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Sunday Mail: Will Middlebrooks returns, surprise cuts, strong arms and '78 prices

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  August 11, 2013 05:54 AM

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Note to loyal readers, random stragglers and everyone in between: No matter your route here, thanks for finding my shiny new weekend column, "Sunday Mail.'' This is episode 1, and I'm still sorting out what it will and will not be. What you're seeing now is the rough parameters: a brief, topical (and perhaps even interesting!) lead item, a half-dozen or so responses to reader questions, and a couple of other goofy items. "Sunday Mail'' will be posted right here, coincidentally enough, every Sunday morning. It's been my favorite day to read since I began devouring the Sunday Globe sports section when was around 8, and I'm really thrilled to have something to contribute to Boston.com on that particular day of the week. Hope you'll add this to your reading list, and know that the column will evolve, even though I probably won't.

* * *

middlebrooksortizfinn810.JPGLEADING OFF

Saying this as someone who believes Xander Bogaerts could and should be helping the Red Sox against the Bruce Chens of the world right now ... it's nice to see Will Middlebrooks back.

Not just because he collected two hits -- including a Jose Iglesias Tribute infield special, but so what? -- and a couple of RBIs in the Red Sox' reassuring 5-3 win over the Royals Saturday night.

Think about: Middlebrooks must have been crushed to be back in Pawtucket, a place he was never supposed to visit again except perhaps as a guest of honor. He had great success as a rookie -- he really did with, 15 homers and an .835 OPS -- and was counted on as a cornerstone not just of the future, but the present.

Yet there he was headed south, back in Triple A by midsummer. It must have been puzzling on the best days and the catalyst for angry soul-searching on the worst. But by all accounts he put in the time, tried to become more disciplined and selective, got hot (.316/.357/.500 over his last 10 games), then found success his first day back, not to mention a warm greeting:

I'm glad the whatever-Papi-called-him is back, too. I do hope Bogaerts arrives before the September 1 roster expansion -- I want his talent on a playoff team. But it's not like the Sox are wasting his youth -- with Middlebrooks in the bigs, he can get plenty of time at shortstop and third base so he's ready for whatever is asked of him when he comes to Boston.

But for now, Middlebrooks is here, and given Ben Cherington's track record this year, I'm cool with that decision. I trust that they made the right call. Or the right recall.

THE MAILBOX

Before we got to the mail, a quick acknowledgment: Several of you noted that Vlad Guerrero should have been on my list of the best outfield arms this week. Can't argue that. But I did keep it to six, and my appreciation for Ellis Valentine led to him receiving the designated cannon-armed former Expo slot on the list. As a peace offering, here are two videos of ridiculous Vladi throws, including one with a Pedro Martinez cameo:

At this point, the Red Sox' best offseason acquisition has to be Koji Uehara, right? Great teammate, fun to watch, and the guy always comes up big. He's the best, most reliable closer we've had in a while and we didn't even sign him to be the closer.
-- Joyce

With you, Joyce. Since coming stateside in 2009, Uehara has been an excellent pitcher when healthy. But this is his best season -- his 1.38 ERA is a career-best, as is his 12.9 K/9 rate, he's been superb as a closer, and he allowed exactly zero earned runs in July. And the bonus is that he's as fun as he is effective.

Just for the fun of it, let's grade Ben Cherington's offseason signings:

ueharakojifinn810.JPGUehara: Epitomizes what this team is all about. A+

Shane Victorino: Best defensive right fielder since Dwight Evans, battles every at-bat. A-

Joel Hanrahan: Stop trading positional talent for "proven" closers, please. F

Mike Napoli: August has been cruel, but remember, he helped get this thing started right with 27 RBIs in 26 games in April. C+

Jonny Gomes: The right-handed Bernie Carbo, minus the melodrama. Winning does follow him. B

Stephen Drew: The complaints seemed to have ceased. Judging him on his own merits finally? B-

Mike Carp: Great find as a bench bat, with perhaps a bigger role ahead. A-

Ryan Dempster: He's basically the conventional version of late-career Tim Wakefield. There are worse roles. C-

What gives with the ovation for that traitor/cheater Roger Clemens at Fenway? And why did Jim Rice stay away from the Morgan Magic celebration? They could have shown footage of him tossing Walpole Joe down the runway stairs.
-- Ed Romero

Rice was there, but I could be wrong. Was disappointed at the turnout. It's always good to see Evans, but Clemens and Oil Can Boyd say hello when you wish they'd say goodbye for a while, you know? (Clemens was charming and anecdotal that night while sitting in with Joe Castig. I hate myself for saying that.) And it was kind of jarring to see players for the first time since they were active -- I thought Tom Bolton was Bob Stanley upon first glance, and that's probably not a compliment. The weak turnout was a little bit of a bummer -- I mean, those guys won 24 straight games at Fenway. From June 25 to August 13, they didn't lose a home game. That's incredible. It's not, say, an 8-year-anniversary of a championship team, but it's a legit anniversary and a feat worth celebrating for sure.

