A year ago, I wrote about how weird it was to have the New York Yankees, the historical power and biggest spender in Major League Baseball, playing the role of seller at the trade deadline. They seemed poised for a rebuild, and I was confident Brian Cashman was smart enough to see that through, but it did not feel right. 2016 was a weird year, and the Yankees bracing to rebuild does not even come close to the top fifty strangest things that happened last year, but 2017 appears to be reverting to what we know as normal, at least in a baseball sense. The Yankees are back, and for some reason, I’m okay with it.
After dealing Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians and Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs, setting up the crucial late inning match-ups the World Series, there was the rise of Gary Sanchez. Sanchez, a catcher, batted .299 and hit 20 home runs in just 53 games, and finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Two great months from a rookie catcher do not immediately make a team a contender, and the expectations for New York were still that of a team building through the farm system to be great in a couple years heading into 2017. Then Aaron Judge happened.
If you told me the next great Yankee was an outfielder as big as Rob Gronkowski, who hits the ball harder than Giancarlo Stanton, and who is so humble he’s more likable than Derek Jeter and Mariano River combined, I would have thought you were crazy. There could not be a human like that. Aaron Judge is such human. Last year, he was a strikeout machine, and this year he has transformed himself into a baseball crushing machine who is quickly becoming one of the faces of baseball. It was only a matter of time before the Yankees had another transcendent icon of the game. They always land on their feet in that regard, but who would have thought it would be one like this? Baseball players aren’t supposed to be that big, and if they are, they become pitchers. All I can do is sit back and be amazed.
With their rebuild fast-tracked by a baseball unicorn, the Yankees resumed their normal role of buyers at the trade deadline, and they bought, and bought, and bought. They acquired third baseman Todd Frazier, starting pitcher Tommy Kahnle, and relief pitcher David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox, relief pitcher Jaime Garcia from the Minnesota Twins, and capped it all off by acquiring right handed ace Sonny Gray from the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees did not get the biggest names that moved this trade season, as the Texas Rangers sent Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the White Sox sent Jose Quintana across town to the Cubs, but they acquired quality in volume and filled the most needs of any postseason contender. It also helped their cause that they made trades to bolster third base and the bullpen, taking players off the market in the most glaring places of need for their forever rival Boston Red Sox.
These are the Yankees I remember.
As much as I hate to admit, the Yankees being good is good for baseball. They are the lightning rod for the hate of the other 29 fan bases. The villain role in sports is something that should be embraced. As a Patriots fan, I embrace it. The Yankees are better at being the bad guy than anyone else in Major League Baseball. In the years since they last won the World Series in 2009, several teams have had the chance to take the Iron Throne of Evil from the Yankees, but the fit has never been quite right. The Red Sox, in spite of their three World Series titles since they last met the Yankees in the postseason, cannot get out of their own way year to year. The San Francisco Giants won three World Series titles in five years, but were irrelevant in the off years. The Dodgers, for all their regular season success and high payroll, have not won the National League Pennant since 1988. The Cubs only got good in the last two years and before 2016, the last president to be alive for a Cubs championship team was Lyndon Johnson, who was born two months earlier in 1908. They are not ready for that kind of role. The Red Sox are 13 years removed from becoming winners, and they aren’t even ready for it.
The team that came the closest was the St. Louis Cardinals. They have won the most titles of any team in the National League, they rub other fan bases the wrong way with their “best fans in baseball” mentality, and their was an actual FBI investigation into front office members hacking the Houston Astros (and somehow Deflategate got more coverage?). They should have become the most hated team in baseball, but animosity towards the Cardinals translated more into Cardinal fatigue more than Cardinal hate for me. It just wasn’t the same.
The Yankees are the Alabama football or Duke basketball of Major League Baseball. Nobody is indifferent to these teams. If you follow that respective sport, you have strong feelings one way or the other, and that keeps you engaged even if your own team is not a contender. I should be upset that the Yankees were not bad for a longer period of time, but hating a middling team or a team with a losing record is just not as much fun.
When lefty reliever Andrew Miller was traded by the New York Yankees to the Cleveland Indians last summer, it changed the trajectory of the 2016 Major League Baseball season. Not only did the deal, along with another high-profile trade that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs, mark a stark contrast from the Yankees’ normal trade deadline approach, Miller and Chapman were the centerpieces of the two bullpens that reached the World Series.
