The Hall Won’t Heed The Call

Yesterday, the Veterans Committee from the Baseball Hall of Fame voted on whether any former players that had not been elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America deserved induction and, of the twenty-five candidates on the ballot, not one of these legendary figures made the cut. Two former greats, Ron Santo and Gil Hodges, were the closest to gaining entrance with 65% of the vote, eight votes shy of enshrinement. Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, two other luminaries from the game, gained just a little more than half the vote. Meeting biennially, the committee was revamped after the election of former Pittsburgh great Bill Mazeroski in 2001; there was the argument that his career numbers were hardly worthy of the standards necessary to sit alongside names like Ruth, Williams, and other immortals. By not electing a single player to join Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg this July, the outcome makes it two straight shutouts served by the committee, as no one was elected in 2003.

The Hall hails these results and those of recent BBWAA ballots as proof that it has set higher standards for induction, meaning that punching your ticket to immortality won’t happen if you don’t meet considerable merit. Then there are those who believe the Hall has suddenly become an elitist organization that has set the level of expectations for membership too high. Whatever the case, it is quite obvious that, for too long, the metrics used to decide whether a candidate should be elected have been inconsistent and this, in turn, has only added to the confusion. Obviously, there is more to being worthy than just wearing your heart on your sleeve for twenty-plus seasons; you need to have numbers, honors, and a show of consistency to pad that resume. Yet there are players out there with all that who still find themselves on the outside looking in through locked gates while believing that they have what it takes to be given the key.

Jim Rice, to me, is a perfect example of a former player who is more than deserving of having his plaque alongside the greats of the past. For well over a decade, the former Red Sox great was a constant force at the plate, averaging nearly .304 with 29 home runs and 106 RBI. He also finished in the top five in the AL MVP vote six times during that stretch, winning his only award in 1978 when he stroked 46 home runs and drove in 139 RBI, best in the league that year, while hitting .315 and finishing less than twenty points behind league-leader and future Hall of Fame inductee Rod Carew. Unfortunately, there are two things that seem to hurt Rice; one, that he struggled in his last three seasons at the plate, and two, that he was never a favorite of the writers, who saw him as callous and aloof.

Rice is not the only player that has been mysteriously locked out; Bert Blyleven is another example. The former pitching great finished his career with 287 wins and an ERA of 3.31 and was 5-1 in the post-season with two World Series rings to his credit. He won fifteen or more games in a season ten times and is fifth all-time in strikeouts with 3701. Blyleven’s problem seems to be that he played most of his career for teams that never received much media attention, like Minnesota and Cleveland. Had he pitched in Boston, New York, or Los Angeles, some believe he would be a lock.

There are plenty of other examples, too. Kaat won 283 games as a starter, pitched three seasons in which he won 20 or more games, and collected 16 consecutive Gold Gloves at his position (tied with Hall of Fame great Brooks Robinson for most ever in a row); why is he still not there? Andre Dawson’s career numbers include 2774 hits, 438 home runs, and 1591 RBI, and he collected Rookie of the Year honors, an MVP award, and eight Gold Gloves during his career; why is he still absent? Jack Morris won 15 games or more in 13 seasons and also collected three World Series rings and a World Series MVP award; does he not deserve this distinction?

Nonetheless, the fact remains that there will always be nominees, often times a sentimental favorite, who fail to make the cut; both fortunately and unfortunately, the popularity of a player cannot be the measuring stick to decide if they will get the nod. Often, numbers are thrown around that define whether a candidate is an automatic entry, such as 3000 hits, 500 home runs, and 300 wins; these are all numbers that, of the tens of thousands of players that have put on a major league uniform, only a few have matched in a solid baseball career. So when a player has failed to amass these numbers, then you must dig deeper into his statistics and determine whether he has performed at a level in his career that makes him a worthy candidate.

