“In the Game of Life there are few certainties.
In fact, most things are left to chance.
There is someone for everyone, we’re told.
But the search for that one person to ride beside you is serious business, especially when you’re 13.
It’s a matter of trial, error and pure dumb luck. And, of course, chemistry.”
The All-Star Break serves as an unofficial opening to the in-season trade market — kicking off a three-week whirlwind of rumor, speculation and activity that almost certainly will reshape the rosters of a significant number of Major League ball clubs.
Some will get better. Some will get worse. Some will market their futures to improve their prospects for the here and now, and others will go into yard sale mode to better their horizons much farther down the road.
It’s the one major storyline to hold our attention for what is otherwise, traditionally speaking, a rather forgettable time of year on the field.
Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski seems to always be in the middle (if not right on the cutting edge) of trade talks around the league.
If you can say nothing else about him, the man likes to make moves. And headlines.
I’m in the middle of my semi-annual viewing of ‘The Wonder Years.’
By semi-annual, I mean I’ve gotten to the point — having watched it so many times over the years – that I watch only the best episodes in chronological order.
In other words, most of the first season, and then hits and gaps over the following five seasons. At some point, I’ll rank all 114 episodes, and draw a very clear red line above the “skippable” portion.
But that’s for another day.
Easily on my Top 10 list would be “Don’t You Know Anything About Women?” (Season 3, Episode 11).
It’s the one where Kevin spends his Chemistry period pining after Susan Fisher, the blonde dream girl with a sugar-coated southern drawl — “She spanned the entire Periodic Table of Elements. She was gorgeous, exotic, and thanks to Donald Wallach, totally unavailable.” — while being hopelessly tied to his lab partner Linda Sloan: “Smart, funny and … comfortable.”
As Kevin states: “In Chemistry, as in life, the realities are clear: Some combinations make sparks … and some don’t.”
Susan and Donald Wallach (which might be the best name for a foil in the history of television) eventually split up; Kevin works up the courage to ask Susan, who visibly struggles to remember his name, to the big dance; They’re interrupted … by Donald, and Kevin loses his nerve. Linda then asks Kevin to the dance (“as friends”), after which Susan returns and suggests Kevin save her a dance. Kevin tries to weasel his way out of his commitment to Linda, but she won’t give in – saying she’d already turned down another prospective suitor (Steve Padway). Kevin arrives at Linda’s house to pick her up for the dance, Linda opens the door looking suddenly much different than what Kevin was used to:
Upon talking with her further, Kevin discovers Linda is even cooler than he’d originally thought and finds himself suddenly divulging things to her that he’d never spoken aloud to anyone.
They arrive at the dance – which will go down as one of the most perfectly orchestrated sequences during the entire run of the show. Steve Padway steals Linda away for a dance as the open pangs of “Crimson & Clover” ring over the loud speaker.
And then Susan Fisher appears in all of her teenage perfection, asking Kevin for that dance.
“As we stepped out onto that dance floor, I was prepared to take my place among the world’s greatest romances. No more admiring Susan from a distance, she was here in my arms, the perfect woman. The perfect song. the perfect moment …”
Only Susan turns out to be somewhat dull. Disinterested even.
There’s a horrible, wonderful moment draped in the thick awkwardness of teen angst before Susan scurries off.
More awkwardness between Kevin and Linda as Linda realizes Kevin would much rather be there with someone else.
Linda then utters the best line of the episode: “She’s not so great, you know.”
It’s the kind of brutally honest, uncomfortably real moment that made “The Wonder Years” so great.
Linda goes off after Steve Padway
“It was the first heart I’d ever broken, and in a way, my own heart was aching a little too. It didn’t seem fair. I really liked Linda, but the fact was I just didn’t feel about her the way … “
Kevin turns, his sickly expression taking on a paler shade of horror …
” … Susan Fisher felt about Donald Wallach.”
And there is the dream girl, dancing in the arms of the foil.
Kevin wanders, alone, through the crowd, and the camera brings us to Winnie Cooper, walking the outskirts of the room as “Unchained Melody” plays in the background. In the final shot, Kevin exits to the right, just missing a crossing of paths with Winnie before the camera fades to black over a herd of happy middle schoolers. One of the better narrated monologues of the entire series (Daniel Stern just had a way …) closes out the show.
There is a baseball point to all of this.
As franchises around the league assess their chances and address their needs, they naturally start looking at the “Susan Fishers” of the big leagues currently attached to other foils.
Thoughts of pairing up with those Susan Fishers get floated around at the expense of the Linda Sloans of the franchise — guys you know well, but don’t provide those same sparks that the Susans do.
But the thing is, in many cases, those midseason acquisitions can prove to be as disappointing as the Susan in the show.
You’re trading for the idea of who that player was with another club, and many variables come into play — ballpark dimensions, clubhouse chemistry, lineup spots, flaws that may have been hidden by a good team defense or stronger protection in the batting order. There’s the personal toll of the midseason move, potentially away from family. It could even come down to weather or playing surface.
Good or bad, whatever Susans you land in the midseason trade market just aren’t going to be the same as they were with their Donald Wallachs.
It’s a risk. And it’s a risk coupled with the prospect of giving up someone (or many someones) who might have been a better fit for your club either presently or in the long run (or both).
That thought looms large as Boston gets tied to names like Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, Josh Harrison or Martin Prado at third base.
They’re all good players. They could make the Red Sox better. But they’d be costly to acquire — which is an uneasy thought given that (at least for the moment) it would seem the club has serviceable options in Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin with Brock Holt and Pablo Sandoval due back at some point and Rafael Devers tearing up the minor league circuit.
The club has a bunch of Linda Sloan-type options at third base.
Likable. Comfortable, even. But no one to knock you head-over-heels. Not yet, at least.
That’s the problem.
It’d be the most glaring hole to point at if the team doesn’t wind up making a deep postseason run.
But to significantly upgrade would come at a steep price.
Current reports suggest Dombrowski is willing to take a wait-and-see approach. Personally, I hope that holds.
Maybe he’s able to offload the Panda and his contract for a depth option.
Maybe Devers becomes an effective late-season callup (lest we forget, Xander Bogaerts filled that same role during a dearth of third-base production in 2013 and wound up being a key contributor during the World Series run).
The prevailing thinking is to not be left in a situation feeling like the front office hasn’t done enough to improve the team.
But therein lies a faulty logic that action equates improvement.
What can’t be overlooked is that Boston’s current options are already in-house. The staff knows them, how to work with them, how to motivate them, where they’re strong and where they’re weak, and how they fit in with the greater franchise.
Like Linda Sloan, they’re comfortable.
And, the grass does tend to be greener where you water it.
The Susan Fishers of the league might look better from the outside, but there is no guarantee of the same level of comfort.
Maybe you land the dream — the marquee player who meets or exceeds all your greatest expectations.
Or maybe you’re left standing alone, leaving the dance long before it’s over.