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Sports Ball Thoughts 8.

Monday 12/10/18

I have far more important things to discuss in these pages than athletics, but I have a spare five minutes as I pong from one act of creation to the other in what has been an exhausting challenge of my abilities, which, of course, are going to carry the day, but I am left drained all the same, the more so because of the rigging of system. The ref has his arm up before I even step on the ice. And yet, onto the ice I step. Again and again. But, let us talk sports quickly.

1. The Patriots loss yesterday. I have no real problem with it. They should have lost in Chicago when they allowed that completion on the Hail Mary on the last play of the game. As they say, these things tend to even out. And that's what yesterday was. I was not and am not buying that Gronkowski is done. People are so quick to bury this guy. He looks no different to me than in other seasons when he's been hurt enough not to be fully effective, but not hurt enough not to play. He's had big games when he's not big with YAC numbers.

2. Brady is hurt. He steps into some of his throws, but not nearly all. My guess: They shoot him up, it wears off. But there's no excuse for taking that sack at the end of the first half. He said he didn't know how many timeouts they had. Props for candor? Only he's lying. The OC is in your ear via the headset. They tasked him with making a play or throwing the ball away, having faith--misplaced faith--that he would not take the sack. He took the sack. Royal cock up.

3. Belichick is catching lots of flack for having Gronkowski in for the final play. Do you know why I think he was in, which no one else has suggested? Because that last play was going to be the penultimate play. If I were a Dolphins fan, I would have hoped that they would have thrown a quick sideline out to pick up ten or twelve yards. There were seven seconds on the clock prior to the final snap. Plenty of time to run the out, then you can get the ball to the end zone on the Hail Mary.

4. The Patriots may have not deserved to lose--until they did--but they also did not deserve to win.

5. It's really no big deal. Obviously in the grand scheme of life sense, but also in the sporting one. They control everything ahead of them. Not, granted, seeding, but everything else. Win all your games, then it's hooray, champions. It's one game. It's a learning lesson. People think they can't win on the road. Maybe. But I don't know--I see an offense starting to show signs. The '08 team, which didn't make the playoffs at 11-5--funny how the 2001 team had a bye with the same record--was cranking it up on offense those last few weeks. I thought they would have made a run if they got into the playoffs. Get your cock ups out in time, I say. The Ravens always used to be that way when they were good. The Giants, too.

6. You don't want to have to rely on Gostkowski.

7. People are very upset about Harold Baines being in the Hall of Fame now. I like when people get in. Again, I don't think it matters much in this life. What's neat about lots of players making the Hall in any sport is it helps the game. You get to feel like you have an active relationship with your favorite players. It's not someone who is an ex-such and such, but a forever present-such and such. They're always relevant. Always "on a team," if you will.

8. I can't even do the best-of-the-best thing. Then you're going to have thirty players. For catcher, Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra and no Carlton Fisk or Gary Carter.

9. I get why people don't want Baines in there. His supporters say that were it not for work stoppages, he'd have 3000 hits. You don't know that. Maybe he would have blown out his knee during that time if the games were played and lost 1000 hits. He was solid. A B+ player who was never close to being one of the best in the game. There were years were a Fisk (1972, 1977, 1983) was among the best in the game. Baines never came close to scoring 100 runs, having 200 hits. He never had anywhere close to a 1.000 OPS season. He was never an MVP threat. He had two 100 RBI season. Never hit 30 home runs. He was a rich man's Kent Hrbek with more longevity, without the defense. There was no season in his career where you thought he was one of the top twenty-five players in the game.

10. But: What he did he did consistently. And doing anything consistently, means you rack up totals. I've heard people argue that Baines was no Dwight Evans. I liked each player equally, as players, but Evans more, because I love the Red Sox like few do. What you must remember, though, is that the Hall of Fame is a case you make. It's not about who is the better ball player. It's about resume. Usually. Let's say you have the talent of the best ever painter, but you paint six things in your life, then you croak. You don't get to go down as the greatest painter ever. It's the presentation of your body of work.

