Saturday, November 13, 2004

Answering the Comments, pt. 1

Believe it or not, there are a few insightful Yankee fans out there. And they bring up what appeas to be some valid points that I'd like to deal with. The comments are italicized.

Over the past twenty years in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees have won a whopping 4 championships. You would think from listening to some people that they win every year, but that’s just false. I would be very interested to hear your opinions on the state of baseball in the years that they don’t win (like 1979-1995, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004).

I dont' judge baseball's state by the Yankees' results. I judge it by the financial opportunities other teams had to compete with them. In '96, for example, the Yanks' payroll was the highest at $61 million, but the other teams were close. The 2nd-highest teams (Orioles and Braves) were just $8 million away, not $60 million like it is today. And a bunch of teams were in the $4o millions. So it was much closer to a level playing field than it is now. In fact, in '98, the Yanks payroll was second to Baltimore's. So I don't have a huge problem with that.

But the payroll gap has grown huge. It's now about $60 million between the Yanks and Red Sox-- and $60 million can get you the entire Oakland A's roster. So that's far from a negligble difference.

And the Yanks' losing the past few years doesn't mean much. I attribute that to George and Cashman's blunders. There have been so many the past few years: Weaver, Contreras, Brown, Vazquez, Giambi, Mondesi, etc. If the Yankees were managed solidly with that kind of payroll, they might be on a 7-year dynasty run by now. But when you've got a $60 million advantage over the next best team, you should be able to win it all. If the Yanks had Beane or Schuerholz running the team, the Yankees would be downright scary.

And speaking of Schuerholz...

They do dominate the American League East. However when you devote as many words criticizing the Atlanta Braves for an even greater stronghold on the NL East, I’ll address that level of dominance. Keep in mind that the Braves were the first team to own their own national TV station (Ted Turner owned both entities) and reap the financial benefits of such.

Granted, the Braves have been among the upper half of baseball's payrolls for much of their run. But do they have as huge an advantage as the Yankees do? No way. In fact, the Braves payroll has been lower than the Yanks for much of that time. Even in '91 when the Braves made in to the Series while the Yanks lost 91 games, the Yanks still outspent 'em by $10 mil. So maybe the Braves aren't quite the penny-pinching A's, but they've never outspent the rest of the league by a ridiculous margin.

And keep in mind that they're in a bit of a weak division. The Phillies and Mets are two of baseball's biggest underacheivers-- in fact, they have recently been spending in the same range as Atlanta (Philly had a higher payroll- $93 mil than the Braves this year -- $88 mil). The Expos need no explanation. And the Marlins have been up and down.

Atlanta has also been well-managed. From Schuerholz to manager-of-the-year Bobby Cox to pitching guru Leo Mazzone, they've won around a strong rotation (till this year) and role players like Bret Boone, John Burkett, Kenny Lofton, Marquis Grissom, and Johnny Estrada. Of course, that management hasn't done a whole lot in October.

And in the '80's, even Ted Turner's pockets couldn't help a poorly managed team. In '86, for example, Atlanta had the highest payroll at $15.8 million, but still lost 89 games. But they've certainly come a long way since the Bruce Benedict era.

More to come.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

“I dont' judge baseball's state by the Yankees' results. I judge it by the financial opportunities other teams had to compete with them.”

If you are inferring that said financial opportunities are directly proportional to the ability of other teams to compete with the Yankees, you are wrong.

Ironically, you mention ’98 and the Baltimore Orioles. That year, the Orioles had the highest payroll and won 79 games and finished fourth in the AL East. The Yankees won 114 games and won the Series. Fast forward to now and that $60 million dollar gap between the Yanks and Sox. The Sox won 98 games compared to the Yankees’ 101. The years you brought up serve to show that the greater the payroll gap the more competitive the standings in the AL East – the very inverse of your argument. I’m not saying the exact inverse of your argument is true. However, your logic is significantly flawed.

My point is this: There are too many exceptions to the payroll is proportionate to ability to win rule to make it a rule. The two teams that were brought up (Royals and Orioles) demonstrate as much against your points as they support them. While the Yanks are in the hunt more often than not, they don’t win more often than not. This payroll thing is just our society’s way of commodifying things so that we can better arrange them in some sort of easily understood hierarchy. And it is very convenient in trash talking because it always serves as a built in reason for Yankee success. “Oh, they just spent the most money, that’s why they won.” Or “They spent all that money and still didn’t win.”

So this really isn’t about the Yankees and payroll, this is about the Yankees beating the crap out of the Red Sox or getting more attention and beating the crap out of the Mets. Even in victory, you still complain about a payroll gap. Their will always be a payroll gap because the economics of baseball and the US dictate that New York, Chicago, and LA teams will have more money to spend than the rest of the country. If fact, the economics of professional sports dictate that successful franchises in these markets are what economically drives successful sports leagues. That’s why A-Rod in New York is better for Major League Baseball than A-Rod in Texas.

Unlike the other owners in that big market group, Steinbrenner will SPEND money to make more money. The others will simply keep their expenses low and make more money that way. The notion that most other teams don’t spend because they don’t have it to spend is pure crap. It’s the owners’ excuse to the fans for not spending more money. It certainly was Boston’s excuse for years then all of a sudden, they have 120 million to spend to buy a championship. And this is your new reality as a Red Sox fan. You are not David fighting Goliath. You are a mini-Goliath. You went over the luxury tax and built a team of free agents specifically to win a championship. And you won. And now you’re here complaining about how your rival does the very things you’re doing, only to a greater degree? If the Yankees are ruining baseball in the ways you assert, so are the Red Sox. And, as such, the Yankees/Red Sox arms race has doubly ruined the game? Come on.

Given that the Yankees continue to be a profitable enterprise, the only reason anyone should feel bad about things is because your team is adversely affected the most (except this year). Payrolls do not preclude teams from competing nor does a Yankee payroll keep a San Diego Padres fan from buying a ticket to a ballgame any less than it would keep a Sox fan out of Fenway. So I guess people in Colorado won’t even bother to turn on their TVs for a ballgame between the Rockies and the Diamondbacks because the Yankees spend so much money. Mariners’ fans wont even buy Ichiro jerseys because Steinbrenner spent 180 mil and the Mariners have no chance.

Given that the Yankees have always been the Yankees since the Ruth acquisition and have also served as the most recognizable brand in American sports, nothing will change. Because, to change it, would significantly alter the very definition of Major League Baseball. Christ, you, as a Red Sox fan, are having a difficult time coming to grips with being a winner. Imagine baseball with some kind of salary cap or with the parity of the NFL. It wouldn’t be Major League Baseball.

I, as a Yankee fan, can accept losing. Can you, as a Red Sox fan accept winning?

There are fans of some teams in MLB that can make the payroll argument. They are fewer than you’d have everyone believe and neither you nor your partner (Mets fan) are amongst them.