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For Boston Red Sox, It’s Case Closed with Koji Uehara

Smiles and high-fives have become commonplace around Fenway Park these days, but nobody has grinned wider and slapped hands more enthusiastically than the guy most often on the mound at game’s end.

Koji Uehara, the 38-year-old Japanese import acquired by Boston as a free agent in December, has been near-perfect during the past two months as a closer for the surprising Red Sox. He compiled a 0.00 ERA in both July and August, and after blowing a save against the Los Angeles Angels on July 6, he allowed just six hits in 23 innings over his next 20 appearances.

He now has 15 saves on the season and has been perfect in 13 of 15. He is so reliable and so economical with his pitches that last week he was twice called upon by Boston manager John Farrell in the eighth inning to register four-out saves.

He converting both perfectly.

As a result of his brilliant run, which came after three blown saves in his early days in the role, Uehara has lowered his season ERA to 1.17 and his WHIP to 0.630—numbers that along with his 82 strikeouts and nine walks over 60.1 innings compare favorably to Jonathan Papelbon’s stats during his All-Star career as Boston’s closer from 2005-2011.

In fact, Uehara‘s stretch of 20 scoreless games in relief is just one short of Papelbon’s best (21 in 2011) and five short of Daniel Bard’s club record, which was set the same year.

In contrast to Papelbon, who had a blazing fastball that neared 100 miles per hour in his heyday, Uehara relies primarily on a forkball and a four-seam heater that tops out around 90. Like Mariano Rivera’s cutter, batters know the forkball is usually coming but can do little with the knowledge. Batters swing and miss Uehara‘s offerings 17.2 percent of the time, which is the top mark in the league.  

Certainly nobody has as much fun finishing games as Uehara, who was primarily a starter during an excellent 10-year career in Japan. Each time he completes the final out of a contest, he pumps his fist, lets out a shout and then sprints over to his teammates to dole out high-fives. 

For those of us old enough to remember, he is a throwback to Mark “The Bird” Fidrychwho displayed similar mannerisms during his all-too-brief heyday with the Detroit Tigers in the late 1970s. But unlike Fidrych, who was a 21-year-old rookie when he emerged on the national scene, Uehara is grabbing the spotlight with his boyish energy at an age most pitchers are winding down.

Making his run even more impressive is that Ueharamore often a setup man during four previous big-league seasonswas Boston’s fourth choice as closer this season. Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both suffered injuries, and fellow Japanese League veteran Junichi Tazawa struggled in the role.

Now that he’s gotten his chance to do his hand-slapping on the field at game’s end rather than primarily in the dugout after the seventh or eighth innings, Uehara would like to keep doing so for as long as possible.

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What on Earth Do Jose Iglesias, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez Have in Common?

Ted Williams. Manny Ramirez. Jose Iglesias

One of these is not like the others—right?

At first glance, most definitely, aside from the fact that all three have played for the Boston Red Sox. Williams and Ramirez are both members of the elite 500-home run club, with slugging and OPS marks that rank among the highest in MLB history. If it weren’t for steroids, Ramirez would be a lock to join Teddy Ballgame in the Hall of Fame—provided Manny ever stopped making comebacks.

Iglesias, in contrast, has hit exactly two major league home runs in 85 games spread over three major league seasons, which isn’t too surprising considering he hit six in 294 minor league contests.

Last year at Triple A Pawtucket, he batted a so-so .266, and after a September promotion to Boston he went a pitiful 8-for-68 (.118).

Jose is, or was, the classic good-field, no-hit player—as much a magician with his glove at shortstop as Williams and Ramirez were with their bats. The big question about his chances of sticking with the Red Sox was whether his defense would compensate for his anemic offense.

Now that’s all changed, and Iglesias has inexplicably joined Manny (in 2001) and Ted (in 1941) as the only players in the 112-year history of the Boston Red Sox to achieve an early-season batting feat of red-hot proportions.

A batting average of .400 or better after his first 150 at-bats of the year.

Think about that. The Red Sox have spent more than a century at hitter-friendly Fenway Park, home to such expert batsmen as Tris Speaker (a .383 average in 1912), Jimmie Foxx (.360 in ’39), Wade Boggs (.368 in ’85), and Nomar Garciaparra (.372 in 2000)—not to mention Ramirez and Williams. Yet only twice entering 2013 had anybody gotten off to that fast a start.

