The inevitable link between age and injury is only exacerbated by long contracts. Success in baseball forges its own anchors. Sooner or later, almost every World Series winner, hoping to keep everybody happy, signs a contract so long and so dumb that, with hindsight, you can hardly believe it.
In the Bronx, Alex Rodriguez is in his fifth straight year of offensive decline, yet is still owed $113 million through 2017. The Phils gave Ryan Howard a $125 million extension just before he blew out his Achilles’ tendon. Return date: unknown.
In Boston, ex-GM Theo Epstein, the legendary Ghostbuster of Fenway, will be remembered with mixed feelings. He’s starting fresh in Wrigley Field. But he left the contracts of Carl Crawford, John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka — with $175 million due — in his desk drawer.
For now, the Yanks and Red Sox have a common bond: starting rotations that look irredeemably mediocre, at least for 2012. With Ivan Nova (5.69 ERA) slumping in his sophomore season, the Yanks are so desperate that they begged Andy Pettitte, 39, out of retirement. Hint: That isn’t going to be enough. Anybody got Roy Oswalt’s number? Or Mike Mussina’s?
Great success sows seeds of intolerance for failure. After their historic collapse last September, the Red Sox had a witch hunt, complete with firing manager Terry Francona and leaked tales of various Bosox blithely guzzling beer and munching fried chicken in the clubhouse during defeats. As dynasties devolve, there’s a bitter period of denial. Somebody must be blamed. In East Coast baseball-crazy towns, that somebody is always found.
As a group, these three old favorites will trend toward .550 as the summer plays out. But they used to end up near .600. That’s their problem: One makes you a potential champ; the other may sneak you into the playoffs.
When baseball restructured its postseason, the goal was to reward division champions while giving wild cards a miserable trip to the World Series — starting with a crapshoot play-in game, full of excitement, but fluky.
MLB’s unspoken assumption: Give more teams a chance to taste the postseason but tilt the table so more glamour teams meet in the World Series.
Little did the sport suspect that the identity of those glamour teams was about to change. We don’t know who they are yet. But we know who they probably aren’t. The Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies — getting older, not better every year — are still contenders, but probably for wild-card spots.
Derek Jeter, David Ortiz and Roy Halladay now face a future where they must battle for six months for the right to play in the postseason.
Which, for them, may last one day.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.