|04.15.12 at 3:22 pm ET|
Ralph Branca is know for a number of reasons. In a dozen big league seasons, most spent with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he went 88-68 with a 3.79 ERA. He was a three-time All-Star, a 21-game winner in 1947 and the man who, in 1951, gave up the so-called “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to Bobby Thomson of the Giants on the final day of the season.
But on Sunday, he was on Fenway Park to commemorate the most significant event of his baseball career, even though it was one in which he was only a secondary participant. On April 15, 1947, Branca was a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers team with whom Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier; sixty-five years later, Branca is believed to be the only surviving member of the Dodgers from that day. The pitcher was outgoing in his efforts to his history-making teammate feel at home.
“The day before we played Montreal in an exhibition game, the Dodgers played their farm club in Montreal,” recalled Branca. “The next day we had a workout and I was in the locker room when Jackie walked in. I walked over and shook his hand. ‘Welcome aboard.’ All I could think was can he help us win the pennant, can he help us win games. I didn’t think about the color of his skin because I lived on a block that was the United Nations of all ‘ four black families, about nine families of Italian extraction, two Irish, two German, two Jewish. So it was a League of Nations on my block. Blacks, I played with them. Went in their house, they came into mine. Seeing Jackie meant nothing special or different to me.”
The sentiment was not unanimous among baseball players, or even members of the Dodgers. Branca recalled that some of his teammates came from the South, with the residue of the Civil War still palpable in the Jim Crow laws that codified segregation. Thus, Robinson was subjected to immense hostility — from teammates, other players and fans — but he had the strength of character to withstand the physical threats and verbal abuse to which he was subjected.
“The toughest town, believe it or not was Philadelphia. Philadelphia had [as a manager] Ben Chapman, who I think was from Montgomery, Alabama, maybe Birmingham,” said Branca. “He was always on Jackie’s case and he had leather lungs. You could hear him all over. But the fans there, they threw these little souvenir bales of cotton the field, they threw black cats on the field, they threw watermelon on the field, so Philadelphia was the toughest town. …
“Jackie was the first to break the color barrier, not just for baseball, but for the whole country and eventually the world. So he was a leading man. Being first is the toughest. Jackie wasn’t brought up to be the leader of the race. He was a great athlete, he was in the army, I think he was a lieutenant, very bright guy and a very fierce competitor,” continued Branca, who remained friends with Robinson after both had retired. “What he did had to be totally out of character. [Dodgers GM Branch Rickey] said, don’t get into any arguments or any fights. Behave yourself, for three years. I knew how Jackie was, totally out of character. He was feisty, he was fiery, he was competitive. But he turned the other cheek, like it says in the Bible, he just turned the other cheek for three years. Then Rickey said now you can behave like Jackie Robinson.”
There had been some thought given to making a higher-profile star from the Negro Leagues the first player in Major League Baseball. Branca recalled that both eventual Hall of Fame pitcher Satchell Paige and catcher Josh Gibson had been considered candidates for that position. But it was Robinson — a multi-sport star in college at UCLA, Army veteran, brother of one of the African-Americans (Mack Robinson) who won a medal in the 1936 Munich Olympics in a powerful rebuke to Hitler’s racial theories — who was chosen.
“I’m not a Rickey man. Rickey made the right decision in picking Jackie,” said Branca. “He took Jackie because he knew quality he was, what kind of character he was, and how he could turn the other cheek, and he was intelligent enough to know the situation. I admire Rickey for picking Jackie out of all the black players, because there are people who will tell you [the Negro Leagues] had better players, but know what, you didn’t need a better player in that position. You needed a guy who could take the guff and turn the other cheek and be a leader of the race.”
At the time, Branca did not understand how powerful a force for social change Robinson would become. But then, seemingly, no one realized it on that day at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
“I don’t think anyone knew the significance of it. It was a new era, new territory, and nobody really was conscious of what was happening, even the newspapers,” said Branca. “The next day, the New York papers ‘ pretty sharp ‘ they never mentioned he was breaking the color barrier. They said Jackie Robinson didn’t get a hit, but he walked, he bunted successfully and he scored a run. That’s all they said. They didn’t say that the color barrier was broken. That’s unbelievable to me.”
