Saturday, July 21

Where's the Drama?

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Where’s the drama?

Is it, as a drill sergeant on a short lived FOX boot camp reality show once suggested, being saved for “yo mamma?” Is it the preserve of pale goth chicks in pasty white makeup? Jose does not know. But surely, it is not at Fenway Park

Today is the World Famous Sons of Sam Horn bash, and there is absolutely no rumor, as yet, of Manny Ramirez demanding a trade. Not even a peep. Where the hell does that leave Jose? Lost and alone, and a little bored. That’s where. Two years ago, Manny was poised to be traded to the Mets on bash day and it made for easy copy. Pithy verbiage like “stop the music” and “trading Manny for Aubrey Huff and Mike Cameron is the stupidest idea ever” flowed freely from Jose’s clicking keys, like beer, and wine, and tequila and vodka, and rum and probably more than a little isopropyl down SoSHer Tom Ricardo’s formidable gullet.

And today? Well, today Jose has to actually use a drunken Cranston frat boy in an analogy. That’s how bad the material is today.

But let’s say Jose wants to write about real trading deadline drama. Let’s imagine, for once moment, that he would rather not write about the man called TRic. What would he write about? Would he hop on the rumors that the Sox are looking into Jermaine Dye or Marx Texiera? What about the Reggie Sanders option? Or there are even those silly rumors about Ken Griffey Jr.?

Pish tosh Jose says. Pish tosh. There is only one trade Jose wants to discuss, and that is the trade that brings Todd Helton to the Red Sox for Mike Lowell and Wily Mo Pena.

Let’s break it down.

Why would the Red Sox make this trade? It would give them a serious power boost, a skilled first baseman and allow them to move Kevin Youkilis to third.

Why would the Colorado Rockies make this move? Okay, bear with Jose for a second because it’s a little statistical, but here goes: They make the trade because someone put LSD in the water cooler. Think about it. It might work. Under the influence of acid, Colorado officials could easily become convinced that Helton was a snake monster they needed to get rid of, and that accepting a 30 foot tall Dominican giant and a kindly old wizard was a preferable to cutting him outright.

Okay, maybe no one is going to take this seriously baring the use of mind-altering drugs or possibly a kidnapping of some kind, but people took Manny for Huff and Cameron seriously, and was that really any less asinine? Okay, yes it was, but not by much.

2. Jose likes to think that he was Julio Lugo’s inspiration.

It only makes sense doesn’t it? Jose is a singles hitter with a propensity for groundouts, and an ugly tendency to throw the ball away. Sound like anyone you know? And yet at last night’s Sons of Sam Horn softball game, Jose absolutely raked. A deep home run, a triple, a single and a long fly out. No errors either. Okay, maybe one error, but it’s beer league softball.

Then all of a sudden Julio Lugo, who had been heating up anyway, suddenly crushes a ball over the monster for a grand slam. Rococo Crisp started heating up after Jacoby Ellsbury, a younger, whiter version of himself showed up. Is it not possible that Jose had the same impact on Lugo?

Admittedly, logic would say, “No that’s completely impossible. Stop being a jackass Jose.”

But Jose, jackass that he is, thinks otherwise. Sometimes all that matters is to hear the footsteps, to sense the sickly sweet breath of competition blowing down your neck.

This was one of those times.

And Jose is glad because, despite his being the worst hitter in baseball for the better part of this year, Jose never lost faith in Julio Lugo. Maybe it’s because of Jose’s deep, and borderline racist conviction that all Dominicans can hit a baseball. Maybe it’s because it simply seemed impossible that anyone not named Crespo could be that bad, or maybe just maybe, it is because Jose sees Lugo as some sort of an old testament God figure, testing Jose like God tested Job, with horror after horror. But like Job, Jose never lost faith. He got angry, sure. He may have cursed the heavens about Lugo’s four-year deal, screaming “Why, why, why are you doing this to Jose.” But he never lost faith.

And do you know why? Because Julio Lugo never gave Jose boils. If Julio had given Jose boils like God gave to Job, Jose would be all about benching him.

