In Major League Baseball, where big-market teams have won eight out of the past 10 World Series, your payroll often determines how far into October you'll be playing. The rise of smaller-market teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, however, has challenged that popular thinking in recent years, so we sat in on this year's Hot Stove, Cool Music sports roundtable to see what the experts thought. Former Boston Globe ace Peter Gammons moderated the talk, which featured new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, new Sox GM Ben Cherington, Chicago Cubs GM Theo Epstein, Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington, and retired major-leaguer (and one-time Red Sox) Sean Casey, who's seen life from both sides of the divide.
PETER GAMMONS The premise that we sort of started this discussion on is how different it is, small market versus big market. Sean, you've played here, you've played in Cincinnati, you've played in Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh. How different was it for you, to be in a big market, particularly here in 2008?
SEAN CASEY Expectations are just different. [In Cincinnati,] expectations were, if our pitching staff has career years, and if we all stay healthy and no one can go on the DL — because when you're in a smaller-market club, your bench isn't as deep, your bullpen's not as deep — it's just a lot of things have to happen, perfectly, for you to be where you need to be. But, when you play here in Boston, you know, going into day one, the club's set and your rotation's legit, lineup's legit, your bench is legit, and your closer's good, and I think that was the biggest thing as a player, knowing, hey, listen — things are set out for us to succeed.
GAMMONS Bobby, you helped build that Texas franchise, you managed in New York and now you're here. When you hear, "Okay, we're gonna get this player, that player," do you think at all about, "Okay, is he gonna be able to take this town?"
BOBBY VALENTINE Oh, absolutely. I think it's paramount in decision making — whether or not a guy can live in the fishbowl.
GAMMONS Now I ask this because Theo and Ben worked together for so long: when you were making trades, how much did you think about that and how many different times did you guys say in about May of the next year, "Oh my God, what do we do?"
THEO EPSTEIN Yeah, there's no doubt it's a very significant part of the narrative and probably the most complex question we have to answer. You have to be a little presumptuous, because it really strikes at the very core of the individual: who he is as a person, what motivates him, how does he relate to baseball, why is he playing this game, is he someone who feels failure or is he motivated by winning, is he somebody who is in it for himself or is he in it for the team? Is he in it for the money and the things that surround the game, or is he in it because of a pure, deep competitiveness that's probably been in him since he was five years old?