Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WIW : What-if-Wednesday

What-if the 1978 Sox win the one game playoff with the Yankees?

Contrary to most Sox fans, I don't have nightmares about Bucky "Bleepn" Dent hitting the homer that broke the 1978 Sox collective backs on October 2nd, 1978 to propel the Yankees into the playoffs and the RedSox home as losers. My initial memories are of Yaz popping out to Nettles at third to end the game. I can vividly see the pitch, the swing and the jump for joy by Nettles after the catch as his teammates congregate around him.

The game was every bit as critical to the RedSox Yankee rivalry as the Pedro throw'n down of Don Zimmer and Aaron Boone's 12th inning bomb. 1978 was the first Sox team in my world of following baseball that could hit with anybody. The team was "built" to play in Fenway and it showed in the lineup and the stats.

Burleson, Remy, Rice, Yaz, Fisk, Lynn, Hobson, Scott and Evans (except Dewey didn't start this day but was used as a pinch hitter). Four guys over 20 homers (pre steroids) with a couple more in the high teens. This lineup had power, grit, experience, youth, it had all you would want.

To go with that lineup the Sox had decent pitching, led by 23 year old Dennis Eckersley who emerged as an ace, going 20-8 with a 2.99 ERA and 16 complete games. Luis Tiant was now 37 and contributed a 13-8 season with a 3.31 ERA. Free agent signee Mike Torrez was 16-13 with a 3.96. Unfortunately Tiant and Eckersley had pitched the prior two days and the rotation down the stretch didn't go much further than those three. Bob Stanley made a rare (at that point) start a few days prior but they were working off a three and a half man rotation down the stretch. Torrez was that only one able to go that fateful day against Cy Young winner (soon to be) Ron Guidry.

The game was rather quiet early, with the Sox capturing the lead on a first pitch homer to lead off the second inning by Yaz. The Sox added a second run in the 6th inning when Jim Rice singled in Burleson who had doubled to lead off the inning and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Remy. With a 2-0 lead through 6 the Sox looked great. The Yankees had only managed two hits against Torrez, a double by Rivers in the third and a single by Piniella in the 4th.

The top of the 7th changed history for Mike Torrez and Bucky Dent. A one out single by Chris Chambliss followed by a single by Roy White put the Yankees in their first real threat inning. Jim Spencer flew out to left for the second out and it appeared the Sox would get out of the inning with the weak hitting shortstop Bucky Dent coming to the plate. Dent hit .247 with 40 homers in his career. None more important than the one he hit in the 7th inning that day. His shot, a true Fenway wall shot, gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The bleeding wouldn't stop there. Torrez followed that with a walk to Mickey Rivers ending the pitcher's day. Mike Stanley came on in relief. Rivers promptly stole 2nd base and scored on a double by Yankee captain Thurman Munson. The Yankees led 4-2.

In the top of the 8th, the Yankees added to their lead with a solo homerun by Reggie Jackson off of Bob Stanley. Going to the bottom half of the 8th, the Yankees held a 5-2 lead and coming in to pitch the last two innings, closer Goose Gossage. Jerry Remy welcomed Gossage with a double to right before getting Jim Rice to fly out for the first out. Yaz came up and singled up the middle scoring Remy to make it 5-3. Back to back singles by Fisk and Lynn produced another run making it 5-4 through 8.

With one out in the bottom of the 9th, Rick Burleson drew a walk from Gossage. Remy followed with a single advancing Burleson to second. Rice flew out to right, Burleson took third on the out. Runners at the corners with Carl Yastrzemski coming up to bat with two outs. Flash back to my memories. Yikes, still painful.

But what if Yaz hadn't popped out, what if he delivered a game winning double driving in both Burleson and Remy? What if it wasn't necessary? What if Bucky Dent never gained the notoriety with that homer? What if Bucky had remained an anonymous and unimpressive shortstop with no great claim to fame over his career?

However it could have been different, imagine that it had been...the Sox advance to play the Royals in the ALCS. Their 100 wins is the first time they achieved that total since 1946. The Royals were the winners of the AL West with 92 wins for the year and not a single regular player hitting over .300 and led by pitchers Paul Splittorff, Dennis Leonard, Larry Gura and Rich Gale. The Mad Hungarian, Al Hrabosky was their off-center closer.

I envision, in this alternate world, the Sox beating the Royal much like the Yankees did. After disposing of the Yankees, they would have had Eckersley and Tiant ready to pitch the first two games and come back later in the series if necessary. The Sox would have gone into the World Series to face the Dodgers just three years removed from their epic loss to the Big Red Machine in '75.