3. When Mike Timlin came into last night’s game, the near universal reaction at the SoSH post softball pool party was “Nooo, not Timlin.” Indeed, people would walk in the door to see the grizzled righty on the mound and immediately recoil.

This is wrong. This is dead wrong. Mike Timlin does not deserve this. We owe him our respect. He gave us years of brilliant service, he should have been on the mound in the 8th in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, he has pitched 14 straight scoreless innings. That’s worthy of respect isn’t it? Still, that’s not enough to earn undying loyalty even as skills deteriorate, Jose knows that. No, the reason we should continue to respect Mike Timlin is that he is a large man who owns a lot of guns, and that and that alone makes him worthy of respect.

And fear. Lots and lots of fear.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Thursday, July 19

Sing... Sing A Song

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. As the Sox struggle into the second half, their lead over the Yankees dwindling to a pathetically narrow seven games, one is tempted to ask “What’s missing?”

Sure, the Sox are missing power, decent outings from two-fifths of their rotation and production from shortstop and right field, but there’s something else. They’re missing a song. Every championship caliber team has a song. Jose has written about this time and again. (Note: Remember in 2004, he wrote up elaborate “My Francona” lyrics.) But what does this team have? Nothing. Nothing yet, that is.

Jose is not going to decide on the song today, but he is going to put forth some suggestions. You should too. Jose particularly encourages his international guests to send ideas. Perhaps there’s a raga that would suit this team well? Maybe some Mongolian throat singing? Just please no Peking opera. That stuff sucks.

Here are Jose’s thoughts thus far:

• Some Good Things Never Last—Barry Manilow
• Please Don’t Be Scared—Barry Manilow
• I Go Crazy—Barry Manilow
• Let’s Hang On—Barry Manilow
• Ready to Take a Chance Again—Barry Manilow
• Summer of ’78—Barry Manilow
• Weekend in New England—Barry Manilow
• It’s a Miracle—Barry Manilow
• Trying to Get the Feeling Again—Barry Manilow
• Could It Be Magic—Barry Manilow

It’s a pretty good list don’t you think? It covers the full gamut of emotions this team has caused, from exultation to heartbreak. Now, Jose knows what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Those are all Barry Manilow songs.” And you’re right, but Jose assures you it’s just a coincidence that the ten songs that best typify the 2007 Red Sox are by the singer/songwriter who, according to an email Jose got from Ticketmaster this morning is playing at the Boston Garden on September 7 at 8PM. Or maybe it isn’t. The only things Jose buys through Ticketmaster are Sox tickets and wrestling tickets, so if Ticketmaster sent Jose this email, perhaps there is a natural synergy between The Red Sox and the adult contemporary legend.

Actually, the more Jose thinks about it, the more it makes sense. Barry Manilow is exactly like the 2007 Red Sox. He’s successful far more often than he’s not. While he’s had a lot of hits, only a few of them have been really big. And despite being incredibly popular, he’s kind of boring.

Anyway, send in your nominations for 2007 Red Sox theme song and Jose will vaguely consider writing some parody lyrics, because Jose Writes the Songs.

2. ESPN has drawn some criticism lately for their stupid new SportsCenter feature “Who’s More Now?” which as best Jose can tell, was inspired by that master of nowness, Gerald Ford. Ford famously said “Things are more like they are now, then they have ever been.”

No wonder he won reelection.

Still, Jose recognizes that if ESPN is doing something to connect with its audience, it’s probably shrew, shrewd enough in fact that Jose should appropriate it to court his own target demographic, 83-year old natives of Austria.

Thus, it is KEYS TO THE GAME’S distinct pleasure to present the inaugural edition of…

(drum roll)
(Ewoks singing)
(Jeff Probst coming in by jet ski)

“Who’s More Then?”

In "Who’s More Then?" Jose will take a hip, irreverent look at the sports figures who shape our world and identify who is more then. What does it mean to be then? Well, it means to capture the essence of yesterday, of old times gone, both glorious and tragic.

