Book Review of Homegrown: How the Red Sox Built a Champion from the Ground Up

Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, Jackie Bradley Jr. Ask any Red Sox fan who these guys are and they’ll tell you about some of the best ballplayers who ever donned a Red Sox uniform. But where did the Red Sox find these players? How long were they in the Red Sox farm system? The answers to those questions and more are found in Homegrown: How the Red Sox Built a Champion from the Ground Up by Boston Globe sportswriter Alex Speier. Speier’s book tells the story of how the Red Sox rebuilt themselves to win in 2018. It was a task that involved Dave Dombrowski’s guidance, Alex Cora’s managing skills, and Mookie Betts’ talent.

It was only a matter of time until someone wrote a book about the Boston Red Sox’sred sox built historic 2018 season. After amassing 108 regular season victories, the Red Sox went on to defeat the Houston Astros and New York Yankees in the post season. They then vanquished the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series in five games. But how did the Red Sox capture another World Series title just three years after finishing at the bottom of the standings two years in a row (2014-2015)? Careful planning, and thorough scouting, among other reasons.

The Red Sox Built a Championship Despite Individual and Team Setbacks

Speier discusses how the Red Sox front office took it one step at a time to groom who they thought would become future stars. The book discusses how some prospects didn’t work out, like Rusney Castillo. Castillo has lingered in the minors for years despite singing a $72.5 million contract in 2014. Then there were others like Yoan Moncada and Michael Kolpech. Despite promising performances, both were traded to the Chicago White Sox as part of a deal to obtain Chris Sale. There’s Mookie Betts. The 2018 MVP almost quit his baseball career after an initial poor start to his professional season. One of the best parts of the book is how Speier discusses Jackie Bradley Jr.’s progression through the Red Sox organization. Anyone who has paid attention to the centerfielder knows JBJ doesn’t have the strongest bat in the American League. Sometimes he’s on fire at the plate but those times are few and far in between. Speier’s discussion of JBJ’s ups and downs throughout his career answered many questions I, and may other Sox fans, have about why the Red Sox have kept him around for so long. It is these stories that Speier successfully weaves together to tell the story of the 2018 season.

The Red Sox Built a Team By Meeting the Challenges of Picking Promising Prospects

Readers will notice how Homegrown: How the Red Sox Built a Champion from the Ground Up doesn’t flow the way books written by more established baseball writers do. That detail, however, doesn’t mean it’s not good. Speier takes a direct and clear approach to his writing where the reader is provided with complex information. This information involves how baseball drafts work, what goes into offering a big league contract, and how and why that prospect doesn’t always work out. Speier succeeds in clarifying these details in a readable way. He also discusses why teams like the Red Sox make risky moves when offering big money to teenage prospects with the hope they’ll pay off. At face value, those moves may seem reckless and impulsive. Speier, however, explains the thought process behind such moves with concise information that makes it easy for anyone to understand and appreciate the challenges that come with trying to build a winning team.

Homegrown is One of the Better Baseball Books of the Year

Homegrown: How the Red Sox Built a Champion from the Ground Up has received strong reviews from baseball writers and reviewers alike. In fact, it was recently listed as a Top Ten Finalist for the 2020 Casey Award. This award is ranked among the highest for the best baseball book of the year. While making the list is quite the honor, it’s unfortunate that the list also didn’t include a book about the 1969 New York Mets, whose own victory in the World Series was nothing short of a miracle. I mention this because listing Homegrown alongside a book about the 1969 Mets would have only enhanced the Red Sox’s story. Readers familiar with Mets history would appreciate the efforts that the Red Sox undertook. The 1969 Mets and 2018 Red Sox were quite different teams. They also share many similarities though that would make readers and baseball fans better appreciate the lengths to which the Red Sox went to for a World Championship. I suggest reading After the Miracle by Art Shamsky and Erik Sherman if you want a comparable book to read about successful baseball seasons that involve long term grooming of promising talent.

Baseball Hall of Fame Class Announced

Tuesday was a very important day for those looking to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Names such as Derek Jeter and Josh Beckett entered their first year on the ballot, while Colorado Rockies legend Larry Walker was waiting to see if he finally made it in after ten years.

The announcement came shortly after 6pm on Tuesday night. Both Derek Jeter and LarryBaseball Hall of Fame Walker will be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2020.

Walker’s Long Wait into the Hall of Fame Paid Off

In what was his 10th and final year on the ballot, Rockies legend Larry Walker is finally going into the Hall of Fame. The 53 year old Canadian joins Fergie Jenkins as the second Canadian inducted into Cooperstown. Throughout his career, Walker played for the Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies, and St Louis Cardinals. He is a 5-time All Star, 7-time Gold Glove Award winner, 3-time batting champion, and 3-time Silver Slugger Award winner. Walker has a lifetime batting average of .313, with 2,160 hits, and 383 home runs.

