Picked-up pieces while waiting for the start of the Mac Jones era …
▪ Here in Boston sports, the list of our best rookies includes Ted Williams, Walt Dropo, Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, Bobby Orr, Dave Cowens, Larry Bird, Ray Bourque, Fred Lynn, and Nomar Garciaparra. The best Patriots rookies probably were John Hannah, Mike Haynes, Curtis Martin, and Jerod Mayo.
But how many of them were asked to lead? How many of them were asked to get their first professional team to the playoffs? The 18-year-old Orr couldn’t get the Bruins into the playoffs in his rookie season, but of course, we never held it against him. There was so much ahead for the greatest hockey player of all time.
In the pantheon of Boston rookies to lead teams to the playoffs, my freshman four would be Russell, Heinsohn, Bird, and Lynn. Heavy on Celtics, I know, but basketball simply lends itself to team turnarounds triggered by a great new player.
Russell and Heinsohn arrived together in 1956 and immediately delivered Boston its first NBA championship. Russell didn’t start his season until December because he was busy winning gold for the US at the Melbourne Olympics. This allowed Heinsohn to earn Rookie of the Year honors for 1956-57.
Tommy was worthy. He scored 37 points with 23 rebounds in Boston’s Game 7 double-overtime win over the Hawks in the 1957 NBA Finals. But Russell was the one who made the difference. The Celtics had been an annual playoff team, but Russell put them over the top with his rebounding and defense. He’s the greatest winner in American professional sports.
Bird is probably the greatest rookie in Boston sports history. He won NBA Rookie of the Year (over Magic Johnson), averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds, and the Celtics went from 29-53 to 61-21 — a 32-game improvement that at the time was the greatest in league history from one season to the next. He also triggered a sellout streak of 662 games at the Old Garden.
The Red Sox have had a raft of Rookies of the Year. Teddy Ballgame knocked in a league-best 145 runs in his rookie season. But Lynn probably had most the impact in the win column. The 1974 Sox had choked away a big August lead and finished third. In 1975, with Lynn winning MVP and Rookie of the Year, the Sox advanced to the seventh game of the World Series. Lynn had a lot of help from fellow rookie Jim Rice, who wound up in Cooperstown.
Drew Bledsoe, the last rookie to start the season as Patriots quarterback, took over a 2-14 team and got them to 5-11, winning the last four games of his first season. Bledsoe threw 15 touchdown passes, was intercepted 15 times, and completed 49.9 percent of his passes.
Fair or unfair, that won’t be good enough for Mac Jones.
We’re not asking Jones to be Bird, Russell, or Freddie Lynn. We just want him to be good enough to get the Patriots back into the playoffs.
The future starts Sunday.
▪ Chris Sale has COVID. No doubt the Sox still want us to believe it’s all bad luck and has nothing to do with a split clubhouse that’s been unable to get over the 85 percent vaccination threshold. Twelve Sox players have landed on the COVID-19 list since Aug. 27 and 10 have tested positive. Nobody deserves to get sick, but a rational person can only conclude that the Sox’ vax resistance has put them at a competitive disadvantage.
▪ Congrats to Tom Brady on another boffo night in Thursday’s season opener. It made me wonder: Precisely when did football cease to be a contact sport for Brady? He’s playing arena ball now. And he’s great at it. The Cowboys put zero pressure on Brady all night and watched him pick them apart. Is the Tom Coughlin/John Harbaugh formula impossible to replicate in today’s game?
▪ Aaron Boone might get fired after all.
▪ New Red Sox spare part José Iglesias was briefly a member of the ill-fated 2011 team. The Cuban-born shortstop was called to the big leagues for a cup of coffee in May and September, while spending most of his season at Pawtucket.
Iglesias was 21 years old and spoke almost no English when he came to the majors. He went to see “The Lion King” on Broadway during an offday in New York. Dustin Pedroia took the quiet young infielder under his wing and said, “Just follow me around. Think of me as Castro and do everything I say.”
▪ Quiz: Name the only big leaguer to win batting championships in each of his first two full seasons (answer below).