In today’s episode Jose pits Johnny Pesky versus Don Zimmer.

Hair Cuts: Pesky boasts a loveable mop of silver hair, that if dyed would look as good on a 50 year old as on his aging scalp. Zimmer has the same crew cut, if a bit thinner, that’s he’s probably had since 1942. Point Zimmer

Affiliation: Pesky is a Red Sox and has been since he first put on the uniform. Zimmer, has been seen in a new fangled Tampa Bay uni. Point Pesky.

Changing perceptions: While Pesky was once scorned for “holding the ball” on Slaughter’s mad dash, he has become a beloved figure. Is there anyone who doesn’t still hate Zimmer for 1978? Point Zimmer.

Fisticuffs: Pedro kicked Zimmer’s *ss. Johnny Pesky never has, and never will, take on a wiry Dominican. Point Pesky.

Internal makeup: Pesky still has all the bones he was born with. Zimmer has a plate in his skull. Point Pesky.

Well there you have it. As James Earl Jones’ Terrance Mann said it Field of Dreams

“Baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

That’s John Michael Paveskovich, and he is definitely more then.

3. We can all agree that Julian Tavarez is insane, but there are two different kinds of people with mental illness. The first are “high-functioning.” These are the sorts of people who can hold down a job, keep up a relationship and get through six innings without giving up more than three runs. These folks have their problems, say with bowling or touching Japanese teammates, but they do okay in the world. Julian Tavarez used to be one of these.

But now he’s the other type, low-functioning, the sort of person whose illness is truly debilitating, think Rick Ankiel or Matt Young. And it’s sad, but it’s not hopeless. We just need to accept that this is what Julian has become over his last four starts, and start working to make it better. Julian needs our love and support right now. And he needs the Red Sox to put him on the DL so he can get his affairs in order, check his meds, do some group, and come back when he’s able to function.

Maybe we could get him some time with Nurse Rachet or something. Jose hears she’s pretty good.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Wednesday, July 18

KEYS Karoke

Are You Fitter Than...

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. It was at Jose’s gymnasium that he met his old enemy.

The 4x4 white oak tag card, stamped with the outline of a green apple, a granny smith, Jose supposes, lay there on the check-in desk mocking him.

Jose had known this day would come. Ever since he saw the signs around the gym asking “Are you fitter than a fifth grader?” he knew that conflict was inevitable. After 20 long years, across 34 countries on five continents, the President’s Physical Fitness Test had finally tracked Jose down like the furies of myth.

But its victim was a different Jose Melendez. The pudgy ten year-old with whom it had last done battle was gone. In his stead stood a man, stood a broad shouldered, well-pectoraled, moderate exercise machine. Jose took the measure of his old rival. 45 sit ups? Ha, Jose can do that after six or seven beers. 22 push ups? Even easier. +4.0 V Sit Reach? Jose has no idea what that is, but he’s sure he can vanquish it like a soft tossing lefty going through the Sox line up.

That’s when the troubles start. On mile run, 7:57 seconds. Hmm… that might be a problem. When Jose ran cross country in high school, he was the king of the ten minute miles—12 if he was feeling lethargic. Jose had only joined cross country to get in shape for wrestling, which he then quit upon discovering that wrestling mostly involved not eating, and had little or nothing to do with hitting people with chairs. Thus, he took a laid back approach to running. Also, he’s really slow. Could Jose pound out a 7:57 mile now? Maybe, but will he try? Hell no. His knees would rebel faster than Gary Sheffield at a clubhouse meeting.

From there, we move from the improbable to the impossible. There is no way Jose is doing six chin ups. None. These days he could probably do two or three, but six? He couldn’t do six if you gave him a week. The chin ups always seemed unfair. Even the best athlete in Jose’s fifth grade class, a fellow who shared a name with one of the Monkees couldn’t do it. It was a cruel and vindictive goal set by Ronald Reagan in order to shame the nation’s youth into a more aggressive stance towards communism. Jose’s couldn’t do it then, and he can’t do it now.

