Can baseball help us slow down?

The news seems to come at us with lightening speed.  No sooner do we start to digest the latest tweet, the current egregious statement by some state’s governor or a cabinet secretary or the most recent sign of climate change than here comes another and still another.  Who can keep up?  No wonder so many of us are depressed.  And many of us try to keep pace by constantly looking at our electronic devices to see the latest.  The pace can’t be doing us any good.

The other day there were two columns in the Boston Globe bemoaning the current state of baseball (The Red Sox and Yankees are killing baseballand fearing for the future of the game (I remember the good old days of baseball).  If you follow the game you know the arguments:  Games are too long and there is not enough action.  People want things to happen fast.  Only old people watch baseball and they are dying off.

Dan Shaughnessy argues in The Red Sox and Yankees are killing baseball:

The Red Sox’ average game lasts 3 hours and 23 minutes per game. Crushing all the competition. The Sox are a full seven minutes per game better than anybody else. That’s 700 minutes over 100 games.

The Sox step out. They grind. They take more time between pitches. They walk. They strike out. They strike everybody else out. Great product. They have seven-man meetings on the mound where everybody covers their mouths, as if they are protecting nuclear codes. Brandon Workman throws 44 pitches over 1⅔ innings, most of them curveballs in the dirt. Porcello throws 60 over two innings.

Thanks. Thanks for killing baseball.

Dan forgets to add that Porcello went on to pitch six innings.  And the Red Sox are not the only ones with all those mound meetings.  Should I remind him that teams are only allowed 6 a game now?  But I agree that the Sox could speed up their games a bit.  David Price should not take so long between pitches. (He actually does better when he’s faster.) I think it was Jerry Remy who once commented, “Get the ball back, get the sign, and throw it”.  And maybe they could start a trend by not stepping out of the batter’s box between every pitch.  But they also tend to score a lot of runs which, when you are hitting a lot of doubles and singles, takes time.  Many of their home runs are with men on base.

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Shaughnessy again

I spent last weekend in Cooperstown, celebrating this great game with more than 50 Hall of Fame ball players and over 50,000 fans who made the trek to celebrate the careers of Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Lee Smith, and Harold Baines. I spoke with Brooks Robinson, Johnny Bench, Randy Johnson, Eddie Murray, Wade Boggs, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Thome, Tony La Russa, Cal Ripken, Dave Winfield, and a raft of other Hall of Famers who love this game. The old and young men are not delusional. They know they have lost a generation of fans. They know the product is increasingly the purview of old folks who have a lot of time on their hands. They worry about the game’s relevance in a society of Instagram and Instant Karma. They feel it slipping away.

Who will be there to replace the fans who are dying off? Who will care about a sport populated by players who see no problems with the pace of play, and arrogant team analytics departments that stress successful strategies that push fans away?

I think that Major League Baseball can start by doing away with “instant” replay.  Who needs to sit and watch umpires with headsets waiting and waiting for some unknown person or persons in New York (I think that’s where they are.) to watch endless loops of videotape to decide if a call were right or not.  I think more than half the time the call stands because there is not sufficient evidence to over turn it.  Doesn’t that show maybe it isn’t needed?  Has anyone calculated how much time it adds to games?  Close plays give us fans something to talk about.

If MLB wants people to come to games maybe they should take the advice of Bob Ryan (I remember the good old days)

There is empty rhetoric at the top of baseball about finding ways to attract younger fans, but if that were truly the case teams would stop games on Saturday night, let alone Sunday. It used to be the best time to welcome families were weekend afternoons. But baseball has sold its soul to national TV and instead of 1:05 Saturday it’s 4:05 and, worse, 7:05. So much for that family time.

Sunday night baseball is an abomination.

But ultimately I look at the sports page in our local newspaper and read about all the kids playing Little League and American Legion baseball not just in Brattleboro, but all over Vermont, New England, and the country and realize they will be watching baseball.  And the rest of us should take a deep breath and go to a game or watch part or all of one on television or listen on the radio.  It will make us slow down.

