Red Sox

Baseball's unwritten rules? Juan Soto grabs his crotch at them, and here's hoping he starts a revolution

Baseball's unwritten rules? Juan Soto grabs his crotch at them, and here's hoping he starts a revolution

Someday, baseball will allow itself to evolve beyond the puritanical Hester Prynne routine that unfolds every time a player exhibits a little personality. Apostates and reprobates are expected to piously denounce their vile sins against The Game, which above all else, must be Respected.

Like Originalists expressing slavish devotion to their interpretations of the Founding Fathers, these self-appointed stewards seem intent on locking the game in the 18th century.

Praise be, then, that baseball's next generation of stars appears determined to shake the shackles of condemnation. One of them just helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series.

If you hadn't heard much about Juan Soto a month ago, the secret's out now. The newly 21-year-old star is a generational talent. Last year, he became the first teenager ever to post a .400 on base percentage. He duplicated the feat at age 20, joining Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Mel Ott, and Al Kaline, as well as the all-time great Alex Rodriguez.

Soto's contributions this October were massive. He homered twice in the NLDS to eliminate the Dodgers, and then added three more bombs in the World Series vs. the Astros, including go-ahead shots in Games 1 and 6.

But I have a feeling that if we're going to remember Soto for anything, it'll be his joyful, I-don't-give-a-bleep demeanor in the batter's box, where individuality typically dons a straitjacket.

The guardians of the game's sacred unwritten rules can't scribble demerits quickly enough to account for Soto's constant transgressions. The slugger doesn't just take pitches — he dismisses them with a cross between the Electric Slide and a New Zealand rugby Haka, deliberately and demonstratively emerging from his crouch with a twitchy shake of the head and leer. In D.C., they've given the move a name — the Soto Shuffle — and he frequently adjusts his cup in the direction of the mound while the gatekeepers shriek.

Against the Cardinals in the NLCS, Soto was particularly expressive, so when St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas retired him to escape a bases-loaded threat in Game 1, he made sure to grab his crotch in Soto's direction. The benches didn't empty, because everyone in the park understood: if Soto could dish it out, he needed to take it. Not surprisingly, he could.

"I've just got to laugh about it," he told reporters, while Mikolas, for his part, described the confrontation as "good-natured."

That was nothing compared to the brouhaha that erupted during the World Series, however. In Game 6, Astros star Alex Bregman — himself an enthusiastic young standout who has been known to rub opponents the wrong way — earned criticism from every musty corner of the game for carrying his bat to first base after homering.

This was apparently disrespectful to the pitcher, and Bregman apologized profusely, because god forbid he let his excitement get the best of him in a potential clincher. Manager A.J. Hinch made sure to let the world know that he spoke to Bregman three times lest baseball perpetuate some myth that it's actually fun.

You know who made no apologies? Soto. Following his go-ahead homer in the fifth, he mimicked Bregman by taking his bat with him. He tossed it in the direction of first base coach Tim Bogar, who fielded it like a radioactive isotope. Nationals manager Dave Martinez admitted he disapproved of the display, but Soto cast the act in terms of joy, not vengeance.

"I just saw Bregman doing it, and I wanted to do the same thing," he told reporters. "I was like, 'Oh, that's really cool.' I wanted to do it, too."

Like Red Sox star Rafael Devers, Toronto slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, and potential NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Braves, Soto unapologetically plays with a smile instead of a sneer. It's no coincidence that the loosening of baseball's stodgy culture — if it ever happens — will probably fall to the next generation of Latin stars, who play with a festive exuberance that's notable in an oft-dour sport. Acuva Jr., in particular, is a frequent target of the scolds.

Anyway, back to the bat-carrying imbroglio. Lost in the hysteria was a particularly bad-ass moment. Facing former (and maybe future) Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, Soto took a 2-1 fastball just above the letters for ball three. Verlander is as old-school-respect-the-game as a wool uniform, and he did not take kindly when Soto shuffled in his direction, wagged his tongue, and shook his head. "Not here," Verlander mouthed at him. "Not here."

Was Soto intimidated? Nope. As he stepped back in for the 3-1 pitch, he shook his head emphatically and reiterated to catcher Robinson Chirinos, "Ball." Verlander followed with another 96-mph fastball that barely clipped the upper inside corner of the zone. Most guys would've swung through it or popped it up. Soto launched it 413 feet into the upper deck.

He then danced around the bases, his bat accompanying him for the first 88 feet. By the time he touched home plate and pointed to the sky, there was nothing anyone could say except maybe, "Whoa."

Juan Soto is writing his own rules. Here's hoping the rest of baseball follows his lead.

