Feeling scorned by Jacoby Ellsbury, who somehow refused to turn down $153 million from the dastardly New York Yankees, many Red Sox fans are snarling about baseball being “just a business.”
The funny thing is they say this as if baseball being “a business” is some recent disheartening development, as if there really was a once upon a fairy tale time when players played for only the sheer love of the game.
No such universe ever existed, of course. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, you can go right down any hallowed list. They all had their money squabbles. What they did not have was leverage enough to be greedy.
This was forced love back when the unconscionable reserve clause bound players to the teams that originally signed them for as long as those teams had some use for those players. Players had to love the game if they wanted to work.
Which brings us back to modern civilization and Ellsbury, who through his hard work and talent admirably reached a level in his profession that generated great demand for his services. He hit free-agency when his value was highest. That most American of mechanisms, the free market, did its great work.
So, congratulations to Ellsbury.
And keep it up New York Yankees, that great American institution now in desperation mode after missing the playoffs last season for only the second time in the last 19 years. Instead of feeling enraged over Ellsbury signing with the archrival Yankees, thoughtful Red Sox fans celebrate it for what it is — a clear and present sign of Yankee desperation and weakness. When an old team broke down last season, the Bombers had nothing in their farm system to really help them.
So they are back to expensive short-term fixes, signing 30-year-old center fielder Ellsbury for $153 million over seven years after landing soon-to-be-30 catcher Brian McCann for $85 million over five years, seeming to forget that the foundation of their late 1990s dynasty was built on brilliant player development. And while signing Ellsbury and McCann fills two positions for the Yankees, New York's lineup will still be weakened overall if it loses Robinson Cano in free agency.
The instinctive reaction of fans feeling scorned by “their” players signing big contracts elsewhere is to say players today “only care about the money.” Which is absurd. With few exceptions, what motivates players when they step between the lines is what has motivated them since they were kids. Their passion for the game and the thrill of competition. Money never changes that.
But when the game is over, they do want to get paid. It has always been that way.
We all know what is next. We lived it with Johnny Damon. On the Yankees' first visit to Fenway next year, adults childishly dressed in Red Sox merchandise, who annoyingly refer to the home team as “we” in order to boost self-esteem, will boo the “awful traitor” Ellsbury.
The rich and handsome Ellsbury, who grew up in Oregon and became a Red Sox only because that happened to be the team that drafted him in 2005 out of Oregon State, will pretend to care.
These blind devotees of the local baseball laundry will snarl out words like “traitor” and “disloyalty” and “greed,” not likely to mention all those other teams' free agents Ben Cherington expertly signed last offseason. All those traitors who helped make the Red Sox World Series champions. Which in turn has made the Yankees reactive and desperate.