The good news for Miami Marlins fans headed to spring training? There are no more "super premium" games on the Grapefruit League schedule.
The bad news, of course, is everything else for the few dozen faithful of Major League Baseball’s most irrelevant franchise.
It’s not even Opening Day and the Marlins are making fools of themselves, which isn’t necessarily ahead of schedule. The Sunshine State’s pathetic baseball franchise is up in arms because the Red Sox arrived at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. on Thursday with a lineup that looked more like something you’d see while sipping on a Del’s in Pawtucket.
The MLB spring training rules stipulate that travelling teams field a lineup with a "minimum of four players who were regulars on the previous year’s major league team or who were platooned on the previous year’s major league team on a regular basis, or who have a reasonable chance to be regulars on the major league club’s squad during the upcoming season. Each of those regulars, excluding pitchers, must play a minimum of three complete innings."
The only two players in Boston’s lineup Thursday with any major league experience Thursday were Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Ryan Lavarnway.
The Marlins were 62-100 a year ago, which means nobody was looking up to them except the 111-loss Houston Astros. Only Tampa Bay (18,645), which fielded a playoff team, had a worse average attendance in 2013 than the Marlins (19,584), despite a new ballpark for which the franchise fleeced Miami-Dade County to pay the majority of the bill. Some $376.3 million, plus another $132.5 million from the city of Miami proper.
So, when Marlins executives were reportedly "outraged" over the Sox’ presentation, according to the Florida Sun-Sentinel (whose Juan C. Rodriguez called the matter a "gross violation"), the reaction has to be taken with a certain level of amusement. After all, what the hell do the Marlins know about a major league lineup?
Let’s cut through the BS, OK, Miami? This wasn’t about the "rules." It was about perception, a trait we all assumed you had surrendered the positivity to long ago anyway.
The Marlins installed a pricing tier structure to this spring’s games at Roger Dean Stadium. Looking to make an extra buck via fans off travelling teams, or their own fans who just want to remember what major league baseball looks like; Miami raised prices for games against the Tigers, Mets, and Nationals, classified as “premium” games.” Prices for those games went from $28 to $32 for field box seats, $26 to $30 for loge, $15 to $20 for bleachers, and $8 to $12 for standing room only.
The Red Sox’ arrival in Jupiter was dubbed a "super premium" game. Tickets were priced $8-$12 more than regular games.
Because the Marlins were trying to siphon their patrons based on empty expectations, the Red Sox lineup must have surprised some in the front office who probably expected David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and heck, maybe even Jon Lester to make the two-and-a-half hour journey across the dregs of Florida. The box office made the assumption that they’d have prime time appearances on their hands, and when they ended up with an early-morning infomercial, they reacted the way they always seem to do when there’s a mix of egg and embarrassment dripping from their suntanned mugs: They complained to MLB.
If the Marlins had static ticket prices, you think there’s any way they have a problem with what transferred? No way. Is John Farrell supposed to fill the bus with particulars that will make the Marlins and their fans happy, because, you know, SUPER PREMIUM?
As it turns out, 6,427 fans showed up, short of a sellout for the 7,000-seat capacity ballpark. "At least the Marlins were considerate enough to wear their full regular season home whites to give the game a semi-major league feel," Rodriguez wrote. Losers.
This kind of reminds me of the 2005 NFL preseason when the Carolina Panthers were out for "revenge" against the Patriots for their Super Bowl loss the previous February in Houston. When Podunk gets a taste of the big time, it can be intoxicating to the point of drunken embarrassment. Since they can’t provide a star-struck atmosphere, might as well take advantage of your fans when it comes to you.
The MLB mandate about fielding a proper team in spring training is sort of akin to jaywalking. Nobody is ever going to call someone out for disregarding the rules. Except when you’re the Miami Marlins, and you make promises you can’t keep or expect to rely on. In other words, status quo.
I’m sure the Red Sox are devastated that they spoiled the party in Jupiter on Thursday. Maybe once the Marlins franchise is something relevant in Las Vegas or Portland, Ore., while Miami’s deplorable palace sits uninhabited and mortgaged, we’d care a bit more.
The Marlins visit the Cardinals on Friday. St. Louis has also instituted the "super premium" sales option this spring. Miami, however, is just another "regular" game.
Maybe the Marlins can whine about that too.
It wasn’t what the Bruins did at the NHL trading deadline that’s causing headaches within their fan base, but what they didn’t do.
Andrej Meszaros for a third-round pick is fine and fills a need vacated when the team’s No. 2 defenseman, Dennis Seidenberg, felt his knee rupture like the apple on the Bullet Boys’ album cover back in January. The 28-year-old is a left-shot who can play both sides, and despite seeing more healthy scratches than an overexerted masseuse with the Philadelphia Flyers, the theory is that he’ll fit well in Claude Julien’s system, a la the way Seidenberg emerged when general manager Peter Chiarelli stole him – along with Matt Bartkowski - from the Florida Panthers for the immortal Byron Bitz.
So, it’s … OK.
Then again, what the hell do we know? In 2011, Chiarelli was universally praised for landing human statue Tomas Kaberle, while eyebrows were raised over trades that brought Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley to town. As much criticism as Kelly justly receives, he and Peverley were certainly more vital during the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run than Kaberle, whose addition was supposed to improve a brutal power play, and instead increased smoking habits in New England by 42 percent.
By the time the playoffs roll around, Thomas Vanek might do the same.
When Montreal landed the notorious Bruins-killer for a mere second-round pick and a prospect, the second-guessing surrounding Chiarelli was a natural reaction. After all, the Bruins sent Dallas a conditional second-round pick for Jaromir Jagr at last year’s trade deadline that ended up being a first once Boston made the Eastern Conference finals. Would a second-rounder be that big a deal to keep Vanek away from one of your main obstacles in a return to the final?
With 77 points and a shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night under their belts, the Canadiens currently sit in third place in the Eastern Conference, only six points behind Boston, and nine in back of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The addition of Vanek (21 goals, 32 assists) will only help an offensive attack that has scored 2.48 goals per game, 20th-best in the league. Vanek’s 53 points this season are 10 more than current Canadiens’ scoring leader Max Pacioretty.
But Montreal would also be daft not to realize what Vanek means in getting past the Bruins both during the regular season and the playoffs. The former Sabre and Islander has 30 goals and 31 assists against the Bruins over 53 career games. He’s a plus 21 against Boston. Plus twenty-one. His next-best such career mark is a plus-nine against the Washington Capitals.
Looking forward to a seven-game series?
The rivals meet two more times before the end of the month, and a postseason showdown is a distinct possibility. Montreal has won the first two showdowns of the season, and is further buoyed with its new acquisition. The last time Vanek’s Sabres played the Bruins in the postseason, he had two goals and an assist during Boston’s six-game victory, but the last time he saw playoff ice, he was a beast: five goals in a seven-game series loss to the Flyers.
Have fun with that, Meszaros.
Clearly, the Bruins’ need at the deadline was a defenseman to replace Seidenberg, a hole they plugged somewhat admirably. But after seeing the price for Vanek, Bruins fans had to feel like they missed the last-minute giveaways at bakery closing time. Maybe if Garth Snow didn’t prove himself to be the bumbling GM equivalent of Chief Wiggum, the final moment sale to Montreal would have garnered more of a return. Trading Vanek to the Canadiens at that price seems like little more than a panic move at the witching hour.
It’s fair to note that there would have been salary cap ramifications had the Bruins made the move on Vanek, and there’s a great chance that Snow’s asking number was heftier in the hours approaching the 3 p.m. failsafe. It could just be that the Canadiens were in the right place at the right time.
So, why wasn’t Chiarelli?
Yes, Vanek’s presence would be a luxury here, not necessarily filling a need, but keeping him away from Montreal could prove just as an important endeavor. In their two wins over Boston, the Habs have outscored the Bruins, 6-2. They meet again in a week at Le Centre Bell, with Vanek in tow this time.
Not that history dictates how the schedule plays out, but…yikes.
The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry just re-heated itself in the wake of the NHL trading deadline, with Montreal holding the winning cards, while the Bruins were content to stay the course and stay away from any cannonballs at the deep end of the pool.
There was nothing wrong with what Chiarelli did at the trading deadline, and it’s not like you can make moves presuming your playoff schedule. But seeing Vanek headed to the Canadiens is a little like watching Alex Rodriguez join the Yankees. Or Jarome Iginla on the Penguins. Or….
It’s tough to get a handle on what to expect from Felix Doubront.
On the one hand, the Red Sox lefty is only 26, and by all accounts, came to spring training last month in much better shape than the tub that arrived in Fort Myers last year, both good reasons why the team hopes the Venezuelan may be primed for a breakout season in 2014
On the other hand, wasn’t he primed for such a campaign in 2013 as well?
Clearly, Doubront’s potential emergence trailed significantly to the “John Lackey Redemption”
public relations releases journalistic profiles that dominated last spring’s headlines, but he did receive his fair amount of hype, poised to be the X-factor for the upcoming season, as Koji Uehara sat in the wings, his closing dominance yet to be unearthed. A year later, there’s still buzz surrounding Doubront, who pitched two scoreless innings in Sunday’s start against the Orioles, but with the team coming off a World Series victory, and questions surrounding center field, the left side of the infield, behind the plate, and the unfair expectation of whether or not Uehara can repeat his otherworldly performance, what Doubront may be able to bring to the rotation is something of a tabled debate.
