The Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919 and they have been trying to catch up ever since. It apparently won't happen in 1999.
General manager Dan Duquette tried to steal some of the Yankees' recent thunder by extending a huge contract offer to center fielder Bernie Williams, but the Red Sox got whipsawed on Wednesday night, when -- in the space of one hour -- the Yankees trumped Boston's seven-year offer to Williams and the Anaheim Angels signed first baseman Mo Vaughn.
The second-best team in the American League East is out its most productive offensive player, and its options in the free-agent market have diminished to the point where the only hope of sustaining a strong offensive attack may be a late run at Rafael Palmeiro.
"We've always liked him," Duquette told the Boston Globe on Wednesday night.
The Red Sox have been interested in Palmeiro all along, but they have been preoccupied with the Williams negotiations. What a coup it would have been to swipe him from the Yankees in the wake of their record-breaking season, but all they did was drive up the price for agent Scott Boras, who got Williams an $87.5 million guarantee.
The loss of Vaughn was no great surprise, but it creates another situation similar to the Roger Clemens fiasco a couple of years ago. Duquette has allowed another popular local hero to leave town, and can only hope that Vaughn does not have the same kind of success for the Angels that Clemens has had in Toronto.
Duquette had hoped that the acquisition of Williams would divert attention from Vaughn's anticipated departure, but the timing of the two announcements couldn't have been worse for the Red Sox. Next season, while Clemens goes after his third straight Cy Young Award for the Blue Jays, Vaughn may be flirting with 50 home runs in Anaheim and Duquette may again be under fire in Boston.
Speculation already has surfaced that the Red Sox will push to acquire center fielder Jim Edmonds from the Angels, who now have an outfield surplus because Vaughn's arrival allows manager Terry Collins to move rising star Darin Erstad to center field.
Edmonds is all but certain to be traded, but there will be plenty of competition for his services. The Orioles, who would like to move Brady Anderson to left, would have to be interested. So, presumably, would every other club that expressed in interest in Williams.
The next couple of weeks probably will determine which of the AL East's big-money also-rans will win the division's automatic (okay, almost automatic) wild-card playoff entry. The Orioles also have been stymied in their efforts to improve the offensive lineup, while losing several productive players to free agency.
It might come down to a bidding war for Palmeiro, though Duquette seemed troubled by the notion that it might take a five-year deal to wrest the 34-year-old first baseman from the Orioles.
The Red Sox probably would have to make a serious overbid to convince Palmeiro to chose Boston over Baltimore, but that isn't out of the question. Duquette was waving around $87 million for Williams, so he probably would have no trouble meeting the five-year, $50 million price that Palmeiro set as his target last spring.
Now that Vaughn and Williams have signed, Palmeiro is the best offensive player left on the market. The price can only go up and Duquette may have no choice but to pay it.
Five years ago, baseball owners were bemoaning the industry's runaway salary structure and formulating the labor strategy that would wipe out parts of two seasons and force the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
The reason: Barry Bonds had just signed a six-year, $43 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. The Atlanta Braves were paying their top three starting pitchers a total of $11 million. The top payrolls in the game were pushing past $30 million.
Now, the top players are making $13 million per year. The same three Braves pitchers combine to make nearly $30 million and the top payroll next year will be in the neighborhood of $80 million. So, why isn't anybody in the industry predicting an impending economic catastrophe?
Either the owners were exaggerating their economic duress before the labor war or the economic fundamentals of the industry have improved so much that they can afford to double their aggregate payroll every five years. Or, more ominously, another labor showdown is on the distant horizon.
Molitor ponders future
Future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor reportedly has been offered a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays that would make him the club's full-time designated hitter next year and create a front office position for him upon his retirement.
Trouble is, he would almost certainly be viewed as the club's manager-in-waiting, which would create an uncomfortable situation for embattled manager Tim Johnson, who recently had to make a public apology for falsely telling players that he had served in Vietnam.
Rockies make pitch