Thus, Jose must except that he is not fitter than a fifth grader, at least not fitter that this Nietzschen ├╝ber –fifth greater that the President’s Council on Physical Fitness has pressed upon us like a crown of thorns or batting helmet of nettles.

But Jose will not be defeated. Rather he will stand strong, and in the finest American tradition, he will not yield to the unreasonable demands of lofty goals. No! He will insist upon the soft bigotry of low expectations. He will demand it. Prepare to limbo friends, because Jose is lowering the bar

Instead of offering this foolish “are you fitter than a fifth greater promotion” the problems of which begin with it referencing a Jeff Foxworthy vehicle and spiral from there, Jose offers a different question “Are you fitter than Curt Euro?”

Now there is a reasonable standard, fit enough to be a professional athlete, not fit enough to look good in a tight t-shirt. Even better, since Curt is a big supporter of the President’s perhaps he can get through to the increasingly isolated fitness guru in chief.

In order to meet this more reasonable standard, one would still have to pass five tests.

  • See your feet: 1 inch or more.
  • Strike out Wily Mo Pena in a simulated game: 2 or more times.
  • Write about baseball on line: 10,000 words in one hour.
  • Stay awake playing Everquest: 36 consecutive hours.
  • Fit into a suit for weird wine commercial: 1 time

If you can do all of those, congratulations, you are as fit as Curt Euro. The President salutes you, and invites you to enlist. If not, perhaps you can receive a lesser commendation for being as fit as Rich Garces.

2. A musical tribute to tonight’s Royals starter to the tune of “Oh Mandy” by Barry Manilow.

Come on, sing along! Cue up the youtube video and join in.

I remember in LA
You pitched great and came to play
You picked up 15 wins
Were on the All-Star team
2002 goes by
And slides into

Year 2003,
What kind of season will it be?
Your ERA got high
And you began to cry
Because you realized
How crappy you’re playing, Odalis

Well you give up home runs, we’re not taking
Pitches for strikes today, Odalis
Well you know that our bats, they are waking
We need you today, Odalis

You’re on the worst team in the game
Missing all your long lost fame
Caught up in a world of nickel and diming
Kaufman’s waterfall like tears
And nothing is rhyming, Odalis

Well you give up home runs, we’re not taking
Pitches for strikes today, Odalis
Well you know that our bats, they are waking
We need you today, Odalis

Well you give up home runs, we’re not taking
Pitches for strikes today, Odalis
Well you know that our bats, they are waking
We need you today, Odalis

3. Jose has a new role model. It’s Yi Jianlian, the Chinese basketball player drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the sixth pick in this year’s NBA draft.

What Jose loves about Yi isn’t his size, his soft hands, or his much celebrated ability to post up a folding chair. (Note: Bill Simmons has gotten a lot of mileage out of that joke, but he shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment. Beyond Al Jefferson, do the Celtics have any big men who could post up a chair? Jose is pretty sure that the chair would stuff Kendrick Perkins.) No, what Jose loves is that Yi is refusing to play in Milwaukee because there aren’t enough Chinese people living there.

Actually, Jose is amazed that there is anyplace without a lot of Chinese. Jose once had a friend who came from the Czech Republic near the border with Poland. Jose asked him if there were many Poles who lived in his town and his friend answered “No, but there are a lot of Chinese.” Anyway, someone should let the Czech leagues know that they may be a good fit for Yi.

Buy Yi’s defiance has gotten Jose thinking. Is it really appropriate for Jose to be devoting himself to the Boston Red Sox? Sure they have two Japanese and one Jew, but do they have even a single Japanese-German-Jew? And if so, does that person have a Puerto Rican alter ego? And the city writ large is just as bad. In his 30 years in the region, Jose hasn’t seen a single Japanese-German-Jewish American social club, ethnic festival or awareness day. Have you ever seen gefilte fish sushi with sauerkraut? Nope. This city does not have adequate representation for Jose’s ethnic group, and it is starting to piss him off.

