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Boston Baseball Magazine Interviews Rico Petrocelli Archives

Boston Baseball Magazine Interview 8/6/12

Boston Baseball:  Rico, this team has a lot of talent, they’re getting paid a lot of money, and they’re not getting it done. If they fail to make the playoffs for the third straight year, is it time to blow up this team and start over?

Rico Petrocelli:  I don’t think you can blow the team up!  You can make some changes.  The team is scoring a ton of runs, and the bullpen is doing a very good job.  The trouble lies in the starting rotation — that’s where this team is all screwed up.  Jon Lester… I believe his problems are mental, not physical. It’s really frustrating, watching him pitch. His fastball isn’t moving lately, and if he’s not careful with his location, boom! His cutter is not good at all. He’s missing with it.  And after a while, when you miss your spots and you get hit hard like he has, you have a tendency to lose confidence.

 

BB:  It’s not just Lester.  Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz — these guys have all been outstanding at various times in their careers, but this year they’ve performed like fifth starters. Is it a coincidence that they’ve all hit a downturn at the same time? Is it coaching, catching, conditioning, what?

RP:  Buchholz’s last few outings were outstanding!  I watched that Texas game and he had great movement. The one pitch that’s really an equalizer for him is that changeup.  He’s got an outstanding curve, but when it’s on, he’s got an excellent changeup, which Beckett and Lester do not have now.  Their offspeed pitches are up in the strike zone.  I was at Fenway Park when Lester got roughed up by Toronto [July 22], and the first pitch of the game was out of the ballpark. That pitch was right down the middle. Lester was surprised that the guy would swing!  A lot of teams are telling their hitters to go after the first pitch now.  And why not?  That pitch is usually right there, down the middle.  Pitchers are going to have to come up with a new plan and move the ball around a little bit.

 

BB:  As you said, we have to work with what we have here, because this team has so many bad contracts they couldn’t blow it up if they wanted to! There are too many big contracts the Sox can’t possibly unload. Who would trade for Crawford, Beckett, Lackey, or Gonzalez unless Boston continued to help pay their salaries?

RP:  That’s true.  But I’ll tell you the truth, I wouldn’t blow this team up — I would try to make a couple of deals.  I can understand, from a business standpoint, that the Red Sox might want to dump some of these big salaries.  But as you said, who’s going to take these players unless the Sox kick in some money?   We’ve got to work with what we have.  Maybe do something with the rotation, move them around, mix in a sixth man maybe, get them an extra day of rest, you know? Maybe that would help Beckett and Lester.  Doubront is pitching well, but the guy with the best stuff on this staff is Buchholz, based on his last few outings.  If he can stay healthy and be consistent, he’s a 15-game winner.

 

BB:  Rico, is there an analogy to be drawn between the 2007 Red Sox and the 1967 Red Sox? Both teams won with great young talent, and everyone assumed they would be on top for a while. But after ‘67 it took the Red Sox eight years to get back to the postseason! The 2007 team made it back in ‘08 and ‘09 as the wild card but went nowhere, and since then they haven’t even been able to reach the postseason.  Things don’t always work out as planned.

RP:  [Sighs] We all thought as players, ‘We’re going to be together for a long time, and next year, when we win the pennant and go to the World Series, we’re going to win it this time!’  That’s how we were thinking. But guys got hurt.

 

BB:  Jim Lonborg breaks his leg, Tony C. gets hit by a pitch…

RP:  Jose Santiago, too. A bunch of guys got hurt, and it made a difference.  You know, it is very similar to this team in some ways.

 

BB:  What do we draw from that?  That nothing is given to you in baseball, no matter how rosy the situation may appear?

RP:  Absolutely.  That’s why you have to appreciate it when you get to the World Series!  It’s just not that easy.  You don’t see a lot of teams repeat, do you?  It’s tough.  But that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to have high expectations. The players, the fans, the media, the front office. You have a talented team, you have some guys making big money, and you expect to win. And then when it goes south, as it sometimes does, you get these guys calling into the radio stations, claiming ‘that guy doesn’t care anymore.’  Please!  Every guy that goes out there to perform, to play ball, CARES about his performance, wants to help the team out.  You think any of the players want to struggle? The Red Sox organization has to figure out a way to put these pieces together.  Maybe a six-man rotation, give these guys an extra day.  You’re not panicking; you’re trying to find a way to take a little pressure off of these guys, let them go and find themselves.  If they give up as a team, thinking they’re not going to win it, or they get disgusted or discouraged, you’re not going to win anything.

