Red Sox

I'm going to miss baseball and I'm not embarrassed to say it

I'm going to miss baseball and I'm not embarrassed to say it

My name is John, and I have a confession.

I miss baseball.

I know it's hip to rip the national pastime for being past its prime because the game is too slow and the nights too long and the product too predictable in its sensory-killing metronomic click of strikeout-strikeout-homer, strikeout-strikeout-homer.

But as the spring officially kicks off without any games — the Red Sox were supposed to open Thursday in Toronto — now's a time to take stock of what we'll miss if ballparks remain empty through at least May or June, if not beyond.

Baseball makes an easy target for ridicule, with its staid unwritten rules and untimed game in an era of hyperactive attention spans and handheld devices and instant gratification. But the outright hostility the sport engenders among a certain demographic of fans (and sportswriters) sometimes feels like it's coming off the top rope when a telegraphed slingshot into the turnbuckle would suffice.

Baseball's place in the American sporting consciousness remains unique. It owns the stage from June until September, and its daily pace helps give the summer a narrative. Winning streaks mean euphoria. Losing streaks feel interminable. But the connection is constant.

"Bah," you might say with an eyeroll. "Baseball's day has passed."

While it's true the game desperately needs to accelerate pace of play and increase the action on the field — all those homers and strikeouts can be pretty numbing, click, click, click — let's not pretend MLB is in danger of folding or anything.

Major League Baseball remains the second most valuable league in the world, with annual revenues of roughly $10 billion. That's more than the English Premier League and NHL combined. Even with an attendance drop of 14.5 percent since 2007, baseball still draws nearly 70 million fans a year. In addition, its broadcast rights remain more lucrative than ever, with Fox, ESPN, and Turner Sports negotiating deals totaling more than $13 billion.

Those are just numbers, though. What I miss is more personal.

I've walked into Fenway Park probably 2,000 times since 1996, and the sight atop of the first ramp outside Gate D never gets old — the grandstand, the impossibly green grass, the Monster. There's a part of me that still feels like the kid attending his first game in 1982, marveling that the park could simultaneously feel so big and yet so intimate.

Summer nights mean the murmur of the crowd wafting through the radio while lighting the grill, or flipping on a few innings to unwind. Just because fewer and fewer fans want to sit through an entire three and a half hour game anymore doesn't mean they're ignoring the product altogether. Baseball can be consumed in bites, two innings here, four innings there. It's nice to know it's always an option and if you want to scream that that proves it's irrelevant, have at it. I just happen to disagree.

I still love the game itself, though it's certainly trying my patience from a pace perspective.

The individual battles provide endless opportunities for second-guessing and analysis, from pitchers vs. hitter, to fielder vs. runner, to manager vs. manager. It's the one sport everyone in my generation played growing up (clarification: mostly just the boys), so it's the one sport we could identify with on even the smallest level. I understand that millennials and Gen Z were doing other things.

You know why else I miss baseball? Because in a time of crisis, it has often helped unite and/or heal us. Think players answering the call during World War II and Korea, George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at the 2001 World Series after 9/11, or of course, Boston Strong in the wake of the Marathon bombings.

Nothing will say return to normalcy like packing Fenway Park again (although who knows if we'll ever view large crowds the same way again). And even if that day remains weeks or months or maybe even a year away, it will happen.

And on that day, I will be there, and you'll be watching, and we'll collectively celebrate the return of this maddening, confounding, perfectly imperfect game.

 

How Bobby Bonilla Day can save MLB's ongoing salary dispute

How Bobby Bonilla Day can save MLB's ongoing salary dispute

If baseball wants to solve its impasse over player compensation during the pandemic, here's a thought — make Bobby Bonilla Day a holiday.

Bonilla is the former Mets slugger who struck an incredible deal as his career wound to a close.

In exchange for waiving the final $5.9 million he was owed in 2000, Bonilla agreed to receive 25 payments of roughly $1.19 million every July 1 from 2011 through 2035.

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Why trade $6 million in 2000 for nearly $30 million later? Because Mets owner Fred Wilpon intended to invest the money with Bernie Madoff, whose funds consistently delivered massive returns. We now know Madoff was running the world's biggest Ponzi Scheme, and when his $64 billion fraud collapsed in 2008, it took hundreds of millions of Wilpon's money with it.

What's bad for him was good for Bobby Bo, however. Every summer, the six-time All-Star receives a check for over a million dollars, payments that will continue until he's 72. (The Mets, it should be noted, also agreed to make 25 annual $250,000 payments to Bret Saberhagen for similar reasons, starting in 2004.)

Here's where the current contentiousness enters the picture.

The owners want the players to take a massive pay cut in exchange for a season, arguing they can't afford to play in empty ballparks without salary concessions. The players don't want to return a penny, and in fact hope to play more than the proposed 82 games to make as much of their prorated salaries as possible.

One solution is deferrals. The players agree to put off some portion of their earnings, allowing ownership to maintain cash flow in the short term before the game's economics hopefully stabilize in the future.

And what better day to do it than Bobby Bonilla Day? Every July 1 starting next year, the players can receive a portion of their 2020 salary. Maybe it's paid in installments over three to five years, or maybe it's a lump sum.

However it's done, it could represent a meaningful olive branch from the players and a signal that they're willing to compromise in these unprecedented times.

The value for the owners is clear, because Wilpon isn't the only one who sees the allure of deferrals. The World Series champion Nationals prefer them as a rule, deferring not only $105 million of Max Scherzer's $210 million contract, but even $3 million of the $4 million they gave reliever Joe Blanton in 2017.

With players and owners at each other's throats, it could be disarming to invoke one of the game's stranger annual curiosities. And if it helps us play baseball in 2020, there's also this: Open the season on July 1 and make Bobby Bonilla Day, for one year anyway, a national holiday.

Who are the best right fielders in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

Who are the best right fielders in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

Corner outfielders for the Red Sox have vastly different responsibilities. 

While left fielders have to learn how to play with the Green Monster at their backs, right fielders are tasked with covering an immense amount of ground with some quirky angles —duties which require not just a mobile defender, but a fearless one. A strong arm helps, too, lest the turnstiles between first and third just spin all game.

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Fortunately for the Red Sox, there have been no shortage of exceptional right fielders over the years, including a number who didn't make our top five, like Dirt Dog Trot Nixon; postseason heroes J.D. Drew and Shane Victorino; and Earl Webb, whose 67 doubles in 1931 remain one of the longest-standing single-season records in the game.

The final list includes a Hall of Famer, two MVPs, a hometown hero, and one of the franchise's longest tenured stars.

Click here for the Top 5 right fielders in Red Sox history.