JASON BAY was sonaive to the hysteria of big-market baseball that when he landed at Boston'sLogan Airport on Aug. 1 and heard the announcement over theloudspeaker—"Jason Bay, your bags from Pittsburgh are coming in on carousel13. Welcome to Red Sox Nation"—he actually assumed that the public addressannouncer at Logan greeted other travelers similarly. But when Bay got to thebaggage claim, and the P.A. announcer left the microphone, went to the carouseland offered to carry his luggage for him, it became clear that baseball playersreally are treated differently in Boston. While Bay was getting to know his newcity, Bostonians were getting to know this new leftfielder, who does not bringquite as much baggage as the old one, and insists on carrying all of ithimself.
This is an article from the Oct. 13, 2008 issue
The Red Sox havereplaced Manny Ramirez with a dry-witted Canadian who runs out ground balls,plays on bum knees and complains only when he is forced to take a day off. Bayspent the past six seasons in Pittsburgh, where he never won more than 75games, never sniffed a pennant race, never had protection in the lineup andnever so much as implied that the Pirates did not deserve him. Sound likeManny? "They could not be more opposite," Boston first baseman SeanCasey says.
Ramirez hasplayed 98 postseason games, and last week Bay played his first. Game 1 of theAmerican League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels was the biggestgame of his life, or at least since he led Trail, B.C., to the 1990 LittleLeague World Series. As the Red Sox took batting practice, about half of themwatched the telecast of the Dodgers-Cubs series opener on the scoreboard atAngel Stadium. When Ramirez hit a home run into the leftfield bleachers atWrigley Field, on a pitch so low it nearly grazed the plate, Red Sox thirdbaseman Mike Lowell turned to Bay and asked, "Geez, did you seethat?"
Bay says he isnot trying to keep up with Ramirez—but that's what he's doing. He hit a two-runhomer in Game 1 and a three-run shot in Game 2. On Monday night he scored theseries-clinching run to close out an ALDS in which he hit .412 and slugged.882. Deals made at the trading deadline are often imbalanced and overhyped.But the three-team blockbuster that sent Bay from Pittsburgh to Boston on July31, and Ramirez from Boston to Los Angeles, has invigorated both players, bothfranchises and the postseason as a whole. Bay and Ramirez, who have never met,could conceivably make each other's acquaintance at the World Series.
While Ramirez isa snug fit in L.A., a city that treasures its stars and tolerates theirfoibles, Bay was practically born to play leftfield at Fenway Park. When he wasa baby, his father dressed him in a Red Sox T-shirt with bay on the back, overthe number 1/2. Trail is a distant suburb of Red Sox Nation, but Bay hadposters on his wall of Boston leftfielders Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski.
"He'sCanadian," Red Sox reliever Justin Masterson says. "How can you notlike a Canadian?" The Red Sox connection to Canada goes back to April 26,1901, the first game in franchise history. The starting pitcher for the BostonAmericans that day was Win Kellum, from Waterford, Ont. Kellum and Bay, likeRamirez and Bay, are now linked forever in club lore.
TRAIL HASproduced at least 10 current and former NHL players, an inordinate number for atown that has only 8,000 people. It also boasted that Little League powerhouse,which, under coach Andy Bilesky, went to five World Series from 1967 through'90. But when the kids grew up they either played hockey full-time or, in manycases, went to work at the Teck Cominco factory on the hill, smelting zinc andlead. The local high school, J. Lloyd Crowe Secondary, did not have a baseballteam, so Bay had to drive across the border to Idaho to play American Legion.The best ballplayers in Trail were Bay and his sister, Lauren, who pitched forthe Canadian softball team in the last two Olympics.
Bay played fortwo seasons at North Idaho College, which no longer has a baseball program. Thecoaches at Gonzaga University went to scout Bay in the winter of 1998, but itwas so cold that they had to watch him hit in an indoor batting cage. "Ifyou were going to map out a road to the big leagues," Bay says, "Idon't think you'd choose the one I took."