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Mike Lowell says he'd love to take job as Red Sox manager temporarily if it brought Alex Cora back

Mike Lowell says he'd love to take job as Red Sox manager temporarily if it brought Alex Cora back

Mike Lowell would check a lot of the boxes the Red Sox would be looking for in their managerial search. The popular former Red Sox third baseman is a Cuban-American who speaks Spanish and English and is media-savvy as an analyst for the MLB Network. 

Still, there's one condition he has that will probably take Lowell out of the running. 

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The 2007 World Series MVP and 2018 inductee into the team's Hall of Fame has no managerial experience, but told WEEI's Rob Bradford in a text message, "I would love to if I knew it was just for a year and Cora was guaranteed to come back."

Alex Cora, a Red Sox teammate of Lowell's for three seasons (2006-08), was let go by on Tuesday after he was named as the central figure in Major League Baseball's investigation of sign-stealing by the Houston Astros when Cora was their bench coach in 2017. Cora is also alleged to have brought a similar system to Boston when he became manager before the 2018 season. MLB is continuing to investigate the allegations against the Red Sox and it will likely result in a suspension of one season or longer for Cora.

Former Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were each suspended for a season by MLB and subsequently fired by Houston.

With Cora facing perhaps a longer punishment, or perhaps even a lifetime ban from baseball -- and from Red Sox ownership's telling silence when asked if Cora would ever manage in the majors again -- Lowell's plan of temporarily filling in until Cora's return isn't likely to fly. 

Ron Roenicke sounds clean, making him the safest choice to replace Alex Cora as Red Sox manager

Ron Roenicke sounds clean, making him the safest choice to replace Alex Cora as Red Sox manager

SPRINGFIELD -- The Red Sox are unlikely to name a manager in the next few days, preferring instead to take as disciplined an approach to this momentous decision as they can, given the time constraints.

They'd love to hire from within for the sake of continuity, but they face a dilemma: what if they tab a coach to replace Alex Cora, only to find him implicated when MLB completes its investigation into allegations of sign-stealing in 2018?

The coaches met the media on Saturday morning at Winter Weekend, and one of them sounded like the safest bet to emerge unscathed from whatever report MLB produces. And so, given the challenges that loom, with spring training only three weeks away, it's fair to say bench coach Ron Roenicke put his best foot forward as an honest and forthright potential face of whatever follows this scandal.

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"It's obviously a tough time," Roenicke said. "And I know things over the years, maybe some little things have happened before. But when something like this comes out, it obviously damages the game. I think you try to get past it. You try to do things the right way. I came from being with Mike Scioscia for a long time in Anaheim and it was something that was really important to Mike, how we went about things as a staff and what we did. 

"I took that same philosophy when I went to Milwaukee and managed. I always felt like yes, there's lots of things we could do on the field. When I was a third-base coach I could give pitches to the hitters since 2000 when I was in the big leagues and that's legal to do from the third-base box. But I didn't think it was right, so I didn't do it.

"I spent so many years playing this game and trying to do things the right way," Roenicke added. "It's hard. It hurts in all areas. You try to raise your kids to do things the right way, you try to live your life that way, you try to be that way in your career. So,  anytime you see that, it hurts. I also realize that we all screw up. I've screwed up. Everybody has. It just happens this is a huge deal, and it's sad to see that for the game."

It remains unclear if the Red Sox are focusing on an interim solution or someone who could fill the role longer term. They'll undoubtedly take a host of characteristics into consideration, not least of which is a facility with analytics, which Cora embraced. Roenicke, 63, might not be the most progressive choice in this regard, but outside of pitching coach Dave Bush, it's hard to single out a Red Sox coach who would be.

From a messaging standpoint, though, the Red Sox could do a lot worse than the avuncular former Brewers skipper, who led Milwaukee to 96 wins and an NLCS berth in 2011, finishing second in the Manager of the Year voting. He also spent eight years in the major leagues as a switch-hitting outfielder.

He certainly didn't sound like someone concerned about being caught up in the collateral damage of whatever the Red Sox may or may not have done in 2018.

"It would be concerning if something happened that I knew I was a part of, that I was brought into as part of that," he said. "I know what I do. I always try to do things the right way."

Roenicke checks some boxes. He'd be the most obvious interim candidate on the staff if the team wants to conduct a more traditional managerial search next fall. And he'd allow for the continued development of third base coach Carlos Febles, who's a potential future manager, or even former All-Star catcher Jason Varitek, a special assistant who, in a perfect world, would spend some time on a coaching staff before considering his next step.

Roenicke was asked if he still harbored hopes of managing last week, before we had any idea of the scandal that was about to unfold.

"I'm always content," he said. "Coaching is fun. It's a fun job. Managing is challenging. I enjoy it. I love the challenge of it. I wasn't really thinking about it too much, but my phone was lit up every day from my friends or whoever, saying this was a possibility."

At this point in the offseason, the Red Sox probably won't find a perfect solution. There are safe ones, though, and none feels safer than Roenicke.