OVAH THE MONSTAH
where previously the Yankees devastated Molly's dreams of the end of a curse...
Winter in New England is long, cold, and many times rough. It essentially follows the baseball off-season - November through March. It was fixing to be an especially tough winter in November of 2003 with plenty of time to hibernate inside wondering what could have been and why the Sox had once again fallen short in heartbreaking fashion in the post season. Truth be told, I was angry and disgusted.
Apparently, so were several members of the Sox organization – Theo (Epstein who was chosen as GM – all 28 years of him) & The Trio (the Ownership group of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino) who had powers over retaining staff. Manager Grady Little was not retained. Technically, he was not fired. The Sox simply did not pick up the option for another year as skipper on his contract. He guided the 2003 Sox to 95 wins, the AL Wild Card berth, and 5 outs away from the World Series. That would be the resumé of a keeper in logical land, but in Sox Nation, 5 OUTS AWAY is a tough pill to swallow. And that’s what got him “fired.”
So – the search was on. And God help the next Manager. Lots of names were bandied about and interviews began. But there was another piece of business in the works. The Sox decided to place gazillion dollar Left Fielder, Manny Ramirez, on Irrevocable Waivers. i.e. anybody that wants him and his exorbitant salary could have him! The Sox had their fill of Manny and the contract former free-spending GM Dan Duquette had doled out after the 2000 season when he was a free agent with Cleveland. The contract didn’t fit the new ownership’s business plan. They also didn’t like Manny’s disregard for the media and convenient excuses to beg out of the All Star game each year. But he pushed the envelope the prior season by being ill enough to keep him off the playing field and miss a team doctor appointment, but well enough to dine with a Yankee opponent the night before. But no one took the Waiver bait. So the Sox had no Manager and a public attempt at abandoning a consistent and solid slugger who was overpaid by prior management. Things were not looking good.
However, during Thanksgiving weekend of 2003, the Sox gave themselves a huge shot in the arm by courting, and getting, power pitcher Curt Schilling. The youngest GM in MLB history, Theo Epstein, even went to the Schilling home in Arizona himself and sacrificed his own Turkey Day with family to spend it with the Schillings instead. They worked out a deal there and then and Curt became a Sox – again – rejoining the team he had begun his minor league career with. He said in his press conference that he “guessed he hated the Yankees now” which endeared him to Sox fans instantly. Although, since he and Randy Johnson had defeated the Yankees in the 2001 World Series as teammates and co-MVP’s on the Arizona Diamondbacks, I figured he hadn’t cared much for the Yankees to begin with.
This was huge! The Sox were bolstering their starting pitching. Two Aces in one rotation meant everything! Pedro and Curt would be like Randy and Curt on the Diamondbacks, and hope sprung up amongst the early snow.
Schilling’s Manager during an earlier part of his career with the Phillies was Terry Francona. Francona’s record was miserable. He had not managed in the Majors since, but most recently had been the Bench Coach of the Oakland A’s. When Sox management decided to hire Francona as their next Manager not long after signing Schilling, most people felt that Schilling had something to do with it. Curt had nothing but glowing things to say about “Tito.” So there were lots of assumptions that the dealmaker between Schilling and the Sox was that they hire Francona to be their next Manager. This was flatly denied by all parties.
One thing there was no denying was that the Sox were still trying to move Manny’s salary off of their payroll. Not having been successful in tempting anyone via the Waiver strategy, they next attempted a trade. Somebody somewhere was happy to leak all kinds of details about trade talks between the Sox and the Texas Rangers. When you are trying to get rid of the 2nd highest player in baseball, probably the only people who can afford him are the ones paying the highest paid player in baseball. This player, of course, was Alex Rodriguez.
The trade involved sending Manny to Texas for A-Rod. However, since Alex was commonly known as one of the best Shortstops to ever play the position, it was unlikely that he would suddenly switch to Left Field to fill Manny’s defensive spot. This potential trade horrified me because it would have a direct impact on my beloved Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra’s fate with the Sox. I also didn’t understand how taking on a salary larger than Manny’s would improve the payroll. Plus, A-Rod’s contract was a few years longer than Manny’s.
The next leak out to the press was that the Sox were also talking to the Chicago White Sox about (gasp!) trading Nomar for outfielder Magglio Ordoňez. This at least explained the Sox vision to replace Manny’s outfield position. And Magglio was a good hitter. But I still didn’t see how A-Rod and Magglio were going to replace Manny and Nomar’s offensive production. It might be close, but the money figures still didn’t seem to make all of this re-mixing a vast payroll improvement.