The 2016 World Series ended up being one of the most watched and most talked about Fall Classics in my lifetime, and as a result, Miller became a household name beyond the hardcore baseball fan community and the cities where he has pitched like Cleveland, New York, Baltimore, and Boston. It was a true Series for the Ages, and Miller put together a brilliant postseason for the Tribe, including being named ALCS MVP. One of the biggest moments of the series was when Chicago catcher (and fellow bearded 2013 World Series Champion) David Ross homered off him in Game 7, but that hardly diminishes Miller’s standing as one of the elite relief pitchers in the game today.
One of the lessons I have taken away from me recent re-watch of Ken Burns’ Baseball is how often great pitchers slip up in these big moments, because you have to be really good to be on the mound in these ultimate high-leverage situations. Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit home run in the 1988 World Series was an incredible feat not only because of how physically hobbled he was at the time, but also because it was Dennis Eckersley, the best reliever of his era, standing on the mound at the height of his powers for the Oakland A’s. Much of The Tenth Inning, in fact, is devoted to big moments in which Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time, could not close the deal in both the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks and the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox.
What makes Miller so interesting is that unlike Eckersley or Rivera, Miller is not primarily a closer. In the 2016 postseason Cleveland manager Terry Francona elected to throw Miller out there in the highest leverage moments of the game, to shut down the opposing offense, regardless of what inning it was once the starter was out of the game. This unconventional bullpen approach, which flies in the face of decades (or maybe even a century, as I’m not entirely sure when the conventional system of bullpen structure first solidified, and much of “just the way things are done” in baseball dates back to the 19th century, and I didn’t have time to take a deep dive on bullpen usage history for what was supposed to be a quick tangent) of clearly defined relief roles. You have the “7th Inning Guy,” the “8th Inning Guy,” and the “9th Inning Guy,” and the guy pitching the 9th should be your best guy, your closer. Miller’s use in 2016 was a potential game-changer.
The rise of Andrew Miller since he became one of MLB’s best relievers starting in 2014 may very well be enough already to change some people’s minds about his entire career. For instance, in 2007, Miller was traded by the Detroit Tigers along with Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, and Mike Rabelo to the Florida Marlins for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. For eleven years, this was widely regarded as one of the most one-sided trades in recent baseball history, and then-Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has been widely lauded for pulling off the steal of Cabrera, who would go on to win two American League MVPs, earn the first offensive Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and led Detroit to the World Series in 2012.
Cabrera has been one of the best hitters in the game for over a decade, and was still only 24 when the Marlins dealt him to Detroit. While the Tigers consistently contended in the decade that followed, the Marlins toiled in futility. There are obviously other factors involved. Miguel Cabrera was not the only great player on the Tigers during that stretch, and trading Cabrera was hardly the only baseball operations misstep by the Marlins in the years before, during, and since, but there was a clear winner and a clear loser in that trade. My worry now, is that decades from now, or probably sooner, people will go on Baseball Reference, see Cabrera’s page linked to Miller’s page by virtue of that trade, and think maybe that trade was not so bad for the Marlins because of the player Miller eventually turned into.
I can remember in the spring of 2014, when I was working a second shift data entry job, and regularly listening to Red Sox games on the radio the pass the night. This was how I followed the Red Sox in 2013 (all the until Koji Uehara recorded the final out of the World Series), 2014, and 2015, until I got moved to first shift. During one game, I remember, they had Alex Speier, a very knowledgeable baseball writer who at the time wrote for WEEI.com (he is now with The Boston Globe) in the broadcast booth to talk with Joe Castiglione and Dave O’Brien, and he talked about Miller and Burke Badenhop, who was new to the Red Sox that season and has one of my favorite names in all of baseball (I mean seriously, a ground ball pitcher with “bad” and “hop” in his name?). Speier talked about talking to Miller and Badenhop about the historic trade, about being forever connected to Cabrera, who had signed a record contract extension with the Tigers in the previous offseason. (Side note: after a little bit of research, this WEEI.com article by Katie Morrison that Speier contributed to from May of 2014 has a lot of the insights I remember and more.)
For whatever reason, this exchange in a game I cannot remember for a particularly bad Red Sox team three years ago stuck with me. Miller and Badenhop both turned into fine Major Leaguers, but even if they did their best pitching after the Marlins, there are ways the trade could be justified.
