By Jim Caple
Page 2

To paraphrase Fred Willard in "Waiting for Guffman," the Midwest is the best coast in baseball … if you consider the Mississippi River one of the coasts. And you would already know the Midwest is home to all that is good and wholesome and admirable in baseball, except Midwesterners are too grounded and humble and decent to brag about it.

The East Coast? Forget it. The East Coast is in decline and in denial. Those overpriced, overrated and over-hyped AL East and NL East teams have produced just two world championships in the past six seasons. The Atlanta Braves had a losing record this year. The Yankees get knocked out of the postseason earlier and earlier. The Red Sox are so desperate they recently agreed to pay $51.1 million just for the right to negotiate with Scott Boras.

Meanwhile, the West Coast is too busy producing bad movies, expensive coffee and software security updates to field championship teams. Money Ball has yet to produce an American League pennant in Oakland, let alone a World Series win. The Dodgers haven't won a World Series since Patrick Swayze had a career. The Giants haven't won a World Series since moving to San Francisco. The Mariners and Padres have never won a World Series. The AL West is so weak it can only manage four teams, one of which is in the Central time zone.

Justin Morneau
Ron LeBlanc/WireImage.com
You had money on Morneau winning the AL MVP, right?

And the Midwest? The Midwest is the proud home to the 2006 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, the 2005 World Series champion Chicago White Sox, the 2006 American League Cy Young award winner (Johan Santana) and now the 2006 American League Most Valuable Player (Justin Morneau). The best player in baseball (Albert Pujols) and the best pitcher in baseball (Santana) both reside on the Mississippi.

How do the Midwest teams do it while operating with payrolls so limited they include paying their players with postdated checks? It's no secret, and folks on the coasts can see the answer for themselves if they ever bother to look out the window while jetting over what they derisively call "flyover land." Central division teams succeed the same way everyone does it in the Midwest: by getting up earlier and working harder in worse weather than everyone else in the country.

East Coast and West Coast teams simply buy their rosters, but Midwest clubs raise theirs like the region's farmers who grow the crops that feed the nation. While Derek Jeter is still at a nightclub slurping Grey Goose off the chest of the latest Maxim cover girl, Pujols is building up his powerful wrists by waking up early and milking the cows on the dairy farm he bought with his first contract bonus. While Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi shoot every possible chemical into their body, Justin Morneau is bulking up by eating so much hearty sweet corn on the cob that he could test positive for ethanol. And after a long summer of striking out batters with his 90-plus smoke, Santana ices his arm during the winter by holding it out the rolled-down window as he drives to Lake Minnetonka for a little ice fishing.

The Midwest's supremacy goes beyond the players and the standings, though. You may root for a team on one of the coasts, but when you go to a game, the beer you drink and the hot dogs you eat likely come from the Midwest. Heck, even the stadiums themselves are rooted in the Midwest. The East Coast is the home of the House That Ruth Built, but the Midwest is the home of HOK, the stadium firm that builds most of the game's other houses, including Yankee Stadium 2.

About the only thing the Midwest is lacking compared to the coasts is scandal. The West Coast is the home of the Cream. The Midwest is the birthplace of cream of wheat. The West Coast has the Clear. The Midwest's got milk. The West Coast has Barry's head. The Midwest has the Metrodome.

Face it. In every way, the Midwest is superior to the coasts right now. Although, admittedly, there is no defense for the Kansas City Royals.

TELL YOUR STATISTICS TO SHUT UP
Just got back from a vacation in New Zealand, and still can't figure out how Boston's $51.1 million bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka makes any sense. Sure, he's a good pitcher, but $51.1 million just for the negotiating rights? By the time the Sox sign him, his cost will likely be close to $24 million a season. And that's for a pitcher who has never thrown a pitch in the majors, has to learn an entire league of players -- most of whom hit with far more power than he's accustomed to -- and he'll be pitching in one of the smallest parks in the game. Any financial windfalls also seem dubious. The Sox already sell out Fenway for most games, so Matsuzaka can't produce much of an attendance gain there, while international broadcast revenues are divided equally among all teams. Even if he wins 12-16 games, wouldn't that much money have been better spent on two proven quality pitchers? Unless, of course, Boston figures it won't be able to sign him and therefore will have prevented the rival Yankees from getting him while receiving their posting bid back. By the way, it's good to see that Boras is already referring to him as D-Mat. … No real complaints about Morneau winning the MVP -- .321, 34, 130 is nothing to sneeze at -- but my vote would have gone to his teammate, Joe Mauer, or Derek Jeter, both of whom had exceptional offensive seasons while playing at much more important positions.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His Web site, Jimcaple.com, will be up and running again soon. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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