Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Big Unit

The Low Brass Correspondent recently contacted The Home Office to ask what I thought about the Yankees’ signing of Randy Johnson, known to all who even casually follow baseball as The Big Unit. I have already stated my position as a member of Red Sox Nation; the Low Brass Correspondent is a die-hard Yankee fan, if the term “die-hard” can be used for any devotee of The Evil Empire. Yankee fans are all fat and happy in the affirmation of God’s Plan when the Yankees win. When they lose, head must roll. After last year’s collapse in the ALCS (excuse me, that’s record breaking collapse), it wasn’t enough that Torre, Stottlemyre, Mattingly, Giambi, and even Rivera be fired; he wanted them shot.

My reply to his question about Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner dropping another $50 million on his new Johnson was a resounding, “So what?” Big Stein is caught up in being Big Stein. Randy Johnson was the Big Name out there and Steinbrenner wanted him, just like he wanted A-Rod last year, even though he didn’t really need him. I read an article last week (I forget where) that asked what Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, and Jose Contreras have in common as Yankees? No rings. All were the big free agent Big Stein had to have and paid through the nose for. The original recent dynasty (Bernie, Jeter, Posada, Tino, etc.) was carefully put together, and all parts complemented each other to be good enough to win the division, then roll through the playoffs, contrary to the Braves, who always roll through the season and tank in the playoffs,1995 notwithstanding.

Current Yankee policy seems to be to assemble a team like they were Strat-o-Matic cards and pile up statistics. Concerns over Johnson's health may be a microcosm of what no Yankee fan wants to think about: this is an OLD team. Posada's 33 and a catcher, Bernie and Sheffield are 36 (and Sheffield may have a steroid problem this year with the new policy), Sierra's 39, Olerud's 36 (if he stays), Mussina's 36, Brown's 40, Rivera is 35 and Gordon's 37. Tino Martinez is back as Giambi insurance, and he's 37. Injuries are going to start to happen (see: Bernie Williams last year) and there's no place to go for replacements: the farm system well is about dry.

Big Stein let the Red Sox (excuse me, the World Champion Red Sox) jack up the price and decided to outspend and out-off season headline them, which is the same formula the Mets have used for years to get their brains beat in by the Yankees. Big Stein has too much money available for the Yankees to stink, and his baseball people are smarter than the Mets' baseball people, but he's setting himself up for another disappointment from which his chosen remedy (spend more money) may not be able to help him.

As tough as it is to watch the Yankees pay two players (almost any two regulars) more than Pittsburgh’s entire payroll, it only heightens the anticipation of seeing Big Stein’s face when they get beat again, which they may well do. People and teams in the real world can take solace and some satisfaction from progress, or a surprising season. When you drop $200 million (plus tax) there’s no satisfaction except winning it all, and even that has to be a little hollow. How much fun is winning when you’re expected to, when it’s demanded of you? Winning once every eighty-six years; now there’s an accomplishment.

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