A good cross-sport comparison I like to make to the Miguel Cabrera Trade is the trade that sent Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Boston Celtics (sorry for all the Boston-centric references, it’s what I know best). The Celtics gave up a bundle of players for a superstar, and turned into a title contender overnight. The Wolves have yet to make the playoffs since trading KG, and that trade got Kevin McHale fired as Minnesota’s GM in time. While McHale could feel vindicated by the solid NBA careers Gerald Green and Al Jefferson had (the latter was so promising that some in the Boston media including legendary Celtics power forward/head coach/homer broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn adamantly did not want Big Al to get moved in a trade for Garnett), they were not enough to fill the void left by KG in Minnesota. Like the Marlins in 2008 after Cabrera got dealt, the Timberwolves of that same era were also not helped by other roster building missteps bigger than the one one-sided trade, most notably having back-to-back picks in the top ten of the 2009 NBA Draft, and used them on Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio, both point guards, but neither was Steph Curry, who was taken at #9 by the Golden State Warriors in that same draft.
In spite of the success of the Celtics and the futility of the Wolves in the years that followed, I cannot help but thinking how close it could have come to being different. What if, in the summer of 2007, when the Celtics had already traded for Ray Allen and everybody on the roster not named Paul Pierce was on the table to package in a trade for the third star, what if Danny Ainge had slipped Rajon Rondo and/or Tony Allen instead of Sebastian Telfair in a moment of desperation to get McHale to bite on the Garnett trade? Would the roster have been good enough surrounding the New Big Three to really contend with the Cavs, Magic, and Pistons of the late 2000s?
Similarly, what if Dombrowski threw Justin Verlander into the bundle of players because he was so desperate to reacquire Cabrera, whom Dombrowski first signed as an amateur free agent while GM of the Marlins in 1999? While one great pitcher would not necessarily have turned the Marlins’ fortunes around, it certainly would have made the trade a lot less one-sided. Dombrowski would certainly not have the same reputation he currently had of being a genius trader (which I’m a bit skeptical of as a Red Sox fan, with the Drew Pomeranz trade and such).
Without venturing too much further in the Miguel Cabrera Trade What-If Rabbit Hole, here’s one more: what if this October, in an American League Wild Card Game or later series-clinching game between the Tigers and Indians, Andrew Miller, in the highest of high-leverage moments of the season, gets out of the inning (and to raise the stakes just a little bit more, let’s say he’s in a bases-loaded jam) by striking out Miguel Cabrera on three pitches? Can you imagine the think pieces coming out “In defense of the Miguel Cabrera Trade”? I certainly can, and it hasn’t even happened yet. That is why I am writing this to get out in front of it.
Ultimately, I don’t think there is anything Andrew Miller can do to validate that trade from the Marlins’ perspective, and not just because he did not put it all together until years after leaving Florida. Miller always had good stuff. His big frame and high velocity made him an attractive prospect, selected sixth overall by the Tigers in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft. During his time with the Red Sox, he was featured in the excellent documentary Knuckleball! as the hard throwing lefty who takes Tim Wakefield’s spot in the starting rotation in 2011 while Wake is in pursuit of his 200th career win. With all the love and respect in the world to Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, the two stars of that doc, Miller’s validation and vindication from his role on the 2011 Red Sox is a much lower bar to clear, and it’s fair to say the 2016 postseason did that for him.
While Miller’s reinvention from mediocre and frustrating starter to elite and dominant reliever has been a fascinating transition, but when a new generation browses Baseball Reference years from now and thinks the Cabrera Trade was a fair trade, we must be vigilant and ready to set the record straight. Or maybe Miller will somehow reach a new level of bullpen greatness so profound that he is more famous in fifty years than Cabrera, but I have my doubts. Either way, time will tell.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Oakland Athletics earned critical acclaim and notoriety for fielding competitive baseball teams in spite of their noncompetitive payrolls. The success with the deck stacked against them made Billy Beane the poster boy of the baseball analytics movement and Michael Lewis’ 2003 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game spawned a genre of outside-the-box-front-office-strategy books from Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2% about the Tampa Bay Rays, to Molly Knight’s The Best Team Money Can Buy about the Los Angeles Dodgers, to Travis Sawchik’s Big Data Baseball about the Pittsburgh Pirates, to Steve Kettmann’s Baseball Maverick about Beane’s mentor Sandy Alderson and the job he rebuilding the New York Mets into a contender. Fast-forward to 2016, and the A’s still have not reached the World Series since 1990, yet they still have the reputation of baseball intellect that has carried them through the lean years as The Ringer’s Claire McNear so aptly pointed out earlier this week.
