Wednesday, June 29, 2011

LeBron James’s message to fans

Another great letter. News to fans in Boston: it isn't the "real world!"

Take it for what it is: entertainment, and a distraction from, as James put it, the “real world.’’

I’M A former Clevelander, and I would agree with Gary Washburn that LeBron James needs a good public relations consultant. But I had a very different interpretation of the quote for which Washburn criticized James (“An expensive distaste for James,’’ Sports, June 14). It sounded less like James was flaunting his wealth and success and more like he was pointing out that basketball is just a game and that whether he wins or loses won’t change anyone’s life. In other words, James was saying that fans need to get some perspective.

I agree with him. When my friends from Cleveland were bemoaning the fact that he left town for Miami, I told them to get a life. Fan is short for fanatic, and unfortunately fans get too caught up with sports teams and way too emotional about what happens to their hometown club.

Take it for what it is: entertainment, and a distraction from, as James put it, the “real world.’’

Elliott Negin, Washington

Tip o' the White Sox cap to the woman in my building!

Today, I ran into a woman who lives in my building and always wears a White Sox cap. We said to her, "We always remember who you are because of the cap." I was quick to add that I like the White Sox; in fact I like any team that isn't the Red Sox. She heartily agreed. I said, "I used to be a huge sports fan when I was a kid, but Boston fans ruined it for me."
She said I was so right, that Boston fans are animals. Hats off to her!

Money buys wins, not heart

Great column in Sunday's Globe!

"We've been monetized.....The Red Sox have become the Yankees. And we have become Yankee fans.....

Without a salary cap in place, baseball has become a game in which the rich get richer, and the uneven playing field tilts another degree or two with each passing year."

And he doesn't even touch upon the shameful, steroid usage scandals behind the 2004 and 2007 "wins"!

ONCE UPON a time, there were Red Sox fans — our parents and grandparents.

Our forebears were the fans of a long-suffering franchise with just a handful of things to boast of: a lovely old ballpark, a fascinating cast of characters, and a rich tradition built around 86 years of heartbreak.

Our parents and grandparents had Fenway Park. They had Yawkey and Cronin, Ted and Yaz, Pudge and Piersall, Boggs and Clemens. They had Slaughter’s Dash, the Impossible Dream, Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, the Phantom Tag, and Aaron Boone.

They also had a rival — someone to measure themselves against, a “them’’ for our “us.’’ While our Red Sox were always one player short, one strike away, the New York Yankees won championship after championship. They always spent the money; they always had the players. We envied them, we hated them, we turned up our noses at them: the gauche buying of players, the shameful ease of cheering for prohibitive favorites. Their championships were triumphs not of virtue or even luck, but rather the dividends of a well-managed corporation. Yankee fans didn’t know what it was to love, to lose, to suffer. They had no souls.

For eight decades, that’s what it was to be a Red Sox fan. Blame it on John Calvin, but that storyline resonated for New Englanders. It made sense to us, and we embraced it even as we prayed that it might change.

And then it did! The Red Sox broke the so-called Curse, turned the tables on the Yankees, and won their first title in 86 years. Then they won another one!

And although we realized at the time this changed everything, that this would transform what it means to be a Red Sox fan, only now is the long-term impact becoming clear:

The Red Sox have become the Yankees. And we have become Yankee fans.

But let’s not blame the 2004 Red Sox. Winning that championship only confirmed a long-running trend. Over the past 20 years, first the Yawkey Trust and now John Henry’s ownership group figured out how to leverage our enormous passion for this team. We’ve been monetized. As a result, Fenway Park became the most expensive venue in Major League Baseball, with that revenue going to support one of the highest payrolls in the game.

It’s not just a question of making more and spending more. The Red Sox joined the Yankees as the bullies in the playground. They, and the other big-market teams, not only accumulated the resources to dominate the free-agent market and strip the poorer teams of their stars; they discovered that the free-agent draft, supposedly the great equalizer, could be rigged by offering higher bonuses to supposedly “unsignable’’ stars headed off to college. Without a salary cap in place, baseball has become a game in which the rich get richer, and the uneven playing field tilts another degree or two with each passing year.

Like the Yankees, the Red Sox don’t win championships so much as buy them. Like Yankee fans, we dig deep to support our team — and in return, we expect something. Our parents and grandparents expected only to have their hearts broken. We expect to win.

Well, we got what we paid for. But by adopting the Yankees’ methods, we gave away our souls. And we will never recapture them as long as revenue streams are more important than good scouting, hard work, and fair play.

This newfound kinship with our former rivals became clear to me earlier this season, as I sat in the grandstand and listened to the so-called Fenway Faithful booing Carl Crawford. The team’s new left fielder was three weeks into a seven-year, $142 million contract, and he’d had the misfortune to get off to a slow start. Nobody was more upset about this than Crawford — a terrific athlete, a hard worker, a standup guy — but the crowd was pitiless.

And what else could we expect? A family of four sitting in the Monster seats could easily drop $800 taking in a ballgame. We expect bang for our bucks.

On that October night in 2003 when Aaron Boone homered off Tim Wakefield and the Red Sox trudged off the field for the 85th consecutive year, many New Englanders must have wondered: what it would be like to win these games? To beat the Yankees? To win the World Series?

A year later, we knew the answer. Eight years later, we see the price that we have paid.

Was it worth paying?

Go ask your parents.

Michael Rutstein is publisher of Boston Baseball

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My letter in June 11's Boston Herald

Here's my letter in today's Herald. But they left out the first part, so here it is in its entirety:

50's segregation alive alive and well in North Station

I could not believe what I was reading in "Bar Wars!" (June 8, p. 5)
about Hurricane O'Reilly's barring of Canucks fans. Decrepit schools,
high unemployment, corruption at the top in politics, lethal weather
disasters and other pressing concerns facing our city and state aside,
such fanaticm over sports exists in Boston that here we have a barroom
that brings us right back to Jim Crow South.
Is Boston a Third World country where people cannot enjoy a drink? Is
this Syria, Lebanon, the Sudan, Northern Ireland not so long ago, or
other bastions of secterian violence? Are we Shiites versus Sunnis, or
North Americans (which includes Canadians) patronizing establisments
along Causeway Street?
Is the ignorance of the bar owners or the hooliganism of hockey fans
to blame? Isn't it time to re-examine our uber-obsession with sports
in this city when Bruins fans are squirting mustard at C's fans inside
the Garden (another local daily also reports that an Indian-Canadian
woman was repeatedly called a "terrorist" there)?
You can only blame drunken, rowdy, uncivilized elements so far, when
they must be able to somewhat still afford ticket prices in the
thousands. But now we must also blame the greedy owners of
concessions and teams for fermenting every last profitable drop out of
these minions, so cultishly brainwashed that they now lose the
distinction between simple fanhood and brutal, racist and potentially
disastrous behavior.
How does this make our great city of Boston look to the rest of the
country, if not the world?