In yesterday’s post I gave the definitive reasons why Curt Schilling will not be Senator from Massachusetts. But it got me thinking. What if our next United States Senator had to come from the ranks of former Red Sox pitchers?
To start you can just eliminate some guys. There are certain Sox pitchers, mostly relievers, that just have no chance with the electorate: B.K. Kim, Calvin Schiraldi, Mike Torrez (remember Bucky Dent? I do, I was there!), Curtis Leskanic, “Heathcliff” Slocum are just a few of the many that spring to mind. There are just too many painful memories there.
And when I think back on the starters it doesn’t get much better, because the Red Sox management in my early years of fandom believed you could win pennants by stacking the line-up with hitters and pretty much let the pitching take care of itself. They were wrong. So there are guys from that era that did a pretty good job, but just don’t have that much name-recognition anymore like Dave Morehead, Dick Drago, Reggie Cleveland, Rick Wise, “Oil Can Boyd,” Roger Moret, and Bruce Hurst.
And we can’t count pitchers who came to us late in their careers, but made their reputations in other towns. Tom Seaver is a Met, Frank Tanana is an Angel, Bret Saberhagen is a Royal, Mike Boddicker is an Oriole, and Frank Viola is a Twin. They may have played for the Red Sox, but it’s just not their team.
So who else is there? Let us think big. When you think of iconic Red Sox pitchers the first name that comes to mind is Cy Young. He has great name recognition, with the eponymous award and all, but he died in 1955, and nobody except Strom Thurmond ever served in the Senate when he was dead, and Thurmond was alive when he was first elected, so that rules out Cy Young. Same thing for Babe Ruth; sorry Babe, most folks don’t even remember that you were once a pitcher, and a good one at that. Actually, most people don’t remember that you ever played for the Red Sox, but we don’t want to get into that.
There are some other high name-recognition guys, but they all have fatal flaws. Jim Lonborg, the star of the 1967 Series (although we lost) is probably not remembered by the younger generation. Besides, he went to Tufts Dental School and became a dentist after retiring, and why be a Senator when you can be a dentist; the pay is better.
Roger Clemens was once very popular with the voters, I mean fans, but now is universally scorned in New England for committing the unpardonable sin, and I don’t mean the doping. And he is so from Texas.
Pedro Martinez was about as good as it gets for several years with the Sox. The dominant (and Dominican) was 117-37 (not a missprint) for his career with them, although marred by the infamous Grady Little 100 pitch non-decision. The non-citizen thing might be a problem, plus going to New York (even if it was to the Mets).
guy that would probably make a good senator is Bill Lee. The former left-handed pitcher, nicknamed “Spaceman,” is articulate and has outspoken views on most subjects. He once said
So that leaves me with the last, best, obvious choice. Yes, you guessed it, Dennis Eckersley! Hall of Famer Eck had two smoking seasons with the Red Sox in 1978 (20 wins) and 1979 (17 wins), but then, frankly, he was pretty bad until he left in 1984 when he was traded for Bill Buckner (Oh, the irony!).
Eck never really had it again as a starter, but in 1987 he got traded to the Oakland Athletics and Manager Tony La Russa used him as a long reliever. When closer Jay Howell became injured Eck filled in and never looked back. He won the AL Cy Young award as a reliever in 1992 as well as the MVP. He ended his career with 390 saves and went straight to the Hall of Fame. Most Sox fans forget how bad he was here toward the end, and those like me who remember have forgiven him long ago. So we can all feel good about this extraordinary Red Sox reliever who is in the Hall of Fame, even though he wasn’t a reliever for the Red Sox. Eckersley is the final proof that F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong when he said, “There are no second acts in American lives.”
Today as a commentator for NESN Eck is extremely popular with the fans, and he even lives in Massachusetts (although he is such a California dude). He is smart, funny and articulate. He does have his own unique lingo and likes to coin new words or use old ones in new ways. He coined the term “walk-off home run” after Kirk Gibson victimized him in the 1988 World Series.
I can imagine him in the Senate kibitzing with Al Franken, saying something like, “Wow, that new Senate Environmental Bill is hard cheese with hair on it!” It’s true that he might not want the job, or move to Washington, since it would cut into his golf time, but it never hurts to ask. People should approach him and see if he is interested.
If we have to have a Former Red Sox pitcher for United States Senator I vote for Eck.
Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling told the New England Cable Network that he had been contacted by people seeking to recruit him to enter the race to fill the vacant Massachusetts senate seat to succeed the late Senator Edward Kennedy, and that he hadn’t ruled out the possibility. Now I truly admire Curt Schilling, and will never forget his performance in game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees, when his victory forced a game 7, allowing the Red Sox to become the first team in history to come back from a 0-3 deficit, and go to their first World Series since 1986. This was the first “bloody sock” game; the second was in game 2 of the World Series, which Schilling also won, and the Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918. So Schilling is much beloved by Red Sox fans here in New England, and much admired for his charity work, but he will never be senator and here’s why:
Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling told the New England Cable Network that he had been contacted by people seeking to recruit him to enter the race to fill the vacant Massachusetts senate seat to succeed the late Senator Edward Kennedy, and that he hadn’t ruled out the possibility.
Now I truly admire Curt Schilling, and will never forget his performance in game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees, when his victory forced a game 7, allowing the Red Sox to become the first team in history to come back from a 0-3 deficit, and go to their first World Series since 1986. This was the first “bloody sock” game; the second was in game 2 of the World Series, which Schilling also won, and the Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918. So Schilling is much beloved by Red Sox fans here in New England, and much admired for his charity work, but he will never be senator and here’s why:
Get out your old Etta James LP, put it on your turntable, and go to her iconic song “At Last,” because Jim Rice is being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown tomorrow, and it’s about time.
This settles years of heated arguments among the citizens of Red Sox Nation, in bar-rooms and around dining-room tables, about whether this would, or should, ever happen.
My son Andrew, who is one of my best friends and has many admirable qualities, has been arguing with me for years that Rice isn’t Hall material. The basis for his position is the tyranny of something called Jamesian statistical analysis, which crunches numbers in new and interesting ways.
But Andrew is innocent of actually ever having seen Jim Rice play, and my argument was based on the old-fashion method of being thrilled to watch a superb athlete on your team come up to bat, something I was privileged to see many a time in the late 70’s and 80’s.
The critics say Rice didn’t have the numbers, that he hit into too many double plays, that he struck out too much, that his career wasn’t long enough, that he wasn’t a great fielder. He did hit into too many double plays, because he hit the ball so hard he couldn’t beat out the throw. And he did strike out a lot, because he had a big swing (so did Babe Ruth). And he didn’t start out as a great fielder in the tricky Fenway left-field, but he became one.
But I’ll give you some numbers: a life-time batting average just under 300 (298); 382 home runs; 1, 451 RBI’s; 8 times on the All-Star team; 2 Silver slugger awards; 1978 AL MVP.
He came up to the big leagues in 1975 with another rookie, Fred Lynn, and the two, nicknamed “the Gold Dust Twins,” set Boston ablaze with their exploits. Lynn ended the season as Rookie of the Year and AL MVP. It could just have well been Rice, who came in second in the ROTY voting and third in the MVP voting. Hit by a pitch in the final week of the season he missed the spectacular ‘75 World Series that the Sox lost in seven games to the Reds. Sox fans have always wondered what the outcome would have been if Rice had played.
In 1978, a year I went to far too many games at Fenway, including the final tragic play-off game against the Yankees when Bucky Dent hit the winning home run into the Green Monster, Rice was about as good as it ever gets. He hit 3.15, and led the league in triples, home runs and RBI’s, the only player to ever do that in the same season.
Rice came to Boston during a time of great racial tension, and played for a team whose management at the time was not known for its advanced views (not to put too fine a point on it.) He was a proud and dignified man, who developed an awkward relationship with the Boston sports press, perhaps the most knowledgeable (and arrogant) in the country. He replaced Carl Yastrzemski, a Boston icon, who had himself replaced Ted Williams, in left field. The comparisons were daily and got under his skin. He stopped talking to certain reporters, some of whom got to vote for the Hall of Fame, and this, in my view, delayed his entry.
But he put up amazing numbers in the pre-steroid era, and was the most feared batter in the game for many years. And I saw him play in many a game, and I can testify that his coming to bat brought energy and anticipation to the Fenway faithful.
This was his last year of eligibility, and a great injustice has been avoided by his induction. I’m glad to see him in the Hall of Fame, where he surely deserves to be. At last!
This year my team, the Boston Red Sox, had six players on the American League team (one, last year’s MVP Dustin Pedroia, couldn’t attend because his wife is under medical observation for her pregnancy.) But it was a thrill to see Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis get hits, and closer Jonathan Papelbon get a 1-2-3 out inning and get the win (as it will appear in the record books, but those who watched it felt like he thought he was pitching for Home Run Derby, which was the night before.) One of my favorites, 42 year-old knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield, didn’t get to pitch, but he was there for the first time after 17 seasons in the big leagues. Part of the fun is seeing your team’s players showcased to the world in the big game. And as a Red Sox fan, I had plenty to be happy about.
