And the race is on!

The Red Sox begin the second half of the season tonight facing steamy heat and the somewhat diminished, but always dangerous, New York Yankees.  The real race for the American League East title begins.  The Boston Globe story by Julian Benbow lays out the facts.

Whenever Jonny Gomes would glance at the standings, he got an idea just how much of a tug of war the American League East is.

The fact that four of the five teams are above .500 was overshadowed by what the division did against the rest of the league.

In the first half, the AL East went a combined 70-54 against the Central, 53-39 against the West, and 35-19 in interleague play.

“I’ve actually looked at our standings and you saw the whole AL East win,” Gomes said. “It seems like the only time a team loses is when we play each other. It’s a big division. It truly is.”

Which is why the Red Sox’ first 10 games out of the All-Star break will be a grueling and critical test.  They start with a three-game set this weekend with the Yankees, then play four with the second-place Rays, and then hit the road for three games against the Orioles.

The Sox enter Friday with a major league-leading 58 wins, but 38 of their final 65 games are against division foes.

So how did they do against the division so far?  According to Steve Melewski who writes about the Orioles

Boston is 4-2 this year against the Yankees and 9-3 against Tampa, but just 2-5 versus the Orioles.

My father used to say about the Atlanta Braves who had trouble with the Mets, “It never matters how bad or good the teams are, the Mets win.”  I hope this isn’t true about the Red Sox and Orioles.

Clay Buchholz needs to get better without rushing his recovery and Jon Lester needs to get his head straight and start winning.  Lester started out the season pitching quicker than he had before, but now he seems to have slowed again.

More from Gomes and Benbow

The Sox know how crucial the final months of the season can be. They’ve gone into the break with the division lead in five of the last seven seasons, but have won the division just once over that span.

“It’s going to be a scrap,” Gomes said. “It’s a tough division. You see last place here could be third or second in other divisions. So that speaks for itself. At the same time, the Sox aren’t going to sneak up on anybody on the road.”

The Sox were able to navigate injuries and issues in the first half in large part because of depth and some deft decision-making by Farrell.

But with a daunting schedule ahead in a tightly packed division, returning to full strength will play a large part in sustaining success and returning to the postseason.

“Where we’re at right now, we’re not going to sneak up on anyone,” Gomes said. “So we just have to simplify — win each game, win each inning, stay healthy and keep going north.”

Many Sox fans, including me (I predicted a .500 team.) were surprised by the first half.  Now we are ready to be surprised by the second.  Let’s start by beating up on the Yankees.

The Red Sox head into the post-All-Star Game portion of the season with a 2.5-game lead in the AL East.

The Red Sox head into the post-All-Star Game portion of the season with a 2.5-game lead in the AL East.

Photograph:  Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Singing the Anthem

I’ve always thought that the Star Spangled Banner was a poor choice for our national song.  It is very militaristic for one thing.  For another, it is very difficult to sing.  I would much prefer America. But since I don’t think there will be a change in my lifetime, I have fun by watching the rendition before ball games and other events and seeing how it is done and whether the singer makes it all the way through it without an error.  Or adding horrible extra notes.  (And I don’t blame Beyoncé for lip-synching at the Inauguration.  She was singing outdoors with the band on a totally different level of the platform.  Besides, she totally nailed it live at the Super Bowl.)  But watching and listening is a spot in itself.

We went to the Brockton Rox opening game a few weeks ago.  (They play in a Futures League.)  An elementary school band played and were terrific.  But we’ve also seen some clinkers.  When it is a kid, you want to give them an “A” for trying.  An adult, not so much.  The New York Times had a recent story singing at ballparks.

It is a notoriously difficult song to sing, a musical high-wire act, with an octave-and-a-half range and a devilishly spaced melody. You usually sing it a cappella in a stadium where the echo hits your ear a half-beat behind the melody, and the lyrics are so familiar and fraught with meaning that every fan in the stands can hear the slightest mistake or botched note.

