Not that I’m usually a staunch opponent of year-end lists and retrospectives, it’s just that they seem to be so prevalent that adding one more to the mix would be like building one more Dunkin Donuts in [insert any nondescript Eastern Mass. Town here]. You sure as heck don’t need another, and yet no matter how much you protest, there you are one day, trying to explain to the person behind the counter yet again that you asked for skim milk in your iced.
But they are conversation starters, I suppose. Not sure amongst whom really, but at least I imagine that’s what ESPN was attempting to do by ranking Terrell Owens’ non-suicide the top sports story of the year. Really. It’s either that or a severe case of stupidity from the folks in Bristol, which, come to think of it is a diagnosis we’ve all assumed for some time now anyway.
No lists. But no matter how many might be tempted to rank the Yankees’ five-game at the top, is there any doubt the passing of Red Auerbach was the biggest local story of the year...
We could very well be looking at a first-round playoff game next weekend in Foxborough between the Patriots and the Denver Broncos, a rematch, of course, of what remains New England’s only playoff loss in the past six seasons.
Unfortunately that would mean another week like the one we suffered through last January as New England was made to suffer the yahoo antagonism of the Broncos fan base.
Now, look. Understand this isn’t a general realization of the entire Denver fanatic movement. But the trash talk during the second week of January between the two fan bases was nothing short of pathetic. Ever wonder who could make your average Pats fan sound like Gottfried Willhelm von Leibniz ? We got the answer in preparation of the Pats-Broncos divisional tilt. We might have had a better chance at witnessing stimulating debate at any local day care clinic over who brought the chocolate Teddy Grahams and who gets stuck with the cinnamon.
A YouTube search for “Broncos fan” revealed the following.
In other news…
By the way, here's New Hampshire's favorite pushing potato chips overseas. With more paprika. Yum.
FebruaryThe folks around town who scolded Red Sox fans for daring to boo Johnny Damon upon his return in May just didn’t get it.
The reaction that the crowd had stemmed back to February, when Damon, who two months earlier signed on to play for the rival Yankees, would tell anyone with a set of ears how special it was to be a Yankee, despite the fact that he had yet to play as much of an exhibition inning for New York.
“I'm starting to think that I'm a Yankee,” Damon told the Bergen Record in early February. “It took a little while, but it feels right now.”
Oh, the drama, Johnny. It had been a grand total of 44 days since he inked his deal.
Later in the month, Damon waxed poetic about how inspired he was over a speech Joe Torre gave at the start of Yankees training camp. Apparently, no other manager had ever told him the seemingly obvious goal was a World Series title.
"There is no reason to celebrate getting into the postseason," Damon said.
Mind you, one of Boston’s final images of Damon was in a champagne-soaked locker room party at Fenway in October, 2005, as the Sox clinched the wild card, the day after losing the AL East to the Yankees.
In other news:
Reader email: Did Lindsey Jacobellis manage to hang on to her Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee when she took that nasty spill? I was so worried about it I nearly forgot that Visa will protect me if someone steals my credit card.Paul
MarchBefore you think you have any shot at winning this year’s March Madness office pool, please remember George Mason, will you?
George Mason, of course, was the Cinderella story of the NCAA Basketball Tournament last March, the first Colonial Athletic Association team in two decades to earn an at-large bid before shooting all the way to the Final Four by beating Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut. No matter where there is a Top 10 list for national sports stories of 2006, George Mason’s run is somewhere near the top. Yes, even ESPN's Terrell-infested nonsense.
And yet, it is more the symbolism of what the school accomplished that will be more remembered in coming years than the actual achievement. With the bigger schools of the country losing its stars earlier and earlier to the NBA, or not getting them at all from high school, the gap between the Dukes and Illinois of the NCAA and the George Masons and Vermonts, where players tend to nurture over a four-year period, has drastically gotten closer. Which is why that No. 1 UConn seed isn’t even going to be a given come March against a No. 16, usually the poor sacrificial soul of the tournament.
That’s no longer the case. Florida is going to repeat based on the strength of its returners, but don’t be shocked if there’s more than one team joining them in the Final Four again this year that normally would have no business being there.
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AprilThey felt like family after a while, albeit the kind you never again want to see cross your doorstep any time soon.
“We’ve got a whole new lineup. Who isn’t excited about this team?
“They have so many options: Loretta, Lowell, Youkilis.
I just love this pitching staff.
Papelbon, he is so intense on the mound.
