Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stats or "It" Factor. You Decide.

The first time Orlando Cabrera stepped onto to the plate at Fenway Park out of a Red Sox uni, after that 2004 championship season, he was given something of a 30-second standing ovation. He was an Angel now, newly signed out of free agency.

Just a short year before, the first time he stepped up in a Red Sox uniform, after a 4-team trade right at the deadline (which included the great Nomar Garciaparra), he hit a home run. The Nomar "Nomah" Garciaparra trade angered many Sox faithful, but the Cabrera HR surely eased the pain. Without getting into the nitty gritty of that trade, Theo sent Nomah to the Cubbies; got Orlando Cabrera from the now-defunct Expos; Doug Mientkiewicz from the Twins; and Dave Roberts from the Dodgers. Indulge me here, while I relive the 2004 season as a Red Sox fan. It was magical.

Recently, a friend and I put up a bet in the first Boston@Texas series. Nothing big. And, as the Texas Rangers were poised to sweep the Red Sox, the trash talk began. And, a comment was made about the desperation of Theo to add bats to the Red Sox line-up by trading for LaRoche from the Pirates.

So, a further conversation ensued. The argument is this: What matters most? The "feel" for a player or pure stats? Numbers never lie, but then again, they have to be the right numbers at the right time. It's, well, like poker.

Of the trade, which brought Cabrera to the Red Sox, Curt "Father Curt" Schilling said, "He is a game-changer in the field for me." The intent in Theo's trades were to fortify the defense. And, he did. Not only was Schilling money, but Pedro Martinez found his form and with then-closer Ketih Foulke, the Red Sox went on a run and made history. The acquisition of Cabrera at shortstop and Mientkiewicz at first gave the rotation a huge boost.

What about Dave Roberts? Did he make a difference?

Top of the 9th. 2004 AlCS. Game 4. Yankees up 3-0. The Red Sox had been strapped down to the electric chair --again -- , and were about to be executed, again. Just as the warden was about to turn the switch, the governor called...

Mariano Rivera allows a lead-off walk to Millar. Dave Roberts, one of the last-minute trades that July, came in to run.

Roberts steals second. Mueller singles and scores Roberts. Red Sox tie the game at 4, and folks that steal began one of the greatest sports accomplishments in all sporting history.

One stolen base by a guy who was not a Red Sox when the season opened in 2004.

The Red Sox would not lose again. They humiliated the Yankees by coming back from 0-3, and swept the Cardinals in the World Series.

Explanation? Was it in the numbers? Did Theo Epstein, boy wonder GM for the Red Sox, "feel"this was the thing to do in July of 2004?

How lonely do you think he was the night it became public Nomar Garciaparra had been traded? Think there was a contract for his head in New England?

We can go on for hours about this topic and probably not come to any logical conclusion. Bill James followers will prove to you it's all in the numbers. Baseball lovers will argue, yes, maybe in the numbers, but you have to have a feel for the game, the players.

And then there's that good ol' luck. It worked for Chris Moneymaker in the most famous World Series of Poker.

October baseball is about many things. The gods of baseball have to be on your side. You can buy free agents all day long (Yankees), but that doesn't guarantee you anything, even a place in the tournament (see 2008 Yankees).

All I can truly tell you about what makes an October magical for a team may have more to do with the gods blessing you with the right players, at the right time for the right reasons.

When O-Cab (Orlando Cabrera) came to Boston, he instituted well documented hand shakes in the dug out, which brought the team very close together. Mientkiewicz is quote as saying he was aghast when he learned his trade to the Red Sox included letting go of Nomar. Dave Roberts will forever be the man with The Steal. There was the Damon hair and beard; Schilling red sock.

The gods were with us.

Amazingly, none of those traded guys were Red Sox the next season.


Most of the time, no.

This 2009 Rangers team seems to have that magic about them.

Magic and luck have a lot to do with winning teams in this free agency era.

Maybe the gods of baseball have made a stop in Arlington this year. Let's hope so.

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