The baseball Fall Classic begins this evening with the Boston Red Sox, a team with a $143 million, payroll facing the upstart Colorado Rockies, a team with a $54 million payroll. When teams like the Rockies make the World Series fans of most other teams will root for the Rockies, especially given the hope they represent for the smaller market teams who spend less to win. The argument goes like this: “The Red Sox are rich. They win the way the Yankees win, by spending a ton of money.” (The Yanks spent $207 million this year to go out in the first round, which led to their letting go of manager Joe Torre, a class guy.) The Rockies have won 21 of their last 22 games. This is the hottest a team has ever been going into the World Series. But they’ve had a nine day layoff now. This is a team that had to go to the 13th inning of the last regular season game just to get here. And except for Todd Helton who knows any of these players? It is, like it not Red Sox fans, a great “feel good story.”
Now, Boston is heavily favored, and for good reason. Their pitching is solid and should carry them. But this was true last year when the Cardinals beat the heavily favored Detroit Tigers in the classic. This year the formerly “cursed” BoSox are a team filled with pricey free agents. They even paid a Japanese pitcher, who has been pretty good this season but definitely not lights out, $103 million to pitch for them. If the Yankees are the “evil empire” then the Red Sox are the overpaid New England darlings who have become a mirror image of New York, at least to many of us outside of New England. Now that the Sox won it all a few years ago I hope someone else wins it this year, thus I have a rooting interest in these young Rockies.
Since the 1990s the big-spending teams have generally won in baseball. Baseball’s economics were self-destructive and people like George Steinbrenner helped make it this way. But hand it to the commissioner, whom I am not a fan of most of the time, the game is getting smarter and the owners are proving that you can win the old way, by drafting and developing your own talent and by keeping your payroll much lower. Revenue sharing has also made a difference, at least where teams have expressed a real desire to win, which some ownership groups do not have. In this year’s playoffs Cleveland, Colorado and Arizona all were in the mix and had similar philosophies; e.g., a patient ownership, bargain acquisitions in the off season, good farm systems that developed talent and smaller payrolls that can actually be met by the real revenue made from the sport. Another old aspect that has resurfaced is scouting and signing players from countries in Latin America. For old time fans like me this is all good news.
So, go Rockies! Make this a Rocktober month, as the Colorado fans are calling it, and the dream will become a reality that stirs the hearts of ordinary baseball fans all across the land. Give us some new heroes and some new stories to feed the improvement of this sport for the years ahead. The underdog is generally loved in America. In this case we have a neat feel-good story going. I hope the Rocks shock us and win it all.