Photograph: Mookie Betts connects for a solo homer in the first inning on Friday, his first home run of three in the game’s first four innings.(JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF)

Life in baseball without Ortiz

Sorry, I’m not one of the fans that keeps begging David Ortiz to come out of retirement.  He says his feet and his knees hurt all last season, but he kept on playing.  I don’t think we want him crippled by continuing to play.  Besides, I just saw the Red Sox come from 5 down to win a spring training game against the Twins; I don’t think we have a lot of worries if they keep not giving up.  Yes, it is only spring training, and I kept not knowing who was playing for either team, but everyone was out there playing hard.  And there were some lovely plays.  So happy it is time for baseball again.  But can I ask whose idea it was to have 38 – that is 38 – spring training games on top of a long season?  Blame World Baseball, I guess.

But I really want to talk about the game itself.  I have to say that I despise Rob Manfred, the Commissioner.  I don’t think he understands the game and the beauty of it.  He wants time clocks and other things to speed up the game.  I would speed up the game by doing away with that stupid instant replay.  It generally shows the umpires to be pretty damn good and it takes a lot longer than an instant.

This is why I loved Nick Cafardo’s column in the Boston Globe the other day.  He begins

Oh, I hear the moaning about this and that and the slowness of the game. But I love baseball just the way it is. I hate that it is using artificial means to “improve” things.

I already hate instant replay because I think it adds to the interruption and extension of play more than anything. Oh yeah — we have the technology, so why not use it? Well, why don’t we just ignore the technology?

I long for the days of umpire/manager disputes. That made the game exciting, whether the call was right or wrong. I’d rather see that than taking 2½ minutes for a replay decision to come down from New York. How boring.

I guess I can live with the pitcher throwing the ball for an intentional walk as there weren’t very many instances of a misfire, but we can stop right there with the changes.

The game goes better for everyone when the pitcher gets the ball back and then pitches.  None of this walking around between every pitch business.  (I’m talking about you, David Price.)  But this is something pitchers should be taught; they don’t need a time clock.

And I love what Tony Clark, the current head of the Player’s Association had to say to Cafardo.  Clark is a former player himself, not a lawyer like previous heads.

While Clark indicated that the players were “OK” with instant replay — not a ringing endorsement — and the collision rules that protect fielders at second base and home plate, he also made a good point: Many players would like the game preserved. They were taught to slide hard into second. They were taught to try to dislodge the ball from the catcher.

“You grew up playing the game a particular way,” Clark said. “You fall in love with the game a particular way. You appreciate and respect that history.

“You also are willing to have conversations on ways to improve, and that will continue with understanding and appreciating that you never want to get so far away from the game itself that those who love the game no longer recognize it.”

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Tony Clark

I understand that people have short attention spans these days and that a baseball game that runs close to 3 hours seems like an eternity to many.  But we all need to take a deep breath and learn to relax.  Didn’t someone once write a book on the Zen of baseball?

Clark continues

What about this seeming obsession to speed up the game?

“There’s checkers and then there’s chess,” Clark said. “But again, I am a bit of romantic there. There’s so much going on in our game that when it doesn’t look like it, there’s things going on.

I love watching live.  Any game at any level.  But baseball on TV can be difficult.  The answer may lie in better announcers who notice things and tell us about them.  Can the irrelevant chatter about what they had for dinner and tell us about where the third baseman is positioning himself.  Stop talking about neckties and tell us about the outfield.  I noticed that Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley were doing more of that last year:  Do even more.  I admit that I sometimes watch without sound and like the radio because they are forced to tell you exactly what is happening.

I’ll let Cafardo have the last word

Baseball is one of the few games where you can sit down and watch and let things unfold in a natural way. If it takes a while, who cares? You watch because you love the game. So love the game.

Enjoy the season, baseball fans.

Photograph: Jeff Fannell

19 Innings

Last night I came home from a wonderful concert to find the Boston Red Sox up 1 on the Yankees.  I watched for an hour or so  as the Sox held on to the 3-2 lead.  The Boston Globe reports

The Sox took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. Edward Mujica, filling in as closer in place of Koji Uehara, got two outs before falling behind Chase Headley. Mujica left a 90-mph fastball up and over the plate, and Headley lined it into the second deck in right field.

It was a terrible pitch in any situation, but especially with the game on the line.

It was the first earned run allowed by a Red Sox reliever this season, the streak ending at 10 innings. Uehara could be activated off the disabled list as soon as Monday and his return will be welcomed.