“It’s certainly nerve-racking,” said David Cook, the pop singer and “American Idol” winner who will sing the anthem on the Fourth of July in Kansas City, Mo., just before the Royals take on the Cleveland Indians. “For every person who wants to talk about Whitney Houston killing it years ago, 10 people want to talk about Roseanne Barr butchering it, so there is always that fear that ‘I better not forget the words to this song.’”

And most people like it done straight.  No Jimi Hendrix.   Me, I like his version.

Not all baseball anthems are done traditionally. Pop musicians who are ardent baseball fans often jump at the chance to do the honors. Kirk Hammett, the lead guitarist of the band Metallica, who grew up in San Francisco, and James Hetfield, the band’s lead singer, opened a game for the San Francisco Giants with a distorted guitar duet of the anthem in May this year. Steven Tyler and James Taylor have done the anthem in their own inimitable styles for their home team, the Red Sox, at Fenway Park in Boston.

Mr. Steinberg, a senior adviser to the Red Sox who has worked as an executive for the Dodgers and the Orioles, said it has become common for rock stars to try their hands at the anthem ever since Joan Jett had success singing it for her beloved Orioles in the late 1980s. Boston being the cradle of the Revolution, however, the Red Sox tend to go with a military theme on the Fourth of July, Mr. Steinberg said, so the team has asked Musician Second Class Nina Church, a vocalist with the Navy Band Northeast in Newport, R.I. to do the honors in her dress whites.

Petty Officer Church, 29, said that as a member of the Navy band, “you could call me a professional at singing the national anthem.” The key to pulling it off, she said, is to start on the right note. “The range of the piece is an octave plus a fifth,” she explained. “A lot of people start a little too high.”

But even Petty Officer Church stumbled a little, but recovered well.  I wonder if the Dropkick Murphy’s have done the Anthem at Fenway?  Don’t think so.  That might be interesting.  Or I read someplace that Justin Verlander, the pitcher for the Detroit Tigers can sing.  Maybe he can start a new trend:  Players who sing the Anthem.

Clockwise from top left: STEVEN TYLER at Fenway Park in 2002; CHAKA KHAN in 2008 at Dodger Stadium; JAMES HETFIELD in San Francisco in May; ROSEANNE BARR at a San Diego Padres game in 1990; MARC ANTHONY at Shea Stadium in 2001; and TAYLOR SWIFT at Dodger Stadium in 2007.

Clockwise from top left: STEVEN TYLER at Fenway Park in 2002; CHAKA KHAN in 2008 at Dodger Stadium; JAMES HETFIELD in San Francisco in May; ROSEANNE BARR at a San Diego Padres game in 1990; MARC ANTHONY at Shea Stadium in 2001; and TAYLOR SWIFT at Dodger Stadium in 2007.

Photographs: Clockwise from top left: Elise Amendola/AP; Stephen Dunn/Getty; Jason O. Watson/Getty; Andy Hayt/AP; Ray Stubblebine/Reuters; Kevork Djansezian/AP

Red Sox: 50 wins

I remember a few years ago when Josh Beckett (traded to the Dodger and now out for the rest of the year) boasted that the Sox could win 100 games.  They didn’t.  That was 2011, the year of the great September swoon.  The year that Terry Francona was fired.  Not a good year.  Fast forward through last year and the Bobby Valentine debacle to 2013.  This is a year for those who love baseball.  There are no superstars, no celebrity players.  What you have is a bunch of guys who play ball.  Christopher Gasper summed it up well in his Boston Globe column this morning.

Red Sox

If you have tuned out the Sox over the first three months of the season because of disinterest or lingering resentment from the past two seasons, you have missed a good time and a good team.

At 50-34, the Sox have the best record in the American League. They’re one of only two teams in baseball to spend the entire season above .500 — the other is the Atlanta Braves. They have a plus-80 run differential, second only to the St. Louis Cardinals in all of baseball. They’ve won in walkoff fashion seven times, including against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, when they triumphed on an error at first base by a converted catcher, Josh Thole.

