|Fantasy baseball, my way.
||[Jul. 23rd, 2006|11:06 pm]
I am told, by the enlightened likes of yankees.com and Brian Cashman, that it isn't fair for the press and the fans to lambaste Alex Rodriguez while praising David Wright of the Mets, because they're posting similar numbers. Cashman and company insist that we're all just taking out our frustration with the Yankees being in second place on poor, defenseless Alex, who means well but keeps getting his feelings hurt by the mean old newspapermen, and that Wright is only being praised because the Mets are in first place.
First, consider this: the Mets and the Yankees are, themselves, posting similar numbers: 59-39 to the Yankees' 56-40, and yet the Yankees are struggling to keep up with Boston while the Mets have left Atlanta 13 games in the dust. Would anybody honestly say it's unfair to the Yankees that they don't get to be in first place too? Better yet, look at it this way: does that mean that if the NL East were a stronger division, rather like the AL East, Wright would be castigated the way E-Rod/Double-Play-Rod/K-Rod is?
Or could it, perhaps, using the apologists' convention of nomenclature, be like this:
Player A is a 12-year veteran making $25 million a year who has repeatedly been lauded as the best player in the history of baseball, stumbling through the worst season of his career and looking so utterly lost on the field that it's not hard to imagine this is just the beginning of a long and ugly decline into mediocrity. Player A, in short, might just be on his way down.
Player B is in his second year, making $400,000. His performance has improved over last year, and indeed has improved relatively steadily over his two seasons, leading many observers to believe he will only continue to improve as he matures. Player B, I'm fairly certain, is on his way up.
Yes, you guessed it. Player A is Alex Rodriguez and Player B is David Wright.
Let's look at it another way. Imagine this (it's easy if you try): In year X, the New York Yankees finish at 82-80, fifteen games behind the Red Sox and six back of Toronto. Baltimore, it seems has imploded altogether as they've dropped to last place. That leaves the much maligned Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the floor on which the AL East has stood every year except one since 1998. At 81-79, they are a game behind the Yankees in the win column, but thanks to a rainout and an incident where Tropicana Field was overrun by senior citizens demanding softer food at the concessions, they are effectively tied, both a half game ahead and a half game behind.
Tampa Bay is lauded as one of the great sports stories of year X. Having never won more than 70 games in a year before, let alone topped .500, the Rays have finished their first-ever winning campaign in a statistical tie with the mighty Yankees. Besides being 11 wins better than their previous high water mark, this year's record is a 14-game improvement over last year's. Devil Ray Mania floods the Tampa Bay region (better than Tampa Bay flooding the Tampa Bay region) and hopes are high for the future, as this unloved ballclub and its scrappy group of young players have finally come into their own.
The Yankees are lambasted in the New York papers as well as in the national press. What a falling off was there! The Stink-ees underachieved their way, despite the greatest amalgamation of talent ever hired at one time, to a record one paltry game over .500 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. What happened? The baseball gods are not pleased. Neither is George Steinbrenner, who has a classic Boss Conniption(TM) and fires the entire coaching staff and unloads half his players, deciding to replace them with a whole new class of aging underachievers. Barry Bonds and company will bring star power to Yankee Field at Stadium Crossing Presented by Tampax, but there's little hope of a return to the Bombers' pinstriped prowess in the 1990s and early 2000s any time soon, because Steinbrenner will have mortgaged the team's future for the next 20 years during his temper tantrum.
The Yankees are a laughingstock, and the Devil Rays are the toast of baseball.
Is this unfair? I think not. Expectations and past performance are the only way to judge anyone's performance, especially in sports. The year-X Yankees were expected to be contenders as is normal for a Yankee club in recent years, and the Devil Rays were likewise expected to stink up the AL East as they normally do. It's only natural for the team ascendant to be praised while the one descendant is assigned blame. The same is true of players, and has been since time immemorial. It is true of actors, politicians, and others in the public eye just the same. No one made it so. It's human nature. If Alex's apologists would like human nature to change so that #13 can stop being a curse on the Yankees, I think it will be a long wait for the boobirds to migrate out of the Bronx.