As someone with a great interest in the history of the game, the Hall of Fame is an embodiment of its remarkable heritage. For a player to have his name preserved for years to come as a representation of baseball excellence is one of the highest accolades in sports; therefore, voters have a responsibility to make these choices based on standards that are evenhanded and constant. Until the Hall begins to demonstrate some consistency and fairness in its selection process, it will be difficult for those outside this circle to understand why some legendary players are still waiting for the call from Cooperstown.

It’s Good To Be The King

How might it possibly get any better for New England sports fans? Both the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots are the reigning world champions in their respective sports and, after Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi, and the rest of the supporting cast took care of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the mighty Pittsburgh juggernaut, they are off to their third Super Bowl in four years with loud whispers of dynasty heard almost everywhere you go. Let’s not forget that the University of Connecticut is home to the reigning NCAA men’s and women’s basketball champions and that the current Boston College men’s basketball squad is undefeated as of this morning (17-0) with just over a month to go before tournament time. Heck, witness even the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, who won the Eastern Conference Finals before losing a three-game championship series to the Seattle Storm.

2004 seemed like a turning point in the recent fortunes of New England teams, although we can’t ignore other championships sprinkled here and there in recent years. The Connecticut basketball program also produced a men’s champion in 1999 while the women’s squad has claimed five of the last ten championships. The BC hockey team won the NCAA Frozen Four tournament in 2001. Of course, there was also the very first Super Bowl championship won by the Patriots, a surprising 20-17 victory in 2002 over the St. Louis Rams, who entered the game as 14-point favorites. The victory parade that followed two days later in Boston made people wonder just how crazy it would be if the Red Sox ever turned the trick.

Despite feeling to the contrary, it’s really hard to successfully argue about a lack of success in sports for New England sports teams, especially at the professional level. You have the Celtics with 16 championships, the Red Sox with six, the Bruins with five, and the Patriots with two. Compare that to Cleveland, for example, which has not seen a champion in major professional sports since the Browns won the NFL championship in 1964. What about Seattle, who has one professional sports title (the 1978 NBA title) on its resume, not counting the aforementioned WNBA championship?

Still, with all the accolades over the years, the area has never been the hub of the sports universe. Before 2004 began, the most well-known fact about professional sports here was that the Red Sox had not won a championship since the club shipped Babe Ruth to the Yankees around the time that my grandfather was ten. The Patriots, of course, never seemed to get it right; who could forget the embarrassment of watching them fumble and stumble through Super Bowl XX against the powerhouse Chicago Bears, who had cut a swath of destruction on their way to the title that year?

All of the sudden, the national focus in sports has turned its eye to this tiny northeast corner of the country where the summers are hot and sticky and winters find us buried under three feet of snow. The Red Sox are enjoying the sudden attention that comes with winning a World Series and gearing themselves for another run this year. The Patriots have won 33 games in the last two seasons and are poised to repeat what they accomplished in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

I realize that this run of good fortune will not last forever; it may even come as early as next Sunday in Super Bowl XXIX against Philadelphia if the Patriots come up short against the NFC champion Eagles. Brady may suddenly descend to the rank of mortal men and opposing teams may start to pick apart whatever Bill Belichick throws at them. As for the Red Sox, even with a championship in its back pocket, the team might stumble out of the starting block and never recover or, as has been the case before, play well for most of the year and then fall apart at the end; then it might be another few years before they return to glory. Even some great sports dynasties of the past, like the Dallas Cowboys, the Celtics, the New York Yankees, and the Montreal Canadians, have eventually crumbled, and there will be a day when the local sports media will return to reporting despair and misery, a pastime in its own right.

Nevertheless, there has never been a better time for fans in New England to enjoy watching its teams play. For all those years that I stayed loyal to these teams despite the struggles and misfortunes, the last year has been more than satisfying. For once, I feel a sense of elation, almost euphoria, and I plan to enjoy that sensation for as long as it lasts.

Happy New Year, Finally!