It’s one of those games you win when your team has good karma, instead of a toxic dump of a clubhouse. The personality makeover Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington gave the clubhouse in the offseason has taken, and the manager, John Farrell, is a source of stability, instead of a source of insurrection.

John Farrell, former pitching coach for the Red Sox under Francona, has done what the owners thought he would do for the team.  He stays out of the spotlight and does his job.

The Sox lead the majors in runs scored (431), OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) at .793, and pitches seen per plate appearance (4.06). Traditionally a team that runs the bases at the pace that ketchup drips out of a new bottle, the Red Sox entered Monday tied for second in the majors in stolen bases.

It’s increasingly difficult to say that what is happening in the Fens is just a fluke, that Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, and Jose Iglesias, who is hitting .409, are all wearing glass cleats and the clock is about to strike midnight.

The poster boy for these revitalized Red Sox is John Derran Lackey. That’s right, I said John Lackey.

Like his team, Lackey was written off, derided and despised. He was unlikable and unwatchable. He missed all of last season because of Tommy John surgery.

This year, I have even seen Lackey smile.

But, Gasper asks, won’t people come out and root for the team.  Why is the buzz still about the Bruins and the Celtics?  I have to admit that I haven’t been to Fenway this year.  I only go every 3-5 years (have to save up my money)  and I went last just as the Sox were hitting their 2011 dive.  But I do watch them, listen to games and follow them closely.

Maybe Boston sports fans believe the team is going to fray and show its holes like a pair of mittens that keep getting caught on a fence. Fenway Fatalists assume Clay Buchholz won’t be able to return from the pain in his neck that has kept him out since June 8 and the team’s closer carousel will keep spinning without an answer. Koji Uehara is the latest to try the role.

Maybe they just find the team a bit hard to identify with. They’re no eccentric savants, long-haired idols, or free-spirited frat boys.

No gimmicks, just gamers.

Whatever it is, the Sox don’t have the buzz befitting a first-place baseball team more than halfway through the season.

Maybe those who derided the “new” fans as the pink hatters were right:  people were attending because it was the in thing to do, not because they loved the game.  Me?  I will watch any game.  I’ve even been known to watch a women’s tournament in Vermont.  They were playing to raise money for a women’s shelter.  But Gasper is right.  This is an exciting team.  Watch Uehara when he completes a successful inning.  They play hard every game and never quit until the last out.   And they may just bring us another American League Championship.  Maybe I should break my rule and go to a game.

Red Sox, Celtics and Pride Week in Boston

Jason Collins spent time last season with the Boston Celtics (and he might be back next season) before he came out in a now famous Sports Illustrated story.  Last night Collins helped the Red Sox celebrate Pride Night by throwing out the first pitch to Manager John Farrell.  It should be noted that managers rarely do this.

The Boston Globe ran this story from the Associate Press

The 7-foot center was greeted with a nice applause when the PA announcer read the opening of the SI article: ‘‘I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.’’

Wearing a Red Sox jersey with the No. 98 on the back, Collins threw out the first pitch to Red Sox manager John Farrell.

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz feels everyone should support each other based on how they act.

‘‘Nobody knows what is perfect and what is not,’’ Ortiz said, sitting at his locker about three hours before the game. ‘‘If you are respectful and you do what you’re supposed to do, it doesn’t matter what you are and what you come from, people should respect you and love you the same way.’’

Collins wears 98 on his jerseys to honor Matthew Shepard who was killed in 1998, a decision welcomed by Shepard’s parents.

2015 Pride Night at Fenway

2015 Pride Night at Fenway

Hey Danny and Doc, bring him back to the Celtics!

By the way, the Sox won on a walk-off 3 run homer by – David Ortiz.

Photograph Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Play ball! The 2013 season starts

Like Red Sox fans all over, I was extremely happy that we won’t be starting the season with another losing streak.  Well, at least we won’t be 0 for whatever.  And having the first win against the Yankees was icing.  I will have all summer to write about the team so I will just leave it at that and turn to more general baseball spring subjects.

