When will they learn?

Danger Will Robinson, Danger! OK, let me start off by saying that I like Theo Epstein. I’ve agreed with most of the moves he’s made, even some of the ones that did not work out in the end. For instance, I was a huge proponent of the Eric Gagne trade. I thought it would be great. In the end, I found myself yelling “Thanks anyway Eric” to him as he drove by during the World Series victory parade. The deal wound up being disastrous, but it seemed great at the time. In my mind, Theo doesn’t take a hit for that one. But frankly, the Billy Wagner signing is just plain idiotic.

Let’s look at some of the injury-recovering pitchers we’ve signed over the last few years:

1) Wade Miller, 2005: great stats before coming to Boston, then he got hurt, came here, and went 4 and 4 with an ERA approaching 5 (4.95). A good signing: not on your life.

2) Eric Gagne, 2007:  once again, lots of saves before coming here, then promptly blew as many games as he held and had an ERA over 6.5. A complete disaster that nearly cost us the division (thankfully, we only used him for mop-up duty in the postseason).

3) Brad Penny

and

4) John Smoltz: both of these were quality pitchers who’ve gone on to have incredibly disappointing seasons with us this year. Smoltz is already gone, and Penny has finally been booted from the rotation.

The conclusion is obvious: injury-recovering pitchers who come to Boston just do not succeed. It just doesn’t happen. The only time it ever works is if the pitcher gets hurt while IN Boston, like Curt Schilling or Tim Wakefield. Otherwise, the pressure and expectations are just too high.

So keeping all that in mind, what the hell was Theo thinking when he signed Billy Wagner? The guy has the same pedigree as John Smoltz: all star, highly-regarded reliever, relatively cheap price, recovering from major surgery, needs to be eased back into the bullpen. And Smoltz didn’t even make 10 starts. He had an ERA over 8. This has the makings of a total disaster.

I’m very surprised that Theo Epstein made this move. It seems short-sighted, and it’s already causing problems. Papelbon is completely against it, even if he retracted some of his more inflammatory statements on the matter. He said he’s looking forward to working with Wagner, but frankly I think he only said that after management yelled at him to do so. This is like Smoltz plus Gagne rolled into one package, which is then thrown off of a cliff.

The sad thing is, I really feel that the Sox are good enough to make the playoffs as is. The offense is firing on all cylinders, we’re about to get Wakefield back, and the bullpen remains as strong as ever (when they’re not being overburdened by short stars from the rotation). If the Sox fall out of contention for the wild card, and bullpen issues are the reason, it is my belief that we’ll look back on the Billy Wagner signing and simply wonder “why?” I hope to God I’m wrong about this.

Managers and Trainers

Just finished “All the Way to the Grave,” by Frank Graham. It’s a retrospective piece on Joe Gould, manager for former heavyweight champion Jim Braddock. If you saw the Braddock movie, “Cinderella Man” (and I recommend that you do), he was the guy played by Paul Giamatti, one of my favorite character actors. The essential point of the story is that Joe Gould was a man who staked his life on the success of another man and never wavered in his commitment to him. This commitment was rewarded with a lifelong friendship, one that continued “all the way to the grave,” with the final sentence talking about Jim Braddock attending Gould’s funeral. It was a short, sweet, sentimental piece about a not particularly well-known figure in sports.

I had just finished a couple of other essays on boxing when I read this one, and it was kind of interesting to think about the relationship between the boxer and the manager, the athlete and his trainer. It’s a fascinating relationship, the support staff and the athlete. Essentially you have a person who believes in another person so seriously that he or she is willing to give everything s/he has to that person in the hopes that that person succeeds in a way that the trainer never can. It takes guts, maybe even a bit of heroism. And for every athlete who makes it there are so many more who don’t. And they too need trainers and managers, people willing to work for them and with them DESPITE the lack of success, hoping the athlete finally turns it around and makes it in some way. That takes a level of commitment that I don’t know if I personally have.

What must it have been like for Joe Gould when Braddock’s career began to decline during the Great Depression? How trying must it have been to watch Braddock reduced to dock work and government relief? How hard must it have been for Joe Gould to stick with his man, despite what I’m sure were opportunities elsewhere? We know from the movie, and confirmed by this article, that Joe Gould lost nearly as much as Braddock did with the onset of the Depression. He was forced to sell off most of his possessions, sleeping on the floor of his apartment and just trying to keep up the appearance of wealth so as to keep his career alive. And yet his belief and love for Jim Braddock must never have waned, because he stuck with him through all the trying times. This was rewarded with a lifelong friendship, not to mention the resurgence of Braddock’s career, leading all the way to a world heavyweight championship.

