Two Baseball Nuts on the World Series

Who Wanted To Watch the Red Sox, Anyway?
The stadium scene.
Oct. 20 2003 10:11 AM

Two Baseball Nuts on the World Series

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Charles,

Hey, let me suggest that if the Red Sox want to win next year, Bobby Valentine might not be a bad choice. He burnt himself out after a couple of years in New York, but who doesn't? He would do the same thing with the Red Sox as he did with the Mets, but by the time the honeymoon is over, the Red Sox might have won a pennant or two. Valentine is a jerk but so are most good baseball managers. Valentine got a lot of questions about the Grady Little-Pedro Martinez decision because he had left Al Leiter in so long for the last game of the 2000 World Series. Valentine had a very shrewd response: "Boston might have made better use of their bullpen." What he was subtly reminding us was that in 2000 all he had left to throw at the Yankees was Armando Benitez while the Red Sox had three perfectly good guys waiting in the wings.

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Little made a bad call in Game 7 against the Yankees—he owed it to the team to make the decision with his head instead of his heart. But who's to say that he can't learn from a mistake like that? I thought the whole point about the Red Sox was the heart and resilience they showed all season long. (Frankly, I thought they had a lot more heart than the Yankees.) Didn't Little have something to do with that? Why bust up a winning combination now? It would be so ... I don't know ... Red Sox to do something like that. I think the new regime is too smart to let him go.

Who to pull for in the Series? Well, that's the problem isn't it? Everyone knows the Yankees and either roots for or against them. They're the biggest road attraction in baseball, so it's absurd to think that they wouldn't be the biggest draw in the World Series. I don't know from whence came this loony idea that the rest of the country wanted to see the Red Sox in the Series. No, wait—on second thought, I do know: They got it from the New York media. The New York Times, which has corporate ties to the Red Sox, endorsed them for the World Series, and every New York paper has had some kind of pro-Red Sox nonsense. It's a strange phenomenon that no one has been entirely able to explain: This is a Yankees town with a Red Sox press.

Anyway, Yankees-Cubs would have been the biggest national draw because the Cubs are far more popular nationwide than the Sox. My mother lives in Birmingham, Ala., and has been following the Cubs on cable for years. You see more Cubs caps in the Deep South than you do Braves caps. (I had a friend who went to Belize once, many years ago, and found natives wearing Cubs caps.)

As for Jeffrey Loria and the Expos, I don't know why everyone doesn't understand that Montreal is and always was a perfectly good baseball town—for a Triple A franchise. That's what it was when Jackie Robinson played there, and that's what it should be now. Montreal shouldn't be competing with New York, Atlanta, and Chicago; it should be competing with Newark, Rochester, and Buffalo, and, in a perfect world, Havana. (I can't wait for them to move the team to San Juan.)

You nailed Florida. The Marlins don't have enough of a national image to get people to root for them, and what fans do know about the team's ownership they find odious. I don't have anything good to say about Huizenga, but I do want to make two points about Florida going in their second World Series in six years.

First, I'd like to see Bud Selig have the guts to admit that the Marlins blatantly contradict everything that he's been peddling about the lack of competitive balance in baseball.

Second, as much as I despise this practice of selling off your pennant-winning team to increase profits, I find it very hypocritical of the national sports media to jump on baseball for this when they ignore the same practice by an NFL team. What the Marlins did in '97 wasn't essentially different in practice than what the Baltimore Ravens did after the 2001 Super Bowl. The only difference is that in the NFL, the owners agree in advance to an economic system that forces them to either sell off or let their best players go. Either way, the fans that follow the team get screwed.

The entire relationship between Selig and Huizenga stinks, but, damn, let's give this team some credit. Here's a team that won two series in the playoffs against teams that were clear favorites to beat them, and though they haven't hit a home run so far in the World Series, they're just three wins away from taking it all. It's a shame, really, that they're not in a more traditional baseball town, because after listening to interviews with Juan Pierre, Josh Beckett, and the great Pudge Rodriguez (without whom this team would have no public persona at all) I'm convinced that fans could really become enamored of this bunch if they ever got to know them.

The Yankees, for their part, are really much more interesting than they're given credit for being, primarily due to the addition of Hideki Matsui, whom I'm appreciating more with every big game. (Who was the last hitter you saw get three doubles off Pedro Martinez in two games?) And I wonder if baseball fans understand that when they watch Mariano Rivera they're watching one of the all-time greats? And I don't mean very, very good—I mean one of the all-time greats, as in Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, et al. With all due respect to Derek Jeter, Rivera is the glue that has held these six World Series teams together. Replace him with an average or even good-to-average closer, and I'm not sure the Yankees win any of those championships. Maybe not even 1998.

All the best,
Allen

Allen Barra is the author of Clearing the Bases: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century. Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine and Esquire. His essays are collected in Sports Guy