Yesterday, Neil Genzlinger wrote a wonderful piece in the New York Times warning owners of souvenir baseballs to take care of them well.

Baseball’s opening week seems a good time to issue this public-service advisory: If you own an autographed baseball with significant financial or sentimental value, be prepared for it to be destroyed unless you take drastic action immediately.

That cautionary announcement is inspired by television and the movies, which love a good baseball yarn, especially if it involves an autographed ball that comes to a gruesome end. For decades, the big and small screens have been sprouting stories about beloved balls that have been ruined, usually by a child who has not been properly schooled in the importance of sports memorabilia. And in these tales we can find vital lessons for this time of year.

Two of his advisories are my favorites.  First is from “Leave it to Beaver”, a show I watched as a child and later in re-runs.  I don’t remember this episode but it is typical.  Genzlinger advises you live in a roadless neighborhood.

That is the lesson of an episode of “Leave It to Beaver” first broadcast in April 1960, during the show’s third season. Ward, the Beaver’s father, discovers a prized baseball from his childhood in a trunk and puts it on display in his den, a foolish thing to do given Beaver’s already well-established knack for wreaking havoc.

How valuable was this baseball? It had been signed by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Grove, Kiki Cuyler, Augie Galan, Bill Dickey and Grover Cleveland Alexander, which means it could have paid for the Beaver’s college education.

Others can research whether those players were ever in the same locker room at the same time, as Ward attests. Our focus here is what happens to the ball. The Beaver’s nitwit friend Larry persuades him to play catch with it, Larry heaves it over the Beaver’s head and into the street, and a passing truck squashes it. So if you own a ball with those autographs on it — or, really, with any one of those autographs on it — find a roadless place to live. No road, no trucks.

The second favorite piece of advice is to get rid of the family dog.  Easy enough for me since I have cats who just roll things around the floor.  Baseballs are much to big for them to bite.

It’s the family pet that does the damage in an episode of the sitcom “George Lopez” first broadcast in October 2002. The son in the fictional Lopez family, Max, is being pressured by his father to improve his baseball skills, which are abysmal, and he practices with one of George’s most treasured possessions, a ball signed by Steve Garvey, Joe Morgan, Jim Palmer and Rod Carew. The family mutt nabs it and reduces it to a gooey lump.

The episode, by the way, features four of the daffiest athlete cameos in television history. Garvey, Morgan, Palmer and Carew appear or, more accurately, their heads do, as George’s bobblehead-doll collection lectures him after he yells at Max.

I thought my picture of the day from opening day would be Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s catch of the day for the Red Sox, but then I saw this of my first favorite player beginning when he was a Brooklyn Dodger, Sandy Koufax, who still bleeds Dodger Blue.

Sandy Koufax threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium on Monday.

Sandy Koufax threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium on Monday.

Baseball is all about making memories.  Time to make some new ones.

Photograph Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The state of the Sox

Thank goodness the baseball season starts in a week.  My March Madness bracket is sooo busted I can’t decide if I will continue with the next round on the CBS round by round contest.  But baseball.  That’s a different story.  The season is ahead of us, all those games from April to September and beyond to the World Series.

The big question for Boston is whether the Red Sox can rebound from last year’s train wreck.  Actually the disaster began in September 2011, but things got worse under Bobby Valentine.  Maybe it is time to forgive Bobby.  After all, he was a new manager coming into a difficult situation, but he was just wrong for Boston and wrong for the Sox so no forgiveness yet.  Now it is John Farrell’s turn to try.

Spring training has been about what one could expect.  The Sox are .500.  We’ve seen some good youngsters and the pitchers are working faster – even Cloy Bucholtz.  The bullpen seems solid.  The question is:  Can the Sox hit?

Nick Carfardo had a nice list of issues the Red Sox have to resolve to get to their roster of 25 in the Boston Globe this morning.