Had you asked everyone which player on this year’s Opening Day roster had a chance of doing it, Iglesias might have been the consensus last choice. 

Despite his fantastic defense, he only made the team because of an injury to projected starting shortstop Stephen Drew. Iglesias went 7-for-12 in the opening series of the year at New York, but experts said it was a fluke.

General manager Ben Cherington apparently agreed, because once Drew was cleared to play, Iglesias was sent down to Pawtucket after six games played, a .450 batting average and a growing list of Web Gems. 

On paper, Drew—an eight-year veteran with pop in his bat and a steady glove—was still considered the better player.

The Sox were not paying him $9.5 million for the season to sit on the bench, and naysayers pointed out that the majority of Iglesias‘ early-season hits had been dinky grounders or bloops that found holes. Back in the minors, he actually regressed, hovering around the Mendoza Line at .202 through 33 games.

Then the inexplicable happened. Drew slumped, third baseman Will Middlebrooks got hurt, and Iglesias was recalled on May 24 to fill a roster spot. He went 1-for-3 with a run scored that night, playing third and batting ninth. The next day he spelled Drew at short, went 3-for-4 with a double, and raised his average to .484.

Iglesias has been starting ever since, predominantly at third, and Middlebrooks has been dispatched to the minors to play every day and shake off his sophomore slump.

As adept at the hot corner as he was at shortstop, Iglesias has made just two errors all year and snatched up every ball hit anywhere in his zip code. He’s even played three flawless games at second base.

The bloops and bleeders of April are now line drives and shots to the gaps as he has shown more patience and aggressiveness at the plate. His average was still a ridiculous .451 in mid-June and stayed over .400 all the way until July 6. Named “Rookie of the Month” for June, he is now a front-runner for the AL Rookie of the Year. 

A mini-slump (.270 over the last 10 games) has “dropped” Iglesias down to .384, but he’s still had at least one hit in 40 of the 50 games he’s played—in which Boston has gone 33-17. He has 10 doubles and a .917 OPS, and nobody is talking about whether Iglesias can hit MLB pitching anymore. He runs hard out of the box and is a fan favorite.

What’s next? Will Iglesias‘ drop-off continue as pitchers get more of a book on him? Will he find himself back on the bench if Middlebrooks returns from Pawtucket and Drew continues his recent resurgence (.364 over nine games)?

It seems unlikely.

In a way, Iglesias‘ fortunes mirror those of his team. The Red Sox, 69-93 last year and picked by most experts for another last-place finish in the AL East, currently possess the best record in the American League at 58-37. Nobody expected it, and no one knows how long it will last.


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Numbers Behind the Boston Red Sox Revival

Boston sports fans coming off their Stanley Cup hangovers are beginning to notice the Red Sox again, and what they are seeing is a team defying all expectations.

In fact, the Sox are on pace for one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in franchise history.

With exactly half the season (81 games) gone, the Red Sox entered last night’s game against the Blue Jays with a record of 48-33. They then won again, and assuming they keep the same pace through the second half, they would wind up with a mark of 96-66—a 27-game improvement over the dreadful 69-93 season turned in by the last-place Boys of Bobby Valentine in 2012.

That dramatic of a win differential in back-to-back seasons has not occurred in Boston since the MLB schedule expanded to 162 games in 1961. The closest were the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox, who went from a 70-92, ninth-place finish in 1966 to, one year later, a 92-70 mark and the seventh game of the 1967 World Series.

As with all things baseball, numbers tell a big part of the story. Here are some that help define the Red Sox resurgence.


All stats are through Friday, June 28.

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Great Late-Round Red Sox Draft Picks Through the Years

Much was made of the fact that the Boston Red Sox had a top-10 draft pick for the first time in 20 years this week—finishing last will do that for you—but it’s not always the top selections that pan out. For every home run pick like Jim Rice, Nomar Garciaparra and Dustin Pedroia in the first round, the Sox have also struck out with the likes of Jason Place (2006) and Steve Ellsworth (1981).

Even more intriguing, however, are those later-rounders who almost slip through the cracks and wind up playing far above expectations. As Red Sox fans speculate the future of this year’s top pick, lefty pitcher Trey Ball, take a look at some Boston post-fourth-rounders who later starred for the team.

