The American League East Remains a Powerhouse

Once upon a time, the American League East was baseball’s most powerful division. In the early part of this century, watching the Red Sox and Yankees battle for supremacy was exhilarating. The rivalry had never been stronger. It was Derek Jeter against Nomar Garciaparra. It was Alex Rodriguez against David Ortiz. It was Theo Epstein against the American League EastEvil Empire. Every game was crucial.

That intensity was ultimately cooled, as the Red Sox won multiple championships and old Yankee Stadium was demolished. Some of the history and passion was lost, as the other teams caught up. Tampa Bay won the division in 2008 and 2010. Baltimore rode a renaissance to the crown in 2014. Toronto even won the American League East last year, as the old duopoly was dismantled.

A New Era in the American League East

This year, in a new world order, four teams have a legitimate shot at winning the division as mid-September approaches. And while the division has changed irreparably from the halcyon days, few divisions in Major League Baseball can match the American League East for quality. It’s still by far the most difficult division to win.

 

Right now, the American League East has a combined winning percentage of .523. That’s the best in all of baseball. The National League Central is second at .505. Meanwhile, the National League East currently has a joint winning percentage of just .487 among its five teams. While romping to a playoff berth is always preferable, this may suggest a competitive advantage to whichever team eventually emerges from the American League East. That team will be more battle-tested than any other, having beaten three other teams to the crown.

The Fight for a Title

The Red Sox and Blue Jays currently sit atop the division at 77-61. Baltimore lurks just one game behind. But this is actually becoming a four-team race, because the Yankees continue to surge despite trading away three of their best players in July. The Bombers are in fourth place with a 72-65 record, just four-and-a-half games behind the leaders. That may seem like a lot at this stage, but the Yankees are closer to first place than all but one second-place team throughout baseball. Whether people like it or not, New York is in this thing, too. And that makes for a compelling finish to a bizarre season.

September is full of inter-division games. The Red Sox will play six against Toronto, seven against Baltimore, seven against New York, and three against Tampa Bay. Each division rival faces a similar schedule, with one more interleague series thrown in for some of them. Therefore, this thing could change on an almost hourly basis until the death.

With multiple games affecting the standings each night, scoreboard watching will be imperative. One streak, either positive or negative, could have massive consequences at this point, for a variety of teams. Only the best will survive, as the battle for October reaches boiling point. Let the strongest team emerge victorious.

How Will Red Sox Fans Bid “A Rod” Adieu?

In a painfully awkward press conference today, Alex Rodriguez announced he will retire. Rodriguez’s last game will be Friday, making his last full series a 3-game set at Fenway Park this week. In this day in age, baseball legends have gotten elaborate send-offs in their final go-arounds. That being said, should A Rod get legend treatment for his legendary numbers?

Let’s be clear, Rodriguez does have Hall of Fame numbers, but what does an asterisk doA Rod to a fan’s perspective? Rodriguez not only admitted to taking PED’s during his 22-year career, but also staged an extensive cover-up for the scandal. That incident earned A Rod a suspension that lasted the entirety of the 2014 season. In other words, A Rod didn’t just cheat—he raised it to an art form! He took it to a Big Apple, Yankee-esk degree that left Red Sox fans more than pleased.

How Should Fans Receive A Rod?

As he says goodbye to the game and to Red Sox fans, he should not feel welcome at Fenway Park. What Alex Rodriguez has done to the game of baseball is inexcusable and he should not be honored for it. Fenway Park should be littered with jeers and curses when #13 in gray steps up to the plate. No more of these video tributes, no gifts, just pure backlash. Being a long-time professional, it may not affect A Rod that much. That does not matter. This can show that Red Sox fans have not softened and still take pride in themselves and the game.

The way I see it, there is really no excuse to give this schmuck any sort of applause. He cheated, he lied, and he dragged baseball through the mud. To be honest, it could not have happened to a worse guy. Rodrgiuez has always been known as a bad teammate and it has showed. For all intents and purposes, he was fired by the Yankees. According to Rodriguez, Hal Steinbrenner, Yankees chairman, “reached out” to him to retire now. It is obvious that he’s lost a step with 9 home runs and 29 RBI while batting just .204 in a mere 62 games this season.