3/28/12 – Rico on the Red Sox (Boston Baseball Magazine)

Rico on the Red Sox

by Boston Baseball Magazine

Boston Baseball welcomes back Rico Petrocelli for another season. A two-time All-Star during his 12-year playing career with the Red Sox, and a key member of both the 1967 Impossible Dream and 1975 American League Champion Red Sox teams, Rico shares his thoughts on the Red Sox with us each month during the 2012 season. 

Boston Baseball:  Rico, after the Red Sox’ season ended last September, the media picked up on the fact that some of the starters were drinking beer and eating chicken in the clubhouse while the games were still going on.  While Jon Lester expressed regret and vowed to make better choices in the future, John Lackey said that this happens in every clubhouse and that this would never have been an issue if not for the team’s September collapse.  So I ask you: is this standard procedure around baseball? Was too much made of it? Was the media simply looking for a scapegoat?

Rico Petrocelli:  It never goes on!  I don’t know of any team that allows players to be in the clubhouse during the game, eating or drinking beer. That’s stuff you don’t do.

Sometimes a starting pitcher, when he comes out of a game, might go straight to the clubhouse to ice their arm and they may have a beer, but that’s a different story.  He’s out of the game, he’s done his job. I’ve seen guys do that.  But the rest of the team belongs on the bench.

Often the pitchers on a club are a pretty close bunch.  They stay together and root each other on.  They’re out there during the game.  Whether it’s the guy who pitched the day before, or the pitcher who’s going the next day, he’s on the bench throughout the game, and he goes out there after the game and shakes hands. That’s what you do.  You’re getting paid whether you pitch that day or not. Sit on the bench and be there for your team!

BB:  So you didn’t think the media made too much of this — you thought it was a legitimate problem, a sign that something was wrong in the Red Sox clubhouse.

RP:  The media didn’t make too much out of it at all.  How about the beating that Jacoby Ellsbury took in 2010 for not staying with the club? He was hurt, and he wasn’t on the bench.  He was rehabbing or he was home, whatever it was, and everyone got all over him, so why wouldn’t  they get all over these guys?

BB:  As a former shortstop and third baseman, I have to ask you about the Red Sox’ decision this spring to send Jose Iglesias down for more seasoning and give the starting job, for the time being, to Mike Aviles.

RP:  At first I thought that I would like to see Iglesias start the season.  Just let him play.  Pinch hit for him in the late innings if they have to.  I know the big-league pitchers would be ahead of him, experience-wise, but he’s got to learn sooner or later.  We know he can field.  The hitting thing…

Spending two more months with Pawtucket doesn’t hurt him, and it doesn’t hurt the club.  But in Triple A, believe me, you don’t learn that much.  The only development that’s going to take place in Triple-A is that he’ll get two months older!  How many at-bats is that over two months, 150?  I’d rather he got those 150 at-bats in the big leagues. As long as he’s doing the job in the field, and Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherrington explain to him what they’re going to do — “We’re going to break you in slowly, we may pinch hit for you in the late innings, don’t get discouraged, just learn what you can. You have some great players around you in Youkilis, Pedroia, and Gonzalez” — that’s the way I would go. Man, I can’t wait to see that infield playing together!

 

Daniel Bard

 

I disagree that he is going to develop further down in Triple-A and come up in June or July and suddenly be a major leaguer. The only way to be a big leaguer is to be a big leaguer.

 

BB:  The other big news out of spring training was the move of Daniel Bard to the rotation. Do you think Bard will be successful as a starter?

RP:  I like Bard as a starter, because he’s got three pitches, but he has to maintain his control over a longer period of time.  As a reliever he’d pitch one inning out of the bullpen, and he has good stuff and can get away with it. He’s got to really become a pitcher now instead of just a thrower.  Can he do it?  I think he can, but it may take some time and some patience. Even if he struggles at first, he may find his groove as a starter as the season goes along.  The other thing is that he can always go back to the bullpen. We know he can be extremely effective in that role.

BB: Along those lines, what’s your impression of the new bullpen duo of Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey?

RP:  Oh, they’re legit!  But if the Red Sox decided to put Bard back in the bullpen, they would find a role for him, that’s for sure. One thing we know is that you rarely finish the season with the same 10-11 guys in the same roles as they started with in April!  I’ve been hearing good things about Daisuke Matsuzaka. If he comes back later in the season and is pitching well, he could provide a big boost for this team, and that might be a chance for Bard, if he hasn’t really embraced this opportunity to start, to return to the pen.

Rico on the Red Sox

 

Boston Baseball welcomes back Rico Petrocelli for another season. A two-time All-Star during his 12-year playing career with the Red Sox, and a key member of both the 1967 Impossible Dream and 1975 American League Champion Red Sox teams, Rico shares his thoughts on the Red Sox with us each month during the 2011 season.  

