Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
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Mecca in the Nation
2004-11-01 13:30
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Yo, you know I couldn't just ask about the Yankees. So here's a couple of three questions about the Red Sox while we're at it.

Cast of Characters: (In almost alphabetical order)

Mike Carminati (Mike's Baseball Rants)

Cliff Corcoran (Cliff’s Big Red Blog)

Jay Jaffe (The Futility Infielder)

Derek Jacques (The Weblog that Derek Built)

King Kaufman (Salon.com)

Rob Neyer (ESPN)

Patrick Sullivan (The House that Dewey Built)

BB: Now that the Red Sox have won the World Serious, how will it change the culture of Red Sox Nation?

Mike Carminati: I wonder if there really is a Red Sox Nation or a collection of individuals who were acting the mob because of the rallying cry of the curse. I think that they’ll become more atomized as their one glaring issue evaporates.

Cliff Corcoran: Everything will be different. Their entire identity changes. They're no longer pessimists, they have no reason to doubt. They're no longer losers, they're the defending World Champions. Long-suffering and cursed are stricken from the list of applicable adjectives. All that remains is a fervent devotion to their team and the sort of boorishness that can be found as easily in the Bronx and in Beantown. It's over. Everything that Red Sox Nation was (other than obnoxious and devoted) is suddenly ancient history.

Jay Jaffe: In the short term, Yankee fans are going to have to listen to all of the bullshit they dropped on Sox fans' heads directed back at them, the "1918" and "Who's Your Daddy" chants and all that. And much of it will be deserved. What goes around, comes around. In the long term, the Sox will come to be seen as another wealthy northeastern team whose spending keeps them among the league's elite, and whose fan base won't be quite as endearing once the fruits of success have been tasted. You'll see less of a bandwagon as various entities attempt to cash in on RSN chic, and somewhere along the way there will be a backlash. Which isn't to say that the Sox won't continue to have an intelligent, boisterous (if occasionally obnoxious) diehard fan base. The line from Spinal Tap -- "Boston's not a big college town" -- has been cracking me up lately as I think of the RSN phenomenon. You've got a veritable factory for churning out the kind of folks that we come into contact with online all the time, and they'll continue to maintain their presence and their connection with this team, especially over the next few years while members of the championship club remain on the roster.

Derek Jacques: We've already seen the bandwagon swell to bursting. I was walking through the Upper West Side during game 4 of the World Series, and you could see people crowding outside of the bars, cheering the Sox on. The fact they were standing outside showed some enthusiasm, but it also indicated that they only came out to watch the game after the sixth inning. I wonder if these guys have given their '86 vintage Mets gear and '98 vintage Yankees gear to the Salvation Army, or do they just keep it in the closet, collecting dust while their owners wait to see which way the wind blows next year?


King Kaufman: Completely. Not because I like to pull this obnoxious move but because I was up till all hours writing on this very subject and don't want to get into it again, I'll just refer you to my column and pull out this excerpt:


The Red Sox had finally done it, had finally buried the ghosts of 1918 and Babe Ruth and all those years. "We forgive Bill Buckner," read a sign in the Busch Stadium stands. The Red Sox were champions at last.

In other words, they're just another team now. The sackcloth and ashes are so 2003.

There's something beautiful, almost holy, about rooting for a team that, for all the close calls, hasn't won in so long. Any Red Sox fan will tell you that what they've wanted for as long as they can remember was a championship, that they'd give up anything to get one, anything.

And now that they have one, they're just going to want another.

Rob Neyer: Biggest Myth of the Year: Winning the World Series will change Red Sox fans. Red Sox fans, or at least the great majority of them, don’t waste their time thinking about the stupid curse that doesn’t exist and 1918. They worry about Pedro’s arm and they worry about how they’re going to get tickets for the Yankees game next weekend. And those worries aren’t going to change just because the Sox happened to win a World Series.

Patrick Sullivan: Now it's about baseball. No inferiority complex, we can stick our chests out a little more...other team's fans can't mock us. My great hope is that Red Sox fans become more fans of the sport itself rather than simply being "fans" of this popular and likeable entity known as the Boston Red Sox. My feeling has always been that first and foremost you should be a fan of a sport before you are a fan of a team. There are too many Red Sox fans and not enough baseball fans in "the Nation". But maybe now that the peripheral storylines have been wiped out, the focus will turn more to baseball.