The New York Times reported it this way

Three times the Yankees scored in their last at-bats to keep the game alive, beginning with Chase Headley’s two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth, but they could not do it a fourth time when Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts scooped up Garrett Jones’s smash up the middle and started a game-ending double play.

The game dragged on so long that Mark Teixeira, who was 34 when it began, had turned 35 by the time it was over. By the end, there were only several thousand hearty souls in the stadium, which was so quiet that when a few fans broke out “Let’s go, Yankees” chants, they carried far enough for the players to hear.

Soon after the Chase Headley homer, I retreated to bed and to the radio.  At some point I dozed off and woke up to a report of a conference of the umpires that no one could explain.  I thought maybe someone had discovered some long forgotten curfew rule.  But no, it was the lights.  Because they went out first behind the broadcasting booth, the radio guys couldn’t tell.  The Times writes

As if the game were not already long enough, it was delayed in the 12th inning when nine banks of lights went out at the stadium, leaving the field dimly lit. It took 16 minutes for the lights to regenerate and for play to resume. The Yankees said the outage had been caused by a power surge through the stadium.

In inning 16, David Ortiz hit a homer breaking the tie and putting the Sox up.  But then as the Globe reported

Switch hitter Mark Teixeira [the Birthday Boy], batting righthanded against the righthanded Wright and his knuckleball, homered to left field in the bottom of the inning to tie the game.

I turned the radio off after the Teixerira’s homer.  The game, however, continued.

The Sox went up, 5-4, in the 18th inning on an RBI single by Pablo Sandoval. The Yankees tied it on a double by Carlos Beltran that Hanley Ramirez misplayed in left field.

Luckily, the Sox have some young guys.

Two young players had enough energy to win the game for the Sox. Xander Bogaerts, 22, singled with one out in the 19th inning. After Ryan Hanigan walked and Esmil Rogers threw a wild pitch, 22-year-old Mookie Betts delivered a sacrifice fly to center field.

Bogaerts, who was 4 for 4 in extra innings, easily beat a weak throw by Jacoby Ellsbury.

“I’m glad I was able to do something,” said Betts, who was 1 for 8 and had struck out four times. “I’m just glad we won. That was the best thing that could have happened.”

Bogaerts also helped end the game in the bottom of the inning. With Ellsbury on first and one out, he made a smooth pickup of a ball hit by Garrett Jones to start a double play.

Xander scores the winning run in the 19th.

Xander scores the winning run in the 19th.

Alex Speier from the Globe collected some stats from the 19 innings.  Here are a few.

The 6-hour, 49-minute affair was the longest in Red Sox history and the longest home game in Yankees history. That duration doesn’t include a 16-minute delay for a brief light outage.

■ Xander Bogaerts entered the game with a robust .364/.462/.545 line. Through the first nine innings, he dropped that line to .267/.353/.400. He then reached base in five straight plate appearances — all in extra innings — with a walk and four straight singles in extra innings, boosting his line back up to .421/.500/.526.

■ Per Elias, Bogaerts is the first Red Sox player since at least 1947 with four or more hits in extra innings. Alex Rios, in 2013, was the last big league player to do it.

Betts and Pedroia each had 10 plate appearances, tied for the most by any team member since at least 1914. They joined Jim Rice, Jerry Remy, and Dwight Evans as the only Sox players to hit double-digit plate appearances in a game in that 102-season expanse, with the trio of Rice, Remy, and Evans having done it in a 20-inning, 8-7 home loss to the Mariners on Sept. 3, 1981.

Starters Wade Miley (90) and Nathan Eovaldi (94) combined to throw 184 pitches. Each bullpen then threw more pitches than the two starters combined. Yankees relievers logged 238 pitches. Members of the Red Sox bullpen combined to accumulate 206 pitches. “That’s crazy. That’s insane,” said Miley. Wright got to 78 pitches in his five innings of work for the win. Rogers tallied 81 pitches in 4 2/3 innings.

■ The Yankees bullpen pitched a mid-game shutout, working nine consecutive scoreless innings from the seventh through the 15th inning.

■ The Red Sox left 20 men on base, tied for the fourth-most in a single game since 1945.

I suppose a true fan would have made it to the very end, but I was happy just to wake up this morning and find out the Sox had won.