Walker, who wore the number 33 throughout his career, will have his number retired by the Colorado Rockies on April 19th. Like many professional athletes, Walker is superstitious of the number 3. Not only did he wear the number 33, but he was married on November 3rd at 3:33PM. Also, with his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he is the 333rd inductee.

The Captain Joins Other Yankee Legends in the Baseball Hall of Fame

From Babe Ruth to Mariano Rivera, many Yankee legends have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now, Derek Jeter has joined them. After receiving 99.7% of the votes, Jeter will be inducted alongside Larry Walker in Cooperstown. It’s no surprise that Jeter got voted in. Many are surprised that he wasn’t voted in unanimously like Mariano Rivera was last year. Jeter had an amazing career as a New York Yankee. The 45 year old from New Jersey has a career batting average of .310, with 3,465 hits, 260 home runs and 1,311 RBI’s.

Jeter also was a 5-time World Series Champion, and World Series MVP in 2000. He was American League Rookie of the Year in 1996, 5-time Gold Glove winner, 5-time Silver Slugger Award winner, 2-time Hank Aaron Award winner and won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2009. The captain had his number 2 retired by the Yankees on May 14th 2017, joining the long list of retired numbers by the Yankees. He was also honored at the Yankees Monument Park. The current CEO of the Miami Marlins, Jeter continues to stay connected to the baseball world. Now, he will forever be connected to it.

Former Red Sox Players on the Ballot

After the announcement on Tuesday, many former players will have to wait another year to get the call. One of those is former Red Sox pitcher, Curt Schilling. On his 8th ballot, Schilling only received 70% of the votes, 5% shy of the necessary 75%. Other former Red Sox pitcher, Roger Clemens received 61% of the votes on his 8th ballot. Billy Wagner (5th ballot) received 31.7%, while Manny Ramirez (4th ballot) received 28.2%.

First time Red Sox players on the ballot, Brad Penny, Carlos Pena and Josh Beckett didn’t meet the required 5% to move onto the next ballot. Therefore, they are ineligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame.

The 2021 Ballot

The 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has a lot of first timer on it, including two former Red Sox players. Some notable players are Mark Buehrle, AJ Burnett, Torii Hunter, Nick Swisher and Barry Zito. Former Red Sox players Shane Victorino and Adam Laroche are also first timers on the ballot. If I were to predict who would get the call in 2021, it would be Schilling, Torii Hunter and Mark Buehrle.

While the baseball world is preparing for the 2020 season, it’s hard not to think about the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the legends who are enshrined. This year and next year’s inductions will be interesting to watch.

Alex Cora Out As Manager of the Red Sox

I never thought that I would see the day that Alex Cora was not at the helm of the Red Sox. The now former manager of the Red Sox is joining A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow in the unemployment line. Following MLB’s report on the cheating scandal, the commissioner suspended Hinch and Luhnow for one season, and took away draft picks for the Astros for 2020 and 2021. The Commissioner’s office is now focusing on the Red Sox. With Alex Cora out now, it’s only a matter of time to see what will happen to Boston.

Just one day after the Astros fired Hinch and Luhnow, the Red Sox mutually parted waysalex cora out with Alex Cora. The Red Sox are now without a manager to begin 2020. Plus, the Red Sox are waiting to see the commissioner’s report regarding the sign stealing that occurred during the 2018 season.

All Signs Pointed to Cora

Not too long ago, former Astros and current ‘s pitcher, Mike Fiers, sat for an interview and claimed the 2017 Houston Astros were stealing signs. From there, the baseball world learned about the banging of trash cans and the real use for the centerfield camera. It was only a matter of time before names were named. One name was Alex Cora. Not long after the Astros won the World Series, their first in franchise history, the Red Sox named Cora their new manager. He went onto lead the team to 108 regular season wins, and won the 2018 World Series.

When the report came out handing down the punishment for the Astros, it mentioned that the bench coach knew what was going on, and assisted in the sign stealing. The report mentioned that the team used the video review room, and alerted batters to pitches by banging on a trash can. The report mentioned that Alex Cora was the mastermind behind it, and many players followed suite.

As far as the Red Sox side of things, it looks like they used the replay room to steal signs during the 2018 season. No trash cans, no baseball bats, and no centerfield camera. Just a replay video room, and only three players admitted it. As far as the mastermind behind that, nobody knows. All we know is that MLB is doing an investigation into it, and it’s only a matter of time before a punishment is handed out.