In his first four seasons with Boston, Doubront is 24-18, with a 4.62 ERA, but has been as inconsistent as the current season of “Shameless.” For two straight years, Doubront has posted 11-win seasons (In 2012, his win total accounted for 16 percent of his team’s final mark), and has been given every chance to prove himself as a starter, a slot essentially handed to him this spring after Ryan Dempster’s semi-retirement. He started off 2013 going 3-0, then didn’t win again until June 1. He went through a four-game stretch of no-decisions in June, despite that month kicking off his strongest stretch yet in a Red Sox uniform.
During the summer months, Doubront went 7-4 with a 2.97 ERA, greatly picking up the slack after Clay Buchholz missed significant time after his son slept on him. The lefty allowed three of fewer runs over 13 straight starts until he gave up six against the Yankees on Aug. 14. He then allowed four or more runs in three of his final six starts of the regular season, and whined about John Farrell relegating him to the bullpen for the playoffs. All he did in that role was allow one earned run over seven innings of postseason work, including his memorable performance in the Game 4 win over the Cardinals in the World Series.
This season, he’s being given every chance to grasp permanent hold of the rotation as the No. 4 starter behind Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Buchholz (until his annual disabled list trip, of course). Jake Peavy is penciled in as the current No. 4, but that all depends on how many times the hurler decides to slice open his non-throwing hand.
In fact, Doubront is considered such an integral part of the rotation that Brandon Workman, who impressed with a 2.45 ERA over three starts until Peavy was acquired last summer, may begin the season in Triple-A Pawtucket until he’s needed for the bullpen, or the starting rotation, where reality dictates slots will open sooner rather than later based on Buchholz’s injury history, and the wild card that can be Peavy, unimpressive in postseason starts against the Tigers and Cardinals. In fact, Doubront’s 16 quality starts last season were third on the team behind Lester’s 20 and Lackey’s 19. He had as many quality starts as CC Sabathia, who made $23 million in New York last season. He had two more than the 17-4 Matt Moore, who finished ninth in AL Cy Young voting.
According to Baseball Reference’s similarity scores, Doubront is most similar to Bob Ojeda at the same age. When he was 26, Ojeda went 12-12 with a 3.99 ERA for the Red Sox, which seems like a typical Doubront season thus far. Of course, two years later, he was 18-5 for the Mets and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting. Is it crazy to suggest that Doubront could be line for a similar 18-win campaign in 2014?
Based on his pitching repertoire, nope. The major question that needs to be addressed is his maturity and physical state of affairs, both of which seem to have taken a 180 this spring. With Lackey signed only through next season (and frankly, whether or not he wants to pitch for the league minimum or simply retire should be a story line worth watching), Peavy up after the season, and only a resigned Lester and Buchholz regarded as mainstays in the rotation, Doubront has a chance to cement his spot in Boston, as Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Henry Owens await in the shadows of the 95 Express to McCoy.
But does he want to be a mainstay? Or does his attitude suggest that he’s a guy who will be merely decent until pay day arrives? He’s arbitration-eligible after this season, due to be a free agent in 2018, when he’ll be 30. If he’s indeed going to emerge, 2014 is the year to begin.
His talent is unmistakable. His willingness seems another matter.
Seemed, at least. And that just might be the brightest spot of Boston’s camp thus far.
We’re a long way from free meatballs.
Leave it to the Bruins. The team returns to the NHL schedule Wednesday night in Buffalo, Boston’s first game since Feb. 8’s 7-2 thrashing of Ottawa, but rather than dreaming of Black and Gold over the thought of watching Olympians Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Loui Eriksson play together for the first time in nearly three weeks, a certain segment of Bruins season-ticket holders are seeing red.
The hammer dropped Tuesday in regards to what Bruins faithful can expect to shell out in season ticket funds next season, and the news came with more angst than seeing Blake Wheeler cradle the puck. Based on reports from season-ticket holders, prices will increase anywhere from 17 to 44 percent next season, likely pricing many fans out for the tickets, which currently boast a waiting list.
$1000 increase in my Bruins season tickets next year and $3400 if all 16 playoff games are played. Ouch.— Scott Masterson (@cjanneyfan23) February 25, 2014
TeamDOY Bruins season tickets going up $1200 next season. Bs STH price rising faster than my salary.— Justin Aucoin (@JustinDOY) February 25, 2014
Bruins seeing as my tickets went from about 1900 to 2655 for one 8th row balcony seat next season..my acceptance of "dips" in effort is NIL.— InAWhisper (@whisperandmoan) February 26, 2014
Wait, a 20% increase on Bruins tickets next year? Am I seeing that correctly. Because I don't approve— Jessica Foxlow (@jessfoxlow) February 26, 2014
It was just over a year ago, of course, that Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs
pandered apologized to loyal fans in the wake of the 2012-13 NHL lockout by handing out goodies. According to the Bruins’ objective website article press release, “The estimated totals for each item given away throughout the five games are astounding to mention. At the end of the fifth game on January 31, TD Garden estimated that 36,111 fountain sodas; 27,364 hot dogs; 19,472 cups of popcorn; 18,720 sausages; 17,640 slices of pizza; 5,666 healthy wraps; 4,512 bags of peanuts; 3,230 bags of chips; and 1,291 jumbo home-cooked meatballs were given away free of charge to B's fans flooding the Garden.”
What, you didn’t think that was going to come back to haunt you?
While the price of success has priced out a certain segment of Bruins fans hemming and hawing on renewing, what does Jacobs worry? By raising season ticket prices, the owner is only assured of nothing less than a long list of holdovers snatching up all packages that may be left behind following the latest ticket hike. A Stanley Cup and a finals appearance over the last three seasons are the perfect excuses for the softened Jacobs to morph instantly back into Mr. Burns mode.
“To be candid, we experienced some years here where we didn’t really have all that much goodwill," Jacobs after the lockout ended last year. "It took a long time to build up that equity, if you will, of goodwill. I feel it’s still there in this market, and I’ve actually experienced it firsthand.”
Leave it Jacobs to crush the goodwill in one, greedy swoop.
The big winner from Sochi? There’s little doubt in this space that it will end up being Mikaela Shiffrin, the 18-year-old product of Burke Mountain Academy who became the youngest to win the women’s Olympic slalom last Friday. The Vail, Colo. native has to be a sponsor’s dream: Young, attractive, dominant in her sport, and for the ski companies losing a generation to the growing popularity of freestyle, she represents a gold mine of marketing opportunities, at least to the point her level-headed parents see fit.
In four years, Shiffrin will be only 22 when the 2018 Winter Olympics take place in South Korea, only 26 in 2022 when they are hosted by the likes of applicants Poland, Norway, or Ukraine. She’ll be 30 in 2026, a year that some see the Winter Games as viability for Boston.
Yup, the Winter Olympics.
Most recently, Boston has been treated to the cockamamie dream that the city should put in a bid to host the 2024 Summer Games, an event that is only 10 years away. We’re only three years away from the IOC making a decision on which city will host those Games. That would leave seven years for Boston to prepare hosting its biggest event ever in a city that would need dramatic infrastructure improvements. It’s going to take two years to spruce up the Government Center T stop. Can you imagine the collective halt the city would come to when it was told it needed to build a state-of-the-art facility for Opening and Closing ceremonies and track and field events? Bob Kraft can tell you a thing or two.
Clearly, these people need to be stopped. Boston hosting the Summer Olympics is about as good an idea for the Hub as holding Molasses Flood Appreciation Day. Besides the lack of hotels, efficient highway system, lackluster public transportation, bars that close at 2 a.m., and millions in local resources that simply placing a realistic bid will take, it’s a nifty idea.
Boston Magazine’s Steve Annear recently wrote about the three sides of the Olympics coming to Boston, citing the committee that has already been formed with an eye on 2024. These are people you should be afraid of.
There is also a group who wants nothing to do with the flame burning brightly above the Hub. No Boston Olympics runs its platform on spending state resources on something other than a “three-week party.”
“Boston being a really good place to live in, and work, we think this is a really bad idea,” the group’s head Chris Dempsey told Annear. “We want to shift the conversation back to important issues like addressing inner city violence, health care costs, and job growth—the really, truly important issues. The Olympics are a real distraction from what will make Boston and Massachusetts a great place to live over the next two decades.”
But what about the idea of the Winter Olympics? The Games are on a much smaller scale than their summer counterparts both in terms of number of events and athletes, and if Boston were to host them, it would become one of the largest cities in history to do so. “I think it makes sense,” said Scott Cavanaugh, who launched the idea two years ago, “We should open it to what the best option could be. If the U.S. doesn’t win 2024, we could look at 2026. If we are spending time and taxpayer money, let’s really do that and look at all of our options. I think it would make sense to modify the committee.”
