home ice and now lead the Ottawa Senators by a slim 3-2 margin entering Game 6 in Ottawa.

Naturally, Bruins followers know better than to take anything for granted at this stage. Even with a 3-1 series lead, the Bruins are no sure thing. The Sabres outplayed the Bruins in Game 4 and the Bruins have led for fewer than 20 minutes of the entire series. A Bruins loss tonight would swing the pendulum back ever so slightly toward the Sabres, sending the series back to Boston for a sixth game with the knowledge that Game 7 would be played in Buffalo.

Ground control to Bruins fans: It ain’t over 'til it’s over.

The Celtics? Only heaven knows what to expect from the Green now in the wake of Tuesday’s Garnett-free shellacking of the one-man gang known as the Miami Heat. Clearly, the game means far less to Boston than it does to Miami, which would face a 3-0 series deficit in the event of a loss. With or without Garnett, the Celtics clearly are the better team here, and it certainly seems as though a series win over the Heat is a matter of when, not if. A series with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers almost certainly awaits, raising all kinds of questions about our enigmatic basketball team entering Game 3 of the Heat series.

Can the Celts truly turn it on and off? Do they even have a shot against a team like Cleveland? And if they do, particularly given their age and injury issues, are the Celtics’ chances better by rapidly disposing of the Heat and using any possible time to rest and catch their breath?

Oh yes, the Red Sox. Does anyone feel any better about this team yet? With last night’s 3-0 loss to the Texas Rangers, the Sox slipped to 6-10 on the year; their only two series victories of the season have come against the Royals and Rangers, who are a combined 12-18. The Rangers last night stole two more bases, giving them 14 in 14 attempts during the series and meaning that the Red Sox have allowed a whopping 24 steals in the last seven games. To date this season, the Red Sox now have allowed 36 stolen bases in 37 attempts over 16 contests, putting them on a pace to allow a record 365 steals that would obliterate the mark of 223 they established under Jimy Williams and Joe Kerrigan in 2001.

The message for the O’s: Run, Forrest, run.

Meanwhile, the issues for the Sox remain the same: can they hit, field and pitch well enough in the coming days to avoid burying themselves? Are they capable of beating good teams or merely the bad ones?

For the answer to those questions and more, tune in tonight.

But have the clicker in hand.

And be prepared to miss something.

From bullpen to BC, a masterful weekend in sports

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff April 12, 2010 10:27 AM

Sights, sounds and observations during a weekend filled with channel surfing …

One week into the 2010 baseball season, the Red Sox are among a group of seven teams who have yet to see their starting pitchers suffer a loss. But then, the Sox are also among a group of five teams to have suffered a major league-leading three defeats in their bullpen.

As any general manager or manager will tell you during this age of statistical analysis and evaluation, the bullpen is always an area of concern. Forecasting performance is a difficult thing to do. Entering this season, during Terry Francona’s tenure as manager, Red Sox relievers had lost fewer games (110) than those from any other team in baseball. Sox relievers simultaneously ranked second in winning percentage, behind only those from the New York Yankees.

So far in 2010, the bullpen performance has left a great deal to be desired. Combined, Hideki Okajima and Daniel Bard have inherited four runners – and allowed all of them to score. On Friday night in Kansas City, with a one-run lead in the eighth inning, Bard inherited one runner, then placed a second by issuing a walk. Pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist then promptly stole second, a critical development when Bard subsequently allowed a broken-bat, two-run single to Rick Ankiel that turned a potential 3-2 win into a 4-3 defeat.

So far this season, along with the Yankees, the Sox have allowed a major league-leading nine steals. They have thrown out one attempted base stealer. Over the last two seasons, opponents are 11 of 12 in steal attempts against closer Jonathan Papelbon and 5 for 5 against Bard, a worrisome development for a team that, in 2010, is built on the concept of pitching and defense.

Already this season, the Sox have blown two games after the sixth inning. The bullpen also won a game by outpitching the Yankees on opening night, but the Sox could just as easily be 4-2 instead of 3-3.

And this year, games of the like could make all the difference in the world.

