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Soup of This Day #238: Never Seen Eden

August 27, 2012

Los Angeles Dodgers shirt
The Los Angeles Dodgers are a decent outfit and I wish them and their fans well. I’m not in the business of buying their shirts though – Photo: KennethHan, 2010. KennethHan is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Professional baseball is a business.

I know that you can say that about pretty much all professional sport nowadays, often accompanying the words with a shake of the head and a corresponding yearning for the good ol’ days. Baseball though seems to take that ethos to a higher plane, particularly in the way it transacts people.

By which I mean that it works to take a lot of the emotion out of its dealings. It strips away some of the things that could lead to that kind of soft stuff creeping in to mess up the smooth running of a collective of enterprises. Some of what it overtly discards are loyalty, compassion and well, part of what we might call humanity.

Baseball on paper then is the antithesis of how I like my sport. I am loyal to my teams and all who sail (or sink) in them. I believe in compassion – I don’t boo opposition payers and if you show me a player from Manchester United (A team I detest) who recovers from a serious knee injury, only to suffer another on his 1st day back on the job, I’ll feel sorry for him and hope that he gets back to live up to his potential – Even if it pays off for the enemy. Ultimately, sport for me is about the human element – A club is as strong or as special as the people who make it up.

In baseball now it’s about wins. People are just elements in getting more wins. Exactly the kind of mission statement I should hate.

I don’t though.

I love it.

I’m not entirely sure why but it just seems to work. I think mostly because there is this phlegmatic acceptance that baseball is not the reason for all existence. It’s a religion to be sure, but it’s 1 without the heavy hassle – And once you tacitly remove what kills the buzz then what’s left is something efficient but cruisy and redolent – Like lying in the grass that you’re comfortable growing messier than your neighbours’, laying back and listening to the summer buzz of a dragonfly.

I’m inspired to write about all of this by the just completed blockbuster trade that saw 4 Red Sox players, including the 3 highest-paid on the roster, head across country to the Dodgers in exchange for a mix of prospects and a fringe 1st base player.

When you say it like that it seems like a bad deal for the Red Sox.

It isn’t though and not because the players traded out were bad. They weren’t – They are guys who will help the Dodgers to win games and had they stayed they would have won some for the Sox too.

So why trade them?

Adrian Gonzalez was productive in his almost 2 seasons with the Red Sox – Last year he brought home 117 runs from his 159 games. This year he was on track to better that with 86 RBIs from 123 games. Gonzalez quite simply scored runs. Although he did so at a price – $154m across 7 years.

For those who like to account for the pennies that’s roughly $188,034 per RBI in 2011 for Gonzalez. Given that the Sox scored 875 runs in 2011 that’s a projected cost of $164m at Adrian’s rates – Around $4m more than their total payroll for last year.

Gonzalez did also contribute a more than fair effort covering 1st but for the highest paid member of the roster you kind of want more bang for your buck.

You also want someone who doesn’t shrug off last September’s implosion as God not wanting the Red Sox in the playoffs.

Presumably because he had something else for them to do. Like end poverty. Or fix Carl Crawford.

The latter of those 2 tasks seems to be the more difficult, possibly because it’s hard to work out how Carl got so broken. From 2003 through 2010 Crawford had been hitting at or around .300 for Tampa Bay. He was Superman with a bat, knocking out triples for fun, and so the Red Sox snaffled him up on a 7 year deal worth $142m.

Which maybe they paid with Kryptonite.

In 2011 Carl Crawford managed a lowly .255 when on the park and he returned just the 56 RBIs from 130 games. This year he managed only 31 games for 19 RBIs, albeit at .282. He’s currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Josh Beckett had an advantage over both Crawford and Gonzalez. He had already proven himself with the organisation and with the Red Sox faithful. Helping the Sox to win the 2007 World Series does have that effect. Sadly though that positive image was eroded across the 2011 season – As September happened the Sox needed their most expensive starter to not only bring something to the mound but also some spirit to the team.

Or fried chicken and beer to the clubhouse.

With an attitude.

This year Beckett has backed up with a 5 and 11 record that at times was bloody painful in the making.

And he kept at it with the attitude.

In spite of that, in spite of all of it really, I’d have been happy if any or all of the 3 had stayed. They are pros and they would have turned around bad form and given the Red Sox something.

It’s just that by leaving they’ve given the Red Sox something too.

Around $250m of salary freedom and a clean-ish slate to work with as it happens. Which they need, because no matter how good Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett were, the team was not good – Something had to give.

In another sport, 1 that is less of a business than baseball, Boston would have just fired the manager. Baseball though is more honest than that, more self-reflective and analytical. There was something off with the chemistry in the clubhouse and so General Manager Ben Cherington has pulled the trigger on what amounts to a substantial reset of his club’s strategic direction.

So Boston will eventually win out of this. The Dodgers though will be looking for some more immediate victories. The LA outfit have got 3 big-name players to bolster a team that has been trying to make up its mind as to whether it’s serious about a title push. Well, their mind just got made up for them by an ambitious ownership group – LA aren’t playing this 1 out quietly – They’re going for it.

Good luck to them, Adrian, Carl, Josh and Nick.

I’m going to finish this up with a reference to another sport and another 1 of this blog’s teams: The Fremantle Dockers. Who played the North Melbourne Kangaroos on Sunday in Melbourne in a crucial encounter where victory for the Dockers would guarantee a shot at finals glory in 2012.

In the end Freo were ruthless, kicking away early and then withstanding 2 Kangaroos charges before putting the more fancied North outfit to the sword with 9 4th-quarter goals. This gave the Dockers a boost above North into 7th – Within range of a home final with a round to play. North meanwhile dropped to 8th and will have taken a tactical and moral loss into a finals campaign where momentum is crucial.

Interestingly North wore a special jumper for this match. It featured their famous pale blue and white stripes but those vertical blue bars were actually comprised of the names of the 1,000 or so supporters who had helped to raise $1m to knock down some of the club’s debt.

That’s a lovely piece of sentiment and both the club and that cadre of supporters should be feted for their off-field success. It didn’t however translate to a better on-field performance – Sometimes sport is a business and for all of the people involved the business is winning.

Which might sound a little jaded and cynical on my part. It isn’t meant to be. See, I too have a role in this business – My job is to be a fan of the Boston Red Sox and the Fremantle Dockers. It strangely has not a lot to do with them winning, although that would be nice. It also has nothing to do with money, even though if they gave me some that would be nice too. So what’s in it for me?

Well, sport can bring out the best in anybody, even fans like me – Loyalty, compassion and humanity – No matter the business you can’t suppress them entirely.

Never Seen Eden

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