For this sports column, I could write an in-depth investigation of the rape trial/basketball season Kobe Bryant is enduring, which would undoubtedly lead to a playpen of bawdy double-entendre to satisfy even Shakespeare – “Kobe just made a hard backdoor move,” perhaps? But alas, the grandest news in all the sporting world seems not to be Kobe, steroids, the University of Colorado sex scandal, or other stories of actual import, but the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees off-season arms race, which culminated two weeks ago with the Yankees’ acquisition of the reigning American League Most Valuable Player Alex Rodriguez, a scant couple of months after the failure of the Red Sox to do exactly that. This, of course, touched off the annual ritual of the Red Sox nation collectively bemoaning the fate of its star-crossed team. Just as traditionally, the rest of the baseball-knowledgeable populace empathized with the poor Red Sox, for no reason at all.
The theme of tragedy the Boston Red Sox and their fans perpetuate – and which the baseball world tacitly endorses – is highly exaggerated. It is true that the Red Sox have not won a World Series in 86 years. And perhaps no other team has suffered the legendarily cruel twists of fate that have befallen the Red Sox. But Red Sox is far from holding a monopoly on misery in baseball; they do not even hold the greatest share. That honor must be bestowed upon the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs do the Red Sox a dozen years better; having not won the World Series in 98 years. Moreover, while the Red Sox have appeared in the World Series as recently as 1986, the Cubs have not even seen the World Series since the end of the Second World War. The Red Sox have finished over .500 and have made the playoffs relatively frequently during their championship drought, the Cubs have finished at or near the bottom of their division on so many occasions that the term “lovable losers” has become synonymous with “Chicago Cubs.” Granted, they have not suffered from anything like Bucky F—— Dent or Bill Buckner or Grady Little/Pedro Martinez/Aaron Boone, but this is merely because they have rarely played the big games which result in such legends. However, the Cubs have shown the same remarkable capacity of the Red Sox to lose in harsh and unorthodox ways, as evidenced by the Bartman debacle of this past season. The near-constant wretchedness they have endured is far more deserving of the empathy Bostonians verily claim as birthright.
The typical Red Sox fan may grant the validity of this comparison, but almost assuredly he would then mutter something like “yeah but what about the Curse of the Bambino . . . wicked.” Yes, the renowned Curse of the Bambino, the theory that the sale of Babe Ruth – arguably the greatest player in baseball history – from the Red Sox to the Yankees has blighted the franchise since it occurred in 1918. Ostensibly it adds a mystical despair that surpasses the mere temporal anguish experienced by other teams and fans. To be sure, however, no single act in sports deserves retribution more than this. Team owner Harry Frazee sold the Babe for one reason: to finance “No, No, Nanette,” a musical! Indeed it seems Red Sox faithful, instead of lamenting their misfortune, ought to be spurred by the embarrassment of this baseball blasphemy to silently accept their long suffering as penance for such a profound sin. At least, though, the Curse of the Bambino has an air of majesty to it; contrarily, the similarly accursed Chicago Cubs, the forgotten victims, are cursed by a billy goat. Could there possibly be a more demeaning genesis for a curse?
Of course, the above refutations of the plight of the Red Sox discount almost entirely the existence of the hated Yankees, whom Red Sox owner John Henry has dubbed the “Evil Empire” for their ability to play on an entirely different economic platform than the rest of the league, and who are the most responsible for the suffering of the Red Sox. The psychological torment inflicted by their detestable rivals, who have won 26 championships during Boston’s drought, cannot be ignored; the agonizing disparity of championships is perhaps the only legitimate cause of woe for Boston fans. But the economic connotation behind the “Evil Empire” epithet begs inquiry. Recent history and projections of team salaries certainly appear to support Henry’s placement of the Yankees in the stocks as the malevolent force guilty of distorting competitive balance and suppressing the less-monied teams. With owner George Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman at the helm, whose appropriateness of the name can hardly be rivaled, the Yankees have spent and traded with abandon, intent on buying the World Series each year. This year’s addition of Alex Rodriguez has caused the Yankees payroll to balloon to a preposterous $184 million. Yet it is extremely important to recognize that the mere existence of exorbitant salaries does not necessarily correlate with success, and therefore does not automatically destroy competitive balance. That is to say, Red Sox fans ought not vilify the Yankees as the “Evil Empire” merely for their outrageous payroll. The past three World Series champions, all low-budget teams, have won despite Yankees’ dominance over the league in payroll: the Arizona Diamondbacks, consisting of marquee stars Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Luis Gonzalez and a bunch of role players; the Anaheim Angels, a blue-collar team whose only widely recognized player was three-out closing specialist Troy Percival, and the Florida Marlins, a team largely of no-names written off before June and led by a reputedly washed-up manager. The Yankees’ free-spending and entirely unsuccessful counterparts, the New York Mets, the New York Rangers of the NHL and the New York Knicks of the NBA, further prove this point.
When the payrolls of all teams are examined, one can conclude that greater economic stature generally leads to a greater degree of regular season success. However, the Red Sox faithful conveniently overlook the fact that Boston general manager Theo Epstein, a dirty, dirty Yalie, will be shelling out the 2nd highest payroll in the major leagues. Surely the Red Sox’s $125 million does not approach the Yankees’ $184 million, but the polarization suggested by John Henry is vastly overstated. To extend Henry’s quote in a moronic fashion, the Yankees must be regarded as the Greater of the Two Evil Empires and the Red Sox as the Lesser.
Before I am met with a deluge of oddly-shaped, ticking boxes addressed in letters extracted from magazines, I must assure you that I would much rather see George Steinbrenner’s head fissuring in a stainless steel container somewhere in Arizona than Ted Williams’. In fact, I support the immediate commencement of the cryogenic process on Steinbrenner, although I have my doubts that his head will fit in a normal-sized jar. Why wait for a natural death that seems like it will never come? However, the exceedingly wide acceptance of the prototypical woe-is-me Red Sox fan causes me to think longingly of beating Bill Buckner with a gardening hose, not for letting the ground ball go through his legs in Game 6 but for subjecting greater society to 18 more years of innumerable whiny little pissants. The Red Sox and their fans are much better off than everyone realizes.