1. Lyle Overbay — He is the most immediate decision since he has an opt-out Tuesday. The Sox have to tell him by noon Tuesday whether he will make the 25-man active roster. If he does not ask for his release and agrees to open the season in Pawtucket, he will receive a $100,000 retention bonus. The Sox might be OK with that as insurance in case something happens to Mike Napoli.

Overbay is also a proven first baseman while Napoli is not. We’re assuming that David Ross, Pedro Ciriaco, and Daniel Nava are on the bench. That leaves one spot for Ryan Sweeney (who has a March 28 opt-out), Mike Carp, and Overbay. Nava is protection at first base and in the outfield and is also a better fielder than Carp. Overbay is a pure first baseman (he made a nice diving stop Monday) and lefthanded bat. Carp went 1 for 2 against the Orioles and is hitting .211.

I haven’t been that impressed with Overbay or Carp and Napoli is doing OK at first.  I’d let Overbay opt out this morning and keep Nava as back up.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has raised his spring average to .444.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has raised his spring average to .444.

2. Bradley — It appears he’s made the team, at least that’s the indication after the team reversed its decision not to play him in left. He’s passed every eye test, including facing a tough lefty Sunday in Cliff Lee, whom he took deep for a three-run homer and sacrifice fly in his first two-at bats. He followed that up Monday by coming off the bench with two hits, a two-run single up the middle against Pedro Strop and a triple vs. lefty Chris Petrini.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.  Jerry Remy keeps using his full name.  He might be a rookie, but he’s been to the College World Series and appears very mature and stable.  I know there is all this talk about the free agency date being different if he starts the season at Pawtucket, but let’s face it, we need his bat.  Even if he cools off, as he will, I think he will be as asset.

3. Daniel Bard — We’re assuming the bullpen spots that are set are Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Koji Uehara, Alfredo Aceves, Junichi Tazawa, and Clayton Mortensen. That could change if Aceves or Mortensen is traded. Mortensen, who was touched up for two homers Monday, is out of options and the Sox don’t want to lose him because he’s stretched out and basically fills the same role as Aceves.

Bard has options and could go back to the minors, as his performance hasn’t been smooth this spring. The Sox also could option Tazawa as well.

I would trade Mortensen ( I’ve read that there is interest in him.), keep Tazawa and have Bard start in Pawtucket.  It is a long season and we will need Bard sooner or later.

How will the Sox do this season?  Predictions have a way of coming back to haunt you (take my March Madness bracket), but I think the Sox will be a better than .500 team.  The AL East is tough and I think Baltimore is the team to beat, but never, never count the Yankees out.

(By the way, I picked Indiana to win the basketball crown this year, but any team but Louisville will suit me fine.)

Photograph Kathy Willens/Associated Press

More on the Storm of 2013 – with Dustin Pedroia

We have a lot of snow here in Boston and the hot discussion is whether the T or train system could have reopened faster – not until tomorrow morning for the Monday commute.  For those of you who don’t know, the train is partially underground and partially above.  I can hear them working on the orange line which runs down the hill from our house and is above ground where we are.  And while our street has been plowed there are places where the wind has blown snow back across it and people are getting stuck.

But Brendan Lynch at public radio WGBH is trying his best to look forward to spring.  He is measuring the snow in Dustin Pedroias.  Dustin is the shortest member of the Red Sox.  I think that Brendan is working on the official Major League height and Dustin is actually shorter, but here is what was posted yesterday morning.  There have been so new totals since then so you can do your own math.

Spencer (which is near Worcester, MA) is now reported at 34.5″  clearly half a Pedroia.  Logan Airport (which will be the official Boston total) is 24.9″   And Jamaica Plain, a section of Boston right across those Orange Line tracks from us, is 25.5″  These totals are from David Epstein’s Weather Wisdon blog.

So while we aren’t quite half a Pedroia here in Boston, that is still a lot of snow!

Highland Park 2-9-2013

Another view of the park across the street.