So here’s an ultimatum. Find Mr. Matsu and Okajima some nice Jewish girls or get Youks a Japanese girlfriend and let’s get them banging or Jose is out of here faster than Wily Mo on three straight sliders.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Tuesday, July 17

Wily Mo's Space

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Jose was originally going to use this space today to talk about Khe-Sanh Gabbard’s remarkable complete game shut out against the Royals last night. He was going to discuss the silent lefties grace under pressure and his surprising success in the big leagues. But that was before and astute reader sent Jose Wily Mo Pena’s Myspace page.

Is it real? Who knows? But sometimes it’s fun to just crack out the old jump to conclusions mat and get hopping and this is one of those times. At this site you can learn important facts, such as that Wily Mo has never cried (note: Does that means he thinks Wade Boggs is a sissy?) and that his favorite movie is somehow Man on Fire.

Moreover, it includes some interesting tidbits, such as the fact that Wily Mo, would end the sentence “Let’s walk on the” with the word “phone.” Presumably, he misread, and thought it said “Let’s talk on the,” but still, Jose suspects that even had he read it properly, his answer would not have been “base paths.”

There is good news though. The site reveals that Wily Mo has never done a drug (note: go screw George Mitchell), hates pitchers when they get him out and regards baseball as the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

So good for Wily Mo. After all, the only think we ever got from Balki Arroyo were some sketchy pictures in a Northeastern University dorm room.

2. As part of his rehabilitation program, Curt Euro pitched a simulated game against Alex Cora, Eric Hinske, Doug Mirabelli and Wily Mo Pena. This leads Jose to ask the a question: Who, exactly, was being simulated? The worst line up in baseball history? Are there four straight batters in any major league line up who would be as bad as those four?

Jose supposes this was a simulated game in the same way astronaut ice cream was simulated ice cream, that is, not at all.

3. As some of you may have noticed, Jose has added a neat little widget to KEYS on the lower right hand side that shows exactly how many visitors from each country and city Jose is getting to his little corner of the internet. Jose would like to offer a big KEYS welcome to his three readers in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. He would like to say howdy to his three new friends in Pomorie, Bulgaria. And he would like to make a gracious welcome to his trio of fans in Santo Domingo, in what baseball indicates is the greatest country on Earth. Heck, Jose would like to welcome you all. Whether you’re from Bombay or Boca del Rio, Jose is happy to have you here. Unless you are the reader from Cranbury, New Jersey, in which case you stay the hell away.

It just goes to show, that baseball has become a truly international phenomenon and the KEYS right along with it. Who’d have ever thought we would reach a day where shepherds in Gabon could join with German factory workers and Jordanian shopkeeps to together share a love of baseball, professional wrestling and jokes about park benches.

Yes, Jose knows that most of you are actually Americans working, soldiering or playing abroad and trying to keep abreast of your beloved Red Sox, but that’s not going to keep Jose from enjoying the fantasy that KEYS has become a kind of virtual “Small World” ride. He prefers to imagine Indians in Saris, Japanese in kimonos, Arabs in galabeas, and Americans in Megadeth T-Shirts sitting down at internet terminals to bask in the gentle glow of Jose’s wisdom,

Because, no matter whom you are, it is a small world, after all. It’s a small, small world.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Monday, July 16

How Much Can You Bench?

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. How are the Boston Red Sox like the U.S Supreme Court? In both cases, Jose doesn’t like who is on the bench.

We’re more than half way through the season now, and a bench that was supposed to be a strength of this team is emerging as a glaring weakness. Never was it more obvious than yesterday afternoon when Jose was forced to watch Doug Mirabelli bat with the game on the line because Jason Varitek had a sore thumb. Now, obviously Jose is not suggesting that the Red Sox carry three catchers; two is fine, as long as one of them isn’t Doug Mirabelli. Don’t we still have Carlton Fiske on the payroll? He could probably out hit Dougie these days. Does John Henry have a son? If he does, we could try the Marc Sullivan approach. (Note: Can we get a police escort to speed Mirabelli back to Logan Airport?)

