June 18, 2009

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LONGSHOTS: A great experience came in the Knick of time
by Dave Long

I’ve had several great experiences following teams during a particular era. My two favorite here are Larry Bird’s Celtics in the 1980s and the Brady and Coach B Patriots since 2001. And I’ll throw in the KG Cs as well. I love the way they all play/played and how they delivered when it counted most. And then there were the Yanks from right before the dynasty’s collapse into the mid-’80s when I checked out after some pretty bad behavior by the owner.

But my all-time favorite is the New York Knicks from 1964 until they won the title in 1970. They were in a stretch of finishing in last place eight straight years when I discovered them and had just blown the first overall pick in the draft on Jim Bad News Barnes. Though they managed to flip him a year later for Walter Bellamy and they did get Willis Reed in round two. They finished last again that year and the one after that. But they were accumulating good young players and after Bill Bradley and Walt Frazier arrived they finally got out of last place and made the 1968 playoffs. The next year after trading Bellamy for Dave Debusschere they won a playoff series and then lost to the Celtics in Russell’s final season.

But the next year Russell was gone and the young talent, including young Phil Jackson, was coming of age. Everyone knew THIS was the year. The won their first five, lost one and reeled off a record 18 straight and cruised home. It was the same in the playoffs until Reed went down in Game Five of the Finals. They managed to win anyway, but got smoked in Game Six to set up the memorable Reed Game Seven entrance following two days of fretting if he would play. He hit the game’s first two shots and it was over, as an inspired Frazier dominated in going for 36 and 19 assists.  

It was like watching your kids grow up as they gradually went from horrible to great. For me that’s better than seeing the Yankees lay out half a billion on three players to re-load and why I enjoy what Theo Epstein has done with the farm system — which has been spitting out one good player after another since Kevin Youkilis arrived. It brings to mind the potent system that turned out hitter after hitter beginning with Tony C in 1964 in a group that produced two MVPs and two Hall of Famers. It got me to wondering how this group, which already has one MVP, will turn out. So I went to section at the bottom of each player page on the great baseball Web site baseball-reference.com that compares the statistics of a player to who he’s most like at a certain age. Like with Jim Rice, who at age 24 was most similar to Duke Snider, at 25 was most similar to Willie Mays, and at 31 most similar to Orlando Cepada, all of whom are waiting in the Hall for Rice when he’s inducted in July.

So I did that with the current crop of young players who’ve come through the system and here’s who they compare to historically:

Jon Lester: With the best winning percentage in baseball at .711 I thought he’d compare to Whitey Ford, who has the best one of all time. But at 24 he compares to another Yankee lefty, Andy Pettite, who needs no introduction. After that it’s Tim Hudson, whose 142 wins and 77 losses at 32 compares closely to Hall of Famer Jim Bunning when he was 32 — so that’s not too bad.

Dustin Pedroia: It’s weird that five of the 10 players he statistically compares most closely to are catchers. But since Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane are in the Hall and Joe Mauer has a shot to get there I guess that’s not bad. Plus Rod Carew was really good so Pedroia’s in good company.

Jonathan Papelbon: Given the historic start to his career I thought the company would be better. Only two in the group had long-term success — Billy Wagner and Troy Percival and maybe Todd Worrell. Others like Bryan Harvey and crazy Rob Dibble started fast but burned out.

Kevin Youkilis: He’s actually a Duquette administration draftee. And since he didn’t become a starter until 27, his lifetime numbers for a 30-year-old player aren’t real impressive. The best guy in his group is the decent but nothing special Phillie John Kruk. 

Jacoby Ellsbury: He’s a year and change in at 24 and after a .280 he’s also in with a nothing-to-write-home-about crowd — besides maybe Magglio Ordonez. There’s the ex-Yankees center fielder Roberto Kelly, who lasted a 1surprising 14 years when he hit .290. There’s aslo speedster Shannon Stewart and the former Red Sox CF Reid Nichols.

Manny Delcarmen: Also a Duquette draftee. His top 10 includes four Red Sox relievers: Mike Timlin, Bryce Florie, David Riske and current teammate Ramon Ramirez.

Clay Buchholz: I thought last year’s disaster might put him with somebody good to give all a little optimism, but the sampling is too small to rank. So the optimism will have to come from the fact that triple-A hitters are batting .111 against him this year.

Justin Masterson: He got the Buchholz treatment, as did Jed Lowrie.

Dice-K: He’s not home grown, but since we’re having so much fun, why stop now? Since he got here at 25 his numbers are also skewed. The best two on his list are Lamar (where does it) Hoyt, who won a Cy Young before being derailed by drug use, and Ray Washburn, a workman-like ’60s righty who won an unspectacular 72 games. He also once no-hit the Giants the day after Gaylord Perry no-hit his Cardinals. And there’s wild Joe Cowley, who once pitched a no-hitter and lost, which is something I can see Dice-K doing at least once. 

Hanley Ramirez: Since he’s been in town all week and was once the top player in Theo’s system, why not? His group has got some really good players and familiar faces. The player he’s rated most like at 24 is none other than Nomar Garciaparra — who at 24 looked on his way to the Hall. There’s Verne Stephens, who knocked in 159 and 144 in back-to-back years for the Sox — which ain’t bad for a shortstop. Derek Jeter’s there, as are his former manager Joe Torre and double play partner Robinson Cano. And there’s Dick Allen, who came up as Richie with the Phillies and left as Dick after hitting 351 homers and winning the 1972 AL MVP.  We’ll call this entry the “what might have been” section.

There you have it — not quite as good as I’d have thought, but still interesting. I’ll check back in five years or so with another update when hopefully they’ll be on track with my great Knicks team that placed five guys on the NBA Top 50 list a few years back.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


6/4/2009 The Mt. Rushmores of the red Sox-Yankees rivalry

5/28/2009 First-place Sox are making the grade
5/21/2009 NBA rivalries have no rival in other team sports
5/14/2009 Lying from baseball's Pinocchio prompts questions
5/7/2009 Celtics bull their way into round two — finally!
4/30/2009 Tanked from the headlines, the Fenway series yanks it back
4/23/2009 Draft winds blow NFL teams to make interesting decisions
4/16/2009 Spring cleaning of a cluttered sports mind
4/9/2009 Red Sox Nation springs back to life
4/2/2009 Climbing sports Mt. Rushmore
3/26/2009 Mount Rushmore offerings and other spring thoughts
3/19/2009 B-Ball, Coach B and Baseball in the mailbag today
3/12/2009 Great talent a rush but not all it's cracked up to be
3/5/2009 In Bill we still trust?
2/26/2009 A mountain over this molehill
2/19/2009 Steroids muscle in on game's strength
2/12/2009 Bonner bombs away on Cs in garden party homecoming
2/5/2009 Nation's angst ends as V-Tek says what the heck and rejoins flock
1/29/2009 Super Bowl Sunday brings to mind past and present
1/22/2009 The elusive quality of greatness is the topic of the day
1/15/2009 Spring cleaning of the sports mind a little early
1/8/2009 Will hall have Rice on the menu come July
1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead
12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
12/4/2008 Pats should consider options when it comes to Cassel and Brady
11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
11/20/2008 News of the week has people talking
11/13/2008 Cassel's in the clouds compared to early expectations11/6/2008 Mail bag delivers some interesting questiont10/30/2008"Yankees Suck" - like mentality fuels political discontent10/23/2008 No ray of hope as season closes in Tampa Bay
10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past
10/9/2008 C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...
9/11/2008 After disaster Brady's bunch won't pass on season
9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns
8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial — stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat