Monday, July 24, 2017

The Jason Varitek Quest for 1,000: #923

You can not really tell by the scan, but this is the orange refractor from 2008 Bowman Chrome, serial-numbered to 25.  I am not sure why I never seriously pursued getting the Bowman Chrome rainbow from that season.  Maybe I will now.  I already have the Superfractor.  Now with this orange refractor, the only colored refractor I still need is the red, numbered to just five.  It might be hard to find, but it would be worth it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Busts Pt. 22: Pablo Sandoval

Sometimes, offseason acquisitions work out. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes, they are spectacular failures.
Oh boy.  I have not done one of these posts in a few years.  The last one was Carl Crawford.  Well this one definitely lives up to his dubious legacy.  With his release just a few days ago, it is time to talk about The Panda.

Like Crawford, I was a big fan of Pablo Sandoval prior to his time with the Red Sox and I was thrilled when Boston acquired him.  I even advocated attempting to trade for him earlier in his career.  Despite his size, he was a decent hitter, and a surprisingly good defensive player at one point.  He was also a terrific post-season performer.  Unfortunately, none of that carried over to his time with the Red Sox.  

Sandoval signed a big $90 million contract to play third base with the Red Sox in December 2014 as part of an attempt to add offense to the team.  In what would turn out to be his only full season in Boston, he hit just .245/.292/.366 with ten home runs and 47 RBIs, a marked decline from his numbers in San Francisco, despite now playing in a hitters park for the first time in his career.  His defense was also horrendous, making him pretty much a complete waste.

The next season, he somehow managed to get even heavier.  He ended up losing his starting job at third to upstart rookie Travis Shaw.  The highlight of his season was breaking a belt while swing (and missing) at a pitch.  He played just three games before going down with a season-ending injury, striking out four times in seven plate appearances.  There was some talk that he could be activated for the postseason, but Boston did not make it far enough.  

It was during this injury that some hope began to fester, Sandoval made an appearance with the team and had lost considerable weight.  Sandoval made it to Spring Training camp in great shape and played quite well.  There was finally the possibility that he would start to make his contract worthwhile.  His power stroke returned as he hit a few home runs early on, but when he was not hitting the long ball, he was striking out often and making otherwise weak contact.  Through 32 games, he was hitting .212/.269/.354 with four home runs and 12 RBIs.  But he was getting hurt and playing bad defense. 

Despite Boston getting next to no production out of third base, the Red Sox gave up on Sandoval after he was ready to be activated from the DL.  After two and a half seasons, Sandoval gave the Red Sox 161 games of a .237/.286/.360 line with 14 home runs and 59 RBIs.  That would not have been acceptable for one full season, much less three.  And so, The Panda was a bust.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Boston Globe Oddballs

One of the sets I am most interested in tracking down is the Boston Globe cards from the early 1980's.  Those cards mostly covered the 1950's and 1960's and included most of the players that spent time with the Red Sox and photography from the Boston Globe.  Unfortunately, they can be pretty difficult to find.  Recently, a bunch showed up on Ebay and included a couple that I particularly wanted.
1.  Pumpsie Green.  The first black player in Red Sox history is a player that I like to pick up whenever possible.  Add to that an interesting photo, which is pretty rare, and this is a card that I had to add.

2.  Elston Howard.  Yes, the great Yankees catcher spent the last season-and-a-half of his career with the Red Sox.  This was probably the card I most wanted from this set because of the amazing action shot.  Just an amazing photo.

3.  Dick Schofield.  We go from a terrific action shot to a bizarre profile shot.  "Ducky" Schofield spent two seasons toward the end of his career with Boston, doing his usual super utility work.  He was not much of a hitter, but he was versatile and that kept him employed.

4.  George Scott.  One of my favorite players who I never actually got to see play.  Like Green, I add George Scott cards whenever I possibly can.  I could have done without the splayed legs shot here though.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Topps Hanger Pack

Not much going on here.  I bought one of those $9.99 hanger pack things because I was bored.  A couple of base Red Sox were pulled:
1.  Blake Swihart.  Swihart's career has hit a little bit of a snag.  He struggled defensively last season as a catcher and was sent to the minors for more seasoning.  Then there was the ill-fated left field experiment that resulted in an ankle injury that ended his season.  This year he has not produced offensively in the minors and is now taking reps at third.  I am very disappointed in how things have gone for him.

2.  Andrew Benintendi/Jackie Bradley Jr./Mookie Betts.  This year's team card showcases Boston's highly talented outfield.  This is the Win/Dance/Repeat ritual the players started showcasing last season.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Slightly More Than One-Year Wonder Pt. 3: Ugueth Urbina

These players made it longer than one full season, but less than two seasons. They do not qualify as one-year wonders. They lasted slightly too long. But they still spent a brief part of their careers with the Red Sox.
He is mostly known for some off-field exploits now (including being convicted of attempted murder), but for a time, Ugueth Urbina was one of the best closers in the game.  Urbina came up with the Montreal Expos in 1996 and was originally a starter, but his fastball and somewhat erratic control made him a better option for the bullpen.  He was converted to a closer in 1997, and stuck.  His strikeout rates soared as his ERA lowered and he racked up the saves.  He was an All Star in 1998 and led the league in saves in 1999.  