Clearly, it’s a mission that Boston couldn’t manage on its own, and you have to wonder how Maine or Vermont might feel picking up much of the Alpine load for “Boston 2026.” For downhill purposes, only Stowe and Sugarloaf would be considered most viable for competition purposes. However, in attempting to make its bid for the 2022 Games, Quebec City failed to receive approval for Le Massif being the site of the downhill. At a vertical of 2,526 feet, it’s comparable to both Stowe (2,360) and Sugarloaf (2,820). For the record, Whiteface, the closest venue to ever host an Olympic event, boasts a vertical of 3,430 feet.
But New England does already possess a wealth of venues that would be ideal for cross-country (Bretton Woods), hockey (TD Garden), figure skating (Agannis Arena), and freestyle events (Mount Snow, Sunday River, etc). From an existing standpoint, it makes a hell of a lot more sense than shoehorning summer events in Boston, not to mention the billions it might take to build and upgrade facilities.
And the sustained Olympic growth that Sochi dreams of? It’s not like Boston is going to be a resort destination anytime soon, and even as cool as the Seaport neighborhood has become, a Whitey Bulger amusement park (the John Connolly House of Mirrors!) probably isn’t in the plans as is Sochi’s Russian-themed gamble. In the end, what’s the benefit other than being able to sell a few hats and t-shirts? We already have spots at Burke and Gunstock where we can plant “Mikaela skied here” signs.
Other potential bids for 2026 may come from Lake Tahoe, Denver, Bozeman, Mont., and Anchorage, Ala., as well as Barcelona and Quebec City. Boston’s interest as of now is little more than speculation. But the grassroots effort for 2024 is growing. “Boston is the perfect blend of history and modernism – offering rich cultural experiences and world-class technology, media, academics to those expected to attend. Our population reflects the makeup of the world,” it reads on the 2024 website. “We have residents from every nationality/ethnicity/language along with their vibrant food, arts, entertainment and culture.”
Neat. We’re also the completely wrong city to host such an endeavor.
Despite all concerns leading up to the Olympics, Sochi eventually came out a winner. In Boston? Let’s just end the conversation now.
Damn it. Now the NHL has its built-in excuse not to return to the Olympics in 2018.
Maybe if Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, or Zdeno Chara went down in Sochi we’d feel differently about it, but after watching the past week’s thrilling brand of Olympic hockey, the bottom line is that bad news for the New York Islanders shouldn’t be bad news for the rest of us.
Islanders captain John Tavares will miss the rest of the Olympics – not to mention the NHL regular season – after the Canadian forward suffered a torn MCL and meniscus during a collision with Latvia defenseman Arturs Kulda during the second period of Wednesday’s 2-1 win for Team Canada. Tavares’ 24 goals and 66 assists both lead the Islanders, who, with 52 points on the season, trail only the Sabres and the Panthers for the fewest points in the Eastern Conference.
Losing Tavares means little more than draft position for the Islanders, but it could have serious ramifications on what the league decides for the Olympics in South Korea in 2018, something the NHL hopes to have wrapped up over the next six months. To deny the NHL’s involvement in the Olympics has been beneficial is foolhardy. Despite the embarrassment of Jeremy Roenick and company’s initial American foray at Nagano in 1998, the Olympic hockey tournament has never been more exciting or captivating than it’s been since the pros played under the flame. The league has benefited greatly as well over the past 16 years, growing to 30 teams (foolhardily, but nevertheless), has seen household names arise from guys like Zach Parise and TJ Oshie, like only Jim Craig and Mike Eruzione had done before them, and has delivered a handful of the most exciting hockey games ever, including Saturday’s Team USA shootout win over Russia, 2010’s epic gold medal game, and, potentially, Friday’s rematch between Canada and the United States.
The players are passionate about playing for their countries. The NHL gets its product on a global scale that dwarfs any continued ignorance by ESPN. Casual hockey fans get sucked in, creating new revenue avenues for the NHL. How many Americans are walking around with “Oshie” jerseys this week, the factory tag just barely plucked from the stitching? How many kids re-enacted the shootout over the weekend, pretending they were the St. Louis Blues forward in the way backyard Wiffle ball experts buckle in as David Ortiz with the season on the line?
But having Gary Bettman in the crosshairs of making the right call is akin to asking your dog for career advice. Many of the owners hate the two-week break that the league has to endure for a handful of its players and personnel. They are, after all, still paying their salaries while they gallivant overseas with no immediate benefit, the only thing that matters to the Jeremy Jacobses of the league. After the Tavares injury, you can bet Islanders owner Charles Wang will have some negative comments to go in line with what Flyers owner Ed Snider had to say earlier this month.
“I haven’t taken a poll, but how can anyone be happy breaking up your season?” Snider asked. “No other league does it. Why should we?
“There’s no benefit to it whatsoever. If anything, I only see negatives. The players want to play and the players’ association has a lot to say about it. As an owner, I think it’s ridiculous.
Bettman will no doubt be in the pockets of the owners, but in a wacky twist of convoluted fate, player representative Donald Fehr could be a white knight when the debate heats up. Fehr said that his decision will be made only after he gets feelers from every player about the benefits of playing in the Olympics. Then we should have a nice tug-of-war between the association and the league, something we haven’t had for 13 whole months now.
Bottom line though: Saturday’s USA-Russia showdown recorded 4.1 million viewers for NBC Sports Network, the most to ever watch a hockey game on the channel. The previous was 4 million last June 17 during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals between Boston and Chicago. No, those aren’t even preseason football numbers, but to expect them to be at that level is a little like telling yourself HBO’s “Girls” isn’t among the worst shows of the past decade.
This debate might have been so much juicier had it been a Bruin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, or Phil Kessel who had gone down. An Islander? A team going nowhere is going to play a major role in the NHL not participating in 2018? Yuck.
Enjoy Friday. Enjoy Sunday. It’s probably the last you’ll see of Olympic hockey as we’ve come to know it over the past five Olympics.
In retrospect, Germany, which did not qualify for the Olympics hockey tournament, would have liked to have had Dennis Seidenberg on its team, had the Bruins defenseman not torn his ACL and MCL against the Calgary Flames in January, an injury that just as well could have happened in Sochi, as could Tavares’ in the first NHL game for the Islanders after the break.
But NHL owners don’t see the colors of the flags during the Olympics. Their eyes are still focused on green, and even though their participation on the worldwide stage may have long-term financial benefits, the immediate risks provide a more compelling argument for the owners protecting their investments, while the good for the game gets brushed aside to be a memorable footnote in Olympic history.
"On and off the field, he's the way you want your kids to grow up. Only Jesus is perfect, but he's pretty close to that guy." -Angels first baseman Albert Pujols on the news that Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced his retirement following the 2014 season.
I'd like to think that the Derek Jeter tongue bath we're all in for this season couldn't get any more hyperbolic than that statement, but we have to know better, right?
The Derek Jeter farewell party, otherwise known as the entirety of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, is going to be an insufferable display of iconery from all facets of the game. The New York media - hell, all media - will run out of laudatory superlatives to describe the Yankee captain by the time Memorial Day comes around. Major League Baseball will attempt to market the star's final season with the inevitable tributes, T-shirts, collectible coasters, and Yankee Stadium dirt upon which Jeter once tread. Twenty-nine other MLB teams will have to come up with more original parting gifts, after exhausting the well for Mariano Rivera's retirement lap through the league last season.
Tickets for Jeter's final games at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park have already soared in price on the secondary market. The All-Star Game will no doubt be Jeter-centric. Heck, Yankee Stadium may even have a sellout or two over the next six months.
Look, there's no argument that Jeter doesn't deserve the accolades. He is indeed one of the most popular Yankees to ever play the game, a consummate winner with five rings to his name. But let's stop with the knee-jerk nonsense that has Jeter preparing to go into the business of multiplying loaves in his post-baseball life.
Here are just a few of the headlines in the wake of Jeter's announcement on Facebook Wednesday:
"There will never be a Yankee that mattered more than Derek Jeter"
"TELANDER: Can't be a hater with Derek Jeter"
"Winter Olympics: Derek Jeter's retirement news fails to wow the masses in Russia"
"Albert Pujols says Derek Jeter is 'pretty close' to Jesus"
"Derek Jeter: Great player, or GREATEST player?"
OK, let's address that last one, shall we?
Maybe you didn't get to see Babe Ruth play, or Lou Gehrig or Joe DiMaggio or Yogi Berra. Maybe you've thought of how lucky the fans who watched them were. Maybe you wish you were one of them.
On the other hand, you got to see the great Jeter. As long as baseball is played, he'll be one of those players every other is measured against -- not just by the raw numbers, but the way he moved and reacted, the ease with which he played the most difficult game on earth.
Jeter did everything gracefully, with dignity and poise. He never seemed rattled. Even when he was moving at full speed, he seemed to be completely under control, to be dictating the game. This season, we may have a chance to let him know how much pleasure he has given us through the years.
Jeter's place in Yankees history will be debated and discussed forever. Was he greater than DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle? Does Jeter deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the Babe or Yogi?
That we're even having this conversation tells you what Derek Jeter has meant to baseball, how much he has given and how he'll be remembered. And how lucky we've been to watch this guy play.