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How David Ortiz Is Acting More Like Red Sox Great Ted Williams Than Ever

David Ortiz has authored some of the greatest hits in Red Sox history and holds the team’s single-season home run record of 54.

Still, Big Papi has never performed at a level closer to that of former Boston slugger Ted Williams than he is doing right now.

Including his home run in Friday night’s 7-3 win over the Astros—his second straight game with a homer—Ortiz is batting .500 (11-for-22) with an OPS of nearly 1.500 since returning from a heel injury that sidelined him most of spring training and the first 16 games of this season.

While most hitters return from major injuries looking rusty at the plate, Papi looks hotter than ever.

It is a trick that the Hall of Famer Williams, acknowledged by many to be baseball’s greatest all-time hitter, performed often during his career.

Injuries, military service, and a few self-imposed “retirements” often kept Ted away from spring training and/or early-season action, but he always seemed to return in top form to the amazement of fans and fellow players alike.

In 1941, for instance, a bad ankle hobbled The Splendid Splinter for a month during the end of spring training and the early season, but he singled as a pinch-hitter in the home opener and batted .462 in his first eight games back en route to a .406 season as the last .400 hitter in big league history.

After a Triple Crown season in 1942 (.356, 37, 137), Ted missed all of 1943-45 while serving as a Navy pilot during World War II. He didn’t skip a beat, however, coming back in 1946 to hit .342 with 38 homers.

Williams served his country yet again as a Marine fighter pilot during the Korean War, and missed most of the 1952 and ’53 seasons. Unlike most big leaguers, he rarely touched a baseball during his absence, yet returned to Boston’s lineup late in 1953 and hit an incredible .407 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI in just 37 games.

On the first day of spring training in 1954, Williams broke his collarbone—an injury that kept him on the shelf for all of the exhibition season and the first month of the regular campaign. Once again, however, he showed he needed no warming up by hitting .455 in his first 10 games back for Boston.

Even when Ted decided he’d quit baseball and start fishing full-time after the 1954 season, and then sat out all of spring training and April in ’55 before a pricey divorce changed his mind, it didn’t matter. He merely hit .414 with six homers and five doubles in his first 53 at-bats when he came back.

So while Ortiz, who also missed all but one of the last 73 games of the 2012, may be doing something astounding, it is not unprecedented in Red Sox history.

Just ask the really old-timers at Fenway Park.


Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at He can be reached at and @saulwizz

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Red Sox in 6: Pride, Pitching and Breaking Another Curse

A week after ending the longest sellout streak in baseball, the Red Sox helped fill their fans’ hearts with pride after one of Boston’s darkest days. Then they continued their own shocking revival.

Nobody could have predicted the horrific events that struck the city on Marathon Monday and few could have anticipated the start that has quickly reestablished the Sox—at least for now—as a viable force in the American League. Timely hitting, near-historic starting pitching and a new attitude infused by new manager John Farrell has resulted in the AL’s best record (13-6, tied with Texas) out of the gate.

Even more surprising than the speed with which Farrell seems to have turned around the clubhouse mojo is how quickly the Red Sox have regained the respect of fans disillusioned by the woeful 2012 season and the calamitous reign of Bobby Valentine.

It is still too early to compare this team to the feel-good squads of 1967 and 1975, but as they did in those memorable summers, the Sox are winning with a roster that has few established superstars but plenty of likable characters for whom it’s easy to cheer.

Here’s a look at the Sox in 6:

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Oil Can Boyd Opens Up About 1986, Bobby V., and How He Really Got His Nickname

It’s been 20 years since Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd pitched in the big leagues, but he can still bring some heat when it comes to conversation.

I met up with Boyd for a book signing at New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton, Mass., last weekend, and then stayed after for a few hours to talk with one of my all-time favorite Red Sox pitchers. His book, They Call Me Oil Can (written with Mike Shalin) is a no-holds-barred, colorful look at his career and life, and he’s just as open—and outspoken—in person as in print.