Shilling and Beckett in the same rotation? Come on.
Throw Wakefield in there and they’re unstoppable.
I mean I just love Coco Crisp.
Did you see that catch Coco made?
Oh, Loretta and Gonzalez, great double play combination.
And you just got Manny being Manny.”
I wish we had the numbers, but unofficially, I’d predict this commercial played 36,000 times on NESN in April alone, and peeved off about three times as many viewers. If given the choice between watching it for just one more week, or witnessing a loop of Mellencamp’s “My Country,” I can only guarantee a majority would choose the latter. No word on where the actors - sorry, "actors" - in this spot ended up (unless you really believed that your average yahoo at Game On or in the barber's chair speaks for the majority of the Red Sox fan base) but let's just say nobody is pining for a 2007 edition anytime soon.
In other news:
MayPT Barnum might have watched the whole thing unfold and deemed it too much for any of his shows.
To say there was a lot going on at Fenway Park the night of May 1 is an understatement. The Yankees made their first visit of the season, with former Red Sox icon Johnny Damon in tow. Earlier in the day, the Red Sox had re-acquired backup catcher Doug Mirabelli from the Padres, having seen enough of Josh Bard’s troubles trying to catch Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball, and transported him to the park via police escort in a whirlwind journey that reeked of the team trying to upstage their former star.
After all, the Yankees had tried to get in on the Mirabelli negotiations with the Padres to block their rivals from acquiring him, ultimately driving up the price for Theo Epstein, who was forced to toss Cla Meredith into the deal. For one night the Red Sox won the battle, grabbing Mirabelli, and the win.
Seemingly every night following though, the deal looked worse.
Bard hit .333 for the Padres, and is projected to be their everyday starter next season. Meredith set a franchise record for scoreless innings, and finished the year with a 1.07 ERA. Mirabelli hit .191. And while Wakefield enjoyed a 3-2 mark in the month of May, he would only win three more games the rest of the year, missing more than a month with a rib injury.
The Red Sox have proven that they’re not afraid to fix problems, no matter how early in the season or contract. But this little escapade was no doubt hasty to say the least. Mirabelli may be re-signed for 2007, but can anyone argue any reason whatsoever why they’d rather have him on staff over Bard and Meredith? Who knows whether Bard would have caught on to the knuckler, but the bottom line is that he was given a grand total of five games to master the technique. How different might the 2006 edition have been with Bard stepping in for an injured Jason Varitek, and Meredith anchoring the late-inning bridge the Sox so desperately needed? It’s certainly fodder for debate.
Damon, of course, was roundly booed in his return, which was expected. And while plenty denounced the fans for turning their back on Damon after all he had accomplished here, the real embarrassing reactions that night were the multiple standing ovations to welcome back Doug Mirabelli. If we only knew what we know now.
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Former Red Sox hurler Paxton Crawford showed up in our general consciousness again in June - which might have been the first time for the majority of us anyhow – revealing to ESPN The Magazine how he used to take steroids while pitching in Boston during the 2000-01 seasons.
“Back in 2001, I thought I was the man,” he said. “I had no shame, and I thought nobody could touch me. One time, I walked right into the Red Sox clubhouse with a bunch of needles wrapped in a towel and left them on my chair. A few minutes later, one of my teammates came running over, saying, ‘Paxton, someone knocked your chair over and your freaking needles are all over the floor!’ Man, we just died about that. He said it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen, told me I was nuts. But that's the way it was back then.”
A follow-up by the Globe’s Gordon Edes elicited the following conversation with Crawford:
``You didn't know?" Crawford asked, surprise in his voice.
No, the reporter said. How widespread was it? Were there a lot of players?
``Yup," he said.
Five, 10, 20, 50, how many?
``It was just everywhere," he said.
Did this begin in minor league camp, in big league camp?
``So, anyway," Crawford said, ``it's kind of a sore subject, bro. That's it."
And he hung up.
Crawford was 5-1 with a 4.15 ERA in his two-year career. As soon as his remarks were made public, former teammates of his, including Tim Wakefield and Jeff Frye, predictably distanced themselves from the subject. Later in the month, we learned of the Jason Grimsley bombshell with the possibility that Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte might have been involved, and suddenly everyone who wants to bury Barry Bonds came to their defense, claiming it couldn’t be true.
Mark McGwire won’t make the Hall of Fame next month because so many voters are convinced his reluctance to talk about the past is an admission of steroids. And yet, Barry Bonds has stacked up the MVPs at a record pace, and might make the Hall based on the weak argument “that he was a Hall of Famer before he took steroids.”
