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02-22-2004, 02:07 PM
Final Edition of Five Pressing Spring Training Questions Dedicated to Both Teams
By RICHARD JUSTICE, AOL Exclusive

If the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees did not exist, we’d have to make them up.

Come to think of it, we could not make these guys up.

They are funnier than Larry David, more interesting than Oprah and have been on stage longer than 'The Producers.'

And the act never grows old.

What they’ve given us in real life is better than anything we could dream up.

We owe them.

Big time.

So we dedicate this winter’s final edition of Five Pressing Spring Training Questions -- aka FPSTQ -- to the Yankees and Red Sox.

1. Was it impolite of Red Sox owner John Henry to call for a salary cap when his team has outspent everyone except the Yankees?

Mr. Henry violated one of the cardinal rules of sport, which is this: If you make a monumental mistake, don’t do anything to call attention to yourself.

The Red Sox dropped the ball in their Alex Rodriguez negotiations on so many levels that it’s hard to count them all. In the end, though, they blew it, and when A-Rod ended up in pinstripes, they should have shut their yaps.

Instead, they whined. As one owner said this week: "I love it when an owner with a $125-million payroll criticizes an owner with a $200-million payroll. Where does John Henry want the salary cap to start? At $140 million? Both those teams have spent so much more than most of the rest of us can even dream of spending."

2. Well, what should John Henry have said?

If he had to discuss it, he should have pointed out that pitching is going to decide the American League East. He should have reminded New Englanders that the Red Sox had baseball’s best offense last year and will have one of the best this year.

But that’s not what it’s going to come down to. That’s not what wins in October, either.

If Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Derek Lowe are healthy and productive, the Red Sox will be in the mix.

The Yankees have perhaps the most dazzling offense ever assembled, but if Kevin Brown and Jon Lieber don’t stay healthy and if Jose Contreras isn’t more consistent than he was last season, they may not win.

3. What else?

If he wanted to stir the pot, he could have said: "Hey, I’ve been looking at this thing, and I think Alex Rodriguez is a wonderful player and all, but I’m not sure he makes the Yankees a better team.

"They traded Alfonso Soriano, who is a pretty good player. They traded a guy who hit .290 with 36 doubles, 38 home runs and 91 RBI for one with a .298 batting average, 30 doubles, 47 home runs and 118 RBI.

"No one would argue that Soriano is better than A-Rod, but what I see the Yankees having done is improving an offense that was already pretty darn good.

"Really, it’s been a pretty good day for the Red Sox.

"I was going to come out here today and discuss the need for a salary cap. I’ve changed my mind. We need to retain some flexibility to make a move or two during the season, and because our farm system is better than New York’s, we’ll have more prospects to trade, and, therefore, be dealing from a position of strength."

4. Anything else?

He could have talked about pressure. Every move the Yankees made this winter is accompanied by a corresponding increasing of expectations.

So now they enter spring training with the kind of pressure that can smother a baseball team.

They’re the only team in baseball that considers anything less than a World Series championship to be a failure.

There’s no wiggle room.

They have so many new players that it will take some time for the various pieces to fit together, especially on a club like the Yankees, where the microscopic nature of the coverage tends to exaggerate every crisis.

Because they have so much raw talent, every slump is going to be met by screaming headlines on the tabloids. Their new guys, specifically Gary Sheffield and A-Rod, haven’t had to cope with this kind of pressure before.

They’ve both had to deal with expectations and things of that sort, but Yankee pressure is different.

Just ask Ed Whitson, Jeff Weaver and others who simply weren’t cut out for life in Yankeeland.

And as Tony La Russa will remind the Cardinals next week: "You still have to play the games.’’

5. Was the A-Rod deal bad for baseball?

No, it was incredibly good for baseball. The most interesting team got more interesting, the best player moved from oblivion to center stage and the best rivalry got cranked up another couple of notches. Last summer, the Yankees and Red Sox gave us one of the best regular-season series in history. Then they gave us a seven-game playoff series that was even better. And now this.

Let the games begin.