Albert Pujols spent 11 seasons wearing Cardinal red, but this past season… (Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles…)
The most intriguing game that baseball plays is not hitting and pitching. It is musical chairs.
This is the sport's funny season. But unlike golf, where the funny season was simply a time for Freddie Couples to make more money for Christmas shopping, baseball's is real and serious.
So serious, as a matter of fact, that we actually might feel sorry for baseball writers.
They spend seven months a year, on expense account, watching a warm-weather game from the best seats in the house, with hot dogs nearby. Then, when the season ends and it's time to rest and re-introduce themselves to family, the real work begins. The stadiums are replaced by cellphones embedded in ears and daily dealings with lawyers, agents, rationalizing general managers and Scott Boras.
Great newspapers should pay them reasonable salaries for the season and a hefty supplement for the funny season. A Boras Bonus.
The pawn in all this is the fan. He is wired to be loyal to his local heroes. He is encouraged to purchase the jersey of his favorite player ($79.95 at the stadium store) and be sure to get his tickets early. This will be the year, he is told. The team is there for his viewing pleasure. Of course, next year, the team will be there again for his viewing pleasure. It will just be a vastly different team.
To be clear, this isn't an attempt to identify good guys or bad guys. This isn't a anti-greedy-player or anti-greedy-owner rant. In the airheaded, overused term of the day, baseball's situation is what it is.
The news comes daily. Fingers point in all directions.
Michael Young is now a Philadelphia Phillie? He had Texas Ranger carved into his heart. The pride of Bishop Amat High spent 12 years as Mr. Ranger RBI. If you were an Angels fan and saw him at the plate with another Ranger on base, you just jotted down a run in your scorecard.
Kevin Youkilis is now a New York Yankee? Has he really joined the evil empire, as did Johnny Damon a few years ago, leaving Boston Red Sox fans speechless and suicidal. Sure, Youkilis made a brief stop with the Chicago White Sox, but he was Boston through and through. Expect jersey burnings around Fenway.
We just got used to Mike Napoli as a Ranger, after a nice run of being the power behind the plate for the Angels. But nope. Throw away that jersey. Napoli is now a Red Sox.
Ah, and so is Shane Victorino. It never seemed quite right to see him in a Dodgers uniform. He was a Phillie, a tough-guy-in-a-tough-city player. Now he is a Bostonian.
Albert Pujols, the best of the best, after all those years in Cardinals red, the modern-day Stan Musial, both in performance and local image, in an Angels' uniform? Good for Southern California, but weird nevertheless.
On and on. Curt Flood must be proud.
Yes, this is a business, and certainly justice was served when Flood took the indentured servitude issue to the courts and was heard, just as Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were heard in their dual holdout. The marketplace rules, and highly talented players such as the aforementioned deserve to exploit their worth.
They are the payees, but the payers — and ownership — are equal enablers. Along with their fat-cat television partners, the cash keeps flowing faster and faster. The mantra once was to build a team from the farm system. Now it is to buy a pennant. Patience, a virtue long lost on baseball, contradicts the gentle rhythm on the field.
It is what it is (ugh).
Stories that speak to loyalty to team and fans are lost in the rush to boost egos and break the bank.
The Angels' Jered Weaver signs a new contract for less money than his projected worth, saying that what he got was plenty and where he played was where he wanted to play. In doing do, he asked the rhetorical question not asked enough by anybody in these dealings: How many more millions of dollars does a person need?
The Angels' Torii Hunter, like Weaver a voice of maturity in a world of me-first, wants to remain an Angel and says he'll take less money to do so. Still, he is apparently viewed as a player in the twilight, despite finishing last season as one of the top hitters in the American League with his .313 average. So, Hunter is gone, off to Detroit, and an Anaheim fan base that learned to worship him and appreciate all the positive intangibles he brought with him can fold up another jersey for the drawer.
They can also wonder who will run the Angels' clubhouse now. There has been no question in recent years. It belonged to Hunter and every player on every stool benefited.
There are a multitude of reasons for all this shuffling. Players age. General managers have salary limitations. Fans demand immediate success and owners listen. Players, competitive DNA their essence, measure relative worth and stature by their salary and move to get that. After a long and special career with the Angels, Garret Anderson moved on for a couple of years when the Angels saw an old man and Anderson still saw a chance at reaching 3,000 hits.
All this is the nature of baseball's beast. We seldom even think about it. Instead, we cling to the image of Derek Jeter as a forever Yankee, as if that has any chance of happening anywhere else again.
As we cling, we know we are being naive.