Thursday, 25 October 2007

the Red Sox are the new Yankees

"With the exodus under way and the Angels about to be swept at home, a chant went up behind the visitors' dugout: Bos-ton Red Sox. Bos-ton Red Sox. Such a mantra, this hymn without harmony, didn't come as much of a surprise. After all, America has become a Red Sox Nation, Boston now being baseball's biggest draw.

Rather, what was stunning about the drone, is how much the droners sounded like Yankees fans.

If there really was a Curse, as Red Sox fans like to say, perhaps it came with a codicil: You become what you hate.

With the Yankees now vanquished and leaderless, and their principal owner's faculties in question, the Red Sox can no longer be portrayed with much sympathy. The sentimental underpinnings on which the Red Sox Nation was created owed everything to that team in the Bronx. The Red Sox can be underdogs only in relation to the Yankees.

But now that notion has perished. The Red Sox are the best team in baseball. They should beat the Cleveland Indians and win the World Series without too much difficulty. Still, it's difficult to root for a team that can pay $14 million per to J.D. Drew, who, by the way, won't even start in Game 1 of the ALCS.

According to Opening Day salary figures, the Red Sox began the season as a $143 million enterprise (this excludes the $6 million salary they'd pay a mid-season pickup Eric Gagne). The Indians, by contrast, had a $61 million payroll. That gap — approximately $82 million — is considerably more than the gap between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

The Yankees have committed any number of profligate and mercenary acts (the $28 million prorated salary for Roger Clemens comes first to mind, though Jason Giambi and Carl Pavano are up there, too). Still, a good chunk of the Yankee payroll has gone to proven players who never played for another major league team: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui and, in years past, Bernie Williams.

The Red Sox, by contrast, have not exactly been models of continuity. Julio Lugo, for example, is their fourth starting shortstop since 2004, when they won the World Series with Orlando Cabrera. Of the 25 players on Boston's World Series roster, only eight remain with the team: Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Mike Timlin, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, Doug Mirabelli and Kevin Youkilis (who didn't get a World Series at-bat). Of those eight, it bears mention, only two made their big league debuts with Boston.

It's been almost five years since Red Sox president Larry Lucchino labeled the Yankees "The Evil Empire." It was a great line, and sportswriters everywhere remain indebted to him. But let's frame its context. His utterance followed the Yankees' signing of Jose Contreras, a move that once again demonstrated the Empire's capacity for expensive folly. Still, one imagines Lucchino vowing it would never happen again.

In 2007, the Red Sox outbid everyone, including the Yankees, for the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka. Those rights came at a price of $51 million. And though that figure is not reflected in the Red Sox payroll, it represents almost 84 percent of the Indians' Opening Day roster budget, which was 23rd in the majors. Then again, Cleveland is almost a big market team compared to the Rockies and the Diamondbacks (25th and 26th in payroll at $54 million and $52 million, respectively).

But back to the ALCS, which begins tonight at Fenway Park. Perhaps you shall hear from those venerable voices of Red Sox Nation, Doris Kearns and Stephen King. Or maybe it will be a newcomer, like Kevin Garnett. They will extol the virtues of Boston's baseball team. But what are those, exactly?

Save for a withering owner, the Red Sox are not at all unlike their former nemesis. They are an empire of their own now. And if you rooted for the Red Sox because they weren't the Yankees, aren't you now obligated to root for the Indians?

Do the math. Add the salaries of C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore, Franklin Guttierrez, Jhonny Peralta, Chris Gomez, Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez and Ryan Garko.

Now what do you have?

About a half million less than J.D. Drew."

-Mark Kriegel, 14 October 2007

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