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Soup of This Day #113: The Ice Mountain Was Waiting

December 31, 2011

Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland
Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland. ‘Ohhhhhh won’t you come and live in Ittoqqortoormiit John Lackey, Oh won’t you come and play ball in Ittoqqortoormiit John Lackey, Oh John Lackey won’t you come and play for free…’ It’s a musical I’m working on – Photo: Hannes Grobe, 2007. Hannes Grobe is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

‘Men wanted for hazardous journey; small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.’

So read Sir Ernest Shackleton’s, possibly apocryphal, advert of 1913. It was supposedly placed to find men to accompany him on a voyage of exploration to Antarctica in 1914. If the ad is genuine he perhaps could have better accentuated the positives – Some 900 years previously Eric the Red had found himself outlawed and exiled to an icy island close to the other pole – He allegedly named it Greenland so as to make it more appealing to prospective immigrants. Whilst Greenland looks lovely and sometimes green in parts it ain’t no Amazonian rainforest so Eric the Real Estate Agent was over-egging that pudding.

Sir Ernest doesn’t seem as great at sugar-coating the situation. The advert as worded though is at least honest and a touch prophetic. Some months after he’d allegedly penned those honeyed words his ship, Endurance, was hemmed in by ice, crushed and sunk, ironically ceasing to endure. Shacks, as he almost certainly was not called, and his band of lunatic lads managed to hop ice floes, making it to a beach on Elephant Island (This is accurately named – The island apparently resembles an elephant and has elephant seals occasionally resident there) where they established a camp. Faced with dwindling supplies their courageous leader grabbed a handful of colleagues and set out in a small lifeboat on a 800 mile journey through mountainous seas to the island of South Georgia.

Shackleton wasn’t big on luck though, landing on the wrong side of the island, separated from the only settlement by a mountain range that had never been crossed. Mountains that have never been crossed were like krill to Sir Ernest’s Antarctic fur seal bull though and with 2 chums he set off to traipse across, ultimately setting in chain a rescue that saw all of his colleagues make the safe return that the advertisement had forecast as doubtful.

Albeit 2 years after they set out and just in time for World War 1 which promptly killed off a number of the lucky, lucky bastards.

Sir Ernest’s advertisement came to mind of late as the Boston Red Sox set about refreshing a playing roster that mentally and physically disintegrated in September. Sure, things aren’t all that bad at Fenway in comparison to early 1900s Antarctica – The only icepack is the currently installed rink that will house some collegiate and high school games across 16 days – but there must be a little doubt in the minds of those who sign up for summer 2012 with the Red Sox. You couldn’t be in to baseball and not have witnessed the way that the Sox ate their young as they imploded in 2011. The list of players and officials who got savaged in the media is long and is perhaps best summarised by those who weren’t copping it:

Jacoby Ellsbury
Dustin Pedroia
John Lackey

Ok I’m kidding about Lackey.

He got slaughtered.

Partly because his attitude came across as poor but mostly because he stunk like a skunk that has been cast out by other skunks as just too much skunk. And that’s a nice, conservative way of covering a guy with an end-of-season ERA of 6.41 and a 12 and 12 record as a key member of a outfit that blew a 9 game lead in a month. Don’t even start me on his WHIP (1.619).

Fortunately Lackey is now off having Tommy John surgery.

I’m not a surgeon so I can’t say for sure if this will relieve his discomfort but I can declare with a fair bit of certainly that his enforced holiday will relieve the discomfort of Sox fans who were hoping for some sort of Eric the Red style exile to Greenland for the frustrating righty.

It really is quite pleasant there John.

On an aside, Erik’s son Leif Erikson was credited with sailing to North America around 500 years prior to Columbus. He established a settlement in Newfoundland but may have sailed down around the Boston area, hence an iconic 1887 statue of him, located a half mile or so from Fenway on Commonwealth Avenue at Charlesgate East. Perhaps, given it’s proximity, some of Leif’s family’s entrepreneurial spirit can be used to sell some of the Red Sox dead wood?

