A-Rod Joins the Dark Side Don’t Hit the Panic Button Yet, Boston

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! No one does a better “Chicken Little” impression than your average Red Sox fan. Rarely will you see a group of fans get as worked up as Bostonians were this past Saturday when news trickled up the New England coast that the New York Yankees were about to acquire Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez and $67 million in exchange for Alfonso Soriano and a bag of balls. The whole region went into a full-blown panic attack as people soon discovered that the Yankees’ roster now included 17 former All-Stars, a bloated payroll of over $185 million, and now a player with the potential of becoming the game’s greatest. Comparisons of the infamous Babe Ruth trade were plentiful (although not entirely plausible). The Red Sox ill-fated trade attempt involving Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Magglio Ordonez imploded this winter due to monetary concessions the Sox were unwilling to make regarding A-Rod’s record contract. With a lineup that includes, A-Rod, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, and Kenny Lofton, the Yankees have more stars than the Milky Way. And we haven’t even gotten to their pitching staff, which includes a top three of Mike Mussina, Javier Vasquez, and Kevin Brown. With all that talent, there really is no need to play the season, right? The games are merely a formality, for the Yankees should be appointed the 2004 World Series Champions as soon as possible, shouldn’t they? Well, while there’s a good chance that the Bombers may finish on top come late October, it’s not time to press the panic-button and refund your tickets to Fenway just yet, Red Sox fans. Take a step back from the Tobin Bridge and realize that, while the Yankees have greatly improved themselves on paper this winter, Boston’s offseason has not been too shabby either. While the Yankees added A-Rod, Sheffield, Brown, Vasquez, Lofton, and some relief help (in the meantime dismissing “future Yankee greats” Soriano and Nick Johnson), the Red Sox improved their infield defense with Gold Glover Pokey Reese, bolstered their bullpen with All-Star closer Keith Foulke, and drastically upgraded their pitching staff with stud pitcher Curt Schilling. With baseball’s number one-ranked offense of 2003 returning virtually unaltered, the Sox will surely be a force in the AL East. But while the Red Sox look to provide the Yankees with some competition for the 2004 campaign, few fans in the Northeast will notice the slow disintegration of Major League Baseball. While the temperature of baseball’s Cold War rose to scorching levels this past winter, in cities like Milwaukee and Pittsburgh there won’t be a spring thaw on the baseball diamond. Having the game’s best players concentrated in a select few cities is not healthy for baseball. It is killing the game, and in smaller markets that do not have the revenue of the New Yorks and Bostons of the world, some teams will never be able to compete with the big boys if something isn’t changed. Red Sox principle owner John Henry stated that baseball, as it is currently constituted, is in dire need of a salary cap. While he may have been partially trying to rain on the Yankees’ A-Rod victory parade, he is absolutely right. It is easy to blame the Yankees for all of baseball’s problems, but they are simply playing within the rules and they are not doing anything illegal (unless you’re talking about various Daryl Strawberry actions). Though the Evil Empire is technically not doing anything wrong, their reckless spending forces teams that want to compete into expensive shopping sprees, believing that in order to compete with the Yankees, you need to spend, spend, spend. Why else would the Red Sox be so desperate to sign Manny Ramirez to a $200 million contract? (In semi-related news, Manny has signed on to President Bush’s plan for astronauts to visit Mars in the near future. Said Manny, “I want to go home…”) If baseball does not implement some type of salary cap, there is absolutely no chance for a level playing field among the league’s 30 teams. If the NFL had a system akin to baseball’s current one, the Green Bay Packers would have no chance to compete against teams like the Jets or Giants. In fact, they would probably have become the Los Angeles Packers long ago. Maybe next year, the Yankees will be trading for Jeff Kent as means to shore up their massive hole at second base (the only position in which they have no All-Stars), while in the meantime fans in Tampa decide to check out the local NASCAR event instead of suffering through a brutally boring game at Tropicana Field, between the D-Rays and the Tigers. If that winds up being the case, Commissioner Bud Selig better start working on his Chicken Little impression.