Neyer disagrees: "Forget about the greatest who ever lived, through. To get him into the top 20 -- and past Cal Ripken, by the way -- you have to prove that he was an above-average fielder. And that's a heavy lift. I think that unless I had a great deal of time on my hands, I would be content with a tremendous player who ever lived."
There. Is that so hard?
But because Jeter played for the storied Yankees, his legacy has to be so much more. Had he won five rings in Kansas City, his farewell tour might amount to a couple book signings and a new Gatorade commercial. In self-important New York, Jeter will receive enough flowery tributes to make you gag. We're in for seven more months of debating where Jeter ranks among all-time Yankees, among all-time shortstops, among all-time just ol' regular swell fellas.
If the baseball media has collectively bowed to another player as much as it has Jeter since his rookie season, it came before my lifetime. Of course, Red Sox fans have a fragile relationship with the rival player, an antagonism that has resulted in lectures on behalf of the Boston keepers of the guard. Instead of rosary beads, you're liable to find baseball writers carry around pocket-sized abacuses, saying 10 DiMaggio's for every bead that marks a former flame. The media worships this guy. Baseball worships this guy.
Be ready for plenty of it over the next few months. It's Jeter's going away party and you're all invited and required to attend, whether you RSVP or not. Jesus is perfect you know. But Jeter? He's close.
Also, be prepared to see the flip play ad nauseum between now and October. It's still as overrated as it ever was.
The men’s Olympic downhill was some 15 ½ hours old on Sunday when NBC ran a Mary Carillo special feature on Siberia.
Siberia. It even featured this guy:
Carillo’s whimsical jaunts through the culture of host cities have become the norm for NBC’s coverage of the Olympiad, which despite efforts to provide real-time coverage through broadcast and online streaming from Sochi, Russia, remains what it has always been; a pre-packaged soap opera less focused on athletic achievement than it is crafting and manipulating story lines best-suited for its audience.
The NBC set might as well be decorated with gumdrops and have “Everything is Awesome” as each evening’s into music. So far, during these Games, the network has already cut a speech from IOC president Thomas Bach calling for tolerance during the Opening Ceremony (Due to “time constraints, of course. Where were the time constraints when America needed Matt Lauer to shut up?), has stayed far away from Russia’s anti-gay stance (even vehemently insisting that Germany’s rainbow-drizzled uniforms were not, in no way, ever, a political statement), and the only news we’ve heard about a stray from Bob “Visine” Costas was when Shaun White decided to opt out of the slopestyle competition.
I mean, there’s more controversial content on “Caillou.”
Give NBC credit for the way it’s finally handling online streaming of every event in these Winter Olympics, a venture that nearly every outlet around the world delivered four years ago from Vancouver, but the venture still comes with its flaws. Yesterday’s downhill competition, arguably the best event that the Winter Games offer, took place at 2 a.m. ET. It was, indeed, streamed online, and highlights were available on NBCOlympics.com throughout the day.
Alas, if you’re not a cable subscriber, or just wanted to watch on a 50-inch TV in lieu of your phone, NBC was nice enough to broadcast a 30-minute, condensed version of the race at 9 p.m., 19 hours after it took place overseas.
In between, we watched the women’s speed skating 3,000 meter race twice, once live in the morning, once on tape delay in the afternoon, team ice dancing, or whatever that is, live, on tape, then on tape again in prime time, ski jumping, and the Russia-Germany women’s ice hockey game twice as well, live in the morning, later on tape delay.
We get that the downhill and snowboard slopestyle are premier events, and that NBC wants to air them when it has a peak audience, but this approach is lunacy. If you live on the West Coast, you watched the downhill at midnight ET, a mere 22 hours after it took place. A message in a bottle travels faster.
The NBC networks began its broadcast day on Sunday at 3 a.m. with women’s hockey. There was no point in between then and the 7 p.m. prime time hour that it could have aired skiing? When will the network learn that its prime time audience, the one that wants to learn about the matryoshka and watch endless ice dancing, is completely different from the daytime viewer and the one who takes the time and effort to stream the endeavors online? If NBC wants to have its comfort zone in the evening, have at it. But to continue to do it at the expense of those who want to experience the Games in real-time is both maddening and antiquated.
Of course, this brings up the debate as to how to cover the Olympics with a certain segment of the population remaining a slave to NBC. But you had to live without any access to the outside world on Sunday to not know that Bode Miller failed in his downhill attempt for a medal. Nineteen hours? You could fly to Sochi and find out first-hand in only 17.
Julia Mancuso won a bronze today in the super-combined. NBC will broadcast it in some 12 hours from now, for sure. J.R. Celski finished fourth in his short track event this morning. The network will fit that in somewhere in between figure skating highlights of the past two days and previews of what’s to come.
NBC’s play-by-play personnel in the field are exceptional, and when you catch them live, is a testament to how the Olympics should be portrayed; an unmapped event that doesn’t have to fit into time constrictions or pander to a heart-tugging tale of redemption. In its downhill coverage, NBC showed the Americans, the medalists, and Aksel Lund Svindal, who finished fourth, just so the audience could figure out that American Travis Ganong finished fifth. Wanted to catch a Canadian skier? Ha!
The network’s prime time packages are so crafted that even without prior knowledge one can guesstimate the final standings based on who is shown during the broadcast. Time constraints, you know. Plus, more ice dancing.
NBC has made leaps in this year’s coverage, but it still appears to be stream or wait…and wait….and wait…for the Olympics’ premier Alpine and skating events. And just when you think that wait is over….
Well, you're probably apt to get more Mary Carillo, perhaps with a piece on the Amazing Dancing Russian Bear.
Let’s play word association, shall we?
Foxborough. Red Wing Diner. Super Bowl.
Which word doesn’t belong?
OK, so technically the Red Wing is in Walpole, but like it would matter if Bob Kraft got his way and the National Football League’s annual tribute to itself graced this area. If Providence would have to swallow its pride to “Be Boston,” certainly the likes of Walpole, Norwood, Braintree, and....Hartford (?) could be part of “Super Bowl Boston.” Right?
All due respect to colleague Ben Volin’s argument as to why it work here, but the simple fact is that a Super Bowl here is on par with the stupidity of the folks who really (truly) believe the Olympics should spread their rings into Logan Airport. Such a venture would cripple the city from a traffic perspective (just what you want!), and ruin its reputation for being able to attract further events that the city could, you know, handle.
The Super Bowl? It just can’t.
We’re not going to compare Jacksonville to Boston, of course, because that would be like trying to convince outsiders the capital of Massachusetts is Holyoke. But the Hub simply can’t handle this. Jacksonville is annually ridiculed as the worst place the NFL decided to hold its title game, and it’s a valid argument. Houston was worse, but that’s a discussion for a different time,
How Kraft and other rah rah’s can possibly think a Super Bowl is a good idea here is beyond me, Gillette Stadium can barely handle the rush of 70,000 fans on any given Sunday. Like it can handle the eyes of the world?
And let’s be frank; the criticism?
It’s not exactly like Kraft’s palace is on par with cold weather stadiums like MetLife in New Jersey and Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Yes, he spared taxpayers the borderline illegal burden of having to support an arena, as many other suckers have succumbed to. But really, Gillette is a second-rate NFL stadium.
Oh, the area around is great. If you want to buy some duds at Old Navy and a burger at Five Guys. The stadium though? It kinda sucks.
But that’s the least of concerns with a “Boston” Super Bowl. As Volin noted, 35,000 hotel rooms are the norm for any city under NFL consideration. To make that quota. the Super Bowl committee would have to convince the NFL that hotels would be available outside of 495 and into Providence, which would share the hosting duties without any of the credit.
Great. Like they already don’t hold Curt Schilling against us.
We can make an argument for the Winter Olympics in New England (fewer sports than the Summer Games; spread it out toward Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont), but there’s nothing to be said about the dream of a Summer Games here sometime in the future. Boston simply does not have the infrastructure, the curse that you live with when you’re one of the birthplaces of this country. It’s too old. Too small. Too ornery. ‘
It would transpire into two weeks of traffic hell like you’ve never imagined, with media and athlete personnel receiving police escorts throughout the city. How’s that grab you? That might work for the greater good in whatever suckup city the NFL decides to take over (yes, even New York), but in Boston, it would go over as well as a Roberto Luongo fart at a funeral.
A Super Bowl might be a nuisance elsewhere. In Boston, it’d be show-stopper.
The show being your life.
If Kraft insists on showing off his privately-financed stadium to the world, then a Super Bowl will indeed happen here within the next two decades. One could argue that Gillette could undergo a major transformation by then, with escalators (gasp!) and a new avenue that eschews Route 1.
It takes a Super Bowl to get that done?
No. No, no, no, no, no. A Super Bowl simply won’t work here, and would be a force-fed present to one of the NFL’s binkies in Kraft. To think it is a good idea is either sucking up or not possessing any idea of the lives south of Milton.
Boston will never host the Super Bowl. It will never welcome the Olympics.
Is there anything wrong with that?
Let’s make it clear: The Patriots would have suffered the same, exact fate against the Seattle Seahawks that befell Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
That’s not to call New England’s loss in the AFC Championship game a blessing in disguise, but the bottom line is that it helped avoid what would certainly have been a third straight Super Bowl loss for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. You want to talk about Manning’s “legacy” ad nauseum? Imagine if it were Brady today with a 3-3 Super Bowl record and not Manning at 1-2.
