Jeff Sellers 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 13, 2017

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I hope the Red Sox Triple A team always remains in Pawtucket. It seems insane that they would have a top farm club anywhere else. It has become part of the language for Red Sox fans. “Send him to Pawtucket” almost sounds like an insult.

Plus for the good folks of Rhode Island, it is nice to have a city OTHER than Providence that people have heard of.

Now the Paw Sox will exist through 2020 and we will see what will happen after that. The Red Sox have had their AAA affiliate in Pawtucket since 1973, the year after I was born. Save for one year (1976) when they were called the Rhode Island Red Sox, the PawSox have been the last stop before Boston or the demotion FROM Boston for my entire life.

An interesting thing happened when I began to follow the Red Sox in the late 1970’s. I realized there were the Red Sox on the major league team and there were players on the minor league team. And there were a slew of players who seemed to be in Pawtucket in perpetuity.

Joel Finch, Allen Ripley, Win Remmerswaal and Roger LaFrancois always seemed to be in the “Coming up from the Farm” section of the Yearbook. It was almost startling when a player like Bruce Hurst or Gary Allanson actually moved to Boston and stayed there.

Future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs played all of the 1980 and 1981 season at Pawtucket, putting up great numbers and did not get even a September call up before the 1982 season. He was a PawSox player, not a Red Sox player.

In the mid 1980’s a new crop of Perpetually Pawtucket Players emerged, usually to serve as stop gaps in the rotation.

Rob Woodward and Mike Brown would go back and forth into the starting staff. Reserves like Pat Dodson, Kevin Romine and La Schelle Tarver would so up. Mike Greenwell did too, although he was being groomed to actually play.

Jeff Sellers, an 8th round pick out of Long Beach California, looked like a potential real deal pitching prospect. He went 14-7 with a 2.78 ERA over 184 2/3 innings in Double A and earned a call up to the parent club. With young pitchers like Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst, Oil Can Boyd and Al Nipper on the squad, the Red Sox hoped he would be a big league starter.

Instead he was a perpetual PawSox regular. He pitched well for the 1986 Paw Sox. But when injuries to Hurst, Nipper and reliever Sammy Stewart opened up some spots, Sellers got his chance to insert himself into the rotation.

He lost his first 1986 start getting clobbered by the Brewers 5-7. After a no decision against Toronto, Milwaukee beat him badly again. Then he took a hard luck loss against Baltimore.

On June 29, he pitched a complete game victory against Baltimore and the Red Sox thought maybe Sellers was ready to be a regular in Boston. He backed up that hope with two more victories where he pitched into the 8th, one over Seattle and the other over Oakland.

He was on a 3 game winning streak and now matched with Roger Clemens and newly acquired Tom Seaver, he was poised to give the Red Sox much needed depth.

It didn’t happen.

The Angels clobbered him in the next start and he pitched worse after that against Seattle. On July 29th, he failed to get out of the third inning in a loss against the White Sox. Bruce Hurst and Al Nipper returned to Boston and Sellers was back to Pawtucket.

He was recalled for a few spot starts in September but was not part of the post season roster. Even when an injury to Tom Seaver opened up a spot, the Red Sox opted for Steve Crawford instead of Sellers to fill the void.

In 1987, the Red Sox had a let down season but one where many Pawtucket regulars transitioned to the major league squad. Greenwell was joined by Todd Benzinger, Ellis Burks, Sam Horn, Jody Reed, Tom Bolton and John Marzano. Sellers was on the big league roster for most of the year as well, making 22 starts over 139 2/3 innings pitched. But the 23 year old was overmatched and had a 5.28 ERA for the season.

The 1988 season had expectations sky high for the mix of veterans and youth in Boston. Sellers began the season in Boston and over his first 6 starts pitched very well. Three times he gave the Red Sox 8 innings, one other time striking out 8 over 6. In all metrics, Sellers looked like he took the turn and became a big league pitcher.

Well, there was one metric where it wasn’t going his way. They were 0-4 over his first 5 starts. The vaunted Boston lineup couldn’t hit with Sellers on the mound. He pitched well but had nothing to show for it.

At the end of May, he no longer was pitching well but at least the team had the decency to make sure he got a no decision. By the time he was sent back to Pawtucket, he had an 0-6 record and a 5.14 ERA.

He was recalled later and picked up a win in relief but did not pitch well enough to be on the post season roster. He started the second to last game of the season after Boston clinched the AL East. He allowed 1 hit, 1 run and struck out 10 Cleveland batters over 7 1/3 innings. Naturally he lost the game 1-0.

It would be his last game in the majors.

Before the 1989 season he was traded to the Reds with Todd Benzinger for the deal involving Nick Esasky and Rob Murphy. Injuries kept him from playing in the majors.

Meanwhile the Pawtucket train continued, with the Josias Manzanillos, Mike Rochfords and Steve Currys of the world went back and forth from Rhode Island to Fenway.

Daisuke Matsuzaka 2007 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 6, 2017

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I am no fan of the World Baseball Classic as it is currently set up. They are glorified Spring Training games who have an artificial sense of urgency to them.

What baseball fan would rather see their country win the WBC instead of seeing their team make it to the Wild Card Game? I am guessing not many.

Maybe as a Red Sox fan, my disdain for the WBC stems from the fate of Daisuke Matsuzaka. The pitcher known as Dice-K has a complicated relationship with Boston fans. His Boston tenure began with unreasonable expectations and ended with years of wasted money, injuries, terrible starts and having his last Red Sox appearance end with tears after failing spectacularly.

