Bobby V, The Lobster and Arnie Beyeler

OK, Bobby V is coming. The Red Sox are Valentine’s team now. And the idea that it will be a calm player friendly environment is as likely as the Red Sox retiring Grady Little’s number.

I think there is only one way Bobby Valentine’s authority can work in Boston: Give him TOTAL authority. Make it clear that it is indeed his way or the highway. Take away as many obstacles as possible of people to challenge him.

Normally I think it is positive to challenge authority. But bringing in Valentine means a change in the culture, and that can’t be done in a half assed manner.

It HAS to be Bobby V’s ship. No “That’s not the way we did it before.”
Otherwise they just should have kept Francona or promoted one of his lieutenants.

Which brings a challenge regarding The Lobster.
Readers of Sully Baseball know that I believe Jason Varitek’s nickname should be The Lobster.

The Red Sox captain is a free agent right now and the reasons to bring him back are hard to find.

He brings a tiny bit of power to the plate and he hasn’t as awful as he was in 2009 when his .209 average and .703 OPS led to the Victor Martinez trade. But he has become subpar offensively.

The traditional arguments to retain The Lobster are his ability to call a great game and his leadership skills.

Well his game calling and handling the pitching staff didn’t help the Red Sox in their historic nosedive. The pitchers all had ERAs with area codes and game plans seemed to change from pitch to pitch.

And his leadership skills didn’t get Beckett, Lester or Lackey’s act together when the team needed them more than ever. If it was indeed Francona’s team and Varitek’s clubhouse, then that needs to totally change with the arrival of Bobby V.

In a way, Varitek would be a relic of the Francona years and one that could possibly act as a tension point to the new manager.

Varitek could represent the classic “It’s the way we do things around here” barrier.
And of course Bobby V is the “If that way was so great, then why was I hired?” counterpoint.

If the Lobster returns, and it isn’t for his bat or pitch calling, then what else could he offer except a place for the veterans to turn to when Bobby V gets under their skin (which he will)?

So yeah, I am advocating that the Red Sox 14 inning win in the Bronx on September 25th be Varitek’s last game as a player in a Boston uniform.

Now the Red Sox are not exactly a sentimental organization. Just witness how quickly Nomar, Pedro, Lowe, Foulke, Damon, Bellhorn, Embree, Manny and Papelbon were shown the door when they were considered to be done. Ask Theo and Tito how cute and cuddly the Sox are.

So Varitek just might not come back and turn up being a backup catcher for the Yankees for all we know.

I think they should keep him in the organization, but away from Bobby V.
How can they do that?

Drive 45 minutes south of Fenway and make Varitek the manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Seriously, his playing days are done and putting The Lobster on Bobby V’s coaching staff could be a recipe for disaster.

Manage the top farm club. Help the pipeline of young players up to the big club, be part of the organization and let Bobby V put his own stamp on the team.

And if (when?) Bobby V implodes and the situation becomes intolerable, he can be let go and Varitek can take over the club with managerial experience and familiarity with the young players he managed and the veterans who he played with.

All that is good, but where does that leave Arnie Beyeler, the current PawSox manager?

Make him the one provision for Bobby V. “You can pick your entire coaching staff except you need to bring Arnie Beyeler in.”

Beyeler has been in pro baseball as a player, scout, minor league coach and minor league manager since 1986 but has never made it to the majors. He’s not about to make waves.

Stick him as the first base coach and Bobby V can have his own bench coach, third base coach, hitting coach, pitching coach and bullpen coach. And that way the young players who played in Pawtucket last year will have a familiar face.

So let’s review what this does…

Bobby V would have real control of the team (and why hire him if you don’t give him control?) The remnants of 2011 leadership would be gone.

The Lobster Varitek would remain in the organization and build up his credentials to come in and bring back some 2004 and 2007 magic if Valentine doesn’t fit. But we also would avoid seeing him clash with Valentine and continue to erode at the plate as he approaches 40.

And Beyeler gets to contribute at the major league level after more than a quarter century of dues paid.

Makes perfect sense to me.
Which is why it probably won’t happen.

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There’s only two ways the Bobby Valentine era can turn out

Well, Bobby V is coming to Boston. I wrote earlier that I was fine with either Valentine or Sandy Alomar Jr. at the helm of the Red Sox.

So I can’t complain.
It’s a short term solution, but maybe the whole “He was gone but now he’s back to prove he can still do it” mentality could work its magic the way that Jack McKeon had in 2003 with the Marlins or Jim Leyland gave the Tigers in 2006.

Or it can be a disaster like Davey Johnson with the Dodgers or Dallas Green with the Mets or Jim Leyland with the Rockies.

The Fried Chicken Crew didn’t respond to super classy, totally lovable, two time champion Terry Francona? Well try Bobby V… a man who has been wrong exactly zero times in his life.

Just ask him.

A veteran team with a know it all outsider coming in as manager could be either a brilliant move or it could be a biggest bomb than the last decade of Nicolas Cage films combined.

So the Red Sox are either going back to the World Series or about to crash and burn in a way that will make us nostalgic for September 2o11.