Photograph:  BILL KOSTROUN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Baseball, money and Sandy Koufax

When I read what ballplayers, even marginal ones who spend most of their time in the dugout, are making these days, I have  reactions from “Wow.  That’s a lot of money.” to “Well, they have pretty short careers.” to “I guess ticket prices will go up again” so I was very interested in Michael Beschloss’ piece in the New York Times this morning. 

I was a pre-teen when Sandy Koufax first came to baseball.  I kept a notebook with clippings and newspaper articles about him.  A close friend was a New York Giants fan and so I moved over to follow the Brooklyn Dodgers, abandoning my hometown team, the Phillies.  Baseball was one of the things we often watched on television as a family and I learned a lot about the game from my father and grandfather.  But back then, every game was not televised and after we acquired an early transistor radio, I would often listen outside in the afternoons when I could pick up the Dodger games from New York.  I was devastated by their move to Los Angeles until I figured out that at night I could pick up team broadcasts from all the National League teams east of the Mississippi which, back then, were almost all the teams in the league.  I would figure out who the Dodgers were playing and find that station staying up far into the night listening to the games when they played in California.  I particularly tried to listen when Sandy pitched.

I know that there are clippings in that notebook (which is probably in a storage box somewhere) about the Koufax-Drysdale holdout in 1965.  Beschloss writes

In 1962, the star Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax invested in a West Hollywood motor inn, which was renamed “Sandy Koufax’s Tropicana Motel.” Down Santa Monica Boulevard from the famed Troubadour club, these “74 luxurious air-conditioned rooms” — rented at “popular prices” — came to lodge some of the biggest musical acts of the period: Alice Cooper, Bob Marley, the Mamas and the Papas, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and the Doors. “I don’t know which made me more excited,” said one guest, “to be in Sandy’s motel or to be in a room right beside Sly Stone, from Sly and the Family Stone.”

The early 1960s were not the era of players like Miguel Cabrera, whose eight-year contract extension in March will give him the bountiful sum of $248 million. A major league star of that earlier time was well paid, but not so lavishly — given the relative brevity of most baseball careers — that he had no need to take an off-season job or plaster his name on a motor hotel or cocktail establishment like “Don Drysdale’s Dugout Lounge” in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Van Nuys. In 1965, Koufax was earning $85,000. Drysdale, his fellow Dodgers pitcher, took in $80,000. (Each salary would equal slightly less than $600,000 in 2014 dollars.)

That fall, the two men tried to overturn the usual year-to-year method of major league baseball bargaining, which Koufax called “negotiation by ultimatum” from management. He and Drysdale, friends who had served together in the Army, jointly demanded that the Dodgers pay them a million dollars over three years, divided equally between the two of them. When the team went to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., for 1966 spring training, Drysdale and Koufax staged a double holdout. “Ballplayers aren’t slaves,” Koufax told reporters, “and we have a right to negotiate.”

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale after winning the 1965 World Series

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale after winning the 1965 World Series

The two held out for most of spring training – 30 plus days.

The 32-day boycott persisted almost to the end of spring training. During the “war of nerves,” Koufax cranked up the pressure by telling the press that he and Drysdale needed time to “reflect on what we want to do with ourselves if we don’t play this season or ever again.” Furious that his star pitchers were guilty of the heresy of bargaining with him through an agent, the Dodgers’ owner, Walter O’Malley, sputtered, “Baseball is an old-fashioned game with old-fashioned traditions.”

Then Drysdale, anxious about supporting his family, told his partner he could hold out no longer. Koufax, who suffered from an arthritic left elbow and was secretly planning to quit at the end of the 1966 season, let Drysdale inform management that they wanted to settle. Drysdale finally told Bavasi, “I’ll sign for $110,000 and Sandy will sign for $125,000.” (In 2014 figures, this would still be less than a million dollars for each pitcher.)

Now we have a Player’s Association and everyone has an agent.

Koufax did retire around the same time I went to college.  Drysdale pitched until 1969.  Koufax as elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, Drysdale in 1984.  But beyond  being remembered their pitching talent, today’s sports figures should thank them for taking that first step.

