Perhaps growing more prickly by the day after repeated assaults at the hands of Feeding The Monster’s Seth Mnookin, the New York Times’ Murray Chass (above) has an interesting message for fans of the (partially Times owned) Red Sox. Particularly those crazy enough to actually pay attention to his writing.

You would think that when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, it would have liberated their fans, enabled all of them to smile and laugh.

For whatever reason, however, some segment of that fan base doesn™t recognize a joke when it encounters one ” unless, of course, the writer didn™t tell it that well.

Last week, I wrote a column about Barry Bonds and briefly mentioned J. D. Drew, whose contract with Boston, like Bonds™s contract with the San Francisco Giants, has yet to be completed. Remarkably, the two players continue to be free agents seven weeks after they agreed on tentative deals with their respective clubs.

œIf both contracts were to fall through, I wrote in the last sentence of the first paragraph of the column, œthe Red Sox could sign Bonds to play left field and move Manny Ramírez back to his original position in right.

It was a joke, a throwaway line, but only one of more than two dozen readers who responded via e-mail messages seemed to figure it out.

œI™m assuming, one fan wrote, œthat your comment about the Sox signing Bonds to play left and moving Manny to ˜his original position in right™ was made tongue-in-cheek.

Give that man a cigar. As for the rest of the e-mail writers, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

œManny Ramírez in the expansive right field at Fenway?! a New York lawyer and Red Sox fan wrote. œWhy not make David Ortiz the shortstop while they™re at it.

This was from the same lawyer who once vowed never to read another On Baseball column by this writer but then sent a critical e-mail after the very next column about the Red Sox.

œI thought you were never going to read another column? I replied by e-mail at the time.

œI can™t resist reading them, he wrote back.

Nowhere in today’s Times does Chass offer an excuse for what appears to something approaching fabrication in his earlier claims the Dodgers were mulling over a tampering charge against Boston for the latter’s approach to J.D. Drew. I suppose Murray’s gullible readership should’ve taken that as a throwaway column.

In all seriousness, I’m trying to stick up for Chass on this one. I mean, who amongst us doesn’t love The Onion? The Sports Pickle? Afternoon re-runs of “MAD TV”? The comedic stylings of Chris Tucker? The improvisational skills of the young Fred Travelena?

After all these years, it turns out we’ve been dealing with a master satirist, and if malcontents like Mnookin and his acolytes have some hangup about ethical standards, well, they oughta take it up with Howell Raines.