History will remember Jim Braddock, to at least a certain degree. But history will barely remember Joe Gould. He was just another manager, a man whose entire livelihood was out of his control. All of it lay with another man. And that takes a phenomenal degree of courage. Joe Gould decided that his career was going to rest entirely with another man’s success or failure, and just prayed that it would work out for the both of them. In this case, it did.

Lester, Brady, and Boston Sports

I watched half of the Red Sox game, half of the Patriots Game, and I thought I’d spend half of my time writing about each. First off the Red Sox. At the moment I write this, they’re beating the Blue Jays 7-1. Jon Lester is starting to really round into shape this season. He pitched extraordinarily well, retiring ten Blue Jays in a row at one point. But more than that, he was able to pitch in situations when the pressure was on. In the first inning, he loaded the bases with none out. He didn’t panic however, inducing a pretty standard double play to limit the damage to just the one run. Later on, when he gave up a single in the sixth, he once again buckled down and got the batter to ground into a nice easy double play. With every start by him I gain more confidence that he can handle the pressure of the postseason (which I still think we’ll make), go up against the tough pitchers he will have to face, and rise to the occassion.

Offensively, the Sox looked great. When J.D. Drew is hitting, it just adds a whole new dimension to our offense and makes the lineup so much deeper and dangerous. Mike Lowell is also showing little signs of age, and Victor Martinez has definitely stepped into the limelight of the Boston sports scene. He has been unbelievable. The best part is how comfortable he looks. The move from Cleveland to Boston seems to have effected him very little. And he can just flat out hit better than Varitek can. He is still getting on the same page with his pitchers, but he is definitely competent at calling games. I love having his bat in the lineup and hope he can do as much damage in the postseason as he’s done so far.

The Pats are a little harder to judge because they took all of their good players out after about a quarter. But I was very impressed with the defense while they were on the field. They looked good stopping the run and were able to get good pressure on the Bengals’ quarterback. I know the defense seemed a little slow last year, and I think the front office did a good job drafting and choosing free agents that enabled their defense to speed up a little bit.

Offensively, they were kind of a mixed bag. I was kinda intrigued by Fred Taylor, who I’ve always liked as a running back. I thought he looked great, penetrating the front line well and gaining positive yardage with every carry. His partner in crime, Laurence Maroney, continues to disappoint me. I was so impressed with his speed when he first came onto the scene, but a combination of injury and an inability to run vertically has left him as kind of an underachiever. Meanwhile, Brady didn’t throw enough for me to really get a feel for him. And his backups all are just that: backups. All in all, I’m of course excited for the start of football, but it’s too soon to tell if the team will be any good. All I know is the fall is coming, and that means more Boston sports!

How Did Brad Darrach Do It?

I finished Brad Darrach’s essay on Bobby Fischer and the complete debacle that was getting him to Iceland for his famous match against Boris Spassky. It’s definitely an interesting read. Part of Darrach’s success as a sports writer must have come from his sheer storytelling abilities. His tale reads like an action movie, complete with chase scenes, fights, espionage, long arguments, deception and intrigue. Despite it being a long essay, it flew by. But it left me with a very interesting question: why did Bobby Fischer talk to Brad Darrach in the first place?

It’s a question that, as a sports writer-wannabe, is certainly worth discovering the answer to. In my career I am prepared to be tossed into a pit filled with other lions, all of them clawing at the same one or two gladiators that I am trying. We’re all trying to get the same stories, the same quotes, the same understanding of the same players. And just like in a gladiatorial arena, the athletes are going to fight back. They might not have spears, but they will treat us with disdain, hostility, frustration, and anger. On occasion they may even react violently. So how does one break through?

Bobby Fischer hated the press, and he was stone-terrified of them. Darrach regales us with the thrilling chase scenes between Bobby and the press through the streets of New York and through to Kennedy Airport, with some of his entourage effectively sacrificing themselves to allow Bobby extra moments for escape. It would seem Bobby was as anti-press as any professional athlete. And yet when Darrach calls him, Bobby responds kindly, asking him about the weather, the state of his competition, and just generally shooting the breeze with him. Somehow Brad Darrach figured out a way to break through Bobby Fischer’s defenses and get him to open up. And as a chess player, you’ve got to figure Bobby Fischer had some pretty strong defenses.