But catcher is not the only problem. We have, in Wily Mo Pena, a player whose greatest asset is that he has an awesome name. Sure, if he ever got regular at bats he could do some damage, but, as he was born to DH, that’s never going to happen on this team. And Eric Hinske is just as big a problem. Sure, he can play four positions… poorly… But is below average defense all over the diamond really worth carrying a pinch hitter who can’t pinch hit? Sadly, both Wily Mo and Hinske appear to be the sorts of players who can hit respectably (note: well, tolerably) when playing every day, but not at all when cold off the bench. Is there almost any situation wherein you’d like to see one of our starters pinch hit for? Nope, and it’s not because our starters are so great.

The only bright spot on the bench is “The Coral Axe,” Alex Cora, who has the rare distinction of being an elite bench player on this squad by virtue of not being below average. He’s fine. Not great, but fine, and Jose is perfectly happy to have him as a utility man.

So the bench situation is grim. But perhaps Jose has not yet explained it in a properly KEYS-style manner. So far, what he’s written seems downright analytical. Not with numbers and stats and all, but in the sense that he’s talking about the merits and deficits of each player on the bench, rather than comparing them each to a general in the Boer War or a brand of anisette liqueur. So let’s remedy that by indulging in some of Jose’s famous secondary analysis. Let’s compare the bench to… let’s see… a bench.

The 2004 bench would be the gold standard of benches, a classic mahogany piano bench, lovingly hand-lacquered by Trappist monks—the sort of place where a virtuoso might sit in order to bring ancient concertos of rare beauty to life. At the other end of the spectrum would be 2000 Red Sox bench, which included Andy Sheets, Ed Sprague, Mike Lansing and ‘roid freak Manny Alexander. The bench was so bad that the best bench option would have been either Mike Stanley, who complemented his .222 batting average with 10 home runs or Lou Merloni, who was, well, mocked by Ben Affleck. That bench would have been like a public bench in a bad part of town. Not only is it slathered in graffiti, not only is its low-grade wood splintered and weak, but there is a big pile of dog excrement on it.

That leaves this year’s bench somewhere in between. Jose would compare it to a public bench in the heart of downtown. At first glance, it looks okay. It’s shiny, it’s more or less clean, there are no obvious spills on it. But when you get closer, you notice that there’s a homeless drug addict on the bench swigging from a bottle of Old Mr. Boston vodka. Could you sit on the bench? Sure you could, if you had a leg problem and absolutely needed a break. But would you want to sit on the bench? No, not unless it was absolutely necessary. And that’s how it is with the 2007 Red Sox. Can you go to the postseason with this bench? Sure, you could, but you probably don’t want to. And just like when you sit next to the drug addict, if you go ahead and use this bench, there is a pretty good chance that you are going to get beaten.

2. You know what’s missing from this year’s Red Sox? A good gimmick. Hell, even a bad gimmick. Or a nickname. Something like that. The 2003 Red Sox had “Cowboy Up.” The 2004 Championship squad was the band of idiots. But what have we had since then? Not a whole heck of a lot, and Jose thinks that if we want this team to really gel, we need something.

A few ideas:
  • KEC-- (Note: Which stands for the Kosovo Electric Company)—Because power outages are a major problem. (Note: Ever since Jose was in Kosovo, anytime something doesn’t work, he explains the problem as “No KEC.” For instance, if a flashlight has a dead battery the problem is no KEC.)
  • The Gulag Archipelago—They have lots of people from islands (note: Dominican, Japan, though the DR is not an archipelago), and as in the gulag, no one has any idea what tomorrow is going to bring.
  • The British Bulldogs—No reason, they were just an awesome tag team.
  • The Partridge Family—Every time Jose looks at the standings he thinks he loves you. But then he sees a game like yesterday’s 2-1 loss to the BJays, and wonder’s, so what is he so afraid of.

3. Do you think the British Army would send Gil Meche to Iraq or would the fact that he’s a Royal make him too much of a target?

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.