(This story was published in 2002).
By: Bill Konigsberg
I am a Native New Yorker, and while I was not a Yankee fan growing up, neither was I a Yankee hater. Rather, as a lover of the underdog since a very tender age, I found myself pulling for teams like the Milwaukee Brewers (Gorman Thomas -- the original bear) and Houston Astros (Nolan Ryan, Phil Garner... daddy!). Ahh... the 70s.
So I apologize for what will no doubt come across as a little harsh:
DESTROY THE EVIL YANKEES!!!
Better yet, CONTRACT THE YANKEES!
I feel much better now. Funny thing is, I really don't have a personal vendetta against George and the Bronx Bombers. What I have a problem with is what EVERY TRUE BASEBALL FAN should have a problem with: The wild disparity between club payrolls. It's totally outrageous, unfair, unsportsmanlike ... I could go on.
What's the challenge for the Yanks? I mean, it's a little like that episode on ``Seinfeld'' when Kramer enrolls in a children's karate class and proceeds to kick the crap out of all the kiddies. And I'm sick of the self-satisfied, smug attitude that the Yanks seem to have. Congrats, guys. You beat a team that has one-fourth of your payroll.
The Yankees payroll will hit close to $190 million this year. Last year, their total payroll was $143 million, most in the league, while the A's, whom they knocked out of the playoffs, were 27th at $46 million.
In the NFL, at the start of the season it's clear that any team (with the exception of the Bengals) has a chance to go all the way. And recently, any team has. The Pats, Ravens, and Rams all came out of nowhere to win a title in recent years. Though I'm not a huge fan of the salary cap, it does allow for fair competition.
Back in 1994, the MLB Player's Association went on strike in response to the idea of a salary cap. After a lengthy layoff, the players and owners compromised and put in place a luxury tax system, whereby teams with a payroll over a certain level would have to pay.
Here's a hint, baseball. It's not working.
I was appalled this offseason as Jason Giambi left a great Oakland team to join the Yanks. Can I blame him? No. For $100 million, I would join any number of rival organizations (Even FoxSports -- gulp), date Richard Hatch from ``Survivor,'' heck, even date fat Tom the farmer from ``Survivor III.'' So Giambi isn't to blame. It's just sad to see what was becoming an exciting battle (A's/Yanks) get taken away from us fans for the sake of making an unstoppable dynasty even more so.
So my solution is, forget contracting the Twins and Expos. Contract the Yankees. Take all that talent, all those $10 million men and disperse them among the other teams. And get rid of the Devil Rays. Just on general principle.
That said, here are the seven things I'm looking forward to in the 2002 season:
7. John Rocker and Carl Everett sitting next to each other on a cross-continental flight after the Rangers have lost yet another 15-14 game to the Red Sox. Jurassic Carl, as we call him (Everett has said he won't let his children learn about dinosaurs since they aren't in the Bible), is not one to mess with. You can see the instability in his eyes. Speaking of eyes, even before the regrettable Rocker-Sports Illustrated episode, I knew the man was a little off. Every time he sprinted to the mound in Atlanta from the bullpen, the camera would focus in on that deranged man's eyes and I'd wonder how many corpses were in his backyard. Could there be a more volatile pair? What was new Rangers GM John Hart thinking? What is the over-under on days before one of the above two has a complete meltdown? I'm gonna say six days. And I'll take the under.
6. More and more humorous age discrepancies. It's great that Major League Baseball has expanded its scouting to the entire globe. In the process however, it seems that more and more the teams have not gotten the full stories on their new signees. On Feb. 15, Braves SS Rafael Furcal became the third player in the last two weeks (Ramon Ortiz of Anaheim, Juan Cruz of the Cubs) to be proven older than his birth certificate claims. I don't know exactly how officials figure this out -- do they cut these players open and count the rings? -- but as a guideline for the clubs I'd like to offer a few suggestions of how to tell when your young phenom is lying about their age:
Your 19-year old outfielder from Colombia opens his locker and and several boxes of "Just For Men" hair dye and a box of Depends fall out.
The young stud shortstop, 18, that you just signed out of Puerto Rico arrives with his 14-year old son and a toddler who keeps referring to him as "Gran-papi."
The 22-year old Cuban refugee who has signed on with your team regales the team with stories of where he was during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
5. Seeing what the beat writers in Baltimore and Washington D.C. will write about now that Cal is gone. After years of chronicling his every move (literally -- a Ripken bowel movement might have been the top story in Baltimore on slow nights these past few years) what will the sportswriters focus on? I'm a huge baseball fanatic, yet even at my most optimistic I can find no interesting angles with this team. Can you name three Orioles starting pitchers? Didn't think so. Who's in the outfield now that Brady is gone? I don't know either. But seriously. The middle of the Orioles lineup would be on the bench in New York, Texas, Boston, St. Louis. 3-4-5: Jeff Conine, Marty Cordova, David Segui/Tony Batista. Yikes.