About a week ago, I was suddenly regretting the thought that 2004 was coming to an end; after all, that was the year for long-suffering Boston Red Sox fans and perhaps I was reluctant to let go so soon after enjoying everything that went the excitement of a World Series championship. From the first day of spring training right, through the trials and tribulations of the regular season and an even wilder post-season, and culminating with the awakening of my 18-month-old son to have him in front of the television when Foulke softly tossed the ball to Mientkiewicz at first, it was almost too difficult to detach myself from the emotions that I felt.

2004 will be a year that no one who was a fan of the Red Sox will soon forget. 2004 was the year that a prodigal son returned to the fold and joined the ace-in-residence to provide a one-two punch that few teams could match. 2004 was the year when Jason Varitek and his teammates collectively shoved their mitts in the face of the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on a warm July afternoon and sent a message that the season would not end that day. 2004 was the year that a young general manager took the biggest gamble of his brief career and traded the Franchise. 2004 was the year that it wasn’t over until Big Papi took one last cut. 2004 was the year that a bloody sock characterized what this “team of idiots” was willing to do to end the years of frustration. 2004 was the year that it was someone else’s turn to choke at the worst possible moment. 2004 was the year that, finally, was the year.

However, perhaps there is much to look forward to with the dawn of 2005. For the first time in our lives as Red Sox fans (making the assumption that none of you reading this truly remember the last time it happened), we will watch our team play a season as defending world champions. For the first time, we won’t be wondering if this will finally be the year but if our team can repeat the feat. For the first time, perennial doubt has been replaced with renewed excitement and we can walk around with our chests held out a little further and our heads held up a little higher.

Am I aware that the other teams in the league will now approach their games against us with the intent of knocking us down from our lofty perch? Am I worried that Pedro Martinez has flown the coop after seven seasons in Boston to nest in the confines of the Mets organization next season? Do I dread the knowledge that Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano will be wearing pinstripes next season, as might Carlos Beltran, and that the Yankees will be looking to administer some payback for what happened in the American League Championship Series? My only response to these and other questions like those is that, if these are the dilemmas that come with being crowned as world champions, it’s good to be the king!

There is no promise that this season will be anything like last season; it would be next to impossible to recapture the essence of that run a year ago. Nevertheless, I look forward to another exciting season of Red Sox baseball as I have every spring since I can remember. Varitek will be back behind the plate as captain of the team and no one will need to see a “C” sewn on his jersey to understand that. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will be back with their bats to provide that awesome one-two punch at the plate. Curt Schilling will be back on the mound every fifth day to expend every ounce of energy available to keep opposing teams frustrated at the plate. Johnny Damon will be back leading the charge in center field and in the lead-off spot. Terry Francona will be back in the dugout and Theo Epstein will be back in the front office, doing everything they can to assemble and develop another championship team.

Best of all, on the second Monday of April, just a little before three in the afternoon, no matter what happens the rest of this season, a championship banner will be raised high above Fenway Park for everyone to see. The fact that the rival New York Yankees, no matter how many guns have been hired, will get a front-row seat to the festivities only makes it that much sweeter. With no more talk of curses, 1918, the Bambino, or any other ghosts of the past 86 years that always seemed to stand by, waiting for the most inopportune moment, it’s truly going to be a happy new year.

Who Will Stay? Who Will Go?

Next Tuesday, 07 December, marks the final day that the former Major League Baseball club of a free agent will be allowed to resign said player or, at a minimum, offer salary arbitration. Otherwise, a player may not resign with his former club until 01 May. That means that, in seven days, Boston Red Sox fans will have a better idea of what face the club will have on Opening Day in 2005 as the organization prepares to defend its World Series crown. Of the 16 free agents that played last season for Boston, one has fled to Japan, utility outfielder Gabe Kapler, and one has resigned with Boston, Doug Mirabelli. Of those remaining players, four big names top the list of players that may or may not return in a Red Sox uniform next season; what chance will they be back?

