Try to stay reasonably calm, Red Sox Nation
Say this about George Steinbrenner: There's never been anyone so skilled at getting under the skin of Red Sox fans.
The Yankees owner did what Red Sox management was unwilling - not unable, just unwilling - to do: He got the game's best position player, Alex Rodriguez.
Led by their poster boy for whining, Ben Affleck, and the hysterical Boston media, Red Sox fans are now crying in their beers, despondent over A-Rod's trade to the hated Yankees. But Rodriguez is only headed to the Bronx because Boston let him get away, and Red Sox fans know it.
The Red Sox had a deal for A-Rod in place in December, but they were unwilling to pay for what they viewed as an excessive contract, and the deal fell apart.
It doesn't matter to members of Red Sox Nation that their team is better off with Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez than with A-Rod and White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez, who would have been acquired for Garciaparra in a trade contingent on Rodriguez's acquisition.
It doesn't matter that the Red Sox still have better pitching than the Yankees, and that great pitching ultimately matters more than great hitting, as A-Rod's tenure with the Texas Rangers proved.
It doesn't matter that Rodriguez's arrival in New York creates a host of issues for the Yankees, problems that threaten to destroy everything they have built over the past decade.
It just matters that the Yankees got what the Red Sox once wanted, and now Boston fans are playing their favorite game. It's called "everyone must pity us," and the rules are simple:
1) Cry over the sale of a player who has been dead since 1948 (Babe Ruth).
2) Attribute any failings over the past 85 seasons to a "curse" that said traded player allegedly placed on the Red Sox, rather than blaming the real historical culprits, weak pitching and questionable front-office decisions. (Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell, anyone? How about deciding Roger Clemens was washed up three Cy Young awards ago?)
3) Make sure to constantly tell everyone how greatly you have suffered.
If the members of Red Sox Nation could break out of their self-pity - maybe it would help if Boston were relocated to Florida during the winter months - for one minute, they would realize that this trade guarantees absolutely nothing for the Yankees except the game's highest payroll. (Having the game's highest payroll didn't earn the Yankees a title in the last three seasons, while the Marlins, Angels and Diamondbacks did fine on much smaller budgets.)
These Red Sox fans - and the media; my fellow sports writers don't get off the hook here, because they're the ones who instigate the public - need to just relax. No team has ever won a World Series in February.
The A-Rod trade could end up being the best thing that ever happened to Boston fans, because it just might be the move that ultimately casts the House of Steinbrenner into a state of total disrepair.
You thought that Steinbrenner was impatient last year, when he called out Derek Jeter and company in spring training, then sniped with manager Joe Torre and others all season? Wait until you see the 2004 edition of "The Boss."
How will Steinbrenner behave if the Yankees stumble out of the gate even slightly? How's he going to react if Jeter struggles at shortstop, when he's got a Gold Glove-winning shortstop in Rodriguez playing at third?
He'll either fire Torre - whose six pennants and four titles in eight seasons aren't good enough for Steinbrenner - or he'll make his working conditions so intolerable that Torre quits.
Rodriguez has no idea what he is getting himself into. He may have thrived before, but he's never played in a high-pressure situation, starting first in Seattle - where most of the nation was asleep during his games and Ken Griffey Jr. was the focus of the remaining attention - and then in Dallas, where baseball is something you pay attention to during the commercials of Cowboys games.
Nothing in sports compares with playing for the New York Yankees. The pressure is immense and unceasing; the fans and media can turn on you faster than you can say "inning-ending double play" - not to mention that A-Rod's new owner won't be so understanding when the game's highest-paid player goes into the slumps that every player endures at some point.
And even if the Yankees are as good as advertised, so what? The Red Sox still have a great team, one that is more than capable of beating their hated rivals and winning the World Series.
Red Sox Nation, listen to what your new ace, Curt Schilling, said after the A-Rod deal was announced:
"It's another challenge, but after 85 years, did any of you think that getting over this final hurdle and winning it all was gonna be a cakewalk? No, it'll be more fun this way."
Think positive, take a deep breath and remember, it's only a game. It won't be a matter of life and death until October.
Rich Polikoff can be reached at email@example.com or at 539-6882.