Fans of the Red Sox are eagerly awaiting the first pitch tonight. Not so much for the return of baseball, but to put an end to the nauseating Manny/Pedro talk. No one can take a topic and drive it into the ground like WEEI. The Big Show wasn’t all that bad yesterday, but Bob Neumeier was at his pompous worst yesterday in declaring Manny’s absence responsible for everything except causing world hunger. (I believe Neumy is working on that connection for today’s show.) It’s still an important topic to Gordon Edes, which disappoints me, as I’ve felt Edes was one of the more reasonable and levelheaded members of the press corps. But this obsession, coupled with that spring training article talking about the Red Sox not having any African-American players, makes me think Gordon is being affected by the people he has to hang around with in the press boxes.

Tony Massarotti says the Sox need to go against their trend of recent years and have a strong second half to the season. Art Martone says the Sox don’t always struggle in the second half of the season and looks at a few other misconceptions that are out there. David Heuschkel says the Sox might have their bullpen in order, finally, and that bodes well for the second half. Gordon Edes looks at the pitching possibilities that the Sox might be able to get in trades. Jeff Horrigan lists what went right and went wrong in the first half of the season. Horrigan continues the hip media trend of bashing Bill James whenever possible, lumping him in the group of What went wrong:

BILL JAMES may be a respected statistician and historian but his formulas don't always produce accurate results. Psssst, Bill, there's a reason why dozens of teams had given up on pitchers Bruce Chen and Rudy Seanez.

How about the focus on getting players with high OBP, has that been successful? What other things has James contributed behind the scenes that we don’t know about it? This James bias is pretty silly at times. Ralph Wiley on Page2 the other day basically accused James of racism:

It is usually the American-born blacks' records and place that are resented instead of celebrated. For example, it's the stolen base that is denigrated as a weapon by baseball sabermaticians like Bill James, at precisely the time when a Rickey Henderson steals 130 bases in a season.

This might be one of the dumbest things that Wiley has ever said, and that is saying a lot. Bill James has been a huge Rickey supporter through the years. James has stated not that steals themselves are bad, but that unless you’re great at it, they’re not worth the risk. Who is better in baseball history at the stolen base besides Rickey? Back to the Boston stories, Michael Silverman takes a look at the trade market. Bill Reynolds is sick of hearing about the curse. I just wish he had taken a few shots at a certain curly haired writer who has lined his pockets with proceeds from spreading the curse. Steve Buckley’s pay column tells us that there will be no dog days in August, the schedule has no easy pickings. That month will either be a lot of fun, or torture for the Sox. Kevin Gray says at long last, the Sox have some relief. Horrigan also takes a look at The Minors. Martone’s notebook has Jeff Suppan targeted by the Sox. Bill Griffith says the All Star game wasn’t the ratings bonanza that Fox hoped for.

I made it down to UMass-Boston to check out the Summer League last night. The young Celtics got their heads handed to them by the Spurs junior varsity. Marcus Banks, Kedrick Brown and Brandon Hunter were really the only guys who showed anything. Hunter needs to make this team. He brings something they need, a widebody to battle under the hoop, he was relentless under there. Bruno Sundov might’ve turned in the worst performance in the history of summer league basketball. He ended up with 7 fouls, (no disqualifications in summer league) missed numerous layups and dunks, had passes go through his hands, and got lit up by players much shorter than he. When you’re 7-3, you’d think you’d have a few more blocked shots. In frustration, he also decked a guy half his size and earned a T. I’ll run through the articles of the day, and add anything I think relevant. One disappointment I had was not getting to see Kendrick Perkins. The young center sat out with an ankle sprain. I didn’t see him in warmups, and then he came out in a walking cast towards the end of warmups. Mark Murphy reports on Perkins. Peter May has the story on Chris Herren, looking to get back into the NBA. Celtics made their free agent splash yesterday, inking Mark Blount to a two year deal. Shira Springer and Carolyn Thornton report on the Blount signing. Marcus Banks was impressive last night, not just from his numbers, Lenny Megliola reports on the Celtics rookie point guard. There was a buzz whenever had the ball, whether he was pushing the fast break, or performing a nasty, Iverson-like crossover in front of a helpless opponent, or taking the ball to the rack, he was impressive. In the second half, with the Spurs well ahead, and the crowd a little dead, Banks did his crossover, took the ball to the hoop and attempted to dunk it over the big guys. He got fouled, and missed the dunk, but almost the entire crowd was immediately up and applauding. He was up high enough to dunk, and had he not been fouled, it would’ve been a spectacular play. Rick Carlisle spent most of the first half seated next to Danny Ainge on the sideline, and John Wallace came and sat on the other side of Ainge midway through. A few seats down was Kenyon Martin, who got booed vociferously as he entered. A fan went across the building and sat down behind Martin and started taunting him, he apparently got to Martin, who turned and had a few words for him. Eventually security asked the fan to leave the area. Zach Rocha looks at Luke Recker, who did play some last night, and looked ok, he displayed some spark on defense. Springer’s notebook looks at John Wallace’s presence last night. Shira was an active presence on the sideline during the second half, talking with Ainge, Wallace and Carlisle among others. Murphy’s notebook also looks at Wallace. Thornton’s notebook features Ainge with some praise for Kedrick Brown’s offseason work. The Spurs summer league coach was quite dramatic during the game, putting on a show at halfcourt as if this was the seventh game of the NBA finals. It was hard to see what he was getting so upset about, as the foul calls seemed clearly to favor the Spurs. Danny Ainge was even seen engaging one of the officials in conversation during the game. Spurs reserve Kaspers Kambala received some razzing from the crowd for his large tattoo with the name “Jessica” on his arm, which quickly became his nickname. David Aldridge was seen roaming around, and doing multiple takes for his SportsCenter segment. Bob McAdoo was very visible, and Dave Jageler walked by to a chorus of “Free Jags!”, to which he smiled. Steve Bulpett was around, seated next to Ainge for much of the second half. (Nice shorts, Steve.) He also talked to Martin for a bit.

Tom Curran reports that the Patriots are getting closer to signing first round pick Ty Warren. Michael Felger looks at the Running Back position, which is still headlined by Antowain Smith, who faces his annual battle with the conditioning test a week from today. Aaron Harlan has a look at Ted Johnson coming into camp with a new contract, a new wife, and having just turned 30. Michael Parente starts his training camp preview with a look at the QB position, with the focus of course on Tom Brady. He also looks at the Running Back position, and with this year being a huge one for Smith.

Bob Ryan warms us up for “The” Open.

Bill Griffith looks at D-Day for WWZN tomorrow.

NESN has Red Sox/Blue Jays at 7:00. ESPN Classic is showing game seven of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Celtics and Hawks at 9:00. ESPN has the “Pete Rose on Trial” show at 7:00

A further programming note, if you’re out of town and have got Direct-TV, you can watch the Summer league games on NBATV, I think it will be channel 601.