The key factor that seemed to help Darrach was the distance between him and Fischer. He is not one of the hounds dogging Fischer’s every step, but rather maintains his distance throughout his encounters with Fischer (at least during the time this article covers). They speak primarily over the phone, and Darrach goes to great lengths just talking to the many members of Fischer’s entourage so as to minimize the need to talk to Fischer himself. Perhaps this suggests that the key to getting through to athletes, to getting them to open up, is to not press any particular issue. I’ve noticed this in many of the articles I’ve read so far. Gay Tallese and Richard Ben Cramer, in their exposes on Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, respectively, never have any luck when they try to get their subjects to discuss something specific. They only succeeded when they just let the subjects ramble on. The same thing happens to Darrach when he tries to focus Bobby on his competition, although Bobby cuts off the call primarily because he discovers he is being eavesdropped upon. So keeping distance is certainly key.

Another key factor may be in recognizing that some of a professional athlete’s paranoia is based in reality (like Bobby Fischer’s). Athletes ARE hounded, and the press is constantly after them for one thing or another. So as a journalist, the key to breaking through to athletes is to create a comfortable environment for them, one where they feel their guardedness and paranoia is unnecessary. Darrach knew this, and he was able to break through to one of the most fascinating gamesmen of our time.

Ted Williams and Sports Heroes

I read an essay today by Richard Ben Cramer called “What do you think of Ted Williams now?” It’s a similar essay to Gay Tallese’s piece on Joe DiMaggio, showing us how different professional athletes are from how they sometimes appear to be in their public personas. And in that regard, the title of the piece works on two levels. The phrase is an expression Ted Williams repeats over and over again throughout his conversations with Richard Ben Cramer. But it’s also a question posed to us as readers as soon as we finish the piece. How have our opinions of Ted Williams changed in light of his article, which doesn’t exactly cast Ted Williams in a positive light. He comes off as cocky, irritable, desperate to be the best at everything he does and unable to live with himself when he fails even the slightest bit. I found myself wondering just how much of his arrogance was an act to cover up a pretty big deficiency in his self-esteem. And that’s the central theme I think of Cramer’s essay: how do we reconcile our own opinions of professional athletes and our worship of them as sports heroes with the reality that many of them were not what we would consider nice people. Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, even modern day players like Randy Johnson, despite their talent, just don’t turn out to be what we want them to be. They perform for us, but they are not the people we would wish them to be. Cramer’s article asks us to look at one of the most iconic of professional athletes and answer the question of how we feel about a player who had unbelievable baseball skills but was otherwise just kind of a douchebag.

I found myself not all that moved, one way or the other. I already knew that Ted Williams was a jerk, so this article wasn’t all that shocking. And his drive to succeed was something that spoke to me, not turned me away. But what surprised me was his constant need for approval from everybody. You’d think a player of his caliber would already be confident enough in his own ability that he wouldn’t need outside approval. Take a modern-day superstar and you see quite the opposite. Josh Beckett is one of the best pitchers in the American League this year. Listen to him talk and it’s undeniable how much confidence he has in himself and his ability to pitch. Meanwhile, Ted Williams had the same cockiness in real life, but his baseball persona was quite the opposite. Not humble exactly, but definitely not arrogant either. Cramer talks about how he’d be able to hear the three people booing at 10,000 fan game, and how those three would stick in his craw forever. He was unable to let things go, and it drove him to rage more often than not.

Cramer’s article teaches us that even the greatest of athletes have deficiencies, and more often than not they turn out to be different from what we expect, and not in a good way. But it’s up to us as fans to determine to what degree we let that difference change our opinions of these athletes that we come to idolize. That’s why his article is posed as a question, not a statement on the way we should feel about Ted Williams.

Where are we at?

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve talked about the state of the Red Sox. An eventful few weeks at that. The Sox have traded for players and traded them away. They’ve swept and been swept on multiple occassions. They got it handed to them by one division leader only to beat the very next one they faced, albeit not in quite as convincing fashion. So that begs the questions: where are we at? If Aaron Sorkin was writing this blog, he might chime in with “Quo Vadimus” (where are we going… “Sports Night” reference). Well the short answer is “quo” we are “vadimusing” is Texas in an effort to put some distance between us and the second place wildcard Texas Rangers, whom we only lead by half a game.