Greenland is green therefore John Lackey is really Justin Verlander.

It could float.

Hell, the Sox have already done some decent business around the closer role. Jonathan Papelbon is gone, having ‘set the market for closers’. The market, otherwise known as the Phillies, values him at $50m over 4 years – $12.5m a season. That’s a lot for a role that feels a little artificial and the Sox hierarchy seems to have agreed with that view. They have responded by signing Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey. 26 year old Melancon came from the Astros where he pulled down a shade under $0.5m last term for 20 of 25 saves (80%) – He’ll get a raise and looks primed to slot into the setup role with Daniel Bard getting a shot at 4th or 5th starter.

Bailey hails from the A’s where he has been closing with some skill. He made All-Star in 09 and 10 and his 2011 save percentage came in at 92.3 (Papelbon – 91.2). His ERA and WHIP were up on Papelbon’s but here’s the kicker – Bailey is just 27 (Papelbon is 31) and will cost around $3.5m a year. Bailey plus OF Ryan Sweeney were traded to Boston for the underwhelming Josh Reddick and 2 minor leaguers. Melancon cost Boston Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland. Both had promise but weren’t delivering and Lowrie just seemed to be propping up a treatment table while being friends with Ellsbury.

Which is nice that they could be buddies and all but productive baseball was required from both of them.

It’s also worth mentioning that both Melancon and Bailey seem refreshingly normal for closers – I loved Papelbon’s record as a reliever but not so much the manufactured wildman stuff. That @#$% just grates.

So it’s hard not to be positive about those trades. I can’t say as much around the veteran end of the roster. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield are almost certainly gone from Fenway. In the catcher role Tek has been undone by the arrival of Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. The 31 year old will provide cover for Salty while Ryan Lavarnway continues to develop. On pure metrics that leaves no room for The Captain – Tek’s contribution was more than metrics though – He was heart and soul a Red Sox guy and he added something. More of that and September would not have played out like it did me thinks.

Wake meanwhile struggled through the back half of 2011. He was still effective but also expensive and the Sox won’t want to go in to 2012 carrying him and the mental baggage of September 2011. It’s a shame, that’s all I can say. I wanted him to stay if for no other reason than to blow Rocket out of the record books good and proper. Maybe a Grand Jury will do that anyway but for now the memory of Tim doffing his cap to the Fenway crowd for number 200 will have to suffice.

At least they tied up Big Papi as DH for 2012. The old man was slower (Yeah that is possible) but still productive. Combine him with Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Pedroia and Youkilis and the offence looks good. Crawford hitting like he’s paid will be a bonus and Scutaro, Aviles, Salty and McDonald showed enough of something last term to make me think that run production is gonna be at the upper end once more.

Which just leaves the starters. Beckett, Lester and Buchholz are the 1st 3 and then it gets edgy. Lackey is gone for Tommy John – Yep, I know, we covered that already but it just sounds so nice I thought I’d rap it out 1 more time. Daisuke Matsuzaka will not be back from his Tommy John until after the All-Star break and even then it’s not clear which Matsuzaka we’ll get anyway – Matsuzaka seemingly being Japanese for ‘erratic as all get-out’. Daniel Bard gets his shot at the gig at Spring training and you’d have to think Alfredo Aceves is in the mix there too, although the organisation might value him too much as a swing-man. Andrew Miller had a crack in 2011 and was expensive so the 26 year old might be trade bait. Of the rest, Doubront and Tazawa don’t seem there yet and will benefit from time in the pen – A solid #4 would be a good trade option.

For the record Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition netted over 5000 applicants, including 3 ‘sporty girls’ who wrote:

‘If our feminine garb is inconvenient, we should just love to don masculine attire.’

That’s startin’ talk – I wonder if they’re available for the 2012 Sox?

The Ice Mountain Was Waiting

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