When MLB free agents join their former team's biggest rival, a fan and media uproar is the inevitable result. With a rivalry like the New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox conflict, even the possibility of such a move can stir a frenzy.
Take the recent Red Sox interest in Nick Swisher. Its announcement evoked cries of wrath in the blogosphere akin to charges of treason. The Red Sox signed Jonny Gomes to a two-year, $10 million contract instead, however, many Yankee fans were not mollified.
True, Swisher will most likely play somewhere else in 2013. True, the choice is as much Yankee management's as his. The reality is that Swisher needs a job and he has every right to hire himself the best employer he can find. It's no different than someone leaving Walmart for Kmart or Walgreens for CVS.
So says logic.
Then why do I feel so relieved that Nick Swisher is not joining the Red Sox? It's because as much as we think we can approach professional sports objectively, fandom has an emotional component.
"Fan," after all, is a short form of "fanatic." What self-respecting fanatic would acquiesce to Nick Swisher or any other Yankee signing with the Red Sox of his own free will? Needing a job in 2013 is no excuse. Swisher should have accepted the Yankees' qualifying offer and been grateful for it instead of joining the ranks of MLB free agents.
On the other hand, that fanatic would regard putting Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, and Derek Lowe in Yankee pinstripes as a triumph. How it happens isn't important. What is important is that they have seen the light and are ready to do to the Red Sox what they used to do the Yankees. Reality holds no place in this world view. Passion reigns supreme.
Passion is why I'm going to miss Nick Swisher.
His 105 HR and 349 RBI as a Yankee helped win many a game, but his main value to a team and its fans are his passion. He loves playing the game for its own sake. His childlike enthusiasm for making the big defensive play to bring him closer to his next at-bat reminds us of our youth, when agents, contracts and signing bonuses were the farthest thing from our minds on a hot summer afternoon. Our worlds centered on the next pitch, the next hit, the next out. Swisher knows those feelings. What's more, he knows how lucky he is to make a seven- or eight-figure salary playing a game. For those reasons, I envy his next employer's fans and hope they give him the appreciation he deserves.
Of all the available MLB free agents, there is only one who could fill Nick Swisher's shoes: Josh Hamilton.
I'm not talking statistics here. Should he avoid injury, Hamilton would be a statistical upgrade. I'm thinking of the player who will most likely inspire fan affection, and Hamilton has a great head start. Recall the 2008 Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium.
Josh Hamilton hit 28 first-round home runs, a performance that drew chants of "Ham-il-ton, Ham-il-ton" from what MLB.com writer Barry M. Bloom called "the highly partisan Yankees crowd of 53,716." Imagine if Hamilton had the short porch in Yankee Stadum to target for 81 games a year. He would own New York.
That's looking too far ahead. I'm just relieved that in 2013, Nick Swisher will not call Boston home.
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