I was 13 years old when I first had my heart broken. True story. My dad called me after school one day and said, there’s a rumor the Rangers might trade Tony Granato.
WHAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTT????? I had to calm myself down and take a walk around my suburban neighborhood. I had become a Ranger fan for good earlier that year (1989), when my dad took me to see some dude named Mario Lemieux play for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the New York Rangers, where another dude named Brian Leetch scored a shorthanded goal. Hard to believe I was sitting in an arena with future hockey hall of famers, yet when I was thumbing through the program I saw two pictures that made my heart soar as a teeny-bopper 13 year old: Tony Granato and John Vanbiesbrouck. Granato was also another rookie who came up along with Brian Leetch — defenseman of the future — and Beezer was a fan fave.
But to trade *my* favorite player and the hottest guy on the team? Heart wrenching. I could only imagine what my mom might have gone through when the Beatles broke up, as a girl of 14.
Yet, it prepared me. Granato was traded, and the Rangers ended up winning the Cup a few years later on the back of hard workers like Mark Messier, Mike Richter, Adam Graves and Brian Leetch. Leetch, who should have been a Ranger-lifer, was traded in the last few years of his career, but still came back to hoist his number to the rafters.
Cutting ties with Beezer was easier to take when it happened (especially since I loved Mike Richter). When my crush Gregg Jefferies was traded for Bret Saberhagen, my dad called me to break the news. Expecting a shriek, I said, “Well, it’s Saberhagen. He’s good.” My objectivity kept me grounded. And I learned to not get attached to certain players.
And that my friends, is our lesson of the day: you root for the name on the front of the jersey, not on the back.
Gone are the days, as Frank at NY Fan in South Jersey, of the Cal Ripkens and Tony Gwynns of the world: baseball greats who are synonymous with the teams for which they played. I don’t count the Yankees’ “core” of Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera because they overpay for the first two and Mo is a freak of nature. Pretty much, we have the Houston Astros, whose Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell (to a lesser extent Lance Berkman) who are all over the leaderboards for the team but were also there for a generation, and Atlanta Braves’ Larry Jones. Don’t give me the “Big Three” as an example: Tom Glavine left for the hated Mets (to them, not to me, of course) at one point and Greg Maddux, hypocrite who wanted to stay with the Cubs but opted for money, fame and championship caliber baseball in Atlanta. Not like I can blame him. I’m sure many of us would do the same thing.
The concept of the “hometown discount” is dead. I would say you heard it here first, though many on Twitter said so today and even our very own Metstradamus said as much yesterday. The Mets lost Jose Reyes, but this isn’t a team known for cultivating their own talent and keeping their homegrown players. It should not surprise us nor should it be unexpected that this would happen. Steve Keane at Kranepool Society said that he knew the Mets wouldn’t sign Reyes, and as he said a few months ago on our Kult of Mets Personalities podcast, that he actually thought Alderson HOPED someone would give Reyes a six-year contract. Someone did, and we see the fallout from that. We can only hope that it turns out to be a 20/20 hindsight good move.
Yet, I was surprised…nay, SHOCKED, really…that Albert Pujols left the Cardinals. Yes, I know he and the Cards couldn’t come to an agreement before the season. But I also know that people counted the Cards out when Wainwright was hurt. And hey, did you hear who won the World Series this year?
But raise your hand if you thought if there was such a thing as “company loyalty” left in baseball, there was such a thing as a “hometown discount,” that Pujols would have typified that. **RAISES BOTH HANDS AND FEET** Yeah, I am that chick. I hear all these great stories about the fans in St. Louis, how loyal they are, how every player LOVES playing there, no one ever wants to leave. Even careers get rejuvenated in St. Lou. Look at Berkman, who seemed like he left his best years behind in Houston. Even though Pitchers Hit 8th told me that Pujols pretty much stated he wasn’t looking for a hometown discount, I didn’t believe it.
There is Larry Jones. There is Derek Jeter. But these guys are exceptions to the rule that the name on the back of the jersey does not trump the name on the front of the jersey (yet, if you talked to Jeter’s GM Brian Cashman last year, he made negotiations uncomfortable by telling Jeter to get another offer better than the one they were offering).
I was 13 years old when I learned my lesson. That you’re only as good as the team you play on, and if you can get a better return in value, then that happens too. I’m not saying we can’t get attached to our favorite players (I am accepting of losing Reyes, but I will still miss him and wonder “what could have been”), but if we realize that we root for a larger entity as fans — the “laundry” — we’ll save ourselves much pain and anguish in the long-run.