 

Boston Baseball: Rico, what are your thoughts on Erik Bedard as a deadline acquisition?

 

Rico Petrocelli:  Well… he’s OK.  I’ve seen him pitch a couple of times, and honestly, I think there’s something missing there.  It doesn’t have anything to do with his velocity.  It seems like he’s not utilizing all of the drive that he has, the aggressiveness that he needs.  He looks like he doesn’t want to fail.  I think he lacks confidence in himself. The most successful pitchers are the guys who are aggressive. They’re not worried about losing or failing.  If a pitcher has that in the back of his mind, then he’s not going to be successful.  

 

People criticize John Lackey, but I give him a lot of credit.  For all that has happened to him personally, and with all his struggles, the guy came back.  He battled back. And he’s pitched some excellent games. Sure, the Red Sox got him a lot of runs. So did the Angels.  So what?  A win is a win!  Lately I’ve seen in Lackey what we all saw with the Angels in those playoff games.  I see him going out there and being aggressive. And that’s what I’d like to see from Bedard!  If Bedard can develop that attitude, he’s going to win games. 

 

Confidence!  If you are going to pitch in the majors, you’ve gotta go after hitters.

 

Erik Bedard

BB: It’s interesting that you bring up Lackey, because right now you’d have to guess that the Sox will go with Beckett and Lester and Bedard as their top three starters in the playoffs, and you have to wonder if Lackey is even going to get a postseason start. Andrew Miller looked pretty good in his last time out.

 

RP: That’s possible. Lackey does give up a lot of runs.  But he has a lot of heart.  I hope that they consider pitching him.  A lot depends on how he pitches over the final couple of weeks.

 

BB:  If Lackey doesn’t take the mound in the postseason, you have to question the Red Sox and Theo Epstein signing him to the contract that they did.  This is a guy making $15 million, and we don’t trust him to make a playoff start?

 

RP:  Well, Lackey’s had success in the playoffs. He’s got that mentality.  There’s no doubt in my mind, Lackey is the guy I would want in there as my number three guy in a short series.

 

BB:  Seriously?

 

RP:  Yes, absolutely.

 

BB:  If you combine Lackey’s $15 million with J.D. Drew’s $14 million, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s $10 million, Mike Cameron’s $7 million, and Bobby Jenks’  $6 million, you have 52 million bucks doing absolutely nothing for the Boston Red Sox this year!  Maybe we have to go back and concede that Buck Showalter had a point!

 

RP: [Chuckles] Well, you can say that now, but nobody knew that these guys were going to get hurt, or be struggling, and all that.  

 

BB:  Remember when we used to laugh at the Yankees for stuff like this?  They would sign Steve Kemp or Steve Sax, spend a lot of money and get nothing.  That was one or two guys.  This is $52 million, Rico! There are five major league teams whose entire payroll doesn’t equal $52 million!  The Rays, who are a heck of a ballclub, have a $41 million payroll. The Diamondbacks are at $54 million.  And I didn’t even mention Carl Crawford, making $14 million, with his OPS of .673.  

 

RP:  Well, thank goodness for [Dustin] Pedroia, and Gonzalez, and Jacoby Ellsbury… and let’s put Big Papi in there, too. They were the core of this team before those free agents were signed, and they’re still the core of this team.

 

BB:  Rico, we’ve seen the Yankees, we’ve seen Texas and we’ve seen Detroit.  How do the Sox match up with these teams in a short series?  Who would you rather play?  Who are you worried about?

 

RP:  I’m always concerned about Texas; they’re a pretty solid team.  They can hit.  They’re playing well in their ballpark, and then they come to Fenway, which is also a good ballpark to hit in. So you have to hope the Sox are hitting well, too. 

 

The Yankees will be a challenge.  Even though the Sox have done a pretty good job on them this year, the Yankees will be tough because of their hitting — in their ballpark especially.  Pitching, that’s their weakness. If you can get ahead early in the game, you have a good chance of beating them.  The Red Sox’ bullpen is very, very tough in the late innings.  It could be a seven-inning game!  And if the Sox get out early against the Yankees, it puts a little more pressure on their hitters.  

 

Justin Verlander

Detroit… I don’t worry too much about them, other than [Justin] Verlander.

 

BB:  He’s having an incredible season. Is Verlander at the level right now where he could pull a Bob Gibson or an Orel Hershiser and just carry his team through the postseason?

 

RP:  He’s strong enough, but I don’t think he’s going to do it.  I don’t think it’s going to be enough for them. The Tigers have a pretty good hitting team too, but I just don’t see them matching up against the Red Sox.  I think the Red Sox would beat them handily.