Jason Varitek – C
Chances: Better than 75%

Varitek’s agent, the infamous Scott Boras, has told all interested parties that his client is looking for a five-year deal around $50 million with a no-trade clause; Boston has countered with a four-year deal in the neighborhood of $36-$39 million. In Varitek’s words, what he wants is stability so that he won’t have to worry about moving his family for a number of years to come. Having spent his entire career in Boston since his trade from Seattle in 1997, staying put would be the ideal situation. Varitek is a fan favorite because he always plays at full speed and probably reached an elite status alongside Sox legend Carlton Fisk when he shoved his mitt in Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez’s face in July.

There are very few free agents on the market that play to the caliber of Varitek; however, having said that, he is also not among the top players at that position. Varitek will turn 33 on 11 April and, historically, catchers do not play well into their late thirties. Reports last week arose that Boston will likely offer Varitek salary arbitration by the deadline and he would have 12 days to decide whether to accept. If he declines, the club would then have until 08 January to try and negotiate a new deal. Boston wants him here and Varitek wants to stay here, especially if he is serious about doing what’s best for his family. A final deal will probably pay him $10 million per season, and some of that will be paid out up front as a signing bonus, but the maximum number of years that Boston would be willing to commit would be four years.

Pedro Martinez – P
Chances: Fifty-fifty

Before the start of the 2003 season, the Dominican dominator began to squawk about a contract extension and told the media that, every day, his price would continue to climb. Instead of going into a panic about the Boston ace bolting to the Yankees when his contract expired, the organization simply kept its mouth shut and instead picked up the club option on a seventh year a week after the season began. Fans began to wonder if the Red Sox would eventually watch another big-name player walk as they had with former studs Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn but, two seasons later, no one is in a panic and Boston looks like they played those cards right.

Boston has offered a two-year deal at $25.5 million with an option for a third year if he remained healthy that would bring the final value of the contract to around $38 million. Interest from the Yankees has been lukewarm at best; Pedro and his agent called a meeting with Steinbrenner early this month, but the Yankees have not verbalized an offer and it appears to have been more of a ploy to try and force the Red Sox to up their offer. The New York Mets are now willing to offer Martinez a guaranteed three-year contract at the same $38 million level, but it’s not the four years that the ace wanted and New York isn’t exactly on track to win another World Series in the next few seasons. Right now, the Red Sox are holding firm and they are willing to let Pedro walk, something that perhaps no Boston fan would have fathomed even before the 2004 season began. Pedro may get his best all-around deal from Boston, but it will be up to him whether his ego will allow his supposed loyalty to Red Sox fan to keep him in a Boston uniform for another few seasons.

Orlando Cabrera – SS
Chances: One-in-three

Cabrera was a nice pick-up for the Sox and made everyone forget that he was traded for perhaps the most popular Boston player in recent memory, especially in helping his new club win a World Series. Now the 30-year-old Columbian is looking to cash in on the national exposure that you just didn’t get playing for Montreal and is looking for a nice long-term deal. While Boston has some interest in retaining his services, they are not interested in signing him for more than a year or two, especially if Pawtucket prospect Hanley Ramirez is ready for the big leagues by 2006. Boston might try to offer him arbitration, but it’s a better bet that he will try to sign elsewhere because he may not get a better opportunity for more money as a player.

Derek Lowe – P
Chances: Less than zero

The unsung hero of the 2004 playoffs blew his chance to sign a contract extension with Boston in each of the last two off-seasons and that may come around to bite him in the end. Although numbers haven’t been mentioned lately, Boras reportedly was looking to secure Lowe with a contract worth $11 million per season. Lowe did win 52 games over the last three seasons and was a runner-up in the Cy Young voting in 2002, but he was inconsistent over the 2004 season, finishing with a 14-12 record and an ERA of 5.42, and the offensive juggernaut in the Boston clubhouse helped him record a few of those wins. It should be noted that he become the first pitcher in post-season history to record the decisive win in every one of his team’s playoff series, providing an inning of relief in Game Three of the Division Series and pitching gems in Game Seven of the ALCS and Game Four of the World Series. However, Babe Ruth has a better chance of being in a Red Sox uniform next season. Lowe is obviously a disgruntled employee in the organization and also wants to escape the scrutiny of the Boston media. With the younger Carl Pavano on the market for equal value and less money, Lowe will be dishing his sinker on another club next season.

