Expect a starry summer in Southland, but what about the fall?
The first pitch has yet to be thrown, but the hyperbole already has begun. In its promotion of Sunday night’s season opener between baseball’s television darlings — the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox — the publicists of Major League Baseball issued a news release that trumpeted the game as “featuring the most storied rivalry in all of sports.”
It’s a big sporting world out there. Never mind what the Lakers and Celtics might have to say about this — or just about every school in the Southeastern Conference — but what about the rest of the world?
Consider the Mexican soccer rivalry of Chivas (Mexicans only, please) vs. Club America (all comers welcome), or the Spanish soccer rivalry of Real Madrid (descended from the Spanish monarchy) vs. FC Barcelona (home team of the Catalan rebels).
There is nothing ideological in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. It’s the provincial capitalists of New York vs. the provincial capitalists of New England, brought to you by Fox and ESPN, over and over again.
Where were we? Oh, yes, the baseball season starts Sunday night, and there is no shortage of compelling story lines in Southern California and around the country:
The McCourt divorce trial won’t start until after the July trading deadline, not a good sign for fans skeptical about club proclamations that what might be the costliest divorce in California history has not affected team spending. The Dodgers did not spend much for help in July ’08 and July ’09, before the divorce, and that could be disastrous for a team with a talented offensive corps and a perilously thin starting rotation.
Star (and Angels) gazing
The All-Star game returns to the Southland for the first time in 21 years, with the Angels as hosts. Playoff action should be back there too. Although they bid farewell to John Lackey and Chone Figgins, and the outfield is old and thin, the Angels could become the first team to win four consecutive American League West championships since the Oakland Athletics won five in a row from 1971-75. They have made five postseason appearances in six years under owner Arte Moreno, after making four in their first 43 years.
San Diego said so long to Trevor Hoffman two years ago and Jake Peavy last year, and Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell could be next. It’s possible the Padres could hang around the NL West race this summer — Jon Garland, Chris Young, Kevin Correia, Clayton Richard and Mat Latos make for a pretty decent rotation in a pitcher’s park — but rookie GM Jed Hoyer might be better served to trade Gonzalez and Bell this season, since each can be a free agent after the 2011 season.
Seattle looked formidable in the winter, grabbing Figgins to pair with Ichiro Suzuki atop the lineup and swiping Cliff Lee to pair with Felix Hernandez atop the rotation. But Lee starts the season on the disabled list, and the lineup depends upon Casey Kotchman and Milton Bradley. Kotchman’s development stalled with the Angels, and he’s with his fourth team in three years, but he’ll bat third, behind Suzuki and Figgins. The cleanup hitter is the temperamental Bradley, who last had 500 at-bats in 2004.
Fall of the Phillies
Don’t take that wrong. The Phillies, trying to become the first NL team since Stan Musial’s 1942-44 Cardinals to reach the World Series in three consecutive years, added a pitcher who would have fit in back then. Roy Halladay has pitched at least 220 innings four years running — finishing in the top five of AL Cy Young voting each time — and now he faces softer NL lineups. If CC Sabathia had seven complete games in 17 NL starts for the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers, could Halladay become the first NL pitcher with more than 15 complete games since Fernando Valenzuela threw 20 for the 1986 Dodgers?
Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2011 season, so talks on a new deal should start after this season. The small-market owners started grumbling last season, when the playoffs were all but reserved for the rich, and another October field dotted with L.A., New York, Boston and Philadelphia won’t help Commissioner Bud Selig convince owners more revenue sharing can work, rather than the salary cap that could shut down the game. Selig never would say so, but he needs Colorado, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay in the playoffs.
Joe Torre tabled his extension talks with the Dodgers, with signs he is discouraged about the direction of the club amid the McCourt divorce. Torre turns 70 in July, and he has talked about retirement, but his longtime pal Don Zimmer told SI.com Torre might never walk away. Torre and retiring Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox share the record for postseason appearances with 15 each. If the New York Mets implode again, General Manager Omar Minaya and Manager Jerry Manuel could be gone, and wouldn’t that be something if Torre made a triumphant return to New York — with the Mets?