By 2001, Urbina was struggling a little bit and the Expos were not going anywhere.  He was deemed expendable, and Boston's closer Derek Lowe was also struggling.  Boston sent Tomo Ohka and a minor leaguer to Montreal to acquire Urbina at the July trading deadline.  Urbina immediately paid dividends even though the team was tanking.  The new closer went 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA and an incredible 32 strikeouts versus just three walks in 20 innings.  He picked up nine saves.

Going into the 2002 season, Urbina was in place to be the Red Sox closer.  He ended up having his second All Star season as he saved 40 games.  He was just 1-6, but with a 3.00 ERA and 71 strikeouts versus 20 walks in 60 innings.  Urbina was just the fourth Red Sox closer to save 40 or more games in a season, joining Jeff Reardon, Tom Gordon, and Lowe.  His 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings was a little bit of a decline, but he was effective.

After the season, Boston declined to re-sign him, instead deciding to go with a closer-by-committee, an experiment that failed miserably.  Urbina signed on with the Rangers and was traded to the Marlins later in the season, just in time for their World Series Championship run.  He later played for the Tigers and Phillies, before his career ended due to that pesky attempted murder thing.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Worst Red Sox Team of All Time Pt. 7: Pete Donohue

Failure is often even more fascinating than success. I am definitely intrigued by the 1932 Boston Red Sox, the worst Red Sox team of all time. The team finished with a record of 43-111, for a winning percentage of .279 and very little went right.
An amazing 41 players played for the Boston Red Sox in 1932.  Many of those players were obscure, very short-tenured players.  Others were players that were well past their primes.  Very few were actually decent players.  Red Sox ownership had virtually no money to spend on talented players that could help the team win.  So the team took a lot of chances on has-beens and never-weres.  Pete Donohue fits into the former category. 

Donohue was a right-handed pitcher who had a pretty decent career in the 1920's with the Cincinnati Reds.  He won 20 or more games three times, leading the league in wins in 1926 and winning percentage in 1922.  He was a workhorse who led the league in a number of categories like games started, innings pitched (301 in 1925!), and complete games.  With that kind of use, it is not terribly shocking that he started to falter toward the end of the decade.

After his 20 win season in 1926, Donohue declined significantly.  He held on with the Reds for a few more seasons, then played with the Giants and Indians before joining the Red Sox in 1932.  Donohue was just 31 years old, but it was clear his usefulness was gone.  He pitched in just four games with the Red Sox toward the beginning of the season, but he was 0-1 with a 7.82 ERA.  He notched just one strikeout and walked six in 12.2 innings.  That was it for Donohue as a Major League pitcher.  The former star pitcher had nothing left by the time he joined Boston.  That was pretty much par for the course for this era in Red Sox history.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

All-Time One-Year Wonder: Center Field

I'm going to do something a little different with the One-Year Wonder posts. I have decided to go position-by-position and see if I can determine who the best player at each position would be who only spent one year with the Red Sox. This requires a lot of time and research. I am not naming every single player who spent just one season with the Red Sox at each position, but just the better-known players. At the end of the post, I will pick the single best player for each position.

Braggo Roth is one hell of a baseball name.  Roth did not have a long career, just eight years, but he played for six different teams and has some success from time to time.  He split the 1915 season between the White Sox and Indians and ended up leading the league in home runs (7).  He had a decent run with the Indians in the late 1910's, hitting .286/.366/408 with Cleveland over parts of four seasons.  He started the 1919 season with the Athletics before being traded to Boston with Red Shannon for Amos Strunk and Jack Barry.  Roth played in 63 games the rest of the season, his only one with Boston, and hit .256/.337/.330 while stealing nine bases.  After the season, he and Shannon were again on the move, this time to Washington, for a package led by Mike Menosky.  Roth had one more decent season with Washington, then played for the Yankees before hanging it up.

There is not much to say about Tom Umphlett really.  He played just three seasons in the Majors, one with Boston and two with Washington.  So, why is he here?  Well, because his one season in Boston saw him finish second in the Rookie of the Year vote, and I have a hard time ignoring that, even for a player who had a very limited career.  Umphlett hit .283/.331/.376 with three home runs and 59 RBIs as the Red Sox center fielder in 1953.  Not great numbers, but for a rookie, they were pretty solid.  Boston then packaged him along with Mickey McDermott to go to Washington in exchange for Jackie Jensen, which was a great deal for Boston.  Umphlett's numbers tanked and he was out of baseball after two dismal season.  Meanwhile, Jensen was a huge star in Boston.  Umphlett does have the distinction of being the all-time Red Sox leader in home runs for a player whose last name starts with "U" though.  So, there is that.