From our chat, here are the Can’s reflections on…

How he got his nickname: “Everybody says it’s because I drank a lot of beer and they called beer “oil” down in Mississippi, but that’s not true. It was rot-gut whiskey. Everybody in Meridian, where I grew up, drank it. You got it from a lady up the street named Big Mama, who was the neighborhood moonshiner. I used to go up to her house and fetch it for my mother, sneaking it into our house under my shirt so my father wouldn’t see it.”

“When I was seven, I started drinking some myself. One day somebody caught us in a tin shed drinking Big Mama’s whiskey out of oil cans, so my friend Pap started calling me “Oil Can.” I wrote it under the bill of my baseball cap, and my high school teammates started calling me that too. It stuck.”

Bobby Valentine: “I played for Bobby in Texas, and he’s a good guy. He’s open and will talk straight to you. He could be temperamental, sure, but he’s a very, very smart baseball man. He knows games and respects players, but he’s the skipper. Ballplayers shouldn’t be telling him what to do.”

“Your job as a player is to hit the ball or catch the ball; he manages and you play. When you make up all kinds of distractions, this is what happens—the team can’t win. They got the talent, but they never listened to the man.

Wade Boggs (who Boyd claims often directed racial slurs at him when they were teammates): “He’s a bigot; it’s ingrained in his family history. Coming from Central Florida, that’s just what you grow up hearing and learning. He was protected by baseball then, and nobody will say anything against him now. The Red Sox don’t invite me to anything that Wade is going to be at because they know I’ll kick his ass. He wasn’t at the 100th anniversary celebration, right? I was—so there you go.”

The summer of 1986 (when he was suspended for 21 games after briefly quitting the team following an All-Star snub, but still went 16-10 to help the Red Sox win the pennant): “Being a young ballplayer, with money in your pocket, makes you very vulnerable. There were a lot of distractions and a lot of ways to get into trouble. I found them. It was my fault, sure, but I felt there was nobody I could talk to about it.”

“Still, people looked out for me; I lived in Chelsea, and sometimes I’d be out late at night and the police would come and say, ‘C’mon, Oil Can, you don’t want to be messing around here, you can get shot or killed,’ and they would give me an escort home.”

“While I was suspended I hurt my arm in a tussle with some cops; they thought I was getting drugs from a guy and really roughed me up good. I would ice my arm every day, but it always hurt. I could hear a clicking in it. But still I kept pitching, winning the [AL East] clincher against the Blue Jays and through the playoffs and World Series. I didn’t tell anybody about the pain.”

On not starting Game 7 of the ’86 World Series, when, after a rainout, manager John McNamara decided to go with Bruce Hurst and skip over Boyd: “When it came time for Game 7, and he [McNamara] told me I wasn’t starting, I didn’t know what to say. I just ran off and cried. They used the rain as an excuse, and said Bruce had the hot hand, but I felt that circumstances during the season led to that decision. They put their personal feelings about me ahead of the team. They were not going to take a chance on my going out there and winning the World Series after everything that went on.”

[Hurst, who had already won twice in the Series, pitched six innings and left with the game tied 3-3. Boston relievers broke down, however, and the Mets won, 8-5. Boyd never got into the contest.]

How he stayed focused on the mound: “I smoked dope—every day. I started when I was 12 and never hid it. I was such a thinker, my mind was never idle, but when I smoked I got locked in. I was so focused, I couldn’t hear anything else on the field. I became creative, like an artist doing a painting. A little blue here, a little red there; a curve ball here, a slider there. It got to the point where [first baseman] Billy Buckner would come over and say, ‘Are you high?’ If I wasn’t, he’d say go get him some.”

Boyd was clearly upset as he talked about how things went after ’86, when a blood disorder required him to inject a needle with blood thinners into his stomach every day. He was on the disabled list much of the time, and after 1989 signed with the Expos as a free agent.

He rebounded to pitch nearly 200 innings each of the next two seasons—often very effectively—but after a trade to Texas and a late-season slump in 1991 was unable to find another big league job at age 31.

Oil Can felt he had been blackballed, and I realized he had a lot in common with another great free-spirited Red Sox who could pitch and talk up a storm: Bill “Spaceman” Lee.

Both men liked their weed, both men were passionate, personable ballplayers embraced by teammates and fans, and both had their careers in Boston end on a down note before a brief resurgence in Montreal. Both felt the baseball establishment kept them from staying on in the majors, and they had two of the greatest—and most famous—nicknames in big league history.

