Commentary

Red Sox are masters of baseball's universe

Originally Published: October 28, 2007
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

DENVER -- "The Red Sox can have their Nation. The Yankees have the universe."
-- Hank Steinbrenner, New York Yankees senior vice president

Not anymore, they don't.

WORLD SERIES

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For the second time in four seasons, the Boston Red Sox are World Series champions and the indisputable rulers of the baseball universe as we know it. They are the Roman Empire of the postseason, having won eight World Series games in a row. Hail, Tito.

That the Yankees' Steinbrenner says otherwise is one-third arrogance, one-third ignorance and one-third stupidity. Then again, that sort of self-infatuation helps explain why the Yankees haven't played in a World Series since 2003 and haven't hoisted the sterling silver Commissioner's Trophy above their heads since 2000.

Didn't anybody from the House of Steinbrenner (George and sons Hank and executive vice president Hal) see what the Red Sox just did to the Colorado Rockies? Four games, four wins. They could have played a best-of-17 series, and the Red Sox still would have swept.

This was the Europeans versus USA in the Ryder Cup, New England Patriots versus anybody, chocolate eclairs versus Britney. Less than two weeks ago, the Red Sox were a loss away from playoff elimination. Now, they reek of champagne again.

Sunday night, in the plastic-covered visitors clubhouse of Coors Field, the Red Sox popped open green bottles of Domaine Ste. Michelle and soaked themselves in victory. DH/first baseman David Ortiz, looking ridiculous with blue swim goggles covering his eyes, stood on a small stage and yelled playful obscenities at his teammates. Ballplayers.

Then a half-dozen Red Sox shook their bottles and aimed them at their beloved Big Papi. He danced in the champagne like a child dancing in the gushing water of a fire hydrant.

[+] EnlargeRed Sox
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiLet the good times roll. For the second time in four seasons, the Red Sox are on top of the world.

"When I first came here in '03, it was like the most impossible thing to get done," said Ortiz of Boston's winning a world championship.

But then the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals to claim the 2004 World Series. Now this.

The Nation keeps annexing territory that once belonged to the Yankees. And with each championship, the Red Sox are reversing the conventional financial wisdom of the sport. Fat payrolls -- and the Red Sox have the second-fattest in the majors at $143 million -- can work if the people operating the wallet know what they're doing.

The Red Sox know what they're doing. They are what the other big-money franchises -- New York Mets ($116 million payroll in 2007), Los Angeles Angels ($109 million), Chicago White Sox ($109 million), Los Angeles Dodgers ($108 million), Seattle Mariners ($106 million), Chicago Cubs ($99 million), Detroit Tigers ($95 million), Baltimore Orioles ($95 million) and, yes, even the Yankees ($195 million) -- want to be when they grow up.

"I think if you look at who the stars were of this Series, it's not all about payroll," said Red Sox owner John Henry. "It's never all about payroll. … But it takes 25 guys to win. The guys at the bottom of this pay scale were just as important to this team … [pause for Henry getting champagne-sprayed by shortstop Julio Lugo] … as the guys at the top."

Ortiz made a beeline toward Henry. There were hugs, then Ortiz announced, "The best owner in baseball." Henry beamed.

"I think we have a good, young team," Henry said. "I think we have a solid team that's going to be strong for some time. But the competition isn't getting any easier in the American League. It's a really tough league."

Money guarantees nothing in baseball except expectations. But what happened to the Red Sox this season, as well as in 2004, isn't an accident. They spent money, lots of it, but they mostly spent it wisely. They did a lot of things wisely.

This is the 103rd World Series. Only two teams have won successive championships by 4-0 sweeps: the Red Sox (2007, '04) and, before they began to self-destruct, the Yankees (1998-99). It is entirely possible, if not probable, that Boston could win it all next season too.

The Red Sox are the Warren Buffetts of baseball. They invest and trade well.

