We have reached the twenty-first century in this miniseries on the Boston Red Sox and their fraudulent ways, and this is an interesting edition of Fenway Frauds in the sense that all the suspects here are pitchers—not hitters. It’s almost as if the organization was testing the waters before diving in fully as they tried to catch up to the New York Yankees, who won a fourth World Series in five seasons during this memorable season.
We know PED-confirmed hitters like David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez would soon bring their bats to Boston, but for now, here are the suspected mound frauds on the 2000 Red Sox roster.
Exhibit A: Tomo Ohka
Who? Certainly not the most-recognized household name, even among Japanese players who have come to pitch in the major leagues. The Boston organization purchased him from his Japanese team in Winter 1998, and in 1999, at the young age of 23, Ohka didn’t do so well in his Red Sox debut: 1-2, 6.23 ERA, 2.077 WHIP. Depending on the size of the investment Boston had made in him, this had to set off alarms everywhere. He was only making $200k a year or so, but the purchase price had to be stiff.
But Ohka came back in 2000 and pitched a lot better with a 3.12 ERA. In fact, it was the lowest ERA of his entire MLB career. He also tossed a minor-league perfect game that season as well, for Triple-A Pawtucket. That is quite a turnaround, and on the surface, it could be quite natural given his age and expected transition from Japanese life to American culture.
The issue is this: Ohka never got any better, as his age and this transitional period might suggest. In fact, he was so bad in 2001 (to the tune of a 6.19 ERA), the Red Sox shipped him off to Montréal for Ugueth Urbina. Somehow, the Expos bit on Ohka’s potential that briefly flashed in 2000, although they too eventually got rid of Ohka when he hit free agency after the 2004 season.
Ohka left the majors with a 4.26 ERA in 1,070 innings pitched from 1999 to 2009. He was never better than he was with Boston in 2000, however, and that begs a question: Why did he “peak” at age 24? The reality is some players try questionable new methods when they struggle and decide it’s not for them, even if it seems to be working. We’re not saying that’s what happened with Ohka, but it’s quite possible something happened he was unaware of, being lost in translation and all.
Exhibit B: Hipólito Pichardo
As an age-30 reliever, Pichardo was washed up by the time he found his way to Fenway in 2000. He had never posted a season ERA under 3.95 in his career, and in the years leading up to his 1999 injury that cost him the entire MLB season, his seasonal ERA were mostly ugly: 4.92 in 1994; 4.36 in 1995; 5.43 in 1996; 4.22 in 1997; and 5.13 in 1998. This was not a good pitcher, clearly.
All those seasons came with the Kansas City Royals, where Pichardo compiled a 4.48 ERA overall in almost 670 innings from 1992 to 1998. He missed 1999 due to injury, and the Red Sox signed him for no discernible reason to a two-year, $3M contract, basically. Why? That 1.462 WHIP with the Royals should have scared any potential buyer away, especially after an injury that cost him the entire 1999 season. Kansas City basically released him at that point, too.
So, you know the drill: Guess what happened? Pichardo posted a career-low 3.46 ERA with Boston during the 2000 season, a figure he’d never come close to before or after in his undistinguished career. We all know that injuries and doctors often bring about certain medications that aren’t for the average person at any old time in their lives. Draw your own conclusions here, especially since he was 30 years old and never had a traditional “prime” so to speak.
Whether he went off those “meds” in 2001 remains to be seen, but Pichardo relapsed into his old self at age 31, posting a 4.93 ERA, and the Red Sox had seen enough. They cut him loose, and after one disastrous appearance with the Houston Astros in 2002, we never saw Pichardo again in the major leagues. Surprise, surprise.
Exhibit C: Rod Beck
We were surprised to see this name come up on our red-flag list, as we always liked Beck when he was a closer for the pre-cheating San Francisco Giants. But in 1999, at age 30, he was already in decline with the Chicago Cubs, to the tune of a 7.80 ERA as he lost his closer job in Wrigley Field—a hitter’s paradise. So it makes sense for a team that played in a pitcher’s park to take chance on him, right? Think again.
Here came the Boston organization to Beck’s rescue: In 12 appearances with the Red Sox, he dropped his ERA—in hitter-friendly Fenway—to 1.93 with his new team! A year older in 2000, Beck continued to have strange success, delivering a 3.10 ERA in 34 appearances. In Chicago, his WHIP had been 1.800, and in Boston, it was now 1.097—and all his numbers miraculously improved similarly with the switch from Wrigley to Fenway.
Boston ended up overusing Beck in 2001, and he was injured seriously enough to miss the entire 2002 season at age 33. We think this is suspect in terms of the stark overnight improvement from the Cubs to the Red Sox, and the subsequent injury timing is suspicious as well with what we know about initial use of PEDs if someone isn’t careful or educated on them—which no one really was at this time. This looks really fishy to us, of course.
Beck had a couple more seasons in the majors with the San Diego Padres—managed by Bruce Bochy, who oversaw the PED use of Ken Caminiti, mind you, and later the PED use of everyone under the sun in The House That Steroids Built. See how this all conveniently comes back to the same people? We do. We see it clearly.
Conclusion: Some prototypical cases here to examine, even in the relatively meaningless guys on the roster
The 2000 Boston Red Sox won just 85 games and missed the AL playoffs. For the third year in a row, they watched the hated Yankees win the World Series, and the Fenway Faithful were getting frustrated—all six of them at the time. With Boston finishing 6th in AL attendance, the big revenues weren’t there, either, for the Red Sox to compete financially (yet). They say fraud is born out of imagined necessity, and that’s where the organization found itself.
Pichardo and Beck fit the typical profiles we’ve seen in exploring the repeated patterns with the S.F. Giants in the recent years: washed-up players no other team wants suddenly finding new life at unlikely ages with a new team. Remember, every MLB team has good coaches and staff; there are few individuals that can truly make a difference. It’s the organizational culture that breeds success, and in this case, we know what was breeding in the Red Sox clubhouse and front office.