December 20, 2005, to me, a date that will live in infamy. I still remember all of the details. I can see the desk, the new flat screen monitor, and my internet browser opening to my familiar homepage, ESPN.com. Most of all I remember the image that was looking back at me: a smiling Johnny Damon with the super-imposed Yankees hat on his head. I reeled back like I had been punched in the stomach. This couldn’t be. It shouldn’t be. There’s no way. Damon is one of us. He was one of The Idiots! Now, he’s just an idiot. Doesn’t he know what this rivalry means? Doesn’t he care?
Damon’s deal with the Yankees was for four years, and 52 million dollars. Most accounts had the Red Sox offering somewhere in the neighborhood of four years, 40 million. Johnny Damon had sold us out for 12 million dollars. He was one of the main reasons we were finally able to overcome the Yankees, and now he is going to join those guys? (We had conveniently forgotten that he had been a Royal and an Athletic prior to becoming our guy, and naively could have never anticipated that he would be a Yankee, Ray, Tiger, and Indian before it was all over.)
My fan innocence died that day. In a moment I lost the idea that rivalries were something players cared about, and not just the respective fan bases. I learned for the first time, in such a crushing way, that this is a business to the players. Baseball is something that they are exceptionally good at and plan to use to financially set themselves and their families up for generations to come. The minute I saw Johnny’s familiar face staring back at me with an unfamiliar NY on his hat, everything changed for me as a fan.
Are we still getting mad when a Red Sox or Yankee goes to the other dugout in the rivalry? Umm, the players don’t care about that stuff.
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) December 4, 2013
Last night I was sitting in a theatre with my wife and some friends and I felt my phone buzz in my pockets several times in the last few minutes of the movie. As the credits started, I pulled my phone out to see three text messages in the last three minutes.
1) Ellsbury!!! (from a Yankees fan)
2) Ells signed with the Yanks. Screw him.
3) We lost Jacoby!!! To the freakin Skankees.
I saw all I need to. My heart sank, I put my head down, and for a minute or two I was pretty ticked off. But really, who should I be mad at?
I guess that I could be mad at the Red Sox for not ponying up the cash to keep such a talented player, but there is not a scenario in the world where I wanted to keep Jacoby for seven or eight years and somewhere between $153 and $169 million. That’s an insane amount of money to give someone who is 30 years-old and has speed at his top asset. Keep in mind, that is from someone who does not believe that Ellsbury is “injury prone” at all. He had two brutal freak collisions, and if you call him soft you’re a clown, and I’ll assume that you missed what he just played through in the 2013 postseason.
My old friend Pete Abraham nailed why the Red Sox wouldn’t come close to matching that kind of deal.
— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) December 4, 2013
So, I can’t be mad at the Red Sox. I’m actually relieved that they actually learned a lesson from the atrocious Carl Crawford contract. You don’t overpay for speed at an age where it is very likely to decline quickly and sharply.
I suppose that I could be mad at Jacoby Ellsbury, a player who just book-ended his Red Sox career with World Series titles. That requires me to assume that he cared about this rivalry in the same way that you and I do. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he doesn’t. He has some elite talents that make him very valuable on the open market. If there was a world-class surgeon who had another hospital offer him twice as much money, would you fault him for leaving the hospital he had been working for just because that hospital had always been his employer? I certainly wouldn’t. I love the company I work for, but if a competitor wants to offer me twice as much money I’ll start packing up my office this afternoon. That’s how life works. But somehow we think that Jacoby should take a 4-year $75-$80 million dollar deal from the Red Sox and leave $100 million dollars on the table in the name of “loyalty” or because I have a strong rooting interest in his career. Yeah right. He didn’t, I wouldn’t, and neither would you. Put on your big boy (or girl) pants and admit that.
I could easily be mad at the Yankees, a team that prints money and can afford to buy the most talented players when they hit the open market. Am I supposed to begrudge a baseball team for trying to acquire the players that put them in the best possible position to win as soon as possible? I believe that’s what they’re all supposed to be trying to do. Some teams just have more assets available to them to make that happen immediately (and don’t throw your rocks too quickly, kids, because we live in that same glass house). My bigger question is, if the Yankees were just going to start throwing around crazy money to aging veterans like Ellsbury and Brian McCann again, then why did they make their fans suffer through a season like last year where they regularly played guys who had no business being on a major league team, let alone a team that has no real salary limit?
I could be mad at the Yankees for overpaying another 30+ year-old player, since we all know this contract will be another millstone on their payroll before it’s over, but really that’s just hilarious. I’m happy to root for a team with a front office that apparently has the ability to learn from past mistakes. The Yankees seem more than happy to continue to fall in the same predictable hole, and when a 37-year-old Ellsbury is clogging up the Yankees payroll, outfield, and lineup, we’ll all get to write some really fun snarky tweets about it.
Finally, the last person I could be mad it is Scott Boras. He does everything he can to let his clients hit the open market and land the biggest possible deal. He seemingly wrings every single dollar out competing teams for his clients. While I hate the guy, I’m pretty sure that makes him a really good agent. Is he an unsavory human being who I regularly wish amoebic dysentery on? You bet. But he’s also really darn good at his job.
So gear up for the winter of 2020, Red Sox fans. Both Jackie Bradley and Xander Bogaerts are Boras clients, and both are projected to be free agents that year. Imagine the outrage when we first learn that the Yankees have nabbed both of them with long-term, over-priced contracts.
If and when it happens, I won’t be mad about it. It’s a business to them, and the players, agents, and team executives are all just doing their jobs. My job as a fan, is to support the team on the field through good times and bad, even if that means cheering for A.J. Pierzynski.