The Can seems at peace with himself these days. After a decade where he said anger over his shortish MLB career forced an estrangement from his wife and two kids, along with a bad cocaine habit, he’s quit hard drugs and is back with his family and running the Oil Can Boyd School of Baseball in Providence, Rhode Island.

He does some private coaching with high school teams as well, along with an occasional event for the Jimmy Fund or other charity. And while he rarely gets to Fenway, he was back for the 100th anniversary celebration in April and got a terrific hand from the crowd when introduced. That meant a lot to him.

“I fight every day not to go out and get drugs, but it’s a private fight,” he told me. “I don’t call it being clean, I call it being tolerant. I stay healthy, and I’m on a baseball field seven days a week. That’s where I feel the most comfortable.”

That’s one more thing he and the Spaceman have in common: Both are still pitching. Lee has hurled in a variety of leagues through the years, and this summer, at age 65, became the oldest man in history to win a professional game when he went all nine innings for his hometown San Rafael Pacifics of the North American League in a 9-4 victory over Maui.

Boyd, who moved back to New England just in time for the wonderful Red Sox summer of 2004, now lives in Providence and pitches with teams in two divisions of the Men’s Senior Baseball League—one for age 35-and-up, the other for 48-and-up. He’s still lean and spry a few weeks short of his 53rd birthday, and says he plays shortstop when not on the mound.

“I gotta go work out, I’m pitching tomorrow,” he told me with a smile as he left the Mobile Book Fair. I thanked him for the time, and all the joy he gave Red Sox fans back in the mid-’80s. It was fun to watch him then, and fun to talk to him now.  


Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at He can be reached at and @saulwizz. 

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One Red Sox Fan’s Incredible (and Telling) Bobby Valentine Encounter

 As the crazy saga of Bobby Valentine’s managerial meltdown in Boston continues, I thought I’d add another tale to the mix, courtesy of my friend and sometimes Fenway Park seatmate Nancy.

During the All-Star break, when Red Sox fans were in the midst of panicking over a surprisingly weak starting rotation, Nancy went for a jog on a blistering hot morning. About one mile from Fenway, along Huntington Avenue, she literally ran into a man in front of the swanky Colonnade Hotel.

After a quick “sorry” she turned and started to jog away—but then froze in her tracks. She was pretty sure the man in the khaki shorts and plaid shirt who she had hit was Bobby Valentine.

Unlike many fans, Nancy had not yet soured on Bobby V. A season ticket holder, she had been very happy with the managerial change in Boston.

“I went to a game last September against the Rangers, when the Red Sox still had a big lead in the standings,” she recalls. “Lackey got bombed, they lost 11-4, and I remember having a bad feeling—a sense they weren’t playing with purpose. They were just going through the motions—they were not Kevin Millar’s team; they were not Johnny Damon’s team.”

Nancy turned to her companions, her sisters-in-law, and said, “‘This is it. We’re done.’”

She was right. The epic 7-20 September collapse sealed manager Terry Francona’s fate, and Nancy applauded the hiring of Valentine—who had a reputation for being just the sort of tough-talking disciplinarian she felt was needed. Nancy, who once shouted down fans for singing “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning of a lopsided Red Sox deficit, liked tough guys.

Now, even after a dismal first half-season, Nancy still hoped Bobby V. could turn things around. She ran back to him, smiled, and said, “Are you my guy?”

He laughed and replied, “Yeah, I guess I am!”

“I love you!” she shouted. “I know you can’t say anything, but we’ve got to get rid of Beckett, we’ve got to get rid of Lester, we’ve got to get rid of Lackey.”

Valentine put his finger up to his lips, smiled, and said, “You know I can’t say anything.” He turned around to leave, but then walked back, crossed his fingers, and said, “But we can only hope.”

Nancy can’t quite remember what he said next, either “I had no idea this is what it was like here” or “I had no idea it would be like this here.”

“I looked at him and just wanted to hug him,” she recalls. Instead, she said, “This is one tough town.”

Valentine sort of shrugged, so Nancy added “You listen to all this stuff, but not everybody is against you. I have season tickets—look at my tattoos! [She has a Red Sox “B” on her right ankle and a “dangling Sox” on her right shoulder.] Plenty of people want you to succeed.”

