Don't look, Red Sox Nation. Your team is becoming everything you used to hate.
To wit: The Boston Red Sox have swept the last two World Series in which they've appeared. The last team to achieve that feat was the New York Yankees, who won eight straight in the 1998 and '99 Fall Classics. Last off-season, the Sox overpaid for two free agents, outfielder J.D. Drew (five years, $70 million) and Japanese pitching phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka (six years, $52 million), just like the damn Yankees usually do. These players, however, did produce in the post-season: Drew's grand slam against the Cleveland Indians in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series helped propel the Sox past the Tribe; Matsuzaka's clutch pitching, and hitting, in Game 3 against the Colorado Rockies helped Boston complete the sweep.
The Sox have a manager, Terry Francona, who failed at his prior stop as big-league skipper, but is now universally adored by his players. Doesn't he sound like Joe Torre, who had lost at all his previous managerial posts, but leaves the Yanks beloved like Yogi Berra? Young Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon saved three games in his first World Series, a performance reminiscent of Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera, perhaps the best post-season stopper of all time.
Slow down, a Sox fan might say. We've only won two Series in four seasons, while the Yanks won four in five years; now, that's one of those tiresome dynasties. But this Red Sox team run should have legs. "The difference between 2004 and 2007 is that this team is built to last," says veteran pitcher Tim Wakefield, who has played in Boston since 1995. "With the core of young guys and veterans who are still producing, this team will be doing special things for years."
Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino famously called the Yankees "the Evil Empire" for spending cash to win World Series after World Series. But with a $143 million payroll, two Series trophies on his mantel and the promise of more to come, Lucchino is no Luke Skywalker.
Yankee comparisons, not surprisingly, make the Boston brass uneasy. "We don't quite have the resources they do," says Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. The Yankees payroll hit $195 million this year, still comfortably ahead of Boston's figure. "I don't buy into it," he says. Lucchino, standing in Boston's champagne-splattered clubhouse, fended off all Yankee talk. "We aren't the old Yankees, new Yankees, anybody's Yankees," he says. "We ain't trying to be no Yankees."
This off-season will test that claim. After all, what would be more Yankee-esque than buying the best player in baseball? During the late innings of Game 4, the agent for Alex Rodriguez, Scott Boras, leaked word that his client was opting out of the last three years of this $252 million contract. A-Rod is now a free agent, and if Yankee management keeps its promise not to pursue him, his pinstripe career is curtains. (Leave it to Boras, a man whose ego has no peer, to hijack the Sox win with A-Rod's news.)
Where could Rodriguez land another Ruthian payday? Mike Lowell, the Red Sox third baseman and World Series MVP, is a free agent, and the team may not guarantee the 33-year-old a long-term deal. If Lowell leaves, the Sox would need a third baseman, the position A-Rod plays.
The Sox have a history with Rodriguez. In 2003, the team agreed to trade Manny Ramirez for the then-reigning AL MVP. However, the player's union rejected the pay cut Rodriguez had agreed to take. The deal died. This time around, would the Sox meet A-Rod's demands, which might reach upwards of $30 million a year? When I asked Lucchino if the Red Sox would pursue the superstar, he responded: "I'm not going to approach that tonight."
He should listen to his fans. As Red Sox players caroused on Coors Field after winning the World Series, the Boston fans lingered to serenade their stars. Only one chant was louder than "Re-Sign Lowell!" it was "Don't Sign A-Rod!"
Give Sox fans credit they know a dark side when they see it.