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Gammons on The Big Show: Tough stretch is good for Sox

05.14.10 at 5:54 pm ET
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NESN anaylst and Baseball Hall of Famer Peter Gammons made his weekly appearance on The Big Show on Friday afternoon.

Gammons said that all the attention on the Bruins and Celtics that has left the Red Sox uncharacteristically below the radar lately might be a good thing for the team as it prepares to face a tough stretch against some of the best teams in baseball. “This is a really tough stretch, but it is good for them,” he said. “It may enable them to make some tough decisions and I think they will have a much better idea of who is going to play and who isn’t. They might now, by then, the situation with [Mike] Cameron and [Jacoby] Ellsbury. They have a lot of questions to be answered. Probably just as well that they aren’t under the microscope, at least for the short time period.”

He was also asked about the status of Josh Beckett, who was scratched from his last start with back soreness and replaced in the rotation by Tim Wakefield. Gammons believes that Beckett’s intensity on the mound might be part of his physical problems. “Well, he has had some back problems in the past. But I have to believe that some of it is that whole delivery business, where he gets completely out of whack with runners on base and tries that quick slide and gets out of his delivery and his arm drops. I have to believe that there is some strain on him. And I say that, and you know, Lou [Merloni], that the guys cares so much and throws so much effort into it. And sometimes he just can’t take a breath and relax, and you need to.”

Gammons was asked how the recent situation in the NFL with Brian Cushing, who won back his Defensive Rookie of the Year award after a re-vote due to his suspension for performance enhancing drugs, might impact MLB. He said that he doesn’t envision similar circumstances in baseball, but that testing has certainly changed the game. “I was looking this up the other day and I got the same answer from four different general managers,” Gammons said. “I was asking what’s happened to hitters ‘€” if you look around, there are a number of teams that are looking for bats. It could be the Red Sox, Seattle, Kansas City, whatever. The average team total for DH in the American League is .231, four home runs and an OPS two points above Jason Kendall. Now, we all love Jason Kendall, he is a great guy. But is he your prototypical DH? The answer I got from every general manager that I talked to was, ‘I think testing has changed the game.’ ”

A transcript of the interview is below. To listen, go to The Big Show audio on demand page.

Is this a good thing or bad thing that the Red Sox seem to be on the back burner now? Particularly when they are playing some very good teams in the next few weeks.

They are. OK, the pitching matchups for his weekend are OK, really. But you don’t know what to expect with [Tim] Wakefield and [Daisuke] Matsuzaka at Yankee Stadium. You don’t know what they are going to do against Tampa. Plus, two games with the Twins is certainly no day at the beach. They are one of the top four teams in the league. This is a really tough stretch, but it is good for them. It may enable them to make some tough decisions and I think they will have a much better idea of who is going to play and who isn’t. They might now, by then, the situation with [Mike] Cameron and [Jacoby] Ellsbury. They have a lot of questions to be answered. Probably just as well that they aren’t under the microscope, at least for the short time period.

Peter, Josh Beckett missed his last start, and you are talking about Wakefield possibly pitching in New York. What is going on with this guy?

Well, he has had some back problems in the past. But I have to believe that some of it is that whole delivery business, where he gets completely out of whack with runners on base and tries that quick slide and gets out of his delivery and his arm drops. I have to believe that their is some strain on him. And I say that, and you know, Lou, that the guys cares so much and throws so much effort into it. And sometimes he just can’t take a breath and relax, and you need to. And that is one thing that has impressed me about [John] Lackey, who early in his career was the same way. He’s learned how to finesse around, how to take a breathe, how to change speeds, how to really just pitch, at times. He just finds what it needs — tonight it is going to be the curveball, and then one night it is the changeup. I mean, he varies around. Josh goes in a runaway truck lane every single appearance, and I think that compounds his physical problems. So it is something that one worries about. I know that people talk about how really good starting pitching shows up  in June, July, and August. And that may well be true. But right now they are second to last in the American League in quality starts, their starter’s ERA is third worst in the league. Sooner or later ‘€” this team was built to win with its pitching ‘€” they have to start pitching. And it will be interesting to see. But let’s face it, there is panic everywhere. You should listen to New York. How in the world could they take Curtis Granderson for Austin Jackson? How in the world did they take Javier Vasquez?

Except in Tampa, where no one cares.

Well, that is part of it. Why is Tampa Bay a major league franchise? They have maybe the most exciting team in baseball. Right now they have the best starting pitching in baseball, they are incredibly athletic, but their revenues are down again. So what is the point here with Tampa being in the major leagues?

Doesn’t it work like this with most teams in the South that are new teams? You don’t have the generational fans like Boston or New York. I see that all the time in Charlotte when people are not supporting their teams.

That is a great point. A lot of people would say … well, they have good high school baseball and great college basketball in Charlotte, I think you might have noticed that. But it is my understanding that the Yankees games on the ESPN station in Tampa rate higher than the Rays games on their station.

I was just going to ask you that, because that is the other thing that Tampa is facing, is that it is the Yankees spring training home.

And as I said, they are on the ESPN station there, which is a big station. The Yankees are almost as big news as the Rays. This is a team that was in the World Series two years ago, they did win 90 games last year and they are really fun. And yet, there is very little attention. Baseball has four or five franchises that you say, three or four years from now, what do they do? Oakland is one. If they can’t get to San Jose, they are done. Al Davis wrecked the ballpark, nobody goes. There was a perfect game last week and they listed 12,000. It was 7,400 — 7,400 for a perfect game. That is pathetic. And Cleveland is a serious concern now, too, because they have no Fortune 500 companies left and 30 percent of the households in greater Cleveland have left in the last two years. The economy there is absolutely dead. What might save the Indians is if LeBron [James] leaves, because we all know it is a football town, but if you have the Browns and LeBron there isn’t enough money to support three teams. A lot of people doubt that.

