It was 7:51 p.m. on June 11 when the Tweet popped up.
“the MT curse?”
It didn’t take a Twitterologist to decipher what Red Sox principal owner John Henry meant when tapping in those 15 characters (imagine if he used all 140 allowed). Just a few minutes before his team had beaten the Yankees for the eighth time in as many tries in the 2009 season, and a player with the initials “MT” was in the middle of the pinstriped suffering after choosing New York over Boston.
In Henry’s Twitter world – which, for a few months anyway, was a Willy Wonka-esque wonderland – Mark Teixeira chose the money and the Yankees, and therefore he would enter into the kind of cursed existence Red Sox fans thought they had patented.
Since the digital declaration, however, the Yankees have the second-best record in the major leagues (42-19), while having scored more runs than any team not named the Angels (333).
As for Teixeira, he’s been good, hitting .277 with 12 homers over the span since the Tweet, coming into Fenway Park this weekend with a .283 batting average, 31 homers and a .381 on-base percentage. He has also hit more homers against the Red Sox (5) than any other team this season.
(As a quick aside, take out the eight-game, steroid-allegation-induced nightmare David Ortiz went through and since June 1 is hitting .278 with 17 homers.)
Most importantly, at the time of the Tweet the Red Sox held a two-game lead over the Yankees, which has flipped into 6 1/2-game advantage for New York as the teams’ begin their three-game set.
So, assuming there is an “MT curse” (and we know there must be one, because when it comes to Red Sox fandom, hyperbole and superstition never enters the equation), which team is exactly the one that has to take the brunt of its effect?
In other words, since their owner brought it up, the Red Sox have to wonder just how much of an effect “the one that got away” will have on the New York-Boston dynamic for not only this season, but each and every other one until Teixeira is paid that last $22.5 million paycheck for playing in 2016.
Before we dive into exactly how painful Teixeira might make the Red Sox’ lives over the next eight seasons, let’s make one thing perfectly clear – he was not coming to Boston. All things being equal, the first baseman had no preference for playing at Fenway over Yankee Stadium…and, as we know, all things weren’t equal, and never were going to be.
The Yankees offered $180 million, $10 more than the Red Sox. In hindsight, would the Sox have dug deeper financially and come up with the extra cash with the benefit of looking into the future of what a difference-maker Teixeira was going to be during the reversal of fortune that has taken place since Henry’s Tweet? Maybe. But they know the reality wasn’t going to change – unless Teixeira’s wife truly had a love for Duck Boats and Newbury Street, whatever the Red Sox offered wasn’t going to be enough. The Yankees would go one dollar (or, more likely, some millions) more, and that ultimately appeared all the difference the 29-year-old needed.
The problem for the Sox in terms of competing against Teixeira and the Yankees over the years to come isn’t just about the first baseman's presence in pinstripes. It’s also a function of the player who will have Teixeira's back the entire time – Alex Rodriguez.
When the Red Sox played the Angels in the 2008 American League Division Series, the game-plan was to pitch around Teixeira as much as possible, choosing instead to go after Vlad Guerrero. The result was the first baseman getting on base in 11 of his 20 plate appearances, but none of the at-bats resulted in anything more than a walk or single.
Guerrero hit during the series (.467), but he also couldn’t manage anything more damaging than one double while not notching a single RBI.
Vlad is good, but it goes without saying he is no A-Rod. Unless you’re hanging your hat on Rodriguez’s perceived postseason yips, game-planning for the Yankees’ cleanup hitter will never be a walk in the park. Even with this “down” year for Rodriguez, the Yanks’ three-four punch has combined for 52 home runs.
And we haven’t even talked about Teixeira’s run-prevention skills. (The best zone rating of any everyday major-league first baseman in the game, to go along with just one error.)
So, we get it, Teixeira is really, really good, and will be for a long time. And with Henry’s Tweet still looming throughout the past two months, the prospects of the Red Sox properly answering the Yankees’ signing seem diminished by the day. Lars Anderson shouldn’t be expected to be Teixeira. San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez might be too expensive to pry away from the Padres (and falls short of Teixeira’s overall game, anyway). And it wouldn’t appear that any free agent (save Albert Pujols) will be worth investing the kind of funds and hopes the Red Sox were willing to hand over to Teixeira.
But the Red Sox deserve credit, believe or not, more than seven months after losing out on Teixeira for having found what might be a suitable Plan B. Victor Martinez isn’t the player the Yankees’ first baseman is, but he might be good enough to temper the angst that comes with watching Teixeira.
Martinez is a hard-to-find middle-of-the-order bat. Like Teixeira, he is a switch-hitter. And while nobody is going to confuse the pair defensively, the versatility offered by the catcher/first baseman is of almost as great a value as Teixeira’s wizardry at first. (Especially considering the Red Sox have the only other major league first baseman comparable to Teixeira in the field, Casey Kotchman, ready to fill in when it counts the most.)
Nobody knows – not even John Henry – which side is going to benefit most from the “MT curse,” but watching it unfold sure adds some spice to things, doesn’t it? It’s going to be a fascinating eight years.
Oh, and if you’re waiting for more Twitter salvos from Henry, don’t hold your breath. He hasn’t posted anything since July 28.
THINGS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
- Wondering how Alex Gonzalez became such a slick-fielding shortstop? Credit baseball’s tools of ignorance.
When growing up in Venezuela, his father would hit him ground balls in the family’s backyard, which, evidently was filled with holes, mounds of dirt, and just a few patches of grass. Because of the uneven terrain, Gonzalez became sheepish when fielding grounders hit by his dad, often shying away from the ball.
The solution was simple – Gonzalez’ father went out and got a catcher’s mask, gave it to his son, and told him to wear it whenever the two practiced grounders. From then on, according the Red Sox shortstop, focusing, not fear, became the priority on each and every ground ball.
- Perhaps nobody was more sad to see Justin Masteron leave via the Red Sox’ trade with Cleveland than Red Sox reliever Ramon Ramirez. Masterson had taken it upon himself to teach Ramirez the English language at a much higher level than what the pitcher had come to his new organization with.
In fact, before sitting down with Masterson, Ramirez spoke nearly as much Japanese (having played there for a season) as English.
But thanks to Masterson, the native of the Dominican Republic was able to progress dramatically in regards to his use of tenses. The lessons were held nearly every day, with the two often going through the progressions while sitting side by side in the Sox’ bullpen.
And while Ramirez clearly was sad to see Masterson go, he said that his friend left him with one bit of advice when it came to speaking his new language. “He told me when in doubt just know two things,” Ramirez said. “‘What it is!’ and ‘What it was!’”
- When Frank Viola (who proved to be one of the best fill-in announcers NESN had this season) met Victor Martinez while helping at the Cleveland Indians’ spring training, the catcher/first baseman was intimately familiar with the former Red Sox’ excellence as a big league hurler.
Martinez had no idea that Viola had pitched for the Red Sox, or really that he won the Cy Young Award in 1988, and finished with 176 wins. All Victor knew was that Viola was lethal in the late 80’s video game, Nintendo’s “RBI Baseball.”
It was the combination of Viola and Blyleven that helped Martinez to the become the 2007 “RBI Baseball” champion in the Indians’ clubhouse, having chosen to play with the Minnesota Twins throughout the club’s season-long tournament.