Now, 65 years later, the memory of that day reverberates. And so, on a day when all baseball players wear the No. 42 — Robinson’s uniform number, which was retired by Major League Baseball in 1997, on the 50th anniversary of his debut — Branca was grateful to share the memories of one of the most significant figures in sports in the 20th century.
(To listen to the 86-year-old Branca discuss his former teammate, click here.)
|04.15.12 at 1:36 pm ET|
The Red Sox are still trying to determine with greater precision the severity of the subluxation suffered by Jacoby Ellsbury on Friday. Manager Bobby Valentine said that the injury would be treated with ice to reduce the swelling for 48 hours; once the swelling subsides, the outfielder will be re-evaluated to get a more precise determination of the possible course of recovery.
Even so, the team is planning on spending a not insignificant chunk of time without the runner-up in last year’s AL MVP balloting, and so it should come as little surprise that one major league source said that the Red Sox are “actively” exploring the market for available outfielders to determine whether the team will be able to shore up an area where there is limited organizational depth.
However, because it is so early in the season, the idea of identifying a legitimate starting center fielder remains far fetched. Teams aren’t exactly rushing to make All-Star-caliber outfielders available at this time of year.
Two American League talent evaluators wondered whether there eventually could be a potential match between the Red Sox and A’s regarding Coco Crisp, given that Crisp — who was re-signed by the A’s to a two-year, $14 million deal this offseason — was pushed from center field, where his value is greatest, to left field by Oakland’s signing of Yoenis Cespedes and based on the fact that the A’s like several prospects in Boston’s system (a notion reinforced not only by the trade of Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox, but also by the fact that the two teams came close on a deal that would have brought left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez to Boston).
Crisp has been one of the better defensive center fielder’s in the game since his emergence as an elite glove in center with the Sox in 2007. Though off to a slow start offensively this year (.176/.222/.176/.399 in 36 plate appearances), his offense is more than adequate for a center fielder. He’s a career .274/.329/.404/.732 hitter, and last year, playing in a home park and division that tends to kill offensive numbers, he hit .264/.314/.379/.693 along with an AL-leading 49 steals.
However, it’s probably premature for there to be traction between the Sox and A’s (or, for that matter, the Sox and virtually any other club) on a trade as both teams must figure out more about where they stand for the season. In particular, if the Sox are going to be without Ellsbury for six to eight weeks, they may prefer to explore internal options (or identify role players in a trade) rather than giving up a significant prospect (perhaps one of the impressive lower level outfielders who now comprise a strength of the system — with Bryce Brentz, Brandon Jacobs and Jackie Bradley Jr. all representing players who have impressed other clubs) for an outfielder who would be little more than a place-holder until Ellsbury’s return. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.15.12 at 9:12 am ET|
It was an impressive day for most of the cream of the Red Sox‘ position player prospect crop, with Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, Jose Iglesias and Bryce Brentz all producing noteworthy performances.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 9-6 WIN AT BUFFALO (METS)
— Will Middlebrooks has shown a consistent ability to make the adjustment after struggling while moving up the ladder. He had dreadful first halves in both Lowell in 2008 and Greenville in 2009, yet managed to adapt and play at a high level in the second halves of both of those campaigns. While he hit the ground running the next two years in Salem and Portland over the last two years, Middlebrooks struggled (.161/.200/.268/.468) after a late-season promotion to Pawtucket last year.
If the first 10 games of the season are any indication, Middlebrooks has once again made the adjustment to his new level. On Saturday, he was 2-for-4 with a three-run homer (his third of the year) and a walk (his first of the season). He is now hitting .359/.375/.641/1.016
— Outfielder Jason Repko, after missing six days, returned to the lineup and went 3-for-5 with a double. In four games this year, he’s 7-for-13 (.538), and he likely will be called up by the Red Sox to help provide outfield depth as soon as Sunday.
