The Baseball Desert

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Take This Longing

There has been little activity on The Baseball Desert recently, but it's not for lack of things to comment on - it seems as if every time I've logged on to there has been news of one heavyweight trade or another. I was going to link to some of the more notable deals, but it's only when going back over the archived news stories that I've realised just how much activity there has been over the last two or three weeks. I can't figure out whether there has been more activity this year than in previous years, or whether it's just that my knowledge of, and interest in, baseball has increased to the point of me knowing exactly who they're talking about in a "Bigbie and Miles for King" trade headline.

Given the volume of trades I am going to need at least two months to get used to all the household names who will be wearing new uniforms on Opening Day, including those who will - or will not - be wearing the uniform of the Boston Red Sox.

I've given much thought to the wheelings and dealings of baseball's front offices in general - and Boston's in particular - over the last few weeks. There have been familiar faces who have moved on, new faces who have arrived and old faces who have played that jaded "Je t'aime, moi non plus" card. Some of the trades have seemed logical, others have had me (and other bloggers) wondering just WTF is going on, but the one common denominator is that they all underline the fact that baseball is a business, and players are its prime commodity. We can hope and wish and theorise as much as we want, but at the end of the day, all of this is beyond our control. Maybe we liked it better when Theo was holding the reins, but Theo's gone, and so has some of the team he helped assemble. So what's the answer? Do I rant and rave and feel miserable because some of the players I'd really started to like have moved on? Do I get all uptight because the front office seems to have made some moves that suggest it couldn't organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery (I would like to emphasize "seems" here, since I have a naïve kind of faith that these guys have at least some idea of what they're doing, and I can't believe that trading away our prime shortstop prospect because we have a star shortstop signed to a four-year deal and then trading away said star shortstop for our 14th third baseman is the end of the story). I could do these things, but they're not going to do me any good - nobody asked me whether I wanted to trade away Nomar or Pedro or Renteria, and nobody's going to call and see what I feel about the Manny / Johnny Damon situations, so what's the point?

When the Theo fiasco went down, I responded to a post by Beth with a few thoughts. Things in Boston have changed even more since then, but my thoughts remain the same, so I figured it was OK to plagiarise myself to express how I feel:
I guess I have trouble seeing the "hard, cold reality [...] that they are a private, for-profit enterprise over which [we] have no power" as fresh news. Haven't we known this for ever? I'm as naïve a baseball fan as you will find, but even I know that it is not the pastoral pastime that we would like it to be, at least, not outside the foul lines.

Any time that we attach our emotions to something that manages to put the words "annual salary" and "$10m" in the same sentence, we know we're headed for trouble at some point. But I, like you, am prepared to accept that. It is going to suck, from time to time, and we will sometimes feel - as I said the other day - that we have "been dumped, by proxy and for reasons we neither understand nor have control over", but what are we going to do?

I see the point about putting your money where your mouth is and just not buying the tickets anymore (God - I wish I had the luxury of saying "OK - no more Red Sox tix for me..."), but I don't see how it fits into the bigger picture. What does it mean? Does it mean you're no longer a fan of the Sox? Does it mean that you'll follow them from afar, a kind of disinterested and disenfranchised observer (which in turn, to me, also evokes questions of rooting for the laundry: do we root regardless of who's wearing the shirt (and, by extension, of who's running the show)? Does it mean no baseball at all, or maybe only the 'uncorrupted' minor-leagues / Little League? Where do you draw the final line?

And one other point - if you're going to worry about the cold, hard facts regarding this for-profit enterprise now (i.e. when things have gone pear-shaped), don't you, by the same token, have to apply the same thinking to, say, the 2004 season? It was the same for-profit enterprise, run by the same people, so were we ignoring all that because they brought home a championship? Or do their current actions in some way invalidate 2004? If we're feeling used and abused now, does that not mean we were foolish for feeling elated last October?

Lots of questions and very few answers. I guess what I'm trying to articulate is that I'm not ready to give up on the Sox or on baseball, but that it is a little hard to define the terms of the relationship I have right now with the ballclub.

Well, that was back at the beginning of November, and my relationship with the ballclub has become a little clearer since then. I want the Red Sox to field a competitive team in 2006, a team that has a chance to go all the way, but I have no say in the matter. The 'advantage' I have over other fans (and believe me, it's not often I see it as an advantage) is that I live 4,000 miles away and consequently hand over approximately none of my hard-earned cash to the club (unless you count the 1/30th share of the $99 MLB.TV package that I presume goes to the Red Sox). This means that there is no possibility of a boycott or a protest at the (non-)moves that have been made this offseason; the flip-side is that I will have no qualms about rooting for the Red Sox, whoever they may be. It might be because of the distance, it might be because my love of the team is relatively new, but I don't feel personally slighted by this offseason. Maybe Beth is onto something when she throws this out there:

Frankly, I may just end up trying to enjoy next season as a kind of a la carte buffet of new players in my favorite laundry--might just look at it as a pu pu platter from around the league assembled for our sampling by the Red Sox.
When you think about it, all seasons are like that - it's just that some seasons the laundry looks better than others. Would I like to see Manny in left field and Johnny Damon leading off for the Sox next year? Of course - I mean, who wouldn't? But if it doesn't happen, I'll still be there, rooting for my favourite laundry, and here's why: ask me which three players I have loved to watch over the past two seasons and I will cite a cast-off from the Minnesota Twins, a guy with the grand total of 86 at-bats in a Red Sox uniform and a part-time second baseman picked up in mid-season from the Kansas City Royals.

I've looked at the Marlins this winter and wondered what it would be like to be a fan of a team that is offloading pretty much every big name player, and I've come to the conclusion that I could live with it. New faces coming along - whether cut-rate wholesale or in expensive dribs and drabs - is an integral part of baseball, and in amongst those new faces there are players we will come to know and love. They might or might not bring another championship to Boston, but that's beside the point - what matters is that they will be our guys, and we will live and die with them as long as they wear the uniform and play the game right. Can we ask for any more?