It would have been great to have the Dodgers in Fenway for the Series. The Dodgers opened with Tommy John (yes, there is an ex-player named Tommy John, imagine that), Burt Hooten, Don Sutton and Bob Welch. The Dodgers were known for their starters as well as a lineup consisting of Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Reggie Smith, Dusty Baker, Lee Lacy, Rick Monday and Steve Yeager. They were a well balanced team and would have provided a good matchup for the RedSox. I believe it would have gone 7 (didn't all Sox series in the 1900's go 7?) with the Sox finally breaking the curse of 60 years (not yet named the curse of the bambino).

The excitement, accolades and revenue brought about with the championship would have spurred team management to do whatever it takes to keep the nucleus together.

They would have signed Fisk and Lynn instead of letting them go as free agents. There could have been more winning seasons and chases for the championship into the early 1980's. That's my what-if and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-9 weekend ; visit from two old friends

I've planned for and anticipated this weekend for a long time. Two old colleagues and friends were arriving at the lake for a weekend to relax and hang out.

Both arrived by 6:30 or so Friday night after long drives from opposite directions. John from North Carolina and Dave from the panhandle in Florida (John's brother from the Atlanta area also joined us on Saturday). The first night we feasted on lobster rolls! We didn't catch them in the lake nor did they arrive after a long flight from New England but these crustaceans were found at the local Publix. Sam and I picked them out, had the nice staff at Publix cook them for us (saving that hard to remove smell from the lakehouse). I shelled the meat from them and let it chill during the afternoon before their arrival. We got uncut hot dog buns from the Publix bakery (good advice from my mother recently) and center cut them the way a lobster roll should be (see the image in the banner above). Buttered sides were nicely toasted before adding the mix of celery, lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt and pepper served on shredded lettuce.

I am quite particular about lobster rolls. We discussed it while we ate. There is a bar/restaurant near work that a group of us occasionally go to that is a seafood place. I get the lobster roll. Disappointment follows every time. They serve the meat in a mayo, no nothing except a cup of melted butter off on the side. Waste. Legal seafoods opened in Atlanta a few years ago. For a $20 lobster roll (with fries) it is ok. Good amount of meat but they tend to go WAY overboard on dill seed. Kinda ruins it. Otherwise good roll but nothing like the way it needs to be done. Some great John-cooked meals were included. Breakfast on Saturday was awesome led by great hashbrowns and a terrific omelet. Saturday night Dave and John prepared rib-eyes for everybody. To say they were flame broiled is an understatement. I was told that it was the coating of butter on the steaks and that it would burn off :)

The time on the water was documented with cameras (will post in media section and waterblogged blog later). Time spent around the fire pit rehashing old stories and remembering co-workers was great. Throw in (pun intended) some horseshoe games and killer rock band jam and the weekend seemed to go by too quickly.

Some new memories were made for sure. John's aggressiveness on the jet ski, both John and Dave trying the hydrofoil, the cooking, and the singing and guitar play in rockband.

Thanks to John and Dave for making the trip! Great times and I look forward to the next time.

Oops, forgot to tell John NOT to pull rope to chest in moment of panic

...because bad things can happen. I like to call this: "John's one hand handstand"

I believe the song was "Eye of the Tiger"

to quote Bruce Springsteen - "C'Mon Rise UP!"

Time on the water can be so relaxing, look at Dave just about to lay down and take it easy for a while

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

WIW : What-if Wednesday

I'd like to start a weekly feature, "what-if Wednesday" where I post about a situation that would have created some significantly different results if something happened differently. My version of Quantum Leap (ok, so I dated myself :) )

Today's WIW :
What if Len Bias, All American hoops player from the University of Maryland, didn't die from cocaine overdose shortly after getting drafted by the World Champion Celtics in the summer of 1986.

I can place myself in time when I first heard Bias had died in June of 1986. I was working my way through school and at the time was a manager at a McDonalds (yep) and remember some kid that worked there came in and told me that he heard on the car radio that Bias had died. Sort of a moment frozen in time, not unlike the Shuttle Challenger explosion five months before.

Bias was drafted 2nd overall by the then Champion Celtics. The '85/86 Celtic team was regarded then and still as one of the top All-Time teams...EVER. Led by Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson this team had everything needed to win and continue winning. Bird was at his peak, having won his third straight MVP award. McHale had settled into the starting rotation and was a dominant power forward with insane low-post moves in his arsenal. Parish, the quiet Chief, was one of the most consistent and durable centers in league history. DJ had evolved from a scorer earlier in his career to be a non traditional point guard with many options to go to. Also on this team and key contributors were Danny Ainge, HOF Bill Walton (not for his time with the Celtics though), Scott Wedman and Jerry Sichting.

These Celtics had beaten the Houston Rockets in the finals 4-2. Houston robbed the world of a Celtic vs. Laker matchup by beating the Lakers in the conference finals. The Celtics had won in '81, '84 and now in '86 while Magic Johnson's Lakers had won titles in '80, '82 and '85 setting the stage for the back half of the decade to decide which team would reign supreme. Adding Bias to the historically great Celtic team was an improbable dream.

