Ryan O’Hanlon and Nick Lehr argue Red Sox–Yankees, philosophize about baseball as life, and make some predictions for the 2011 season that you shouldn’t put any money on.
Ryan O’Hanlon: I’m gonna be honest with you. I am a terrible baseball fan. I like the concept of Opening Day more than the actual games of Opening Day. I will not watch a full game until October. Sure, on Thursday I’ll have the TV tuned to ESPN, but I won’t be paying any attention. The only thing I remember from Opening Day of any year was Jason Heyward’s home run last year. And that’s only because I luckily tuned to ESPN right as he hit it. Also, it happened last year. I’ll probably forget that it ever happened by this time next year.
As much as I struggle to watch a full baseball game, I love reading about it and following along with the story lines. Opening Day is when we get to see all those ideas pushed in motion, climbing slowly—so slowly—toward a conclusion.
As a Yankees fan, I’m a selfish, completely self-centered, generally terrible human being. The only thing that matters to me is where we stand in relation to the Red Sox. And the Sox—for all their “Hey look at us, we’re the lovable losers!” crap—are basically on the same level with the Yankees in terms of buying a championship. They had the best offseason of any team, and that’s because they spent a ton of money.
I’ve watched my team either overpay for Rafael Soriano, or settle for guys like Colon, Prior, Andruw Jones, and Freddy Garcia. It’s put me in a weird spot. One, I don’t expect to win, so the expectations aren’t crushing for once. And two—although you’d think we were preparing for a 2002 playoff run based on the guys we signed—I feel like not everyone completely despises the Yankees for once. Now, I’m sure that won’t last more than a few minutes after the first pitch, but let me enjoy it for now.
As a Sox fan, how are you dealing with the role reversal?
Nick Lehr: First off—yes, the Red Sox spend a lot of money, but to say they buy championships on the same level that the Yankees do is like saying Burger King’s on par with McDonald’s. Sure, BK’s big and all, but there is one and only one giant—Mickey D’s, with its 250 billion hamburgers served.
The Yankees, with a projected payroll of $192 million, will be under $200 million for the first time in four years (I’m lovin’ it!). Is Hal Steinbrenner embracing his inner Calvin Griffith? Not quite—they’re still outspending the Sox, who come in second at $163 million, by nearly $30 million.
Still, with the high-profile acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, most everyone this side of Hartford is brimming with optimism. Call me cautiously hopeful. Of course, back in February I was horrified when Josh Beckett announced that this team was going to win 100 games.
If Belichick had been the coach of the Red Sox, Beckett would have showed up for work the next day, only to see a cleaned-out locker with a “Bus to Pawtucket boards at 1 p.m.” yellow sticky note adhered to it.
Because we all know what happens when players (or obese blowhards) predict a title before the season even begins.
So when pages like this crop up on Facebook, and just about every pseudo-analyst has the Sox facing the Phillies in the World Series, well, can you see why I’m worried?
Let me temper the overblown expectations a bit. Clearly, the Sox improved their offense with Crawford and Gonzalez. The thing is, the Sox ranked second in Major League Baseball in runs scored last season—and that’s with Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Youkilis spending significant portions of the season on the disabled list. In their absence, Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez—both gone via free agency—picked up the slack, so scoring runs was never the problem.
Instead, shoddy, inconsistent pitching doomed the team—an area only marginally addressed this past offseason. Though Jon Lester continued his ascension, cementing his status as one of the game’s elite, and Clay Buchholz had a breakthrough season, all one has to do is look at the peripherals to see that Buchy got a wee bit lucky. Meanwhile, the performance of the $18-million men, John Lackey and Josh Beckett, wavered between average (Lackey) and ugly (an injury-plagued Beckett). Daisuke Matsuzaka? The Fenway Faithful have already loaded up on D-cell batteries, prepping for another season of maddeningly long at-bats and astronomical pitch counts from the enigmatic righty. For the Sox to even come close to a title, they’ll need to significantly improve upon their 4.20 (siiick) team ERA, which was 21st in baseball.
Don’t get me wrong—the pieces are in place—but as with any championship team, a lot of things have to go right. More often than not, luck is the deciding factor, and the title goes to the team that can both stay healthy and peak at the right time (I’m looking at you, San Francisco Giants).
I know it’s sometimes hard to fathom, but there are 28 other teams in the Major Leagues and one of them will probably win the World Series instead of the Sox or Yankees. Who do you think could shock the pundits and be this year’s Giants?
P.S.: Everyone still hates the Yankees.
RO: All right, I’ll stop lying to myself. The Yankees offseason was awful. They botched the Jeter re-signing. Cashman has no power. And we’re relying on a bunch of guys I would’ve wanted on my fantasy team in 2003 to bring this team back to the World Series. They’re not underdogs by choice. They’re underdogs because they screwed up. But, still, it’s a different feeling heading into the season. And I’ll take that for now.