The long answer is that we are heading to the playoffs, but who knows how far we can go? Honest to God, the pitching staff looks ok. I trust Beckett and Lester every time they touch the ball, and that’s half your starters right there. The other 2 slots (remember, it’s just 4 in the playoffs) will go to some combination of Daisuke, Penny, Tazawa or Wakefield. Daisuke and Wakefield have the experience, but Tazawa has looked more economical with his pitches than Daisuke. So a rotation of Becket, Lester, Wakefield and Tazawa as the 4 man seems reasonable and relatively lethal. It should be enough to get us past either the Tigers or the Angels (assuming they win their respective division races… remember, the Wild Card doesn’t play its first round against a divisional opponent no matter the relative record). The problem is not the pitching, it’s the offense.

Let’s review position by position and see who is producing and who isn’t. Jason Varitek is not producing by any stretch of the imagination. He had a strong start but has since fallen back into the category of “washed up aging catcher” that we all felt he was in last year. Victory Martinez, on the other hand, has been doing pretty well in his few starts for us. He may be the catcher of the future, and I’m excited for it.

I have no complaints whatsoever about Kevin Youkilis or Dustin Pedroia- the Sox are good at first and second. Ditto for Mike Lowell, hurt as he is, at third base. All three players are doing as much as they can possibly be expected to do. The problem is we can’t always have Youk, Lowell and Martinez playing (Pedroia seems to play every day without issue) due to injury, and that always means a gap somewhere (Kotchman is not in Youk or Martinez’s league at first). Meanwhile, I know everyone likes Nick Green, but one walk-off homerun does not save him from months of offensive ineffectiveness and less than ideal defense. He’s just not that good, and the numbers speak for themselves.

In the outfield, we’re a little better off. Ellsbury is hitting well and stealing a ton of bags. He has little power, but you hardly expect that from a leadoff man anyway. Jason Bay is phenomenal when he’s on, but lately he’s been running hot-and-cold and you never know what you’re going to get. He might hit a 3 run blast in one game and strikeout three times in the next (which he did). And J.D. Drew has been a disappointment since he got here except in the playoffs, when his lack of emotion tends to be a positive instead of a negative. Should we get to the playoffs, I think our outfield is set.

And that brings us to the DH. Quite simply, David Ortiz is not very good this year. Every conceivable number is down from previous years. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s remnants of last year’s wrist energy, maybe it’s the steroids issue, maybe some combination of all 3. But he’s hitting worse than Nick Green, and that’s saying something. We can only hope that Playoffs Ortiz returns at crunch time or the heart of lineup will be crippled.

The Sox offense is weaker than it needs to be, with only about half of the positions being filled by decent hitters and tough outs. Come playoff-time, I’m a little scared. The offense needs to pick up, or this will be a short playoff run come October.

Tom Wolfe and the Meaning of NASCAR

Tom Wolfe perhaps describes NASCAR best when he says “here was a sport not using any abstract devices, any bat and ball, but the same automobile that was changing a man’s own life, his own symbol of liberation, and it didn’t require size, strength, and all that, all it required was a taste for speed, and the guts” (29). And I think what Tom Wolfe is saying about NASCAR stock racing can maybe be extapolated out to a general explanation about sports: they’re at their core about US. Or at least they did in 1965 when this article was written. Tom Wolfe’s article tells the story of successful stock car racer Junior Johnson, a bootlegger out of North Carolina who became a racer on a whim.

Wolfe relates Johnson’s story with the same drawl and speech patterns of the part of the south that Johnson himself was from. He curses, shouts like a baptist preacher, and often refers to the stock car fans as “good old boys.” He is basically trying to bring us as readers and sports fans to the same level as the subjects of his piece. And he admits that this is at first glance a lower class of people, defined by industrial jobs, shabby homes, and rowdy behavior. And yet, Wolfe wants us to see sports as deriving from this class of people, that all of its strength lies in its origins with the lower class. He defines this as its own act of rebellion, that sports are things that the middle and upper class cannot take away from the lower class, no matter how hard they might try.

I think this was true back in the day, but I’m not so sure it cuts the mustard anymore. It’s true that NASCAR remains a primarily southern sport, deriving its popularity from those same good old boys that Tom Wolfe argued so passionately for. But most sports have tried to embrace the other classes of America as much as the lower class. The main reason may simply be the money. While advertising and sport were beginning to merge back in the 60s, there’s no denying that the link between the two now is stronger than its ever been before. The two have fused so that all games, NASCAR included, are deluged with advertisements both during the game and during break time. Every team has official sponsors, every major sport event is brought to you by some company. Industry has discovered how much money there is to be made from sports, and the upper classes simply have more of it.

