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And here we are. Another MLB regular season has come to an end. The playoffs are in full swing, with the handful of remaining teams doing everything within their power to make it to the World Series.

However, the league’s individual honors aren’t predicated on playoff performance. These awards are for the regular season. And while there was a fair amount of up-and-down over the course of the year, a lot of these names are ones that aren’t the least bit surprising. There are arguments to be made – there always are – but I’m comfortable with the selections that I’ve made. As always with this sort of thing, your mileage may vary.

Here we go: 2019’s final Clubhouse Leaders.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 01 October 2019 16:20

Red Sox Report Card - September 2019

Not exactly the way you want to close out the season, eh?

The Red Sox were eliminated from playoff contention a while ago, but you still have to play out the games. They ended the season at 84-78, a distant third in the division. They won just 11 of their 26 September contests – hardly an inspiring finish, though considering that there was nothing to really play for, it could have been worse.

The team was mediocre or worse in pretty much every aspect of the game in September, though there were a few bright spots – there always are. It was hardly the way the team expected to finish out a season in which they were the defending World Series champions, but that’s the joy and curse of this game – you never know how it’s going to play out.

It was a less-than-stellar final month, to be sure. A month that brought to a conclusion a disappointing season for the Red Sox. We’ll do a more in-depth post-mortem next week, after we’ve all had some time to process. But for now, let’s look at this kind of sad September.

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 04 September 2019 11:48

Red Sox Report Card - August 2019

It remains to be seen whether the Red Sox give fans a September to remember, but one thing’s for certain: it was an August worth forgetting.

It was always going to be a struggle for Boston to make up the necessary ground to push their way back into the playoff race. They were going to need a big month. Instead, they got a month that was the epitome of meh. A 14-13 record for August leaves them well behind the wild card frontrunners – the odds of them surging ahead are slim and getting slimmer.

The offense cooled off – no surprise, considering how hot the bats had been for much of the summer – but the pitching failed to pick up the slack, continuing along its sub-mediocre path. The end result was the aforementioned barely .500 record. Aside from a handful of standout performances, pretty much the whole team disappointed to some extent.

It’s hard to complain, what with the still-fresh 2018 title less than a year old. It could be worse. And yet, it would have been nice to see the Sox at least have a chance to go back-to-back. But after a month like this, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 04 September 2019 11:48

Justin Verlander throws third no-hitter

Justin Verlander had a game for the history books.

The Houston Astros pitcher’s already-storied career saw another highlight etched into it this weekend when the 36-year-old hurler threw a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays, winning 2-0. The game missed perfection by just a single walk, issued to Cavan Biggio in just the second at-bat of the contest, but there’s no mistaking the dominance – Verlander struck out 14 along the way. The no-hitter marked his third, and his first since his 2011 MVP/Cy Young-winning season with the Detroit Tigers.

Throwing a no-hitter in the big leagues is a big deal – there have only been just over 300 such games in MLB history, counting combined no-hitters. Throwing two is even more rare – fewer than 40 pitchers in the game’s storied past have ever managed multiple no-hitters.

Three? Three is when you get to the truly rarified air – air now being breathed deeply by Justin Verlander.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 30 July 2019 22:15

Red Sox Report Card - July 2019

In the standings, it was a decent July for the Red Sox. They won enough to gain a little ground in the division – though still sit a good distance behind the East-leading Yankees – and place themselves in ready contention for the wild card.

As far as how that actually happened, well … it wasn’t always pretty.

While this Boston team definitely came alive with the bats this month, the pitching left a LOT to be desired. The offense carried the day; frankly, it’s hard not to wonder what might have been with even average performance out of the pitching staff.

Still, with the All-Star break in the rearview, the team managed to come alive in some important ways. If they can continue down that path – while also working on reversing some of the regression they’ve seen – they’ve got a shot. A look back at the month just past certainly indicates that possibility.

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports

Cooperstown is set to come alive for another Hall of Fame induction weekend. From July 19-22, festivities will abound in the small upstate New York town that plays host to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 2019 class is another in a long line of big ones – four players were voted in by the writers, while another two were added by committee. That’s half-a-dozen new players, with the Hall’s first-ever unanimous inductee leading the way.

Longtime Yankees closer Mariano Rivera became the first player to be named on every single ballot, breaking the percentage record of 99.3 set three years ago by Ken Griffey Jr. Rivera is joined by the late Roy Halladay – also in his first year on the ballot – as well as career Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez in his last year of eligibility and longtime starting pitcher Mike Mussina. The two committee additions are Lee Smith and Harold Baines.

Published in Sports

One of the most influential authors in the history of sports writing has died.

Jim Bouton, author of the seminal baseball book “Ball Four,” passed away last week at the age of 80. He was a tireless evangelist for the game that he loved … even during the decades in which his book meant that the game didn’t love him back.

“Ball Four” hit bookstores in 1970, a book that explored the world of major league baseball from the inside in a manner utterly unlike anything the public had ever seen. Bouton’s voice was brutally honest and hilariously funny, exposing readers to the true inner workings of the game for the first time.

What separated “Ball Four” from the sports-related books that preceded it was that honesty. Bouton pulled back the curtain of mythology that had long surrounded the game and its players. This book was not saccharine feel-good pap or legend-building. There was none of the hagiography or cronyism that marked baseball writing to that point. It showed fans the truth, warts and all.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 02 July 2019 22:56

A baseball fiction starting nine

Baseball is the most literary of sports.

There are any number of possible reasons – the pastoral origins of the game, the gentle pace, the devotion to history, the lauded figures of the past – but it’s tough to argue that of all our shared athletic endeavors, baseball is the one that has inspired the most ink to be spilled.

Fictional exploration of the game has been going on for decades, with some of the most gifted writers of numerous generations choosing to introduce baseball into their pages. Some use it as a tertiary or tangential element, while others use it as a story’s centralizing, guiding force.

And so, in honor of the upcoming All-Star Game and the full-on onset of summer, here’s a list of a few works of baseball fiction. Some are well-known works, while others are more marginal. It’s far from an exhaustive list – there’s far more great stuff out there – but here’s a lineup’s worth to get you started.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 02 July 2019 22:54

Red Sox Report Card - June 2019

With the actual halfway point of the MLB season behind us – and the unofficial halfway point that is the All-Star Game just a few days away – things are looking … OK?

June could have been worse; the team managed a 15-12 record over the span of the month. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough to keep pace with the division leaders; July 1 saw the Red Sox behind both the Tampa Bay Rays and the division-leading New York Yankees, who held a double-digit lead over Boston.

Still, there were bright spots. The team’s offense performed admirably over the course of the month. But the pitching staff struggled to hold up their end, resulting in a stretch of results that were above-average, but only just.

It was a solid month, but solid isn’t going to cut it if the Red Sox want a chance to become the first back-to-back champions of the 21st century. Let’s have a closer look, shall we?

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports

It’s that time of year when everyone is on the lookout for their next summer read. And what could be better for a summer read than a story that involves the summer game?

Linda Holmes – perhaps best known as the host of NPR’s excellent “Pop Culture Happy Hour” podcast – has written her first novel. Titled “Evvie Drake Starts Over” (Ballantine Books; $26), it’s the story of two people, each lost in their own way, finding solace in one another’s unexpected company – solace that begins as friendship, but gradually develops into something else.

It’s a charming and engaging story that also proves willing to look at loss and how that can mean different things to different people. The way we mourn – and what we choose to mourn – can vary wildly. Sometimes we wish to be helped. Sometimes we wish to be held. And sometimes, we simply wish to be left alone.

Published in Style
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