Playing nine innings while hoping the manager who outwitted Tony La Russa in 2004 will be his replacement in 2012. Terry Francona does know how to win in St. Louis, as you may recall . . .
1. So far, so good with this Ben Cherington fella, huh? Less than a full week on the job officially, and already he's solved the John Lackey problem (would it be cruel to hope the Tommy John surgery is done against his will and possibly without anesthesia?) while saving a few bucks in the process, let Carl Crawford know that the biggest advocate in bringing him to Boston is now his boss, and picked up the option on Marco Scutaro, a steady and dependable shortstop who was one of the few Red Sox who swam against the current in September (.387 batting average, 1.019 OPS). Of course, the real tests are ahead: Finding a manager, of course, and coming up with some roster depth and a couple of decent pitchers from a free-agent class that doesn't appear to have a lot of quality at the Red Sox' areas of need. Bruce Chen, anyone?
2. It doesn't take a whole lot of research to recognize La Russa's legacy. As the third-winningest manager of all-time -- he'd have passed John McGraw before midseason next year had he chosen not to retire today -- his place in Cooperstown would have been secure even without winning a third World Series title a few days ago. And somewhere on the plaque, possibly in the first sentence, it will be acknowledged that he's the architect of the specialized modern bullpen. Whether you like it or not (yes, Mr. Maddon, we know you're in favor), La Russa's matchup-based approach will be remembered as a pivotal innovation in the way the game is played and managed. But for all of his accomplishments, I'll best remember him -- because it is always about us around here, right? -- in relation to the Red Sox. His jacked-up Oakland teams mauled the overmatched Sox in the 1988 and '90 ALCS before going on both seasons to lose in the World Series to heavy underdogs. I'll remember him for kindly managing the Cardinals to a runner-up finish in 2004. And strangely, but perhaps because this game is on the MLB Network from time to time, I'll remember him for managing Carlton Fisk's debut with the White Sox at Fenway on Opening Day '81. For the fun of it -- and because it's beyond impressive that he's managed in the majors for 33 years -- I looked up his first game against the Red Sox. It was a 7-5 Red Sox win on August 16, 1979. Fisk hit second for the Red Sox, ahead of Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, and Yaz in a lineup made out by Don Zimmer. Judging by the box score, it's apparent that La Russa hadn't yet perfected his managerial style. He used just two pitchers.
3. I'm just going to assume that Cherington's thinking in bringing in Pete Mackanin and Dave Sveum as the first two candidates to interview for the vacant managerial job is to find out first-hand if any of the less-inspiring candidates might surprise him before he moves on to the legitimate candidates to succeed Terry Francona. Mackanin has had two interim gigs -- with the 2005 Pirates and 2007 Reds -- but apparently didn't do enough to warrant keeping the job, having been replaced by Jim Tracy and Dusty Baker, respectively. As for Sveum, I want documented evidence that he's mastered coaching third base first before he gets a shot at piloting the team from the dugout. That man is entirely capable of getting a player thrown out at the plate while walking from the on-deck circle to the batter's box.
4. Pitching coach extraordinaire Dave Duncan is under contract with the Cardinals for the 2012 season, but with La Russa retiring, I'm curious whether the former catcher will have any interest in managing in St. Louis or elsewhere. If he's at all interested in Boston, Boston should be interested in him. After last season, it would be nice to see some Red Sox pitchers overachieve for once.
5. Enjoyed this post-World Series find by Peter Abraham on the Red Sox' twice-foiled plans to acquire David Freese before and during the 2006 draft. The Sox' plans to sign Freese before the draft -- he was a fifth-year senior at South Alabama -- were nixed by the commissioner's office, so farm director Jason McLeod went to Plan B, which was to draft him in the sixth round. McLeod decided to postpone picking him until the ninth round when scouts touted other prospects. It would go down as an opportunity lost. The Padres plucked Freese 10 picks before the Red Sox planned to, dealt him to his hometown Cardinals in December 2007, and the rest is World Series history.
6. Five years after the fact, that 2006 draft stands as a fascinating one for the Red Sox beyond the near-miss with Freese. It had a lot of just about everything. There were big hits (Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson, Josh Reddick in the 17th round, Lars Anderson in the 18th, and Ryan Kalish in the ninth-round spot where they had targeted Freese), big misses (Jason Place, Kris Johnson, and Caleb Clay in the first round alone), future major leaguers who went unsigned (Brandon Belt, Matt LaPorta, and Logan Schafer), and even the random Papelbon (Josh, chosen in the 48th round). One last thing: The players the Sox chose in rounds 6-8, when they passed on Freese, were Zach Daeges, Kris Negron, and Rafael Cabreja. Only Negron, who was traded for Alex Gonzalez in 2009, gave the Red Sox any return on the selection.
7. Speaking of Masterson, it's cool to see him united with fellow sinkerballing former Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe in Cleveland. Lowe was sent to Cleveland today, with the Braves picking up a Single A pitcher and $5 million of the freight. That's what happens to pitchers coming off a miserable season (9-17, 5.05 ERA, and a 75 ERA-plus that was worse than that of Tim Wakefield, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Andrew Miller) who don't need Tommy John surgery. But he may not be a completely lost cause. He still gets groundballs at an extraordinary rate (59 percent, second in the majors). Masterson (55.1 percent) was seventh, and second in the AL to Oakland's Trevor Cahill. I'm not sure how that's going to play in Cleveland, though, considering that Asdrubal Cabrera had the worst UZR (minus-12.6) of any shortstop in baseball who played over 900 innings at the position. Derek Jeter was the second-worst (minus-8.8), which of course tells you that there are absolutely no flaws in UZR whatsoever.
8. Dallas-area sports fans who consider the Rangers more than just a sidebar to the Cowboys' perpetual soap opera enter the offseason with a similarly long list of what-ifs and would-be scapegoats to the one we had 25 years ago. I'm not sure the Rangers' agonizing Game 6 loss -- followed by a seemingly inevitable defeat in Game 7 -- will have the historical legs of what happened to the Sox in '86 because of the markets involved and the lack of a defining image with which the networks can bludgeon the fans. While I joked on Twitter that night I'm already looking forward to Nelson Cruz's self-deprecating turn on the 2036 equivalent to "Curb Your Enthusiasm," I suspect Cruz, Ron Washington, and the other Rangers who melted in the spotlight will not be tormented like Bill Buckner was, even though Buckner's error was far more excusable than Cruz's and would not have clinched the World Series had the play been made. The hunch here is that these Rangers will be remembered with more vagueness and less cruelty, much like Tony Fernandez, Jose Mesa, and the goats of the 1997 Indians' loss to the Marlins.
9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:
Because he was an Expo. Because he had an arm to rival Dewey's. Because to a young baseball fan he epitomized late-'70s cool. Because that photo is mesmerizing in a dozen different ways. And because I couldn't find a guy whose last name was Halloween.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.