She describes what happened next: “Knowing he was a Catholic school boy, which means you’re required to take Latin in school, I said to him ‘Illegitimi Non Carborundum,’ which means ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down.’ I didn’t learn that from the nuns, but if you study Latin, you learn things.”

“He laughed, so I assumed he knew it too. If he was educated by the Jesuits, he knew it.”

Prior to this interview, Nancy had told her story to only a few close friends with whom she shared her seats.

“Why tell it to everyone now? I feel like it’s over,” she said. “They never stood behind him—Ben Cherington number one, along with the owners. I’m never going to forgive all of these people for the way it turned out. Tito was what I knew and it seemed to be working. But I was not a Tito guy before the end of last season, because he was enabling them to not ‘cowboy up’ and be our team.”

Now, with another disastrous season nearing its end, it’s time for another change. What does Nancy think?

“Now I’m really just sad. I love the Red Sox; I really just do not like this team. I can’t watch them. I feel really bad for Bobby V. This is not what he signed up for. It’s not what any of us—including the few players still trying—signed up for. We’re the embarrassment of MLB.”

Besides an attitude overhaul, here are her other recommendations:

“We have GOT to get rid of all the different jerseys—red, navy, etc. You have your home whites and your travel grays—period.”

“Sweet Caroline—kill it.”

“The Wave—do not allow it.”

“And they better not charge major-league prices next year—for tickets and beer—when they’re not fielding a major league team!”


Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at He can be reached at and @saulwizz. 

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Mike Trout May Be the MVP, but He Shouldn’t Be Rookie of the Year

After watching him help the Angels sweep the Red Sox earlier this week, and based on his entire body of work this season, it’s clear that Mike Trout is one of the most exciting young players in the majors. He may even be the American League MVP when all is said and done, but there is one thing I don’t think the 21-year-old phenom should be:

Rookie of the Year.

Technically, Trout is a rookie. As the MLB rules state, A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).

Trout makes the cut…barely. He played in 40 games (32 starts) during 2011, in which he had 123 at-bats. This may qualify someone for rookie status the next year, but it seems like an awful big sample set for me.

Forty games is nearly a quarter of the MLB schedule, and in Trout’s case, these were not just meaningless down-the-stretch contests. His first appearance came on July 8 against Seattle, and he wound up playing 14 games in July, eight in August, and 19 in September as the Angels battled for both an AL West title and a Wild Card spot. They got neither, but Trout (who hit .220 with five home runs and 16 RBI) got plenty of experience.

This year, of course, has been a different story. Trout has been with the Angels since late April and has torn up the league with an AL-best .336 average, 41 stolen bases, and 103 runs scored (along with 25 home runs) entering last night. Much hoopla was made when he became the first rookie to have both 25 homers and 40 steals during the Red Sox series, but he just doesn’t feel like a first-year guy to me.

He was an everyday player for Los Angeles during a good stretch of LAST season, and while he may seem like an entirely different performer this year, Trout is in fact the same guy who had already seen plenty of big-league pitching entering 2012.

To me, a true Rookie of the Year (ROY) winner is a guy who debuts the year he captures the award, or at most plays in 10 or 15 September games the previous season.

Baseball is the only one of the four major professional sports that has this type of shady rookie status. Football players, of course, go straight from college onto NFL rosters and have zero pro experience entering their first year. Ditto for hockey players, who enter the NHL from college or the minor league ranks. And while basketball players may have overseas professional experience, the first NBA games for every Rookie of the Year are played during his initial season in the league.

My 11-year-old son Jason had a very perceptive comment when I mentioned this discrepancy to him. “If Mike Trout is able to do this, what will keep managers from making sure young players don’t break the 130 at-bat limit so they can get better and older?”

I found no proof of this with Trout, who Angels manager Mike Scioscia played all game, every game down the stretch of 2011. It would have been interesting to see what might have happened had Trout gotten six more at-bats, of course.

Jason also had another funny premise: if a guy came up from the minors for 10 games a year for three years, would he still be considered a rookie going into his fourth season? According to the MLB rules above, he would. This seemed too funny to be plausible, but it happened…the 2008 NL ROY, Cubs catcher Geovany Soto, had played with Chicago for one game in 2005, 11 games in 2006, and 18 games in 2007. A fourth-year rookie!

