Boston Red Sox

Martone: There was more to Yawkey than all this

Martone: There was more to Yawkey than all this

As we sit here 41 years after Tom Yawkey's death, two generations removed and with detail lost to time, it's hard for many to know exactly why he was thought of as a man for the ages.

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The Red Sox won only three American League championships during his 44 years as owner. He spent money lavishly, and many said unwisely, in creating an organization where accountability -- on and off the field -- was a largely unknown word. It goes without saying the team's racial history left a dark stain, dark enough that current owner John Henry says he's been troubled by it since purchasing the club in 2002.

Thing is, I'm old enough to remember the last decade or so of Tom Yawkey's life. Hard as it may be for anyone under the age of 50 to believe, he was a beloved figure.

He was generous to charities and causes; the Jimmy Fund is what it is today in large thanks to the support -- financial and otherwise -- of the Yawkey Red Sox. He was regarded as a benign gentleman sportsman who, rightly or wrongly, valued team above profits. When he died, the people who worked for him chipped in for a plaque that still hangs outside the front door of the team offices that reads "In memory from those who knew him best: His Red Sox employees." Sox players, at least those who spoke publicly about him, adored him. (Of course, that may have had something to do with the generous salaries he paid in those penurious times.) Even some minority players spoke well of him near the end of his life. Bill North, an outspoken black outfielder for the Oakland A's, once said: "Tom Yawkey's the only white man I call 'sir'."

That was the public perception of Tom Yawkey that I -- and others of my age -- grew up with. The portion of Jersey Street in front of Fenway Park was renamed Yawkey Way a year after his death without any pushback that I recall. He sailed into the Hall of Fame a few years later with barely a peep of protest.

All of that has been lost over the years, overwhelmed by the Sox' disgraceful racial past. (And the subsequent revelation that Yawkey and his widow Jean, who ran the team for 16 years after his death, reportedly protected an employee pedophile who sexually abused young clubhouse workers for years.) The negative is all that people seem to remember about Tom Yawkey now.

And I'm not saying that's wrong. Some sins are so strong there's no defense for them.

I just think this story is more nuanced than it's become. My feeling (and it's just my feeling): Yawkey was more weak than evil, a man who had problems with alcohol until he stopped drinking in the 1960s, who didn't question the norms of his time, who wasn't strong enough to stand up and say, "This is wrong." And he certainly surrounded himself with some virulent racists, like Pinky Higgins, to whom he gave enormous power in the organization.

The question, really, is why such a non-groundbreaking figure was given these honors in the first place.

I always had the feeling it was his philanthropy, his generosity -- which was considerable -- that earned him the love. That, and his gentle, non-assuming public persona, was why people of his time regarded him so fondly.

None of which is what John Henry's talking about. The thrust of Henry's statement -- the Yawkey name is a symbol of baseball racism, and we should distance ourselves from it -- is hard to stand against.

But though I never met him -- I was only 21 when he died -- I remember Tom Yawkey as more than just a one-dimensional, bigoted symbol of baseball's blighted past. Even if he doesn't deserve the plaudits he received, there was more to him than that.

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How Drew Pomeranz, 2nd best lefty in the American League, can be even better

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How Drew Pomeranz, 2nd best lefty in the American League, can be even better

BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz may not technically be the No. 2 for the Red Sox in this year’s presumed American League Division Series. Maybe the Red Sox will mix in a right-hander between Pomeranz and Chris Sale.

Either way, everyone knows which pitcher, in spirit, has been the second-most reliable for the Red Sox. A day after Chris Sale notched his 300th strikeout and on the final off-day of the regular season, it’s worth considering the importance of the other excellent lefty on the Sox, and how much he’s meant to a team that’s needed surprise performances because of the lineup’s drop-off.

Per FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, Pomeranz is the second-most valuable lefthanded starter among those qualified in the American League (you know who's No. 1). He's one of the 10 best starters in the AL overall.

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The 28-year-old Pomeranz was a first-round pick seven years ago. But he didn’t exactly blossom until the last two years. He has a 3.15 ERA in 165 2/3 innings. His next start, if decent, should give him a career-high in innings after he threw 170 2/3 last year.

Pomeranz is a 16-game winner, just one win behind Sale. The value of wins and losses is known to be nil, but there’s still a picture of reliability that can be gleaned.

Is this the year Pomeranz became the pitcher he always envisioned he would be?

“I don’t know, I mean, I had a pretty dang good year last year,” Pomeranz said, referring to a 3.32 ERA between the Padres and Sox, and an All-Star selection. “I think these last two years have been kind of you know, more what I wanted to be like. But I still, I don’t think I’m done yet, you know what I mean?”