 

BB: Are we fooling ourselves when we try to handicap these short series?  After all, this is baseball — anything can happen in a seven-game series. And in a five-game series, the Houston Astros could beat the ‘27 Yankees!  We’ve seen it a hundred times.  Is it all just a lot of hot air when we try to handicap these short postseason series?

 

RP:  [Laughs] Hey, there’s people who do that for a living!  

 

BB:  Well, it’s fun; everyone is excited about the playoffs, and they want to talk about it.  But in a best-of-five series, your ace can go out there and lay an egg,  your best hitter can go 0-for-12, and you get swept and it’s over. These things have happened!

 

RP:  A short series is very dangerous for the better team, no doubt about it. Seven games is a little different. You never play a team seven times, seven days in a row.  Your weaknesses, your strengths come out over those seven games. In a seven-game series, you’re using everybody.  It’s not just the nine guys in the lineup; you have to use your bench, your bullpen.  You can’t hide a weakness.  

 

Three out of five, sure — somebody gets hot, anything can happen! Seven games is a little tougher.

 

BB: I’d like to go back to the 154-game regular season and make the Division Series best of seven.  But instead they’re going to add another wild-card team and have the wild cards play a one-game or best-of-three short series. 

 

RP:  Well, you know why they’re doing it — to keep the interest up in these other cities.  But let’s not get too worked up over it. Many baseball traditionalists thought that the wild card was a terrible idea when they first introduced it back in 1995, and you’d have to agree, it’s worked out pretty well.   

 

Rico and his partner, former big-league reliever Mitch Williams, can be heard on Sirius XM each Saturday morning from 8-10.

 

Rico on the Red Sox

 

 

Boston Baseball welcomes back Rico Petrocelli for another season. A two-time All-Star during his 12-year playing career with the Red Sox, and a key member of both the 1967 Impossible Dream and 1975 American League Champion Red Sox teams, Rico shares his thoughts on the Red Sox with us each month during the 2011 season.  

 

Boston Baseball: Rico, Adrian Gonzalez looked like a Triple Crown candidate this spring.  He had sixteen homers on July 1, and then he hit only two more homers over the next seven weeks.  How do you explain that?  Did teams pitch him differently the second time through the American League?

 

Rico Petrocelli:  Not really — the reason being that he hits everything!  When he’s hitting well, if they try to pitch him away he just goes the opposite way, especially at Fenway.  The book on him was to pitch him in, but he’s been hitting that inside strike!  

 

When he goes bad, however, he does swing at bad pitches, at low pitches, he’s all screwed up with his timing.  He’ll do that for a few days and look bad.  

 

BB:  You and Adrian are both members of the 40 HR club.  In fact, you did it exactly 40 years apart, in 1969 and 2009.  Did your homers come in bunches like that?  Or to get to 40, do you need to have steady production the whole year?

 

RP:  You’ve got to be pretty steady.  You might have one great month, and that sure helps, but you can’t go through an extended drought. You have to be consistent.  You have to see the ball well.  Your timing has to be good.  You can’t be up there swinging at the pitcher’s pitch.  Being patient at the plate, that’s key.  

 

BB:  It’s probably not a coincidence that the year you hit 40 homers — your career high — you also set a career high with 98 walks.

 

RP:  That’s right. One of the keys for a young player coming up is to learn the strike zone.  He’s got to lay off bad pitches.  Because once it gets around that you’ll swing at bad pitches, they won’t throw you strikes.  

 

Kevin Youkilis is a great example. Right through the minor leagues, he always had a good eye, didn’t swing at bad pitches, and he came up to the big leagues and he continued that. Pitchers know they’ve got to throw him strikes, and eventually, he started hitting more home runs, and knocking in more runs.  The discipline Youkilis has is fundamental to his success, to his ability to hit for average, to draw walks, to hit for power.

 

Adrian Gonzalez

BB:  That’s the Red Sox philosophy, really — that it all starts with control of the strike zone.

 

RP:  Absolutely.  

 

BB:  You were a guy who was hitting in the teens for home runs for the first four years of your career, and walking 30 or 40 times.  Then in 1969, you went from 12 to 40 homers, from 30 to 98 walks.  What happened over the winter of ‘68?

 

RP:  First of all, I worked out real hard!  Yaz was a great example, with all the conditioning he did leading into his ‘67 year.  I did all kinds of workouts, and I gained 20 pounds, from 165 to 185!  It was pretty dramatic, but it was a family trait.  My brothers, four of them, right around the same age, did the same thing and got bigger and stronger.  

 

Then I reported to Winter Haven, and mentally I just said, ‘Look, I’m not going to let a bad day bother me!  I’m going to be myself, and I’m going to relax instead of trying to be someone else.’ 