Koufax’s new salary was nearly the same as that of Willie Mays, the best-paid man in baseball. Concerned about possible holdouts by other players, Bavasi insisted the following year that the Koufax-Drysdale tactics “only worked because the greatest pitcher in baseball was in on it,” and vowed, “It will never happen again.”

But Bavasi was wrong. The holdout changed the relationship between baseball management and players, paving the way for the big money game of our day. Just after the standoff ended, Arthur Daley of The New York Times called the settlement “baseball’s first collective bargaining arrangement,” writing, “There are aspects of unionism to it and no one in this sport of rugged individualists ever was confronted with such a thing before.” Koufax later agreed that his partnership with Drysdale was like a labor union — “a very small union, just the two of us, Don and myself.”

Drysdale died much too young in 1993, but Koufax still works with the Dodgers and just this spring was the catcher to Vin Scully’s first pitch.

Photograph:  espn.go.com

 

 

Shortstops: Jeter and Bogaerts

So maybe it is premature to mention Derek Jeter and Xander Bogaerts in the same breath, but I can’t resist.  Jeter just announced that this coming season will be his last and Bogaerts is preparing for his first full season.  But there is something about them that seems to be to be so similar.  Maybe it has to do with demeanor.  Maybe it is just being Red Sox fan hopeful.  Whatever it is, I was struck by the comparison.

Derek Jeter is the Yankee that even Red Sox fans admire.  Tyler Kepner wrote in the New York Times about his retirement.

The greatest compliment we can give Derek Jeter, as he prepares to leave the grandest stage in baseball, is that he never let us down. He has made thousands of outs and hundreds of errors and finished most of his seasons without a championship. Yet he never disappointed us.

This is no small feat for the modern athlete, in an age of endless traps and temptations.

From cheating to preening to taunting — even to defensible acts, like fleeing to a new team in free agency — the hero, almost invariably, breaks our heart sometime. Not Jeter.

He grew up beside a baseball diamond in Kalamazoo, Mich., dreaming of playing shortstop for the Yankees, and that is what he has done. He has never played another position, never been anything but No. 2 for the Yankees. But this season, he announced Wednesday, will be his last.

“The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward,” Jeter said in a statement on Facebook, adding later: “I could not be more sure. I know it in my heart. The 2014 season will be my last year playing professional baseball.”

Derek Jeter in 2008 after breaking Lou Gehrig’s mark with his 1,270th hit at Yankee Stadium

Derek Jeter in 2008 after breaking Lou Gehrig’s mark with his 1,270th hit at Yankee Stadium

If Frank Sinatra were around, he could sing “My Way” at Jeter’s retirement.

Jeter is perhaps the most secure, self-confident player in baseball, a sharp contrast to the disgraced Alex Rodriguez, whose season-long suspension means that he will never again be teammates with Jeter. Groch [Dick Groch, the scout who signed Jeter] said he noticed these traits while scouting Jeter, who smiled under pressure and showed the leadership skills of a chief executive.

Derek Jeter always knew who he was and never acted out of character.

And what of the Red Sox rookie?  Xander Bogaerts, the kid from Aruba who speaks four languages (Dutch, English, Spanish, and Papiamento [the official language of Aruba]) also grew up playing baseball.  Even though he was called up last August, he remains eligible for rookie of the year for 2014.  Peter Abraham profiled him in today’s Boston Globe.

Xander Bogaerts took a few ground balls at third base last Friday. That ended when Red Sox manager John Farrell arrived at JetBlue Park over the weekend.

“He told me to go to shortstop and not to worry about third base,” Bogaerts said Wednesday after a lengthy workout. “I hope that means something good for me.”

As it stands today, Bogaerts is the shortstop. But that could change if the Red Sox sign Stephen Drew, who remains a free agent on the eve of spring training officially opening. Until Drew signs, Bogaerts can’t be sure exactly what role he’ll have.

“Nobody has said anything to me about it,” Bogaerts said. “It’s definitely not perfect, but I have to play baseball no matter what. I can’t worry about it too much. I’m working at shortstop every day and trying to get my reps in and get ready.”

I think the Sox need to forget Drew, even if he is a great fielder, and go with Pedroia, Middlebrooks and Bogaerts. Time to see how the kids do.