As for the inherited runners, Okajima and Bard were quite effective at stranding them last season, when Okajima (31 of 37 stranded, 83.8 percent) was among the best in baseball. Bard stranded 22 of 29. Nonetheless, for all the developments that took place during Week 1 – including the might struggles of David Ortiz – none bears greater watching than the performance of the Red Sox' setup men.

Meanwhile, to their credit, the Bruins forced their way into the playoffs and wrapped up the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. If you are Peter Chiarelli, you could not have diagrammed a more perfect way to end the season. The Bruins totaled nine points in their last five games to secure their best matchup (Buffalo) in the first round, all while the Toronto Maple Leafs locked up the second-worst record in the league. As a result of the latter, the B’s will have a 60.8 percent chance at either the first or second pick in the draft when the NHL draft lottery is conducted tomorrow night.

If the draft goes according to odds, as has been the case the last two years, Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin will be playing for the Bruins next year.

The NHL being the NHL, let us not dismiss the B’s chances to make some noise in the playoffs. With Game 1 starter Tuukka Rask in goal this season, the Bruins are 22-12-5. The Bruins played with grit and togetherness over the final three weeks of the season after the well-chronicled affairs of Matt Cooke, who got his comeuppance in the form of a right hand from Atlanta Thrashers center Evander (Real Deal) Kane on Saturday night.

What goes around comes around.

Even if you are among the lemmings who continue to root for Tiger Woods, developments in the final round of the Masters on Sunday were impossible to ignore. While the morally corrupt Woods was contending for his 15th major championship, his greatest rival, Phil Mickelson, actually won the tournament. After rolling in an emphatic birdie putt on the 18th green, Mickelson embraced his wife, Amy, who is battling breast cancer.

Meanwhile, Woods’s wife and the real victim in this mess, Elin Nordegren, was nowhere to be seen.

For Mickelson, the events of the weekend have to be gratifying. While we certainly do not know all the details of Mickelson’s life, he upstaged Woods on the course and off. It was a rather sound beating. Much has been made of the relationship between Woods and Mickelson – if there is really one at all – and one cannot help but wonder if the Mickelsons were slyly grinning on their way out of Augusta National last night.

Say what you want about Mickelsson, but he clearly is not afraid of Woods. Lest anyone forget, in September 2007, Mickelson and Woods were paired together in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship at the TPC Boston in Norton, and Mickelson won then, too.

Given the juxtaposition, of the two greatest golfers in the world, it is worth noting the contrast that has been struck by the men’s hockey and basketball programs at Boston College. Shortly after BC fired basketball coach Al Skinner following a disappointing season, the hockey team rolled to a second national championship in three years over the weekend by defeating Miami (Ohio) and Wisconsin by a combined score of 12-1.

For BC coach Jerry York, the title is his fourth during a career that has produced more NCAA wins that any coach but Ron Mason. Born in Watertown, York still lives in the same town. Most mornings, he still has coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts just beyond Watertown Square. College hockey will never receive the attention that college basketball does for obvious reasons, but isn’t it time that York get more attention for being one of the greatest college coaches, in any sport, of all time?

But then, he probably doesn’t want it.

Finally, with the end of the regular season now just two games away, one has to wonder what Doc Rivers thinks about during some of those drives home at night. Rivers is the same man and same coach since the Celtics won the title two years ago, but many of his players appear to have changed. Is Kevin Garnett as hungry? Is Paul Pierce? Meanwhile, Rasheed Wallace seems to have treated his three-year contract with the Celtics as if it were a golden parachute and Marquis Daniels has been a virtual non-factor this year.

Maybe the Celtics have a chance this postseason, maybe they don’t. The latter seems more likely. In many ways, the worst thing that could happen to the Celts is a walk-over in the first round, because that would only reinforce the notion that these Celtics can turn it on and off at will. Then again, if the Celtics are challenged right from the start, one has to wonder about their ability to make it through four long playoff series given their age and health problems.

No matter how you slice it, it just doesn’t seem to be their year.

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

5
The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
4
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
3
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
2
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
1
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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