It wasn’t always thus. My Dad, Larry Floyd, was a New York Giant’s fan (our family always hated the Yankees), and had his baseball heart broken when they were moved to San Francisco. I watched a number of All-Star Games with my Dad in my early days, the era of Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Stan Musiel, all National League All-Stars.
Baseball in America is a rite of passage for many fathers and sons, and it was for me and my Dad. Baseball was a bond between us. He taught me to throw and catch and hit. We would play catch for a half-hour when he got home from work in the evening before it got dark. He would loft the ball way over my head to see if I could run it down and catch it. I always liked to show off my speed and ability to my Dad, and these are happy memories. And we watched All-Star games together. He would talk of the greats he had seen play that were recently out of the game like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, the “Splendid Splinter” as he called him (my Dad was from Boston).
But the first team that I was really emotionally involved with was the New York Mets, an expansion team that came into the National League in 1962 after the Giants (and the Dodgers) left New York in 1957. I was 13 years old in 1962, and that is prime-time for a boy to be a fan. The Mets were an endearing team, but found more ways to lose games than one can imagine. They had been put together from the casts-offs of other teams, and were called the “loveable losers.” The first run scored against them came on a balk when pitcher Roger Craig dropped the ball during his wind-up. They lost their first nine games and finished with a 40-120 record. Not a team to put a lot of guys on the All-Star Team.
So it was a big thrill for me when in 1964 the Mets hosted the All-Star Game at their new stadium (Shea Stadium, just replaced), and their second-baseman Ron Hunt was named to the All-Star Game. In true Met’s style Hunt’s best-known offensive weapon was being able to be hit by a pitch. I watched that All-Star game with my Dad, too.
I headed off to Iowa for college in 1967 and never saw the Met’s get good, which they did, for in 1969 they won the World Series against a strong Baltimore Orioles Team.
I don’t remember many All-Star games from my college years, since I was busy changing the world, stopping the war and bringing in peace, love and understanding. I went to a few Cubs games at Wrigley Field with friends, but they never became my team.
That would happen in my next move, to Boston in 1971 to go to seminary at Andover Newton Theological School. The Red Sox had recently captivated their fans with a trip to the World Series in 1967, and had a bona-fide big star in Carl Yastrzemski , the last man to hit for the Triple Crown (hits, home runs, and RBIs). In the 1970 All-Star game, Yaz got four hits and was named MVP.
I became a big Red Sox fan. I could take the Green Line trolley to Fenway Park and buy a cheap ticket and sit in the bleachers. My college friend Eric Thompson worked for a local TV station where he had contact with the players, and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I went to many games during my four years in Boston.
My next All-Star memory involves my younger brother Bill. I graduated from seminary in 1975, and that summer drove all over New England seeking my first ministerial call. My brother moved in with me for the summer at the parsonage of the Smithfield Monthly Meeting of Friends in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, where I had been the student pastor for the previous year. I was 26 and trying to be a responsible adult and get my first real job. Bill was 21 and looking for a party.
Some friends of his had invited him (and me) to go camping with them on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. So we drove down to Wood’s Hole to catch the ferry, and that is how I came to be in a bar watching the All-Star game when Yaz came in as a pinch hitter. I remember he was facing Tom Seaver, the dominant Mets’ (remember them) pitcher. Yaz got up without a batting helmet, and took the first pitch out of the yard for a three-run homer. This little packed Massachusetts bar went bananas (although the American League went on to lose, as they usually did in those years.) I also remember that we slept on the beach waiting for the morning ferry and were eaten alive by sand fleas.
My next All-Star game memory is 1983. My Dad had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and the surgery had left him without speech and in a wheel chair. My wife, Martha, and I had gone down to the Jersey Shore to be with him on what were to be his last days. He couldn’t speak, but I sat next to him in his wheelchair and watched part of the All-Star Game. I don’t remember anything about it, except the feeling that the big wheel of life had made some more turns, and here I was with this once strong man as his life was leaving him. The father and son baseball bond had never needed words. The next day, July 14, I took a break to go swimming at the beach, and when I came out of the water, Martha was waiting for me, and I knew he was gone.
Since then I have watched many an All-Star game with my son, Andrew, who is now himself a grown up. They mark the mid-point of another summer. I don’t take them for granted.