Venimus, Vidimus, Vicimus

Sitting in a hotel bar in Dallas for the third straight night along with several colleagues from work, having made sure to sit on the exact same barstool each night while twirling my cell phone on the marble countertop, it was with much satisfaction that I watched Ruben Sierra hit a ground ball right to second baseman Pokey Reese, who simply scooped up the ball and threw with ease to Doug Mientkiewicz, completing a unbelievable comeback and igniting a celebration in that bar that probably woke up people on the eleventh floor of the hotel next door. All at once, the compounded weight of disappointments from the past seemed to lift off the collective shoulders of Red Sox fans from coast to coast and around the world; though the final ascent to the peak must still be made, a tricky, winding mountain passage was finally completed that many before them had tried to pass, only to be turned back at the end.

As had been the case so many times in years gone by, it had not been easy despite the bold predictions of those who knew better. What had seemed certain to the legion of fanatical followers almost turned out, on a cool Sunday October evening in Boston with just three outs to go, not to be, but the gods of baseball decided that long-suffering fans had endured enough heartache. The tables suddenly turned and what appear impossible became possible; a team that nearly had the plug pulled suddenly began to breath on its own and shocked those pundits who thought they had watched the same drama unfold many times over. Suddenly, the naysayers became believers and the faith of a nation was revived, spreading throughout the land like wildfire.

Admittedly, I am only old enough to recall the disappointment of another comeback that spelled doom for the Boston nine. The 1986 Red Sox were up two runs and within one out of staking claim on a championship in the sixth game of that World Series, but that final out never came and millions of bottles of champagne that had been opened went flat as the shock was too much to overcome. Before that, there was the collapse of 1978, which ended with a one-game playoff being decided by a light-hitting Yankees shortstop who hit only 40 home runs in 12 major league seasons. That was preceded by seven-game losses in 1975 at the hands of the mighty Red Machine, in 1967 thanks to three complete-game victories from Bob Gibson, and in 1946 thanks to Enos Slaughter’s mad dash from first to score the deciding run in the final game.

There are very few still alive who can actually recall the six-game series in 1918 when Babe Ruth led the last Red Sox team to win a championship over the National League. Since then, the team that he was sold to racked up 26 world championships and went through Boston more than once to accomplish that feat. As Yogi Berra told the young Yankee ballplayers before last season’s league championship series with the Red Sox, somehow New York always found a way to come out on top of Boston when it mattered most. True to his word, in the deciding game of that series, the mystique of the Yankee dynasty prevailed as the destiny of the Red Sox took a turn for the worse again and the Boston faithful watched victory get snatched away by the jaws of defeat.

However, that was just simply not to be this year; even the ghosts of Aaron Boone and Bucky Dent, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the deciding game in the series, were not enough to deflate the spirit of a franchise that felt so strongly that this was the year. The self-proclaimed band of idiots decided at the beginning of this season that there would not be any chance of a New York ticket-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes between the Battery and City Hall and, this time, they collected on that wager. Even with their backs against the Green Monster, the collective spirit of the Boston nine rose above the noise and confusion and delivered themselves into the annals of Red Sox folklore as the team that finally brought down a mighty empire, not just in a regular season battle, but when the money was on the line and another loss meant a dour end to another long season. In the grand scheme of things, New York still owns Boston in the record books but, as of this moment, the Red Sox own the Yankees on the playing field. While this season will not be complete unless a championship parade winds through the cheering streets of Boston in November, for once mighty Casey struck out and those loveable losers of Yawkey Way delivered the deciding pitch.

Got Juice?

(Note: This article was published by the author on another Red Sox web site prior to the establishment of this site.)

Forty-three years ago, the nation was entranced by the battle being waged between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, two Yankee greats who spent a summer trying to reach a baseball milestone: 61 home runs. This number would be one better than Babe Ruth‘s record, one that had been preserved for 34 years. Maris eventually reached this plateau, but his record was noted with an asterisk because he had played a 162-game season, unlike Ruth who had played in a 152-game one.