So while I agree that the middle and upper class can’t take sports away from the poor, who can view the games same as anyone else, sports have definitely moved in a direction away from the lower class. Most baseball is only viewable via cable channels such as NESN, ESPN, or FSN. Boxing has long been the exclusive domain of HBO and Pay-per-View. Even football is moving in that direction, both with the birth of the NFL Network and with Monday Night Football moving from the free ABC channel to the non-basic ESPN channel. Perhaps this is why NASCAR remains popular in the South: it is mostly available on non-cable channels. Sports have made it harder for the poor to enjoy them, just as it is harder for them to relate to athletes who make yearly salaries in the 6-8 figure range. So while Tom Wolfe had the right idea once upon a time, I just don’t think sport fandom is still the act of rebellion against the upper class that he imagined it to be.

State of the Nation

Hopefully everyone’s been able to catch up with the David Ortiz news conference that took place last Saturday. Ortiz admitted to using over the counter supplements that may have contained banned substances, but did not admit to any illegal steroid use. And that seemed to be the end of that. A couple of polls have come out, both of which don’t bode well for Big Papi. An espn.com poll showed that only 21% of people believed his story to be the truth. On the popular Boston blog “Boston Dirt Dogs,” a similar poll gave Ortiz a 30.6% believability rating. And this was coming from a site visited primarily by Boston sports fans. And that does not speak well at all for either David Ortiz or Red Sox Nation.

On the one hand, you have David Ortiz’s weak-ass explanation. I don’t know that anyone was out for blood exactly with David Ortiz, wanting to tear him a new one (at least besides the New York media), but I think we all wanted a more concrete answer from our beloved superstar than that he may have been careless with over-the-counter substances, and that wasn’t it. We wanted to know what he tested positive for. We wanted to know what supplements he was taking, and to what end. And we wanted to know his reasoning for doing it then but seemingly never doing it since (Ortiz claims he has been tested multiple times since 2003 and come up clean every time). And Ortiz’s answers failed to satisfy our needs. That speaks to David’s lack of preparation for this meeting, but it may also reflect the MLBPA hanging him out to dry.

The rumors are that the union has been very unhelpful with Ortiz’s case, refusing to aid in acquiring the positive test results so he can see for himself what happened in 2003. I’ve never been a fan of the MLBPA, feeling it to be an overpowered union that protects its players too often at the expense of both the fans and the game itself. I blame them and their castration of Major League Baseball for the steroids era. But to turn on one of their own, especially such a high-profile member as David Ortiz, is despicable. I’ve often wondered how much unions actually protect the interests of their members and not the interests of the unions themselves. This to me is the MLBPA sacrificing one its own to save the face of other players who are on the list. And that is, quite simply, wrong.

But what does it say about us as fans if we can’t accept and trust the words of one of our biggest stars? David Ortiz is a player nearly without equal in Boston sports history. He carried the team offensively in 2004 and 2005. He nearly single-handedly won us the 2004 ALCS. He was the only player worth watching during the 2nd half of the 2006 season. And he had a more than respectable 2007 and 2008. For the past six years he has been heroic, and yet one report has sullied everyone’s opinion of him to the point that the Fenway Faithful can’t even cheer for him when he returned to Fenway last night? Some fans we are. If we have become so cynical that we can’t believe the words of our heroes anymore, then I feel bad for Red Sox Nation.

Hunter S. Thompson as a Sports Writer

Since I don’t watch Sox-Yankees games if I can avoid it, tonight’s blog will be the first of many responses to articles by famous sports writers whose work appears in the collection The Best American Sports Writing of the Century, edited by David Halberstam and Glenn Stout. This one is a response to Hunter S. Thompson’s article, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.”

I think the point of Thompson’s article is best summed up by these two sentences: “And unlike most of the others in the press box, we didn’t give a hoot in hell what was happening on the track. We had come there to watch the real beasts perform” (361). Thompson’s article is about how the true essence of sport doesn’t lie in the athlete, but rather in the fans. The Kentucky Derby is ostensibly a horse race, but what makes it sport is all of the fans and their obsession with it. Thompson spends the article getting trashed and wandering around the grounds threatening to mace people. He devotes two sentences to the result of the race, and it’s a 17-page article. Clearly his focus is not on the horses. To an extent, his focus ISN’T even on the fans.