At the time of the draft, Bird was 29, McHale 28, Parish about to turn 33, DJ soon to turn 32. The team was going to be good for the next few years but having Len Bias would grant them a luxury to extend all of Bird, McHale and Parish's careers by eating up minutes as he entered the rotation.

In the 1986, 87 season, the Celtics won 59 games but leaned on their core more than ever before. Walton was lost for all but 10 games so Bird and McHale averaged 40 minutes each while Parish over 37 himself. A healthy rookie named Len Bias, with his evolving skills would have reduced each of the big 3's minutes per game at least 5 minutes (Assuming Bias would play around 25 minutes or more per game as a rookie). With a less stressed frontcourt and the explosive Bias coming off the bench the Celtics would have fared better than they did in the 1987 playoffs. They lost to the Lakers in the finals 4-2. McHale had broken a bone in his foot and limped his way through the playoffs. Certainly having Bias would have allowed coach KC Jones to utilize more than basically a five man rotation. Only one Boston bench player (Greg Kite) averaged more than 10 minutes per game in the finals.

Following the 1986-87 season the Celtics big three began to decline and succumb to injuries. In 1987-88 McHale missed close to 20 games while Bird and Parish missed some too when they had been historically dependable for most if not all their team's games. In the games they all did play, their minutes remained elevated, Bird at 39 per game, McHale at 37.3 per game and Parish at 31.2. The workload, without proper subs due to the loss of Bias back in June of '86, was causing the team to continue to burden their big 3 in the regular season. In the playoffs, the Celtics beat the Knicks and Hawks to get to the conference finals against the younger, hungry Detroit Pistons. The Pistons disposed of the aging Celtics in six games and ultimately lost to the Lakers. In the playoffs, the big 3 logged 45, 42 and 37 minutes per game.

In 1988-89 the Celtics saw the future and it didn't look good. Larry Bird played in only six games. McHale and Parish continued to suit it up and play big minutes but the dream was beginning to end.

Who knows what injuries may have happened or not happened if Len Bias started picking up minutes beginning in '86-'87? Maybe the big 4 would have won a couple more titles along the way. Certainly possible. I believe it would have extended the careers of Bird and McHale, both retired due to nagging injuries sustained from all the minutes and pounding they incurred over the years. Having Bias play an integral part of a rotation would have spared the big 3 some minutes along the way and add a dimension to the Celtics that they had never had, a player that routinely played above the rim.

I believe they would have won in '86-87, they were coming off their best season ever and were on a high having drafted Bias. The energy and relief he would have provided would have given them a weapon and kept them on top of the NBA world.

In '87-88, losing to the Pistons in the conference finals might have been a different outcome as well. The Pistons were younger and having a 2nd year Len Bias progressing into a potential all-star would have given the Celtics a counter punch to the youth of Isiah, Rodman, and Salley.

When you get out to '88-89, perhaps some injuries still happen, perhaps having a 3rd year budding superstar makes it easier. I think things still would have been good for the Celtics as they shift more responsibility towards Bias at this point. Detroit swept the Celtics in the first round this year, with a healthier lineup and Bird intact perhaps they advance over the eventual Champions or more likely would not have faced them in the first round.

In the 80's, the Celtics were one of two dominant basketball teams along with the Lakers. In 1980-89 either (or both) the Celtics or Lakers were in the finals each year with the Lakers winning 5 titles to the Celtics 3. By my estimation the Celtics would have won again in '86-87 and possibly in 87-88 giving them 4.5 titles in the decade. Both of those years the Lakers won so it would have knocked them down to 3.5 titles in the decade. Both teams were impressive but with a living Len Bias I believe the Celtics would have had the upper hand as the most dominant team of the decade.

As it was, the Celtics didn't win a championship after '85-86 until Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen brought the title home in 2008, twenty two long years. Many Celtics fans and historians point to Len Bias' death as the main reason why.

Some links:

Len Bias wiki

espn - The Day the Innocence Died

Bill Simmons - still haunted
Bias highlights

Thursday, September 1, 2011

photo and video snobbery

I admit, I'm a snob when it comes to pictures and videos. Like everybody else, youtube has become a part of life along with vimeo and the slew of picture sharing sites out there.

My snobbery? With the advent of cameras in phones the quality of viewing pictures or video went down 50% very quickly. Every hack can take pictures or video of anything (often interesting subjects) and post it up to youtube or wherever.

There is a reason phones are called phones. That is their primary function. Pictures and video taken with a phone is great...if in an emergency or as a last resort. However, lots of people treat it as their sole entry into photography or video taking. Watch something shot with an iphone (other than a quick clip on someone's cut kid), something you are sincerely interested in viewing - tell me at the end that you didn't feel betrayed at the end. Betrayed that you were robbed of the experience. Video shot with a phone sucks for a reason. 95% of the cost of the phone is to make the phone work as best it can.

Rant over, gotta figure out how to call someone on my camera...