November 28, 2006

Point–Counterpoint: Why I don't root for the Red Sox anymore

For my entire adolescence the Red Sox represented a purer side of sports that I admired. Well, that’s not entirely true. They just represented something purer than the evil New York Yankees, who were consuming baseball with their staggering payroll and blockbuster trade at the trade deadline. At the time the Yankees seemed unbeatable. They were the favorite to win the World Series every year. They had a stacked lineup, clutch starting pitching, and the best relief corps money could buy.

But despite these disadvantages, the Red Sox were almost always in the thick of it. They were the perennial underachieving underdogs. Of course, when the going got tough the Red Sox would fold, but that only added to their allure. I mean, basic probability showed that they had to pull it off at some point, so every year had the potential of being the year, the one when all the cocky Yankees fans would have to finally deal with rooting for a team that didn’t always win, and when tortured Sox fans would finally be rewarded for their patience and resolve.

The Red Sox, in my eyes, could easily be summed up as the nerdy loser guy in every high school movie, competing against the starting quarterback for the same girl. How could I not root for the nerd, right?

Two things happened that changed the team I once loved to root for.

First, the Red Sox turned themselves into a mini-Evil Empire. It started with the Sox giving huge deals to Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. At the time those seemed perfectly reasonable, though. The Sox were almost doing Pedro a favor, saving him from the lowly Expos who didn’t have a chance to hold on to him, and Manny was a great player, but the Sox were assuming a risk in signing him—namely that he’d be the leech on the clubhouse that he is today. Manny was definitely not the all-American superstar of the kind the Yankees were always bringing in.

Quietly, though, the Red Sox payroll kept growing. It was quiet because the Yankees were starting to spend at unprecedented rates, but the Red Sox were changing nonetheless. The Red Sox began emulating the age-old Yankees practice of poaching players off talented but impoverished clubs like the Oakland A’s and Florida Marlins. First it was Johnny Damon and Keith Foulke, and more recently Josh Beckett (and soon it might be Dontrelle Willis).

But I was able to ignore that, in large part, because the Red Sox still seemed like underdogs. The Yankees were still the franchise that was explicitly trying to buy its championships, and the Red Sox were still trying to piece together a team that could overcome the Evil Empire. High ticket prices and big contracts aside, it was fun to root for them.

After they actually pulled it off and beat the Yankees in the most dramatic series in baseball history, though, what was there left to root for? They were nothing more than a mini-version of everything I hated about the Yankees.

The final nail in the coffin is, undoubtedly, the $51.1 million the Red Sox bid for the chance to sign Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Their decision to just wave that much money around because they have the revenue is not unwise; it is the type of stunt the Yankees invented. Just remember back in 2003 when the Yankees decided to overpay an unproven Cuban refugee. I hated the Yankees when they landed Jose Contreras just because they could, and I hate the Red Sox now.