Jacoby Ellsbury Doesn’t Get the Johnny Damon Treatment

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees

After this week in Boston, the Yankees and Red Sox won’t meet again for two months and they won’t meet again in Boston until the first weekend in August. (Never change, Major League Baseball schedule, never change.) But this week in Boston is not only the first meeting between the two teams at Fenway Park this season, it’s the first time Jacoby Ellsbury will be in the third-base dugout at Fenway Park.

With Ellsbury making his Yankees debut in Boston and the teams playing a three-game series before a two-month break, you know what that means. An email exchange with Mike Hurley.

Keefe: It’s been only 12 days since we last talked and after this it will be over two months until the Yankees and Red Sox meet again. There’s nothing quite like seven Yankees-Red Sox games in April and then none for basically half the summer. It makes sense though, right? I mean it makes more sense than Major League Baseball’s replay/review/challenge system, doesn’t it?

Last week you sent me a series of videos showing how the transfer play is no longer being called in baseball the way it has been since the invention of the game. I laughed watching umpires and the umpires in the New York offices decide games on balls being dropped “during the transfer” but I wasn’t laughing anymore when the Yankees nearly lost on Sunday to the Rays because of a transfer call involving Brian Roberts at second base.

I was all for replay in baseball and I didn’t and still don’t care about the length of review time or extending games because of replays as long as the calls are made correctly. But that’s clearly not what’s happening right now with no one knowing what a catch in baseball is anymore, the umpires in New York not having the same views and angles as those watching at home and ancient baseball rules being changed overnight.

Hurley: Replay in baseball is utterly useless.

I was never strongly for or against it. I’ve always been able to live with a missed call on a bang-bang play, the same way you have to live with a bad strike call. But I also watched disasters like the Jim Joyce botching of Armando Galarraga’s perfect game or Phil Cuzzi blowing his only job of calling balls fair or foul in the 11th inning of a playoff game at Yankee Stadium, and mistakes like that were just so egregious that I supported a system that could easily correct those obvious screw-ups.

As it turns out, we got a system that neither fixes the obvious mistakes or fine-tunes the close plays. We just got a stupid, stupid, stupid system that has tried to change the sport for absolutely no reason.

The new emphasis on the transfer rule is not only nonsensical (a catch and a throw are two different actions; how a bobble on the throw negates a catch that has already been completed is beyond me) but also far more common than I think anyone anticipated it would be. It reminds me of the NHL’s crackdown on toes in the crease in the late ’90s, a rule that may be the worst in sports history. I remember the Bruins losing a playoff game because Tim Taylor’s toe was just barely touching the blue paint on the opposite side of Olaf Kolzig’s crease.

After that season and after the Brett Hull/Dominik Hasek controversy, the NHL came out and were like, “Oh, well, yeah, you see … that is a terrible rule and we will get rid of it. Because it’s stupid.”

If MLB doesn’t have the same sense as a league led by Gary Bettman, then baseball is in bigger trouble than I thought.

Keefe: I’m not sure that Bud Selig has more sense than Gary Bettman. We’re talking about a guy who allowed performance-enhancing drugs to revitalize his sport after a strike and then a decade later started to pretend that players who use performance-enhancing drugs are the worst people in the world, and he got the beat nerds to buy into it the way he got them to buy into the idea that having at least player a year hit 60 home runs (after two people had ever done it) was no big deal. He also still allows the All-Star Game — an exhibition game — to determine home-field advantage in the World Series after a six-month, 162-game daily grind. I like to think that the commissioners of the four leagues get together once a year and talk about their increased revenues and think about new ways to ruin their respective leagues while laughing at the expense of the fans. Then before they leave, they play credit card roulette to see which commissioner will have to impose the next lockout and Gary Bettman always loses.

In the last Yankees-Red Sox series, Dean Anna (I’m sure you’re aware by now that he is a real person) doubled and then when he slid into second base, he came off the base for a split second while the tag was still being applied to him. He was called safe on the field and then safe again after the umpires at the New York office apparently didn’t have the same views as those watching at home. I don’t think when expanded reply was instituted it was meant to make such ridiculous calls, but if it’s going to be used for those (and it shoudn’t be), how is it possible that fans watching at home have better information than the paid umpires and officials at the league’s headquarters? Real life?

Hurley: Yeah, precisely. We don’t need replay to break down every split-second of these plays. The Francisco Cervelli play at first base last Sunday night ended up being correctly made after a replay review, but we were all subjected to watching frame-by-frame breakdowns of the ball entering Mike Napoli’s glove, and we had to hear John Kruk blabber on about whether it’s a catch when the ball goes into the glove or when the glove is closed around the baseball. What are we really doing?

Replay should fix the aforementioned obvious mistakes, but on Friday night at Fenway, John Farrell challenged a Nick Markakis double, claiming the ball landed foul. Farrell believed this to be the case because the ball did in fact land foul. We all saw it on our televisions. There was a dirt mark where the ball landed in foul territory. It was a no-brainer.

Double

Yet after review, the double stood. For some reason.

There is no point. It’s a disaster.

But not according to Selig, who said, “We’ve had really very little controversy overall” and “you’ll hear about the one or two controversies, but look at all the calls that have been overturned.”

The guy is an idiot.

The scenario you created got me thinking, I’d like to see a Celebrity Jeopardy! episode with Gary Bettman, Bud Selig and Kim Kardashian as the contestants. They would all obviously finish with negative money, and then Alex Trebek could spend the time normally reserved for Final Jeopardy to just berate them for being dopes.