The landscape of Major League Baseball has changed since 2002, with revenue sharing and even a change in ownership in Oakland, yet the A’s are still content to act poor to show the world how smart they are. They found themselves as sellers at the trade deadline for the second straight year, which to be fair, is something big budget teams like the Red Sox are more than capable of doing as well, and there are more than a couple of former Oakland A’s making meaningful contributions to contenders in 2016. A popular move in the Billy Beane playbook has been to trade away a star player for prospects before he has to pay them like a star. Josh Donaldson being dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays the winter before his 2015 American League MVP season was just the most recent in a long line of stars Oakland fans got attached to even though they knew they should not have. In 2014, they traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox at the deadline for Jon Lester, who was set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Before them, it was Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Nick Swisher, Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi. In Oakland, there will always be good players, but the front office does not want to invest enough in them for fans to justify investing in that specific star’s jersey.
In my opinion, the Lester/Cespedes Trade was the one the A’s missed on the most, even more than the Donaldson Trade. As a Red Sox fan, it’s not like I’m over the moon about the way that whole situation played out (The Sox had low-balled Lester in contract extension negotiations after he had led them to the 2013 World Series, then traded him and John Lackey away at the deadline with no immediate solution to replace them. They ended up flipping Cespedes that winter to Detroit for Rick Porcello, and while Porcello has been Boston’s most consistent pitcher this year, he’s no Jon Lester.), the A’s gutted the heart of their lineup during a pennant race for a pitcher they were not going to be able to re-sign. Had they stood pat with Cespedes, their rotation was already pretty good with Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija, and Scott Kazmir. Maybe they aren’t playing in the play-in Wild Card game against Kansas City, and their postseason doesn’t end after one game. The failure of the 2014 Jon Lester Era A’s ultimately led to Beane blowing up the team with the Donaldson Trade. Sure, Toronto gave up a fan favorite in the form of Brett Lawrie, but like everyone else, Lawrie did not stick in Oakland, while Donaldson has thrived with the Blue Jays. Not only was he the 2015 American League MVP, but he helped end a playoff drought that had been going on since the Jays won the 1993 World Series. If the result of the Lester/Cespedes Trade was a wash, the Donaldson/Lawrie Trade was a clear win for Toronto.
There is something to be said about being on the cutting edge of your industry. There are different metrics to measure success. Is it better to be more popular, or be recognized for doing what you do smarter? Jay Leno consistently had higher ratings, but David Letterman made a bigger cultural impact. Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s fancy themselves as Letterman, if Letterman was doing his show in his mom’s basement on a cable access channel like Wayne Campbell, when the reality is he’s on CBS. Other small market teams have broken through and won the World Series, with the 2015 Kansas City Royals being the most recent example. Other executives have applied analytical practices and won at a high level, perhaps most notably Theo Epstein with the Red Sox and Cubs, and yet a common perception that analytics are synonymous with Beane and the Athletics still persists. Billy Beane does not have a monopoly on smart ideas in baseball, and his teams have not even won an American League Pennant, but he’s the one who gets to be played by Brad Pitt in an Oscar-nominated movie. How is that fair?
I subscribe to the idea of critically acclaimed teams. When people look back at the champions in any sport fifty years from now, that will not tell the whole story. The Steve Nash Era Phoenix Suns, for example, never won a title, or even made the NBA Finals, but they were a fun and exciting foil to the Lakers and Spurs of the mid-2000s, and paved the way for a team like the Golden State Warriors of the last two years to exist and thrive. They never won themselves, but they were a game changer. The A’s of the early 2000s were a game changer, but they’re still clinging onto an identity that made them innovative over a decade ago, but now they’re just another team that hasn’t won anything while others have.
No baseball fan sheds a tear for Brian Cashman, the GM of the New York Yankees who inherited a team that already had the infrastructure of Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams when he got the job in 1998, and kept that train rolling for a solid fifteen years with the benefit of one of the most free-spending ownership groups in all of baseball. Cashman’s Yankees were sellers at the deadline for the first time in his tenure, and while it was very strange, he will not get the amount of credit he deserves for the haul he got back for the players he traded away, and the praise for inevitably turning the Yankees around will be muted compared to other teams. On the other side of that coin, nobody should shed a tear for Billy Beane and his predicament in Oakland at this point. He doesn’t have the spending power of the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Dodgers, but he likes the position he’s in. If he wins, he’s a genius. If he loses, he’s a genius in a really tough situation. He cannot lose. It’s good to be smart, but it’s better to win, and if I were a fan of the A’s, I’d be tired of the Moneyball routine by now. It never ends, does it?
