Picked-up pieces while pondering the truly unbelievable career of David Ortiz . . .
▪ Here’s a post-holiday gift for Red Sox fans — a parlor game in which you sit around drinking with friends and try to identify the racists, potheads, criminals, drunks, and all-around crazies on the 2011 Red Sox. That team, you may remember, delivered the greatest collapse in baseball history with a 7-20 September that eliminated them from what appeared a certain playoff spot.
You have Bill James to thank for this gift.
Stat Man James retired from the Sox with four championship rings in October 2019 after serving as a team consultant for 17 seasons. He was listed on the team masthead above “instructors” Jim Rice and Luis Tiant.
James still has a pay-subscription website and he recently made some strong comments about the role of team chemistry regarding the ‘11 Sox.
James wrote (in part) " . . . The  team was split 15 ways, split between pitchers and position players, split between the super-serious guys and the fun-loving guys, split between the drinkers and the pot smokers. A couple of players were suspected of being . . . um insufficiently committed to good relations between the races. One guy who had a great year for us was really kind of a criminal; another guy was just nuts. One guy was just all in for himself. Too many people ran their mouths to the press and to one another. Most everybody on the team had a list of 10 teammates that he couldn’t stand . . . If anybody ever tried to tell you that team chemistry doesn’t matter, man, they should have been there.”
I called Terry Francona, who was fired two days after that season ended, and ran James’s words by the former Sox skipper.
“He’s never been in the clubhouse, to my knowledge,” stated Tito. “I don’t even know where to begin. When you lose like we did in Boston, there always has to be a reason. It can’t just be that you weren’t good enough. That team — we started out like 2-12, then we went 80-40 and I don’t remember anybody saying all those things on September 1st. We just kind of [expletive] the bed. Go back and look. Daniel Bard had a horrible September. He didn’t even drink. Our pitching was wiped out. We just played bad. I don’t know where Bill is coming up with all this. Also, Bill spent years telling me that this kind of stuff didn’t matter. It was all about the numbers with him.”
I reached out to Sam Kennedy Friday morning and read him James’s screed. The Sox CEO declined comment.
▪ Quiz: Name a Super Bowl-champion running back and an NBA champion who were high school basketball teammates at Oakland Technical High School (answer below).
▪ Hope there is someone with common sense and a love of the game involved when baseball players present a lockout counteroffer to owners Monday. Wonder if Ed Davis would consider helping?
▪ Watching the Celtics has become a chore. They are in the softest part of their schedule and still they infuriate. Nice look for Dennis Schröder to go off on a reporter’s question this past week. It was a perfect demonstration of an entitled Celtic thinking he’s accomplished something when he has never won anything. It’s typical of these Celtics. Bill James should be writing about this pack of misfits.
▪ More than a couple of readers e-mailed saying they are baffled the Red Sox are aggressively pushing ticket sales (including spring training games) during the lockout. The Sox ticket offering includes this language: " . . . All sales are final and are subject to availability . . . No refunds or exchanges will be issued . . . ” I reached out to the Red Sox and team vice president/corporate communications Zineb Curran e-mailed, “If any games are canceled for reasons related to COVID or the work stoppage, the club will issue account credits, allow fans to exchange tickets for other games, or have the option for a refund.”
▪ Another year is in the books and the Arizona Cardinals will go into the 2022 NFL season with the longest championship drought among all teams in our four major sports. The Cardinals won the NFL title as the Chicago Cardinals in 1947. The Cleveland Guardians own baseball’s longest drought. They won as the Cleveland Indians in 1948. The NBA’s Sacramento Kings won as the Rochester Royals in 1951 and the Toronto Maple Leafs are the NHL’s longest losers, having last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.
▪ In the interest of settling all family business, Tom Brady would no doubt like to beat Jimmy Garoppolo in the NFC Championship game. Moving forward, are we all rooting for a Brady vs. Buffalo Super Bowl?
▪ Three ex-Harvard tight ends are on rosters for the NFL’s divisional-round playoffs: Anthony Firkser (Titans), Cameron Brate (Buccaneers), and Kyle Juszczyk (49ers).
▪ Bobby Valentine, who evidently never sleeps, this past week was named a brand ambassador for a Chicago-based gaming and betting company. “I am excited to be joining the BetRivers team at an exciting moment in the evolution of sports betting,” said Bobby V. Yeesh. Pete Rose needs to hire good lawyers and make a run at Rob Manfred, who shall forever be known as the commissioner who gave away the store when the bettors came to baseball offering a cut of the action.
▪ Congrats to the French Open for having some spine. Your choice, Novak Djokovic. Only wish the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB would follow suit. Fans around here can’t go to indoor arenas without the vaccine. Why should players be allowed?
▪ Guess the Pelicans wish they’d taken Ja Morant instead of Zion Williamson.
▪ RIP Meat Loaf. Colleague Peter Abraham points out that Mr. Loaf was softball coach at Joel Barlow High School (Conn.) in the early 1990s and coached under his real name of Michael Lee Aday.
▪ Former Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall died last weekend at age 93. Hall played a role in the hoop education of Larry Joe Bird. French Lick, Ind., is a two-hour drive from Lexington, Ky., and Larry Legend grew up idolizing the Wildcat program. Bird and his dad made a visit to Lexington when Larry was a high school senior, but Hall didn’t think Larry would be able to get his shot off in the SEC and no scholarship was offered. It was a slight Bird never forgot. Hall won an NCAA championship with Rick Robey, and Bird still teases Robey about “takin’ all them bribes to play for Joe B. Hall.” There’s more. After his junior season at Indiana State, Bird and Magic Johnson played on a USA World Invitational Tournament team, coached by Hall. Hall routinely played Kentucky stars, including Robey and Kyle Macy, ahead of Bird and Magic, who spent a lot of time on the bench.
▪ It somehow escaped our attention that Don Gaston, longtime owner of the Celtics, died June 11 in Greenwich, Conn. Gaston, who was predeceased by his wife of 67 years, Paula, bought the Celtics from Harry Mangurian in 1983 and turned the team over to his son, Paul, 10 years later. Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca bought the Celtics from the Gaston family in 2002.
▪ Estimable Austin Prep has pledged to bolt from the MIAA to join the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) in 2022-23. Good for Austin Prep, I guess, but here’s hoping this isn’t a trend. For all the heat the MIAA takes (some of it well-deserved), I’m a fan of keeping it as broad-based and all-encompassing as possible.
▪ Pretty cool moment at Norwood High Thursday when Norwood beat Walpole, 66-54, in a boys’ varsity game coached by Jenna Galster (Walpole) and Kristen McDonnell (Norwood). It was the first MIAA game featuring two boys’ basketball teams coached by women.
▪ Quiz answer: Marshawn Lynch (2013 Seahawks) and Leon Powe (2007-08 Celtics).