Xander Bogaerts during the ALCS vs. Detroit

Xander Bogaerts during the ALCS vs. Detroit

We will need to see how he matures but Bogaerts seems, so far, to be cast in a Jeter mold.

But with players now on the field, Sox officials have been more measured with their comments about Drew and seem ready to start the season with Bogaerts at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third base.

That the two arrived at camp early and have been working hard with infield coach Brian Butterfield doesn’t hurt their chances.

The 21-year-old Bogaerts is certain to make the team regardless. He hit .250 in 18 regular-season games last year before emerging as a starter in the postseason. Bogaerts started eight games in October, entering the lineup for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series and staying there.

Bogaerts was 8 for 27 (.296) in the postseason with four extra-base hits and nine runs scored. Teammates marveled at how unaffected he was by the atmosphere.

“I learned so much about the game last year, the preparation you need,” Bogaerts said. “The other teams will find your weakness right away. I need to get better at everything, especially recognizing pitches. But I know I can do it.”

Last October, Joon Lee wrote a long profile of Bogaerts for Red Sox blog, Over the Monster.  One quote stood out for me.

“I’ve always been a pretty quiet guy,” Xander said. “I don’t really go out a lot so I try to stay out of the most trouble as possible. Nothing good happens at night so that’s why it’s good to stay at home.”

Not a wild and crazy guy.  Yes, I know, Jeter didn’t exactly stay at home, but he never talked about his personal life.

Derek Jeter and Xander Bogaerts:  The past and the future?  We shall see.

Photograph:  Jeter, Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Photograph: Bogaerts, Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

Random thoughts about the Red Sox and the World Series

I am exhausted.  Let’s face it the sixteen games played to take home the World Series Trophy (our Mayor Menino calls it the World Series Cup) have been emotionally draining and the cause of much sleep deprivation.  And I don’t have to get up and go to work!  Tampa Bay, Detroit, and St. Louis were all tough opponents.  (By the way, one of my predictions finally came true:  Sox in 6.)

Here are a few random thoughts about the Sox.

Bib Papi hugs manger John Farrell

Bib Papi hugs manger John Farrell

David Ortiz was the MVP of the Series.  He had a ridiculous batting average of .688 and we got to watch him play first during the games in St. Louis as if he played there every game.  People were whining about the rules that took away the DH, but in the end it didn’t hurt the Sox.  Maybe it did make Mike Napoli a little rusty at the plate but he did get a hit last night.  The thing about Ortiz is that he is the first non-Yankee to win three World Series with the same team (2004, 2007, and 2013) since Jim Palmer with the Baltimore Orioles (1966, 1970 and 1983).  I learned that from a Tweet from Peter Abraham.  Big Papi is probably going to play one more season and then retire.  What a hole that will leave!

If you don’t think a manager makes a difference just study the styles of Bobby Valentine and John Farrell.  One had respect from day one and it produced a winning team.  I don’t know for a fact, but I suspect that Valentine was forced on general manager, Ben Cherington.   Nick Cafardo wrote in today’s Boston Globe

Ben Cherington hit .400, won the Triple Crown for general managers, and then won the World Series.

He picked the right manager, the right players, and still had an eye for the future. He traded only redundant players, such as Jose Iglesias in a three-way deal for Jake Peavy, knowing he had Xander Bogaerts.

Cherington deserved the bucket of champagne, let alone the bottle, as the architect of the 2013 World Series champions.

,,,

While the perception is Bobby Valentine was forced on him, Cherington was able to decide to fire him and deal for Farrell, the manager he wanted all along. He allowed Farrell to name his coaching staff and continue pretty much what Terry Francona had done with the team prior to the September 2011 collapse.

Cherington cleared out the poisonous players. And then he watched it. Maybe it wasn’t completely like he mapped it out, but close, real close.

“Once we got into the season you don’t know what the outcome was going to be, but this was a different group of people,” said Cherington. “They were completely selfless. It was a lot of fun to be around. It’ll sink in two weeks from now.”

He combined the desire to prove everyone wrong, the players with chips on their shoulders, with some new chemistry. He hit the jackpot.

Carlton Fisk, sporting a phony beard, and Luis Tiant, with a real one, threw out the first pitch.

Carlton Fisk, sporting a phony beard, and Luis Tiant, with a real one, threw out the first pitch.