I first started thinking about Trout’s freshman/sophomore status when Will Middlebrooks was shining for the Red Sox earlier this summer. A broken wrist derailed Middlebrooks in mid-August, and even if he had played out the string the chances are slim he would have put together stats like Trout.

But since Middlebrooks was a TRUE rookie whose 75 major games, 15 homers, and 54 RBI all came this season, one could argue (outside Los Angeles) that he is a more worthy Rookie of the Year winner than the guy who will get the award.

For some additional perspective, I looked back at AL and NL ROY winners from the past 10 seasons to see how they compare with Trout in pre-ROY experience. Soto was the only one I found with three MLB seasons under his belt, but one other player (Angel Berroa in 2003) had played shortstop for the Royals for a combined 35 games and 128 at-bats in 2001-2002. Talk about cutting it close to the 130 at-bat limit!

Most of the others fell into the more reasonable range of 15-20 pre-ROY games and 50-75 at-bats for position players and 5-15 games for pitchers. Six of the 20 awardees were “true” Rookies of the Year who saw their first MLB experience in their winning year: Chris Coughlin, Andrew Bailey, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, Dontrelle Willis and Eric Hinske. Honorable mentions go to 2006 winners Hanley Ramirez and Justin Verlander, who both played in just two MLB contests the previous season.

I think the system needs some revamping. Lower the pre-ROY maximum numbers to 20 games and/or 50 at-bats for position players, and 10 games and/or 30 innings for pitchers. This will ensure that September call-ups can still be considered rookies, but guys who played three months like Trout last year will be out of luck.

And what if Trout pulls off the double-win and captures both the Rookie of the Year and the MVP awards? He would be just the third man to achieve this feat, after Fred Lynn (in 1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001): two men who offer another contrast in rookies.

Lynn played in a reasonable 15 games in September of ’74, and while Suzuki was a “true” rookie in ’01 with regards to his MLB status, he did have nine seasons and more than 1,000 games in the Japanese professional leagues under his belt.

Now that’s another discussion altogether.  


Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at He can be reached at and @saulwizz. 

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Jon Lester Doesn’t Get a Win, but Does Reach a Milestone

Although Jon Lester did not emerge as the winning pitcher in the Boston Red Sox‘s 8-6 victory over the Yankees Saturday night, he did reach a milestone that serves as a reminder to just how good he’s been in the past—and could be again.

Lester’s final strikeout of the game, a whiff of dangerous Robinson Cano in the bottom of the sixth inning, gave the struggling hurler 1,000 strikeouts in his career. Just six Red Sox pitchers have reached this mark, and Lester is only the second left-hander after Bruce Hurst. Another 44 and he’ll be No. 1 among all Boston lefties.

It’s easy to forget just how impressive Lester’s career numbers were before last September’s meltdown, which has extended through all of this season, but here are a few samples:

Lester needed just 1,084 innings to reach 1,000 strikeouts. His average of nearly a strikeout an inning is second in team history to Pedro Martinez, and ahead of Roger Clemens.

Lester’s .691 career winning percentage entering this year was the second-best in club annals (behind Pedro) among pitchers with 100 or more decisions.

Lester’s postseason ERA as a starter is 2.35 over six games, including the clinching win of the 2007 World Series. Hurst (at 2.29) is the only pitcher in the post-1920 era who has done better among Red Sox starters with 30-plus playoff innings. 

Yes, none of this eliminates the problems Lester has struggled with this season, and in fact one can argue these numbers only make what’s happening now more frustrating. Even this game, in which the Red Sox scored three times in the sixth to stake Lester to a 6-1 lead, then watched him promptly give back all three runs in the bottom of the frame, was not close to what Big Jon has done in the past.

It was, however, a whole lot better than the four-inning, 11-run debacle Lester had against Toronto, and although the Yanks did get three homers off the lefty, they only had one other hit (and two walks) against him over six innings. He also had six strikeouts.

It wasn’t very pretty, and it wasn’t even enough for Lester’s sixth win of the season thanks to some shoddy relief work from Vicente Padilla. But it was a victory, and right now that’s what is most important to the Red Sox and their erstwhile ace. 


Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at He can be reached at and @saulwizz.

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