The New York Times hails the Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series Collector's Edition
An original copy of the Declaration of Independence would not look as impressive. A copy of Magna Carta would not be as desirable. A print of the Mona Lisa would not be as attractive. A boxed set of a dozen DVD's arrived at my door recently: seven games of the American League Championship Series, four games of the World Series and a bonus disc. Which A.L.C.S.? Which World Series? Last year's, of course. Red Sox-Yankees, Red Sox-Cardinals. What's on the bonus disc? Don't ask me. I don't own a DVD player.So this handsome set sits on a shelf unopened. Produced by A&E Home Video and Major League Baseball Productions, the DVD's are said to be the first release of complete M.L.B. games, nearly 40 hours of scintillating postseason baseball.It's just the thing to watch to get into the stretch-run mode for this year's Red Sox-Yankees denouement. Only a third of the season remains, and the teams are close enough that anything can happen. What both teams have to guard against is the presumption that if they don't get to the playoffs as the division champion, which the Yankees have been the past seven seasons, they will be there as the wild card, which the Red Sox have been the past two years.As the American League races look now, the wild card is not the property of the East. The Oakland Athletics came out of their game in Minnesota last night with a two-game lead over the Yankees in the wild-card race. If they don't overtake the Los Angeles Angels for the West title, the Athletics could win the wild card. If Oakland does take the division, the Angels could be the wild card. Although the Twins are five games behind the Athletics after last night's game, they still have a chance to be the wild card.A warning was issued in this space earlier in the season that Red Sox fans shouldn't assume that the wild card, if not first place, was theirs. And if they are looking at the races sensibly and not fanatically - as if they are capable of having any other kind of view - they know the Red Sox have to play two months of top-tier baseball to return to the playoffs.Red Sox fans, on the other hand, aren't thinking wild card. Who needs the wild card when you have first place? The Red Sox have been in first place for nearly six weeks, except for one day, since June 24, and their supporters are confident that they will remain imbedded there for the remainder of the season.That may be a positive position to take, but it would also be foolish. Orioles fans, some of whom made their feelings vigorously known via e-mail messages, not long ago were certain that their team would win the division title. That was before the Orioles lost 26 of their last 35 games. The Red Sox probably are not capable of suffering such a losing streak, but they certainly can lose enough games to slip behind the Yankees. They did it for that day in June, and they did it despite the devastated state of the Yankees' starting rotation. If the Red Sox fail to outlast the Yankees for first place, they can look back and see where they squandered their best chance to drive a stake into the dark heart of the Evil Empire. In an 11-game stretch around the All-Star Game break, the Yankees used eight different starting pitchers, some with heralded names like Redding and May and Sturtze, others with the names of aging, over-the-hill veterans like Leiter and Brown. At the start of that stretch, the Yankees were five games behind the Red Sox; at the end, they were a half-game ahead. The Yankees have continued to forage baseball's scrap heap for pitchers, and now they have people named Small and Chacon and soon could have an ancient Japanese pitcher named Nomo. If the Yankees don't maintain their regular-season mastery over the Red Sox, the reason will be clear: the inability of their $64 million rotation to stay healthy and to perform. But if they do - and it says here they will - the Red Sox will face greater embarrassment than in the years before 2004.A two-and-a-half-game lead with two months to play is nothing for a team like the Yankees to overcome, whatever the state of their starting pitching. Check out the weekend games with the Angels, who thought they had those games won.The Red Sox were wise holding on to Manny Ramirez. He might be a bad human being, but when bad human beings drive in 150 runs they are good players, and good players are what teams need to win. Are the Red Sox disgusted with their enfant terrible?"No, no," Larry Lucchino, the team's chief executive, said minutes after the trading deadline passed Sunday. "I'm pleased that he's here. I hope our fans will give him a loud, raucous, positive reception when he makes his first appearance after this hectic time of this trading deadline."The fans did just that shortly afterward when Ramirez drove in the winning run.But does Manny make life difficult for the Red Sox? "No, I wouldn't say that," Lucchino said. "We wouldn't have the success and the fans wouldn't have enjoyed the success without Manny's gigantic contributions."Without watching it, I'm sure the DVD set shows Ramirez's contributions of last October. As hot as Ramirez was in the World Series, the DVD set has been a hot seller in the few weeks it has been available.It has become the first sports DVD to be No. 1 on the Amazon.com sales list, and it has outpaced sales projections. MLB.com thought it would sell 1,500 copies by the end of this calendar year. It has already sold twice that number.