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Expanding Empire

Evil Yankees now have some familiar company

Posted: Thursday November 16, 2006 2:36PM; Updated: Thursday November 16, 2006 2:37PM
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Daisuke Matsuzaka
Chances are Daisuke Matsuzaka never experienced anything quite like the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in Japan.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

At least we know the "posting" process for Japanese baseball players is run honestly. Otherwise, why would the Boston Red Sox have paid $13 million more than they had to for the rights to negotiate with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Boston's bid was $51 million; the next highest was the Mets at $38 million, followed by the Yankees at $32 million. If the process was crooked, the Red Sox would have obtained inside info in exchange for a $100,000 gift certificate to a geisha house, and then filed their own offer at $39 million -- or maybe $41 million, to avoid suspicion.

But outbidding everyone else by $13 million, made it evident that the Red Sox had no inside information at all. Or even a good sense of the market. They just had money to burn.

Which makes a second point abundantly clear: whatever it was that made the Red Sox different from the Yankees, aside from the amount of empty space in their trophy case, doesn't exist anymore.

As recently as a couple years ago, the Red Sox could cast themselves as David to the Yankee's Goliath. Granted, the fans of small market teams around the country could laugh at this. But at least within the relative world of the Northeastern megalopolis, the Red Sox could play the part of the scrappy underdog with a payroll half the size of the overspending Yankees. Sure, the Red Sox were spending double many other teams in the leagues themselves. But then there was the "curse" they were battling against. Getting beat by Aaron Boone? The results spoke for themselves.

But then in 2004 the Red Sox came back from 0-3 against the Yankees to win the ALCS and then sweep the World Series. Perhaps you read something about it, or maybe even saw a Drew Barrymore movie on the subject. It was a fairy tale season, but one which robbed the Sox of their most sympathetic talking point. And since that dreaded "curse" was dispelled, the Red Sox have come to resemble just another deep-coffered team from the Northeast. The Red Sox and the Yankees, like an old married couple, look more like each other with each passing year.

Not that the Yankees are any better. Even though they jettisoned high-priced Gary Sheffield and Jaret Wright this past week, the pinstripe payroll will no doubt reinflate before long. You can count on it, as long as they have an owner who wants to "win so much."

But with this Matsuzaka bid, the Red Sox are on their way to building a Death Star of their own. Pretty soon, you won't be able to call either the Red Sox or the Yankees the Evil Empire. Just call each an Evil Empire and leave it at that.

This week I like

Vinny Testaverde, back in the saddle again.

• Looking forward to Michigan-Ohio State. One thing I don't get: even with the game being played in Columbus, how are the maize-and-blue a seven-point underdog in this game?

Joe Girardi, dumped by the Marlins, winning NL Manager of the Year.

• The Nicolas Cage movie, The Weather Man. It came and went from the theatres with little notice, and I'm not surprised: The Weather Man is hard to categorize. Cage's character lacks the innate nobility of your standard Tom Hanks hero, and what Cage "learns" in the two hours is a quite different from what characters usually learn when they "grow up." That said, it's somewhere between good and great. I hope the director, Gore Verbinski, who also did the Pirates of the Caribbean series, strays from the blockbuster track to make more smart, semi-novelistic movies like this one.