The Reality of Sign Stealing

This isn’t the first time that teams have stolen signs. People accused the Yankees back in 2015. Back in 2001, members of the New York Giants stated that they stole signs during the 1951 season, most notably against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the famous Game Three when Bobby Thomson homered off Ralph Branca to push the Giants into the World Series. Unless teams or players get caught, there is no way of knowing who knows what.

Sign stealing evolved over time. Technology helped teams steal signs and get ahead in the game. It’s not just a Red Sox or an Astros problem, it’s a Major League Baseball problem. Now with this report out, only time will tell what will happen going forward. The Red Sox will know their fate soon enough.

With Alex Cora Out, Who Will Be the Next Manager of the Red Sox?

With Cora out, and spring training around the corner, the big question is, who will be the next manager of the Red Sox? Many names have been floating around, from Jason Varitek, to Buck Showalter. For Chaim Bloom, this is going to be a tough decision, and one that everyone is going to be watching.

One name that keeps popping up is Ron Roenicke. For the past two seasons, he has been the Red Sox bench coach, and has experience managing a ballclub. Prior to Boston, he was a coach for the Angels and Dodgers. He was also the manager for the Milwaukee Brewers from 2011 to 2015. Roenicke has a record of 342 wins and 331 losses in 673 managerial games.

Shoeless Joe Jackson vs. Hugh Fullerton

One hundred years have passed since sportswriter Hugh Fullerton wrote about eight members of the Chicago White Sox who took money from organized gambler Arnold Rothstein to throw the 1919 World Series. It was a scandal that almost destroyed the game of baseball. Older White Sox fans, many of them still weary from the devastating effects of World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic that wiped out 30 million people world wide, could hardly process what the eight Black Sox players had done. Young White Sox fans took it even harder as they felt betrayed by their heroes. While the swift punishment handed down by newly minted baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis a year later helped ensure that the game did not meet its demise, the scandal still devastated baseball, and the country. The effect was so tremendous that F. Scott Fitzgerald referenced it in the American classic The Great Gatsby. “It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people–with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.”

Born out of that scandal was folk hero “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the eight playersfullerton3 who accepted money from gamblers to throw the series. He had a .375 batting average, 12 RBIs, and hit the series’ only home run in the World Series. These stats, along with making no errors, makes scholars and fans alike question whether he tried to throw the series. Regardless of how well he played, the fact remains that he did take the gamblers money. In fact,  during the 1919 World Series, he inquired on a daily basis about whether he’d get his entire share of the payoff. Despite these details, W.P. Kinsella romanticized Jackson in the novel Shoeless Joe, as well as the subsequent film, Field of Dreams. These forms of media appeal to the emotion of baseball fans who believe in Jackson’s innocence. “He continues to be Shoeless Joe,” says Charles Fountain, a professor of journalism and baseball writer who wrote The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball in 2015, “…the guy in the cornstalks.”

Why Do We Give Shoeless Joe Jackson a Pass?

While it’s easy to fall prey to these appeals for compassion, it’s just as easy to forget that Jackson was one of eight players who tainted the integrity of the game. So why do we give Shoeless Joe Jackson a pass? This question is as relevant today as it was in 1919. In fact, those who suspected that the World Series was fixed, like writer Hugh Fullerton, tried to tell people like White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, as well as other writers, only to be all but shunned from the game for the rest of his career. So why do fans today raise Cain about injustices against Jackson and ignore Fullerton? Why is Jackson seen as a hero and Fullerton seen as a villain?

Hugh Fullerton Blows the Whistle

Let’s rehash the details first. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox, Shoeless Joe Jackson included, accepted payment to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Hugh Fullerton heard rumors of the fix and sat with New York Giants pitching legend Christy Mathewson in the press box during the World Series to discuss. Together they noted certain suspicious plays for which a White Sox player was charged with an error. They later scrutinized these plays and came to the conclusion that they weren’t honest errors. The White Sox lost the series and the season ended. In December of 1919, Fullerton’s writing blows the scandal wide open. In a story published in the New York World entitled “IS BIG LEAGUE BASEBALL BEING RUN FOR GAMBLERS, WITH BALLPLAYERS IN THE DEAL?” Fullerton demanded that baseball investigate its gambling problem. Jackson, along with the other seven players, stood trial for their crimes and all are acquitted despite their confessions. Landis, now commissioner of baseball, banned the eight players for life anyway. “Regardless of the verdict of juries,” Landis declared, “no player that throws a ballgame; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.” Jackson dies in 1951, having never played professional baseball again (unless you count Field of Dreams).