Thirty-seven years later, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were credited with bringing life back into baseball when they went toe-to-toe to try and break this mark. McGwire reached the 62 home run mark in early September and, before the season ended, he had an amazing 70 round-trippers. But we remember also that, late in the season, McGwire admitted that he had been taking performance-enhancing drugs to help create those arms that looked as big as tree trunks. Eventually, the controversy was swept under the carpet and the focus turned to seeing if another could top that.

Only three years passed before we had an answer. After reaching the 500 career home run mark early in the season, Barry Bonds, the son of former player Bobby Bonds and godson of baseball legend “Say Hey” Willie Mays went on a tear and clobbered an amazing 73 home runs that season. To those who watched, his swing seemed almost effortless and the ball would sail well into upper decks and the far reaches of the stands. Before beginning his home run trot, Bonds would stay at the plate and admire the flight of the ball for a few seconds as if he were as astonished as the fans were of the power he possessed in those muscular cannons.

Now, mere weeks away from the opening of the 2004 baseball campaign, the suspicions of many have been made truth: that players, under invisible pressure in an effort to draw the crowds, have been taking steroids and other drugs to enhance their bodies and become modern-day Goliaths. This after random drug tests conducted last year confirmed that as many as five percent of those tested were juiced and after testimony in a legal case accused several baseball All-Stars of being supplied with steroids. One of those named was, sadly, Barry Bonds.

So where do we go from here? Has the game of baseball been ruined? Will the MLB suddenly find itself swept under the rug as has the XFL and the WUSA? The good news is that the baseball season has NOT been canceled at this point and that the Boston Red Sox have yet another chance to end the championship drought by season’s end, unless the New York Yankees again have the last say.

Yet perhaps this is another answer to bringing back a level playing field to the game of baseball besides the financial arguments. With the chance of being suspended from baseball either for weeks, months, or even years, perhaps some of those players will see the risk and decided that it isn’t worth it. It will also give more athletes who have played by the rules a better chance to become major-league ballplayers someday. Then, the competition will return to the field instead of being away from it; it will depend less on drugs and dangerous supplements and focus more on a natural strength and conditioning routine.

Granted, the healing process will be long and painful for baseball. There are probably many fans that, along with other reasons that have been given, will throw in the towel and no longer financially support a “tainted” game. Even those who stay, if they have not already been, will become more suspicious of a player’s ability when he steps up to the plate and jacks one into the seats. Parents may wonder further whether these athletes are good role models for the children who mimic the behavior and style of play of the professional players in the field and at the plate. Above all, the trust in these players, who have continued to proclaim their innocence, may soon be lost, whether they are guilty or not.

The players, and the game itself, must move on and shed this image as quickly as possible and bring an honest, open game back to the fans. Lessons from this must be learned and never forgotten. Several years after Maris broke the home run record, the asterisk was removed and he was given due respect for his accomplishment. Following these revelations, baseball will wear an asterisk from now until the wounds heal and the scars fade.

Moneyball, Part 1

(Note: This article was published by the author on another Red Sox web site prior to the establishment of this site.)

Who could have imagined the collective surprise of New York Yankee fans and the horror of Red Sox Nation when we picked up our Sunday papers and read that Alex Rodriguez, recently named captain of the Texas Rangers, would accept a trade to the Yankees in exchange for Alfonso Soriano (my personal Yankee favorite) and a player to be named later. Only two months before, it seemed certain that Rodriguez was coming to the Red Sox in exchange for Manny Ramirez to help bolster Boston’s chances of winning a World Series title for the first time in 86 seasons. Suddenly, the Sox brass are left to wonder if it was worth squabbling over a $4 million gap in exchange for his services. Even worse, Sox fans now wonder if this will rival the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.