4. The inspired comedy that is the Cincinnati Reds. Is there anything more underrated in the world of laughter than this team? Nobody talks about it, but even after Marge Schott left, supposedly leaving a large void for those of us who followed the hijinks closely, this team screws stuff up better than any organization I know. Consider last year's plight of rookie pitcher Justin Atchley. The young southpaw got the great news on March 28 that he'd made the team. Two days later, after he'd made all his arrangements to move his life to Cincinnati, manager Bob Boone called Atchley into his office to tell him he'd changed his mind and sent him to the minors. He was then called up in early April, only to be sent down again a few days later due to a technicality. Seems the team "forgot" that they couldn't call him up until May 15 because he wasn't on the 40-man roster. The poor kid was called up again in June, and was sent down in July. Of course, that move was then voided nine days later because of a shoulder injury. Confused? He probably was, we definitely were, and the Reds appear to be, very. Boone may be a great guy, but he rates very high on the unintentional comedy scale.
3. That great NL Central battle. The top three teams in that division, the Cards, Astros, and Cubs, are so close in terms of talent that it should once again go down to the wire. The Cubs tipped the scales in their favor by grabbing Moises Alou from Houston, but I'm still not convinced that their starting pitching can carry them. After Kerry Wood and Jon Lieber it gets a little dicey. Especially when you look at the rotations the other two teams have. No team in baseball, save the Yankees, can claim more raw talent in their starting staff than the Astros. Wade Miller proved himself last year, Roy Oswalt (14-2, 2.73 as a rookie) has nasty stuff, Shane Reynolds is a proven veteran, and Carlos Hernandez and Tim Redding are considered major young talents. Should be fun in Houston. Of course, it's just as scary in St. Louis, where young ace Matt Morris (22-8, 3.16) has a rejuvenated Darryl Kile, veteran Woody Williams, and phenom Bud Smith (6-3, 3.83) as sidekicks. If Rick Ankiel comes back and shows he can throw to the catcher and not the backstop, there will be no stopping the Cards. Easily the best pennant battle in baseball.
2. Who will most benefit from the Ewing Theory? Coined by Bill Simmons of ESPN.com (you should read him if you don't, he's the funniest, best color columnist around right now), the Ewing Factor refers to players like Patrick Ewing, who get all the media attention but have never won anything, and then once they leave a team, that team wins, as the Knicks did when he moved on to Seattle. The best example in baseball is last year in Seattle, where the Mariners lost A-Rod, after losing Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr., and went on to win 116 games. Who are the most likely to follow suit this year? Gary Sheffield may be a possibility, though by strict doctrine he doesn't apply since he was part of that team the Marlins bought in 1997 to win the World Series. Still, watch for the Dodgers to be better this year without their slugger. Don't ask me why, just congratulate me at the end of the year. On a related note, the new double play combination in L.A., Isturis-Grudzielanek, is one of the better name combos in memory. It sounds like something you might contract on vacation in South America. It's the best name combo since Garciaparra-Pozzo, very briefly for the Red Sox a few years back. Other Ewing Theory candidates: Jason Giambi, Oakland, and Moises Alou, Houston.
1. A non-Yankees World Series. Wouldn't that be amazing, if the 2002 season didn't end with Joe Torre tearing up and kissing that young blond woman who is always with him? (wife? daughter?) (Which reminds me: Funniest moment of the 2001 baseball season had to be when a reporter asked Diamondbacks SS Tony Womack after a World Series game, about a woman he was hugging - 'Is that your mother?" and Womack gives him a dirty look and says 'No, it's my wife.') Here's how I see it coming down: The Yanks once again hold off Boston for the AL East title, while the White Sox win the Central and the A's nose-out the Mariners in the West. The Yanks handle the Sox in the first round, while Boston takes out the A's. In the Championship Series, the Red Sox finally oust The Curse of The Bambino, beating the Yankees in Game 7 in the Bronx when Johnny Damon steals home in the bottom of the ninth with Mariano Rivera on the mound. Boston goes on to play St. Louis, who beat the Mets in the NL Championship Series. Boston in 6 games. If the Pats can do it, why not the Sox?
Mark it down.
Bill Konigsberg is a former editor at ESPN.com. His coming out column on ESPN is a finalist for a GLAAD media award.