So were Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose before their errors in judgment.
The game may be cleaner, but that doesn’t mean the steroid issue has gone away, just swept under the rug with help from the press, which collectively had another embarrassing year following the story, treating it as something of the past. The trouble is, there are far too many fan-boys covering the game, still in awe of the athletes they used to worship as adolescents, and not enough fact-finding journalists. And what does it say when the top two are headed to jail because of their groundbreaking work in "Game of Shadows?" It's easier to play the fan-boy, of course.
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Just months after he claimed he was embarrassed to see his name on a TV news crawl along with updates on the 2004 tsunami, Kansas City Royals first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz returned to Boston in July, promising to “open old wounds” in his quest to call the World Series ball his own.
Mientkiewicz, of course, started spouting off before his return, claiming that he had a “speech planned out . . . the person who wrote [Bill ] Clinton's acceptance speech in the White House helped me write it." He promised, he said, that a ``Red Sox CEO would get blasted [for what] he put me through."
"I just want to be remembered as a small piece [of the championship], not someone that stole a baseball. It's not even the Red Sox. It's just one person," Mientkiewicz said in his mostly forgettable speech, claiming Lucchino “continually did the unprofessional thing. Everyone outside of Mr. Lucchino has been phenomenal.
"This could have been cleared up behind closed doors," he said, but, "I'm not going to [be] bullied around. ... Jabs from someone that never put on spikes, I'm not going to accept it.”
Meanwhile, Keith Foulke continued to entertain and madden at the same time by insisting once again that the ball was his.
"If you were to take it to a panel or a court of unbiased people and you went down a list of team and players and people that deserve certain things, [like] the ball, I think maybe Mr. Mientkiewicz may be down the totem pole a bit, but that's just me," Foulke said. "Of course I think I deserve the ball...I think I did some pretty good things to deserve that thing. But maybe I'm wrong."
We can only wonder what Year 3 of Ball-gate will bring. Maybe Julio Lugo will somehow figure out how to put in a claim, just to join in all the fun.
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At a Saturday community meeting to discuss the potential of a new stadium for the Cincinnati Reds, city officials spent 90 minutes going over the impacts of having spring training in Florida.
Afterward, a silver-haired lady said the city had neglected to talk about an important benefit.
"One of the impacts that you didn't mention are the girls that date the ballplayers," said Carole Nikla, 75, to laughs of the 30-person crowd at City Hall.
Later, Nikla said that she was serious. She dated two Boston Red Sox players in 1950.
Well, sure, there’s that too.
We’re not proud of the prediction, of course, but there comes a time when you have to call a spade a spade, and that came in mid-August when we were prompted to tab the Red Sox non-contenders, despite being 1 ˝ games out of the AL East lead.
And then, the disaster happened at Fenway.
First the Yankees swept the Friday day-night doubleheader.
Then they won Saturday. And Sunday.
And despite David Wells’ best efforts, Monday too.
Suddenly the Red Sox were 6 ˝ games back, their season, for all intents and purposes over. David Ortiz suffered a heart scare. Jason Varitek went down with an injury. Jon Lester received a cancer diagnosis. If it could have gone wrong, it happened to the Red Sox in August, a month the franchise and its fans would desperately like to forget.
The Sox went 9-21 for the month, the trade of David Wells to San Diego the symbolic white flag. Their misfortunes prompted many a Red Sox fan to point the finger at Theo Epstein for not making a deal prior to the trading deadline. Others wondered if a right fielder in Bobby Abreu and a middle-of-the-line pitcher in Cory Lidle would have possibly been enough to fix this team’s ills. In reality, there’s no possible way that they could have been.
Everyone sort of giggled when that black bird showed up on the base paths at Fenway Park on the first day of the month, but it also prompted many to summon the symbolic nature of a crow: a harbinger of doom or death.
Looking back now, it’s all just creepy.
(Globe File Photo / Jim Davis)
In other news:
With the Red Sox well out of the playoff hunt, the locker room discussion turned to individual achievement, and most particularly David Ortiz, who was on the verge of breaking Jimmie Foxx's club record for home runs in a season.
Ortiz, who should have won the MVP in 2005, was asked one evening if he thought he deserved consideration for the award in 2006, despite his team floundering down the stretch.
