Fans always left behind with player movement


July 16, 2004|By Laura Vecsey

I GUESS WE'RE supposed to care. I guess we're supposed to believe. I guess we're supposed to feel dedicated, loyal, invested. I guess we're supposed to root. I guess that's what it means to be a fan.

Someone e-mail me. Tell me how.

Shaq's gone from the Lakers. The most dominant player in the NBA, traded without a shred of care. See you, big guy. It's been real, it's been fun, but it hasn't been real fun.

Pat Riley's probably so giddy, his hair's a mess. It's Lakers South now. It's Shaq Diesel partying in South Beach while Rudy Tomjanovich is left to pick up the pieces in Los Angeles.

What kind of doctor is Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss? A doctor of lunacy, a doctor of lifelong regret? Jerry West cried the day he signed Shaquille O'Neal. It was a news conference held in Atlanta that upstaged the start of the 1996 Olympics. Bigger than the birth of his first child, West said, tears rolling down those famous cheeks.

A star player's move this incredible hasn't happened since ... since ... since February, when the Rangers succumbed to demands from their $252 million franchise player, Alex Rodriguez, to trade him - to a winner.

A-Rod took the first thing smokin' out of Texas, making it another state that will forever boo him. This is what we do to the greatest athletes of our time as they come and go. And go. And go again in this nomadic, wide world of sports.

But is it a wide world of sports anymore? No way. It's a cauldron. A small, steaming, stinking pot that must be stirred every fraction of a second. Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore? Carole King sang it a long time ago.

Forgive us for showing our age, our old-school desire for lifelong affiliations, for stars who stay and endure. Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Tim Duncan. These stay-at-home stars are too rare, too few, an extinct breed.

No wonder fans are numb, or worse. It's hard to root for the uniform when players switch teams faster than we click the remote control.

David Beckham moved from Manchester, England, to Spain. Ichiro Suzuki moved from Japan to America. Terrell Owens moved from San Francisco to Philadelphia.

Now the Red Sox are determined to trade Nomar Garciaparra someplace, any place, so they can try to get Randy Johnson.


Who cares if he's cold or prickly or suspicious? He's a once-in-a-lifetime player. Boston fans know it. That's why they've loved him.

Now he's expendable. No question Boston wants to trade him. It has been that way since last winter, once the Red Sox said they would rather have A-Rod than Nomar.

Forget about all those kids from Nashua N.H., to Mystic, Conn., wearing No. 5 jerseys. Here, kids. Here's the Red Sox rallying cry: We don't need Nomar, so you don't need Nomar. Just wait until it's Randy Johnson jersey giveaway night. Sox fans can burn Garciaparra jerseys en masse on Yawkey Way. A collective purging ritual that could double as a Curse Killer.

Or not.

Who cares that Garciaparra was the latest incarnation of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski? Doesn't matter. What matters most of all is Randy Johnson. Now. It's July - a perfect time for fire sales, salary dumps.

Teams tear themselves apart, like a wolf eating his leg to get out of a trap. Or teams bolster for a three-month run, like some reality TV show, instant gratification without having to eat maggots or bungee-jump from the John Hancock Tower.

Who cares that Garciaparra and Mia Hamm have a new house in the great state of Massachusetts? It's Garciaparra for Johnson, via the Chicago Cubs if need be. Anything to catch the Yankees.

Ah, yes, the Yankees. They are always one degree of separation in any of baseball's superstar deals. They will make a play for the Big Unit. The Yankees like to jump into trade talks, even if it's to prevent another team from getting a quality player who can help beat them.

The Yankees will do whatever they can to get Johnson, even if only to keep him from the Red Sox.

Whether the Yankees or Red Sox win the rights to Johnson isn't the point. The point is Johnson and the Diamondbacks were supposed to be married for life.

Jerry Colangelo wooed Johnson. Johnson had a snit fit in Seattle so he could wind up in Arizona. Unlike A-Rod, who bailed on Texas, at least Johnson was dedicated to his hand-picked partner.

Instead, Johnson and the Diamondbacks are a thoroughly modern sports couple. Johnson was the trophy wife, happy to build his big home in the Valley of the Sun, until he got tired of a sagging, depressed sugar daddy.

Six years ago, Johnson's desire to get to Arizona prompted the Mariners to trade him to Houston. One of the greatest pitchers of all time spent the second half of 1998 as a rent-a-player - a bad move mostly for the Astros, who gave up three young players who are still productive in the big leagues.

Now it's another July. Another trade deadline is approaching. The Big Unit will be on the block. He'll probably pass Nomar and Shaq in the unfriendly skies.

And we'll watch them land, only to wonder when they'll take off again.

Go, team, go.

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