Nobody saw 43-8 coming, but all the boobs picking the Broncos last week (present company included) were either pining for Manning’s redemption or simply not paying attention to the time-honored clichés about what wins championships. Defense. Pitching. Underground HGH distribution.
But despite the fact that on two plays Demaryius Thomas looked like he needed a compass that pointed him downfield, the Denver wide receiver set a Super Bowl record for receptions, as Manning set one for completions. Wes Welker’s eight catches went for 84 yards. Is there any way Brady would have gotten that sort of production out of Julian Edelman and Aaron Dobson Sunday night? Against that defense? Sorry.
Of course, it’s not like the Brady would have suffered the same fate as Manning, allowing a safety on his first offensive play of the ga….uh, never mind.
The best that could be said about the Patriots’ potential prospects against the stifling Seahawks is that Brady probably doesn’t throw that ball into the arms of linebacker Malcolm Smith, who brought Manning’s interception back for the Seahawks second touchdown of the game, making it a 22-0 rout and securing the game’s Most Valuable Player award. Maybe a healthy Aqib Talib would have played a bigger factor on leading Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin. Maybe Percy Harvin doesn’t find such an open route on the second-half kickoff. Maybe the Patriots defense doesn’t quit following that back-breaker, as it appears the Broncos unit did on the turf of MetLife Stadium.
Maybe the Patriots keep it closer in that regard. Realistically, we’re still talking a blowout with New England involved, and frankly, you have to wonder if the Patriots might have come out on the short end in the first shutout in Super Bowl history. If the record-setting Broncos could only muster one touchdown with a healthy receiving corps, how could Brady possibly manage the same with his troupe of fill-ins?
Oh, and it would have happened in the home of the New York Giants. As if they need to prescribe another pill.
But if there was an underscore to Sunday’s game, it relayed the importance of re-signing Talib, and the need to continue to build the Patriots’ emerging defense after the last few seasons of bottoming out and depending on Brady. It’s no secret that the Patriots have yet to raise Lombardi since Belichick decided to “Manning Up” after losing to the Colts in the ’06 AFC title game, eschewing the defense that was so vital to the franchise’s run to three Super Bowl wins.
The ’01 Rams were the ’07 Patriots were the ’13 Broncos. Goose eggs all around.
Denver is now 2-5 in the Super Bowl, including a handful of some of the most lopsided scores the game has ever seen. Overall, the Broncos have been outscored 206-115 over their seven appearances. It’s a little more within reason for the Patriots in that regard, outscored 186-138 over their seven Super Bowl appearances, but it likely would have been New England losing a record fifth title game Sunday had they made it to Jersey, not the Broncos.
MLB Network re-played Game 6 of the 1986 World Series in the hours leading up to kickoff Sunday, conjuring up memories and controversy (Clemens: Blister! McNamara: Quitter!) that no Red Sox fan wants to re-live, even in the glory days of the franchise a quarter-century later. Of course, earlier that year it was the Patriots’ turn to break hearts across New England with their 46-10 loss to the Chicago Bears in the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance. Things got better.
But to think they would have been any different Sunday night against the Seahawks had it been Brady instead of Manning is foolish.
With Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Spikes though?
This isn’t the first time “The Simpsons” predicted the future, of course. There is, after all, a “Land of Chocolate” in Shanghai. In 1993, the show depicted a tiger attack on Siegfried and Roy, 10 years before it actually happened. Heck, Kearney and Dolph alluded to frustrations with Apple’s Siri way back in 1994.
Even the score, 19-14, doesn’t seem that outlandish. Seeing as Sunday’s Super Bowl will pit the NFL’s No. 1 offense in the Denver Broncos vs. the No. 1 defense in the Seattle Seahawks, it’s likely best to expect a game that won’t get out of control on the scoreboard.
From the perspective of a Patriots fan, there’s not only the Wes Welker-Pete Carroll factor, but this game will be much like watching last year’s Super Bowl between the Ravens and 49ers, knowing your team could have been there. It’ll probably be more like the 2006 Super Bowl, watching Peyton Manning go after the glory after getting over the hump that is Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Both were somewhat forgettable games in the grand scheme of the fascinating contests we’ve become accustomed to over the past 15 years or so. But Sunday has the feel of being an entertaining affair, even if it doesn’t snow in the Meadowlands.
I assume most Pats fans will be rooting for Seattle, loathe to see Manning get one ring closer to Brady after the latter dominated the former for so long. There’s probably some Welker bad blood as well, following in line with Belichick’s dislike for the player who only gave his all for the Patriots in his six years here.
Maybe a Broncos victory will spur the Patriots though, much like it did the last time Manning won a Super Bowl with the Colts. An angry Belichick is a vindictive Belichick.
Last time it was Randy Moss and Welker. This time, maybe it is indeed Larry Fitzgerald. That’s why Patriots fans should be tossing their weight toward Denver. Retribution is always better served on a mission to prove one’s hierarchy. And Brady and the Patriots are running out of time.
Adam Kaufman, Boston.com: Seahawks 27, Broncos 24. “Patriots fans don’t want to see Manning and his surgically repaired neck win a legacy game and place himself back in a historical discussion with Tom Brady. Patriots fans are generally unsure of how to react to the possibility of Wes Welker winning a championship after six years of loyalty, and one catastrophic hit on a former teammate. Patriots fans of a generation ago are still upset with Pete Carroll for holding the organization in limbo for a few years. And Patriots fans, like many in the NFL, don’t care for Sherman. If he wins, would you be mad, bro?”
Globe staff: Three out of five pick Seattle (Denver by two).
ESPN.com staff: Nine out of 12 pick the Broncos.
Sports Illustrated staff: Six staff writers split the picks.
CBS Sports.com staff: Eight staff writers split the picks.
Bill Barnwell, Grantland: Seahawks 27, Broncos 16. “Seattle was a better team than Denver during the regular season by DVOA, Simple Rating System, and Advanced NFL Stats’ Team Efficiency metric. The Seahawks are unquestionably healthier than the Broncos right now. And while Denver’s offense is probably slightly better than Seattle’s defense, Seattle’s advantage when it has the football is far superior. Before the season, I picked Seattle to beat Denver in the Super Bowl. It seems wrong to go against that now. “
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Broncos 24, Seahawks 20. “But the real question is simply this: How much do you trust Peyton Manning? How much do you believe in him? Him against maybe the best defense he has ever faced. Him against the bitter cold. Him against the pressure of the stage and all the “legacy” talk. And the answer is, I trust him. Forgot to last week, but I’m a fast learner. It is Peyton’s time. His year. His season. His Sunday.”
Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Broncos 27, Seahawks 24.
Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk.com: Seahawks 23, Broncos 20. “There’s also the nagging feeling I have that Russell Wilson isn’t ready to have a huge game on a huge stage. Wilson is one of the brightest young players in the NFL, but he still has moments when he tries to do too much with his feet, and moments when he fails to make the throws the Seahawks need him to make. He hasn’t been great in the playoffs, and I’m not convinced he’s going to be great in the Super Bowl, either.
And yet I’m picking Seattle, basically for two reasons. The first is that if there’s ever been a defense that’s perfectly constructed to stop what Denver does on offense, it’s this Seattle defense. The Seahawks’ secondary is so good that even with Peyton Manning and all the Broncos’ weapons, I think Denver will struggle to sustain long drives. The second reason is that Seattle is a lot better than Denver on special teams. This feels like the kind of close game that could turn on a few big plays in the kicking game, and I expect Seattle to make those plays.
So in the end, I’m looking at a close, hard-fought game that the Seahawks find a way to win.”
Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk.com: Seahawks 24, Broncos 20. “Yes, there’s a chance the Seahawks aren’t properly preparing to face Manning, with portions of the first-team defensive reps used not against a scout team but against the Seattle starting offense — and with defensive players not spending every waking moment in the days preceding the ultimate final exam cramming for it by trying to crack the code of Peyton’s pre-snap histrionics.
There’s an even better chance they’re already good enough to do enough to give the Seattle offense enough of a chance to outscore Peyton.
Ultimately, that’s the only stat that ever matters. And in Super Bowl XLVIII, Seattle wins by scoring half that many points — 24 — and by holding Peyton and company to four fewer than that.”
Eli the Orangutang: Seahwaks.
Vinnie Iyer, The Sporting News: Seahawks 27, Broncos 24. “A quarterback will turn in a winning MVP performance in Super Bowl XLVIII; it just won’t be Manning. While he’s looking for the storybook ending to a great comeback and record-breaking season, Wilson, after some support from Seattle’s defense, will raise the Lombardi Trophy. Just like we said in August.”
Katherine Webb, Apple of Brent Musburger’s eye: Broncos 28, Seahawks 24. “It will be a great game to watch as both teams are extremely talented! However, from learning football this year, I feel like Peyton Manning is going to be hard to beat with him getting this close to another Super Bowl win.”
It says here: Broncos 19, Seahawks 14. What, like we’re going to argue with Matt Groening?