Keefe: Speaking of “idiots,” let’s talk about Johnny Damon’s return to Fenway Park in 2006 because on Tuesday night, Jacoby Ellsbury will return to Fenway Park for the first time as a Yankee.

I was at Damon’s return and was actually surprised by the amount of cheers he received from Boston fans. He had been the face of the Red Sox’ culture change and the symbol of their change from losers to winners and there he was wearing a Yankees uniform and tipping his helmet to Red Sox fans before his first at-bat. Sure, there were people throwing fake money at him once he took his position in center field, but for the most part, Johnny got about as many cheers as anyone could get in his position.

When it comes to Ellsbury, I think he will receive a better ovation than Damon because he wasn’t as iconic of a figure in Boston, even if helped them win two World Series, and it felt like during his entire time with the Red Sox, everyone knew once he became a free agent that he would bolt for the highest bidder. People will boo on Tuesday night in the first inning just to boo and they will continue to for every Ellsbury at-bat for the rest of his career, but are Red Sox fans upset that he signed with the Yankees as a free agent?

Hurley: It’s a weird thing. I don’t think many people, aside from maybe the folks who think Fever Pitch is a good movie, are actually “upset” with him for going to the Yankees. I think if anyone knows Ellsbury, it’s those of us in Boston who have seen him come up and develop over the past seven years. And I don’t think anyone here thought Ellsbury would be worth the money he’d be getting on the free-agent market. And knowing he was going to the free-agent market, and knowing the Angels had already spent a billion dollars, how many realistic suitors were really in play for him?

So obviously, there was a good chance he’d be going to New York, and obviously, players on the Yankees get booed at Fenway Park. He’s going to get booed, and for a lot of people, just the sight of a former Red Sox player in a Yankees uniform is enough to boil up some rage. But in terms of people being really mad, I don’t think that’s the common feeling.

At the same time, the Red Sox leadoff situation is so dire this season, there might be some extra boos rained down that are coming from a place of frustration.

Keefe: I thought the Red Sox would survive fine without Ellsbury at the top of the lineup and they likely will once they sort it out, but I don’t think I realized how important he was to the top of their order and extending the lineup until now. Seeing just about everyone except for David Ortiz and Mike Napoli get a chance to hit leadoff for the Red Sox has shown how important Ellsbury was for them. John Farrell hasn’t been afraid to try anything and has even gone with Jonny Gomes in that spot and Jonny Gomes as a leadoff hitter in a lineup that wasn’t picked out of a hat is pretty comical.

Right now the Red Sox seem to be having the same problems the Yankees had last year with injuries and an inability to score runs. There were long stretches of time where I knew the Yankees would be lucky to score just two runs in a given game and that meant the pitching staff would have to be perfect to win. (Granted they had Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay hitting in the heart of their order and not Ortiz and Napoli.)

It’s never good to have several hitters slumping at the same time, especially your best hitters, but that seems to be the Red Sox’ problem early this season.

Hurley: Yeah it’s pretty bizarre how a team that has averaged 860 runs per season since 2002 is on pace to score just 616 runs this season. They’re hitting .209 with RISP, which ranks 25th in MLB, just two points ahead of the Cubs, so that gives you a good indication of where they’re at.

Overall, they’re hitting just .238, which ranks 23rd. It’s largely the same roster as last year, save for A.J. Pierzynski taking Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s place (kind of a wash), Shane Victorino being injured and Daniel Nava looking like Neil Keefe if he was asked to play Major League Baseball. So it should all come around at some point.

I think Clay Buchholz is a much bigger problem. He took the mound on Marathon Monday and looked like he was throwing knuckleballs with a Wiffle Ball. He allowed five straight hits in the third and ended up leaving after allowing 6 runs in 2 1/3 innings. For as much time as he missed last year, he was a major reason why the Red Sox won 97 games. If they don’t have even that half-season of a contribution from him this year, they’re in serious trouble.

Keefe: I have never been a Clay Buchholz believer, even for as good as he has looked when he is healthy, mainly because he is never healthy. He’s going to be 30 in August and the most starts he has ever made in a season is 29, after that 28 and after that just 16. So I would say banking on just a half-season from him is a good bet since that is all the Red Sox are likely to get.

I’m headed to Boston for the series and when I looked at tickets, I was surprised at how cheap they are. In the past, I would be looking at spending at least $100 just to sit in the right-field grandstand, which are the worst seats in any stadium in the entire league. You might as well sit on your couch or in a bar somewhere and get 1,000 times the viewing experience than sit in a low-number section in Fenway. I thought that winning the World Series after a few disastrous seasons and the one-year Bobby Valentine era would bring Red Sox ticket prices back to what they were from 2003-2011, but that hasn’t happened. Maybe it’s because the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run just started or maybe it’s because the Red Sox aren’t what they were to the city of Boston a decade ago?

Either way, I can’t complain since I’m saving money. Maybe we’ll run into each other at Fenway this week and can finally settle these email exchange debates with our fists.

Hurley: You’ve been challenging me to a Lansdowne Street throwdown for years. Given how dormant the rivalry is right now, I don’t think it’s the best time to actually throw fists outside Fenway. If Ellsbury goes into second spikes up and takes out Dustin Pedroia, then maybe we can circle back and meet up outside Gate E.

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