During a Red Sox season with so little to root for, Boston baseball followers now have their cause. But this is not about rivalries, nor spoiling, nor the promise of next season. This is about the potential for a season in which baseball's richest teams could fall flatly on their overfed faces.
All that really separates the Red Sox at this point is that they are already cooked.
As for the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies, there is still baseball to be played, though the outcome is clearly in doubt. Given the historic sale of the Dodgers and the binge that has delivered Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford -- among others -- to Los Angeles, the Dodgers in particular stand for all that has been wrong with baseball over the years, the richest of the rich tossing around their money like a reckless band of drunken socialites.
And yet now, with three weeks to go, the Dodgers could miss the playoffs. Ditto for the Yankees, Angels and Phillies, who join the Dodgers and Red Sox among, essentially, the five biggest payrolls in baseball. Toss in the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins, and what you have in this 2012 season is a healthy argument against excessive spending and downright gluttony, a hardball version of "Trading Places."
Somewhere, executives for the Fox and TBS television networks (who will air much of baseball's postseason) are sweating like Kevin Garnett.
But isn't that really a wonderful thing?
Admittedly, we here in Boston are tainted by the fat-and-happy Red Sox of 2011-12, who have set a new standard for overpaid underachievement. But at least they have now given us a purpose. In the wake of Boston's historic fire sale, that sent Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford to Los Angeles, Red Sox followers can root for their team today while simultaneously standing against everything the Sox represented.
If the baseball season ended today, after all, the 10 major league playoff teams would include Baltimore, the Chicago White Sox, Oakland, Texas, Washington, Cincinnati, San Francisco, St. Louis and Atlanta. Only the Yankees would qualify from the group of baseball's true aristocrats, and there is still the chance that New York is overtaken by the pesky Tampa Bay Rays.
For certain, teams like Texas, San Francisco, St. Louis and even Chicago hardly qualify as small-market teams. But they are not the richest of the rich, either, which suddenly makes them look like paupers.
Since the last work stoppage in 1994-95, baseball has had 16 postseason with a wild-card playoff format. (This will be the first season with two wild-cards in each league.) In the American League during that span, either the Red Sox or the Yankees (or both) have been in the playoffs every season. The Angels have been to the playoffs six times in the last 10 seasons. The Dodgers have been to the playoffs four times in the last eight years and the Phillies have qualified for the postseason five years in a row.
Add them all up and you get 40 playoff appearances by those five franchises in the last 17 years.
And yet, baseball still has the nerve to suggest that there is parity.
Despite whatever anxiety is currently being experienced at Fox and TBS, commissioner Bud Selig should be joining you in celebrating the current major league standings. Over the winter, the Los Angeles spent richly on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson -- and the Angels might miss the playoffs. (If Los Angeles gets there, it will be largely because of Mike Trout, a product of the Angels farm system.) The Detroit Tigers broke the bank for first baseman Prince Field over the winter -- and the Tigers, too, might miss the playoffs. And the Marlins spent freely on Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and even manager Ozzie Guillen as they moved into a new stadium, all before the flailing team started selling off parts like some type of corporate raider.
Meanwhile, with a lineup that included Victorino, Ramirez and Gonzalez, the Dodgers last night dropped a 1-0 decision to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Money can buy you love in a place like LA, but it can't buy you runs.
While the Orioles were upending the Rays in Baltimore, here in Boston the bare-bones Red Sox defeated the Yankees by a 4-3 score to push New York down into a first-place tie in the American League East. The victory qualifies as one of the more meaningful wins of the year. Nobody in Boston should want the Red Sox to turn into the Kansas City Royals over the longer term, though that would be far, far better than what the Red Sox became over the 2011-12 seasons.
Rich, spoiled, entitled and privileged, with the same money-cures-all approach that recently (or historically) has existed in places like New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit and Miami.
Wouldn't there be a nice message there if they all just lost?
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