Red Sox

Buckner: Managing Brockton will be a 'fun challenge'

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Buckner: Managing Brockton will be a 'fun challenge'

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Bill Buckner is back in baseball in the Boston area.

Almost 21 years since retiring as a player, and in the season that will mark the 25th anniversary of Boston's 1986 American League championship (and Red Sox fans don't need to be reminded about its ending), Bill Buckner will once again be wearing a baseball uniform locally.

But it won't be a Red Sox uniform. Buckner will make his managerial debut with the Brockton Rox of the independent Can-Am League. It's an opportunity that has been presented to Buckner several times over the years, but until now the timing wasn't right.

"I just thought it'd be a fun challenge," Buckner said by phone Tuesday afternoon from Idaho, where he makes his home. "I like the shorter season and the competitive level. Regular non-independent league minor-league baseball, you're so concerned with developing players and doing that sort of thing, where the independent league is all about trying to win some games and have fun, play baseball. And I like that."

Buckner, who turned 61 in December, was a second-round pick of the Dodgers in the 1968 draft out of Napa High School in California. He made his big-league debut the next season, and hit .289 with 174 home runs, 1,208 RBI, and 2,715 hits in his 22-season career with the Dodgers, Cubs, Sox, Angels and Royals. He won a batting title in 1980 with the Cubs when he hit .324. In five seasons with the Sox, (1984-87, 1990), he hit .279 with 48 home runs and 324 RBI in 526 games.

This is Buckner's first professional managing job. Save for a short stint as a minor-league hitting instructor for the White Sox in the mid-1990s, his involvement with baseball since his retirement has been at at the amateur level.

"Just local with the kids," he said. "I've coached all the way from Little League up to college summer leagues. The managing thing is something I've always wanted to try. So I get to get a taste of that."

And with the youngest of his three children now 21, the timing is right.

"I had thought about it," he said. "But when my kids were home and my son was playing, I wanted to be around that. There were a couple of opportunities I've passed up along the way. But I thought this would be a good jump start.

"It's just the commitment, being away from home. I had gotten used to being home and kind of like it. My kids are growing up. My son's still playing baseball, and I'm trying to stay involved with that.

"Managing Brockton just seemed like it'd be a fun challenge."

With a playing career that spanned 2,517 games over parts of four decades, Buckner has a good deal of wisdom to offer young players especially in a league comprised mostly of players whose own careers may have never fully launched or have become derailed.

"I think that I was successful because I made a decision early on in my professional career that I was going to do whatever it took to get better than the guy that was next to me," Buckner said. "You got to understand that you got to do something to make yourself stand out. If you want to get to the next level, you got to put the time and effort into it. You got to be physically and mentally totally into it every day, every at-bat, every pitch.

"Not everybody's capable of doing that. But I think that if the players see the enthusiasm that I have and how I'm willing to go to bat for them and work hard, and how I was successful, then maybe they'll understand that and that'll help them out."

For someone who has never managed professionally, though, he knows it will be a challenge.

"I think managing, 75 percent of it is dealing with the pitching staff," he said. "So that is something that I need to stay on top of. As far as the everyday players, that'll all work itself out. I've watched good managers that have had success . . . If you're prepared, things'll work out. And I've always been one to prepare the best I can."

What is he most looking forward to?

"Being at the ballpark, doing something that we did when we were kids for fun," he said. "And probably the biggest thrill I get out of it is having players have success and being able to help them. There's that element of players getting a second opportunity in this league. Some of them have had success in getting back into organized ball. So that's an issue, too. If a player is serious about it, I'll do everything I can to help him get back and use my knowledge of the game to try to get them to that next level."

Getting back into organized baseball is something he might like to do down the road. But for now, he's looking no further than Brockton.

"Yeah, that's a possibility," he said. "But it's not the reason I'm doing it. I'm just going to focus on doing the best job I can this summer and have some fun. That's where I'm going to put my focus. If something else comes along the road, or if I say, 'Hey, I've really enjoyed this and I'm going to come back and do it again,' or 'I'm going to try to get a job somewhere else,' . . . that's not even in the line of thinking right now."

He played his last major league game in a Red Sox uniform, May 30, 1990, going 1-for-4 in a 4-3 loss in Texas. But, it is one game on a Saturday night in New York in late October 1986 that many Sox fans remember. Buckner bore the blame for a long time for that World Series loss. But, it hasn't prevented him from returning to the area. Two World Series championships since then can do wonders to soften fans' memories.

He's been back to Fenway Park since retiring, including Opening Day of the 2008 season after the Sox won their second World Series in four seasons. He threw the ceremonial first pitch to former teammate, right fielder Dwight Evans. As he walked to the mound from the outfield, Buckner was given a long standing ovation from the sellout crowd.

"It'll be fine," Buckner said of returning to the area. "The people there were good to me, and it'll be fine. It'll be all about baseball next summer. It's got nothing to do with my career. I'm not going to be getting any hits or getting anybody out."

His main goal for the season?

"Create a good baseball environment so people will come out and enjoy the games," he said. "It's all about enjoying the game of baseball. If you play good baseball, people like to watch it. And hopefully it'll be a great summer and we'll have some success."

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel. 

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press