So he was a bust, right?

Well, he DID help the Red Sox win a World Series and the next season finished in the top 4 for the Cy Young vote.

So he was a success?

Like I said, the relationship is complicated. But the positive trajectory of Dice-K was derailed after the 2009 World Baseball Classic. And that makes me angry.

A high school phenom in Japan, he caught the eyes of the Rockies and the Diamondbacks, looking for their answer to Hideo Nomo. Instead he joined the Seibu Lions and won the Japan League’s Rookie of the Year in 1999. He became one of the elite pitchers in Japan and sparking a rivalry with another Central League pitcher, Koji Uehara, whose relationship with Boston fans became much less complex.

Between 1999 and 2006, he led the league in strikeouts 4 times, in ERA twice, won 7 Japanese Gold Gloves and three times had the most victories and was on 6 All Star teams.

In 2006, he used the World Baseball Classic as a showcase for his talents in front of an American crowd. After the 2006 season, he signed with Scott Boras and made his services available in America. First a team needed to pay a posting fee and THEN they could work out a contract.

Dice-K looked super durable and supposedly threw a Gyro Ball, an unhittable pitch that would make him a perennial Cy Young contender in America. He was more polished than Nomo and a better bet than Hideki Irabu.

The Red Sox, smarting from a terrible second half of the 2006 season and a disappointing Boston debut of new ace Josh Beckett, opened their wallets and out spent the Yankees, Mets and Rangers. They paid $51 million just to talk with him and then ANOTHER $52 million to sign him.

Heads were spinning from the amount of money the Red Sox were spending to get a second title since 1918, but if it worked then they had a pitcher who could change the game.

The Japanese press covered his every move and the Yankees panicked by signing Kei Igawa to show fans that THEY were willing to bring in aces from Asia.

He looked like the real deal in his first game, retiring 10 Royals in a row at one point, and striking out 10 over 7 innings. He struck out 10 or more batters in two of his first three starts.

Dice-K pitched well in his first season but hardly like a world altering ace. He pitched 204 2/3 innings and won 15, striking out 201 along the way. But his ERA was a mediocre 4.40.

He was maddeningly inconsistent. Some days he would throw 8 shutout innings, striking out 9. The next day he would let up 6 runs in 5 innings. And there was no mysterious Gyroball. He just threw out of the strike zone a lot, hoping to get hitters to chase.

Also maddening to Red Sox fans was the pace of his games. This was no dominating virtuoso performance that Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez or Curt Schilling would give. Dice-K games lumbered on… and on… and on.

Fortunately for Dice-K, Josh Beckett picked up the slack and became the Red Sox ace as they won the AL East. In the post season, Dice-K won a few key games and even got a 2 run single in the World Series. But his performance was less than ace like.

The Red Sox would win the 2007 World Series and they looked for more in 2008.

As Beckett regressed in 2008, Dice-K blossomed into the ace. A brief stint on the disabled list cost him a few starts but he wound up finishing the season with an 18-3 record and a 2.90 ERA. He DID lead the league with 94 walks but he seemed to have made the adjustment to the big leagues as he helped pitch the Red Sox to Game 7 of the ALCS.

Expectations were sky high for the Red Sox in 2009, especially with a can’t miss rotation of Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield. But there was a problem. When Spring Training came around, Daisuke Matsuzaka, he of $51 million just to talk to, was with the Japanese team and training with them and not keeping in touch with the Red Sox.

It was World Baseball Classic time and Daisuke Matsuzaka was looking to lead Japan to another title during Spring Training.

Did Japan win the 2009 World Baseball Classic? I am not kidding, did they? I have no idea. I do know one thing. The Red Sox did not win the 2009 World Series. In fact they got swept out of the Division Series.

Do you know who did NOT make a start in the Division Series? That would be Daisuke Matsuzaka. He was a non factor in the season.

He was put on the disabled list in April and then again in June. He didn’t pitch again until September when his ERA was above 8. His arm looked tired but eventually he revealed that he hurt his hip during the WBC training and didn’t inform anyone.

When a team is paying you tens of millions of dollars, you should probably keep them up to date on everything. Needless to say showing his devotion to Spring Training games over the Red Sox did not go over well with Boston fans.

2010 was a mediocre year for Dice-K. He won 9 games over 25 starts and saw his ERA settle at a middle of the road 4.69. Once again, he saw time on the DL. In 2011, as the Red Sox spent big, Dice-K barely played, making 7 starts and 1 relief appearance in another injury riddled season.

2012 was the final year of his massive contract. He had given the Red Sox one OK year, one good year, a lot of lost time and wasted money and boring starts. He would not redeem himself in his last year. He would win a single game in his 11 starts and his ERA was an unsightly 8.28. He made it out of the 4th inning in one of his final 5 starts.

He pitched the final game of the 2012 season, the worst Red Sox year since before the 1967 Impossible Dream. He lasted 2 1/3 innings in Yankee Stadium, allowing 5 hits and being reduced to tears in the locker room.

Later Dice-K pitched a few seasons with the Mets and returned to Japan.

Would the Red Sox have won the 2007 World Series without Dice-K? I am not sure but he did help. But the bulk of the contract was wasted money.

Now I am not sure if this is Correlation vs Causation, but the downfall of Dice-K in Boston can be directed squarely on his time at the World Baseball Classic.

Naturally, I am not a fan of that tournament.