Saturday, December 11, 2010


"The Perfect Storm", gliding into the Fenway
"Metro-plex" as part of baseball's 

latest occluded front...
Don't get me wrong. I like Carl Crawford. In fact, I like him a lot.

But that feeling is primarily aesthetic in nature: I don't like him as much as Theo Epstein apparently does, because there is No Highway in the Sky (go look that one up, kiddies...) that would make me pay him $20 million a year no matter how high the Stalinists at Fangraphs set his value.

Which brings us to the fact that baseball's delicate balance of monopoly and free agency keeps straining at the seams. The only thing keeping the game from becoming an outright proxy for the economic strangulation orchestrated in America over the past decade is the fact that the two teams with the longest and darkest shadow, payroll-wise, happen to be in the same division and thus cannot play each other in the World Series every year.

It is a hollow saving grace, however, as the decidedly unaesthetic result is that the Boston Red Sox, formerly a team with a tragic curse, have Turned Into What They Hate (for those of you who've been stranded in a bathysphere for the last twenty years, What They Hate is the New York Yankees). This turn of events, though mitigated a bit by the current insurgency of the Tampa Bay Rays, will only intensify over the natural course of events during the next ten years. (Despite what neo-sabermetricians like to profess, teams such as the Rays cannot compete for more than a few years with two uber-funded franchises like the Yankees and Red Sox: it is a tribute to their pluck that they made such an ascent at all. The unwritten "history of market inefficiency" does not contain enough nuance to permit a team with a fourth of the payroll resources of these two behemoths to be consistently competitive.)

So Crawford, a fine player who is a rare, refreshing throwback to baseball's former style and shape of play, is in the cross-hairs here because the need for these two organizations to wage baseball's version of the Thirty Years' War is fueled by the ongoing economic imbalance in the game. So-called "revenue sharing" as defined by the two sides is a convenient fiction that allows this travesty to continue. Its side effect--allowing small-market teams to make money even while putting "AAAA teams" on the field for years on end--is equally noxious, but the "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" between owners and the Players' Union isn't going away anytime soon.

What's distressing is that most fans seem to have simply thrown up their hands about this situation. One can remain mollified by the fact that the league structure itself makes it impossible for these two franchises to dominate the post-season, but the prospect of ten-to-twenty years of these teams as a 90% lock in the playoffs is unseemly--and unprecedented even in the Yankee-centric past. The remedies are out there--move a third franchise into the NYC metro area, lower the threshold for revenue sharing, create a salary cap, make the penalties for signing elite players to long-term contracts more severe--but it seems as though the tenor of the times, with its anarchic, asynchronous anger and an on-going sleight-of-hand in the canyons of Wall Street, has created a new kind of torpor.
Once the fever is in the blood, can one ever turn back??

The Red Sox used to be a thing of beauty, the hothouse flower of baseball franchises, rhapsodized about the way troubadours used to write songs about their maidens, or the way that a beautiful woman (for example, the young Dana Wynter in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) was adored, not merely lusted after. But we all fell asleep, and the world pushed the contrary dictums of pornography, family values, and global monopoly deep into our collective subconscious, and now we find our maidens, our pastimes, our very beings possessed by this inchoate bloodlust, a mindless frenzy that knows no bounds.