In 2014, Derek Jeter played his last ever game at Fenway. Red Sox fans cheered him on and called on him for a curtain call and deservedly so. While a Yankee, Jeter was still a terrific ambassador for the game who did always conducted himself with class. If Rodriguez receives an ovation anywhere close to that, Red Sox fans should be ashamed of themselves.

Life and Times of a Sports Journalist: Peter Abraham

Day in and day out sports journalists all over the world are providing fans and media alike with the inside scoop when it comes to our favorite teams. From trades and injuries, to getting that big interview, these men and women are on the front line’s of the professional sports world. I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with 2 of Boston’s best and Sports Journalist Peter Abrahambrightest sports journalists in the game this week— Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, and Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com.

A Massachusetts native, Peter Abraham covers the Red Sox. He joined the staff in 2009 after spending nearly 10 years in New York covering the Mets and Yankees for the Journal News.

CW: Growing up in New England and attending U-Mass Amherst, I can imagine you were pretty excited about starting your career at the Boston Globe is 2009. After being at the Journal News for almost 10 years covering the New York Mets and the New York Yankees, what kind of emotions (if any) did you have knowing you were coming back to home to cover the Boston Red Sox?

PA: My biggest emotions were leaving a newspaper that had treated me very well and given me the opportunity of a lifetime to cover baseball. The editors at the Journal News were great mentors. But the Globe was the paper I read growing up and people like Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan, and Will McDonough were why I decided to go into journalism in the first place. I would have regretted not taking the opportunity to work there. In addition, it was an opportunity to work closer to home and see my family so much more often.

CW: How would you describe the differences between your time in New York and here in Boston?

PA: Covering the teams is about the same. The Mets and Yankees beats, in my experience, are more collegial. In Boston, for whatever reason, there’s more media attacking other people in the media. I’m still not sure why that is. The faux indignation on some topics is kind of comical. The other big difference is the demographics; there are 8 million people in New York and a good chunk of them don’t care much about baseball. In Boston, the interest in baseball is much more widespread and pretty much every Red Sox fan is sure they could run the team better than the people who do. It’s great to cover a team so many people care about.

CW: When 9/11 occurred you were covering the New York Mets, and when the Boston Marathon Tragedy occurred you were here covering the Sox. Would you mind speaking about your experiences during both events?

PA: The 9-11 attacks were more of a personal experience for me. Several of my friends lost people in the towers and I covered sporting events in New York afterward, including the Braves-Mets games when Piazza dramatically homered. In the days and weeks that followed, I was switched over to the news department for some assignments in Westchester including speaking to the families of some victims. It was heartbreaking to witness the funerals and other services.The Boston Marathon attacks were odd for me because I was in Cleveland covering the Red Sox for much of what happened in the days afterwards. It was a helpless feeling because I wanted to be home. In the time since, it has been a great privilege to meet people like Jeff Bauman at Fenway Park along with some of the officers who helped bring the Tsarnaev brothers to justice. As somebody who grew up in eastern Massachusetts, it was great to see how the region responded. Covering the 2013 Sox was a memorable time because you saw up close how the team helped the city move forward.

CW: Social Media, everyone is on it. Fans, media, players. Some people have called you snarky or rude when it comes to your interaction with fans on Twitter. I can imagine you get a ton of far-fetched, ridiculous and just overall dumb tweets and emails (I’ve probably tweeted a few, apologies) how do you go about responding to people, especially the Twitter trolls?

PA: I regret my Twitter persona, I’m sarcastic in person, but more in a playful way. On Twitter, it doesn’t translate and I falsely assume people would get I was goofing around. I should just stop looking at notifications. Ideally, it would be a way to get a sense of how fans think. But Twitter has no sense of humor or humanity. It’s a haven for the irrationally angry and easily offended. The other problem is Twitter has done a terrible job of policing abusive users. Women in the media should not be subjected to the trash they receive.

CW: I read one of your blog posts about your first MLB interview with Sox manager, John McNamara. Being rewarded for your hard work and getting to cover that game, did you feel at all discouraged after Johnny Mac told you to “get the $%#& out of my office”? Did that encounter prepare you for future interviews and how you go about talking with managers and players?

PA: I was too young and idealistic to be discouraged. A few writers there also told me what a crank McNamara was and to ignore it. The rest of the day was so great I didn’t let five minutes ruins it.

CW: For anyone wanting to get involved in reporting/sports journalism, what kind of advice would you give?

