Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I have bad news for you, sports fans of America. The powers that be in Major League Baseball are currently debating whether the next 15 or so seasons should be played. There is no point in risking injury playing games when the end result for the foreseeable future is no longer in doubt. All records as we know them are obsolete. The whole game as we know it will shut down and retool its format to offset the single biggest development since Abner Doubleday added base to ball and created the sport we know and love in the 1840s.

The Red Sox acquired the exclusive right to negotiate with the greatest pitcher the world will ever know, Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Sebu Lions in Japan. Matsuzaka has yet to win 20 games in a season in Japan, even with his famous gyroball. He was the MVP of the World Baseball Classic, for what that is worth. The price for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka is $51.1 million dollars, a princely sum indeed. There is a chance that this negotiation might not end with Matsuzaka signing a contract to pitch for the Sox, but I doubt it.

The good news is that the Red Sox cannot be penalized in luxury taxes for that chunk of money. The bad news is that five teams went into the season which just concluded with payrolls that did not exceed the sum the Red Sox spent to secure the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka. Only one team paid its players less than the Yankees reported 33 million dollar bid for the negotiating rights. It kind of makes me wonder if the Evil Empire resides in the Bronx these days.

I am not the only one to wonder that, either. Writing for Fox Sports, Michael Rosenberg takes the organization to task for its hypocrisy. He has no problem with the Red Sox spending freely, squeezing every nickel out of their revenue streams and dealing in illicit substances (OK, I made the last bit up), as long as they aren't hypocrites about it. I don't mind the Red Sox spending money, so long as they do it foolishly.

I do have a problem with the Red Sox efforts to increase their revenue streams, or at least some of the methods they choose to employ in that quest. Just because people are dumb enough to pay $9.95 for the privilege of being and official citizen of Red Sox Nation and $12 dollars to take a guided tour through empty relic of a stadium doesn't make it right to take advantage of them. God knows, if I came up with a pyramid scheme like Red Sox Nation, I would go to jail, but Lucchino and his boys get away with fleecing the ignorant.

Sean McAdam of the Providence Journal also has problems with the Red Sox crying poor mouth in this post from ESPN's website. He points out that the Red Sox will likely join the Yankees above the luxury tax threshold if they sign Matsuzaka and fill the remaining holes in their bullpen and outfield. McAdam also points out that the Red Sox will spend far more to bring Matsuzaka to the US than the Yankees spent to import Hideki Matsui. All fair points.

Then there is the gyroball. No one seems to be clear on exactly what it is, how it's thrown and if it's legal. There is also no guarantee that Matsuzaka will be all he's reported to be. There is the pressure of pitching in front of fans and media people who can turn into Shark Week in a blink of an eye should an athlete fall short of lofty expectations. There is the vast amount of money major league teams spend to analyze every little weakness of their opposition. Perhaps the gyroball will be less impressive the fourth time around a lineup.

More encouraging, at least for me, is the recent track record of Japanese players in the major leagues. Pitchers like Hideki Irabu and Hideo Nomo have not fulfilled their initial promise. Irabu was a huge disappointment (on multiple levels). Nomo has had flashes, but overall has not delivered on the promise he showed as a rookie. Outside of Ichiro, have any Japanese players become what we were led to believe? Even Hideki Matsui has fallen short of lofty promise. While he has been very good for the Yankees, he has hardly been "Godzilla."

One of the ancillary arguments to Matsuzaka's potential has been that it will enable Red Sox Nation to plant the proverbial flag in the Asian market. That is true, or at least it will be if the team and the player work well together and success follows. If Matsuzaka does not perform as he has been billed, or the team just isn't good enough to win the division, will the Asian market embrace the Red Sox? I think not.

In the end, there is one reason the Red Sox made this move (for those Red Sox fans scoring this at home, you know deep down in places you don't talk about at parties that this is a Duquette move, not a Theo move). Panic. Pure, unadulterated panic. With the second highest payroll in the league, one might feel compelled to do something to distract an impressionable fan base from the fact that the team finished in third place in its own division. With the highest ticket prices in baseball, one might feel some pressure to make a big splash in the offseason push to sign free agents. Simply put, the Red Sox front office needed to do something spectacular to put a season in which they were swept in five games by a Yankees team that was humiliated in the first round of the playoffs behind them.

Perhaps the fans might not notice that they have no closer if there is a big interesting story right before the holidays. After all, people will be dulled by tryptophan next week. Then there is the mad rush to celebrate the December gift giving holidays. Of course 90% of Red Sox fans will be thoroughly intoxicated on New Years Eve, and hung over on New Years Day. Then comes the BCS and the NFL playoffs. Then a few days later, pitchers and catchers report.

In all of that bustle, one doesn't have to be all that cynical to imagine the Red Sox brass hoping the fans won't ask difficult questions like are we sure Papelbon is ready to pitch 200 innings? God forbid any one have the temerity to think Papelbon's fantastic stuff might lose a little something in translation when opposing batters see him four times a game rather than four times a series. Did the team fix its offensive problems? If the team stood still long enough to let people ask these questions, then maybe the fans would have no cause for optimism going into another season.

Of course, the one upside to this shake the rattle in front of the baby school of management is that it is the only thing that might stave off the inevitable run of we are descended from Puritans therefore we are pessimistic sports fans stories from the CHB. So maybe I should stifle myself. Sorry.

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