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The Yankees Are What’s Right With Baseball


Over at TNR, Noam Scheiber indulges in the stalest — and stupidest — of baseball fan gripes: the Yankees buy championships:

Via the Times write-up of their deeply-satisfying championship series loss Friday night:

As always, the Yankees will restock, relying on their deep pockets to try to fix their problems and squash the competition. That means pursuing [Texas ace Cliff] Lee and trying to pry him from the Rangers, who have the sort of pitching that the Yankees had last year, the pitching that wins championships.

Exactly what does it prove if you win a World Series snatching up the best player of the team that ousted you the year before? What franchise couldn’t win a World Series sooner or later using this method? (Okay, okay, the Mets couldn’t. That’s why they’re almost more contemptible. But what other franchise?)

At the very least, it’d be nice if there were some agonizing over this approach, rather than an unapologetic assumption that the Yankees will go out and spend what it takes to land the best mercenary out there. (See here for why the Lee signing is basically a foregone conclusion.) This is why I have a hard time not seeing Yankee fan-dom as a moral failing–I’m not joking–though I guess I can make some small allowance for people born into the creed.

How typical of a TNR blogger to condemn a successful business — and its customers (the fans) — for the “moral failing” of trying to turn a profit by putting out an excellent product. The way Schreiber calls Yankee free-agent pickups “mercenar[ies],” you’d think every Texas Ranger were doing it for the love of the game (and you’d forget that the Yankees’ dynastic core — Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada — are farm-grown talent).

If Scheiber — an embittered ex-Mets fan, perhaps in the mold of Don DeLillo’s Nick Shay — is looking for villains in MLB front offices, he might start with the apocalyptically incompetent Omar Minaya, who used payrolls nearly as large as the Yankees’ to pursue high-priced free agent “mercenaries” and rewarded the Mets’ faithful with — absolutely nothing.  And if it’s the finger-tenting, slick-haired corporate type he wants, I challenge him to find a deader set of eyes than those of Theo Epstein, who presides over the Red Sox Nation with an eerily bloodless calculation, and who, as  I understand it, does not pay his players with gumdrops and sunshine.

And what about so-called underdogs like the Florida Marlins or Tampa Bay Rays? Their owners have long known that the best business model in Major League Baseball is to slash payroll, tank, stock cheap talent via compensatory draft picks, win, and then start the cycle anew — all the while turning tidy profits via generous revenue sharing payments furnished almost entirely by — you guessed it — the New York Yankees. See also the Pittsburgh Pirates, who skip the winning part all together and use the revenue sharing payments to remain profitable despite having fielded the worst team in baseball over the last 20 years. Now that’s corporate welfare The New Republic can believe in! Hell — the Rays are even owned by a former Goldman Sachs partner!

If anything, the Yankees have been guilty of a surfeit of sentimentality in the way they conduct their baseball operations. 1) They kept the beloved Joe Torre in place as manager at least two years too long, despite the fact that he turned the Yankees bullpen into a charnel house. 2) They signed an aged Roger Clemens to an ill-advised second tour in the Bronx, and 3) they are poised to dramatically overpay Derek Jeter this off-season simply because he is Derek Jeter.

In fact, baseball is generally a financial loser for the Yankees. It’s their TV network that brings in the big bucks — much like those Texas Rangers Scheiber finds so “deeply satsifying.” The Rangers have just signed an epic $3-billion TV deal that would, pace Scheiber, give them the resources to retain Cliff Lee if they really wanted to.

At the end of the day, I think this is what angers the haters: that the Yankees brand is such a revenue center that it allows the Yankees team to be a cost center, doggedly pursuing victory — and all-too-frequently indulging in nostalgia — whatever the expense.

UPDATE: Anticipating the wave of hate mail from the Red Sox Nation, let me just say: You have to cut me a little slack, my mother and her six brothers and sisters grew up in Canton, Mass. as diehard Sox fans. I’m the first generation to grow up around NYC. I deal with this every Thanksgiving!


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