Picked-up pieces while wishing anyone loved me as much as Bill Belichick loves Cam Newton …
▪ Alex Cora is one fine big league manager. It’s great for the Red Sox that he’s back, and New England is excited with the team’s fast start.
We know all about Cora’s baggage. Major League Baseball suspended him for a year for his role in the world champion Houston Astros’ cheating scandal of 2017. Cora’s 2018 world champion Red Sox also were caught and punished by MLB for illegal sign stealing (video room shenanigans).
Now that MLB is cracking down on pitchers for using illegal sticky substances to make the baseball spin, I would think Cora has put his hurlers on notice. More than anyone in the game, Cora can ill afford to be associated with another cheating scandal.
When Cora was asked about this issue at a group Zoom session Wednesday, he said, “I don’t think it’s in the manager’s hands. It think it’s more the players.”
I spoke with Cora one-on-one Friday morning to ask about recommendations he may have made to his pitchers.
“We had a meeting in spring training and Chaim [Bloom] addressed that part,” Cora answered.
Given his personal history, does Cora feel any need to be particularly vigilant on the issue?
“Um … like I said, Chaim talked about it in spring training,” said Cora. “He was very open about it, so now we have to wait for the memo or whatever they are going to do and then we’ll address it again.”
Swell, I told Cora. But since he was one of the few punished when the Astros got caught, and since he was manager of the Sox when they got caught in ’18, if I were him, I’d be telling my guys to make sure they are clean because I can’t have anything else on my résumé. What about that, Alex?
“Chaim took care of that in spring training.”
Baseball’s cops know that Spider Tack and other substances are being used to increase spin rate. It’s a violation of Rule 6.02 (C), which has not been strictly enforced. But now teams are on notice that in-game inspections are coming and offenders will be punished.
A Statcast chart in Sports Illustrated indicates that Red Sox pitchers in 2021 have the third-greatest percent increase in spin rate since 2020. A simple explanation could be the addition of Garrett Richards and other spin masters acquired by Bloom. Boston’s starting rotation, a mediocre bunch that overachieved early in the season, had an ERA of 8.91 in the first seven games after stories broke about new scrutiny.
Richards, who pitched eight seasons in Anaheim (unofficial headquarters for pitchers using foreign substances), gave up 19 hits and four walks in 10⅓ innings over two starts after the bells rang.
▪ Chauncey Billups works for me as Celtics coach. So does Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, if he’s suddenly available.
Billups has an unusual association with Boston. He was Rick Pitino’s first draft pick after the Celtics lost the lottery sweeps and Pitino learned that Tim Duncan wouldn’t be walking through that door in 1997. Pitino made Billups the third overall pick of the 1997 draft, then gave up on him after 51 games and traded him to Toronto.
Billups went on to become a five-time All-Star and a world champion in 17 NBA seasons. Today’s players respond best to ex-players. Billups would command their attention.
Carlisle is riskier because he is older, he was a fringe player, and none of today’s players remember him as a player. But he has been an NBA champion as a player and a coach and he’s current with the league. He’s no-nonsense, smart, and a Larry Bird disciple. He believes in today’s game even though he played in the 1980s.
Carlisle does not dwell on the good old days and talk about how much better the league was when he played (even though it was).
Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones all won championships as head coach of the Celtics after playing for them. M.L. Carr is the last former Celtic to coach the team (1995-97).
▪ Quiz: Name the player who owns the Red Sox’ season record for RBIs by a switch-hitter (answer below).
▪ Small-town honor system: I made a trip back to my hometown of Groton and had a cool moment coming out from the back of the library when I looked over to the town basketball court and baseball fields. There was not a soul in sight on a humid late Tuesday afternoon, and it was about to rain, but I was struck by the sight of a basketball resting on the court of my teenage years.
Closer inspection revealed that it was an ancient Spalding, with “Groton” stenciled on two sides, worn down to a state of fuzziness, but still full of air with good bounce. A Rabbit Angstrom moment.
▪ I’m starting to wonder whether we were too hard on the Celtics in the final days of their season. They managed to win a playoff game against Brooklyn and led by 12 in the first half of another. And that was against a Nets team that had James Harden, who has yet to play in the conference semifinal carnage against Milwaukee. The Nets lead the Bucks, 2-1, and play Game 4 Sunday.
▪ If you didn’t like the Red Sox’ five-run sixth inning against the Astros Thursday at Fenway, you just don’t like baseball. It had everything, including a 221-foot popup that landed in shallow center and was ruled an out under the infield fly rule.
▪ Original baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was hired because of a gambling scandal and ruled that the eight Chicago White Sox who’d cut a deal with gamblers before the 1919 World Series be banned for life. As recently as 1985, then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth said that baseball “must be free from any connection between it and gambling.” Now we have Rob Manfred, the Gambling Commissioner who makes MLB partners with gamblers: #pieceofthepie.
▪ Leave it to New York Times baseball savant Tyler Kepner (a former Globe intern) to tell us that, “Of the 74,774 selections made in the various iterations of the MLB draft since it began in 1965, Mike Schmidt has done more for the team that drafted him than any other … No player has accumulated more wins above replacement for the team that picked him than Schmidt, the Philadelphia Phillies’ second-round choice, 30th overall, in 1971.”
For those who don’t like WAR, Kepner writes, “Schmidt hit more home runs for the team that drafted him than any other draft pick, while playing game-changing defense and leading a previously moribund franchise to its first World Series title.”
Also drafted in 1971: George Brett and Jim Rice. Which means there were three single-franchise Hall of Famers in the same pool. Schmidt told Kepner he thinks Mike Trout will someday be regarded as the best draft pick ever.
▪ Kudos to ESPN for its coverage of the NCAA women’s softball tournament. The sport is generating boffo ratings because it is a good TV product, fast and action-packed.
▪ Whitman-Hanson’s Sam Mewis beat Portugal with a goal in the 76th minute to give the US women’s national soccer team a 1-0 win Thursday in Houston. The team has won 40 straight, 54 straight on US soil.
▪ After two years of COVID disruption, the NBA will open its 2021-22 season on schedule Oct. 19.
▪ A new Bob Cousy statue will be dedicated on the plaza outside the DCU Center in Worcester Friday, June 18, at 2 p.m. The 92-year-old Celtics great is scheduled to be at the unveiling, along with family, friends, and dignitaries.
In 2008, a statue of the Cooz was placed in front of the Luth Athletic Center atop Mount St. James on the Holy Cross campus.
“I’m taking care of the pigeons in two different spots in Worcester,” says the six-time world champion and 1957 NBA Most Valuable Player.
▪ Summer sports reading: Start with “Glory Days: The Summer of 1984,” by L. Jon Wertheim, executive editor of Sports Illustrated. This one has Celtics-Lakers, Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour (which forced Billy Sullivan to sell the Patriots), Mary Lou Retton sticking the landing at the Los Angeles Olympics, and much more. Move from there to “CenterStage” culled from Michael Kay’s best interviews of the last 20 years, including sessions with Bobby Orr, Bill Russell, Red Auerbach, and Bill Parcells.
▪ The Yankees struck out 37 times while getting swept by the Red Sox in three games in the Bronx last weekend.
▪ Did you catch the video of billionaire Bob Kraft being gifted a Bentley convertible by his pals, 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin, Meek Mill, and Jay-Z, on the occasion of Kraft’s 80th birthday last week? Kraft’s love of Bentleys has been well-documented in the last few years. The new birthday Bentley is blue.
▪ Quiz answer: Jurassic Carl Everett (108 in 2000).