PA: Be broad-minded. Learn to write and report, develop your voice and contribute to any platform you can. Video, audio, social media, print, etc. Be completely platform-agnostic. Also don’t be afraid to work your way up. I covered thousands of high school, college, and minor league games before I got a big league beat. Don’t expect everything to come your way right away.

Interview With Doug Wilson (Pudge, pt.2)

In Part 2 of Pudge, Carlton Fisk’s biography by Doug Wilson, we look at his research on the famed Red Sox catcher. By day, Wilson is an ophthalmologist, otherwise known as a eye doctor. By night, however, he’s a baseball writer. Wilson always had aspirations to write about baseball. He played in college, but said that “My GPA was higher than my batting average,” which led him to continue to medical school instead. After his two boysDoug Wilson went off to college, Wilson finally found the time to pursue his passion. He’s already published titles like The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych in 2013, and Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson in 2014.

Wilson said that his biggest challenge in writing Pudge was presenting both sides of the many conflicts Fisk endured in his career. Wilson didn’t want to make apologies for his conflicts, but wanted to present them from Fisk’s point of view. Fisk himself chose not to be interviewed for the biography because, as Wilson pointed out, he’s a private person and doesn’t particularly like the spotlight, which he said wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. When he was writing Brooks, Wilson grew to strongly admire Brooks Robinson, making it hard for Wilson to write objectively about him. Not interview Fisk helped him write a more objective biography about Fisk.

Wilson discussed how his research led him to view Fisk as a representation of New England. Fisk was born in Vermont, raised in New Hampshire, and grew up wanting to play for the Red Sox. According to Wilson, Fisk was the first to accomplish what he calls the New England Trifecta that every native wanted to accomplish. The first included Fisk making a basket on the parquet floor in the Boston Garden. The second was hitting a home run over the Green Monster at Fenway. The third was when Fisk punched Thurmond Munson,a New York Yankee, during a brawl in 1973. “Fisk’s pride as a New Englander was what endeared him to Boston.”

Doug Wilson’s Pudge Describes Duo of Fisk and “Spaceman”

As much as he loved Boston, Wilson talked about how it wasn’t enough for Fisk to overcome his conflicts with Red Sox executives. In 1980, Fisk asked that his 1981 contract reflect his performance, which was more money than general manager Haywood Sullivan wanted to spend. Citing one of his injuries, Sullivan quipped that “Fisk’s contract bothers him more than his arm” and mailed him a contract after the 1980 resigning deadline, which made Fisk a free agent. This disrespectful gesture led Fisk to sign with the Chicago White Sox for the 1981 season, where he finished his career in 1993. “Questioning [Fisk’s] integrity was absolutely the WRONG thing to do, and he held on those things.”

The best part of the interview was when Wilson discussed the rift between Fisk and pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Lee hated it when Fisk walked to the mound to talk after each pitch because it slowed the game down. This gesture led Fisk’s teammates to nickname him “The Human Rain Delay.” Red Sox 2nd baseman Rico Petrocelli, who played with Fisk in the 1970s, told Wilson that he and the other teammates got a kick out of watching Fisk walk up to the mound where “Spaceman” would grunt in frustration, turn his back to Fisk, and walk off the mound while everyone on the Red Sox bench laughed.

Look for Pudge by Doug Wilson in your local bookstores!

Doug Wilson’s Pudge Details Catcher’s Life (pt.1)

Doug Wilson’s Pudge explores the life of Boston’s Carlton Fisk, born in Vermont, raised in New England, and grew up to play twenty-four seasons of baseball, first with the Boston Red Sox then with the Chicago White Sox. Fisk is best known for hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th inning in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park. The win kept the Red Sox alive to play Game 7, but they lost to the Cincinnati Reds. Doug Wilson's PudgeFisk was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, entering as a Red Sox.

Wilson’s well-written biography (the first one written about Fisk on a large scale) goes into great detail about the catcher’s disciplined upbringing. His tough but caring father taught his son the true meaning of integrity and hard work, which helped Fisk reach the major leagues in 1969 at the age of 22 for two games. After playing in the Red Sox farm system for a few years, Fisk’s break out year in 1972 saw him win Rookie of the Year Honors as well as his first (and only) Gold Glove at Catcher Award.