 

I was up at the plate trying to be great. I was so tightly wound — every at bat was a do-or-die situation. I put so much pressure on myself until that year.  That year, I just finally decided to be myself, and it paid off.

 

BB: It sounds like maturity was big part of it.

 

RP:  Absolutely. I was 25! And then, I hit home runs against a few of the top pitchers, which gave me some confidence.  It was an expansion year, and I hit some home runs off of those guys, too.  Every one counts!

 

And I just felt great.  I saw the ball so well. No matter how hard the pitcher threw, I felt he couldn’t throw it by me, and that I could wait on the ball and then really explode.  And things worked out!  

 

I’m not going to compare myself to Gonzalez, though. He’s really a complete hitter.  He can hit for average, he’ll hit home runs, he’ll knock in runs.  The only thing he lacks is speed!  If he could run, he’d hit .370 every year.

Boston Baseball Magazine Interviews Rico Petrocelli

Boston Baseball welcomes back Rico Petrocelli for another season. A two-time All-Star during his 12-year playing career with the Red Sox, and a key member of both the 1967 Impossible Dream and 1975 American League Champion Red Sox teams, Rico shares his thoughts on the Red Sox with us each month during the 2011 season.  

 

Boston Baseball:  Rico, in July the Sox got into it a bit with the Orioles. Was this just frustration on the part of some of the Orioles, or do they really have a problem with the Red Sox?

 

RP:  Ha ha!  They’re mad because they are getting the crap kicked out of them by the Red Sox, that’s what it is!  

 

BB: During the spring, Buck Showalter made some pointed remarks about GM Theo Epstein, implying that his success is more due to the Red Sox’ bankroll than his own ability.

 

RP: That’s a statement that surprises me. Buck has managed before, and has been in the broadcast booth.  He knows what’s going on.

 

BB:  He’s managed some teams that had healthy payrolls, too.  He hasn’t always been a mid-market guy.

 

RP:  It could have been a psychological ploy to get the Red Sox upset. I don’t know!  The Red Sox have really done a job on the Orioles this year.  

 

This year, there were some expectations in Baltimore — people thought the Orioles were going to move up in the standings, but it just hasn’t happened. I’m sure there is some additional presure on Buck and his team because of that. But people should worry about their own teams!  Don’t worry about the other team’s payroll!  

 

Buck knows how it goes; every team has an opportunity.  I am not saying every team can afford an Adrian Gonzalez or a Carl Crawford, much less both of them in the same year, but they have the opportunity to go out and get guys.

 

If you don’t want to pay more or can’t pay more, you have to go the Tampa Bay route. You have work the draft hard and hope that these kids come up and develop and become outstanding major league ball players. 

 

Buck Showalter

Hopefully, if you’re able to develop a winning ballclub, then the fans will come out and support you; otherwise you have to trade your stars for prospects, because you can’t afford to keep them, and you start over again. I  would hate to be a fan of a club that acted that way.

 

BB:  You’d think that if Buck was just trying to get his team fired up, he would say those things in the clubhouse and not necessarily to the media.

 

RP:  True. Once it gets into the media, it’s controversial and it sounds like it’s personal. I guess only Buck knows what his intentions were. Like I said, maybe he’s just frustrated.

 

BB:  Well, the Sox have more games against the O’s in September.  I guess we’ll see how it goes!

 

RP:  You’ve seen what the Red Sox have been doing against the Orioles this season — 8-3 if I’m not mistaken.  Right now, Buck ought to just be concerned about his own team and not worry about the payrolls of the Red Sox or any other club! 

 

BB:  We had some record-setting hot weather at Fenway in July; thankfully the Sox had night games scheduled on the two hottest days, but it was still pretty tough on everyone, especially the players. I can only imagine what it was like back in the days of wool uniforms!

 

RP:  I played with the wool uniforms, 104 degrees, a Saturday day game against the Detroit Tigers… the hottest!  Ugh! It was absolutely terrible!  We had ammonia water in the dugout, and between innings we would soak ourselves in that!  Smelling salts, too.  

 

Somebody came up with an idea that really helped:  they got lettuce and dipped it in cold ice-water and put it on your head, under your cap. And it worked! It really did help.  Every inning, when you came in, you would take the lettuce and dip it again in the ice water before you went out. 

 

Maybe after a couple of innings it starts to mush up a little, so you’d get another piece!  That, with the other two things, really made a difference.  

 

BB:  [Laughing] Who was in charge of the lettuce?

 

RP:  I’m not sure if it was the trainer, Charlie Moss..?  Whoever came up with it, it was a good idea!    