BB: In addition, how does the Sox beating the Yanks the way they did figure into the rivalry?

Mike Carminati: It inspires the more vocal and less enlightened fan base to become more strident. For the average fan, it allows them not feel so inferior.

Cliff Corcoran: I'm tempted to say it kills the rivalry dead, but that's just foolish. Really it cranks the whole thing up another notch. Now the Sox know they can win and the Yankees know they can be beat, so each will try even harder to be the last team standing. The Yankees being in Fenway as the Sox raise their World Championship flag in April certainly won't calm things down any. It remains on.

Jay Jaffe: Well, we now know that absolutely anything can happen, and that no outcome is out of bounds. And the pressure to repeat now falls on the Sox, while the Yanks most definitely have something to prove. As to the general future of the rivalry, we know that there are plenty of personalities on the Sox who will continue to instigate the war of words -- Lucchino, Schilling, Varitek assuming they sign him, Pedro if they re-sign him -- that will keep this puppy on the tabloid covers of this city. We also know that both sides are willing to spend the money to put their teams over the top; what will be interesting is to see whether Steinbrenner tries to spend the Sox into oblivion by competing for key free agents until they exact too heavy a cost for the winner to bear. I mean, say the Yanks get involved in the Pedro bidding for the sole purpose of costing Boston another $10 mil over 3 years. If the roles are reversed, the Yanks can eat that, or they can get creative and find some Kenny Williams on who they can offload their latest Jose Contreras. Can the Sox? I don't know that they can. Now that I think about, that's a Cold War metaphor right there, with the Reagan Yankees running the Soviet dynasty into the ground by outspending it. Being a staunch anti-Reaganite, I don't think I like the casting there.

Derek Jacques: For Red Sox fans, this is Charlie Brown finally getting to kick the football. It's the first time you beat your older brother at one-on-one. Lots of folks, particularly Cliff Corcoran, have pointed out that this idea that the Red Sox have never beaten the Yanks is historically inaccurate, but it's still the dominant perception of the rivalry. Things'll be ugly for the next few years. Red Sox fans, particularly the bandwagon folks, won't be the most graceful winners in human history, and Yankee fans will be dying for payback. This should start off at fever pitch next year, as reportedly, the Red Sox open Fenway next season against the Yankees. (By the way, is there anything Bud Selig won't do to tick off Steinbrenner, or to please John Henry? Anything at all?) But eventually, the intensity of 2003-2005 will burn out, and this will become just another sports rivalry. Two big market, big money, somewhat obnoxious fan bases clashing without romantic notions of ghosts or curses to clutter things up.

King Kaufman: It alerts the Yankees to the fact that there is one.

Rob Neyer: The ALCS doesn’t change the rivalry in Boston, but it does change things in New York. Now that Yankees fans know that yes, the Red Sox really can beat them, the rivalry in New York will be a little less good-natured, have a bit more of an edge to it. Which is great for everybody, as long as nobody gets hurt.

Patrick Sullivan: As Boswell wrote, it is significant that the Yankees are now possessors of the biggest collapse of the two teams. So it's a more level playing field. I think psychology is a crazy area for an amateur to venture but I suspect that there was something of a burden for a Sox player playing in Yankee Stadium, what with all the troubling history. Maybe that disappears. But the rivalry has really been enhanced. Because for now, the two are 100% equals, something most rivalries mandate but this one has lacked. The rivalry is now totally complete - there just isn't a storyline lacking. Pretty remarkable, really.

BB: Finally, Theo Epstein doesn't strike me as one to rest of his laurels. What moves do you think the Sox will make to remain on top next year?

Mike Carminati: The Sox will have issues at starting pitching, shortstop, and catcher due to free agency. They have a number of role players who have for the most part overachieved given their past, and who will probably seek a larger role going forward. David Ortiz is the only starter who will be under 30 next year. They already picked up Mueller's option, which is somewhat surprising considering his drop-off this year. I expected Youklis to take over there. The Sox may become a victim of their own success if they continue to retain the core of this year's team. The moves they make will depend on that (i.e. resigning the free agents) and on the funds they have available.