Myths and Legends Born Out of Falsities

Three years ago I sat down with Charles Fountain to discuss Jackson and the 1919 Black Sox legacy. Fountain’s book, The Betrayal, a nominee for the 2015 Casey Award, challenges many of the assumptions that baseball fans have about the 1919 World Series, most of which derive from Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out that for many years fans took for gospel. For example, Comiskey allegedly promised Eddie Cicotte, one of the eight players involved in the scandal, a $10,000 bonus if he won 30 games during the 1919 season. When Cicotte won his twenty-eighth game, Comiskey ordered Cicotte benched so he wouldn’t have to give him the bonus. Fountain alleges that this isn’t a true story. Not only did Cicotte consistently pitch throughout the season, but there is no evidence in his contract showing that he was ever going to receive a bonus. Then there’s the story that gamblers threatened Lefty Williams when he tried to renege on the deal. The problem with this story is that Williams wasn’t in Chicago at the time that this alleged threat happened. “Asimov was such a beautiful writer,” Fountain said about the famed author during our 2015 talk, “but was not concerned with fact but instead with story.”

Many Fans Don’t Know the Real Details of the 1919 World Series

Most baseball fans aren’t aware of these new insights unless they’ve read Fountain’s book. It is difficult to say how much it would matter though if baseball fans better knew that information. We live in a time where people more readily accept perception over fact, a behavior fueled by impulsive reactions instead of tempered insight. For many baseball fans, Shoeless Joe Jackson represents an idea that one’s sins shouldn’t be held against them indefinitely, especially if their actions defy the very sins they’re accused of committing. For other baseball fans, Jackson is a cause they can rally around to feel good about themselves. Jackson is “sort of wrong victim,” Fountain explains “…and if you take that away you end the story, while it’s a happy resolution for the Jackson people, we then stop talking about it.” So if baseball fans feel that Jackson was slighted, then why don’t they feel the same way about Fullerton, who tried in vain to call attention to the fix? “…if Fullerton had grown disillusioned with the game,” Fountain wrote in The Betrayal, “the game had grown disillusioned with him too, as he was made to feel unwelcome by many who believed he had broken some sort of unspoken code by writing his December 1919 stories, that his fealty to the image of the game should have trumped his fealty to his readers and the truth.”

Fullerton’s Role and Contributions to the Story

Journalist Steven M. Klein wrote his master’s thesis on Hugh Fullerton at Michigan Statefullerton University focusing on a complex man of high morals. Klein details how Fullerton upbringing in Ohio and how McGuffey’s Readers guided his education. William H. McGuffey’s books reflected Protestant ideals that focused on morality, integrity, and education. These books profoundly impacted scientists and doctors because they encouraged critical thinking over rote memorization. Fullerton used these books as a basis for his own moral beliefs throughout his career. One of the ideas that the McGuffey books conveyed to its readers included components of integrity and honesty. Fullerton held these ideas in such high regard that one could argue that they influenced Fullerton to speak out about the 1919 Black Sox scandal. He believed that staying quiet about what he noticed about the 1919 World Series contradicted the beliefs he valued.

Gambling in America’s Victorian Era

Fullerton grew up towards the tale end of the Victorian Era in America and was working full time at the dawn of the 20th century. During this time gambling was becoming more and more rampant in baseball, as well as in general society, which challenged a Victorian-based belief system that valued integrity and honesty. Fullerton was a descendent of that era, and was likely one of the few still clinging to these ideas. So many others sports writers had become accustomed to American disillusionment in post-World War I America that it makes sense that they didn’t want to hear Fullerton’s ramblings about the disintegration of morality and honesty in baseball. As Klein writes, “The game needed to mirror America’ perception of itself as a foursquare land of equal opportunity and limitless possibilities.” Hugh Fullerton’s exposure of the 1919 Black Sox scandal exposed this idea as a falsity.

Hugh Fullerton Received No Recognition for his Role, Only Admonishment

Fullerton was later blackballed from the sports writing world because he had refused to look the other way with the 1919 Black Sox scandal. As a scientist and stats guy, he knew that what the eight White Sox players did was not only wrong, but a major insult to what we know recognize as sabermetrics. “The Black Sox scandal provided sports writers of the time with a unique challenge…but only one was up to it,” Klein writes, “What separated Fullerton, however, was his willingness to write about it while others remained silent.”

Why Doesn’t Anyone Remember or Recognize Hugh Fullerton?

