* Red Sox Looking Back And Looking Forward

How a normal baseball fan thinks about this season and next season.

Now that the season for the Red Sox is over, it’s time to start thinking about next year. But first, what about this year? In the playoffs against the While Sox, the Red Sox were outplayed in every area of the game. For the Red Sox to win, they had to play error-free baseball, had to get strong starting pitching performances, and had to keep hitting like they’d hit all season. They did none of the above, and so the better team moved on.

One of the reasons I love baseball is because it is a very fair game. Yes umpires make mistakes, but they are just as likely to make mistake for you as against you. The great thing about baseball is that you can be losing by five runs with five outs to play and rally to win the game in 18 innings (like the Astros did over the Braves over the weekend). Getting two strikes doesn’t count. Getting 26 outs doesn’t count. Winning the game for 8 2/3 innings doesn’t count. The only thing that counts is the final score when each team has had the same number of chances to score. One team’s best against another team’s best.

Which is why I shake my head when I hear comments from whiners like Derek Jeter who complained (after losing to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS) that the “best team” doesn’t always win. In fact, the best team always does win. It’s winning that determines who the best team is. I wonder who Jeter thought was the best team each time the Yankees won the World Series?

I also recall the comments by Peter Gammons after the 2004 World Series, when he said that Red Sox fans can now be normal baseball fans. Win or lose, they don’t have to live with the weight of 86 years on their shoulders. When the Red Sox were eliminated this year, my wife said to me “Sorry about the Red Sox.” And I replied, “That’s OK, we won the World Series last year!”

Which brings us to next year. Which is, presumably, what normal baseball fans do after their team wins: start planning for the future instead of dwelling on the past. (I think it’s OK to “dwell” on past victories.)

The Boston Globe published a survey (http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/gallery/10_08_05_offseason/) asking its readers which members of the Red Sox should be re-signed during the off-season. I just revoted, and here are the results for eight players (plus a GM and a coach). The numbers are the percentage “yes” votes for each.

  1. 91.4% – Theo Epstein (GM)
  2. 84.8% – Mike Timlin
  3. 80.0% – John Olerud (*)
  4. 73.0% – Tony Graffanino
  5. 72.6% – Manny Ramirez
  6. 67.7% – Terry Francona (Coach)
  7. 52.0% – Bill Mueller (*) (vs. Kevin Youkalis)
  8. 48.0% – Kevin Youkalis (vs. Bill Mueller)
  9. 29.3% – Johnny Damon (at $12M/year)
  10. 15.7% – Kevin Millar

I voted with the majority in all but two cases(*). I feel that the Red Sox need to get younger at first base, so as much as like Olerud’s glove (and occasional bat), I’d prefer a change at first base. At third base, I think it’s time to give Youkalis the daily job, despite the bang-up job that Mueller has done over the past three years. Both Youkalis and Mueller play the game the right way, but I’m concerned that Mueller’s gimpy knees may not last another season free of injury. Regarding Johnny Damon, I would be very surprised to see the Red Sox offer him more that the 4-year $40M deal they offered Varitek. Damon is certainly an on-base machine, but he gives up plenty of extra bases and runs in center field due to his weak (and injured?) throwing arm.

What is clear is that the Red Sox need a top-tier starting pitcher. It should be an interesting winter.

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