I enjoy Greg Bedard and Peter King, but I can't spend more than two minutes on MMQB.com. The site is a visual atrocity. Having said that, are you impressed with MMQB content? SI seems to have launched at the right time.
-- Matt from Cincinnati

It's actually theMMQB.com -- MMQB.com takes you to a site dedicated to the "business of the contract furnishings industry,'' where the poll questions aren't "Who's loftier, Brett Favre or Peyton Manning? but "What would you say is currently THE MOST important element in the decision process for clinets [sic] when deciding what furniture to buy?" I imagine the proprietor has seen something of a spike in accidental traffic, while theMMQB is stuck being reminded of the one useful lesson from the Sean Parker character in "The Social Network" -- drop the the before "Facebook." Anyway, to answer the actual question, I love the site -- Andrew Brandt's stuff is great, and it's cool to read Bedard writing with his usual depth about teams other than the Patriots -- but it is tricky to navigate. King has been directing readers to the archive bar for an accurate ordering of the stories, but they really shouldn't be asked to execute an extra step; the new material should be obvious. And the columns bar is doubly puzzling. They have catchy titles, but the author's names aren't obvious until you click a link. I have no idea why Don Banks is "The Conscience." I thought he was Donny Brasco.

If there's ever a baseball site similar this, I'd have a new homepage.

I have to say that [Friday's] experiment with broadcasting a Patriots' game should be significantly revised by Channel 4 before the next broadcast. I cannot remember a more annoying sports telecast. It seemed that the objective was to recreate Phil Spector's wall of sound. No moment was left unfilled by commentary that may have had some nuggets of useful information, but, if so, they were lost in the unrelenting white noise. There was simply far too much talking about topics, extraneous and otherwise, while the game itself called for some more commentary...and for some short bursts of silence.
-- Richard C.

Completely agree, Richard. Because it was their first real run-through of something fairly innovative, and because the intent is good -- Matt Smith and Kraft Sports Productions want to make the preseason game experience better -- I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on the opener. Dan Roche seemed so eager to involve everyone -- Christian Fauria, Matt Chatham, the PFW guys, Steve Burton, one of the musket dudes, and, if I'm not mistaken, Clayton Weishuhn -- that the game wasn't allowed to breathe. Let's have some quiet time. And when it's time to analyze, give Fauria a word count and Chatham all the time he needs and it should be much better.

Chad, will Ras-I Dowling and Jermaine Cunningham make the team or are we looking at, can't make the club from the tub.
-- Jack Brohamer

It kind of looks that way, doesn't it? Too bad, because they have talent, and were relatively high picks. But you'll never catch me doing one of those roster projections. (Well, unless my boss tells me to. Then I'll do one of those roster projections, but dammit, I will sigh first.) There are always cutdown curveballs with the Patriots that no one in the media sees coming. Remember last year, when Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth and Deion Branch were all cut? Brian Hoyer was a surprise too, and many probably thought Dan Koppen would stick even coming off an injury. With Bill Belichick, you're better off admitting that thinking you know probably isn't the same thing as knowing. Here's my question: Who is the biggest name to get cut? If you want me to go way off the board, how about Adrian Wilson? Oh, I do think he sticks. But he's slowed down from his heyday, and he's probably not the mortal lock is accomplishments would suggest.

soxguide.JPGTHIS WEEK IN ANCIENT MEDIA GUIDES

The Globe is in an old building with lots of cool old things. (What? Me? I'm one of those middle-aged things, thank you very much.) For an incurable sports nostalgist, it's pretty easy to get lost among the old photos and clips in the libraries on a slow day.

Also, every now and then, I'll also make a one-man expedition into the filing cabinets of ancient media guides dating as far back as the late '60s. They're a temptation just a few feet from my desk, right here in the sports department.

There's usually something interesting, enlightening, or just plain strange to be found within the yellowed pages.

I've long searched for some time to find a way to incorporate them here. I think this it.

Hope you find it as fun as I do. This week's submission.

The guide: 1978 Red Sox. Ah, Boomer.

The discovery: Look at those ticket prices!

tixfinn78.jpg

I'm not sure what counted as a roof seat in 1978's version of Fenway, but it's the most expensive ticket available at $7.

Which is, I believe, 50 cents less than a bottle of Poland Spring bottled water will cost you now. You could take a family of six then for less than it costs to park on Boylston.

I know, it's been a long time, but still.

This column has been a long time, too. So thanks for reading this far. Keep the correspondence coming.

Oh, and the answer to the Manning/Favre poll question: It was a trick -- they're both lofty to infinity. But you knew that.

Until next time.

A few have moved on back to Maine ...

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.

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