The Boston Red Sox are, justifiably, being raked over the coals for trading franchise icon Mookie Betts, but this is just how sports works
Pitchers and catchers are doing their thing. Opening Day is nigh. This is the time of year when Boston Red Sox fans should feel their most optimistic and excited.
With Betts (and David Price) now donning Dodger blue, however, Sox faithful are mostly just feeling angry. It’s been a long time since the Red Sox gave fans a homegrown Hall of Famer.
But Mookie… Mookie was different. If not for a certain angelic center-fielder, Betts might be considered the best player in the game.
Between the thousand-watt smile, the Gold Glove defense, the shocking power generated by his 5’9″ frame and the kid-friendly nickname, Mookie Betts was Boston’s heir to Big Papi, a fan favorite and the straw that stirred the Boston Red Sox drink.
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Two decades from now, Sox fans should have been telling their kids and grand kids about the exploits of the man named Mookie, in the same way our parents and grandparents told us about Teddy Ballgame, Jim Ed, Chicken Man, Rocket and Petey.
Yup, this sucks.
But at the end of the day, baseball remains a cold, hard business. Take a look at the top 50 active leaders in WAR and you’ll find just sixteen current players who have donned a single jersey for the duration of their careers. Five of the top six, in fact, likely Hall of Famers all, have played for multiple teams, with Mike Trout the (thus far) lone exception.
In other words, superstar players leave for greener pastures all the time. Would it be better for us fans if Albert Pujols had stayed in St. Louis, Justin Verlander remained a Tiger and Robinson Cano still wore pinstripes, like Stan Musial, Al Kaline, and Mickey Mantle before them? It’s just not the way this business of baseball works, and it hasn’t in a very long time.
Sure, this case feels different. Mookie Betts is younger and more productive than any of those players were when they started forwarding their mail to a new address. Also, the Red Sox are barely a year removed from another World Series title, their fourth this century.
But the truth is, this is the rule now, not the exception. The Cardinals were still washing champagne stains out of their uniforms when Pujols departed for La La Land. Cabrera was already a 4-time All-Star at the tender age of 24 when the then-Florida Marlins shipped him to Motown.
More recently, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were just 25 years old when they pulled up stakes and relocated to San Diego and Philadelphia respectively, and in what Bill Simmons might consider the ultimate in Ewing Theory justice, Harper’s jilted team, the Washington Nationals, just went out on won themselves a World Series without him.
So yeah, seeing our man Mookie patrolling right field in Dodger Stadium this summer is going to be a stomach punch to us Sox fans who were already looking forward to his Hall plaque adorned with a B.
Sure, we can be pissed off and threaten to boycott Red Sox games, which will have the same general impact as pounding sand. John Henry and his partners already have plenty of money. They don’t care if they sell a few less pink hats.
Or we can finally accept that this is how baseball works, and start dreaming on what having our own guy named Jeter might be like. We can continue to enjoy watching Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers mash while Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez mow opposing lineups down for as long as we can.
We can also be grateful for seasons we got to watch Mookie be Mookie, and look forward to his rare returns to Fenway Park.
Jerry Seinfeld once mused that sports fans are just rooting for clothes, and that’s more true today than ever before. But if we truly love baseball, we can and should also remain fans of the game itself.