— Shortstop Jose Iglesias went 2-for-3. It marked the third straight game in which he’s reached base at least twice.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-3 WIN VS. BINGHAMTON (METS)
— Oscar Tejeda, whom the Sox moved from second base to left field this spring, was 1-for-2 with a double and his first two walks of the year. The walks are not insignificant, as plate discipline will determine whether Tejeda — a player with terrific bat speed — can become an impact offensive player at the upper levels. In 123 Double-A games last year, he had just two games in which he drew two walks. For the season, Tejeda is hitting .313/.343/.344/.687.
— Bryce Brentz followed up his first Double-A homer on Friday night with a 2-for-4 game in which he hit a double and walked. It was Brentz’s second multi-hit game of the year. He also delivered three hits in the second contest of an Opening Day doubleheader. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.15.12 at 6:50 am ET|
Playing their first home series of the 2012 season, the Red Sox are attempting to dig themselves out of an early 1-5 hole, one that is not too dissimilar from the one they dug themselves in last season. The Sox got off to a good start on that goal by beating the Rays Friday and Saturday Fenway Park and they will look to maintain that success and productivity Sunday in the third game of the series, with a pair of young left-handers taking the mound in Felix Doubront and Matt Moore.
The start will be the second of the season for Doubront, who was a new addition to the Red Sox rotation this season after the spending his previous two major league seasons primarily in a relief role. In his first and only start of the season, Doubront, who entered the season as a question mark in the Red Sox rotation given his inexperience as a MLB starter, was largely impressive.
Facing a talented Blue Jays lineup on the road at the Rogers Centre last Monday, Doubront pitched five innings, giving up two earned runs on four hits, all while striking out six batters while walking only three. While Doubront did not get a decision, his effort on the mound helped buoy the Red Sox to a 4-2 win, the team’s first of the season.
Returning to the confines of Fenway Park, Doubront will not be returning to what was a nurturing home, at least as far as his ERA and pitching performance were concerned. In 2011, Doubront, who has a career ERA of 4.69, posted a 7.11 ERA in 6 1/3 innings pitched at Fenway, his second-highest ERA at a given ballpark (with Rogers Centre being the first).
Though he has spent the entirety of his MLB career pitching in the American League East, Doubront is relatively inexperienced against the Rays lineup. No Tampa Bay batter has faced Doubront more than four times and combined, Rays batters have just 17 total plate appearances against Doubront (spread across eight different players). Of that bunch, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who has a team-high four career plate appearances against Doubront, has had the most success, with a .500 batting average with one hit and two walks.
Opposing the Red Sox will be a pitcher who has thus far proven himself to be a promising young arm in Moore. As a rookie last season, Moore pitched in just three games, one of which was a start, and posted a 2.89 record with a very impressive 5-1 strikeout-to-ball ratio (15 strikeouts to just three walks in 9 1/3 innings pitched).
Though it came in a losing effort for his team, Moore continued that string of quality pitching as he pitched 6 2/3 innings and gave up just two earned runs on four hits in the Rays’ 5-2 loss at the Tigers Tuesday. Like Doubront against the Blue Jays, Moore took no decision in his outing.
|04.14.12 at 8:33 pm ET|
The days of “Shipping Up To Boston” are officially done.
In his first ninth inning appearance this season at Fenway Park as the Red Sox closer, Alfredo Aceves broke out his introduction song. It is fair to say that the selection won’t be confused with diddy by the Dropkick Murphy used by Jonathan Papelbon.
And the winner is …
“Iberia Sumergida” by HÃ©roes del Silencio.
Aceves explained after the game he picked the song due to his fondness for the artists who sing it. The pitcher also explained that while he went through about 10 songs last year, he plans on sticking with this one.
|04.14.12 at 7:23 pm ET|
The Red Sox new leadoff hitter (for now) made his mark Saturday.
Mike Aviles, whom filled the void at the top of the lineup left behind by the injured Jacoby Ellsbury, led off the seventh inning with a solo home run off of Rays’ reliever Burke Badenhop, giving the Red Sox the lead for good. The end result was a 13-5 win over the Sox over Tampa Bay at Fenway Park.
The Aviles homer was one of five for the Red Sox, with Jarrod Saltalmacchia, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Cody Ross also going deep. Ortiz finished his day with four hits, raising his average to .406.