Francona and the Red Sox

I finished reading Francona last week and have been listening and reading to what people are saying about it.  In case you don’t live in Boston, follow the Red Sox, or follow another baseball team, Terry Francona was the manager of the Boston Red Sox from 2004 through the 2011 season.  Quite a long time in baseball years, particularly in Red Sox years.  He managed the team to their first World Series win (2004) in 86 years breaking the infamous curse of Babe Ruth.  And then one a second Series in 2007.  I loved seeing him in the corner of the dugout chewing his tobacco which he pretended was gum or maybe is was sometimes the other way around.  And I felt terrible as the 2011 season imploded in September.  I think we all knew that Francona wouldn’t be back for 2012.

Terry in the dugout.

Terry in the dugout.

So now there is the book, Francona. by Terry and Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.  Some people don’t like it because they think it completely trashes the owners which makes me wonder if they have actually read the book.  Or maybe they are responding on behalf of the owners.  I had read some of the advanced reviews which said that he was not nice to the owners so I guess I looked for those parts in the book.  (for a nice interview with Terry by Emily Rooney, click here.)

The controversy appears to stem largely from his statement that the owners didn’t like baseball.  Taken out of context, this is a rather silly statement.  Why would you spend millions to own a team if you didn’t like the game?  But if you read the book, you learn that in Francona’s  world, where one lives and breathes baseball from a very young age, the owners are different.  They have other interests, like making money, and bring in fans.  Why else would they bring in a showman like Bobby Valentine after Terry?

There is a delicate balance between the purity of the game and the game as business.  Francona is on one side of that fine line, John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino are on the other.  And that is the essence of the the matter.  In the end, Francona and Theo Epstein were on the wrong side from those that paid them.  I don’t think they were surprised.

I love baseball.  I like going to minor league games without all the show of the bigs to distract me.  I guess I’m like Francona in that tiny way.  If you love baseball and want an inside picture, read this book.

Red Sox pitchers and catchers report on the 12th; everyone else on the 15th.  I read that most of the pitchers have already arrived in Florida.  Bobby V. is thankfully gone.  New manager John Farrell is a baseball guy.  Maybe John Lackey will redeem himself.  Maybe we can give the young kids a chance to play and grow.  Maybe the Sox will have a winning year.  Francona is managing the Cleveland Indians and Theo is with the Cubs.  It’s spring time for baseball and anything can happen.

Photograph sportsofboston.com

The hall of fame, drugs, and baseball

The question being asked by many as we wait for the votes to be announced tomorrow is will any one be elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame this year?  I am of two minds about the whole performance enhancing drug business.  Should we be looking at records before and after and, if the before record is Hall worthy go ahead and elect them?  Or should drug use be a total disqualifier?  And what of people we suspect but have never been caught?

I have seen detailed analyses of the records of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens.  I think they were so caught up in the idea of being ball players they did what they thought they had to to prolong their careers – at least that is true of Roger.  Should they not get into the Hall because they were stupid and lacked character?  The first person elected was Ty Cobb with his reputation for dirty play and racism.

Back in December, Bob Ryan wrote in the Boston Globe

I am in possession of the toxic ballot.

It is the Hall of Fame ballot voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) have dreaded for the last five years. Our feet are finally being held to the bonfire. How will we as a body judge the candidacy of the all-time home run leader, the only man to win seven Cy Young Awards, and a man with 609 career home runs who is the only person to homer 60 times or more in three seasons?

Absent, shall we say, a complicating factor, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa would be ultra-mortal locks. Based on the numbers, there wouldn’t be the slightest hesitation in checking the box next to their names.

For years I have been saying, publicly and privately, that some day I may wake up and decide that all this agonizing over how to judge admitted or strongly suspected PED users is fruitless, that there was a period of time in baseball’s recent history when juiced pitchers threw to juiced batters and we will never know how many PED-aided home runs would have landed on the warning track or how many fewer strikeouts someone would have had if the people in question had been clean. I might acknowledge that it is an impossible task to act as judge and jury, that I should simply let them all in and not worry about the ethical question posed by the use of PEDs in athletic competition.

