Why Red Sox and Yankee fans are happy they didn't get Johan Santana.

The stadium scene.
Feb. 28 2008 6:49 AM

Say No to Johan

Why Red Sox and Yankee fans are happy they won't be rooting for the best pitcher in baseball.

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This attitude is probably more common among the stat-lovers who tend to populate blogs and message boards. Still, tons of fans of all stripes are nostalgic for the era when players spent their entire careers with one team—even fans who were never alive to experience it. That's why, despite all the criticism aimed at the Yankees for their profligate spending, no one complains about Derek Jeter's $189 million contract, at the time the second-largest in the sport's history, or the combined $97 million the Bombers just shelled out to retain Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. Spending a fortune on your own players is acceptable. Spending a fortune on someone else's—that's tacky.

That last sentiment is the baseball fan's version of liberal guilt. That the Yankees outspent the Tampa Bay Devil Rays—excuse me, the Tampa Bay Rays—by more than $190 million last season is, frankly, a tad embarrassing. The Yankees' World Series teams of the late 1990s, while expensive, had a core of homegrown players and relatively few superstars; for a couple of years, they won without being universally loathed.

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Meanwhile, Red Sox fans have undergone an identity crisis after the team's two World Series wins. The Sox spent $51 million last year on Daisuke Matsuzaka's negotiating rights alone and $70 million on desultory outfielder J.D. Drew. During the 2007 World Series, just after Alex Rodriguez opted out of his New York deal, Boston fans—who would have welcomed the third baseman before the 2004 season, when a trade with the Rangers fell apart at the last minute—desperately chanted, "Don't sign A-Rod!" In other words: We don't want to be any more like the Yankees than we already are.

Naturally, Red Sox and Yankees supporters will be ecstatic to win another championship next year, no matter the cost in money or prospects. But even the justifiably worshipped Johan Santana can't guarantee a World Series ring. If possible, fans of large-market teams would prefer to win smart, with as many cheap, locally produced players as they can cram onto the roster. They want to out-Moneyball small-market teams like Cleveland and Oakland to prove that they aren't simply buying success.

Of course, these concerns are a luxury few teams can afford, and you won't hear many Mets fans complaining about overspending. Their team hasn't won a championship since 1986, and last year's nominal ace, Tom Glavine, cemented the team's epic September implosion by throwing one-third of an inning of seven-run ball on the last day of the season. The Mets needed Santana, and—thanks in large part to the Yankees' and Red Sox's abstention—they got him. As the fans at Shea know all too well, you need to have success before you can worry about how it's achieved.

Emma Span lives in Brooklyn. She can be reached at ekspan@gmail.com.

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