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February 14, 2014 at 10:02 pm ET
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What’s The Deal With ESPN’s “The Deal”?

ESPN’s 30 for 30 is a wonderful series. The idea of letting different filmmakers explore sports story lines big and small over the last three decades is inspired. The fresh artistic voices have injected life into the sports documentary brand, a genre that can often feel stale or uninspired, especially for passionate fans.

While not every film in the series has worked, the failures are largely the result of grand ambition. The same freedom that makes the series work, giving distinct cinematic auteurs the ability to dive deeply into a piece of recent sports history, no matter how prominent or obscure, can lead to a dud. Sometimes the drama or compelling narrative that appears initially isn’t there once everything gets unpacked.

All of this is why it’s so disappointing that the latest topic ESPN  devoted a 30 for 30 to is the 2003 Alex Rodriguez near trade to the Red Sox and his eventual acquisition later that offseason by the Yankees. The web short, called “The Deal” premiered yesterday. Rather than pulling at the threads of under covered piece of history, it dives full bore into the tired and played out story line that only ESPN still cares about:  the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.

The Red Sox and Yankees played two wonderful ALCS’s a decade ago. They were contentious too, spurred on by the contrasts of the two franchises histories, with the Yankees extraordinary success often coming at the hands of the tortured Red Sox. After the Red Sox stormed back from the first 0-3 hole in MLB history to beat the Yankees on their way ending an 86 year World Series drought, the rivalry has been mostly noise. Both have had successes and failures, each have one at least one title since, and they’ve yet to meet again in the playoffs. Yet ESPN, probably due in no small part to its proximity to both cities in Bristol, CT,  continues to trumpet the competition between the two as the preeminent MLB story line. It was annoying even when there was substantial heat to the rivalry. Now it just feels tiresome and played out.

It’s telling that one of the primary interview subjects in the piece is Buster Olney. Olney was the Yankees beat writer for the New York Times for much of their late ’90s/early 2000s dominance, before moving over to ESPN and taking on a national focus in 2006. It’s not uncommon to hear Olney accused of Yankee bias, but, his tics involving the team he used to cover is a little more subtle than that. It’s not that he openly roots for the Yankees, or has blinders on when it comes to their faults. It’s just that to him, the Yankees are the center of the baseball universe. A roster move, or quirky comment from a player, that qualify as immaterial minutiae for any other franchise takes on considerable importance because it involves the New York effing Yankees.

Perhaps if the short covered some new ground on the series of events that almost made Alex Rodriguez a member of the Red Sox but instead made him a Yankee, it might be worthwhile. Rany Jazayerli has a worthwhile companion piece exploring how public perception around A-Rod might be different had he ended up in Boston that off-season.

Instead, this is mostly a re-hashing of events that were over-covered at the time: Texas deciding to move Rodriguez, details of a potential deal with Boston for Manny Ramirez leaking, the union spiking Rodriguez’s re-worked contract with the Red Sox, Aaron Boone tearing his knee playing basketball, the Yankees swooping in and trading for Rodriguez. The assumption simply seems to be that because it involves these two franchises, throwing in a couple pithy comments from Theo Epstein and rehashing known events constitutes riveting entertainment.

The Yankees missed the playoffs last year, while the Red Sox won the World Series. Despite a noisy off season, all signs point to New York continuing to slide, while Boston appears poised to keep on rolling. Here’s hoping if that’s the case, the Worldwide Leader in Sports can stop telling us how much we need to care about their rivalry. Though, of course, one of the noisy Yankees off-season moves was signing Jacoby Ellsbury, drafted and developed into a star by the Red Sox and the starting center fielder on two of their championship teams. Suffice it to say, it’s probably not wise to hold your breath on this going away any time soon.

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One Response to “What’s The Deal With ESPN’s “The Deal”?”
  1. Donny says:

    But, but………………..Yankees and Red Sox……….and Buster Olney.

    I also heard Derek Jeter might retire, but that’s another month’s worth of “news”.

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