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It's Christmas time in the city, and big league GMs are rushing home with their treasures -- often crumbling, overpriced gimcracks. Yes, there's no place like New York when it comes to paying through the schnozzola for name brand merchandise, especially now that baseball is again awash in filthy lucre and fixin' to spend til it hurts.
And oh, how it can hurt. The Mets, who still have a tummy ache from gobbling up too many Roberto Alomars, Mo Vaughns and Tom Glavines, forked over $54 million for four years' worth of Pedro Martinez, 33, who is rumored to have a right shoulder held together by a piece of dubble-bubble surgically removed from his skull. Across town, the Yankees have visions of that antique Big Unit action figure they wouldn't touch six years ago, but will gladly hand $48 million to now if only the Dodgers weren't playing Scrooge in that flat-lined three-way with Arizona.
All of this holiday wonderment is in keeping with the grand New York tradition of importing marquee names the day after their freshness dates expire. Since the early '80s, the stale parade has included the likes of Jack Clark, Steve Kemp, Rickey Henderson, Steve Sax, Kevin McReynolds, Juan Samuel, Frank Viola, Vince Coleman, Bret Saberhagen, Eddie Murray, and smilin' Bobby Bonilla, all of whom won nothing but the disgust of their paying customers, not to mention a particular Principal Owner in the Bronx.
Pricey big-name geezers rarely perform at the level of their glory days and only underscore the immense value of a productive farm system. A handful of promising youngsters can help a team avoid papering over mistakes (see: Kris Benson's sparklin' new $22.5 million, three-year deal with the Mets) or locking themselves into paying immovable objects (see: Vaughn, Jason Giambi, Kevin Brown, etc.) until Stars on Ice opens in Hades. And if you aren't going to keep your best kids, at least they can be dealt for productive veterans in their prime.
After the Yankees stuffed the dicey Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright with a combined $62 million worth of long green, one imagines Mr. Steinbrenner gave GM Brian Cashman an earful when he heard that Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder were sent to Atlanta and St. Louis for a carol and some linzer tarts.
The marquee syndrome isn't the exclusive property of New York's baseball teams. The NHL's Rangers are still are the poster children for it. Ask not what Pavel Bure, Eric Lindros, Wayne Gretzky, Theo Fleury, Guy LaFleur and Marcel Dionne have done for Broadway. The only time the Blueshirts caught lightning in a mug was when they won the Stanley Cup in 1994 after importing almost the entire Edmonton Oiler dynasty just in time for its last glorious gasp.
I'll never forget asking Rangers GM "Trader Phil" Esposito in 1988 why he didn't just stop the foolishness and take a season or two to let his talented kids sprout into contenders. "Do you think I could do that and keep my job?" he said, his voice and arms rising. "Do you think my boss would put up with that? That the fans would put up with that? That I would put up with that? Hell, no!"
Actually, they would. New York is a get-it-done-yesterday town, but fans here know that sometimes you gotta throw a waste pitch.
Contrary to popular front-office belief, New York's most successful and best-loved teams tend not to be store bought. The nucleus of the Yankee dynasty of the '90s (Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada) was fresh from the farm. The 1986 Mets were mostly homegrown, as was the core of the 1969 Miracle team. Ditto the Islanders dynasty of the 1980s. The 1986 and 1990 NFL champion Giants were built on draft picks with names like Taylor and Simms. Yet the terror of entrusting the future to a group of prospects in a media pressure-cooker while competing for rumps to fill your seats is often too much to countenance for a mere mortal in a position of authority.
Have a question or opinion for John? He might answer or address it in his next blog.
Of course, it's hard to build a champ from scratch when all you've got in your farm system is tumble weeds. Seems to me that any team's holiday wish list best include a shrewd GM with a steady hand (see: John Schuerholz), a box of scouts with proven track records, a bag of hot prospects, and a dash of patience.
The Ape Hardware Holiday Grab Bag
There's no place like home for the holidays, and some readers have cast their thoughts to the plight of the former Montreal Expos, "the Flying Dutchman of MLB," as Ivan Stoler of Queens, N.Y., calls them. "Every series will be played in a different city. Cool. Baseball Fever. Catch it and die."
After finding their runny noses pressed against Washington, D.C.'s window while the city fathers wrangled over funding for a new stadium, it appears the Expos will hang around as the Nationals after all. But this just feels like the latest chapter of a shabby spectacle without end. One wonders why Bud Selig and friends think the Natspos will succeed where two editions of the Senators failed. It appears that failure has much to do with losing and the mortgage-your-eyeballs cost of taking yourself out to the ballgame. But winning ain't no sure-fire rump magnet, either. Wasn't that a rumor I heard about the Florida Marlins moving to Las Vegas? Didn't they win the World Series just two years ago?
Hey, Abbott part 2
As expected, some readers accused me of lowering the bar last week when I wrote that Jim Abbott deserves consideration as a Hall of Fame inductee. But most echoed the sentiments of the following dispatch:
We seem to have changed the Hall of Fame into the Hall of Stats. Fame is the state of being publicly honored or acclaimed. People can rattle off Abbott's mediocre stats all they want, but I defy a single one of those people to say that he doesn't deserve to be publicly honored. Abbott fought an uphill battle through his entire baseball career and still managed to make it to The Show for 10 seasons. When I take my kids to Cooperstown, that's exactly the type of person I want them to see. -- Jim Frazer, Omaha, Neb.