So why don’t baseball fans recognize Fullerton’s contributions to the game, particularly his involvement in the Black Sox scandal? One possible explanation is that he kept people from relying on their willful ignorance; Hugh Fullerton ruined the “ignorance is bliss” excuse for fans, writers, and owners who didn’t want to hear anymore bad news in the wake of the decade’s devastating events. While some might find it hard to blame them, it brings unavoidable attention to the contradiction showing unwavering devotion to a self-admitted crook like Jackson. It also shows an intense resentment towards a man of integrity like Fullerton. Why though? Is it because Jackson’s story is one that gives baseball fans a modicum of hope that he wasn’t a crook rather than a great baseball player? An illiterate man exploited by gamblers? Do fans hope that their own sins may find forgiveness too? Or is it because films like Field of Dreams, a film that symbolizes a bond between father and son so strong that fans confuse its emotional bond with truth? Do fans point to Field of Dreams and say “How can you condemn Shoeless Joe Jackson when he was such an amazing character in the movie?” Regardless of how great of a baseball movie it is (I’ll admit that I love it too), it’s ridiculous to cite it as anything more than a fictitious feel-good movie. It’s not a basis of fact. Jackson willingly accepted Rothstein’s money. It doesn’t matter how well he played in the 1919 World Series.

Does Shoeless Joe Jackson Deserve Induction into the Hall of Fame?

Fans that advocate for Jackson’s removal from baseball’s lifetime ban list should askfullerton2 themselves whether they want him removed for the right reasons. Do they want him removed because of his ban, or so they can feel better about themselves? If it’s the former, then they must also recognize Hugh Fullerton, for he was the writer who tried to preserve the integrity that Jackson’s supporters argue Landis took from him. Does Jackson deserve induction into the Hall of Fame? Probably. But that can’t happen without simultaneously recognizing Fullerton too. For some fans though, that might not be a compromise they want, as it would mean recognizing the sins they’re trying to excuse.

The 115th Edition of the Fall Classic

The 115th edition of the Fall Classic is finally set to go. For the National League, the Washington Nationals will be in their first fall classic, while the American League Champions the Houston Astros will be looking for their second championship in three years. The first game is set to take place on Tuesday night in Houston.

This series will be one nobody should miss. From dominate pitchers to the offensivefall classic abilities of both teams, this will be one to remember. While the Nationals have had about a week off before starting the fall classic, Jose Altuve walked it off against the Yankees on Saturday night. Let’s take a look at both teams before the first pitch is thrown, shall we?

Looking At The Fall Classic

The first game of the 2019 World Series is set for Tuesday night at 8:08pm at Minute Maid Park. The Nationals will have Max Scherzer going in the first game, followed by Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. For Houston, It’ll be Gerrit Cole for game one, followed by Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke.

For the Astros, this will be their third trip to the World Series. As a member of the National League, they lost in 2005 to the Chicago White Sox. They went back in 2017 as a member of the American League, and beat the LA Dodgers in seven games. Now, here they are once again looking for the teams next title. As for the Nationals, this is the team’s first run at the World Series since moving from Montreal. The last Washington team to win the World Series was the Washington Senators in 1924. The team was relocated to Minnesota in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins.

The Washington Nationals Look For First Title

After sweeping the Cardinals at Nationals Park, the Washington Nationals sent DC into a playoff frenzy. Not too long ago, both the Washington Capitals and the Washington Mystics celebrated Championships. Now, the Nationals are four wins away from having another parade in the Nation’s Capitol.

Between their offense, and their talented rotation of Scherzer, Strasberg and Corbin, they will be the team to beat. They’ve overcome a lot in the postseason so far, and look to continue DC’s success at bringing home championships. The team’s first home game is on Friday, and Nationals Park will surely be packed with Nationals fans ready to sing the ever popular song, Baby Shark.

Houston’s Looking For Their Second Championship

It took all of six games to defeat the Yankees, and the Astros are four wins away from winning their second Championship in team history. After winning in 2017, they came close last year, but were defeated by the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. Now, they look to reclaim the trophy. First, they need to beat the Nationals, who have a lot to prove.

In the offseason, they acquired Gerrit Cole, and then acquired Zack Greinke at the trade deadline. With these two acquisitions in their rotation, they have been a dominate force in the American League. After winning the World Series in 2017, they kept most of their team, and they have been producing ever since.

World Series Prediction

I have the Nationals winning in seven games. Yes, the Astros have a great core group that was there when they won in 2017. However, the stats seem to side more with DC. The Nationals weren’t supposed to make it this far. Now, after beating the Dodgers and Cardinals, here they are. It’ll be a fun and historic series, there’s no doubt about it. Still, I see a parade in DC. Sorry Houston, you may have a problem in this series.