It's riveting, in a way, to see the Red Sox and the Yankees divide all of baseball between themselves, like Roosevelt and Stalin splitting Europe at Yalta. ( George Steinbrenner is Stalin, of course, and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is Churchill, custodian of an empire that is, even in the first hours of the victory celebration, already dead.)
There's something scandalous, too, about the Expos—married to Montreal but shacking up with San Juan—casually ogling Monterrey, Mexico, as a possible partner. Monterrey's signature dish, cabrito, or goat meat, might yet supplant 73-year-old Florida manager Jack McKeon as the most gristly item in the National League.
In fact, as the Expos continue their inexorable migration south (to Tierra del Fuego and, inevitably, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station), it's worth noting that baseball, alone among sports, has an off-season even more interesting than its on-season.
For the Boys of Winter, the past six weeks have been an alcoholic, Balcoholic blur. Mets superscout Bill Singer, speaking gibberish mock-Chinese to an Asian-American Dodgers executive in the bar of a Phoenix hotel, learned that her ancestors had come from China. "Which country in China?" inquired Singer, who later said that an addling combination of alcohol and a low-carb diet triggered his low-carb diatribe—and his eventual dismissal.
Elsewhere this winter, a galaxy of stars is insisting that Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area health-supplement firm BALCO, did not supply them with steroids. Rather, he was simply the scientist best qualified to provide world-class nutritional analysis, based on his previous job as bassist for the soul band Tower of Power. Among the group's hits is Soul Vaccination, dedicated to eradicating, with needles, the world's crippling epidemic of "honkypox."
While National League MVP Barry Bonds was appearing before a grand jury investigating the Conte case, the American League MVP worried that he was in danger of disappearing. We've forgotten Alex Rodriguez, the way you might forget a relative sentenced to a 10-year stretch in prison. In this case, the prison—Swing Swing—is the bleak Ballpark in Arlington. He might be the highest-salaried man in sports history, but Rodriguez is no longer even the highest-profile A-Rod among athletes, a distinction he's ceded to Andy Roddick.
The shortstop's last hope is a poignant appeal for parole to one of baseball's two remaining teams: the Red Sox or the Yankees. Days after the Sox signed ace righthander Curt Schilling from Arizona, the Yanks signed ace righthander Javier Vazquez from Montreal/San Juan/Monterrey And so the Bosox and the Bombers, whose combined payrolls might approach $400 million next season, continue to obsess, in the most unseemly way, over which franchise has the bigger Dick. (By one historical measure: Boston's Dick Radatz, who's 6'5", over New York's Dick Tidrow, who's 6'4".) It never ends. As the Yankees were poised to sign free agent Gary Sheffield last week, the Red Sox were indeed flirting with the addition of A-Rod and another Green Monster, his $252 million contract.
Boston is the Athens of America, and America, the Athens of baseball, will not be playing baseball in Athens. The U.S. team didn't qualify for next summer's Olympics, though there's little shame in that. After all, we don't send our best players, and the Netherlands does.
Speaking of mediocrity, the Brewers have announced a reduction in payroll from $40.6 million to $30 million for next season. Sure, management had vowed to become competitive if taxpayers built the team a $400 million stadium, and taxpayers did just that. Three seasons after Miller Park opened, the promise, like the roof, has proved retractable.
But never mind. The first Topps cards of 2004 have been pressed, which is all that really matters at the moment. And fired Red Sox manager Grady Little—in wraparound sunglasses, cap tugged low, his whole face thrown into shadow—appears to have gone into hiding even on his baseball card.