Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Importance of Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson with Martin Luther King
Today is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, and while Jackie Robinson's importance to Major League Baseball is recognized and understood, his importance to the American Civil Rights movement as a whole is largely overlooked.

Robinson was a lifetime Civil Rights advocate. Though he promised Dodgers GM Branch Rickey that he would "have the guts not to fight back" against the racist taunts and threats from white fans, players, and coaches, he spent his entire life fighting against racism. 

During his playing days, he proved racist expectations wrong again and again, performing at the highest level of the sport under 24/7 emotional siege. Robinson and his family were constantly targeted for harassment - somehow he not only survived that kind of stress, he led the league in multiple statistical categories.

Robinson's excellence in the previously all-white major leagues was a powerful symbol to Americans years before Brown vs. Board of Education began the slow process of school desegregation. His perseverance in the face of unspeakable bigotry served as an inspiration for thousands of people.

After retiring from baseball, Robinson wrote letters to several US presidents, urging them to take action against racism. He corresponded with Martin Luther King, and attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Robinson and his family at the March on Washington
Robinson was only 53 years old when he passed away in 1972. Just before his death, he attended the World Series, where he once again advocated for the breaking of barriers, urging MLB to employ more black people in coaching and management positions: "I'd like to live to see a black manager, I'd like to live to see the day when there's a black man coaching at third base." 

Sadly, Robinson didn't live to see that particular dream realized. He died much too young, and there's a lot of speculation that the extreme stress of his life contributed to his short lifespan

As I've done many times before in this space, I'm going to highly recommend Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy

As Red Sox fans, we have a responsibility to understand the kind of racism perpetuated by our team less than 70 years ago. The Red Sox were the very last team to integrate, twelve years after Robinson made his debut for the Dodgers. Boston had a reputation for being wholly unwelcoming to nonwhite players well into the 1990s. For more on this topic, I recommend It Was Never About the Babe: The Red Sox, Racism, Mismanagement, and the Curse of the Bambino, and Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

 They say hope springs eternal, and nowhere is that phrase more embraced than in baseball. When the calendar rolls to April, all thirty MLB teams start anew with a clean slate. Some, this year the Giants, hoist a Championship flag to celebrate last season's achievements, while the rest will heave a sigh of relief that 2014 is officially in the baseball history books.

But whether you cheer for the defending champs or one of the twenty-nine clubs that came up short, Opening Day is a magical time. It marks the beginning of spring, a slate of (mostly) day games to remind us that those warm summer nights will come again, and that the best things in life come without a clock (pace of play initiatives notwithstanding).

Anything is possible on Opening Day: veterans will return to their stomping grounds, or make debuts for new teams and in new leagues; rookies will set foot on the lush grass of big league fields for the first time. Home runs will jump off of bats with the most satisfying crack you've ever heard, and catcher's gloves will pop with the sound of strikeouts.

Little kids will eat hot dogs and sing about cracker jacks, while their parents buy overpriced beer and whatever weird food their home ballpark is debuting this season.

I've never been to an Opening Day persay, but I did go to Opening Night in 2010, when Pedro Martinez emerged from the Green Monster to throw out the first pitch. Then in 2013, I attended the Red Sox Home Opener. Both were amazing, particularly since the Red Sox won both games, but there's just something indescribable about the atmosphere when the offseason finally comes to an end.

Today is that singular day for everyone outside of Cubs and Cardinals fans - they got their special time on national television last night. After today's slate of fourteen games, we'll be back to business as usual. But for today, all is right with the world: baseball is back again.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2015 Bill James Projections - Dustin Pedroia

 2011 projection: 158 games, .297 BA, .372 OBP, .462 SLG, 17 HR, 77 RBI
2011: 159 games, .307 BA, .387 OBP, .474 SLG, 21 HR, 91 RBI
2012 projection: 143 games, .299 BA, .378 OBP, .469 SLG, 17 HR, 73 RBI
2012: 141 games, .290 BA, .347 OBP, .449 SLG, 15 HR, 65 RBI
2013 projection: 156 games, .296 BA, .367 OBP, .459 SLG, 17 HR, 76 RBI
2013: 160 games, .301 BA, .372 OBP, .415 SLG, 9 HR, 84 RBI
2014 projection: 157 games, .298 BA, .371 OBP, .443 SLG, 14 HR, 77 RBI
2014: 135 games, .278 BA, .337 OBP, .376 SLG, 7 HR, 53 RBI
2015 projection: 151 games, .290 BA, .361 OBP, .421 SLG, 12 HR, 70 RBI

As a matter of principal, I'm going to go on record as saying that Bill James and his team have underestimated Dustin Pedroia's numbers for 2015. Why? Because people have been underestimating Dustin Pedroia his entire career, and he proves the doubters wrong every time.

Aside from that, Pedroia came into camp this year having had a productive offseason with no limits - the first such offseason in a number of years. As much as I love Pedroia (and I love him a lot), he can be his own worst enemy, thowing himself around the field with no regard to his own safety.

It's amazing to have a man on the field who puts the Red Sox winning over his own body and wellbeing - but Pedroia has a tendency to hurt himself sometimes in situations that didn't require such a balls-to-the-wall approach.

Red Sox fans know that Pedroia won't (can't!) tone things down situationally: his 110% all the time style of play is as much a part of him as trash talking and premature balding. It's a trade that anyone would make to have the tenacity and talent Pedroia possess suiting up for their team every day.

Former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona was known to say "If I had nine Dustins we'd win every game." Despite the inherent risks of a Pedroia-type player, I agree wholeheartedly with Tito, and I expect big things from my favorite Red Sox this season.