At the very least, Willie Tasby is the answer to an interesting piece of trivia.  He was the first black player the Red Sox acquired in a trade, and the third black player overall to play for the Red Sox.  Tasby came up with the Orioles and was a decent player for a few years, mostly due to his athleticism in center field.  The Red Sox shipped Gene Stephens to the Orioles in June of 1960 to acquire Tasby to shore up their outfield.  He turned in a decent season the rest of the way with the Red Sox, hitting .281/.371/.384 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs.  After the season though, he was selected by the new Washington Senators in the expansion draft in December.  He was decent in 1961, but struggled for a couple of seasons afterwards.  

Thomson is mostly known for the "Shot Heard 'Round the World", the home run he hit off of Ralph Branca to propel the New York Giants to the NL Pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951.  He played for the Giants for several years and had a lot of success, named to three All Star teams and receiving MVP votes in three seasons.  He drove in over 100 runs four times and typically hit 25-30 home runs for the Giants.  He later played a few seasons for the Braves and Cubs.  Thomson was traded to the Red Sox for Al Schroll prior to his final Major League season and played in 40 games, hitting .263/.323/.439 and hit the final five home runs of his career.  He was released by Boston early in July and caught on with the Orioles, for whom he finished his career.  Thomson barely qualifies at center field, he played 13 games in center and 12 in left for Boston.

The Red Sox throughout the years have typically been a team bereft of speed.  That was certainly true throughout the 1980's and 1990's.  For one season, in 1994, the team made a conscious effort to change all of that, bringing in speedster Otis Nixon on a free agent contract from the Braves.  Nixon was just three years removed from a season in which he stole 72 bases and he had not stolen fewer than 35 since 1987.  He was definitely as advertized, stealing 42 bases, and likely would have stolen more had the season not been shortened due to the players' strike.  He could have broken the team record of 54 stolen bases.  Nixon was never much of a hitter and had very little power, relying on his speed to get on base.  He hit .274/.360/.317 with Boston with no home runs, 15 doubles, and one triple.  He drove in 25 and scored 60 runs.  Despite his reasonable success, Nixon was traded to Texas after the season in exchange for Jose Canseco.

The mid 1990's saw the Red Sox experiment with a lot of low-risk acquisitions.  Some worked out, others definitely did not.  Milt Cuyler was one of a number of such players to be brought to the Red Sox for the 1996 season.  Cuyler had once been a bright prospect in the Detroit Tigers system and arrived in the Majors with much fanfare, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year vote in 1991 when he stole 41 bases.  Unfortunately, he was never again able to replicate that success.  He stayed with Detroit through the 1995 season, then Boston took a flyer on him.  He played in only 50 games with Boston and hit just .200/.299/.300 with two home runs, 12 RBIs, and seven stolen bases.  He was sent back to the minors and did not appear again the Majors until seven games with Texas in 1998.

ALEX COLE - 1996
Another speedster from the early 1990's that had fallen on hard times, Alex Cole finished ninth in the Rookie of the Year vote in 1990 when he was with the Indians.  That year, despite playing in just 63 games, Cole stole 40 bases.  He had a pretty good sophomore season, though his stolen base total dropped to 27.  After a rough start to the 1992 season, he was traded to the Pirates in July and also played for the Rockies and Twins, with varying amounts of success, and quite a few stolen bases.  Like Cuyler, Cole signed a low-risk deal with the Red Sox, and like Cuyler, he did not succeed.  Cole played just 24 games for the Red Sox with a line of .222/.296/.319 with five stolen bases.  Cole was just 30, but this was his last appearance in the Majors.

After two seasons in Japan, former Twins outfielder Shane Mack returned to the Major Leagues with the Red Sox on another low-risk signing.  The move was largely praised, and Mack, who once hit 18 home runs on the World Champion Twins, was predicted to have a big season.  He generally played pretty well, but he was not healthy enough and ended up only playing in 60 games for the Red Sox.  He hit an impressive .315/.368/.438 with three home runs and seven doubles in his short, injury-plagued stint with Boston.  He just did not quite work out as hoped, but it was a low risk.  After the season with Boston, Mack spent one more year in the Majors with Oakland and Kansas City.  

Marlon Byrd has played 15 seasons with ten different Major League teams.  He came up with the Phillies and was a highly-touted prospect, finishing fourth in the Rookie of the Year vote in 2003.  He bounced from team to team, but managed to make an All Star team in 2010 while with the Cubs and had a 20 home run season in 2009 with the Rangers.  In 2012, Boston was having injury issues in the outfield and swung a deal with the Cubs to bring Byrd to Fenway.  Byrd did not really improve the outfield picture.  He played in 34 games with the Red Sox and hit just .270/.286/.320 with just one home run and seven RBIs.  Boston cut ties with him in June and he was suspended for failing a PED test.  He was able to resurrect his career the next season and continued his odyssey through the Major Leagues, until failing another test in 2016.    

It was pretty slim pickings for center field.  Very few of the players here had good years.  And those that did, oftentimes did not play an entire season.  Ultimately, I decided on Nixon on the basis of the 42 stolen bases.  Despite his complete lack of power, he had a decent season with the bat, got on base at a decent clip, and of course, stole a lot of bases.  Only Tom Umphlett really came close, and he was generally better at the plate, but his numbers did not really catch the eye.  So Nixon's extreme speed gets him the nod.