While the fallout of this trade is yet to be determined, I am again saddened to think that this is yet another example of why Major League Baseball is heading down a slippery slope from which it may never recover. The Yankees’ payroll now top the majors at $190 million and the Red Sox sit in second place, a mere $65 million short of that mark. Unfortunately, official numbers are not at my disposal, but after you get past the top five, I’m willing to guess that payrolls for the rest of the teams are less than half of the Yankees’ and, past the top ten, less than half of the Red Sox’s.

Believe me, I want to see the Red Sox win a World Series title at least once before I die. 2004 may be the best chance since… well, last season… for them to do this, and, since the disappointing end to the 2003 season, the Sox have brought in players like Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke to help bolster the pitching staff, the one chink in the armor from last season. The Yankees, of course, want to win another title even more, and this trade demonstrates that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is less than satisfied with losing two of the last three World Series and will stop at nothing to stockpile his team with perennial All-Stars.

But, to paraphrase some of the Democratic candidates in this year’s election, there are the rich teams and then there are the other teams. While the Yankees, the Red Sox, and a handful of other teams continue to compete, the lesser teams fall by the wayside, having found themselves out of contention before the season begins. A team like Kansas City or Milwaukee may start the season on a hot streak, jumping ahead of the pack after a month or two, but by the time the All-Star game rolls around, these teams have been brought back down to earth and find themselves struggling to stay above .500 the rest of the way.

Just by ranking the payrolls of each team, it’s easy to see who are the haves and who are the have-nots. Teams with promising talent cannot retain them after initial contracts expire, so these players are snatched away by the big boys just to warm the bench, ready to step in when called. Other teams who find themselves with poor revenue and faced with offers of cash or other promising talent, unload what current stars they have at the trade deadline, hoping for some positive long term results that eventually fizzle.

It’s easy when you root for a big-market team like the Red Sox to underappreciate what you have. When a team can easily win 90 games or more per season, you overlook that fact and focus on the failures of the postseason. But, for what do the fans of these other teams cheer? Three-game winning streaks? All-Star selections not made to meet the quota of one-representative-per-team? Greg Vaughn bobblehead doll day? From the looks of half-empty stadiums all around baseball, it’s hard to see a reason to root, root, root for the home team.

From this, it’s easy to see why the National Football League, where parity is the flavor of the day, is swimming in the success of its popularity. True, on a cold Sunday afternoon in November, you’re more likely to be watching TV than holding a backyard barbecue or taking your boat out on the lake like you would on a summer afternoon. But, the balance in the NFL means that while your team may not make the playoffs one season, there is a good chance you will see them there next season. Thanks to a salary cap, it isn’t team spending that determines the top teams, it’s the ability to assess talent, like the New England Patriots have done, that helps to build champions.

If MLB wants to become America’s pasttime once more, I believe that it needs to do two things. To be fair, I’ve listed the most important change each side, players and owners, need to make.

1. Accept a payroll-equity solution

A luxury tax for teams over $150 million? Please! The only team that was forced to pay it after last season was… yes, the New York Yankees, and they don’t care because they have enough revenue to offset the cost. A salary cap that is within easy reach of all teams would force owners and management to start reassessing talent again and stop the big-market teams from tipping the scales. Not that a team could not afford more than a few superstars, but it’s hard to put together a quality team around these All-Stars with a weak supporting cast. The players union would, of course, be unhappy about this, but I scratch my head every time I see a second or third-tier player making $8 million or more per season; that makes no sense.

2. Hire a competent commissioner

Since Fay Vincent was forced out of office, the owners have ruined this game, no thanks in part to Bud Selig who, if not the most hated man in the baseball world, is in contention for that title. Whereas in the past, the commissioner has vetoed trades that were not felt to be in the best interest of baseball (Vida Blue, Red Sox fans?), Selig has allowed the owners to swap players with carefree glee, helping to escalate salaries and create the imbalance. Owners may be crying poverty, but when given control of the game, they were unable to agree on the best course and now they are in danger of running it aground. A stronger, independent-minded presence in this office is needed once again, as it was with Bowie Kuhn, Ford Frick, and Kenesaw Landis, to help steer baseball back on course.