Earning the win was starting pitcher Clay Buchholz, who rebounded from a four-run first inning to complete seven frames. His final line saw him allow five runs on six hits, striking out five and walking three while throwing 104 pitches.
Here is what went right (and wrong) in the Red Sox third win of the season:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
– Cody Ross followed up Aviles’ heroics in the seventh with a two-run, bases-loaded double off the left field wall, increasing the Red Sox’ lead to three runs. Ross’ final at-bat would be a two-run homer in the eighth, capping the scoring
– Kevin Youkilis made perhaps his best defensive play of the season, successfully throwing out Sean Rodriguez on a well-executed bunt in the fourth inning. The throw was made on the run and showed good mobility on behalf of the Sox’ third baseman.
– Jarrod Saltamacchia, who went 3-for-42 (.071) against Tampa Bay pitching in 2011, got things going for the Red Sox with a two-run homer in the second inning. Also going deep for the Sox, and inning later, as Dustin Pedroia.
– David Ortiz worked a seven-pitch at-bat against Hellickson before launching a cutter into the Red Sox’ bullpen for a two-run homer, tying the game at 5-5. Youkilis was on base at the time. It was Ortiz’ first homer of the season, and boosted his batting average to .367.
– The Red Sox were able to drive the Rays’ starter, in this case Hellickson, from the game before the sixth inning for a second straight game. Hellickson lasted just five innings, allowing five runs and six hits while throwing 99 pitches.
– Franklin Morales turned in another stellar performance out of the Sox’ bullpen, pitching a flawless eighth inning. In three outings, he has allowed just one hit while striking out four.
WHAT WENT WRONG
– Buchholz needed 27 pitches (just 13 strikes) to get out of the first inning. The result was a four-run frame for the visitors, whose biggest blow came off the bat of Luke Scott via a three-run homer deep into the right field stands.
– After leading off the home half of the first inning with a single, Aviles got picked off with the count 2-0 to Dustin Pedroia.
– With the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth, Aviles worked the count to 3-0 against Rays’ starter Jeremy Hellickson. But after four foul balls, the Sox’ leadoff hitter ended up flying deep to right field to end the threat.
|04.14.12 at 5:08 pm ET|
Luke Scott may be taking a different approach when broaching certain subjects going forward. This he made clear while talking to WEEI.com just a few hours before hitting a three-run, first-inning home run off Red Sox‘ starter Clay Buchholz.
Take for instance, when the Rays’ designated hitter was asked about his thoughts regarding Bruins goalie Tim Thomas choosing to not attend his team’s Stanley Cup celebration at the White House due to political leanings. (Scott has similar political views as Thomas.)
“I’m just careful with what I say just because of what reporters have done with me. They have come to me, asked me questions on topics and they take things and twist it. I don’t think anybody want that to happen,” he said. “I’ll leave that topic like this: If it was me and I was in that situation I would extremely happy because we won a World Series. For that, what a dream come true that would be. As far as this guy Tim, and his decision, he has the right to decide what he wants to do. It’s a free country and I respect him making the decision what’s best for him.”
Scott was still clearly focused on stories that have recently came out with him calling Fenway Park “a dump.” That, the 33-year-old, didn’t represent what he was trying to get across.
“It’s another circumstance where reporters have taken what I’ve said and twisted it. I’ve got no problems with Red Sox fans,” Scott said. “They support their team as good as any fan base in the game of baseball. The comments I made yesterday about Fenway Park, and people asked me asked me what I think about Fenway Park. The first thing I did is I went out of my ways to explain my appreciation for the park, and to explain I respect this facility and all the good memories and nostalgia. I can appreciate that. But that was not mentioned. They totally bypassed that.
“I went on to say as a fan Fenway Park is probably a pretty neat place to watch a game. It’s a stadium with a lot of character, but as a player coming here to work ‘ I’m not here as a fan, I’m here to do a job ‘ and for me to do my job, this place has seen it’s better days. Compared to the new stadiums, the new space that we have, the better facilities that we have around the country, this is not the best place to come. You ask anyone in this clubhouse, ask anyone from any other team, and they will they will say the exact same thing.