And then the Sox had history.  Having former players like Jim Rice, Pedro Martinez, Mike Lowell, Dennis Eckersley and many others hanging around the team even if they weren’t formally coaching has to have been a plus.  Even Carlton Fisk entered into the fun.

Someday soon it will all seem real.  It will be hot stove time and Ben Cherington will have to get to work.  Will Jacoby Ellsbury give up boat loads of money and do what Dustin Pedroia did and take the hometown salary to stay?  What about Napoli?  Will Salty take his longest name on a jersey and move on – and more important – do we want him to stay?

But those are questions for another day.  Bring on the Duck Boats and let’s have a parade!

Photograph:  Ortiz and Farrell, stan grossfeld/globe staff

Photograph:  Fisk and Tiant, Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

The World Series: beards and music

Superstitious, I guess.  I didn’t want to write about the Red Sox in the World Series for fear of jinxing them.  Not that I have any such power, but with the baseball gods one never knows.  But now each team has had one horrid game – the Cardinals were worse than the Sox – and the Series is tied.  The Sox need to win at least one game in St. Louis to get back home team advantage.  This is beginning to feel like the games with Detroit that got them where they are.  That turned out OK, so we can still have hope.  All we need is for Jake Peavy to live up to his hype and for some combination of Clay Buchholtz/Felix Dubrount to pitch well and there is a chance for two wins.  And then we get Lester again.  So I’m feeling OK about the situation.  I feel badly for John Lackey who has had a great pitching year, but can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to run support and wins.

The player who did his job last night was Koji Uehara the accidental closer.  Once more.  3 outs on 10 pitches.  The beardless one.  I think we all assumed he didn’t have a beard because he couldn’t grow one.  We were wrong.  A few days ago, this story was in the New York Times.

Long, bushy beards have become the unifying trademark of the 2013 Boston Red Sox, but the most valuable player of their American League Championship Series victory stands out for more than his pitching.

The series M.V.P., the cleanshaven closer Koji Uehara, was given a pass on the team’s unofficial pro-beard policy because most of his teammates thought he was incapable of growing one.

But that is hardly the case. Well before the Red Sox’ shaggy faces entered the national consciousness, Uehara was a longstanding member of the antirazor brigade.

Until January, when he shaved it off on Japanese national television, Uehara had one of the most famous beards in Japan: light, Fu Manchu-style scruff with a wraparound beard connecting to his sideburns. It was considered ugly and brutish by many of his friends and countrymen, but he wore it defiantly for several years after coming to the United States in 2009.

Koji in Baltimore

People must have known.  I watched him pitch when he was with Baltimore, but I guess the beard never registered.  He also had a beard with the Rangers.

“I just didn’t know where I was going with that beard,” Uehara, 38, said through an interpreter Saturday afternoon before the final game of the A.L.C.S. “So I thought it was best to shave it off. It was a good time to do it, and I think many people were happy. They said I looked younger.”

Without facial hair, Uehara posted a career-low 1.09 E.R.A. in the regular season and had 21 saves after taking over as Boston’s full-time closer June 26. In the playoffs, he has been just as good, allowing one run in nine innings over eight games. He has five saves this postseason: two in a division series against the Tampa Bay Rays and three in the A.L.C.S. against the Detroit Tigers, including the save that clinched the pennant Saturday night.

But has shaving made him a better postseason pitcher?

“I don’t know,” he said, shrugging. “I am not sure about that.”

Whatever.  If being beardless got him MVP for the ALCS, then it is good for him and for us.

In one way, it makes sense that Uehara is now clean shaven in the midst of players who look like desert-island castaways. He originally grew his beard to stand apart from his teammates in Japan and from Japanese players in the majors, many of whom did not have facial hair.

Now that he is with a rowdy band of bearded Red Sox, he is distinguished in a different way.

“If I had a beard now,” he said, “I would not stand out.”

Meanwhile the symphony orchestras in Boston and St. Louis are getting in the act.  Even if you don’t root for either team this clip is wonderful.  I have to concede that the brass from St. Louis are better trash talkers, but the BSO has Seiji Ozawa.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_k8oICRBH4&feature=youtu.be

By the way, Boston in six.  With ZZ Top on our side, how can we lose?

Photograph: Mark Duncan/Associated Press