“And Jesus wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”
Dean of Students
Greendale Community College
The idea of Community ever getting six seasons and a movie used to seem as far-fetched as The Cape, the ill-fated NBC super hero show from 2011 that first inspired Abed Nadir to shout “Six seasons and a movie!” while cosplaying as the title character in the Greendale cafeteria, getting six seasons and a movie. I would say that stranger things have happened, but it’s harder to come up with examples than it should be. Let’s see: Two and a Half Men got a dozen seasons despite never being funny and having cast turnover that undermined the name of the show, J. K. Simmons is an Academy Award winning actor, but is still the marketing face of Farmer’s Insurance and the voice of the yellow M&M, and the Boston Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the NBA after trading away Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. These things can all be explained away by things like Nielsen ratings, the work ethic and mindset of a career character actor, the shrewd negotiating of Danny Ainge, and the top-notch coaching of Brad Stevens, but Community‘s survival on the brink of cancellation since the night it debuted in 2009 is a reflection of the world we live in today. Maybe that’s what Kevin Garnett meant when he said “Anything is possible!!!!”
Nothing lasts forever, but now it seems like Community might improbably challenge that statement. This is a show that NBC never felt comfortable promoting, that had its creator fired after three seasons, that was at its best accessible to a very narrow audience, but that audience stood by it through EVERYTHING!!! and now it has outlasted The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and the countless bad sitcoms NBC tried to use to push out their last great Thursday night comedy lineup. It has outlasted once immovable fixtures in the sports world like Brett Favre, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Joe Paterno, and Martin Brodeur. It outlasted The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (for real, this time), The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and The Colbert Report, while David Letterman and Jon Stewart plan on getting out of the talk show game before 2015 is over. For a show that could have been cancelled before The Cape even when on its three month run, that’s really impressive.
I do not expect Community to become a multi-decade institution the way The Simpsons or Saturday Night Live have (and quite frankly, I would be worried for Dan Harmon’s health and well being if he had to keep putting in the effort he puts into this wonderful creation of his for an extended period of time), but there are definite parallels between the shows. The Simpsons thrived because the late great Sam Simon had the foresight to build an equally dysfunctional village of characters around Matt Groening’s hilariously dysfunctional family when developing the show. Community was as great as it was because it was about more than Study Room F. It extended beyond the Greendale Seven. Greendale Community College was a character on the show, and it was full of characters.
Like Saturday Night Live, critics have been ready to pronounce Community dead from the moment Chevy Chase left the show. Some things really don’t change in 40 years. SNL got by with the addition of Bill Murray and with increased emphasis on John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, while Community replaced Chevy’s Pierce Hawthorne at the study table with Jonathan Banks’ criminal justice professor Buzz Hickey, and when Donald Glover departed midway through Season Five, filled the void by giving more screen time to Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, and John Oliver. It’s a show about a community college, the kind of school most people only spend a couple of years before moving on, and if the TV landscape it was born into in 2009 had not evolved the way it had with streaming sites and hashtags, it might have been over by 2010, gone the way of Firefly or Freaks and Geeks, a giant “what if?” full of stars who moved on to bigger things. I can’t blame Donald Glover for moving on…or Chevy Chase (who doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. The way I see it, Community validated how bright his star was in the 70s and 80s.)… or Yvette Nicole Brown… or Jonathan Banks… or John Oliver. The cast keeps changing, but Greendale is still as weird as ever.
For me, Community was the perfect show at the perfect time. In the fall of 2009, I had transferred to Fitchburg State College (now Fitchburg State University) after a freshman year at UMass Dartmouth. It wasn’t community college, but it made me closer to home after not having a great year. It was a show about misfits at an underdog of a school, and it felt like Dan Harmon was writing a TV show for me, personally. Somehow a show with that narrow an audience was allowed to be on network TV, but then again, it was on a network that made Conan O’Brien move to Los Angeles to host The Tonight Show, only to give it back to Jay Leno seven months later, so they had bigger problems than the fact that the only people watching their Thursday night comedies were college kids the next day on Hulu.