``I'm right there," he said, ``but I'm not going to win it. They give it to Alex [Rodriguez] one year, even though his team was in last place, so now they can't play that BS anymore, just because your team didn't make it. They gave it to Alex that year because of his numbers. But they always have a reason to vote for whatever, so that's why I don't worry about it."
"But they'll vote for a position player, use that as an excuse. They're talking about [Derek] Jeter a lot, right? He's done a great job, he's having a great season, but Jeter is not a 40-homer hitter or an RBI guy. It doesn't matter how much you've done for your ball club, the bottom line is, the guy who hits 40 home runs and knocks in 100, that's the guy you know helped your team win games.
``Don't get me wrong -- he's a great player, having a great season, but he's got a lot of guys in that lineup. Top to bottom, you've got a guy who can hurt you. Come hit in this lineup, see how good you can be."
Jeter responded with: "Our focus here isn't on individual awards. We've still got something to play for."
Ortiz tossed his hat into the ring for eventual winner Justin Morneau of the Twins, picking him over Minnesota teammate Joe Mauer, whom some think was the most deserving candidate to be mostly overlooked by the voters. ``Tell me about the guy bringing him in," Ortiz said. ``I'm not saying anything about my man [Mauer], I love that kid, but you've got to talk about Morneau because he's the guy who's done what people haven't done in years there."
Still though, Mauer became the first catcher to win the batting title since the Boston Braves' Ernie Lombardi in 1942, and his .429 OBP was third in the AL, right behind Travis Hafner and Manny Ramirez. And while many baseball fans wouldn't have had a terrific problem seeing Jeter or Morneau win the MVP, it's tough to argue that Mauer was virtually ignored by the baseball writers, finishing no higher than third on any one ballot.
Morneau's a nice pick, but Mauer was the right one.
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So, apparently what happened here is that during the second half of a preseason game between the Panthers and Dolphins, Dick Stockton and Daryl Johnston pleaded with viewers to stay tuned because someone was going to win a car. Later in the game, Tony Siragusa handed Panthers uber-fan Greg Good a toy Porsche.
But, with a complete lack of anything else going on in Charlotte, an Observer columnist ran a Page 1 (Page 1!) column decrying why Good deserved the car. A real one. Fox then buckled, and gave him a Ford truck.
Wow, the power of the Charlotte Observer. Now can they write a Page 1 piece on getting rid of McCarver?
"If I'd experienced failure like that at 'A' ball, nobody gives a (expletive), but I experienced it at the top level," Meredith told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It's still stayed with me. I couldn't be doing what I'm doing now without the memory of 40,000 people booing me. I know they say it's nothing personal, but, man, I've never forgotten that.
"The Red Sox gave me a shot, and I blew it pretty much. But when I was traded, it became a motivating factor. I told myself that somehow, someway, I wanted to make them wish they hadn't done it."
John Wolfson writes:
The problem with Bill Buckner is that when he's not trying to forget about that softly skipping grounder, he's scheming to squeeze every last nickel out of it. Every so often, an overnight package arrives on the doorstep of Buckner's house in Boise, Idaho. Stuffed inside are hundreds of copies of the same photo: The ball is already past Buckner, the first base umpire is thrusting out his arm to indicate a fair ball, and Mookie Wilson is in full sprint for the bag. These pictures await only the few alchemic strokes of Buckner's autograph marker that will transform them into gold. He and Wilson have an exclusive deal with a New York memorabilia company that sells the signed photos: $99 for an 8-by-10, $119 for a 16-by-20. As part of their relationship with Steiner Sports Marketing, Buckner and Wilson also appear together a couple of times a year at signing events in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, pens in hand, grinning into an ocean of orange-and-blue Mets caps.
As a strict civil libertarian, I oppose prohibitions on prostituting oneself, but Buckner's nauseating sanctimony long ago slipped into outright hypocrisy: It wasn't his fault. He just wants to forget the whole thing. Everyone's so nasty to his family. Buckner is the child who pokes a stick in the hive then whines about the stinging. "I got over it right after it happened," he once told an ESPN.com writer who found him signing photos with Wilson in the basement of a Connecticut hotel. Well, Buckner, we did not. The agony of your bungled play kept burning long after you hobbled out of town.
"I don't care what any Red Sox fans think about this," Buckner said to the ESPN writer. "I busted my butt for them and I had a lot to do with getting us to that point."
It's rare that the death of a sports legend can be among not only the top sports stories of the year, but the top news stories as well.