Does the commissioner have a problem here with the situation in Arizona? Could the Player’s Association make a big deal about keeping the All-Star game in Phoenix next year? Could this be a real mess for the league?

I think it could be. I think that behind the scenes there is a lot of work being done. I am told the owner of the Diamondbacks has tried to sit down with the governor and people have just said, look it. Because some of the law ‘€” the idea that someone looks suspicious ‘€” that is dangerous. The question that I have raised to several people is what happens in the summer rookie league. You’ve got four 17-year-old Dominicans coming out of a 7-Eleven in Surprise or wherever and somebody calls up. Mike Barnicle talked about it on the morning show a couple of weeks ago and Pat Buchanan was in agreement that they needed to change the wording of the law. In that if you say that there are four people out here that looks suspicious and then something happens, the police are liable. And that is really dangerous because then you are going to have to start arresting everybody. If a guy calls up and say, “These guys could be really dangerous and they look like illegals,” and all of a sudden they are rounded up, it could be really embarrassing for baseball, whether it is the summer league, the Arizona Fall League or spring training. So I think there are ways of compromising laws that wouldn’t be quite so blatant as the one passed by this legislature.

Peter, I wanted to ask you if the NFL set a precedent with the Brian Cushing situation. I think that the idea of a re-vote sets a bad example moving forward.

I thought it was a little silly. I mean, he got it, they had their testing in place. I don’t think it is going to happen. I was looking this up the other day and I got the same answer from four different general managers. I was asking what’s happened to hitters ‘€” if you look around, there are a number of teams that are looking for bats. It could be the Red Sox, Seattle, Kansas City, whatever. The average team total for DH in the American League is .231, four home runs and an OPS two points above Jason Kendall. Now, we all love Jason Kendall, he is a great guy. But is he your prototypical DH? The answer I got from every general manager that I talked to was, “I think testing has changed the game.”

I think they are right. I think that might be part of the idea of run prevention. But baseball is different. No one talks about Shawne Merriman or Rashard Lewis, but with baseball they do it to anyone who is even suspected.

Absolutely, and we went through it last summer with the whole David Ortiz thing. And we still do not know which of those players in 2003 tested positive. We also don’t know what substance they tested positive for, and we know now that there are a lot of things that guys have been buying over the years at General Nutrition Centers that turn out to be illegal. Well, they don’t know that. J.C. Romero is a great example of that; they had one label in Philadelphia and one label in Los Angeles for the same product. So it is different in baseball, and I don’t mind that people really care. I think it is more about records.

You’re right. It is numbers and records, that is exactly what it is.

And people don’t care about pitchers who pitched three years in Korea and then come back throwing 95 mph. It is not just hitters, it is pitchers, but people don’t look at it that way. And we all know that there are certain things that guys can still get. I remember a couple people when the Manny affair happened last May, some of the people who were close to Manny investigated it and found out it wasn’t actually the doctor, it was the doctor’s son who would go out and get the prescriptions for these guys. He was a big hangar-on with a lot of Heat and Dolphins players. And it is very hard to detect in all that ‘€” there is stuff that can be detected and still I think the drug testing has really impacted baseball dramatically.

Well, it is portrayed differently in the media. Brian Cushing did the exact same drug as Manny [Ramirez], and he was suspended for four games. So the NFL actually did its job, but no one in the media or the public cares. And I think you’re right, it has to do with the numbers. And the size thing, too. In football you are already big but in baseball you go from small to big. So it is the size and the protection of the numbers.

I think that is absolutely true. By the way, I don’t know if I mentioned this but Mark Verstegen over at Athletes’ Performance Institute has that picture of Nomar [Garciaparra], who is one of his guys, right up in the middle of the room. The reason he has it that he points out how fat Nomar was. He got heavy and he was out of shape. He had a spare tire, and it is Mark’s way of defending Nomar. He will point to me or other people and say Nomar didn’t cheat. I tend to believe Mark, and I think Lou would probably, too.

Yeah. I have been out there with Mark for 10 years too, so.

So, I don’t think it is a bad thing. And I do think that now most people would say that if you violated baseball’s drug policy since it was implemented in 2005, you are not going to be in the Hall of Fame. So Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez, who are sure-fire Hall of Famers, probably won’t make it. But we are in such a gray area with all the guys when steroids weren’t illegal in baseball, we really have on idea. We did that Hall of Fame show in January at MLB and there were about eight of us ‘€” Tom Verducci, Bob Costas, Harold Reynolds ‘€” I don’t think two of us came up with the same answers. Because we don’t know just exactly how we are going to vote ten years from now. And I know people have ridiculed McGwire for saying it didn’t help him hit for power. I just think that when you are a great athlete you have the tendency to wipe things out of your mind. There is a denial factor that keeps you on and keeps you moving forward, and I try to be sympathetic to that. McGwire more sympathetic than Roger’s denials, because I think that they’re more delusional. But it is a fascinating area that we are still dealing with and most of us have no idea 10 years from now which of these guys are going to end in the the Hall of Fame and which aren’t.

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