The Red Sox and Yankees have reasserted themselves atop of baseball's food chain.
Any doubts? Just check out the 2013 baseball season and the 2013-14 offseason and see which two teams created the biggest headlines. The Red Sox worst-to-first Improbable Dream season and World Series Cup has given way to a Yankees spending spree that evoked the days of The Boss blowing apart baseball salary's structure by signing the likes of Reggie Jackson or Alex Rodriguez.
Red Sox, Yankees and then, everyone else.
Just the way nature intended.
The dominance over the rest of baseball Boston and New York enjoyed a decade ago has been revisited by ESPN's "30 for 30" short "The Deal" about the Red Sox ill-fated flirtation with A-Rod before the 2004 season. The 23-minute film brings us behind the scenes with some of the key players in the saga, which began with the Red Sox collapse in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and ended with the Yankees willing to pony up for Rodriguez in time for the 2004 season.
Here are 10 things we learned from watching the film and from the A-Rod-to-Boston-to-New York saga of 10 years ago:
10. Jon Lester almost ended up in Texas.
Of all the side notes in this movie, the most stirring is the realization/reminder that minor-league prospect Jon Lester was headed to Texas had the deal been approved. Lester now anchors the Red Sox rotation and has been nearly flawless in his three World Series appearances for Boston. On the other side, the Yankees gave the Rangers a list of available prospects for the taking in the deal that sent Alfonso Soriano to Texas for A-Rod. On that list was second baseman Robinson Cano. The Rangers passed on him on the "throw-in" list in favor of the legendary Joaquin Arias. Huge near-misses for both teams.
9. Manny was hated everywhere
No one liked Manny Ramirez. Not the Red Sox. Not the media. Not even his teammates. That point is reinforced when we see Kevin Millar pop up during his infamous "Sports Center" appearance, in which he answered "We'll take A-Rod" when asked if he'd rather have Manny and Nomar Garciaparra, or Rodriguez as a teammate. Ouch. All Manny did was snag MVP honors in the 2004 World Series. Even with his multiple PED positives, Manny remains perhaps the most under-appreciated, greatest player in Red Sox history. Lesson: If you're a star athlete in Boston, you treat the media [along with some teammates and the travelling secretary] like garbage at your own peril.
8. It's always about money.
98.5 The Sports Hub's Tony Massarotti, who covered the team for the Herald at the time, notes that eventual difference in the salaries between A-Rod and Manny would have been $5 million [roughly $25 million annually for A-Rod and $20 million for Manny]. There were other offsets between Magglio Ordonez and Nomar. While the Players Union eventually KO'd the deal, there was nothing preventing the Red Sox from coming up with whatever amount of dollars it would have taken to close the deal and satisfy the players' union, except the Red Sox. At the time, the Red Sox team payroll was at $104 million, while the Yankees' was at $183 million. A difference of nearly $80 million. By 2011, the Red Sox had cut that gap in half [$163 million vs. $202 million].
They obviously wanted to make this deal, but only if the price was right.
Funny that A-Rod wanted to keep the rights to his likeness. These days, that's probably worth about 10 cents.
7. A-Rod fooled everyone
Rodriguez was the model baseball player this time a decade ago. "The best player ... and the most marketable." He was on his way to becoming the face of the Red Sox franchise. Remember, David Ortiz at this time was more or less a one-year wonder. Little did any of us know that A-Rod was well on his way to a career of PED usage, and serial lying about it. Theo Epstein in the film talks about how well polished A-Rod was when they met to talk about his Red Sox contract. Former Globe scribe Gordon Edes, now with ESPN, says he "was very taken" with A-Rod's desire and sincerity to play in Boston. A-Rod no doubt had everyone fooled.
6. Thanks for nothing, Alex.
The Players Association stood firm on making sure A-Rod didn't take a pay cut, using A-Rod as a poster child for maintaining the integrity of contracts. The union's move ended up being hugely beneficial for A-Rod, allowing him to keep getting paid the full amount of his original deal with Texas. Fast forward 10 years. A-Rod ends up suing that same players union, the same one that also stood by him through the appeals process after he was suspended last year.
Of course, it's not only the Players' Union and Yankees who have been stung by A-Fraud's disloyality:
Despite this bro-mance, A-Rod's attorney in January told ESPN said he would not name other players accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, "but some of them are God-like in Boston right now." Later the same day, he denied he was referring to Ortiz, but would not say whom he was discussing.
Tom Brady, perhaps?
6. That contract has to be worth millions
Former Red Sox assistant [to the?] GM Jed Hoyer says in the film that "somewhere" in his files he has the actual Red Sox contract signed by A-Rod. If Jed ever needs a quick million, look for this baby on ebay.
5. It was the worst of times
A decade ago, the abject misery, frustration and anger among Red Sox fans was at post-Ruthian and Dent historic levels. These were truly the worst of times. There's no doubt the winter of 2003-04 was a low point for many Red Sox fans. While the team had grabbed Curt Schilling [get well soon] over Thanksgiving dinner, no one knew how effective Keith Foulke would become, nor did anyone imagine what would happen the following October. Kids, if you're not old enough to remember those days, consider yourselves blessed. Anyone who thought the Red Sox were better off by keeping Manny and Nomar at the expense of losing out on Rodriguez heading into 2004 was either very, very, very baseball savvy or completely full of sheetrock.
4. Some things you can't unsee in your mind
When the Red Sox front office broke the news of Rodriguez's impending arrival to newly-hired manager Terry Francona at 3 a.m. and wrote out what would be his 2004 Opening Day lineup, Hoyer says Francona "was dancing in his hotel room, like in his underwear."
3. Thank you, Aaron F. Boone
A-Rod was stuck in limbo until Aaron Boone blew out his knee during an off-season workout. The initial though was that A-Rod would never go to the Yankees because they already had a shortstop in Derek Jeter. The move to third base, in the end, was not really that much of a big deal. This was the same type of limited mindset that shot down the claim made in this spot two years ago that Jacoby Ellsbury would end up a Yankee in 2014, even though the team was presumably set in center field at the time.
2. Everybody needs a good patsy
Whether it's Lee Harvey Oswald, Magic Johnson and the Dodgers, or in this case, the Texas Rangers, everyone needs someone to take the fall once in a while. Here, the Rangers couldn't wait to bail out either the Red Sox or Yankees. At the end of the day, the Rangers agreed to pay $67 million of the $179 million remaining on A-Rod's deal just to get him out of Texas. The Red Sox, of course, were the ultimate patsy when this deal went down/collapsed. The sage reinforced the historic struggle of the two teams, a struggle owned up until that point exclusively by New York.
1. You never know what will happen
This is the over-riding lesson of both this film, the entire saga of A-Rod with the Red Sox and pretty much sports in general. This is why we watch, we write about it, talk about, spend time and money to follow it. It is perhaps the most genuine form of entertainment because of its ultimate unpredictability.
Heading into spring training 2004, the Red Sox appeared more "cursed" than ever, not only because of what happened in 2003 but because of who was playing third base for the Yankees.
"No matter what we do, things are always going to work out for those damn Yankees," says Epstein. "We had fallen back into the abyss," adds Larry Lucchino, who Runs The Red Sox.
But A-Rod nails at the end when asked whether or not he thinks this is good for baseball: "It's good for the Yankees."
Chuckles all around.
Ten years later, we know now that A-Rod not coming to Boston was the greatest blessing in disguise in Red Sox history.
And the Red Sox got the last laugh for years to come.
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