Aloha to anyone reading. I’ve let this fall by the wayside while getting caught up in work and other hobbies. Writing is something I should, nay, we all should be practicing.
What inspires me to write today is the tidal wave of positive press the Boston sports media is producing in response to the trade for Adrian Gonzalez. In fact, I have found precisely one article, authored by Jeff Passan, that views the signing in a negative light.
I used to play Little League baseball. I wasn’t very good at it. When I moved to Cape Cod, I gave up sports in general as I was pushed more towards music. Suffering a bad knee in my early teens, I can’t say I regret the decision. By the time I entered high school in 1998, I had all but lost interest in baseball and professional sports. Consequently I missed perhaps the most remarkable pitcher of his generation, Pedro Martinez, work in his prime, but I did catch some of the games with an authentic Dominican audience while at work. That in itself was a unique experience.
However, distancing myself as a fan gave me the opportunity to pursue other interests, and importantly allowed me to establish perspective. The idea of escapism is something that has been with humanity for some time; it has merely changed forms. One could argue religion, and here I am sticking with Christianity/Catholicism as it is the only one I have a rough understanding of, appealed to many because it told of something better than the life many of its early followers experienced. Job endured his misfortunes because he would be rewarded for his faith in the afterlife. Those who adhered to the commandments would have their shortcomings forgiven and achieve everlasting prosperity.
The United States of America was founded on the hope that one could improve their station in life by escaping their present situation. The history of this country is full of migrations brought on merely by the promise of prosperity, such as Westward Expansion and the California Gold Rush.
Literature abounds with the stories of characters, working-class characters, who dream to improve their station in life, despite the hardships they may face. Miller’s Death Of a Salesman and much of Steinbeck’s output comes to mind.
As society advanced into modern times, our collective fantasy life has remained fairly constant- dreams of socioeconomic and political freedom. We dream of riches, power, and the ability to wield it however we want.
What has changed are the avenues we use to indulge these fantasies: beginning with the oral tradition, giving way to literature, and then the rise of film, and the overall entertainment industry today.
Now for baseball- it is, along with all other professional sports, a division of the entertainment industry. For the sake of argument one could explore whether or not the net effect on society is positive. For instance, from an environmental standpoint, a stadium full of people is likely using less electricity attending the game than each sitting at their collective residences doing something else. Many entertainers and athletes also do extensive charity work for their communities. I personally am inspired to get off the couch and engage in physical activity watching Dustin Pedroia.
Conversely, sports can lead many people to allow themselves to get caught up in something larger than themselves, and that can have a negative impact on their lives. Anger and violence can stem from the outcome of a children’s game. There are also anecdotal accounts of violence precipitated by the New York-Boston rivalry. People also use these games as an event to gamble on. Would all of these negative behaviors cease if sports did not exist? I don’t think for a second that they would. Violence and financial ruin have been around before the twentieth century. It isn’t healthy if your team loses that you want to punch a wall, nor does it make sense to be hostile to total strangers because there team is from a geographic area.
Anyway, onto Adrian Gonzalez. The Boston press and team’s front office has been touting this chap as the perfect man to play in Fenway Park for years, mostly because it is smaller than the San Diego venue, Petco Park, and he has a tendency to hit the ball to the left, which many feel that the ball would sail clear over the Green Monster night in and night out.
I agree with Passan (the article I linked earlier) that this is bad for the sport overall. I’ve earlier, months ago by now, argued here that baseball would be best served by having consistent ballpark dimensions, maximum annual player salary and maximum contract years, a schedule in which every team plays every other, and the elimination of divisions entirely so that the final record is all that matters.
A favorite charge of Red Sox fans against the New York Yankees regards the payroll disparity. New York doesn’t have the most talented team or clever front office, Red Sox fans argue, they simply buy the best players from other teams. Oddly, these charges make little sense given the number of players on the 2004 team who did not start their major league career playing in Boston. In 2007 and 2008, it was more accurate, as the core of the team did in fact pay their dues in the Boston minor league system and was now in the big show.
When the current ownership group took charge of the team sometime around 2000, they promised that they would field a competitive team that would be fun to watch. They also actively tried to remove Manny Ramirez and his enormous contract, which was something like $20 million a year for seven or eight years, I think eight. I’d have to look it up. In any event, it is almost exactly what is rumored that Adrian Gonzalez would be seeking for an extension.
In 2004, the charm of the team was that it was a ragtag collection of players that stuck it to the financial elite of the sports world. In the interim, Boston’s payroll is now second only to New York’s. Boston is no longer the metaphorical David vs the Yankees Goliath. Boston has now become precisely what the fanbase and writers claim to protest, the poacher of elite talent from other organizations, inflater of salaries.
The amount of money being thrown around in the sport is a difficult problem to solve, but it surely will be its downfall. A generation ago the ballpark was an affordable night of entertainment, a reasonable alternative to going to see a movie. Now, even though many complain about movie ticket prices, the reality is that you can see the same movie in the theater for a week straight for the cost of one (1) semi-decent ticket to a Red Sox game. That is absurd. It is cheaper to go to most concerts.
Who deserves the blame? If you were an owner, you’d pay for good public relations to field the best team you can. That makes the team more fun to watch, and hopefully puts more people in the stands. If you’re a player, this is basically your sole job skill. How many of us would turn down success? Many players are very charitable.
At some point, $23 million dollars a year is too much. Ticket prices are prohibitively expensive, especially when the game is as flawed as it is. Replay technology is available, but here they choose to draw the line to supposedly preserve the integrity of the game, costing that pitcher in Detroit his rightful recognition of a perfect game. Yet replay is frequently used in home run calls in Fenway Park. It is this inconsistency and hypocrisy that sours me on baseball. It is prohibitively expensive to go to a game. It is no longer the common man, democratic crowd in the stands. It is a place for the elite to be seen. If this practice continues, eventually all teams will have to have an absurd payroll and charge outrageous ticket prices, and this will kill interest in smaller markets, such as San Diego and Florida.
In this specific case, the acquisition of Gonzalez does nothing to address the fact that two outfielders will be departing after this season nor that the bullpen requires extensive attention. Boston already has a plus first baseman. He has had some experience playing third base, but as he ages, first is the less demanding position. Youk is also much, much cheaper at the moment. Employing a full-time designated hitter is wasteful, as the lineup spot can be used to rest regulars, or allow another position player on the bench, which makes the team more versatile.
Finally, long-term, big contracts are something that this ownership generally recognized as being foolish. The current market offers Adam LaRoche, who is also a good defensive and offensive first baseman, costs roughly a third of what Gonzalez would annually, could be signed to a shorter contract, and did not require three of the best six kids in the farm system.
Did I mention Gonzalez just had labrum surgery on his shoulder and could not swing a baseball bat to demonstrate his skills to his new employer? Would you hire someone who couldn’t show you then and there that they had the necessary skills for the job? I wouldn’t either.
I may be in the minority, but this is a mistake. It is a mistake now, and mark my words, more will agree with me as the player ages and he becomes virtually impossible to get rid of.