I’m glad that crippling self-doubt is already starting to creep into the minds of Sox fans. By the end of the season, you guys—like everyone else—won’t be able to stand yourselves.
As for the surprise team, let me say the Brewers … for no other reason than I selfishly want to see them do well. Back when Sabathia wasn’t winning trophies for the Yankees and Milwaukee was actually good, the stadium was buzzing. Milwaukee fans are awesome when you give them something to cheer about. It could be the last year for Prince Fielder, so this could be it as far as this golden—eh, more like copper—generation goes in Wisconsin. Plus, they brought in Zack Greinke. If you don’t root for, your heart is made of coal (he has a bad social anxiety disorder). As long as he recovers from the ribs he broke playing basketball during spring training (how does that happen?), I like to think they’ve got a shot to lose to the Phillies in the playoffs.
NL: I think you mentioned this earlier, and I want to touch on how unique the baseball season is, versus any other sport. The epic journey of a 162-game season is unparalleled: there are the daily story lines, and night after night, whether you’re out at a bar or hanging at home, the game’s always on. Sure, you might not intently watch every pitch, but if there’s a lull in conversation, Jerry Remy’s voice drones on. It’s just chill, a comforting, perpetual presence, and there’s no greater feeling than when, after a couple months of awkwardly searching for an identity, the team goes on its first hot streak and becomes whole.
On the one hand you have teams like the Brewers, Marlins, and A’s—squads in smaller markets loaded with great, young talent (OK, I admit it, I’m obsessed with Brett Anderson; plus, year after year, the A’s have the best TV ads). If any of these teams pull off any sort of run, I’m in (until they play the Sox, of course).
And then there are the disasters—bumbling franchises with inept ownership, management, coaching, or a combination of all three (Mets, Cubs, and Mariners). Watching these doomed teams, with their bloated payrolls, aging rosters, and barren farm systems, is like watching the Hindenburg: a slow, gradual, 162-game implosion (at least the Pirates have Andrew McCutchen and a rushed-too-quickly-to-the-majors-so-he’ll-flounder Pedro Alvarez). I sorta feel sorry for the fans—but then I remember the little moments. Like when the Cubbies signed knee-cartilage-deficient Alfonso Soriano to a monster $136 million contract, and at school all their fans were all up in my face about how they had just signed the cornerstone to their budding dynasty. Yeah, uh, no …
While you’d like to hope people would focus solely on what’s happening between the lines—and it should be plenty interesting—I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to some good ol’ off-field drama. Like a tweener hotly anticipating this week’s episode of Teen Mom 2 (Tuesdays, 10/9 p.m. central), I’m loving each and every revelation from the Bonds trial (apparently Bonds told former mistress Kimberly Bell that he would “cut out her implants because he paid for them”—like, what?). For those who say this is all a waste of taxpayer money, keep in mind that we’re supporting small businesses like TMZ, while single-handedly propping up the career of Mark Fainaru-Wada. Plus you can’t lie to Uncle Sam and expect to get away with it!
Clemens comes in July, and we should keep our eyes on the divorce saga of Frank McCourt and his estranged wife, Jamie, a.k.a. the illest Housewife of Orange County, who retained partial ownership of the Dodgers according to a judge’s ruling back in December.
But that’s all in the future, and I have a real decision to make before Friday: I need a new T-shirt jersey, and I’ve narrowed my choices down to Jon Lester (cancer survivor, cornerstone of the franchise), Clay Buchholz (who wears #11, my favorite number), and Tim Wakefield (could he finally do it?). The only ones I already have are Manny, Keith Foulke, Tek, and Carl Everett (should I frame this?), so the field’s wide open. I’m really indecisive, so who better than a Yankees fan to make the decision for me.
RO: I am honored to be entrusted with such a privilege. You have to go with Wakefield. First, he wears #49, which is so ridiculous in so many different ways. You can’t logically explain to me how anyone could actually pick that number. Two: there’s like a 3 percent chance he becomes the all-time wins leader for the Sawks. C: everyone in Boston will have a Bucholz or Lester jersey within two years. And last, Tim Wakefield is every Yankees fan’s favorite Red Sock (Sox?).
And I think Wakefield, being a knuckleballer who has a worse arm than Shawn Johnson, ties in nicely with the point you’re making. What’s so great about baseball is that it’s so massive and so inclusive.
One hundred and sixty-two games per team. Thirty teams. And then three more teams for each club. There is something in baseball for everyone. Whatever storyline you want, you can find it somewhere. If you wanna hear about the shrinking testicles of one of the game’s greatest players, we’ve got that. A criminal Ponzi scheme crippling a once-decent franchise? Here you go. Hell, there’s a bullpen coach on the Diamondbacks who’s famous for eating his own vomit. If you’re into that kinda stuff, there’s even a place for you.
