Carl Johnson

Last Monday afternoon, I was in my car with WEEI on the radio. Lou Merloni and his afternoon crew were reviewing Red Sox pitcher David Price’s performance in Game 2 against the Yankees.

I had previously thought that the worst abuse of the power of a talk show host was this groups’ handling of the dust up between Price and Dennis Eckersley last season. Eckersley had probably forgotten it happened before this crew got through making a mountain out of that mole hill, but they still bring it back from time to time.

On Monday afternoon, Merloni was out of control, ranting and raving about Price’s inability to handle pressure and acting like Merloni’s experience with the pressure of the postseason qualified him to decide that some weakness in Price’s makeup made him unable to perform in high pressure situations.

Merloni has credibility with the fans of WEEI as a former Red Sox player, spending six years with them. He also played for the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Indians in his nine-year career. He hit a home run in his first at bat with the Red Sox in Fenway Park — a fact that WEEI trumpets often. So, when he analyzes David Price’s inability to perform in the pressure of the postseason in general and against the Yankees in particular, those fans pay attention.

I am not a huge David Price fan, although I respect what he has accomplished, among other things a 16-7 record this year, a Cy Young award and a generally well-above average career.

I was unfamiliar with Merloni’s career, having been a Yankees fan in Connecticut during his years in Boston, but I wondered how a bench player on teams that did not play a lot of postseason games during his time with them became such an expert on the stress of the playoffs, so I decided to do a little research to confirm where his expertise came from.

According to baseballreference.com, the only experience Lou Merloni had in postseason play was in the 1999 American League Division Series and Championship Series. His experience with postseason pressure was limited to eight plate appearances in those two series.

His first appearance came in Game 2 of the Division Series, against the Cleveland Indians, when he replaced Nomar Garciaparra in the eighth inning, with the score already 11-1 Cleveland. How’s that for stepping right into a pressure cooker? He popped out to second base in the ninth to end the game with the Sox losing 11-1 despite his contribution.

He started Game 3 and went 2 for 3 in a game the Sox won 9-3. He hit a fly ball to center his first time up, singled to right in the fifth and batted twice in the go ahead rally that gave the Sox the win, walking and driving in a run with a single to right with the score 8-3. In the fourth game, which the Sox won, 23-7, he pinch hit for Garciaparra in the sixth, with the score already 18-6, and popped out to center. He stayed in the game and, with the score 21-6, struck out to lead off the eighth. He didn’t play in Game 4 as the Sox won the series with a 12-4 victory over Cleveland.

In the American League Championship Series, which the Sox lost to the Yankees, four games to one, he got into one game. With the score 3-2 Yankees in the eighth inning, he was sent up to pinch hit for Scott Hatteberg with runners on second and third with one out. He was intentionally walked to set up the double play and was immediately removed for a pinch runner, Donnie Sadler. That was the only time he played in that series which the Sox lost.

Maybe he thinks that the fact that he did not crack under all that “pressure” qualifies him as an expert in identifying the reasons players perform poorly under pressure. Since that was the extent of his exposure to the ‘pressure’ of postseason play, I, for one, don’t think that it’s quite enough to qualify him to make judgments about ‘why’ David Price can’t handle the pressure of pitching in the postseason.

Coming in in the division series twice when the game was already effectively over — to give Garciaparra a rest — playing in a runaway win for the Sox and pinch hitting in the league championship series in a situation where the Yankees would have walked whoever walked up to the plate with a bat in his hand, doesn’t seem like a lot of exposure to the stress of the postseason.

At the risk of trying to sound like an expert in people’s motivation and lowering myself to the level of this radio station, I might guess that there is something personal about the way Merloni and his crew have vilified David Price.

The Red Sox have long had concerns about the manner in which this station has conducted their business. On May 10 of this year, the New York Daily News reported that “Sam Kennedy, the CEO of the Sox, said Wednesday that the team is fed up with the “controversial incidents” at the station, which has a contract to broadcast Boston’s games until 2023.

“We have had a growing level of concern, and we’ve expressed that very clearly to their management, especially over the past year – and in the past week and in the past few days,” Kennedy told the Boston Herald. He went on to say “This pattern of controversial incidents is exhausting, I think, for listeners and fans in general. It’s something that Entercom (which owns WEEI) is smart to address.”

If I were Alex Cora and the Red Sox ownership team, I would keep my players away from this group.  Their treatment of David Price is far from the example of the objective reporting that should be expected from them.

WEEI ownership and the Red Sox management should take a hard look at the image this station’s crew presents to the listening public.

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