Either way, it won’t be boring.

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Sully Baseball Salutes… Johnny Ray

I was back in my parents place for Thanksgiving and gave me a chance to rummage through my old cards.

I came across this 1990 Topps Card of Angels infielder and outfielder Johnny Ray.
He is a relatively obscure player and that is a shame. With a little bit of luck, he’d be beloved by at least one fan base.

A native of Oklahoma, Ray went to University of Arkansas before being drafted by the Astros in the 12th round of the 1979 draft. He never played in Houston as he was dealt to the Pirates in the fading months of the 1981 strike season for Phil Garner.

When he made his big league debut on September 2, 1981, Ray was on a club just 2 years removed from the “We Are Family” championship. 1979 champs Omar Moreno, Bill Madlock, Dave Parker, Mike Easler and Willie Stargell all played that day. So did Tim Foli, who Ray pinch hit for in the 7th. The Pirates lost that day to the eventual World Champion Dodgers.

Steve Sax played that day as well. Ray’s path would cross with Sax again later.

Taking over for Garner full time in his rookie year of 1982, Ray flourished. He played all 162 games. He got 182 hits, good for 4th in the National League. At the time second base was not a power position. But he was a solid doubles hitter, collecting 30 over the year. He stole 16 bases and struck out only 34 times in 702 plate appearances.

The Sporting News chose him to be their Rookie of the Year. However nobody cares about THEIR pick.

The Baseball Writers of America bestowed the honor on Steve Sax.
Ray played in more games, got more hits, homers, RBI and had a higher slugging percentage than Sax. Rays’ average was one point lower than Sax.

Yet Sax was the winner.

The Pirates had a winning season in 1982 and in 1983, when Ray won the Silver Slugger for second basemen. He led the National League in doubles in 1983 and 1984. And twice he hit over .300.

But by 1984, the Pirates winning ways were over. Pittsburgh had been above .500 fifteen out of nineteen seasons. But they wouldn’t put a winning squad on the field until Ray was gone. (In fact since the end of the 1984 season, the Pirates would put a losing team on the field 24 out of the next 28 seasons.)

When Syd Thrift rebuilt the Pirates, he did so with some solid drafts and shrewd trades. Dealing All Star Tony Pena brought Andy Van Slyke and Mike LaVailliere to Pittsburgh. Rick Rhoden was sent packing to the Yankees bringing back eventual Cy Young winner Doug Drabek.

With Jose Lind ready to take over second base, Thrift tried to swing another franchise building move with the Angels. Johnny Ray was sent packing to Anaheim at the end of August 1987..

25 year old power hitting third baseman Billie Merrifeld came over to Pittsburgh in the deal. But injuries derailed his career and he never made it to the majors. Miguel Garcia also came over to the Pirates, but the reliever only appeared in 13 games over three different seasons and was not a factor.

Ray meanwhile arrived in Anaheim. The defending AL West champs were trying to make a run at another Division Title and Ray got his first and best shot to make the post season. The Angels played sub .500 ball the rest of the way and the Twins would go on to win it all.

In 1988, Ray’s defensive short comings at second base led him to playing more and more games in the outfield. His bat was strong, batting .306 and finally making it to the All Star team. In the 1988 All Star Game in Cincinnati, Ray came up as a pinch hitter in the 4th against Bob Knepper and lined out to left fielder Vince Coleman.

Two years later he played his final game on September 30, 1990. The Angels were hopelessly out of it when they played the Royals at home.

With the game tied at 1 in the 8th and a runner on second with 2 outs, Ray pinch hit for Gary Disarcina. Ray struck out to Kevin Appier, who 12 years later would win a World Series title as a member if the Angels.

It was Ray’s last at bat. He never did play in the post season. He played in Japan for a few years before returning home to Oklahoma.

It’s players like Ray that make me reflect what makes a player beloved.
Had Ray played for the Astros of the early 1980s, the Angels of the early to mid 1980s or the Pirates of the 1990s, would he had become a beloved member of those teams?

So much with being considered to be a champion or a fan favorite has to do with elements beyond a player’s control. Players like Mariano Duncan, Danny Jackson or Craig Counsell keep popping up on playoff teams. But are any one of them bigger winners than Ray?

Had Johnny Ray been given the chance to play in October, would HE have collected some big post season hits like Luis Sojo or Scott Spezio or Matt Stairs?

We’ll never know. Ray was caught in that neutral zone between successful years in Pittsburgh and with the Angels, thus making his career a makeshift barometer of fan loyalty.

“I was a Pirate fan back when Johnny Ray was at second base” means you are no front runner.
The same can be said with Ray in California.

Of course Ray could have done a few things that would turn a doubles hitter into a home run hitter. He could have enhanced himself in the manner that a later generation would have tacked on a few years to a 33 year old second baseman.

Instead he did his job, getting hits and not striking out.

The glory of October and the love of being a “Fan Favorite” may have eluded Johnny Ray in his 9 plus big league seasons. But he was a hard working solid player who, with a slightly different hand dealt to him, might have been a beloved player who happened to share a name with the singer who sang the song Cry.

And that is worth a salute.

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