“I said as a player to come here to work it’s a dump, which it is. But they take that and say, ‘What’s Luke Scott’s thoughts on Fenway?’ Oh, well it’s a dump. That, in itself is wrong, because that’s not what I said. A lot of time reporters want to create controversy, but I’m getting tired of it.”
The comments gained even more traction considering Scott’s previous criticism of Red Sox’ fans, explaining to MLB.com how gratifying it was to beat the Sox in the final game of the 2011 regular season because of his previous experiences with some of the fan-base.
That sentiment, he also said, didn’t represent his overall thoughts on the matter.
“Boston fans cheer their team. They are hard on the visiting players. I don’t expect them to be any different,” said Scott, who was heartily booed during the first two games of his team’s current series at Fenway. “If you say something controversial, or something is twisted in the paper, or not, they’re still going to get on you. But there is the majority of Boston fans who want to watch a good game, they want to support their team and they don’t want to be mean, or vulgar or nasty. I have a lot of friends who are Red Sox fans and they’re good people. They’re good people and they’re not there to bad-mouth people, or talk about their families. They’re not there for it. It’s not only Boston, it’s everywhere. You’re going to have fans like that.”
|04.14.12 at 9:25 am ET|
After a breakout offensive performance in Friday’s home opener, the Red Sox will attempt to win consecutive games for the first time this season when they take on the Rays at Fenway on Saturday afternoon. Clay Buchholz will take the mound for the Red Sox looking to improve on a difficult first outing in which he gave up seven runs in four innings against the Tigers.
Buchholz gave up runs in three of four innings in his outing against Detroit and allowed more than five earned runs for the first time in 43 starts. The start was Buchholz’s first since June 16, 2011, when Buchholz held the Rays to one earned run through five innings in a 4-2 Red Sox win. Buchholz, however, suffered a back injury in that game and did not return for the rest of the season.
In limited action against the Rays, Buchholz has fared well, going 4-2 with a 1.81 ERA, his lowest ERA against any American League opponent. Jose Molina is the only member of the Rays with any real success against Buchholz, as he owns a .600 average with a double and two RBIs against the 27-year-old.
The Rays, who have lost three of their last four games, are looking for a spark from 2011 American League Rookie of the Year winner Jeremy Hellickson, who will make his second start of the season. Hellickson enters the game on the heels of a strong start against the Yankees, as he lasted 8 2/3 innings and allowed three hits on 118 pitches.
In four career starts against the Red Sox, Hellickson is 2-1 with a 4.21 ERA with both of those wins coming at Fenway Park. The 25-year-old will have to be careful with David Ortiz, who is 4-for-10 with a triple and two walks in his career against Hellickson. Darnell McDonald only has one career at-bat against Hellickson, but it was a good one, as McDonald hit a home run off Hellickson back on Sept. 7, 2010.
The Red Sox are expected to be without Jacoby Ellsbury in the game, as the center fielder left Friday’s tilt in the fourth inning with a right shoulder injury. Ellsbury was replaced by Ryan Sweeney, who is enjoying a strong start to his Red Sox career. Sweeney has hit safely in each of his first six games, batting .429 with two doubles, a triple and four RBIs. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.14.12 at 8:49 am ET|
Aaron Cook and Rich Hill both looked like pitchers who will be able to offer meaningful depth to the Red Sox in the near future (indeed, Cook could probably do so right now), while power-hitting prospects Will Middlebrooks and Bryce Brentz showed, well, power.
Further down, it was a mixed bag for pitching prospects in the lower minors, with left-hander Drake Britton getting hammered, but 2011 first-rounder Matt Barnes dominating. The details:
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-3 WIN AT ROCHESTER (TWINS)
— Aaron Cook‘s sinker once again performed its distinctive sort of magic. He recorded 15 outs, 10 of which were on grounders with three more coming via strikeout. He was, however, slightly efficient than in his previous outing (a seven-inning complete game), as Cook tossed 81 pitches (54 strikes) over his five innings.
— Jose Iglesias was 0-for-3 but had two walks. For a player whose plate discipline has been questioned, that represented a milestone of sorts. It was the first time that Iglesias has walked multiple times in Triple-A; he had two two-walk games in Double-A in 2010.
