Out of seven different series in this year's tournament of survivors, five ended in sweeps and one other lasted one game beyond the minimum. Major League Baseball treated us to one Game 7, which turned into a 11-2 blowout for the Red Sox as they dumped the Cleveland Indians from the American League Championship Series.
The American League now has swept three of the last four World Series, with the Red Sox doing it twice. And in the hours and days before the Red Sox finished off a seemingly pre-ordained world championship, their grip on the baseball world and its championship tightened as if by turns of a vice.
If hatred of the New York Yankees once motivated roughly half of all baseball fans, now only the Yankees can save us from the impending haughtiness of Red Sox Nation, which might be even harder to take than Yankee supremacy. For all those years when the Curse of the Bambino dazed Red Sox fans, their obnoxiousness over never winning the World Series surpassed the obnoxiousness of Yankees fans over winning it every year.
Imagine life for the rest of us now that the Red Sox have won two of the last four World Series, the latest with a club featuring young, home-grown talent and a front office armed both with money (like the Yankees) and insight (unlike the Yankees). For the first time in 100 years, the Red Sox hold an upper hand on everyone, including the Yankees, who are deteriorating at their seams.
Hours before the Red Sox finished off the Colorado Rockies in World Series Game 4 on Oct.
29, Alex Rodriguez announced he would opt out of the last three years on his contract, a 10-year, $252 million albatross that shook baseball when the Texas Rangers fell for it in 2001. The opt-out announcement is tantamount to Rodriguez leaving the Yankees, who have insisted they won't negotiate a fresh contract.
Just a week earlier, Joe Torre announced that he would not accept a pay cut to return as the Yankees' manager. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and reliever Mariano Rivera are likely to go free agent, while pitcher Andy Pettitte normally talks about retirement at this time of year. It's good news for the Yankees that they could retain all three in a weak free agent market but bad news for the Yankees that the youngest among them are Pettitte and Posada, both 35 this season.
Rodriguez and his notorious agent, Scott Boras, no doubt believe the climate is such that the Yankees will negotiate. If A-Rod's opt out isn't to flop, he needs the Yankees to negotiate.
It's rather puzzling that everyone is so sure Rodriguez will command $30 million per year. He'll command that kind of money only if the Yankees join the bidding war, and they know it. As far as the other clubs are concerned, it's not as if anyone is required to top $25 million. Not even the Yankees have been paying that.
Because the Rangers subsidized the Yankees $7 million per year for Rodriguez, the New Yorkers paid him only about $20 million per year, which is right around what he's worth. We shouldn't be too surprised if A-Rod's next contract doesn't exceed $25 million per year or even match it.
Baseball fans in Cincinnati and around America sicken of all the discussion around the Red Sox and Yankees, but it remains that those two clubs are the competitive standard. The Yankees once set a high bar as the only organization so avowedly committed to winning, but they've lost the standard to the Red Sox. Every other American League club wishing to play in the World Series has to become that good.
National League clubs spend money, but no one generates the revenues and passions of the Yankees or Red Sox. Hence the American League is clearly the dominant league with little sympathy for Cinderella. It's almost inconceivable that a club of Colorado's ilk could sneak through the American League.
Arguably, the Rockies wouldn't have fit among the top half of American League clubs and, except for the last two weeks of the regular season, they barely fit among the top half in the National League. Only in the National League could the Rockies hang around until mid-September and then ride a hot streak through a wild card berth and two rounds of playoffs.
That's good news for a club like the Reds. If they could tighten up their defense and bullpen enough to win 15 more games, they have a shot at the World Series. It remains a long journey for Wayne Krivsky and Dusty Baker, but Colorado did it this season.
For all the talk about how the 2002 revenue sharing agreement has leveled the playing field, it remains that the World Series belongs mostly to big-market clubs, especially in the AL, where clubs from Boston, New York, Chicago and Detroit won the last five pennants. The NL is a bit more of a grab bag, with clubs in St. Louis, Houston, Miami and Denver going to the World Series.
If anything has leveled the playing field, it's really the ineptitude of big-market clubs in the NL, where freak occurrences have sidetracked the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs in the last five years. The Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers simply haven't gotten right, while the Cubs are just recently serious about improving. Only in St. Louis has ownership demonstrated the passion and aptitude to win, but a big-city club with more resources could trump the Cardinals.
The Cardinals finally won the World Series in 2006 after years as a premium club, beating Detroit in five games. Three of the last four World Series ended in American League sweeps.
As much as we tire of the Red Sox and Yankees, the NL needs a couple clubs to set that kind of standard or the AL will win the World Series more often -- and more easily -- than not.
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