I am rooting for the Yankees. Under the circumstances, you should, too.
As the World Series begins tonight in New York, let us all acknowledge that the Red Sox have started to grow a little stale. Many of us have grown complacent, if not downright spoiled. The large majority of us now treat the postseason as a birthright more than a blessing, a once unthinkable development for a franchise that made four trips to the postseason from the start of the 1919 season through the end of the 1987 campaign.
Last year, during a season immediately following a world title, local television ratings for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN dropped nearly 20 percent. This year, they dropped an additional seven percent. The Sox are producing fewer golden eggs than they have at perhaps any other point during the era of John Henry’s ownership, which cannot help but make you wonder if the Sox need a crisis the way a depressed nation might need a war.
Be honest with yourselves, folks.
The fire is not burning quite as hot as it once did.
Enter the Yankees, who went out last offseason and did precisely what the Red Sox need to do now. They reloaded. New York brought in CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett while outmaneuvering the Red Sox for Mark Teixeira, adding three players who shared more than just talent. Combined, the new Yankees had never really won anything before. Even Burnett, who was injured during the 2003 Florida Marlins’ run to the world title, recently admitted that he was nothing more than another bystander when Florida upset the Yankees that season.
Translation: The Yankees are hungry. If it wasn’t enough that the Yankees have gone eight full seasons without winning a world title -- in New York, those add up like dog years -- the Yankees brought in even more players in search of fulfillment. The combination of talent and desire produced 103 regular season victories, and it now leaves New York just four wins from a record 27th world championship.
For the Red Sox and their following, nothing strikes a nerve quite like another parade down the Canyon of Heroes. Nothing. The irony is that another such celebration could be the best thing to happen the Sox at this moment in team history, with the Sox in the midst of a stretch during which they have made six playoff appearances in seven years. Things in Boston have reached the point where we all but write in the Sox for 95 wins every year, a terribly presumptuous and downright arrogant gesture. The Red Sox, as much as any team in professional sports, should know better.
The truth, of course, is that it takes more than talent to win. It takes some luck and some hunger or greed, too. (Greed is good.) Part of the reason the Sox lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Championship Series last season was because the Rays were healthier. Part of the reason was because the Rays were hungrier. The disturbing reality for Bostonians this year is that the Red Sox really ended up no better than the Rays did -- neither team won a postseason game -- and that the only difference entering 2010 is that the Sox have more money to spend.
As for the relatively new "Moneyball" theory that postseason success is arbitrary, be careful what you wish for. For starters, the Yankees qualified for the postseason every year from 2001 to 2007, but failed to win a single World Series. Was it arbitrary then? Were the Red Sox’ world title years of 2004 and 2007 a statistical fluke? Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein himself called such thinking "a crutch" after the Los Angeles Angels wiped out the Sox in the American League Division Series earlier this month, and even that assessment was conservative. In a market like Boston or New York, at this point in time, justifying postseason failure by pinning it on a roulette wheel is an absolute cop-out, a symbol of the ultimate loser’s mentality.
Nobody ever said sports were entirely fair and nobody ever said winning was easy. But more often than not, in baseball especially, you get what you deserve.
In this World Series, in particular, the Yankees will encounter a fitting opponent. The Philadelphia Phillies are the reigning world champions. While the Phils have a suspect relief corps, they have (at least on paper) the hitters to match up with the Yankees and the left-handed starting pitching to take on the New York lineup. The Phillies are more than capable of winning this series, and logic suggests that many New Englanders will be rooting against New York out of pure instinct and emotion once the games begin.
Here’s a tip: use your head. We all could use a dose of reality and humility here. The Yankees are loaded, they aren’t going away anytime soon, and maybe it’s time we all remember what the Red Sox are against every year. A restoration of the Yankees’ rule may be as grotesque and incomprehensible to you as the existence of Col. Nathan R. Jessup, but do not underestimate the impact of another world title in New York on the passion and competitive fire in this region.
You want them on that wall. You need them on that wall.
It gives you something to fight for.
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