— Will Middlebrooks continued the excellent start to his season. His two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth (this one to center field) was part of a 2-for-4 night that left the 23-year-old hitting .343/.343/.571/.914 with two homers in nine games.
— Outfielder Alex Hassan, who got off to an 0-for-17 start in Triple-A, went 3-for-4 with a double to get the roundest of numbers (.000) off of his stat line. While Hassan’s .143 average is nothing to text home about, it is worth noting that he has walked seven times and struck out just four this year, suggesting a player who is controlling the strike zone and for whom improved results were likely just a matter of time. It is interesting to note that Hassan has a higher OBP (.347) than Middlebrooks (.343), the latter of whom has yet to walk this year.
— Right-hander Junichi Tazawa tossed two shutout innings, striking out four, walking one and not allowing a hit. In three appearances this year (each a two-inning outing), he has struck out nine.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 4-3 VS. BINGHAMTON (METS)
— The ability to regulate effort level has been a significant consideration for Bryce Brentz in the almost two years since the Red Sox drafted him as a supplemental first rounder in the 2010 draft. By his own admission, he was trying to hit five-run homers while struggling in his poor debut in Lowell in 2010, but then erupted for 30 homers last year as he came to realize that he didn’t always need to hit the ball beyond the horizon. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.13.12 at 8:46 pm ET|
Every member of the Red Sox saw the play that injured Jacoby Ellsbury. But until they got to their clubhouse, they did not realize quite how serious and how alarming it really was. Player after player was made uncomfortable just at the sight of Rays shortstop Reid Brignac‘s knee driving into the back of Ellsbury’s shoulder as the Red Sox leadoff hitter — who was running on the full-count pitch, and thus in position to take out Brignac’s legs — slid hard into second base in a futile attempt to break up a double play.
Aside from diagnosing the obvious — a right shoulder injury — the Red Sox had no further word (at least officially) about the precise nature of the injury. But one player’s description of the word inside the Sox clubhouse was revealing.
“The only thing we’ve even heard is probably the same thing that everyone has been hearing, which is that it felt like something moved a little bit,’ Kevin Youkilis relayed.
Obviously, movement inside of a shoulder is potentially very, very bad news for the Red Sox. One orthopedist, who had no direct knowledge of Ellsbury’s case, nonetheless saw the replay and heard Youkilis’ description and suggested it was difficult to consider the forecast for the runner-up in last year’s AL MVP balloting anything but severe.
Dr. Christopher Geary, the head of sports medicine at Tufts Medical School, said that the injury looked like “either a shoulder subluxation or a torn rotation cuff. I would think six to eight weeks best case.”
UPDATE: An industry source with knowledge of the situation confirmed Geary’s analysis, and said that Ellsbury likely had suffered a subluxation or dislocation of his shoulder.
That best-case scenario would involve a course of rest and rehab. It is worth noting that Derek Jeter suffered a similar injury on Opening Day in 2003, when Blue Jays catcher Ken Huckaby landed on his shoulder on a play at third base. Jeter rehabbed and was back in six weeks, and performed at an exceptional level (.324 average, .393 OBP, .844 OPS) in 119 games that year.
However, Geary also noted that sometimes rehab isn’t enough with shoulder injuries, and surgery becomes necessary. In such a scenario, he said, Ellsbury could be out for the year.
Until more specifics about Ellsbury’s injury become available, there remains a chance that his injury is less severe than it appeared. That, at least, is the hope of his teammates.
“You’re not going to get any better by losing him for a while,’ said David Ortiz. ‘Hopefully things don’t go the way it looked like in the video.’
That said, every proclamation by a player that the Sox hoped for the best was tinged with another reality — namely, that there was an undeniable reality involving potential worst-case scenarios that would leave the Sox without one of their best players for weeks, months, perhaps even the year.
In that respect, it was difficult to avoid the echoes of the 2010 season, when Ellsbury collided with Adrian Beltre in the sixth game of the year and for all intents and purposes was lost for the rest of the year. This time, an injury incurred in the Sox’ seventh game may or may not prove as damaging, but for the Sox, until the precise diagnosis and prognosis are established, the team will have little choice but to hold its collective breath about an injury that has the potential to alter the course of the season.
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