Lots of news reports were coming out about the offer the Sox had made to Nomar before the previous season that he and his agent had turned down. Nomar’s contract was up at the end of the next season and if he couldn’t be signed, the Sox weren’t going to let him just walk when they could get something in return for him via a trade before then. During all of this flurry of news reports, speculation and rumor, Nomar was stewing out in Hawaii on his honeymoon with Soccer Star Mia Hamm. So much so, that he called in the Boston Sports Talk Radio station, WEEI, to talk about everything.
Nomie said he wanted to stay. He disputed all reports to the contrary. He loved Boston so much that he and his new wife had just bought themselves a home in the area. The only team he had ever played for was the Sox. It was all he had ever known in his professional MLB career. He loved the fans more than anything. He pored his heart into giving back to the community that pored its heart out to him when he was on the field. He didn’t understand why he was learning about all of this via the news just like the rest of us instead of hearing something directly from the Sox. He said his agent, on his behalf, had countered the Sox offer the prior spring and the Sox had not responded since. There had been no presence of a typical contract negotiation from them whatsoever. He was asked if he was willing to switch positions in order to stay if A-Rod did in fact get traded to the Sox. Nomie didn’t give an answer. His response was that if the team asked he would address it with them. He was asked if this was a tough time for him. He said that it was the greatest moment in his life – he was celebrating his recent marriage with the love of his life.
The A-Rod trade was nixed by Bud Selig as Commissioner of MLB. The deal was created with Alex taking a pay cut and even giving back some of his money to the Rangers. He was SO desperate to leave Loserville in Texas. He had left Seattle for THE MONEY. Now that he had THE MONEY, but not any championships, he decided that he didn’t need all that money after all if it meant he could get somewhere else with a team that had a better shot for success. Poor Alex. Should have thought about that before he left Seattle for THE MONEY. Selig’s point was, A-Rod didn’t have the right to deduct his pay – this would jeopardize the Player’s Association agreement or something. What it boiled down to was there was no way MLB was going to let A-Rod take a pay cut to relieve himself of a situation that was not unfair to begin with. The Sox were given the opportunity to make the trade equal financially so that A-Rod was not overall going to end up earning less. The Sox declined. Months were wasted over the deal, the ramifications of which left two players still on the Sox that they had tried to trade away, who were major contributors to the team, needing to come back and be team players again after this very public mess.
Valentine’s Day is supposed to be filled with love and romance. But February 14th of 2004 was nothing but cold revenge. After the Sox spent months trying to get the A-Rod deal done, only to have it squashed, the Yankees completed a deal with the same Texas Rangers in a matter of days that brought A-Rod to the Yankees in exchange for some cash and young talented 2nd Baseman Alfonso Soriano. WHAT?!! The Rangers had just named A-Rod their “Captain” a few weeks earlier. And now he was going to the rival Yankees? What about Jeter – the Captain of the Yankees as well as their own prized Shortstop?
Remember Evil Aaron Boone, the Yankees 3rd Baseman, who whacked Wakefield’s pitch for the game winning homer in Game 7 just a few months prior to propel the Yankees to the World Series, and sent the Sox home packing? Well, this same jamoke hurt himself playing pick-up basketball during the winter which suddenly left the Yankees with an opening for an infielder. Enter A-Rod. Still looking to do anything he could do to get out from his contract with a losing team, A-Rod agreed to give up his surely guaranteed place as the greatest Shortstop ever in MLB history to play 3B wearing pinstripes. Derek Jeter was the Yankees Captain. But he was not the better defensive Shortstop. No matter. A-Rod would learn a new position for the 2004 season said the Yankees. This was not a good development for the Sox in any way.
The Sox countered with their last major move of the off-season. They heavily courted free-agent Closer Keith Foulke from the A’s. It certainly helped that the A’s former Bench Coach, Terry Francona, was now the Sox Manager. It also helped that Foulke was a huge fan of hockey. The Bruins must have drawn lots of interest from Foulke, them being one of the original NHL teams. Yet strangely, he was seen at a Boston Celtics NBA game being schmoozed by Theo. It took a while, as Keith and his agent weighed all the various teams and their offers, but eventually he signed with the Sox. I personally think it was because of the Boston hockey tradition.
Spring Training in Ft. Myers, FL provided plenty of material for the press covering the Grapefruit League in 2004:
next week, THE TEMPLATE, in which Molly watches with glee as Jason Varitek sticks it to A-Rod to spark a mediocre season...