While the Yankees were committing $120 million to Jason Giambi in 2002, the Red Sox waited a year and took a $1.25 million flier on a DH discarded by the Minnesota Twins. Maybe you've heard of him … Ortiz.

When the Yankees signed starting pitcher Carl Pavano, the Red Sox would later trade for Pavano's Florida Marlins teammate, Josh Beckett. To be fair, Boston also pursued Pavano. Pavano's Yankees career is deader than a Barry Bonds-Bud Selig photo op. Meanwhile, Beckett is building a résumé that one day could include Cooperstown.

The Red Sox aren't nostalgic or sentimental. Pedro Martinez? Johnny Damon? Enjoy New York, fellas. General manager Theo Epstein and his staff designate a value to a player and rarely waver from that value. That's why Damon is in a Yankees uni and Pedro in a Mets uni. Epstein isn't afraid of selective personnel turnover. If he were, that '04 team might be intact still.

Did I mention the 2005 draft? Pedro's departure meant a supplemental choice used to select Clay Buchholz, whose second career start resulted in a no-hitter last month. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who apparently hits nothing but doubles, was taken with the Orlando Cabrera pick. He hit .438 for the Series. Pitcher Craig Hansen came with the Derek Lowe pick.

Depending on the situation, the Red Sox aren't afraid to ignore slotting and signability issues. They invest heavily in scouting the Caribbean and Asia. They understand baseball has no borders.

They aren't perfect. (Hello, Edgar Renteria. And until recently, hello, J.D. Drew.) But if Epstein wants someone, if he's absolutely convinced that player will be the difference between a duck boat parade or losing, the Red Sox will cowboy up.

They outbid and outsmarted the Yankees on Daisuke Matsuzaka. So the Yankees settled for Dice-K Really Lite, Kei Igawa. Igawa was a disaster, finishing 2-3 with a 6.25 ERA.

"We just know that we're blesssed to have great resources," Epstein said. "But that in and of itself doesn't get you anywhere, as other teams have shown."

Greed, as Gordon Gekko said, is good. Or it can be. The Red Sox want more. More playoff appearances (that's the starting point for Epstein) and, if possible, more moments like Sunday night, when commissioner Selig handed them another World Series trophy.

A payroll of $143 million, when used the way the Red Sox use those dollars, can result in more of everything, including another championship run next season.

"This team is built well," said veteran reliever Mike Timlin. "You can't predict what's going to happen, but this team is built extremely well."

The outfield of Manny Being Manny, Ellsbury and Drew returns. Third baseman, Series MVP and free agent-to-be Mike Lowell will be asked back at a nice raise. If he leaves, Kevin Youkilis might take his place. Or maybe, just maybe, the Red Sox will romance Alex Rodriguez again (his ego-driven agent, Scott Boras, chose Sunday night to make the announcement of A-Rod's opt-out). It isn't as if they can't afford him, although Red Sox fans chanted "Don't sign A-Rod" as the Boston players and management mingled on the field hours after the game.

Big Papi is signed through 2010, with a club option in 2011. Dustin Pedroia looks like a fixture at second. Lugo? Not sure. Catcher and captain Jason Varitek is here for at least another season.

The starting rotation is a half-light-year ahead of the Yankees'. Beckett, Jon Lester, Buchholz, Dice-K, Tim Wakefield, possibly Curt Schilling (doubt it) or a free agent (don't doubt it). And the bullpen is mostly state-of-the-art (with Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen as the centerpieces).

Manager Terry Francona will return, as will Epstein, who appears to have designated his gorilla suit (remember his walkout two years ago?) for assignment.

"We've got a lot of young guys, we've got a lot of talent, a lot of guys in their prime," said Lester, who won the Game 4 clincher. "It should be fun for years to come, hopefully. Put some runs together and be in the playoffs every year."

Henry had it right when he said Steinbrenner and the Yankees "can have Mars and Pluto. We'll take Red Sox Nation."

They'll take that. And more trophies.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography, "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

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