A sampling from holiday conversations that were often started by people who don’t really follow baseball:
"I mean they have, what, the four highest paid players in baseball?"
"I won’t even watch baseball anymore until there’s a salary cap."
"Man, I can’t believe Barry Zito has five years left on his contract."
That last one was me, and it doesn’t really fit in with the rest, but it was included for historical accuracy.
The Yankees and Mark Teixeira seemed to grab the attention of casual fans everywhere. There’s just something so gauche about spending $300M on two players when barrel-and-suspender sales are up 6,000% over the previous year. The subject is worthy of a book-length treatment, really: "Why Spending Crazy Amounts of Money in Baseball Helps Teams Win (And Why It Isn’t Required)" Maybe I’ll get started on that…right after I finish Fallout 3, which I should get a chance to do after my daughter graduates high school.
Instead of a post-holiday tome for both of today’s readers, I’ll just write what my responses were to curious friends and relatives, and I’ll do it in easily digestible bullet points:
- Spending unlimited amounts of money will often help a team in the short-term, but it will never guarantee success.
- Kevin Brown
- Todd Helton
- The Minnesota Twins. The Oakland A’s from 1999-2006. The 2008 Tampa Rays. The 2003 Florida Marlins.
I wouldn’t elaborate, mind you. They’d say something like, "Hey, those Yankees sure are spending a lot of money, eh?," and I’d look them in the eye and mutter, "Kevin Brown. Todd Helton. The Minnesota Twins," and walk away. Maybe I’d throw in a "Freemasons" for good measure.
The best and simplest argument against the perception that the Yankees are ruining baseball, though, is the 2008 Florida Marlins. Forget the Rays – people seem willing to write that off as luck, or they put a lot of emphasis (rightly so) on the Rays string of top-five draft choices. Forget the A’s from 1999-2006 – after two losing seasons, somehow their run of success isn’t an acceptable data point to salary cap/floor proponents anymore. The Florida Marlins had a winning record in 2008, and their payroll was about $21M. It isn’t as if the Marlins were trying not to compete, but they sure as hell weren’t going to spend to do it. And it wasn’t as if they were extraordinarily lucky, either. Dan Uggla’s continued success probably counts as luck enough for a decade, but other than that, only Ricky Nolasco wildly exceeded expectations. The Marlins drafted well, traded well, and picked up cheap players who performed well.
As long as a team can build a halfway decent team without resorting to free agency at all, then there will always be something for the downtrodden to complain about other than financial disadvantages. There isn’t a team in baseball that stinks only because it can’t spend money. It doesn’t help that a team can’t spend on premium free agents, mind you. It’s a pretty significant disadvantage. But it doesn’t prevent a team from being competitive. And as long as every franchise can compete, I’m only going to loathe the Yankees, not the framework of Major League Baseball.
And, oh, how I loathe the Yankees. I would watch a Yankees/non-Dodgers World Series and root for the non-Dodgers as if I had a $10,000 bet on the line. I fail to see how that’s a bad thing. Star Wars would be pretty boring if Luke had to struggle against the Somewhat Muddled and Hazy Side of the Force. Good and evil. Light and dark. The rest of the world against the Yankees. I'm in.