▪ The estimable Steve Serby of the New York Post picks the Patriots to finish first in the AFC East with an 11-6 record, then advance to the AFC Championship game.
▪ The always-great Tyler Kepner of the New York Times reminds us that in his 20-year career, Derek Jeter played in only one regular-season home game in which the Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention: the final home game of Jeter’s final season, 2014.
▪ Holy Cross football coach Bob Chesney is going places. The 44-year-old Chesney, now in his fourth season at HC, coached three seasons at Salve Regina and five years at Assumption.
Last weekend, Chesney’s Crusaders beat Division 1 UConn, 38-28, in Connecticut. It was HC’s first win over an FBS school since it beat Army in 2002. In my opinion, it is HC’s best football win since 1978, which was the last time the Cross beat Boston College.
▪ UConn football? Sheer chaos. Head coach Randy Edsall stepped down two days after losing to Holy Cross. Defensive coordinator Lou Spanos will take over on an interim basis.
Like UMass, the Huskies are in over their heads, taking big paychecks to get hammered by Division 1 powerhouses. UConn has Purdue and Clemson on its schedule this year. If the Huskies beat Clemson, HC fans will be asking for a national ranking and a return to the Orange Bowl.
▪ Nothing in baseball is more overrated than the immaculate inning. Big league hitters no longer care about striking out. They don’t change their approach with two strikes. Let’s see a crafty hurler use three pitches to induce three outs. That is more impressive.
▪ Alex Verdugo’s wild and woolly afternoon in center field during the Sox’ hideous 11-10 loss Monday had the JBJ Love Society in a full frenzy, even though Jackie Bradley Jr. was hitting .168 for the Brewers. No thanks.
▪ A reader suggests that in the wake of the Red Sox COVID crisis, this might be a Boston baseball team that needs to impose the “25 players, 25 cabs” policy that was a team trademark in the 1970s and 1980s.
▪ When did Kiké Hernández become The Franchise? NESN’s wall-to-wall pregame coverage of the return of Kiké was ridiculous. Ted Williams didn’t get that much love when he came back to Fenway after flying 38 combat missions in Korea.
▪ The New York Liberty of the WNBA are often referred to as the Libs. The team is owned by Hong Kong-Canadian billionaire Joseph Tsai. Does this mean Tsai “owns the Libs”?
▪ Former Globie Lesley Visser jumped into the podcast pool with “In Conversation” on Sirius XM. This week she talks with actor/author/Yankees fan David Duchovny (he wrote “Bucky F### Dent”), who ripped Fenway, saying, “You can’t have a fence 310 feet away and call it a major league park. It’s barely beyond a Little League fence. They shouldn’t even be allowed to have the World Series there.” Visser said she almost hung up on her own podcast.
▪ Kudos to Spy Ponder Pat Connaughton, who brought the NBA championship trophy to his St. John’s Prep high school last weekend. Connaughton was home to speak about the O’Brien Family Student-Athlete Leadership Initiative. He has never forgotten his roots.
▪ Anybody know what’s up with Jason Varitek hanging handcuffs in the Fenway dugout for every Sox home game? Asking for a friend.
▪ The vaunted K Men, marking strikeouts by Red Sox hurlers for 23 years at Fenway, are raising funds for The BASE in 2021. When fans order a K shirt or backward-K hat, all funds go directly to The BASE, an organization that serves hundreds of students each year, primarily students from Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan. For information, contact bostonkmen.org.
▪ Jack McMahon, a major figure in amateur basketball in Boston in the 1970s and ’80s, died Sept. 1. McMahon was a volunteer assistant coach at BC but better known as founder of the Greater Boston AAU program and a longtime friend of the Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester.
▪ RIP Peter Colton, owner of The Fours, the best sports bar in the history of Boston. Colton died suddenly at home last weekend. Gone too soon, Colton was a quarterback at UMass, and his saloon was our real “Cheers” bar, the heart and soul of the Boston Garden sports experience for decades.
▪ Quiz answer: Tony Oliva, Twins, 1964 and 1965.