That was quite the waiver deal the Los Angeles Dodgers swung with the Boston Red Sox over the weekend. The Dodgers, if I’m not mistaken, got Adrian Gonzalez, a broken-winged Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and a keg of Samuel Adams (otherwise known as Josh Beckett), and the Red Sox got a throwaway first baseman, a couple of pitching prospects, two other players and, best of all, absolution from having to pay $262.5 million after this season to Gonzalez, Crawford, Punto and Adams. I mean Beckett.
Pennant fever — catch it.
Now that the L.A. franchise is out of divorce court, bankruptcy court — everything but Judge Judy’s court — its new owners, Magic Johnson among them, have decided to go for the gold right out of the box. In addition to the Bosox Bunch, the Dodgers recently acquired Hanley Ramirez from Miami and Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino from Philadelphia, among others. If they ever win the World Series, they’ll have to wear name tags at the ring ceremony.
But they’re taking a shot at it anyway, because, well, they’re a megamarket team and their new bosses have the bucks. And money has always talked in baseball, louder than in other sports, because of its lack of a salary cap and general might-makes-right mantra. Playoff clubs are bought and paid for as much as they’re the product of canny scouts and astute front offices. Indeed, a more stacked deck is hard to find — this side of “The Sting.”
And now the wheeling and dealing in July and August is becoming more frenzied than ever. Why? Because MLB has created another postseason berth in each league, bringing the total to 10. The owners thought this was a great idea, ranking right up there with lowering the pitching mound and closing their eyes to steroid use.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an issue that the clubs want more than to have the extra wild card this year,” commissioner Bud Selig said. “It’ll be exciting. One-game playoff, it will start the playoffs in a very exciting manner.”
As we’ve seen, though, it also will give the more well-heeled teams another chance to accomplish with their checkbooks what they couldn’t otherwise. And the Dodgers have taken advantage of it in gathering up an elite first baseman (Gonzalez), a pitcher with a 7-3 postseason record (Beckett), a third baseman who’s won a National League batting title (Ramirez), an outfielder who’s played in two World Series (Victorino) and, for the future, a four-time All-Star left fielder (Crawford).
Going into Sunday, Los Angeles was a half-game out of the second wild card spot and two games out of first in the NL West. That’s not much ground to make up for a club that, in true Hollywood fashion, has undergone major cosmetic surgery (e.g. liposuction, followed by a nose job and Botox injections). Come October, if they’re still standing, the Dodgers could be as formidable as any team in the playoffs. And if they can somehow win the division, they could be the biggest obstacle standing between the Washington Nationals and the Series — the Who’s-on-First, I-Don’t-Know’s-on-Third Dodgers. Is this a great country or what?
Maybe not if you live in Pittsburgh — and your club, in postseason contention for the first time in two decades, is trying to keep pace with L.A. by going the Craigslist route and adding Wandy Rodriguez and Travis Snider. No, if you’re a Pirates fan, you might think this fifth-playoff-team business is just another boondoggle designed to benefit the Haves at the expense of the Have Nots. And doesn’t baseball already have enough of those?
(I’m reminded of Bill Murray’s rousing pep talk to the Camp North Star kids in “Meatballs”: “Even if God in heaven above comes down and points his hand at our side of the field; even if every man, woman and child held hands together and prayed for us to win, it just wouldn’t matter because all the really good-looking girls would still go out with the guys from [Camp] Mohawk because they’ve got all the money!”)
Hypothetically, another postseason berth sounded like a swell concept. In reality, it has given us the Dodgers gobbling up all-stars the way Joey Chestnut scarfs down hot dogs. Burp.