The Baseball Desert

Friday, March 24, 2006

Catching up

I've been meaning to link to this post by Jere all week, but hadn't got round to it. He does a great job of expressing the struggles that fans of teams face when a favourite player is traded.

I can see the logic behind the Bronson / Wily Mo trade, but it's hard to see straight when one half of the deal was a guy who took less money than he was worth to stay with a team he loved, only to find that he'd under-priced himself out of town.

When trades go down, one of the most often-quoted ideas is that we as fans will get over X,Y or Z being traded to / away from the team because we root for the laundry. We repeat the phrase as a kind of protective mantra that we know will help us get through the season without losing our minds: "We'll be OK because we love the Sox".

So, we say that we root for the laundry, but it's not an abstract concept - we're talking about real Red Sox jerseys worn by real Red Sox players. And this then raises the interesting and age-old question of how much we want our team to win. What are we prepared to sacrifice in order to see them bring home a championship? If the Red Sox trade away a favourite (or, conversely, trade for an asshole) can we really root wholeheartedly for the laundry? I don't know what the majority of fans would say, but my fandom has its limits. Do I want my team to win? Of course - only an idiot would say the opposite. Do I want my team to win at the expense of me actually liking the nine guys on the field? I'm not so sure (and neither are others in other major sports).

I don't want to lose sight of the topic here, so before I go any further I want to say that none of this is a reflection on Wily Mo Pena. What I'm getting at - and what Jere expresses perfectly - is that there are limits to people's fandom and their willingness to root for the laundry. If you take rooting for the laundry to its logical conclusion, then you will end up believing that everything is good if it helps the team win - the end justifies the means. From there it is but one short step to "baseball is a business", the ultimate bottom line being to win a championship.

Jere counters that particular argument:
I'd like to propose the following notion: Baseball is not a business. There, I proverbially said it. "Major League Baseball" is a business. The game played within that league is, obviously, baseball. But that doesn't make "baseball," as a whole, a business. If it was, we wouldn't go to the games, sit in the stands, cheer, boo, or write pages and pages about it. We wouldn't cry either of the two tear groups over it.
I want to like players and be able to grow attached without thinking that they're just going to be tossed out as soon as they have a bad month. I love seeing my team win because they had more heart than the team that was meticulously put together with computers. And I don't just blindly love every guy. Read my thoughts on Edgar Renteria. I just think there should be a lot of factors that go into building and maintaining a ballclub. It shouldn't all be based on stats, and projections that mean nothing.
I think it's an interesting point of view. I want my team to win, but I don't want that to completely exclude the human aspect:
The difference between the Red Sox and Microsoft is that the stock we put into the Sox is emotional. Stockholders of a company get paid in actual currency when their favorite does well. We get something, good or bad, that can't be measured in loonies and twonies.
There's nothing to say that Wily Mo won't be a huge megastar in Boston, a key cog in a championship-winning team, but all we have now are a bunch of promises we paid for with a guy who actually loved playing in Boston, who was undoubtedly grateful for the second chance that the Red Sox gave him and who really wanted to stay. It's not the end of the world, but it makes us stop and think about how our ballclub - and it is our ballclub, no matter what John Henry might think - is run and what we want from it, which is never a bad thing.