Doug Wilson’s Pudge portrays Fisk as a quiet but well-determined player who wanted nothing more than to play the game with honor and integrity. Nicknamed “The Human Rain Delay,” Fisk often took his time walking to the mound to talk with pitchers, which frustrating his teammates to no end. In Fisk’s mind though, communication between teammates as well as having a solid plan for the next batter was all a part of winning.

While Doug Wilson’s Pudge goes into great detail about Fisk’s walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Wilson’s extraordinary story-telling abilities extend to his description of Fisk’s rivalry with the New York Yankees’ catcher Thurmond Munson. Fisk and Munson, whose devotion to the game was just as intense, got into a brawl during a game in 1973. Munson crashed into Fisk at home plate in an effort to advance the Yankee runner on base. The fight that followed was the height of long rivalry between the two that had been fueled by Munson’s jealousy of Fisk, who he thought got more attention from the press. Fisk and Munson’s fight, told well by Wilson, will always be known as one of the most intense brawls between the two teams (which says a lot of you consider the long rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees).

Doug Wilson’s Pudge Details Much More About Fisk

Most Red Sox fans probably don’t think about Fisk’s career after leaving Boston to play for the Chicago White Sox in 1981. Doug Wilson’s Pudge, however, keeps it interesting by detailing the prickly yet interesting relationship between Fisk and the ownership that led to his departure in the first place, describing it as one of the most insulting points in Fisk’s career (you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened). Fisk would play for another fourteen years with Chicago before retiring in 1993, being one of 29 players to have played in four different decades. Fisk’s Chicago years included another post-season appearance, as well as a confrontation with NFL and MLB player Deion Sanders at home plate.

Doug Wilson’s Pudge shines best when it expands on the in-depth interviews with many of Fisk’s family members, teammates, and coaches. While Fisk declined to assist Wilson in any way, as he’s a very private individual, Wilson took what he had to work with to craft one of the best biographies of the year.

Remembering Yogi Berra, A Noble Adversary

The baseball world became a darker today, when Yankees legend Yogi Berra passed away at the age of 90. A colorful character who embodied the charm and bravery inherent in baseball, Berra was beloved by fans across the country, regardless of allegiance. He was one in a million, and thoroughly deserving of the gratitude that has rained down since the awful news broke.

Yogi Berra

Berra was one of the greatest catchers who ever lived; a nineteen year veteran who established many records at the position and was a formidable postseason performer. Yogi won an unprecedented ten World Series rings, one for each finger, and still holds the all-time mark for Fall Classic hits. In over 2,000 games, he hit 358 home runs, redefining the offensive expectations of that position.

Of course, Berra went on to enjoy wider fame, mainly attributed to his famous Yogi-isms, which ranged from the sublime “Deja vu all over again,” to the wonderful “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” He is widely considered the main influence behind the Yogi Bear cartoon character, while his television endorsements made him recognizable to fans well into the twenty-first century.

Naturally, players of this caliber, and men of this dignity, transcend rivalries, even one as intense as the Red Sox and Yankees. Today, the Red Sox composed a poignant tweet, saying that the organization “sends our deepest condolences to Yogi Berra’s family and to the Yankees,” and concluding that “our game, and our rivalry, has lost an icon.”

Indeed, Berra was a noble adversary. He was a key cog in the Yankees’ dynasty in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, when Boston battled toe-to-toe with New York in a golden age of baseball. In 296 games against the Red Sox, Yogi hit .271 with 38 home runs and 185 RBI. He continued to harm Boston for many years after retirement, acting as a mentor to contemporary players such as Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. A few moments before Game 1 of the 1999 ALCS between the Red Sox and Yankees, Berra saw Bernie Williams looking nervous in the clubhouse. “Don’t worry about it,” Yogi said. “These guys have been trying to beat us for eighty years.” That sums up Berra, a happy-go-lucky guy who lived for good-natured competition.

This will undoubtedly be a tough day for the Berra family. Yet, deep down, once the initial pain subsides, they can rest assured that Yogi was perhaps the most beloved sportsman of his time; that his unwavering bravery in serving the US Navy during World War II still resonates all these years later; and that fans from across the baseball spectrum have nothing but the utmost respect for his unique abilities.

Right now, baseball is left feeling a little gloomy, but the timeless legacy of Yogi Berra will shine on forever.