Really, the sport welcomes anyone. At any time, you can go out and have a catch as long as you’ve got a ball. Other sports aren’t like this … they’re a bit more removed from every day life. Baseball is every day. We talk about going to a baseball game, saying we’ll “spend the day at the ballpark.” I’m not gonna go spend a day at the Meadowlands or Madison Square Garden. And of all the major sports it’s the most accommodating. You can still get cheap seats in the bleachers at most stadiums. In the NFL or NBA, that’s not happening.
That’s why I’m more attracted to the concept of the sport than the actual sport. It embeds itself in our lives, every day, from April to October. There’s so much of it that it’s hard to get excited for an afternoon game in July between the Yankees and the Mariners. Sure, I can get excited about hanging out in the sun with some friends, drinking a few beers, and eating gourmet Belgian French fries (wait, Belgian French fries?), but I’m not excited about what’s actually happening on the field. Baseball is bigger than the game—and not in the way that we say that about the NFL and its bloated business. I don’t wanna call it a lifestyle, but rather, it’s a part of the American life. All other sports—save for soccer, but that’s another 3,000-word story—are a diversion from it.
Anyway, here are some things I’m wondering about going into the season. Feel free to ignore, answer, or call me an idiot.
Why does Evan Longoria have an AK-47? Are the Rays trying to become the Red Sox? Will the Twins are make the playoffs and continue on as the most boring team in sports? Would Brian Wilson be able to be so friggin’ weird if he sucked? When will the Cardinals trade Pujols to the Yankees? Does it scare you that at some point this season the Phillies rotation could read: Lee Halladay Oswalt? Did Lee Harvey O. kill JFK or was it those guys on the grassy knoll? It wouldn’t be a shock of neither the Giants nor the Rangers made the playoffs, right? Did that World Series even happen?
NL: Wakefield, nice. I’ll proudly wear #49 as the ageless legend fades into the sunset, though I had forgotten (suppressed?) why Yanks fans became so enamored of him. Thanks for the reminder.
You’re absolutely right, baseball really does welcome everyone. It’s the only sport where you can rip butts in the dugout, throw no-hitters while tripping on acid, and pitch perfect games when hungover. The clinically obese can win a Cy Young, and little people can win MVP awards (OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but seriously, an actual midget, Eddie Gaedel, did have an at-bat with the St. Louis Browns. He walked). If you can throw or hit a baseball well, you’re welcomed with open arms, from 17-year-old softball stars in New Zealand, to 35-year-old science teachers, to 18-year-old female Japanese knuckleballers. While baseball does have a dark legacy of racism, today it’s the most diverse of any of the four major sports, with 26 percent of its players born outside of the United States and Canada.
But yeah, I’m miffed by the whole Giants World Series win. For years their largely indifferent fan base blindly followed Barry Bonds’ home run quest, and GM Brian Sabean’s strategy consisted of overpaying old guys past their prime. Last season he signed a bunch of old guys past their prime, they squeaked into the playoffs playing in the weakest division in baseball, and then somehow pulled it off (sure, they do have a solid, young pitching staff).
Then I went to San Francisco a few weeks ago, and it was weird, because all of a sudden people were wearing Giants hats, and then there was this big mural of Brian Wilson and Tim Lincecum in North Beach, and then in the sub shop I went into, someone had painted a huge “SF” logo on the wall. Now, I’ll admit it, “Red Sox Nation” grew exponentially after the 2004 World Series. But at least there was a large, dedicated fan base to build upon.
Because when I was just starting out at school in the Bay Area, during those awkward introductions with dormmates, upon hearing they were from the city, I’d bring up baseball. The exchange usually went something like this:
“So are you a Giants fan?”
“Barry Bonds didn’t do steroids.”
“OK, uh, do you ever go to games?”
“My dad has a luxury suite at Candlestick. And Barry Bonds didn’t do steroids.”
Not surprisingly, I found myself more drawn to A’s fans, who displayed a much greater appreciation for the game.
So, to answer your question, yes, the Giants World Series win was a fluke, and yes, their fans do suck. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
That said, I do like Brian Wilson, though I don’t think he’d be getting anywhere near the publicity if he weren’t any good. But the two go hand-in-hand—the guy needed to become great in order to get away with the antics, because salty, chain-smoking Triple A manager Sparky Cox isn’t about to let some unproven kid dye his beard and tell reporters he’s a certified ninja.
