August 5, 2006


-EXCERPT: Big Papi's sudden impact: An excerpt from Seth Mnookin’s book, Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the (Seth Mnookin, 7/20/2006, Boston Phoenix)

By midseason, it was clear the 2003 team was an offensive powerhouse on par with baseball’s all-time best. For the month of June, the Red Sox had four of the top 10 batting averages in the league: Garciaparra (.398), Millar (.373), Trot Nixon (.356), and Manny Ramirez (.351). The Sox led all of baseball that month with a team-wide .315 average. Combined with the team-wide .308 average in May, the entire roster had compiled one common benchmark for batting excellence over the course of two full months. In June, the team hit more home runs — 42 — than in any month since 1998 and scored more runs than in any month since 1961.

Perhaps most incredibly, they were doing this largely without the offensive firepower of David Ortiz. Ortiz began the year platooning at first base and designated hitter and hit only one home run in April, one more in May, and two in June. Halfway through the season, he had a total of only four home runs, half as many as Todd Walker, the team’s second baseman.

Still, the 6’4” slugger had already become one of the most popular people in the Red Sox clubhouse. He was, along with Millar, one of the team’s unrepentant cutups. His pendulous swagger and his ribald, needling sense of humor helped shift attention away from the increasingly sulky Garciaparra. When he arrived at the ballpark the afternoon of a game, Ortiz would stride into the Sox clubhouse wearing fluorescent polo shirts and wrap-around sunglasses and shout, to no one in particular, “What up, bitches!”* Even before he started playing every day and hitting for power, Ortiz was happier in Boston than he’d been in Minnesota. His six seasons with the Twins had been difficult ones. There had been the injuries, sure: the Minneapolis Metrodome’s artificial turf is punishing on players’ knees. But just as frustrating to Ortiz was the way the Twins coaching staff tried to turn a proud home-run hitter into a singles batter who slapped balls over infielders’ heads.

“When I first came to Minnesota, that’s when I was told, ‘Stay inside the ball . . . hit the ball the other way,’” Ortiz said after coming to Boston. “I was always a power hitter in the minor leagues. Everything changed when I went to Minnesota. Whenever I took a big swing, [the coaching staff would] say to me, ‘Hey, hey, what are you doing?’” Ortiz tried to go along with the Twins plan, but he wasn’t happy about it. “I said, ‘You want me to hit like a little bitch, then I will.’ But I knew I could hit for power. It was just a matter of getting the green light.”

Watching Ortiz, it’s hard to believe any coaching staff had ever asked him to cut down on his monstrous swings. As big and strong as Ortiz’s upper body is, it’s his lower body that is most impressive. As the ball approaches the plate, his back hip remains stationary, while his front hip closes slightly as he cocks his leg to time his swing. Then, using his flattened front foot as an anchor, he whips his bat through the strike zone in a motion one writer describes as “torquing like a m***f***.” When Ortiz connects squarely, it is an inspiring sight, perhaps to no one more than the slugger himself: Ortiz admires his clouts in a style Todd Walker once compared to “pimpin’.” Ortiz makes no apologies. “If they don’t like it,” he said of opposing pitchers, “don’t let me hit it out.” The Red Sox didn’t want to see this power go to waste. During Ortiz’s first at-bat during spring training, he came to the plate with a man on first base. He tried to do what he had been taught in Minnesota: move the runner along to second. When he returned to the Red Sox dugout after his at-bat, Grady Little told him, “Hey, you’ve got to bring that guy in.”

“Okay,” Ortiz replied, a smile breaking out on his expansive face. “I guess I’ve got the green light to swing.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 5, 2006 6:30 PM

With a payroll of well over $100MM a year, with, G-d knows, how huge a deferred compensation the team is liable for, how many World Series wins in the last four decades.
Steinbrenner baseball, in effect since Curt Flood won free agency and epitomized by the World Series winning Marlins.
Now, take the Oakland "A's", with a payroll of about 60% or less than that of Boston, or their Division trailing opponents, the Angels, the Athletic's management, farm, scouting capabilites would seem to far outshine the others.
Especially as they've been beating the crap out of Boston since the All-Star break.
Michael Lewis' book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game " should be the only one under discussion!

Posted by: Mike Daley at August 5, 2006 10:59 PM

The A's couldn;t beat the Yanks or Sox if their lives depended on it, as they show every fall.

Posted by: oj at August 6, 2006 12:15 AM

All this discussion of Ortiz aside, y'all need a reminder that baseball, played as God intended, doesn't allow a DH.

Posted by: mcf at August 6, 2006 12:25 AM

Number of World Series Championships in the last four decades, Sox really don't seem to be there!
The fact is, the management skills that make a team a contender most years with a payroll of 60% or less than the vaunted Marlin copying East Coast behemoths are logically far superior.
Anyway, putting winner Yankees and, usually loser Sox, in the same category only proves that buying year to year talent is a $$ item and the Yankees have more $$'s than the Sox.

Posted by: Mike Daley at August 6, 2006 12:28 AM

Yes, Charlie Finley ran the team well. Current management are losers.

Posted by: oj at August 6, 2006 8:31 AM

Pitchers hit ugly--God prefers beauty.

Posted by: oj at August 6, 2006 8:32 AM

Tell that to the Bambino oj.

Posted by: mcf at August 6, 2006 8:48 AM

There is a worse thing than the DH. Although I'm against that too.

Graminium artificiosum odi.

Posted by: Bartman at August 6, 2006 9:10 AM

He stopped pitching as soon as he realized he could hit.

Posted by: oj at August 6, 2006 9:34 AM

Current management are losers, you must be discussing your beloved Sox!
A's Win 12th Straight Against Mariners,$87MM payroll. Oakland, $62MM annual.
No, I don't think the "A's" will be in the World Series this year, but I do think they'll win their Division against teams with hugely higher payrolls, as opposed to the Sox who'll not even win their Division, AL East, Steinbrenner Ball, whose got the most $$$'s per year. George wins cause he's got more dollars.
Free Agency killed fan based baseball, which is the only reason a young guy, like you, argues with an old guy like me, you never experienced baseball like it should be.

Posted by: Mike Daley at August 6, 2006 11:41 PM

George loses because he spends the money. They won when he was forced out of baseball and Gene Michael got top set the pattern that Billy Beane follows, without similar success.

Michael developed and kept Jeter, Williams, Posada and Rivera together. Billy Beane offers up Crosby, Kotsy, Kendall & Isringhausen--or whoever. The comparison is damning.

Posted by: oj at August 6, 2006 11:57 PM