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Some thoughts before they come north

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If February is any sort of yardstick it's going to be a hellacious year in baseball in terms of hot and ripe "stuff" going on and on. I'm talking about questions and issues, conflict and controversy; in other words, the delicious "stuff."

All over the baseball landscape all hellzapoppin already and the fireworks began well before the boys were first asked to see if they could still bend over and touch their toes, and that includes you too Senor Sandoval.

Herewith is a list of some of the juicier "stuff.''

The Yoan Moncada riddle

That would be about the latest Cuban phenom snared by your Red Sox although their need for him seemed limited, after the Yankees inexplicably passed on him although their need for him seemed acute.

Talk of topsy-turvy! Was this the belated revenge of the Henry-Lucchino-Werner axis for Jose Contreras? You'll recall it was the Yankees' stealthy snatching of Contreras a decade ago that inspired their motor-mouthed CEO to proclaim the Yankees, "the Evil Empire." Faintly to their credit the somewhat more reserved Bronx brain-trust refrained from such nonsense after getting out-hustled for Moncada by the bombastic BoSox.

You may further recall that in the end the Red Sox were lucky to have lost out on Contreras who never came close to fulfilling his once lofty promise and drifted through an ordinary career as a high-priced, spare part. Might that happen to Moncada? Big, highly athletic, and only 19 (allegedly) that's now deemed unthinkable. All seem to agree he's a brilliant prospect; much as all seemed once upon a time to agree that Contreras was the real deal. Only fools and baseball fans go overboard on neophytes, especially those they've never actually seen perform. Roy Hobbs, bear in mind, was a fictional character.

Sox Owners riding high horse

Seemingly in their runaway exultation over the Moncada caper -- although they hardly require additional motivation -- Bosox ownership is doing figurative cartwheels, flexing their muscles and expressing their joy these days. The ruling Henry-Lucchino-Werner triumvirate spent much of the first week of spring training taking bows and congratulating themselves. No doubt Red Sox Nation, a gullible consumer, lapped it up.

But it is unusual. Rarely do owners in sports hold news conferences to tell the world how happy they are with the job they are doing. Can't recall another Boston sports ownership going down that muddy road; not even the assiduously self-promoting Clan Kraft. It is also risky. They may think the pennant-race will be a cakewalk with another championship in the bag -- that's certainly how they're acting -- but there's the little matter of 162 games yet to be played. "Stuff" happens, you know!

That vaguely grating din you may have picked up coming out of the south and west comes from the other owners collectively grinding their teeth. They must have loved John Henry's little fandango when he hotly disputed the inference his beloveds are lapsing into the same stupid spending excesses his gang has long accused the Yankees of indulging. Why would anyone think that just because they've lavished roughly $335 million on four players -- two totally unproven, a third often injured, and a fourth grossly overweight -- in just six months?

The New Commissioner

Remember how a beaming John XXIII figuratively opened the windows after succeeding the stolid Pius XII in the papacy. The world applauded mightily as John strove to let in the fresh air and expel the stale. Well it's something comparable that we may be witnessing in baseball as Rob Manfred, bursting with a determination to deal with issues, succeeds Bud Selig, who excelled at sweeping them under the rug.

Only a month on the job Manfred has; agreed to reconsider Pete Rose, pledged to decide if Oakland's A's can move to San Jose, promised to settle the Joe Maddon tampering charge, ordered Tampa to settle its stadium problem, agreed the Hall of Fame selection process must be reviewed, expressed doubt about the validity of defensive shifts, stunned his owners by acknowledging the regular season should be shortened, sought heightened cooperation with labor leader Tony Clark, further pushed steps to quicken the pace of the game, even forgiven A-Rod.

Whether such initiatives are wise, possible, or potentially fruitful awaits debate. The point is all are formally on the table, destined to be discussed. More to the point, every one of them was either shunted aside or paid mere lip service by Selig. It's "aggiornamento time" in baseball. Indeed!

And it's Spring Time, officially

You know that's so when a beat-up vet like Mark Teixeira arrives in camp and declares, "I have a new body." He better have, given that the old one hit .216 last season for which the Yankees paid a mere $21.5 million.

Or, when all the pundits proclaim the Chicago Cubs will not only win the pennant but the World Series.

Or when the likes of the duplicitous A-Rod have the nerve to declare, "I feel like a rookie again." And everyone coos.

Or, when within a couple hours of his arrival a David Ortiz can spout a ridiculously profanity-laden rant aimed at improving the pace of games by making the likes of him stay in the batter's box and the assembled media gobbles it up and runs with it as if it were the Sermon on the Mount. Mr. Ortiz seems to believe he's the last word on everything except, of course, the lingering question of why his name was on that infamous list of Baseball's major performance enhancing drug abusers. You'll recall he promised to get back to us on that little matter six years ago.

The Hamilton tragedy

That the drug scourge still stalks the game is underscored by the latest lapse of Josh Hamilton, who may have ranked with a precious few like A-Rod among the game's most talented characters. Now, a nasty combination of cocaine, booze and pills has brought him down again and this time it may be final. At his best, Hamilton hit .359, slugged 43 homers, roamed the outfield like a Tris Speaker, landed a $25 million a year deal with the Angels, while cutting a smart figure that dazzled even Hollywood. Now he's probably done at 33. Rarely does the term "tragedy" properly apply in sports. But it does in this instance.

Quo Vadis Yankees?

The erstwhile Bombers are lately obliged to defend themselves against the charge -- wonder of wonders -- they are "cheap." Can you imagine Diamond Jim Brady being called a piker, or the Great Gatsby a free loader, or Flo Ziegfeld a bad tipper. It's rather like that. In New York, them's fighting words.

It doesn't seem to matter that those levying the charge are essentially the same impossible to please, what have you done for me lately brigade that only a year ago was mocking them for being misguided and fatuous spendthrifts. That was of course after they'd wasted near a half billion bucks on free agent prizes that would prove less than prize worthy. The market is so fickle, as are its beholders. The 180 degree swerve the Yankees have taken this off-season in an effort mend their wanton ways may have been too radical for Yankee Nation, so long weaned on the silly notion that money is no object. The mysterious whiff on Yoan Moncada, however unproven he may be, was the last straw.

Hal Steinbrenner seemed genuinely hurt as he protested in reply that his allegedly cheapskate Yankees actually remain Baseball's highest-spenders. He might as well have been spitting into the wind. Poor lad, Hal's already verified that his dad was an impossible act to follow.

Bye Bye Pawtucket

The Red Sox, their high powered CEO, and the other big-money boys involved in the deal can chuckle all the way to the bank for it sure sounds like moving to Providence is a great business deal. For them!

But hustling minor league baseball out of Pawtucket after it's endured through thick and thin for seven decades simply STINKS. Period!

And that's enough "stuff" for now!

Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Bostonís WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.

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