It’s over. I’m done. For at least the next few years, I’m out.
For as long as I can remember – going back to the Summer of ’77 and my first visit to Fenway Park – I have found hope in a new Red Sox season. I was too young – at the time – to appreciate the pain that Bucky Dent inflicted not fifteen months later. But I was plenty old enough to be thunderstruck by “a little roller up along first” eight years after that.
When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, my wife could not understand how or why I was so emotional. A wife and kids were preordained, I explained to her, but a Red Sox title was not. My father, 63 at the time, had never enjoyed one. His father witnessed a championship when he was eight years old, and then lived nearly 80 years more without experiencing another. I just never knew.
But the absence of a ring did not eliminate hope. Hope, I had. Every spring I would eagerly await the SI Baseball Preview (it always coincided with the Swimsuit Issue), and quickly flip to the AL East to see what the prognosticators thought about the BoSox’ chances. And whether it was Rice and Boggs, or Pedro and Nomah, or Schilling and Manny, I always had hope that this would be the year; or this would be the year we did it again.
And now I don’t have hope. Last week, Yankee great Derek Jeter traded NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton – he of the 59 mammoth home runs – to his former team. And now the two biggest, strongest, and hardest-hitting sluggers in all of baseball are manning the outfield corners in the Bronx. Aaron Judge, the 6-foot-7, 282 pound, and 52 home run hitting (as a rookie) right fielder, will be paired with the 6-foot-6, 250 pound, dynamo, Giancarlo Stanton. And lest we forget, they will be in the lineup with Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Didi Gregorius (just to name a few).
To put this in perspective, last season, Judge and Stanton together hit 111 home runs. Add in Sanchez’s 33 round-trippers, and Gregorius’ 25, and those four guys out-homered the entire Red Sox lineup. Four of the first five hitters in the Yankees’ projected 2018 lineup hit more dingers than a team that had a $197 million payroll last season. So, yeah, I am hopeless.
Here is another view: Judge saw 4.41 pitches per plate appearance; Stanton saw 3.95; Brett Gardner 4.23. Assume that those three guys represent – in some order – the first three batters in the Yankees’ lineup. Pitchers will throw – on average – no less than 12-13 pitches in the first inning, every…single…night. And that is the best case scenario. I shudder to think of what happens when Gardner fights off three 1-2 pitches and then flips a duck fart into left field for a single; Judge works a seven-pitch walk; and then Eduardo Rodriguez or Drew Pomeranz is faced with two on, no out, and Stanton, Sanchez, and Gregorius coming up. Sigh!
Not yet sick to your stomach, try this one: Stanton hit a home run in 8.5% of his plate appearances last year; Judge did so 7.7% of the time. The Red Sox and Yankees play six series next season (five 3-gamers and one 4-gamer). Last season, Stanton and Judge each averaged 4.4 plate appearance per game; meaning in a 3-game series, they would each come to the plate 13 times and, on average, each hit at least one homerun. That sword of Damocles will hang over every series, every game, every at bat. My only solace is that only eight teams gave up fewer HR/9 than the Red Sox did last season. Of course, last season they weren’t facing Judge and Stanton in 12% of their games.
I head into the new year, the new season, with a clear head. Sure, the Red Sox may go out and sign J.D. Martinez for some absurd amount of money to help bolster the offense. They might believe Scott Boras’ hype and shell out big bucks for Eric Hosmer to hit line drives off the Monster. David Price might finally live up to his contract and not talk down to reporters/Hall of Famers. And maybe, just maybe, the Boston faithful find themselves in a winner-take-all Wild Card game next fall. That is the most we can hope for.
And so, for the first time in forty years, I now look forward to a baseball season in a way I have never done before: with no hope. It is quite discomfiting.
Of course, when Judge and Stanton begin the season hitting a combined .163, with four dingers between them, and the Red Sox get off to a 12-4 start, I reserve the right to take back everything I have written. Hope will once again spring eternal. And, as Ellis Boyd Redding once said:
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