By Jim Caple
Page 2

Congratulations, Boston fans. Your Red Sox are the new Yankees.

Oh, I'm not saying that one World Series championship in the past 88 years is on par with the Yankees winning 26 championships and 39 American League pennants in the same period (I already get enough hate mail from New York fans to suggest such a ludicrous thing). But when the Red Sox signed J.D. (the Iron Man) Drew to a $70 million contract and invested $103 million in Daisuke Matsuzaka, they officially became everything Boston fans used to loathe about the Yankees. A team that fills out its roster by opening up a Costanza-thick wallet.

Red Sox
Elsa/Getty Images
When your team adds $1,111,111.11 to a bid just because it looks cool, you're no longer entitled to complain about the Yankees' spending habits.

While Boston's projected 2007 payroll (perhaps $140 million) is still substantially south of New York's, it still will likely be more than all the other teams in baseball. If the Red Sox aren't the new Evil Empire or co-Evil Empire, they at least are Wal-Mart to New York's Halliburton.

Hell, the Red Sox paid more just for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka than five teams paid their entire roster last year. And as Gordon Edes wrote in a terrific story on the wooing of Matsuzaka in Sunday's Boston Globe, the Red Sox arrived at the $51,111,111.11 bid because owner John Henry thought that string of 11s would be lucky. Now, when you have the luxury of slapping $1,111,111.11 on a bid for the pure look of it, you definitely are not living in the same neighborhood as the Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates (or even the Chicago White Sox, for that matter).

It's to the point that if John Henry gained 40 pounds and started acting like an ass, you would think George Steinbrenner owned the Red Sox.

Not convinced the Red Sox have turned into the Yankees? Then consider this. No team has ever paid more money for a world championship than did the 2004 Red Sox (the Yankees have spent more trying to win, but their payroll was a mere $114 million when they won the Series in 2000). Further, when those Red Sox recorded the final out of that World Series, not a single player on the field was homegrown. When the Sox open the 2007 season, they may have just two homegrown players in the lineup, first baseman Kevin Youkilis and second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

A possible $140 million payroll. Signing two players for $170 million in a two-week span. Assembling a team from everyone else's farm system while trading away your own. The highest ticket prices in the game. Over-the-top fans seemingly everywhere. These are precisely the things Red Sox fans despised about the Yankees for years. And now they're also true of the Red Sox.

Next thing you know, Ronan Tynan will be singing "Sweet Caroline.''

Most teams have a distinct character, built up over the decades, a personality that persists almost without regard for actual record. The Twins will always be dependable Midwest farmers getting by on hard work, good soil and solid team fundamentals rather than stunning payrolls. The Athletics will always be West Coast free spirits going about the game their own way (whether that's drawing walks or drawing tattoos). The Yankees will always be pin-striped Gotham storm troopers dispatching opponents with cold corporate efficiency. The White Sox will always be the South Side blue-collar workers playing in the shadow of their yuppie northern neighbors. And for decades the Red Sox were the Calvinist, heroic underdogs always destined to fail tragically in the end.

That personality disappeared in October 2004 with the speed of a Big Papi home run leaving the yard, and no sane Red Sox fan would ever want it back. Understandably so. Who wants to have his heart broken again and again and again when you have the chance to live happily ever after with the person of your dreams? The Red Sox are finally on par with their hated rival and are delighted about it.

But that doesn't make things easier for everyone else. It used to be there was just the Yankees empire with which to contend. But the Sox knocking off the Yankees in 2004 didn't rid baseball of a menace. It simply meant there was another nuclear power in the ever-escalating arms race.

Sigh. It's enough to make you hope the Cubs never win.

Tell your statistics to shut up

Shawne Merriman
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Why does Shawne Merriman get a free pass on the steroids issue? It's partly because football statistics aren't the least bit hallowed.

Reader Mike Hagesfeld writes in with the following commentary: "I know that you have some strong feelings about football versus baseball in the steroid controversy, so I'm curious on your take on the following situations: Jason Giambi all but admits he takes steroids. Jason Giambi has some weird parasite or something. Jason Giambi has a fantastic year the next year. Jason Giambi wins Comeback Player of the Year. People throw huge hissy fits saying that the cheater shouldn't win, and insinuating that the parasite was caused by his steroid use. Shawne Merriman has a fantastic rookie year. Shawne Merriman wins 2005 Defensive ROY. Shawne Merriman starts out on fire in 2006. Shawne Merriman tests positive for steroid usage and is suspended for four games. Do the masses cry that his ROY award should be taken away because he was probably using last year as well? No. Instead, when Merriman returns and plays exceptionally well, people ... say he should be considered for defensive player of the year despite missing a quarter of the season, with barely a mention of WHY he missed a quarter of the season. Figured this had to be getting under your skin and was wondering what your take on it is.''

Way to go, Mike. Thanks for reminding me and driving me nuts again. Actually, I hadn't drawn the comparison, but yeah, it does get under my skin. It drives me nuts the way the media never lets up about steroid use in baseball while giving football a virtual free pass. Another example is the recent tryout the Houston Texans gave to Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin. If a baseball team had given a prominent steroid user a tryout, it would have drawn such outraged attention that the media would have had to reduce the news updates from Mount Hood to six per hour. But when football does it, people barely notice, let alone care.

Why the double standard? One main reason: Fans don't care about stats or records in football, but they care passionately about them in baseball, and they see steroids as ruining their perceptions of what the numbers mean. …

"White Christmas" was on the other night while we were putting up the Christmas tree, and watching Danny Kaye dance with the impossibly thin Vera Ellen (she makes Nicole Richie look like Oprah), I was struck by the same thought I always have: This man once owned the Seattle Mariners. Whatever his talents as a performer, Kaye was somewhat lacking as a baseball owner -- the Mariners were 196 games under .500 in his five-year tenure, and he also hired Maury Wills as manager. "White Christmas,'' meanwhile, has the most ludicrous plot in cinema history (ex-soldiers are really going to leave their families on Christmas Eve to cheer up their old general?), yet it remains a guilty pleasure. The 10 best Christmas movies:

1. "It's a Wonderful Life"

2. "A Christmas Story"

3. "The Ref"

4. "Bad Santa"

5. "The Shop Around the Corner"

6. "Love Actually"

7. "Miracle on 34th Street"

8. "Die Hard"

9. "Elf"

10. "Black Christmas" (aka "Silent Night, Evil Night") …

Ted Lilly won't wear No. 31 in Chicago because Greg Maddux wore it when he pitched there, and Ferguson Jenkins wore it before him. But the Cubs have said he can wear No. 21. That's quite a slap to Sammy Sosa, who wore the number for 13 seasons. OK, OK, Cubs. We get it. You and Sosa parted on bad terms. But don't forget he was the best thing your franchise had to offer for a decade. …

Buck O'Neil didn't live long enough to see his name on a plaque in Cooperstown, but he received a too-late honor last week when he was posthumously presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Other recipients included historian David McCullough, speech writer William Safire and B.B. King. …

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is back up at a slightly different address, jimcaple.net, with more installments of 24 College Avenue. In addition to "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," his new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans" is on sale now.




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