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As the Red Sox merrily roll along in the post-season follies like the Goodship Lollipop what pleases their zany followers every bit as much has little to do with what their beloveds are doing. It’s all about the Yankees and the fact that they are gone. Long gone! “Schadenfreude” -- that sometimes perverse joy one derives from the misery of another -- is in full flower in “Red Sox Nation.”
In the long, historical view, this tilt in the relationship -- while unquestionably major -- has a long way to go before it rectifies the slings, arrows, insults and heartaches so assiduously compiled over eight and a half notably bloody decades, when the Yanks did little wrong and the Red Sox got nothing right.
But the fact that the pendulum has swung dramatically is unmistakable and with a young, progressive and stunningly efficient organization cranking in high gear, Boston’s advantage over New York, where they are just beginning to re-tool and revise, could stretch well into the next generation. That at least is what the smart set down at the Fens likes to think these days, although it will hardly surprise this observer if the gap gets closed a lot quicker than they want to believe is possible. Beware the enraged beast. But all of that is for another day.
The better question at the moment concerns what brought about this convolution so swift and unheralded. It was triggered in four days that shook the entire sporting universe in October ’04. It’s since been sealed in a series of moves and choices that have mainly gone Boston’s way.
There are, of course, many reasons. But the most interesting set of them is a string of mostly bitter head-to-head confrontations the Red Sox and Yankees engaged in while contesting for high profile, high-priced players. It was a long campaign and in the end the Red Sox were clearly the overall winners. Even when they lost players they dearly wanted it turned to their advantage. There was much irony, but sheer luck was a greater factor.
Among outstanding examples are:
Pedro Martinez (1998): A stroke of genius from the deposed and unfairly discredited ex-General Manager, Dan Duquette. Playing cleverly on the vulnerabilities of the near-bankrupt Expos, Duquette pawns off Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr., decent but hardly superior prospects, for the finest pitching artist of the times. Late in the process, the Yankees who are preoccupied with their own recent return to glory, make a determined bid for Martinez and allegedly offer better prospects. But Duquette has out-flanked them and completes his coup.
Martinez is the first and biggest step in the restoration of the Red Sox and concomitant downfall of the Yankees. No single trade except for the Babe Ruth fiasco in 1920 had more impact on Red Sox fortunes. While fragile, Pedro’s bursts of brilliance are astonishing. He symbolizes their revival, articulates it best, and brings it to its fullness before fading away, all in a mere seven seasons. Had the Yankees succeeded in snaring Martinez away from Duquette they might have won seven consecutive championships, maybe more.
In the revisionist history of the team so severely rigged in favor of the Henry-Lucchino-Epstein axis, Duquette gets little of the credit he deserves while the memory of his more eccentric whims is allowed to flourish. It’s not fair. Although the Yankees are pitching-rich at that moment and will win the next three championships, the Martinez deal rankles wiser heads in their organization. It’s recognized as ominous. As for Pavano, his role as a well-planted Boston curse in the Yankee penthouse will eventually blossom rather more.
David Ortiz (2002): Curiously, Ortiz had fallen drastically out of the favor of imperious Twins’ boss Tom Kelly. Just why has never been explained but Kelly had no use for him. Thus Boston got him for the bargain free-agent price of roughly a million bucks. George Steinbrenner, apparently alone in recognizing Ortiz was made for Yankee Stadium, was furious and demanded explanations. He was told the recently imported Jason Giambi was equal to any purpose Ortiz might serve.
Logical or otherwise, it doesn’t wash with George. He blames Brian Cashman and uses it as an excuse to increasingly meddle in his GM’s prerogatives for three years, leading to hefty and unwise expenditures that serve the Yankees poorly. So the Ortiz blunder -- as George termed it -- had huge implications.
Jose Contreras (2002): In a rich moment, Theo Epstein is said to have ripped his Central American hotel room to shreds after being out-witted in the duel for the Cuban defector’s services in his first tussle with the big-footing Yankees. The mournful Contreras ceases to be a legend in his own time when he finally gets to pitch. He not only costs the Yankees big bucks but messes up their rotation for two years. It’s the earliest evidence that Epstein is greatly favored by the baseball gods.
Curt Schilling (2003): Young Theo’s finest hour, but again he is ridiculously lucky. The Diamondbacks hate the Yankees so they won’t trade him there. Even if they did, Schilling, who also disdains them, wouldn’t agree to it. So Boston gets him for less than what New York is willing to pay. Yankee outrage heightens the next fall when Schilling and his bloody sock lowers the boom on them.
A-Rod (2004): The ultimate example of Boston winning by losing. The braintrust invoked every trick in the book trying to acquire Rodriguez from Texas but got out-maneuvered by the more giddily spendthrift Yankees, allowing Lucchino to trot out his tiresome “Evil Empire” harangues first delivered to rile up the masses in the Contreras fiasco. Four years later, Rodriguez serves as a human anchor on the Yankees’ destiny while the Red Sox cavort freely without such a burden. Not getting the mightily overrated A-Rod is one of the luckiest breaks in the history of the Boston franchise.
Carl Pavano (2005): Returns to sting the Yankees again by signing with them and mailing in four horrid seasons. While they won’t admit it now, the Red Sox competed furiously for him that off-season and were greatly irked when New York prevailed. How lucky can you get?
Johnny Damon (2006): It’s fashionable in Boston to argue that letting Damon walk was another Red Sox coup. Wildly popular here, Damon infuriated the Nation by jumping ship. But in truth he’s been a worthy Yankee, much as he was a superb Bo-Soxer. New York benefited but Boston survived nicely. It’s a wash.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (2007): The Yankees truly believed their hefty offer in the posting process was sufficient and were stunned by the boldness of Boston’s bid and there remains the suspicion -- at least among the more paranoid in Gotham -- that the Red Sox may have wrangled vital intelligence concerning the Yankee’s offer, which obviously would have been vital in such an auction.
It’s probably nonsense, although stranger things have surely happened, especially in this relationship. What’s certain is the fact that all by himself Matsuzaka represents the difference between the Red Sox and Yankees in October 2008. Take him away from Boston and give him to New York and you have the Yankees bidding for another championships and the Red Sox scattered to the winds. Amazing! Is it not?
One could add Javier Vazquez, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens to the list. All three were to varying degrees sought by both teams and all three ended up with the Yankees where all three, to varying degrees, bombed. We refer here, obviously, to the Roger Clemens of last year. The Red Sox would have been pleased to welcome him back for a “victory tour” for the right price. Ever the philistine, Clemens chose instead to accept the Yankees’ ridiculous offer. How lucky can you get?
You get the point. Many factors explain the astonishing swing in Red Sox fortunes with none more important than the eerie spin relations with the Yankees have taken of late. Call it schadenfreude, if you like. But it does add to the sweetness of the thing for “the Nation,” whose voracious needs on this peculiar issue know no bounds.