Who Do You Give Your Loyalty: The Team or Its Players?
by Scott Long
As I've mentioned here before, I didn't start rooting for the White Sox until I fell in love with a girl in college who was a big fan of the Pale Hose. Before this point I had been a die-hard Tigers fan, but I became intoxicated in my love for the girl (who is my wife), plus I developed a man-crush on a young hitter at the time, Frank Thomas.
Thomas was everything I wanted as a Bill James devotee. No player has ever started his career more dominant than the Big Hurt, as he had an OPS over .1000 every one of these 7 seasons, except for 1992 when it was .975. The combination of his ability and immense size made him the most exciting hitter to watch in baseball during the 90's.
The time came, though, when the White Sox decided that it was time to cut Thomas loose. Frank felt like the Sox had treated him poorly, as he felt that the team owed him for what he had done for them in the past. Thomas might have been right, especially considering how well he played for the A's.
I mention this because as much as Frank Thomas was my guy, I thought the team did the right thing. The most popular player among most White Sox fans during the time I've been a fan was Robin Ventura. Many fans were irate when the team let Ventura go, but at the time to pay a 30 year-old 8 million annually for the next 4 years seemed a bit pricey, especially since the team seemed like they had a decent replacement in Joe Crede coming through the minors.
In some ways I have too much knowledge when it comes to the game. I can't take my armchair GM hat off long enough to embrace my favorite players. Moneyball, sabermetrics, and fantasy baseball have made me more informed and at the same time have taken away some of the romance of the game. Sometimes being better informed removes some of the mindless bliss from the game.
My love for the game now is like the one I have for my wife. Respectful for the long bond we have had. When I was 12, my love of the game was like the initial stages of a relationship, when you are leading with your heart. (hey, I'm trying to keep this classy.) Both have their merits, but sometimes you wish you could have it all, don't you?
So now the White Sox and Mark Buerhle are going through an impasse on a new contract. The team wants to wrap up the neogotiations before the All-Star break, as they plan on trading Buerhle, otherwise. The contract offer stands currently at 4 years-56 million, which seems like a good deal for the White Sox. The sticking point is a no-trade clause which Buerhle wants.
I've been a huge supporter of Buerhle and think he will continue to be the type of pitcher he has been during his career. Despite him being such a quality front-line starter, I agree with the Sox postiion, as having a trade option is vital for teams with a certain salary cap restrictions. With the playoff races so competitive and Buerhle being by far the best pitcher on the potential trading block, I would think he should be able to bring in a nice haul.
Ultimately, I will always root for Buerhle if he plays for the Sox or not, just like I do for Frank Thomas. I understand the game is a business and both sides have to do what is best. What I won"t do is boo one of my favorite players when they show up with a new team, like many Cleveland Inidans fans have done with Jim Thome. Maybe Ichiro and Sam Wyche were right about Cleveland.