11. Regarding Dwight Evans: Was he ever truly among the six or eight best players in the league? Yeah--circa 1984. He was still great defensively, and he was a top hitter. Now, you might say, but hey, Colin, he was great in 1987! He was a great hitter then--wasn't the same fielder, and his role there was accordingly diminished. I get that you'll say that Baines was mostly a DH after his first few years. True. But he always mostly B+ raked. Evans' rookie season was 1973. Do you know what you could expect from him until 1981? 15 homers, 50 RBI, .255 average. That makes Dwight Evans a below-average hitting outfielder for the first eight years of his career. Might 1975 and 1978--or 1977--been different, if they had gotten plus performance from him? You remember 1970s Evans because of the double play in Game Six of the 1975 World Series. But his throw on that play was putrid. Not that it mattered. But he was not this infallible outfield gunner like you read about.

12. Evans came of age as a hitter in 1981. He led the league in homers that year, then in OBP in 1982, before sucking badly in 1983, and then rising up once more. 1985 was also pretty ineffectual. These Red Sox teams were stacked offensively. Lots of power, plus Boggs seemingly always on second base. Evans got good pitches to hit. Of course, his elite batter's eye helped him out. Now, he's not batting .350 or yanking 44 homers or driving in 130. He's being good: .300, 30 homers, 100 RBI. His defense is becoming less of a factor, though. He's DH-ish, and having better years than Baines' best years, but he's not having a ton of them. They're bunched up in the second half of his career.

13. I'm going to give you a good comp for Evans, a player who has been in the news a lot here lately because the Bruins just retired his number: Rick Middleton. Now, I enjoyed Middleton. I wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated positing him as someone worthy of perhaps being in the hockey Hall of Fame, though I don't think he belongs. Middleton was a defensive plugger for the first portion of his career. For four years he was middling. Then, in his second Boston campaign after coming over from the Rangers, he becomes more than a point-a-game player in 1978-1979. First good year. He had five more. Six in total. Does that suggest Hall of Fame to you? These were not elite years; they were B+ to A- years. Evans had seven good years offensively. Are you not going to penalize Evans for taking so long to get it going? I'm going to. I care less about his WAR than his overall career value, as something that was consistent for me as someone rooting for the team. For more than half of his career, you did not know what you would get with Evans. He averaged 24 home runs and 86 RBI per 162 games when it was all over. Baines' numbers were a bit up from that. And Evans was playing from behind, after the bad start. But that's not Baines' fault. Give me the guy I can plug in and get the numbers from for twenty years. Or fifteen. Or twelve. In the end, Evans, on the basis of his career, had numbers that looked more like an elite catcher's, than a corner outfielder.

14. A personal Baines anecdote. It's 1982, I'm six, and my dad and I are coming back from a hockey game of mine. We stop off at a place in Stoughton called the Town Spa. Pizza joint. Best pizza I've ever had. If you go there now--and I recommend it--you're going to the new Town Spa establishment. But it must be like twenty, twenty-five years old. It's a personality-free, brightly lit restaurant with the same great pizza. But the old place was dark, with an upstairs bar that was like the bar in Cheers, only not below ground. That's where me and my dad went. We'd sit at the bar, too, never mind that I was six. And we were ordering some pizza to go, and the Sox were playing the White Sox on the TV. There was a sharply hit ball to right field, Baines fielded it, and launched a seed to third base, halting the Red Sox runner at second. I thought, damn, that guy can sling it, and it was then that my dad--who was not a man who easily dispensed compliments (John Lennon was that way, and I am probably more that way than anyone; you'll earn it with me, as this is an artifice-free zone), and he simply said, "good arm." But, his knees were balky, and Harold Baines was not long for an outfield spot.

15. Someone should hire me to talk sports on the radio. Give me a show. It will be better than other shows. Or start me off as a regular guest. Give me a slot on the weekend. I hear these people on the radio and they suck at it. You hear me on the radio and know that I do not.

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