Cliff Corcoran: I don't expect Theo to be the sort of guy who brings back this team in one piece just because it won. Expect Pedro and Lowe to be gone and replaced by more reliable arms. Look for him to make a big move or two on the infield. I'm not even completely convinced that he goes hard for Varitek. Tek may be back, but Theo may know not to give a 33-year-old catcher more than a two-year deal, which may not suit Varitek's fancy. They'll give the Yanks some competition for bullpen arms too (though Theo may go for sleeper picks while the Yanks will overpay names). It will be interesting, but I expect the Sox to be right there with the Yankees next year, even if the sort of team they had this year will be difficult to replicate. There is no rest.

Jay Jaffe: I think he's in a bit of a bind when it comes to the high-profile free-agents: Pedro Martinez, a fragile ace who's clearly in the decline phase of his career -- he turns into a pumpkin at 100 pitches; Derek Lowe, a frustratingly erratic pitcher who turned in three huge performances over the last two weeks; Jason Varitek, a very good-hitting catcher who's on the wrong side of 30 and not too far off the point where most catchers start breaking down but who's seen as one of the team's true pillars. And beyond that he's got Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, Orlando Cabrera, Mike Timlin, Pokey Reese and Doug Mirabelli. That's a shit pile of players to either sign at a rate that's likely inflated due to either the sentimentality of winning it all and various players' key contributions to same or to the fact that many of these guys were drastically undervalued when they came over. The likelihood is that Epstein will make tough decisions that cut loose a lot of these guys and continue to build on the Moneyball principle of searching for value. Whether that will yield as cohesive and competitive a team is an open question. But the alternative is that Epstein gets hemmed in by his success, overpays, and watches some of these guys break down on his watch. I think he -- and really, we're talking about a group of decision makers, not just one guy (similar to the Yankees) -- I think they are too smart for that, though I hope otherwise.

Derek Jacques: Epstein will be under big pressure to bring back Varitek, Pedro, Cabrera, Bellhorn, and Lowe. Since all of them will be looking for premium contracts after this Series, if Theo's not careful he might not have the chance (or the money) to make any big changes.

King Kaufman: I think they'll try to get Heathcliff Slocumb back ...

Rob Neyer: Hard to say what Theo will do, but he really doesn’t have the option of resting on his laurels, because of all those free agents. I do think winning might tie his hands some, because the fans and the media will be agitating to bring back all the guys who made the championship happen. I think Theo’s strong enough to ignore most of that, but I also suspect they’ll re-sign a player or two they wouldn’t have, if they hadn’t won.

Patrick Sullivan: I honestly would not be surprised if none of the major FA's returned. I think you may see the Sox re-up Mirabelli to start while Shoppach progresses. Handing out lucrative multi-year deals to 33 year old, 240 pound catchers is generally not good business, as much as people love Varitek. Lowe is gone. It just doesn't make sense to give the OC a multi year deal with Hanley Ramirez on pace for an '06 arrival. I think the Sox would like to re-sign Pedro but all it takes is one team to offer him a crazy deal and he's gone. So I think the Sox hope for Arroyo to pitch as he did in the 2nd half and be a viable #2. I think they make a minor but shrewd signing like Wilson Alvarez. I think Wakefield and Kim come back - and man could Kim be an ex-factor if he could get it together. I suppose they would still need another pitcher...maybe they make a play for Pavano or Radke but I don't see it. The major move will be at 3rd base. I think they decline Mueller's option and sign Troy Glaus. Theo has been awfully good at identifying top-of-the-pyramid talent as evidenced by his pursuits of AROD, Schilling, Foulke...etc. He also has been good at bargain hunting - Mueller, Ortiz, Bellhorn all come to mind. Well I think in a market with Adrian Beltre and given Glaus' injury history, I think Glaus may be the value play of the forthcoming off-season. And imagine what that guy would do at Fenway. I think they then might flip Youkilis for another starter. I also think Omar Vizquel make sense at short for a year.

[added later on…]

My call about Glaus and Mueller's option looks pretty dumb since the Sox exercised it immediately. I think my larger point stands though. The Sox seek out undervalued and truly elite players and there is rarely middle ground. Since this year's FA list is filled with guys whose perceived value far outstrips their real value, I think the Sox will have to look long, hard
and creatively to construct their 2005 roster. I wouldn't be surprised, given this, if they end up with a Beltran, Glaus or Beltre because there do not seem to be many value plays out there.

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