Unlike Ramirez,an untouchable prospect in the Cleveland system, Bay was traded three times inhis first three years of professional baseball. The Pirates acquired him fromthe San Diego Padres for Brian Giles in 2003, but they reportedly asked aboutXavier Nady first, then settled on Bay only after the Padres refused to partwith Nady. Bay made the National League All-Star team twice while withPittsburgh, but he was always free by the first Saturday in October, whenGonzaga held its annual alumni game. "He always played," says formerBulldogs coach Steve Hertz. "And he played his ass off. You know, I'm gladhe's not playing this year."
At the tradingdeadline this season, on July 31, the Red Sox believed that the Pirates weregoing to send Bay to the Rays for a package of prospects. Boston had beentalking to Pittsburgh about a three-team trade involving Ramirez and Bay, butthe Rays' deal was much simpler and thus more appealing with the deadlineapproaching. Still, the Red Sox kept calling the Pirates, and in the course ofthose conversations deduced that Pittsburgh wanted to be part of a Ramirezdeal, believing they could land a better haul of prospects. After all, Bostonwas desperate to unload Ramirez but could not move him without getting aleftfielder in return, and Bay was the only leftfielder on the market who fittheir criteria—a righthanded power hitter with a high on-base percentage.Granted, Bay only batted .247 last season, but the Red Sox viewed that as anaberration, the same way they viewed Lowell's .236 batting average with Floridain 2005. Lowell, of course, was a steal for the Red Sox when he was thrown intothe Josh Beckett trade the following off-season.
The trade wasfinalized at 3:59 p.m. EDT, according to Pirates general manager NealHuntington, one minute before the deadline. Bay was sitting in the trainers'room at PNC Park, watching ESPN, his bag packed for a road trip to Chicago thathe was not sure he would make. He heard nothing at 4, at 4:10, at 4:20.Teammates walked into the trainer's room and shook Bay's hand, assuming that hewas staying.
At 4:25 managerJohn Russell came into the trainers' room and said, "J-Bay, they want tosee you upstairs." Bay knew what it meant. He just did not think it waspossible, not 25 minutes after the deadline. As the Pirates boarded a bus forthe airport, Bay went home and packed for Boston.
Although the Bayfamily was ecstatic, no one in Boston seemed to be celebrating. The atmospherewas reminiscent of July 31, 2004, when the Red Sox traded shortstop NomarGarciaparra to the Cubs in a four-team trade and replaced him with OrlandoCabrera. "Right after we made the trade, there was an odd feeling in theroom," says one Red Sox official. "It was like, 'Whoa, we just tradedManny Ramirez.' It was the end of an era."
In the clubhouseCasey tried to sell his teammates on Bay. "I was telling everybody, 'Ifthis guy played for a higher-profile team, he'd be a household name,'" saysCasey, who played with Bay in Pittsburgh in 2006. "Nobody knew about himbecause the Pirates were always out of it in June. Sometimes, when you're outof it that early, guys mail it in. Jason never mailed it in." It is truethat since 2005 Bay has not played fewer than 145 games in a season, though hesuffered from two sore knees. Casey sent Bay a text message that read, "I'mso fired up you're coming over here, the guys are fired up you're coming, andyou're going to love it here."
Bay hit .293 withnine home runs in 49 games with the Red Sox, but Ramirez becomes omnipresent inthe postseason, and when the Red Sox arrived in Anaheim last week, David Ortizsaid he was trading so many text messages with Ramirez that he was worriedabout his phone bill. Bay will never be able to offer Ortiz the camaraderie orprotection that Ramirez did, but starting last week, he began to let loose hisinner Manny. "Jason used to be a very quiet guy who showed no emotion,"says Red Sox catcher David Ross, who also played with Bay in Pittsburgh."It was like he was at work. But if you watched him in Game 1, when he hitthat home run, he had a huge smile on his face. Coming over here has broughtthe fun back to baseball for him."
Afterward, whenBay was asked at the press conference about the two strikeouts that precededthe home run, he said, "That's a big part of my game." The Red Sox,watching on television in their clubhouse, did a collective double take.Striking out is a big part of my game? The next day, as the Boston players rodetheir bus to Angel Stadium for a workout, they were still cracking up over it.As they'll learn about their modest Canadian teammate, that was just Bay beingBay.
NOW ON SI.COM
BREAKING NEWS, REAL-TIME SCORES AND DAILYANALYSIS.
Baseball Prospectus breaks down the Rays--Red Sox series, plus game-by-gameanalysis.