 

Rico and his partner, former big-league reliever Mitch Williams, can be heard on Sirius XM each Saturday morning from 8-10.

 

Rico on the Red Sox

 

Boston Baseball:  Rico, you were up in the Legends Suite in late July for another great start by Josh Beckett, this time against the Mariners. How did he look from up there?

 

Rico Petrocelli:   He looked very good!  One thing that’s really stood out to me in that start, and for most of this season, is his command of his pitches.  He’s throwing a lot better to the corners, but he’s also got more movement.  

 

When he gets hit, it always seems like it’s the four-seam fastball — it seems that way, anyway — and sometimes he leaves a changeup up in the strike zone. But he’s really added a whole different look, you can tell by the hitters. They look a little confused! He has that tailing fastball too, the two-seamer, that he’s getting inside on them.  Their timing isn’t good.  I don’t think they’re able to just wait on his fastball like they could in the past when Beckett struggled.  He looks a lot better to me this season — more confident.  I just hope he stays healthy.

 

BB: That 3-1 win over the Mariners followed the Red Sox’ usual recipe for a win this season, in that the offense wore down the opposing starter, put up a crooked number against the bullpen, and then Bard and Papelbon hung up zeroes in the eighth and ninth.

 

RP:  Well, that’s it!  That’s the plan, that’s the team that they developed.  They went out and got the guys, brought others up from their system, and it’s working out pretty well.  Going out and getting players like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford; it’s amazing.  But they did have the core of this team with Papi, Youkilis,  Pedroia and Ellsbury the last few years.  Professional hitters, having good at-bats, driving up the pitch counts, and they’re all capable of doing damage. Pedroia’s really come on this past month. 

 

BB:There’s not much that this 2011 ballclub doesn’t do well. They run well — very well by Red Sox standards — and they are a good defensive team.

 

RP:They are. And I don’t want to leave out Jason Varitek, either. Even though he no longer gets the lion’s share of the at bats at catcher, he is a big part of this team. Saltalamacchia is improving, but he still has some trouble blocking balls. I’m so glad that the Sox hung onto Varitek and I am sure the pitching staff feels the same way.

 

Josh Beckett

BB: That game was also Terry Francona’s 1000th win as a manager. 

 

RP:  Yes. That was great, a terrific milestone.  

 

Terry is such a modest guy, and he’s always been that way.  It’s great to see things going so well for him, especially after his first managerial stint with Philadelphia, which at the time was just a terrible team. I don’t care who you are, you don’t have some players, especially pitchers, you’re not going to go anywhere!

 

BB:  That’s a tough crowd down there, too. 

 

RP: Oh, very tough, Philadelphia!  Nowadays, of course, they have a new ballpark and they fill it every night. They’ve got a very good team. 

 

But you look at Boston over the years, our fans were filling the park when our teams were not winning, in the 1990s.  Down in Philly they’re tough on their teams, but when they have a good ballclub, the fans are going to be there.

 

BB:  You’ve seen a dozen managers come and go since you signed with Boston in 1961. What makes Terry Francona successful, apart from being modest?  

 

RP:  His personality, his ability to handle players.  Like in the past with Manny [Ramirez].  There have been people who have criticized him… but he never retaliates. He takes the high road.  I think that shows that the guy has class.  He’s mature. 

 

He’s also a players’ manager. That’s not to say that he can’t do certain things when they have to be done.  When a player is at the end of his career, you have to make decisions sometimes… and even though you like the guy, you have to do it. You have to make difficult decisions, but he’s able to do that, and do it in such a way that everyone understands where he’s coming from, even if they don’t necessarily agree with him.

 

Just about everyone likes him, too.  I’m talking about the press and all that.  He’s been accessible, and he has a good sense of humor.  I know the team has had good players and good teams, but that doesn’t always mean you’re going to win!  You gotta be a good manager on a good team, too. 

 

 BB:  All that fans can really judge a manager by is the lineup card he makes out, the pitching changes he makes during the course of the game, or if he puts a play on — a steal, or a bunt or something like that. They don’t see the day-to-day managing of the personalities in the clubhouse, which is an enormous part of the job.

 

 RP:  Absolutely, great point.  You don’t just start managing when you go out into the dugout, you start when you get to the ballpark. Beyond managing the game, you’ve got to handle personalities, deal with the media. Once you get to the park, you’ve got to be ON!  

 

When a team is losing, that’s really the test of a manager.  I thought Terry did a great job in 2005 and last year too, of holding things together during a season when guys were hurt and things just weren’t going Boston’s way.  

 

BB: You won pennants with Dick Williams and Darrell Johnson. Who was your favorite manager to play for?