Most pro athletes say there’s always room to improve. Pomeranz, however, was able to specify what he wants. The focus is on his third and fourth pitches: his cutter and his change-up. 

“My change-up’s been really good this year,” Pomeranz said. “That’s something that still can go a lot further. And same with my cutter too. I still use it sparingly. I don’t think me just being a six-inning guy is the end of it for me either.

“You set personal goals. You want to throw more innings, cover more innings so the bullpen doesn’t have to cover those. Helps save them for right now during the year.”

Early in the year, Pomeranz wasn’t using his cutter much. He threw just nine in April, per BrooksBaseball.net. That led to talk that he wasn’t throwing the pitch to take it easy on his arm. He did start the year on the disabled list, after all, and cutters and sliders can be more stressful on the elbow and forearm.

That wasn’t the case.

“The reason I didn’t throw it in the beginning of the year was because half the times I threw it went the other way,” Pomeranz said. “It backed up. Instead of cutting, it was like sinking or running back. I mean, I pitched [in Baltimore] and gave up a home run to [Manny] Machado, we were trying to throw one in and it went back. So I didn’t trust it.

“Mechanical thing. I was still trying to clean my mechanics up, and once I cleaned ‘em up and got my arm slot right, then everything started moving the way it was supposed to and then I started throwing it more.”

Pomeranz’s cutter usage, and how he developed the pitch heading into 2016, has been well documented.

The change-up is more of an X-factor. He threw five in each of his last two starts, per Brooks, and it’s a pitch he wants to use more.

“It’s been good,” Pomeranz said. “I think I could throw it a lot more and a lot more effectively, and ... tweaking of pitch selection probably could help me get into some of those later innings too.”

Well, then why not just throw the change more often? Easier said than done when you’re talking about your fourth pitch in a key moment.

“I throw a few a game,” Pomeranz said. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t want too throw it in situations where you get beat with your third or fourth best pitch. I mean it’s felt — every time I’ve thrown it it’s been consistent. It’s just a matter of, it’s something me and Vazqy [Christian Vazquez] talk about too." 

(When you hear these kind of issues, which most pitchers deal with, it makes you appreciate Sale’s ability to throw any pitch at any time even more.)

Speaking on Wednesday, the day after Pomeranz’s most recent outing, Sox pitching coach Willis said he thinks the change-up’s already starting to have a greater presence.

“He’s kind of always had a changeup, and he hadn’t had any trust or conviction in that pitch,” Willis said. “I was really excited last night that he used the changeup more. He threw it. He doubled up with it on occasion. Something that’s not in the scouting report.

"It’s his fourth pitch and he seldom threw it in a game and he’s in a situation where, OK, the change-up’s the right pitch, but location of whatever I throw is going to outweigh [selection]. Now he’s starting to gain that confidence [that he can locate it]. 

“I think that’s going to make him an extremely better pitcher. I thought it was a huge factor in his outing last night. Because he didn’t have his best velocity. He really did a good job of changing speeds with the changeup, and obviously with the curveball and being able to give different shapes of the pitches.”

The Sox already have the best left-hander in the AL, if not anywhere. The AL's second-best southpaw happens to pitch on the same team, and has tangible plans to be even better.

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

BOSTON — Red Sox chairman Tom Werner doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of the the Yankees, MLB disciplinarian Joe Torre, and players who can’t take criticism from broadcasters.

In a spot Thursday with WEEI, Werner made clear David Price’s handling of Dennis Eckersley was unprofessional.

“Boston is a tough place to play,” Werner said on WEEI’s Ordway, Merlonia and Fauria. “Some players thrive here, and some players don’t. Get a thicker skin. My feeling is, let the broadcasts be honest, be personable, informative, and get over it if you think a certain announcer took a shot at you.”

“I thought there was a way of handling that. It wasn’t handled appropriately. If I’ve got a problem with Lou [Merloni], and I hear something he says on the radio, I’ll say to Lou, ‘That wasn’t fair.’ ”

Werner also called the team’s relationship with the Yankees “frosty” following the public sign-stealing saga that resulted in fines for both clubs.

“The fact is, I do think this was a minor technical violation,” Werner said. “I start with the fact that this was unfortunately raised to a level it never should have been raised to.”

Werner also insinuated he did not approve of how MLB and Torre handled the disciplining of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, who receieved a four-game suspension for his part in a fight against the Tigers (reduced on appeal to three games).

“Do you think Gary Sanchez got an appropriate punishment?” Werner asked.