When Paul Pierce was at the free throw line last Friday night Mike Tirico mentioned that Pierce had been with the Celtics forever, since 1998. Eleven years in the bank.
That stuck with me for some reason. Tirico was right. In sports now, to stay in one city for 11 years is pretty near remarkable. Look at 1998 from a Boston sports perspective. How long ago does some of this stuff seem?
1998 Red Sox: Jimy Williams. The Duke. Way Back Wasdin made 45 appearances. Reggie Jefferson and Darren Bragg.
1998-99 Celtics: Rick Pitino and Chris Wallace. Travis Knight. Greg Minor. Dwayne Schintzius played 16 games.
1998 Patriots: Pete Carroll and Bobby Grier. Robert Edwards. Tony Simmons. Chris Canty.
1998-99 Bruins: Pat Burns and Harry Sinden. Dmitri Khristich. Bourque’s last full season in Boston.
In 1998 Doc Rivers was a year away from becoming head coach of the Orlando Magic. Bill Belichick was the head coach-in-waiting for the New York Jets (and sort of had the whiff of failure still close by). Terry Francona was fresh off a 68-94 first season as manager with the Phillies. Tom Brady was locked in a QB battle with Drew Henson at Michigan. The point is, things have changed (duh).
Only three athletes are still around from 1998: Tim Wakefield, Tedy Bruschi and Pierce. No coaches and G.M.s are still kicking. Think anyone today has a chance to make it to 2020 (11 years from now--duh II)? I am going to fire up the old prediction machine (not seen since my last two columns) and take a look at some candidates.
Ainge, Danny (50-1)
Could be selling him short, maybe he does make it to 2020. That would be 18 years in charge, though, and he’d be 61 years old. My best guess is that he sticks around for a few years after the big guys leave to show that he can build a winner with “his guys.”
(I think we can all agree that if the Celtics had won the lottery and taken Oden first that Ainge could very well be on his way out, probably after this season. But where would the Celtics be if they had Durant? Doesn’t a team with Rondo, Al Jefferson (if healthy), Durant (already one of the 10 best players in the NBA), Pierce (assuming he decided to stick around) and Perkins win 45-50 games in the East? And they would be good for the next eight to 10 years with three young, All-Star-level players. No Celtics fan would give up a title (and a real shot at another one), but when they are 18-64 in 2013-14 I’ll be thinking about Rondo-Jefferson-Durant.)
Bay, Jason (500-1)
I’ll admit I thought he was two years younger. He’s already 30 (31 in September). Forgot that he really didn’t get going until he was 25. Will he ever be an MVP-level guy? Probably not. But he’ll be 280.-30-100 for the next half-decade or so. He’ll be closer to the best parts of Manny than the worst parts of Manny, whatever that’s worth.
Belichick, Bill (250-1 as coach, 75-1 front-office)
He’s not going to last 20 years as a head coach. That just doesn’t happen anymore. (Will we ever see that again? Mike Tomlin is what, 37? I guess he could make it. The Steelers never fire anyone. They would have given Rod Rust a six-year extension after the 1990 season.) I think he coaches another four years (as long as Brady is around) and then spends a couple of years as the GM (or whatever title they give him). And I still think the next coach of the Patriots will be Josh McDaniels.
And going 11-5 without Brady for 99.99999 percent of the season cements Belichick as the greatest coach in the history of Boston sports. I know Auerbach won a million titles, but would he have won, say, 58 games (is that the NBA equal of 11-5?) if Russell had missed a whole season in his prime? To me, Russell coaching Russell to two NBA titles after Red left knocks Auerbach down a notch or two anyway.
(Is Belichick the least likely person on the planet to do a “25 Random Things About Me” list on Facebook? Has to be in the top five, along with Dick Cheney, J.D. Salinger, Andy Rooney and Robert Byrd (who I’m guessing will be the last U.S. Senator that also served in the Ku Klux Klan). Probably also the four billion or so people around the world with no access to a computer should be considered, but this is a light column, so we’ll move on.)
Bergeron, Patrice (100-1)
Two years ago I think he would have been the athlete in Boston most likely to still be playing in 2020. He’ll be 35, by no means an unreasonable age to still be in the NHL. But it’s hard to imagine that after Randy Jones and Dennis Seidenberg. Hope I’m wrong, though, because he is such a fun player to watch when he’s healthy (and he has been pretty solid in the six weeks or so that he’s been back).
Buchholz, Clay (200-1)
I don’t see it with Buchholz. I suspect he’s this generation’s Jeff Sellers or Mike Brown (or maybe Brian Rose if you grew up in the late 1990s). I know he’s just 23, but I don’t like 41 walks in just 76 innings last season. He could become an annual 15-game winner, but he could just as easily be out of baseball in five years.