Oh, hey. Look who's in Boston Thursday night...
If you attended the Winter Classic between the Bruins and Flyers at Fenway Park back in 2010, odds are that you probably sat somewhere that allowed a perspective of the ice better suited for a hovering blimp. Maybe Frozen Fenway works on a collegiate level, but for the NHL, it was almost universally seen as an expensive nuisance.
So, if the Bruins do indeed host another stadium game next season, odds are that it won’t be in the confines.
4 outdoor NHL games likely next season. Tons of interest. SJ, Phx, Col, Bos, Minn, CBJ, etc. Toronto pushing hard for Winter Classic....— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 29, 2014
Dreger’s tweet led some to speculate that the Bruins and Canadiens could meet at Gillette Stadium next season, a site that would provide dramatically better views than Fenway would allow. Gillette’s capacity of 68,756 would better satisfy ticket demand than the Fenway Winter Classic, if not exactly provide the intimate outdoor atmosphere that the NHL should be shooting for with these novelties.
Then why not Harvard Stadium?
With a capacity of 30,323, the historic arena would hold almost as many as Fenway, and provide superior sight lines of the playing surface. Ice hockey has also been played there as early as 1904, and an outdoor game there in 2015 would deliver the marriage of yesteryear that the pond hockey throwback affairs are supposed to deliver. I mean, Dodger Stadium?
Of course, there would be this issue to deal with:
The Harvard bubble covers the playing surface from November until spring for winter workouts and spring sports practices. But according to the Harvard athletics web site, “The bubble takes approximately four hours to inflate once it’s anchored to the Stadium infrastructure.”
That’s not exactly a deal-breaker, nor is the cash the university would receive from the NHL should a game be played there.
Seems ideal, which means it’s probably unlikely.
David Ortiz can never just make it easy, can he?
Seriously, what are we doing here? Why are we even discussing the ramifications of the Red Sox extending Ortiz, one year after the slugger whined his way into a two-year deal?
No Boston athlete put this city on his shoulders and carried it more than Ortiz in 2013, particularly in the wake of the Marathon bombings. All the angst and eye-rolling that resulted from Ortiz’s contract demands last winter, in the wake of a season in which Bobby Valentine claimed the designated hitter quit on the team, evaporated in the instant Ortiz cradled the microphone at Fenway and let the FCC know exactly whose &%$#@*& city this is. After three World Series titles, Ortiz’s connection and love affair with the fans and the Hub was no more evident than it was on parade day, when he jaunted down Boylston Street in a victory lap more poignant than any other championship celebration has witnessed.
Now, we’re here again? Do we have to be?
Oh, I’m sure there are those out there waving the foam finger who are just fine with the Red Sox giving Ortiz whatever he wants for perpetuity simply because he’s a Red Sox legend. But this is really getting tiresome.
Ortiz pushed this year’s edition of “All About Papi” to another level on Sunday, when he (and his little dog too) told WBZ’s Sports Final that if Boston doesn’t offer him (another) long-term deal that it may be “time to move on.”
“I always keep on telling people, this is a business. Sometimes you’ve got to do what’s best for you and your family,” Ortiz said. “As long as they keep offering me a job and I keep doing what I’m supposed to do and the relationship keeps on building up, I’m going to be there. Hopefully, I won’t have to go and wear another uniform.”
Silly us for thinking that Ortiz “got it” in a town that idolizes him, a fan base that has willingly turned a blind eye to any whispers of his dabbling in performance-enhancing drugs. Last year, Ortiz proved he was part of the fabric of Boston, an integral member of the local sports landscape due to make $15 million in the final year of his contract. Ortiz will be 39 when he’s up for a new deal. Exactly how many DHs are there making that kind of coin as he hurtles toward 40?
Last offseason, the Red Sox were coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history, so Ortiz had Ben Cherington over a net, so to say. There’s nothing the general manager would have wanted less than having his star slugger pout his way through the season as the team attempted to restore respectability. This time around? Please. Tell Ortiz to earn his $15 million, and if he hits, go and see what kind of deal he can get on the open market. Roll the same money over into 2015, if he wants it. There’s little to no chance he’ll get a similar offer from someone else. He knows it. He knows the Red Sox know it. And so, we have this public charade in the media so that Ortiz won’t be squeezed into a corner when it comes time to negotiate again.
“If I have to [leave], I’ve got no choice,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to quit. As long as I keep hitting the ball the way I have, I’ve got to keep on giving it a try.”
With that, Ortiz explains exactly why the Red Sox would be daft to give him an extension during spring training. “As long as I keep hitting the ball…” There’s no guarantee Ortiz is going to have the sort of season he had in 2013, just as there’s no certainty that he won’t start out the season in the sort of drastic slump that had some clamoring for his release. Cherington and the Sox took a leap and showed good faith in Ortiz last year. Why should they have to make it an annual occurrence?
If Ortiz proves himself in 2014, he’ll get another deal; that much is certain, just as much as it is that it will be with the Red Sox. This marriage won’t end until it’s time to hang them up, whether it’s Ortiz or the Red Sox who ultimately decide when that time is. If Ortiz struggles this season, nobody else is going to give a slugger at his age the kind of deal he thinks he deserves. The Red Sox, well, they might. He has a plaque after all, one of the many that adorn Fenway Park, home to the most in baseball (probably).
But he won’t get one before this season. Cherington holds all the cards in that regard.
After all, this may be his &^%$#* city, but the message from the Red Sox this time should be clear.
Shut the &%$# up and hit.
So, Jon Lester said he’ll take less money to stay with the Boston Red Sox?
Oh, that’s not to deny Lester’s sincerity over how he feels about Boston, or even the remote possibility that the lefthanded starter would indeed accept a deal that would be less than he could get on the open market next fall. It’s just that such comments have become so passé in the world of sports negotiations that it’s difficult to take Lester seriously.
On slow days though, the admission apparently becomes a revelation.
Can we not treat this as if Lester were already signed, sealed, and delivered simply because he made some innocuous comments to the media at the surely-swanky Boston Baseball Writers Association of America annual dinner Thursday night? The lefty may be genuine in saying that he would be seeking "a Dustin Pedroia deal," the one the second baseman signed last summer that will pay him $110 million over eight seasons. He’d also be stupid not to see the names Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka and not realize what kind of value he may have on the open market as a free agent.
Only C.J. Wilson and Matt Moore won more games (17) last season among American League lefties, and Lester’s postseason career (6-4, 2.11 ERA) thus far puts him on track to be this generation’s Curt Schilling. He may be 30, but that’s a year younger than Wilson was when he signed his backloaded five-year, $77.5 million deal with the Angels in 2011. Lester’s performance negated such conversations, but what might the Sox look like now had they signed their guy to a similar deal at the same time? They’d at least have another two years to play with while the likes of Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, and Allen Webster completed their maturity to the big league level. Lester would be 32 at the end of the deal, and the Sox would probably have an easier time negotiating a contract not in the stratospheric level of Kershaw, and would have their groomed hurlers to fall back on should things not work out.
But if they let a lefthanded starter walk to free agency? See ya later.
Lester’s deal is going to dwarf the contracts handed out to Wilson and Mark Buehrle, who signed his four-year, $58 million contract with the Marlins at the age of 33. It won’t come near the $215 million Kershaw got or the $155 million the Yankees gave Tanaka, both of whom are only 25, but something in the range of five years, $100 million sounds likely. Remember when that was Manny Ramirez money?
Lester has won 100 games in eight seasons, but he's in the same category as James Shields (31 years old), as well as Cole Hamels and Adam Wainwright, both of whom have won 99 at the ages of 29 and 31, respectively. Shields is also a free agent after next season, and he and Lester will provide an interesting market for starters, should both make it to free agency. Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million contract with the Phillies back in 2012 at the age of 28. But Lester’s starting point is probably something like Wainwright’s five-year, $97.5 million extension that he signed with the Cardinals last March at the age of 31.
The St. Louis pitcher insisted last week that he was OK with signing a year away from free agency. "Do I think I could have made more money on the free agent market? Absolutely," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But you can’t buy happiness. I’m not going to be happier anywhere else than where I am right now."
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak also recognized the timing, something the Red Sox missed out on in inking Lester a year ago as well. "Clearly if that (Kershaw's $215-million deal) was on the board today when we were trying to sign somebody like an Adam it would naturally pull it up. We’re fortunate that the deal was done."
So, are Lester’s contract demands still on par with Wainwright’s a year later? If indeed they are, the Sox would behoove themselves to make such a deal by the time camp breaks in March. But the market would likely tell Lester’s on deck for more.
"I want to be here until they have to rip this jersey off my back," Lester said. "I want to stay here. This is what I’ve known. I grew up in this organization. I’ve had plenty of good and bad times here. I enjoy it, my family loves it here, all my son talks about is going home to Boston, and that’s what he thinks is home. If it all comes down to it, we want to be here."
You could reproduce that quote and bestow it upon dozens of Red Sox players over the years, from Clemens to Ellsbury. In the end, few take the elusive “hometown discount” like Pedroia has done twice now.
Maybe Lester will too. But does the fact that the Red Sox haven’t done anything about it as of yet send a signal as well?