We have that in the passing of Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach, who died in October at the age of 89, leaving behind a legacy never to be matched in not just the NBA, but sporting history.
The last Boston sports figure of this magnitude to pass away was Ted Williams in 2002. That was likely trumped as the year's biggest story by a certain kick down in New Orleans. In 2006 though, no story was bigger than the passing of a Boston institution, the architect of a game and a franchise that re-pays him with the Celtics dancers he was so adamantly against.
The final days of October and the beginning of November were dedicated to Auerbach, as the tributes came from every corner of America. There will never be another like him, and for that, he gets top honor in 2006.
In other news...
But this was beyond juvenile. I would provide more details if I could've brought myself to write down what they were saying, but I'm not paid that much.
That bit about trying to be kissed at 16 because a couple players signed contracts at 16? You know Lyons sat in his hotel room last night giggling, thinking this was the perfect "spontaneous" line that would get things rollicking, he just had to find the right spot.
He didn't. He threw out the line. He tried going and going and going with it. Brennaman acted like it was the "Soup Nazi" bit from Seinfeld or something. Like it was a classic. Poor Lou Piniella acted like he'd rather be getting yelled at by Steinbrenner.
Back to Brennaman: Why are you yelling at us, Thom? You're like Brent Musburger without the charm.
When Fox insists on trotting Lyons and Brennaman out there, in little games and big games, they're proving that they not only don't know baseball, they could care less about it.
"I didn't realize how many degenerates sit there at home and watch television and surf the Internet and look for ways to belittle people," Byrnes told the Arizona Republic. "People should not be concentrating on what I'm wearing and what my hair looks like. They should be concerned with my flow and the knowledge coming out of my mouth."
The month started with a demoralizing loss to the Colts, then an embarrassing showing against the Jets a week later, both at home, in Foxborough.
Then the Bears and Patriots slugged it out in a good-old defensive gridiron showdown, and some of us started to look differently at this year's edition of the New England football team.
That odd loss to Miami notwithstanding a few weeks back, the New England Patriots are primed to enter the NFL playoffs as perhaps the dark horse - at least where the national view is concerned, what else is new - to come out of the AFC. While everybody loves San Diego, with good reason, the two teams perhaps most likely to meet in the AFC Championship game just might be the Pats and Baltimore Ravens, for reasons of which we saw over Thanksgiving weekend.
Baltimore and New England are 1-2 in the AFC in regards to scoring defense, allowing an average of just 12.9 and 14.3 points per game, respectively. The Chargers are sixth, the next-highest team that is already guaranteed a playoff spot, with Miami, Denver, and Jacksonville mixed in between. The Colts are allowing 22.5 points per game, an Achilles heel that has it near the bottom of the league.
And now, with Rodney Harrison back, nobody is taking the Patriots lightly anymore, viewed all season long as a solid team hurt by injury and a lack of weapons. Defense matters most come January. And as good as Indy and San Diego might be come playoff time, it's going to come down to New England and Baltimore fighting for the right to play in Miami.
In other news…
It was bizarre, for sure. But how we view the Daisuke Matsuzaka mania of this past month in the long-term will depend on how he, you know, actually pitches.
Is he worth the hoopla, or all hype, no substance?
The Red Sox are obviously banking on the assumption that he's the real deal, sinking an additional $52 million into the hurler, on top of the $51 million they owed the Seibu Lions in the posting process. The outside chance that he is Hideki Irabu and not Hideo Nomo would be disastrous.
Now, the fact that he's already conjuring comparisons to Pedro Martinez in his heyday isn't exactly lessening the expectations surrounding him. Martinez is no less than one of the top-three pitchers in Red Sox history. Before he even arrives in Fort Myers, Matsuzaka has that to live up to?
Everyone knows how dominant Matsuzaka was in Japan, but can that translate into the major leagues? Probably, though not at the height of success he had overseas. But using a number of theories and applications, some have predicted that a 2007 Matsuzaka would be comparable to pitchers such as Roy Halladay, Brandon Webb, Chris Carpenter, Jason Schmidt, Josh Beckett, Pedro Martinez, Tim Hudson, and Jake Peavy. Many also took comfort in watching Matsuzaka deal against current Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki in a 1999 clip.
Combine those more than favorable projections with the untapped marketing potential the Red Sox will become the beneficiary of in the Far East, and it's evident why such a wealthy investment's risk is more than worth the reward. And man, does he seem like he's going to be fun to watch.
In other news…