(Of course Mike Brown was a part of the deal that landed Dave Henderson and Spike Owen in 1986. Without looking, guess Owen’s batting average in his 42 games with the Sox that year. It was .183. I would’ve guessed .260 or so. I always thought he was pretty good down the stretch in ’86. Of course, I also thought Ryan Leaf would be better than Peyton Manning and that Jeff Speakman would change the world of film acting.)
Davis, Glen (Giant Infant) (300-1)
I had this at 500-1, but knocked it down for a couple of reasons. He’ll only be 34 in 2020. And it’s possible (though a long shot) that when Garnett, Pierce and Allen are gone Davis could develop into a 15-10 guy, which could lead to a long-term deal. But the reality is that he’ll probably always be a role player, and in today’s NBA that doesn’t usually equate to sticking with one team for 13, 14 years.
Ellsbury, Jacoby (100-1)
Nope. Don’t see it. Doesn’t get on base enough (.336 last year, .346 in the minors) to suggest that he’ll be a useful offensive player when his speed declines.
Epstein, Theo (10-1)
Would you trade Theo straight up for any GM in sports today? I don’t think I would. Trying to think of a candidate that would be close…nope. There are guys (Beane, Sabean) who might do as well with a 100-mil budget, but with Theo you know he can get it done. Throw in the age factor and it’s not even close. Sure, he’s had some whiffs (how bad has the shortstop play been since letting Cabrera go in 2004?) but the good easily outweighs the bad, which is all you can ask for from a general manager.
And I think if he were in charge in November of 2005 Hanley Ramirez (the best player in baseball) would be the starting shortstop for the Red Sox today.
Francona, Terry (180-1 as manager, 75-1 in another capacity)
Everything you read about his health would suggest that he’s probably not all that interested in spending the next 11 years bouncing from Marriott to Marriott. His current contract runs through 2011 and has options for 2012 and 2013. Figure he finishes that out and calls it a day.
(I know this is hard to believe, but one more World Series win and Francona is going to the Hall of Fame. Every manager with at least three World Series titles is in (with the exception of Joe Torre, who is a lock for future enshrinement). Do you feel like you have a Hall of Famer in the dugout with Tito? Tough to argue with 90-95 wins a season and an 8-0 record in the World Series, I guess.)
Gostkowski, Stephen (25-1)
This is a sleeper, I kind of like his chances to stick around, provided that he doesn’t hold the Pats up for a ton of money when his time comes.
Herald, Boston (75-1)
Hope I’m wrong. I still like plenty of the things about the Herald (Steve Bulpett, Inside Track, Joe Fitzgerald, Peter Gelzinis and Sean McAdam are just a few) and it really is vital to have (at least) two papers in a big city just to keep the other guy from getting lazy (think WWE after WCW went out of business, if you will). I have to think with no Herald we would get twice as many Animal House references in CHB columns.
Seems every few months or so you read about the Herald offering buyouts or worse. The Globe will survive, I think, simply because people think it’s a better newspaper (though I would take the Herald sports over the Globe at this point). And yeah, it’s a tabloid, I get it, but it is good to have around. It will truly be a dark day in Boston when the Herald closes the door.
(I’m rooting for the newspaper industry, I really am. There is still no internet equal to the feeling of sitting down on a Sunday morning with the Globe or New York Times. But you never read anything even remotely positive about the future of newspapers. This website is pretty much the most depressing place on the internet (with the possible exceptions of this and maybe this.)
Kessel, Phil (10-1)
I just think guys stay with their teams in hockey. Add in the fact that they start in the NHL at about six years old and you’ve got a good shot at a 15-year career in one city. Why not Kessel? He’ll be just 32 at the start of the 2020 season.
I have no clue how close they were to pulling the trigger on the Pronger-Kessel deal, but what a disaster that would have been. Sure, Pronger may have helped for the next three months (just as Larry Anderson helped the Red Sox down the stretch in 1990), but how about six years down the line (Pronger is 34, or two years older than Kessel in 2020)? Plus the Bruins already have one of the two or three best defenses in the league, plus Kessel is looking every bit the 50-goal scorer the Bruins haven’t had since Neely. Great no-trade. Would’ve killed the franchise.
Lester, Jon (18-1)
Lester, Kessel, Bergeron...hope all three have seen the worst.
Lester is now signed through 2014, which probably leaves him another contract or so away from 2020. I think we are looking at Andy Pettitte redux with Lester. Both are big (Pettitte is three inches and 40 pounds heavier, to be fair) lefties that put some guys on base but can beat you with brains or power. Assuming the worst is behind Lester from a health perspective he should be a horse for the Sox over the next decade (though he gives up enough walks that I think he’ll mix in an occasional average season—see Pettitte in 2000 for an example).