We did it. The fans won the age old battle against the network TV system and ratings. I will enjoy Community as long as they keep making new episodes. It began on network TV and now only exists on the Internet. That’s the way things are going. Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Yahoo, interesting creative projects that never would have made it on television are thriving online. Last week, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Tina Feys new sitcom, debuted on Netflix and was amazing. NBC could have had it, but it went straight to Netflix. Good shows don’t need TV, and TV never wanted Community, so the world now makes more sense.
This week, the 2004 Red Sox came back to Fenway. Ten years after the improbable comeback that ended generations of suffering and disappointment and transformed Boston from a city of losers to a city of champions, it became clear that what happened that October will never get old. I was 14 years old when the Idiots reversed the Curse, but I still can’t help but smile whenever I think about that team.
It’s not like every guy from that team had a good ending in Boston, either. Johnny Damon left Boston for the New York Yankees after the 2005 season, but you’d never know based on the ovation he got. Pedro Martinez left for the New York Mets after the 2004 season, but you’d never know based on the ovation he got. Derek Lowe took his talents to the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2004 season. Curt Schilling lost all his money a lot of Rhode Island tax dollars in his failed video game business, but this week he was the bloody sock hero once again, getting a huge ovation in the midst of his battle with cancer. Manny Ramirez ended his tenure in Boston in the most unprofessional way possible, leaving the team with no choice but to trade him to the Dodgers, but for one night, all was forgotten. Even Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield played their last games in the midst of the Fried Chicken and Beer Meltdown of 2011. Few things in life end well, but not matter what happens, Red Sox fans will always have 2004.
Even though the Patriots had already won two Super Bowls with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady that decade, but the Red Sox winning the World Series was what really changed the attitude of sports fans in Boston. Before this current era in Boston sports, there hadn’t been a championship team since the 1986 Celtics. For all my life up until that point (and decade prior to that in some cases), the best Boston teams reached their ceiling losing to the other great teams of their eras. Scottie Bowman’s Montreal Canadiens. Wayne Gretzky’s and Mark Messier’s Edmonton Oilers. Mike Ditka’s Chicago Bears. Mike Holmgren’s Green Bay Packers. Bob Gibson’s St. Louis Cardinals. Sparky Anderson’s Cincinnati Reds. Joe Torre’s New York Yankees. With the 2004 World Series, Boston went from being the underdog city to a city expected to win, and their teams became the ones everyone else measured themselves against. They backed it up with a third Super Bowl in February of 2005, World Series titles in 2007 and 2013, an NBA title in 2008, and the Stanley Cup in 2011, but for all their success, it made the defeats at the hands of the New York Football Giants in 2008 and 2012, the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010, and the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 all the more painful. I’d say we were better off not getting that far to begin with, but that’s a really spoiled thing to say, and it isn;t even true the more I think about it.
Looking back a decade later, it’s still amazing what that team did. The 2004 Yankees were a really good team that was in their heads. If one thing goes wrong, if Kevin Millar can’t draw that walk off Mariano Rivera, if Dave Roberts botches the most important stolen base of all time, if Schilling’s ankle is any worse than it is, we aren’t celebrating a 10 year anniversary of a World Series title. Who knows, maybe if that team doesn’t get the job done, the Red Sox take a different approach and 2007 does not happen. 2013 happened because they hit rock bottom in 2011 and 2012, so there is something to previous years effecting future ones. What they did was amazing, and no matter how many times I see the Red Sox win it all, 2004 will always be my favorite.
When Robinson Cano left the New York Yankees this past winter to sign with the Seattle Mariners to the tune of $240 million over ten years, it was the rare case of the Yankees losing one of their own free agents that they wanted to keep. It shocked the fabric of Major League Baseball much the way Dwight Howard leaving the Los Angeles Lakers to sign with the Houston Rockets shook the status quo in the National Basketball Association. Cano has the right to sign wherever he wants and the Mariners offered him a lot more money than the Yankees did. The thing that amuses me is how upset the Yankees are about Cano leaving when they’ve been luring away the star players from every other team since the beginning of free agency some 40 years ago.