 

RP:  Darrell Johnson.  I didn’t play for [Don] Zimmer too much. Zimmer is a great baseball man, and he is very respected by players and other people in the game.  

 

Darrell was fair, and a laid-back guy.  He didn’t get too excited when things didn’t go well.  He was a good baseball man; knowledgable.  He made the good moves, I thought.  In ‘75 we had a good ballclub, and he handled the pitchers well.  But Dick Williams was, I would say, the best manager I played for.

Rico on the Red Sox

 

 

Boston Baseball:  Rico, you’ve got to think that if the Red Sox are going to make a deal at the trading deadline, it’s going to involve pitching. It’s a long season and already the Red Sox have had to go to their second and third options both in the rotation and in the bullpen.  

 

RP:  Sure. The question is, what have they got to trade?  Teams really don’t want veterans.  They don’t want the big contracts, or the bigger contracts.  They want the young guys, because they’ll be under their control for years to come.  Even better to get them before they arrive at the major-league level, because a lot of clubs want to develop these guys in their own minor league systems, and teach them to play their brand of baseball.  

 

If the Red Sox want to make a splash at the trading deadline, they’re going to have to give up some good young players. It’s a pipe dream to think the Sox can unload guys like J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron and get anything of value in return. 

 

BB:  Jed Lowrie is a guy who you would think might have some value; certainly he did in April when he got an opportunity to play and was playing so well.  However, he’s been inconsistent and unfortunately right now he’s injured again. It may be that he’ll never be a starter — here or elsewhere — and his role will be as a super sub on this team.

 

RP:  Absolutely, that’s his role!  He can be an outstanding utility player.  Lowrie’s biggest problem is his health. He’s gotten hurt the last couple of years, and that’s killed him.  As far as ability is concerned, he can play three positions, that makes him valuable in a utility role.  But I don’t see anyone trading for him and making him their starting shortstop. I think he’s still got something to prove.

 

BB:  How would you compare Lowrie to the super sub of your generation, John Kennedy?

 

Jed Lowrie

RP:  John Kennedy! Boy, he was something else!  John Kennedy was similar, but he could play any position — third, short and second base — and do a great job. He could even play the outfield if he had to!  And he was a clutch hitter.  He came into games and got big hits for us.  For a couple of years there, he was very, very valuable.

 

BB:  Rico, speaking of big hits, over the last month David Ortiz has gone from having a solid comeback year to shooting to  the top of the AL leader board in several categories.  Now, people are starting to wonder if the Red Sox made a mistake in just exercising his option for one year.  At the beginning of the season, everybody expected Big Papi to play out the string and be gone. Now, if he’s capable of reviving his career to this extent, don’t the Red Sox have to give serious thought to keeping him around?

 

RP:  I don’t think the Red Sox will have any problem if they want to sign Big Papi.  I think Big Papi wants to stay here.  He’s had great success here, he loves it here.  And of course, everybody would love to see him here if he continues to do what he is doing!  

 

One of the things I see with David right now is that his bat is quick again. We’ve said in the past that once a hitter can’t hit the fastball any more, that’s it.  You might as well hang ‘em up. Pitchers, percentage-wise, do not get their breaking stuff over as often, so they come back with the fastball, and if they can throw it by you, it’s over.  They’re NOT throwing it by Papi right now, and that’s the difference.  

 

It’s also true that the presence of Adrian Gonzalez in the lineup has helped him tremendously.  Papi knows he doesn’t have to be the guy to do it every single game. It’s like when Manny was here.  They had two guys, they were relaxed, they went up there and banged the ball around the field and out of the field!  And now he has Gonzalez. It takes a lot of pressure off everybody. Kevin Youkilis is starting to produce as well. It really helps you when the other guys are getting it done, getting on base, making those pitchers work.  

 

BB: If the Sox do bring Ortiz back next year, would you write him in as the designtaed hitter every day, or would you be tempted to get some at bats for Ryan Kalish or Josh Reddick at DH? With Crawford in left and Ellsbury in center, there really isn’t anywhere to get those guys at-bats, apart from right field and DH. And they don’t have anything left to prove at Pawtucket.

 

RP: If Kalish is healthy, then he’s your right fielder, while Reddick may have to bide his time. I do think Ortiz is your full-time DH, and right now he looks to me as if he can sustain this level of production for a couple more years. He might be looking for a third year…

 

BB: But you’d sign him to a two-year contract at this point?

 

RP: I would. The Red Sox right now have an outstanding core of players who are going to be here for a while. If Jose Iglesias comes through at shortstop, they’ll really have a hell of a team. The Sox have to go for it while they’re in this position, because this is a team with a chance to do something special over the next few years. This is our time!