Fashion designer Ralph Lauren unveiled the uniforms that Team USA will wear at the Opening Ceremonies at next month’s Olympics in Sochi on NBC’s Today show Thursday morning, and let’s just say the reaction to them was swift...and overly negative.
Models and hockey players Zach Parise and Julie Chu both look like they want to punch something for having to wear the equivalent of an ugly Christmas sweater.
According to Today: “The ensembles feature a classic color palette of red, white and navy. The Opening Ceremony look, revealed exclusively on TODAY Thursday, includes a knit patchwork cardigan emblazoned with stars ($598), paired with a cream cotton turtleneck sweater ($245), slim-fitting white fleece athletic pants bearing the “Team USA” label ($165), black leather boots with bright red laces ($395) and a cotton belt accented with American graphics ($75). Of course, there’s also a reindeer hat ($95).”
Yeesh. We apologize, free world.
Ralph Lauren photos
Wes Welker isn’t even here anymore and it’s still his fault.
There was the “drop” against the Giants in the Super Bowl. There was the drop against the Ravens in last year’s AFC Championship game. The former Patriots wide receiver was forced to sit out the opening playoff series against the Jets three years ago for his brilliant, yet ill-received comments about Rex Ryan’s foot fetish. Hell, let’s blame Welker for tearing his ACL in the final game of 2009, leaving him unavailable for the Patriots’ ugly playoff loss against the Ravens.
As it turns out, the Patriots’ loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday was also Welker’s fault, at least if you listen to the sour grape words coming from Bill Belichick. Welker’s open-field hit on Aqib Talib knocked the pivotal Patriots cornerback out of the game, a 26-16 loss at Mile High that ended New England’s otherwise valiant season, and sent Peyton Manning and the Broncos to the Super Bowl in a fortnight.
On Monday, Belichick called out his former player for the incident, proving that there is still no love lost between the head coach and man who never seemed afraid to call out Belichick when the situation warranted.
“I feel badly for Aqib, the way that play turned out,’’ Belichick said. “I went back and watched it, which I didn’t have a chance to [Sunday], it was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib.’
“I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that play. It’s not for me to decide. It was one of the worst plays I’ve seen and that’s all I’m going to say about that.’’
You can bet that’s not all he’s saying about that behind closed doors.
Convenient though that this was Welker’s doing. Just as it wasn’t his fault in the Super Bowl two years ago, it wasn’t Brady’s fault, even though the likes of Kordell Stewart could have had a more accurate day throwing the football. It certainly wasn’t the fault of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whose questionable play-calling has put him in the crosshairs of fan angst. and has really prompted concern if he is indeed the heir-apparent to Belichick.
No, it’s Welker the headhunter.
“It was one of those plays where it’s kind of a rough play and I was trying to get him to go over the top, and I think he was thinking the same thing and wanted to come underneath and we just kind of collided,” Welker said. “It wasn’t a deal where I was trying to hit him or anything like that. I hope he’s OK, he’s a great player and a big part of their defense.”
Of course, this was also the second straight AFC title game in which Talib was knocked out due to injury. But to claim there was intent on Welker’s part to injure Talib comes off as petty, which isn’t surprising when you consider the tenacious relationship between the two. Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com probably sums up the play best with his assessment: “I think it should have been penalized,” he wrote on Monday. But do I really think Welker was intending to injure Talib? I don't.”
Neither do I.
Look, the Patriots had an unbelievable season, one in which they had to march on without Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Vince Wilfork, as well as having to possess the patience to break in a group of young wide receivers. The fact that they made it as far as they did is a testament to the talent and coaching philosophy that continues on Route One.
That doesn’t change the fact that - yet again - for a ninth straight season, a Patriots campaign ends in disappointment, a matter that would have been laughed at had you brought it up a decade ago. There’s the assumption that Brady and Belichick have one more in them, one more shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. After watching the wildly entertaining NFC Championship game Sunday night, I’m not so sure about that.
No, wise guy, Belichick hasn’t won one since the days of Spygate, but to bring that up as reason for failure is about as lazy as you can get. The Patriots carried on with a patchwork defense this season, and they should be commended for getting as far as Denver. But doesn’t it seem like “patchwork” is a term we use far too often when it comes to New England’s personnel?
There shouldn’t have to be blame on a day like this. The Patriots made it further than they ever should have this season.
But from the Hernandez situation to the Brandon Spikes controversy, maybe Belichick ought to look in his own mirror before laying blame on others for why his team won’t be headed to the Meadowlands until the fall.
At least until the next time we can blame Wes Welker for something.
Tom Brady’s career stats in the AFC Championship game have been surprisingly pedestrian. He’s 5-2, but with seven touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a 74.7 quarterback rating.
Brady’s career stats against Jack Del Rio defenses? Well, that’s a bit different.
The Denver Post points out that the Patriots quarterback is 7-0 against defenses guided by the Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator, but that only begins to describe the dominance.
How does 171-for-235 (73 percent) for 1,771 yards, 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions, with a passer rating of 121 grab you?
OK, granted, maybe the numbers are skewed a bit because of Del Rio’s time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but not so fast. Two of those games came in the playoffs in 2005 and ’07 when the Florida franchise had some respectability. Brady was a combined 41-for-55, for 463 yards and six touchdown passes in those games. His ratings were 116.4 and 141.4, respectively.
Two of the other games came against the Broncos the past two seasons, when Denver was a playoff team. In the remaining three games, in ’03, ’06, and ’09, the Jaguars were 5-11, 8-8, and 7-9.
No matter which way you want to spin it, those are some eye-opening stats with the AFC title game approaching Sunday afternoon.
Globe staff: Three out of five pick the Patriots (Denver by 5 ½).
Boston.com: Zuri Berry likes the Patriots.
ESPN.com staff: Nine out of 13 pick the Broncos.
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Broncos 34, Patriots 31. “It still sounds quite strange, but I think Tony Dungy had it right when he told me on Monday that this meeting of Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks will likely come down to the running games, and the run defenses. The Patriots' passing game weapons just can't match the multifaceted Broncos', so the devastating power running of LeGarrette Blount is New England's best chance to dictate the tempo of the game, and in the process limit the number of Peyton Manning possessions as much as possible. In the Patriots' past three games, they have scored 10 rushing touchdowns and just two through the air, and are succeeding at almost 70 percent (9-of-13) in terms of their red zone touchdown percentage. The Denver run defense is going to have to hold up against a New England offensive line that's blowing people off the ball, and Manning is going to have to make the most of almost every scoring opportunity the Broncos get. In their seven losses the past two seasons, the Broncos are giving up almost 148 yards rushing per game. Denver can run it a little bit too (remember Knowshon Moreno gouging the Pats for 224 yards in late November?) but the Broncos will also take their share of shots downfield as well, especially with tight end Julius Thomas healthy for this game after he missed playing at New England in Week 12. It should be yet another classic in the Manning-Brady rivalry, but in the end, it just feels like it's going to be No. 18's year. If not now, when?”
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Broncos 31, Patriots 24. “The Patriots came back from 24-0 to beat the Broncos earlier this season, but these are much different teams now. New England has taken on a run-first persona on offense, pounding the ball last week against Indianapolis. But it's tougher to run on the Broncos than the Colts. Denver was 10th in yards per attempt during the season. As for the Broncos, they ran it down New England's throat in the first meeting. Knowshon Moreno went for 224 yards. That won't happen again. The Patriots sat back and dared the Broncos to run it, and they did. They will still play back more than normal, but I think they will change it up more. That could give Peyton Manning shots in one-on-one situations. The Broncos didn't have tight end Julius Thomas last time, so look for him to be a factor. The Patriots did have Rob Gronkowski in the last meeting, and he's out now. So where do they turn to get their passing game going? Denver has struggled against the pass, and will be without one of their top corners in Chris Harris, who tore his ACL last week. I would expect Tom Brady to challenge the Denver corners. We can talk all we want about the running games from last week, but this will come down to Brady vs. Manning. The last time they played in a title game, Manning won. He will win again. Manning is on his way to another Super Bowl. Broncos take it.”
CBS Sports staff: Eight writers split down the middle (-5.5 Denver).
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 31, Broncos 27. “The 15th and perhaps last edition of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning of course is the broad framework for Sunday’s early game, the duel of Canton-bound arms in some ways seeming even bigger than the game, than Patriots-Broncos. The result is for the AFC’s Lamar Hunt Trophy and a spot in the Super Bowl, but based on the preamble, you’d think it was mostly about the two QBs and their legacies. Clearly, Brady’s 10-4 edge head-to-head and more pedigreed postseason résumé puts the far greater pressure here on Manning to win at home and not end his historic season sourly. So does the teams’ wild regular-season meeting, won by the Pats 34-31 in overtime. You’ll recall Denver led 24-0 before collapsing under Brady’s assault, and that Manning (150 yards) had his worst game of the season. Weather should not be a big factor in the rematch; cold but no rain. Besides, a team from outside Boston is supposed to have chattering teeth in Denver? I like New England in what would be a big upset, and I do so with utmost respect for Manning and Denver’s home record. Picking against Peyton at home feels like betting against tomorrow’s sunrise, but the gut feeling here is pretty strong. Saturday-game winners in the previous round are 7-1 since 2010 in this round, a trend favoring New England. Manning is 6-11 all-time against Bill Belichick teams. John Fox is 1-6 against the Pats. NE finally has a running game and has three very good cornerbacks. And here’s something else that might seem small but isn’t: Denver is missing injured CB Chris Harris, and the Broncs’ opposing passer skyrockets when Harris isn’t on the field. That’ll clear a path for Brady to victimize 34-year-old replacement Quentin Jammer and to continue his mastery of Manning.”
