Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kevin Hench was WRONG

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Sorry Yankees fans ... this isn't 1978
Kevin Hench
Special to

It is not 1978.

Repeat after me, it is not 1978. Okay, now as if you're Matt Damon and Robin Williams is hugging you, "It is not 1978."

Red Sox studio analyst Dennis Eckersley may still be rocking the sweet 'stache and long hair, but other than that, 2007 looks nothing like that fateful annum 29 years back.

Yankee fans would like Red Sox fans to believe that it is 1978, of course, only they don't believe it themselves.

The Yankees will not erase a 14-game deficit and reel in the Red Sox, nor will they catch the runner-up in the A.L. Central for the wild card. In what seems certain to be his last season as manager in New York, Joe Torre will miss the playoffs for the first time.

Why? The reasons are manifold.

The Yankees are old, injury-prone and, in some cases, shadows of their former selves. Ron Guidry is a 56-year-old pitching coach, not a 27-year-old phenom in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in baseball history.

But the main reason the Yanks won't catch the Red Sox is Boston is built for the long haul in 2007, a perfect blend of starting pitching, relief pitching, hitting and defense.

The 1978 team was lopsided. They could mash, but on the nights they didn't — which were far too frequent in the second half — they had a very hard time winning.

For starters, look at the starters.

After Eck, who went 20-8 with a 2.99 E.R.A., things got dicey.

Mike Torrez gave up 272 hits, including a certain pop-fly home run, and 99 walks in 250 fairly typical innings for the workhorse journeyman. (Torrez would finish his career with 1,404 strikeouts and 1,371 walks.)

In his final season with the Red Sox, aging Luis Tiant (listed then at 37) was 7-0 on June 30 when Don Zimmer inexplicably sent him out for his 11th inning of work against the Orioles. He lost that game, part of his 6-8 stagger to the finish line.

On July 15 Bill Lee pitched into the ninth, beat the Twins and improved to 10-3 with a 2.94 ERA. It would be his last win of the season. He hit the wall head-on and finished 10-10 with a 4.28 E.R.A.

Rookie Jim Wright (8-4, 3.57) was outstanding in his 16 starts, but fellow rookies Allen Ripley (2-5, 5.55) and Bobby Sprowl (0-2, 6.39) made 14 combined starts and were complete busts.

The '07 Sox rotation features two World Series MVPs (Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett), a World Baseball Classic MVP (Daisuke Matsuzaka) and a guy who by all rights should have been a two-time League Championship Series MVP (Tim Wakefield). The Sox are 5-4 in games started by fifth starter Julian Tavarez, who has been merely keeping Jon Lester's spot in the rotation warm. Lester went 7-2 as a rookie last year and is nearing his return to the bigs after beating cancer.

Then there's the pen.

The Red Sox lost the first game of the 1978 season 5-4 when Dick Drago gave up a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth and then lost the second game 6-5 when Bill Campbell gave up four runs in two-thirds of an inning. Eventually second-year man Bob Stanley would take over the closer role, but it became increasingly hard over the summer to cobble together 27 outs.

The Red Sox won 97 games and finished two and a half back of the Yankees in 1977, but the desperate, futile pursuit would ultimately hurt the Sox chances in '78 too. Red Sox skipper Don Zimmer called on Bill Campbell for multi-inning duty over and over during the '77 season and "Soup" finished with 140 innings out of the pen in 69 appearances. The year before, Campbell had thrown 167.2 innings in relief for Gene Mauch and the Twins. So over two seasons the gutty screwballer piled up 307.2 relief innings in 147 appearances. Was it any surprise that Campbell broke down completely in 1978?

This time around, Don Zimmer isn'trunning things on the Boston bench.

Compare the abuse Campbell endured to the TLC with which the '07 Sox have coddled Jonathan Papelbon. So far this year, Terry Francona has used his closer judiciously, carefully avoiding multi-inning assignments and rarely using him on back-to-back days. As a result, Francona has gotten saves from Hideki Okajima (four), Mike Timlin, and even the fairly useless J.C. Romero rather than give in to the temptation to overuse Papelbon.

In '78 the Yankees had defending A.L Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle setting up for Goose Gossage. The '07 Red Sox have the 21st century version of that pairing with the lefty Okajima (1.05 E.R.A., 26 K's in 25.2 IP) setting up for the flame-throwing Papelbon (1.86, 28 K's in 19.1 IP).

As for the defense, in many respects the 1978 Red Sox were superior defensively to the 2007 edition. Whereas Julio Lugo is merely serviceable at shortstop, Rick Burleson was a spectacular defender who would end Mark Belanger's monopoly on the Gold Glove award the following year. Coco Crisp is vastly improved in center and J.D. Drew is solid in right, but they don't measure up to perennial Gold Glovers Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans. (Carl Yastrzemski was a seven-time Gold Glove outfielder but he played only 63 games in left in 1978.)

But there is one spot where the disparity between the two teams so favors the '07 edition it erases any edge the '78ers might have had elsewhere. Third base.

In 1978, battling bone chips in his throwing elbow, Butch Hobson made 43 errors. With no confidence in his arm he would crow-hop almost all the way to the mound before firing the ball into the dugout. His fielding percentage for the year was .899. Since they started wearing mitts in pro baseball you just don't see fielding percentages below .900. He made an error on one in every ten balls hit to him.

The combustible combination of a sinkerballer for a closer and a butcher for a third baseman reared its ugly head on Aug. 30 when Hobson made errors 31 and 32 and Stanley allowed two unearned runs (and three earned) in a 7-6 loss to the lowly Blue Jays.

Conversely, Mike Lowell is the all-time Major League leader at third base with a .975 fielding percentage.

The Yankees figure to make a run this year, but there will be no Boston Massacre like 1978 (or its five-game redux in 2006). The rotation is too deep and the pen is too good. And oh by the way, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz haven't really started to hit yet. Ramirez is on pace for 25 home runs. Big Papi is on pace for 28, barely half of the 54 he hit last year when he set a club record.

Once those two get hot, the '07 Red Sox might really take off. And there will be no catching them.

This is not 1978.

Besides the fact that he was wrong about nearly everything, I love the cherry-picked stats. "The Red Sox will win because they have a guy who was the WBC MVP! ... And, and another guy who might have won TWO LCS MVP awards (but didn't) and a guy who won an (undeserved) (co-)World Series MVP!"

The whole thing is just laughable. He made outlandish predictions on May 31st, and now of course doesn't have to answer for them. This is the same type of guy who, if the prediction turns out right, is the first with the "See? Told ya so!" article, but if the reverse comes true? Crickets.

Unfortunately FOX doesn't list an email address for him or I'd suggest another mail-bomb attack. The guy must hate New York teams and have an inability to learn from his mistakes, because in his latest article:
How appropriate that on the same day we bury the Sopranos with their final Emmy victory, the two teams that play in the Meadowlands are essentially buried too.

With the Jets and Giants winless and looking up at teams in their divisions that appear to be the class of their conferences, it's safe to say there won't be any playoff football played in Jersey this winter.

FIRST TWO paragraphs, and the article is about the week in the NFL wrapup.


UPDATE: February 6th, 2008:
So I wonder how Hench feels now that thsoe "winless" Giants beat his beloved Patriots in the Super Bowl? Probably still crying his eyes out.

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posted by Mr. Faded Glory @ 3:04 PM   1 comments


At 9/21/2007 3:28 AM, Anonymous YFiB said...

hench is bill simmons' BFF. simmons has mentioned hench's love of the red sox.

indeed a biased opinion.

what a turnaround for the yankees. i'm still kind of dazed by it. let's hope this can last another month and a half.


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