Rico on the Red Sox

 

Boston Baseball welcomes back Rico Petrocelli for another season. A two-time All-Star during his 12-year playing career with the Red Sox, and a key member of both the 1967 Impossible Dream and 1975 American League Champion Red Sox teams, Rico shares his thoughts on the Red Sox with us each month during the 2011 season.  

 

Boston Baseball: Rico, in the spring it’s all about how your team looks on paper; at midseason, it’s all about your depth. The Red Sox have had to deal with a lot of depth issues, particularly on the pitching side, over the last two months.  We’ve seen three of the five starting pitchers land on the DL, with Matsuzaka done for the year, and now we’re looking at a whole new pack of guys in the bullpen.

 

Rico Petrocelli:  The good news is that they have so much talent on this ballclub that they seem to be handling it pretty well. They had guys waiting for an opportunity, and by and large those guys have stepped up. Of course, just having the talent doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to run away with the title. I still think they will!  But nothing comes easy. We’ve seen other teams over the years that had talent, that we felt good about, and it ended up a disaster.  That’s why you have to credit the Red Sox with being smart and having the guys ready in Triple-A to fill these roles.  

 

BB:  Of the three guys who have stepped into the rotation at various times — Alfredo Aceves, Tim Wakefield, and now Andrew Miller — who has the ability to contribute over the long term to this ballclub? 

 

RP:  I think all three of them can and will contribute.  Aceves — I like him!  He’s a guy who knows how to pitch.  Miller has great stuff, and now he has an opportunity.  When you have a hard-throwing lefty in there, boy, they’re tough. They’re hard to hit!  

 

BB:  In spring training, a lot of people didn’t know what role there would be for Tim Wakefield on this team. Some openly asked why he was coming back, when he’s stated that he prefers to start and there just didn’t seem to a spot for him. Now, of course, he’s back in the rotation, and although he’s going to be 45 in August, he’s pitching very well.

 

RP:  I just marvel at the job he’s done. Wakefield may prefer to start, but he can be a swing man; he can come out of the bullpen; he’s a very valuable guy, and you hope he can pitch to age 55!

 

BB:  Rico, what do you remember about facing Wilbur Wood when you were a player?

 

Alfredo Aceves

RP:  I faced Wilbur Wood many times when he was with the White Sox. I faced Hoyt Wilhelm as well, who had a great knuckleball. 

 

Wood was incredible because he could make his knuckleball move in to righthanders or away to righthanders. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.  He was like a regular pitcher where you had to zone, away or in.  Wilbur would pitch doubleheaders. He started 49 games in 1972, and that was back when the season was 154 games! He could go on and on. That’s such a valuable guy for a team to have.

 

BB: In the bullpen, the Sox lost Rich Hill, who was off to a strong start; they lost both Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler for a spell; and Hideki Okajima was demoted to Pawtucket.  They traded for Franklin Morales, and he went straight onto the DL.  The Sox were forced to call up career minor-leaguer Tommy Hottovy and give him an audition as their left-handed specialist. Yet the bullpen continues to get it done, mostly thanks to the strong work of Matt Albers and Daniel Bard in setting up Jonathan Papelbon.

 

RP:  That’s the thing about pitching.  It’s difficult to project a pitching staff because of injuries.  Good pitchers are like gold, and it’s the tendency of every organization to kind of baby them along.  

 

That’s why pitching counts became so important to a lot of baseball people, because the last thing they want to do is  overwork these kids in the minors.  Now the big debate is over whether it’s hurting them not to throw more! Maybe they should be throwing more innings. Counting pitches certainly hasn’t reduced the number of arm injuries, at least as far as I can tell. 

 

BB:  It’s interesting that you mention pitch counts. A lot of people, in trying to figure out where the Red Sox went wrong with Daisuke Matsuzaka, wonder if we should have let him go on with his Japanese schedule of throwing, throwing and more throwing. Maybe we in the United States are too hung up on pitch counts.

 

RP:  Sure, he did that in Japan, and he was extremely successful over there, but it’s different here. 

 

We can look back now and say maybe we should have let this guy go through his own exercise routine, allowed him to get ready in his own way, and let him pitch.  Maybe that would have made a difference. To me, the big surprise with Matsuzaka was the fact that he didn’t throw strikes!  He would nibble, he would try to work the corners, and you know what? He didn’t have that gyroball that we all thought he had — that was disappointing! 

 

Matsuzaka would go out there and throw 100 pitches in five innings. What were the Red Sox going to do, let him keep going and throw 180 pitches?  Maybe that should have happened a few times; let’s see what he can do!  But that’s not the philosophy here in the United States.