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So long, Mookie

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You can't blame Mookie for wanting to test the market and you can't blame the Red Sox for trading him when they did. But it all takes away from the romance of the game, which is why we fell in love with it in the first place.

Dick
Flavin

Mookie is no longer a Red Sox. It hurts just to write those words.

It's like the death of a terminally ill loved one; you think that you're prepared for it, but when it happens the finality of it hits like a thunderbolt. We had plenty of warning that this was coming. There were rumblings about it being on the horizon for months. Even on the final day of the 2019 season, when he thrilled us by scoring all the way from first base on a routine ground ball single to right field to win the game in the last of the ninth inning, we were aware that it could be our last look at Mookie in a Red Sox uniform. We thought that the countless rumors and reports during the off-season had us steeled against the day when it would inevitably happen. But when that day finally came, the news was still devastating.

Conversely, the loss of David Price, a pitcher whose high quality is exceeded only by his high salary, has caused barely a blip on the radar scale of emotional distress.

I can't help but think back to when I was a kid falling in love with the game. The times were much simpler then. Ted Williams played for the Red Sox and we knew that he always would, just as Joe DiMaggio would always by a Yankee, Stan Musial a St. Louis Cardinal, and Bob Feller a Cleveland Indian. They'd always be with those teams because they had no choice. They were owned by them, not just for the length of their contracts but forever, or at least for as long as they played baseball.

It's nice to think that Williams would always have worn a Boston uniform even if free agency had existed back then, but the chances of that happening would have been somewhere between slim and none. Oh sure, owner Tom Yawkey's deep pockets might have tempted Ted to hang around, but he was constantly in a state of open warfare with the Boston media and he had periodic flare ups with the entire Red Sox fan base. He was not a happy camper for most of his career in Boston, and he didn't bother to hide it; his obscene gestures to the crowd provoked outrage, and some newspaper columnists built their entire careers on bashing and baiting him. Following Ted and Red Sox was like watching a train wreck everyday. It was gruesome but it sure held our attention. Every other team in the majors would have bid for his services if they could have. If free agency been in existence, Ted would not have wanted for suitors.

The fact is that super stars never left their original teams back then because they couldn't, even if they wanted to. And they never got traded either, because they were the face of their franchises.

Oh sure, there was that famously boozy dinner that Yawkey and Yankee co-owner Dan Topping supposedly shared one night in the late '40s at which they agreed to swap Williams for Joe DiMaggio, but when the sun came up the next day and he realized that Williams was just reaching the half-way mark of his career while DiMaggio was entering the twilight of his, Yawkey called off the deal. The trade lasted only as long as did the glow from the martinis.

Mookie has been determined from the start to go to free agency and test the market when he becomes eligible, which happens after this season. The Red Sox made a number of offers in the last few years to sign him to long term deals and avoid free agency, but were always politely turned down by Mookie and his representatives. It came down to trading him now, with a year to go before free agency, while they could still get some value for him, or waiting until this coming season ended when they'd risk losing him for nothing. The Red Sox reluctantly decided to pull the trigger now.

You can't blame Mookie for wanting to test the market and you can't blame the Red Sox for trading him when they did. But it all takes away from the romance of the game, which is why we fell in love with it in the first place.

The accountants and the analytics guys have always been important in baseball, because it is, after all, a business. But they've always been the men -- and women -- behind the curtain, working their magic out of public view. Now, however, they are out on center stage, right next to the players themselves. That's all well and good, but accounting is not a great spectator sport. Nobody wants to buy a ticket to see a guy in a green visor add up a column of numbers. Yet that's what so much -- too much, really -- of the game has come down to.

Is it any wonder that attendance has been tracking down in baseball? You wonder how committed a young fan will remain when he wakes up one morning to find out that his favorite player is going to be in another league next season, playing for a team three thousand miles and three time zones away. And that it is perfectly alright with the player.

It's just part of the business, we are told. That's true, but it's a long way from the part that is hitting, and running, and throwing.

At any rate, it was great while it lasted. Mookie Betts led the Red Sox to a World Series championship and gave us a lot of thrills along the way. We wish him well. That is to say, we wish him fairly well -- not so well that we break down in sobs every time we hear about his latest exploits.

The guy who really needs our best wishes is Andy Verdugo, the 23-year-old who has the unenviable job of trying to fill Mookie's shoes.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.



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