Mayo, Jerod (25-1)
I almost put this at 15-1 but figured one season isn’t enough. Sure looks like he’s going to be really, really good but right now he has plenty of babysitters on watch. I will say this, however, if he still is with the Pats in 2020 then he is going to the Hall of Fame.
Papelbon, Jonathan (40-1)
In this case, 40-to-1 is pretty high praise, truth be told. The 2020 season would be his 16th with the Sox. Mariano Rivera hasn’t made it to 16 years (yet). Trevor Hoffman didn’t close for the Padres for 16 years (15 and a half). Nobody has ever closed for the same team for that long. Could it happen?
Sure, I guess it could. We have to assume, first of all, that he stays injury-free (no lock, given his history) and that the Sox sign him to a number of long-term contracts (and that already has been a problem). He does seem to thrive in Boston and (again, if healthy) seems to be the sort of guy who wants to pitch for 20 years. Will a chance to break the all-time saves record be an incentive? Maybe that record will mean something by then (quick—whose record did Trevor Hoffman break?)
Pedroia, Dustin (3-1)
Just a question if he can stay healthy.
Even you operate under the “2008 was a career year” school of thought for Pedroia, I still think he has a great shot at making it. He’s not going to fall off a cliff offensively. At worst, I think .280-.290 with 10-15 homers and 70 RBI would be the worst you’ll see. He’s already signed through 2015, just a contract away.
Here’s another factor that speaks well to the possibility of Pedroia sticking around for the long haul: 3,000 hits.
Sounds dopey, right? Pedroia is 25 years old and has 395 career hits. But take a look at this list. Other than Jeter, Pujols (both could make a run at 3,500 career hits) and A-Rod, I don’t see anyone with a better chance than Pedroia. I’m serious about this.
Let’s assume that Pedroia stays healthy. Is it wholly unreasonable to expect an average of 185 hits over the next 10 seasons? (Remember, he has a 213-hit season on his resume in just two full seasons. Craig Biggio never reached that total in a season. Neither did Yaz, for that matter. Or Murray. Or Ripken. Winfield, Yount and Palmeiro didn’t get there, either. Proves that you have to avoid a major injury and just keep banging out 170-180 hits a year and play into your early 40s.) That would put him at 2,245 at age 35. Have to slow him down and give him an average of 135 over the next three. That gets him to 2,650 at 38. (And I’m being conservative here. Biggio averaged 164 hits from age 35-37. Winfield had 180 hits at age 36. Ripken may not be the best example simply because he played every day, but he averaged 169. So 135 is on the low side to be sure.) If he is that close (and again, he could be closer) does anyone think he’ll stop playing before he gets to 3,000?
Probably I’m jumping ahead here (which is whole point of this column, actually) but if (big if) Pedroia stays healthy I think he has a pretty good shot at it. Maybe 40 percent.
Powe, Leon (100-1)
Falls in the Big Baby category, I guess (role player on a good team), but would anyone be surprised if for a year or two after the big guys leave Powe puts up 17-10 a night? He could be the second-best player on a 30-win team, right?
Rivers, Doc (100-1)
I think he follows Ainge out the door a few years after the big guns leave town. He’ll be looked at more as a K.C. Jones-type (let the vets do their thing and stay out of the way), but I hope history also will note that he out-coached Phil Jackson when the stakes were highest. In 2020 he’ll be in year four or five of broadcasting the NBA Finals with Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy.
Rondo, Rajon (8-1)
No player in the NBA today is like him. A point guard that is capable of a 19-15-14 line, but at the same time can be a liability on the floor (career 63 percent free-throw shooter).
We all know the deal. If he ever becomes just an average jump shooter we are looking at a top-10 player in the NBA. Will he be the guy to carry this team over the next decade (he’s only 23)? Is he a “franchise” player or does he need two or three All-Stars to cover his weaknesses on the offensive end? All I know is this: no great player has ever been the fourth option in any offense. (Anyone who suggests Dennis Johnson is crazy. Not that he wasn’t a great player, he most surely was. He is the best eligible player in any of the four major sports not in the Hall of Fame. But he was the THIRD option when it mattered most. Parish was fourth.)
Varitek, Jason (No odds as player, 100-1 as manager)
I am on record that Varitek is the next manager of the Red Sox (retires after this season, two or three years as the bench coach, steps in for Francona in 2012 or ’13). Why not? Does anyone have a better candidate?
Youkilis, Kevin (150-1)
He’s the opposite of Ellsbury. His skills (plate discipline, power) won’t go away as he ages. Will that be enough to keep him around until he’s 41? (Remember he got started late—wasn’t a regular until 27.) Probably not, but it is not impossible that he has a Darrell Evans career—moves from third to first/DH and posts 20-homer, .380-OBP seasons forever.