Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Damn Yankees

As of right now, there is no cable television, internet service, or newspaper delivery at Brandi's apartment. Anything that happens in the news while I'm at her place often escapes my attention until I get back to Toledo.

Thus it was that I heard nothing of Alex Rodriguez being traded from the Texas Rangers to the New York Yankees all weekend. Apparently the trade went down on Saturday; I didn't hear about it until Monday morning, as I was driving back to Toledo to go to work from Brandi's place in Stow. I switched over to listen to "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio, and they were talking about it. At first, I thought they were joking. A-Rod to the Yankees...are you kidding me?

The fact that I thought they were joking, I think, says a lot about how ludicrous this whole situation is. I hate the Yankees more than any other professional sports organization, because they're ruining the competitive balance of a sport I love. It seems like a joke because it's so blatant. When the Yankees need or want someone, they just go get him, and price is no object. Most other teams don't have that luxury.

If you want to look at it in terms of numbers, it goes something like this. New York's payroll for this upcoming season will reportedly approach $200 million. Contrast that with my own favorite team, the Cincinnati Reds, who may or may not approach $50 million. That won't be the lowest in the league, either. The huge gap in payroll sizes means that each year some teams open spring training essentially knowing that they won't be competing for the World Series. No other major sport has this problem.

I can't fault the Yankees for doing what they're doing. George Steinbrenner wants to win all the time, and he has the money to spend to make this more likely. Good for him. The main problem is that baseball's rules allow this to happen, and I hate the Yankees because they're the most visible symbol of the game's problems, and because it always bothers me after a while when a certain team wins all the time.

The success (popularity and profitability) of any sport depends naturally upon competition. That's what sports are all about, after all. That's why the NFL is so wildly popular right now: all teams start the season on level ground, knowing they have a chance to win it all, and even a losing team can beat a winning team on any given day. Major League Baseball doesn't have that right now. Sure, every now and then a team like the Marlins will sneak up on everyone, but if you look at World Series appearances and victories over the past decade, it's overwhelmingly dominated by the Yankees.

One major issue, of course, is that this problem feeds itself. Fans support winners, so the Yankees just keep making more money, which they can turn around and spend on better players. On the other hand, teams like the Reds keep struggling through mediocre seasons, and the money dries up. Not as many fans come to the games or watch on television, and it snowballs from there: advertising revenues drop, concession sales, merchandise, parking, etc. You have to spend money to make money, and nowhere is that more true than in baseball. However, the reverse as also true, as obvious as it seems: you have to make money to spend money.

I hate arguing this way, because we live in a capitalist society, and this is the way it's supposed to work in other businesses: the quality product will thrive while others die off. Sports aren't like other businesses, though. In sports, your own product depends to a certain extent on the product of others. Sure, Yankees fans think everything is wonderful, but if teams have to start folding up because they can't afford to compete, that's not going to be so great. In baseball, you can't drive your competitors out of business, because then your own product goes away.

Baseball needs a salary cap in place to prevent this worst-case scenario from happening. Of course, they probably should also institute a salary floor, to make sure teams are spending a certain amount of money on payroll for their team. Right now baseball does have a luxury tax, where teams spending more than a certain amount have to pay a penalty which is shared among the other teams (as of now, the Yankees are the only ones paying this tax). There's no rule stating that such money has to be spent by those teams on payroll, however; the Reds, for instance, put their portion toward paying off their new stadium. That's fiscally responsible, but the fans would have appreciated an upgrade in, say, starting pitching.

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