USA Today staff: Six out of seven pick the Broncos.
Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 30, Broncos 27 (OT). “The easy narrative for this one, based on recent and more extended history, is that the Broncos will find a way to lose and the Patriots will find a way to win. Sometimes, the smart move is to stick with the easy narrative. (I otherwise don’t know much about smart moves.) Throw in the fact that Tom Brady believes no one will pick the Patriots, I’ll also partially pick them out of spite to win a game that could end up being an all-time epic. (Yes, I know I predicted a Broncos-Pats AFC title game in early September and at the time picked the Broncos to win. So basically I’m covered either way.)”
Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk.com: Broncos 37, Patriots 35. “There are a lot of reasons to think the Patriots can put a lot of points up on the Broncos. Key Denver defenders including Chris Harris, Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson are injured and out. LeGarrette Blount’s emergence gives the Patriots a running threat that the Broncos will have a very tough time stopping. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are a good pair of targets for Tom Brady. I fully expect the Patriots to score four touchdowns. And yet I’m picking the Broncos because Peyton Manning has played the quarterback position better this season than anyone has ever played it before, and I expect him to have a very big game against New England’s defense. In a high-scoring game, the Broncos punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.”
Peter Schrager, Foxsports.com: Patriots 33, Broncos 27. “All eyes are on Peyton Manning and what’s at stake for him, but Tom Brady knows he hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the 2004 campaign. This team isn’t going softly into the night as some liner note to Peyton Manning’s swan song. They’re going to come out hitting and they’re going to come out on top. Expect Blount to continue playing the Corey Dillon 2.0 role to perfection and look for unsung defensive players — guys like Jamie Collins, Steve Gregory and Logan Ryan — to continue to make big plays. This has all the makings for a classic Manning-Brady shootout, but I see it being an old-school Manning-Brady game that’s actually won on the ground and in the trenches by everyone else on the field. Brady wins in a slugfest, not an aerial show. And in the locker room afterwards? The Patriots barely even smile.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 26, Broncos 23. “Manning must be sharp to Decker and Welker, because Demaryius Thomas should see plenty of Aqib Talib, and with Jamie Collins the Patriots can contain Julius Thomas. Denver’s Knowshon Moreno was the one who ran wild in the first meeting, but LeGarrette Blount is one rolling behind a New England line that’s finally playing its best.
The Broncos are favored, but you still feel like they are the underdogs here given Manning’s history vs. Belichick and how they fell short last season. Here’s thinking they steal a game that’s more ugly than you would think.”
With all due respect to Dan Shaughnessy, he couldn’t be more wrong about what’s going to transpire in Denver on Sunday.
“The Broncos are going to beat the New England Patriots on Sunday,” the Globe columnist wrote this week. “Sorry, that's just the way I see it. I am not rooting for the Broncos. I am not into Satanic worship. Please do not kill my whole family. I am often wrong (remember the 2013 Boston Red Sox, destined for last place?) and hopefully for New England fans, I will be wrong again.”
Indeed, he will be.
That call is less of a hunch than it is a recollection, not so much Xs and Os as it is an acknowledgment of competitive fire. These aren’t your children’s Patriots, they’re more like the ones who utilized all their weapons en route to a trio of Super Bowl wins a decade ago. Despite losing a litany of players to injury, including Tom Brady’s most dangerous receiver in tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots’ offense is as balanced as one could possibly imagine. For the first time in years, the Patriots aren’t dependent on the arm of Brady. Running back LeGarrette Blount has given this team a dynamic it hasn’t been privy to in some time, allowing Brady to go back to being what made him a three-time champ; being the best game-manager in the NFL.
The last time Brady failed to throw a touchdown pass in a playoff game, as he did in last weekend’s 43-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts, was during his team’s 23-20 win over Billy Cundiff and the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game two years ago. In 25 career playoff games, he’s failed to throw a touchdown only four times, all New England wins, including his first two career postseason games against the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers.
That doesn’t mean the Patriots win if Brady doesn’t get a touchdown, but it speaks volumes about the supporting cast around him, the running game, and the cerebral superiority he brings to the gridiron. If Brady was more Joe Montana early in his career, he morphed into rival Peyton Manning not long after the 2006 AFC title game. Since that game, Brady is only 5-5 in the playoffs, 12-2 prior.
But a funny thing happened in losing Wes Welker to the Broncos, Aaron Hernandez to murder charges, and Rob Gronkowski to (another) injury. Brady was forced to recognize his remaining weapons, likely giving Julian Edelman a big payday in the process. Danny Amendola became a decent replacement for Welker, and he soon learned how to utilize Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins after some initial growing pains, not to mention sideline hissy-fits. For the first time in years, Brady’s favorite receiver wasn’t named Randy Moss, Welker, or Gronkowski. This season, he went by an all-too-familiar moniker.
The open one.
That Brady is a lot more dangerous than the one that has lost back-to-back Super Bowls.
But if Saturday’s win was indeed more geared toward the ground, perhaps Sunday’s game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will add a mix of Brady vs. Manning that petered out in the last meeting when the Broncos continually insisted on running the ball. This is Manning’s moment in the sun, of course, another chance to prove he’s not a playoff wanna-be in search of his second Super Bowl win. But the absence of Denver cornerback Chris Harris , who left the win over the Chargers midway through the third quarter and is out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL, simply can not be discounted. With the absence of Harris, Philip Rivers and the Chargers put a scare into the Broncos, turning a 17-0 game into one decided in the fourth when San Diego put up 17 points. The Patriots can ill-afford to put themselves in that kind of hole, but the comeback spoke volumes about what Harris means to the Denver defense.
Denver allowed 1,626 yards on the ground during the regular season, seventh-best in the NFL. The Broncos allowed 4,070 yards in the air during the regular season. Only five teams allowed more.
But that’s not why the Patriots are going to win on Sunday, earning their seventh trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history. Just like it used to, the game is going to come down to Bill Belichick’s game plan, and the players’ execution of it from there. And the Patriots are more equipped to follow through on that philosophy than they have been in seven years.
Peyton will be left at the altar once again. Brady and company will hop the Acela to Manhattan in another week for another Super Bowl appearance.
Pats-49ers sounds about as good as it can get. But the Lamar Hunt trophy has to come first. And as of Sunday evening, it will be making a return trip to Foxborough.
Penguins and Tigers and Broncos.
If it hasn’t already reached a certain level of absurdity, this unparalleled success for Boston’s professional sports teams, perhaps this is the tipping point into ridiculousness. Sunday will mark the third time in the last year that a local team has played for the right to go to the title game or series. The Bruins beat Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals before falling to the Blackhawks. The Red Sox beat Detroit en route to their win over St. Louis in the World Series. And now the Patriots travel to Denver for the AFC Championship game, with a berth in the Super Bowl on the line.
Of course, when the Pats won the first of their three Super Bowls during the 2001 season, it broke a streak of 15 championship-less years in Boston, a period that was the longest such drought in the city’s professional sports history in half a century (16 years between the Bruins’ 1941 Stanley Cup win and the Celtics’ first title in 1957). Granted, much of that is owed to the Celtics, who dominated the NBA for the better part of three decades, but these days it’s everybody’s party.
Today, the longest drought since the first Super Bowl win? It was a whole three years between the Celtics winning the NBA title in 2008 and the Bruins taking home the Stanley Cup in 2011. Boo hoo. Denver’s last title came when John Elway was suiting up for the Broncos, 16 years ago.
Thirteen years, eight titles. What we have in front of us now is a chance for the Patriots to re-claim their dominance with a fourth title, which would break the tie they currently claim with the reigning World Series champion Red Sox. The all-time tally is at 35 (yes, including the Braves), with 36 a very real possibility.
For that to happen, the Pats face their two most difficult hurdles of the season in both the Broncos and one of the 49ers or Seahawks.
But, we’ll get there in due time. For now, bask in the matter than no other American city has it even remotely as good as Boston. Since the 2001 Super Bowl Boston teams have played in a championship game or series 12 times. Twelve. That’s almost an average of once per year. That’s not supposed to happen.
Except here. We are the bane of every other professional sports city because of our good fortune. There’s always one more on the horizon. Maybe it’s in Jersey next month. Maybe it comes on the Garden ice in June. Maybe it plays out with the first back-to-back World Series wins in Boston since 1915-16, 99 years ago.
The only mystery it seems to be is when, not if. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have one more in them. Is it finally time? Can Tuukka Rask survive the Olympics enough to go on another deep run? Is John Lackey really the guy we saw last fall?
We just have it better, and that’s something to never be taken for granted.
Let’s go for nine, shall we?