Robbie Cano is the best power hitting second baseman in the Majors, and deserves to be paid as such. When he first signed with the Mariners, it seemed like a ridiculous contract, but before he played a game in Seattle, the Los Angeles Dodgers gave ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw $215 million over the next seven years, and the Detroit Tigers gave Miguel Cabrera, the best hitter in the game and the two-time reigning American League MVP, $300 million over the next ten years, and Cano’s deal does not seem so outlandish anymore.
The Yankees have gone out of their way to be bitter about Cano’s departure. They did not prepare a video tribute for when he returned to Yankee Stadium last week as a member of the Mariners (while the Red Sox prepared a tribute for Jacoby Ellsbury who left Boston for the Yankees of all teams), and John Sterling went off in the broadcast about how Cano should have taken the Yankee money. If Sterling was offered that high a pay raise to call games for the Mets, I would wonder if the Yankee money would be good enough for him. Earlier this week, it was reported that Mariano Rivera would rather have Dustin Pedroia at second base than Cano, as Mo wrote in his new book. The Yankees are quick to forget that Cano, not Derek Jeter or Rivera, was their best player over the last five seasons, and was a big part of the World Series winning roster in 2009.
Of all teams, the Yankees should understand a star player’s desire to get paid. That’s why Ichiro Suzuki is in New York and not Seattle. That’s why Jacoby Ellsbury is in New York and not Boston. That’s why Brian McCann is in New York and not his native Atlanta. That’s why C. C. Sabathia is in New York and not Cleveland or Milwaukee. That’s why Masahiro Tanaka is in New York and not Japan. Ever since players gained the right to hit free agency, the Yankees have had their pick of the All-Star litter more than any other team, thanks to their enormous media market and the Steinbrenner family’s willingness to spend big in the name of winning. It’s part of the game, and for once they’re feeling the sting of rejection, but for baseball fans everywhere, it’s fun to see happen in New York. What goes around comes around eventually.
I’ve been so busy writing about the NHL playoffs that I almost forgot to mention Pine Tar-Gate 2014. Earlier this week, in a game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected for having a disgusting glob of pine tar on his neck that he was using to doctor the ball. A couple weeks ago, Pineda was warned by Major League Baseball after everyone watching the game on TV noticed the pine tar that was on his arm. That game was also against the Red Sox. This time, it was so obvious that John Farrell had no choice but to come out of the dugout and let home plate umpire Gerry Davis know about it. David went to the mound and tossed Pineda from the game as soon as he touched Pineda’s neck. Pineda was issued a ten game suspension, which is standard procedure for the offense. It’s about time something interesting happened between the Yankees and Red Sox again!
Red Sox vs. Yankees is arguably the best rivalry in baseball, but the only reason it’s an argument is because the rivalry has gone stale over the last decade, allowing Dodgers vs. Giants to creep back into the conversation. The two teams have not met in the postseason since their epic seven game American League Championship Series in 2004, where the Red Sox made the greatest comeback in baseball history on their way to winning their first World Series since 1918. Since then, the regular season games, while very long on average, have not been particularly exciting th past few years. The Red Sox vs. Rays rivalry has become much more intriguing as far as the on-field product is concerned.
It’s a lot harder to hate the Yankees than it was in the past. Alex Rodriguez is serving a one year ban from Major League Baseball, so he’s not in the picture. Last year, Mariano Rivera had a season-long farewell tour, and this year Derek Jeter is doing the same. Jacoby Ellsbury may have defected from Boston and signed with New York, but I didn’t really want the Sox to keep him anyway. Would I have preferred that he sign with San Diego or Seattle or the Chicago Cubs? Sure, but I’m not heartbroken, and I’m glad the Red Sox won’t be paying him what the Yankees will be paying him when he’s 37. Looking up and down the Yankee roster, it’s hard to find a lot of villains to hate, but the Pineda thing may be what it takes to stir the pot.
The next time the Red Sox and Yankees meet, every Red Sox pitcher will be examined under a microscope. So will every Yankees pitcher. I don’t really have a problem with pitchers doctoring the ball, but at least be more subtle about it. There are Hall of Fame pitchers who cheated, but the chance that they could have been doing it even when they weren’t was enough to crawl into a hitter’s head. That’s part of the game. I’m also the guy who liked the Steroid Era and has no problem with steroid users getting voted into the Hall of Fame, so take that for what it’s worth.
The real questions to ask in this whole situation are “how stupid is Michael Pineda?” and “how stupid does Michael Pineda think the rest of us are?” Nobody got fooled on this one.