Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Of Nations and Empires

This column is not about Red Sox baseball. No, no: It’s much worse. It’s about the misguided policy of Red Sox Nation building. Clearly, we’ve reached a perilous tipping point. We'd do well by turning to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers of another Great Nation that’s presently falling without a parachute.

Thomas Jefferson, a great man (though his spelling was atrocious), once wrote, "Experience hath shewn, that … those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny."


You know what? He's right: The Red Sox owners are perverts. And don't they remember what happened to Rome? To Greece? To the Yankees? All fell under the weight of their own hubris. (I can hear the bleacher chant now of fifth-century German barbarians: "Romans s***! Romans s***!)

"If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy," James Madison said. Was he channeling Nostradamus, or what? Mind you, he said this at the dawn of the 19th century, a mere 10 years after baseball was invented by the Pittsfield-Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. But it’s as if Madison had already done the math.

He knew an Evil Empire would rise. He foresaw the pin-stripe fright that followed. He envisioned how the Nation would panic and engage in a wretched cycle of debt spending and trading wars waged for the sake of world — or World Series — dominance. He foresaw the cost of big guns like Manny Ramirez, subsidized by, among other things, money that I would have otherwise spent on healthcare for my family.

Consider, the oppressive cost of beer at Fenway Park. Now $6-$7.25. Why do I pay that amount numerous times during a single game? Fear of the Yankees. How else to build a war chest but upon the backs of The People? Still, fear, as John Adams said, “is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable.” And he's right: I drink too much.

Truly, it’s wonderful the Nation now celebrates another World Series victory. But it's time we ask ourselves some tough questions. Did we really need to get this powerful, this imperious? Wasn’t it better when the fan base was the sports equivalent of Trekkies, lovably looney and vaguely dangerous?

Now look at us, with the second-highest payroll in the Majors, shoving our big, mass-produced B’s beyond our borders to a population that was better off without us. We're all the sudden acting as if we don't know what George Steinbrenner has done to the world. Through acquisition of any player he wants, no matter the cost, Steinbrenner  — in the words of Thomas Jefferson, referring to another King George — “has waged cruel war against human nature itself.” But by defeating our enemy, are we not becoming like our enemy?

Furthermore, Madison warned that the day will come when our Republic will be an "impossibility … because wealth will be concentrated in the hands of a few.” He was not only warning the Nation against breaking the salary cap. He understood that by buying its way to success, the Nation would only isolate itself and inevitably stir great hatred around the world, if not around the entire league.

The funny thing is, George Washington, saw it all coming: "Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism." And he wasn’t just talking about those pink Red Sox caps now worn by every seven-year-old girl from Hyannis to Westport, Conn. No, I believe he foresaw the blood-thirsty fans on sports talk radio who demand "victory" as the only option.

But Red Sox Nation, I ask: What’s the matter with our soldiers returning home to their families after a dignified defeat? Did I say "soldiers"? I meant "players."

Anyway, you know, it’s not too late to regroup. Sure, we need to rely on good intelligence and good pitching, but let’s not allow our frolicking good thing to suddenly forestall in the trappings of empire.

Most importantly, we need to redefine what it means to be "wealthy." As the man on the $100 bill once said, “There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war as the Romans did in plundering their conquered neighbours. This is robbery. The second by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way.”

Wow, Ben Franklin practically wrote our playbook for us. By trumpeting "agriculture," he envisioned a self-made Nation of little Dustin Pedroia farmhands toiling for an October harvest.

It's all about the farm system, stupid!

So my friends in the Nation, the season has clanged to a close. May our winter be spent in self-reflection. Then, come spring, in the words of a former Major League owner who is now a nation-builder: “Bring 'em on!"