I, for one, just can’t do it. Some day, maybe. Or maybe not. I’ve got 15 years to decide what to do with the Toxic Trio.

I know this much: They’re not getting in, at least not this year. Steroid-tinged Mark McGwire­ has had six chances and he’s actually going backward, peaking with 23.7 percent of the vote (75 percent is needed for election) in 2010. Last year, he slipped to 19.5. Admitted user Rafael Palmeiro, he of the 3,020 hits and 569 home runs, got 11 percent of the vote two years ago and 12.6 last year. There will be no need for either to prepare an acceptance speech.

But we’re all curious to see what the vote will be. I’m betting that Bonds and Clemens will come up with something between 40 and 50 percent of the vote, while Sosa will be lucky to crack double figures.

Ryan believes that no one will be elected this year, a opinion echoed by Tyler Kepner of the New York Times.  Kepner points out that a player needs 75% of the ballots which even in year untainted by PED’s is hard.

Historically, this has not been easy. In 1971, when Yogi Berra made his debut on the ballot, he collected only two-thirds of the vote. That’s right — 118 of 360 writers did not vote for Berra as soon as they had the chance. Fifteen players on that 1971 ballot eventually made it to Cooperstown, but that year, the voters could not reach a three-quarters consensus on any of them.

Since then, only one other writers’ ballot has produced no new inductees. That was in 1996, when Phil Niekro, Tony Perez and Don Sutton got more than 60 percent but less than 75. They and three others from that ballot — Ron Santo, Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter — eventually elbowed through the crowd and into the Hall.

So who else is on the ballot?  One of my all time favorites, Dale Murphy.  I first saw him play for the Richmond Braves when he was a catcher.  Bob Ryan writes

This is it for Murphy, Year 15. His son, Chad, has created a petition and has bombarded voters with e-mails. Murphy is a rare back-to-back MVP (1982-83) with 398 career homers. He made an admirable transition from catcher to five-time Gold Glove center fielder. But he has never passed the Hall of Fame I-know-one-when-I-see-one Smell Test, his vote percentage ranging from a low of 8.5 in Year 6 to last year’s high of 14.5. It’s not going to happen.

Curt Shilling is also on there.  When I can put aside my distaste for his politics and for his hypocrisy – belief in smaller government while seeking lots of government economic development money from Massachusetts and then getting it from Rhode Island – he could pitch and if I had a vote would check him off.

But it is likely that no one will break th 75% barrier and the plaque will look like this.

We will find out tomorrow.

Illustration by Sam Manchester/The New York Times

The Damn Yankees

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am a Red Sox fan.  As a convert (I have rooted for the Dodgers, Phillies, and Atlanta Braves through the years), I am pretty rabid.  The one thing all those teams have is a dislike for the Yankees.  So last night as I watched the Yankees come back in the 9th I couldn’t stand to watch any more.  Around the 11th I turned off the radio, too.  I should have stuck it out for one more inning.  Instead I started thinking about the musical Damn Yankees.

Damn Yankees was a Broadway hit in 1955 with Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston.  It is the story of a middle-aged Washington Senators fan who sells his soul to the devil for a chance to bat and beat the Yankees.  In the movie version, he turns into Tab Hunter so I remember it well.  Anyway the cursing of the Yankees goes way back and not just for Sox fans.

What happened after I stopped listening was both thrilling (Detroit won!) and sad because Derek Jeter (the only Yankee I like) broke his ankle in the top of the 12th.  His season is over and we can only hope it isn’t the end of the career.

Derek Jeter injured his ankle in the top of the 12th inning.

Fans everywhere wish him a speedy recovery.  But I for one hope that this is the end of the damn Yankees for this season.  I know that baseball executives want a major market team in the World Series, but I’m hoping for Giants-Tigers.

Photograph: Barton Silverman/The New York Times