I’m sure a lot of ballplayers are clinically insane, but the closer is the only position where you’re afforded the opportunity to express it. The modern closer gets to choose a sweet intro song, is expected to do some crazy dance or first pump after each save, and is supposed to be/act like the most intense, unstable guy on the field. We could thank Charlie Sheen’s portrayal of Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn for all of this, but that would be doing a disservice to Dick “The Monster” Radatz and Al Hrabosky, a.k.a. “The Mad Hungarian.”
Clearly, Evan Longoria and his AK-47 are elevating the moniker “citizen-patriot” to a whole new level. Is it any coincidence Florida’s crime rate has hit a 39-year low? It’s just a shame he didn’t go American-made. Finally, if you haven’t bought into the Waves Forest JFK assassination explanation, you’ve been living under a rock:
Microbes flourish best in the oxygen-poor urban centers where most of the world’s political power is concentrated. The microbes have parasitically influenced the brains of the business-political establishment. Now every time a progressive politician or cultural figure arises who might change the status quo, i.e., slow down the race to denude the earth, the establishment perceives that figure as a threat. An assassination is arranged. The point … is that the de-greening of the earth can only benefit anaerobic organisms in the long run, so they must be in on it.
RO: Wow. Now that I know the Waves Forest explanation, my life is basically complete. As long as I see the Loch Ness Monster at some point, I can die a happy man. Everything makes sense now! Also, I just moved out from under my rock and am comfortably back in my parents’ house.
So at the risk of whatever readers have made it this far falling asleep or dying of old age before this ends, I’ll jump into my predictions for the season.
- AL East: Red Sox (Kill me.)
- AL Central: Twins (Wake me up when they win a playoff series.)
- AL West: Rangers (They’re just mediocre enough to hold off the A’s.)
- AL Wildcard: Los Yanquis (Hopefully they play the Twins.)
- AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez (Again, kill me.)
- AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander (This will be huge for everyone who sort of has red hair.)
To be honest, until the National League stops having pitchers hit, I don’t have much use for them. Guys should not be allowed to wear windbreakers while they’re playing. But whatever.
- NL East: Mets. Just kidding. Phillies (I hate them almost as much as Boston.)
- NL Central: Brewers (But seriously, who cares?)
- NL West: Rockies (I love Coors Field.)
- NL Wildcard: Braves (Sure, why not?)
- NL MVP: Ryan Braun (He’s five years older, but I’m pretty sure his parents named him after me.)
- NL Cy Young: Josh Johnson (The best pitcher in the majors who should be named John.)
World Series: Red Sox over Phillies
My thinking here is that this is the absolute worst-case scenario. As long as this doesn’t happen, I’ll be happy. And if it does, it means I predicted it correctly. Basically, I can’t lose. Unless, the Phillies beat the Red Sox, which would be terrible. Can I predict two scenarios?
NL: Yeah, if you’ve made it this far, you’re either insanely bored at work or my Aunt Judith (Love you!).
- AL East: Yankees (Ivan Nova, 2011 Cy Young runner-up, you heard it here first.)
- AL Central: White Sox (If Peavy returns to form, watch out.)
- AL West: A’s (Second-best rotation in baseball.)
- AL Wild Card: Red Sox (Squeak in after a one-game playoff vs. Twins.)
- AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera (David Wells understudy poised for big season.)
- AL Cy Young: Francisco Liriano (OK, I admit it, he’s on my fantasy team.)
And the senior circuit …
- NL East: Phillies (Dear Cliff Lee, thank you for spurning those assholes.)
- NL Central: Cardinals (Prince Albert’s last hurrah.)
- NL West: Rockies (Flip a four-sided coin in this division.)
- NL Wild Card: Reds (Come on, make Chapman a starter. Remember how good Prior and Strasburg were?)
- NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez (The one who got away …)
- NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay (So sick.)
World Series: Mets over Yankees—oh wait, I don’t have the Mets making the playoffs, so, uhhh, Phillies over Yankees.
OK, I’ll come clean—I’m just trying to jinx the shit out of the Yankees (I mean, have you seen the ESPN.com predictions? They’re just absurd). All I have to say is, if Carl Crawford doesn’t have 30 stolen bases and Adrian Gonzalez doesn’t have 15 home runs by the end of April, things are gonna get pretty ugly in Boston …
Boston native Nick Lehr is a recent graduate of Stanford University, where he earned a degree in American Studies with a minor Creative Writing. While his fellow students concerned themselves with theses and campus activities, Nick concentrated on his one true passion: Guitar Hero. The hard work paid off; in February 2007, he was crowned campus-wide champion, winning a $100 Amazon.com gift certificate.
Ryan O’Hanlon is the sports editor and a blog editor for the Good Men Project. He used to play soccer and go to college. He’s still trying to get over it.
—Photo AP/Elise Amendola; Photo AP; Photo AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez