Monday, August 02, 2004

NO REAGAN. When Ronald Reagan died recently, George W. Bush's fans tried to compare their man to the Gipper. No, they didn't try to claim he was as gifted a communicator as Reagan. (To put it mildly.) But, like Reagan, they said, Bush is committed to a few big ideas, and leaves the details to others.

Now, I was no fan of Reagan, and am more than a little bemused by the Republicans' largely successful effort at turning him into their Franklin Roosevelt. Nevertheless, Reagan towers over Bush. If you don't believe me, read Strobe Talbott's review of Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended, by Jack F. Matlock Jr., published in this week's New York Times Book Review.

Matlock depicts Reagan as understanding almost from the beginning that Mikhail Gorbachev was a different kind of Soviet leader - and that Reagan responded with a single-minded intensity and engagement aimed at appealing to and reinforcing Gorbachev's best instincts. Talbott writes:

Matlock describes in telling detail how Reagan rehearsed for his first meeting with Gorbachev, which took place in Geneva in November 1985. Reagan assigned the role of the Soviet leader to Matlock who, for maximum authenticity, played his part in Russian, mimicking Gorbachev's confident, loquacious style. Matlock also sent Reagan a series of "spoof memos" that were "interlaced with jokes and anecdotes," based on an educated guess at what Gorbachev's own advisers were telling him in preparation for the encounter.

Shortly before setting off for Geneva, Reagan dictated a long memo of his own, laying out his assessment of the man he was about to meet. The Reagan game plan was to look for areas of common interest, be candid about points of contention and support Gorbachev's reforms while (in Matlock's paraphrase) "avoiding any demand for 'regime change.'" He cautioned the members of his administration not to rub Gorbachev's nose in any concessions he might make. Above all, Reagan wanted to establish a relationship with his Soviet counterpart that would make it easier to manage conflicts lest they escalate to thermonuclear war - an imperative for every American president since Eisenhower.

Can you imagine anyone writing such things about Bush's diplomatic style, say, in 2018? I can't. Bush's entire approach to foreign policy has been disengagement other than the occasional diktat, coupled with almost a pathological need to rub our allies' noses in the reality of American military power.

BYE, BYE NOMAR. If Nomar Garciaparra were determined to leave town after the season, then that alone justified the blockbuster trade. Let's be serious: the Red Sox are not going to the World Series this year. If they could make themselves even a little bit better by not letting Nomar just walk away, then so be it.

But the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy and the Herald's Gerry Callahan (sub. req.) claim it was quite a bit worse than that - that Garciaparra had become a cancer on the team, and that the Sox will be better off without him.

Yes, I realize that Shaughnessy and Callahan are the Negativity Twins. (Although if they were all that negative, you'd think they'd be ripping the front office for botching chances they had to sign Nomar.) Callahan, in particular, seems out of line in all but accusing Garciaparra of faking the seriousness of his Achilles' tendon injury.

Still, both columns have the ring of truth. Shaughnessy writes:

His misery dates back to before this season. After the Sox beat the Oakland A's in the fourth game of the 2003 Division Series, the Sox boarded the team bus for the first leg of their journey back to Oakland for the series finale. Everyone was buoyant and gripped with the prospect of going to Oakland and winning Game 5 ... everyone except for the star shortstop. He got on the bus, turned toward the excited throng, and said, "Why is everyone so happy? As soon as we lose, everyone's just going to rip us."

That was Nomar. The ultimate downer. The wonderful talent who hated playing in a place where people cared too much.

Garciaparra was a great player, and may be again, and I hate to see him go. But the Red Sox have certainly proven over the years that they can lose with him. So it's not as though he was indispensable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dan, you are so wrong about Nomar.

*Is.* Nomar *is* a great player, not "was" a great player. This is one of the worst trades ever. Just because he wasn't willing to be a chump and take whatever the team's fabulously wealthy owners were willing to throw his way, just because he wanted what amounts to a tinier bit bigger piece of the pie, doesn't mean he didn't want to stay in Boston.

I can't understand why fans so often accept basic business and economic principles when considering management's point of view, but not when considering the players' point of view. The money is there, and I don't know about you, but it's the players I pay to see, not John Henry. The team offered 15 million per year last spring; Nomar countered with 17 million. Instead of attempting to negotiate a figure somewhere in the middle, involving what would have amounted to pocket change from their perspective, the Red Sox broke off talks, then came back months later with the "market adjustment" figure of 12 million, then tried to get rid of him in the offseason.

Meanwhile, Nomar bought a house here.

The Red Sox were not sincere about re-signing Nomar. Nomar was sincere about wanting to stay here, his desire to preserve some of his privacy and dignity, and his distaste for a certain vengeful curly-haired columnist from the Globe notwithstanding.

Nomar is the classiest guy in baseball. He was the face of the Red Sox, its heart and soul, someone we could believe in. He never gave us anything less than his very best. Trading him away will go down as the worst deal since you-know-who. Go, Cubs!