Thompson’s work is incredibly personal (using this article as a representation of all of his writing), focusing primarily on his own journey through the craziness of the Kentucky Derby. To this end, he is making the point that the sports writer, try as he might, can never distance himself fully from the sport he is trying to cover. By choosing to write about a story, Thompson argues (in my opinion), the sports writer becomes a part of the story. And this is evident by the degree of interaction and effect Thompson has on the people he encounters at the Derby. He is not the distanced writer, keeping back and merely writing what he is seeing. Instead, he is a story-telling force, actively engaging the subject matter in an effort to cause the story to come into existence. I think he is arguing that the sports writer doesn’t just tell the story, he in fact CREATES it. Maybe other writers have a different take on the relationship between writer and subject, but Thompson clearly sees the two as interlinked, with both constantly driving each other on.

Now, this is not to say Thompson isn’t being his usual self. While he avoids taking drugs, he spends the entire Derby drunkenly wandering from location to location, macing people at random. So perhaps as a sports writer he is not the best to model oneself on. I would certainly hope that should I reach the professional level, I will behave with a degree more control and respect for subject matter than Thompson does. And it’s clear from his writing that he has no respect for anyone. His luggage carries an ill-gained Playboy press badge so he can pretend to be a more legitimate reporter. If anything, Thompson is a mockery of sports writing, viewing everything as an act, a lie, a charade. And in this regard he and I will just have to disagree. Sports are nothing but stories, and stories need to be told. Thompson is right that we as writers are part of that story, inseparable, but our part is not to lie and deceive. While we might wind up influencing the story by our actions, we need to be comfortable enough with that to be able to tell the story even still.

Why I Hate Sox-Yankees Games

Let me begin by saying I don’t hate the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. In general, I think rivalries are great for sports and their cities. Sox-Yankees, Packers-Bears, Tobacco Road, it’s all great. Rivalries endow sports with a sense of community and continuity, helping to build the idea that even though the players change, often yearly, something endures beyond. And for communities, nothing helps to define a group like an “other” to be defined against, and rivalries create that necessary “other.” Red Sox fans are as defined by their hatred of the Yankees as they are their love for the Red Sox. And I think it holds true in general; talking to a kid from L.A., a big Dodgers fan, about Anaheim confirmed my suspicions.

But I hate watching Sox-Yankees, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain why:

1) They run too long. This is quite honestly the biggest reason why I can’t stand to watch them. Every game takes upwards of 4 hours when your average game lasts 3-3.5 hours. There are a number of reasons why this happens. Both offenses are spectacular. They’re filled with patient hitters who grind out at-bats, foul off pitch after pitch, and force managers to go their bullpen early and often. This leads to more breaks in the action than normal games because no one is making it out of the fifth or sixth inning. Additionally, the hitters are so smart that pitchers have to be incredibly careful with their pitch selection or it leads to trouble. This leads to over-thinking, which leads to missed location pitches and walks. Walks slow the game down immensely. This continues the cycle of longer at-bats, longer innings, and longer games. I think everything would go faster if the managers were limited to a finite number of substitutions like in soccer.

2) They are racked with overblown media coverage. As much as I desire to join their ranks, it’s not lost on me how oversaturated the New York and Boston sports media markets are. There are just too many writers and reporters filling up the airwaves with their takes on the same 1 or 2 storylines. How have the Red Sox won all these games so far? Does it matter? Will Chamberlain throw at Youk again? Baseball only has so many stories to tell, and with a history as old as the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, most of them have already been told. But that doesn’t stop the media from rehashing them over and over again. It’s not interesting: it’s mind-numbing. And when the national sports media gets involved, as they always do, it makes it even worse.

3) They are just not that big a deal. Really, they’re not. The Rays and Blue Jays are also tough divisional opponents, but when the Sox or Yankees play them the media buzz pales in comparison. In terms of the standings, they’re nearly as important, maybe as important. But the coverage for them is at a much more controlled and tolerable level. And no other divisional rivalry gets this kind of attention, but they’re just as important in the scheme of things. Dodgers-Giants, Cardinals-Cubs, and Mets-Braves are all equally important rivalries, but for some reason the Sox and Yankees get blown out of proportion.

So as my Red Sox play their games, expect me to do all that I can to avoid watching more than bits and pieces of them. Of course, in all likelihood I’ll wind up following them whether I want to or not.