Thursday, July 3, 2008

$209 Million is OK, but Somehow Emery Boards Provide an Unfair Advantage

Danelle walked by as I was sitting at my laptop earlier this evening and asked what I was chuckling about. "Red Sox beat the Yankees," was my reply.

It doesn't matter that it's only July. It doesn't matter that neither team is even in first place in the American League East. It doesn't matter that most casual fans are equally sick of BOTH teams. I think as long as I'm alive the Red Sox beating the Yankees will always be a Very Good Thing.

Let me pause here and try to dispel the notion that the Red Sox are "just as bad" as the Yankees. People often try to paint them as equally guilty of somehow buying their recent championships, mainly because they're both "big market" teams. The Red Sox don't even have the second-highest payroll in baseball. They're fourth behind the Tigers, Mets and of course the Yankee$. In fact, the difference in payroll between the two squads is a whopping $75 million. That's more than the TOTAL PAYROLL of 13 other teams, nearly half the league. The gap in spending between the Yankees and everybody else is so huge it just defies logic to lump any other club into the same category with them.

Mind you, I don't fault the Yankees for dishing out the salaries they do. The system allows it, and as a fan I would want the owner of my favorite team to do everything possible within the system to win. It's clearly the system that's flawed.

The Tampa Bay Rays having the best record in baseball to this point in the season and the 29th highest payroll is absolutely a great story. But why should the Rays and so many other teams have to start with such a huge disadvantage over other clubs in bigger markets or with more favorable economic situations? Sport is supposed to be decided on the field, and not influenced to such a ridiculous degree by the size of an owner's wallet.

Granted, being able to spend more doesn't guarantee you anything. Despite their huge payroll advantage, the Yankees haven't won a World Series since 2000 (that was SO much fun to type). But as I've heard some members of the sports media point out their ability to outspend the competition gives them a huge margin of error compared to other teams.

If the Yankees drop a ton of money on a pitcher who doesn't perform up to expectations -- or perhaps given their recent track record in this area (Brown, Clemens, Johnson, Pavano, etc.) I should say WHEN they do -- they can just go get somebody else. Most teams simply can't afford that luxury. When the Yankees can afford to pay more than anybody else to acquire talent, they end up with better players which puts them in a better position to win. The math really isn't that hard.

It's like everybody's running a 100-yard dash, and the Yankees get a 10-yard head start. Sure, they MIGHT not win. But given the option of being in their position or back at the regular starting line with everyone else, which would you choose?

That's why I prefer salary caps. The NFL has it right when teams in markets like Indianapolis, Denver (2007 notwithstanding) and Green Bay can be perennial contenders mainly because they make good personnel decisions and have good coaches. When teams can quickly turn their fortunes around by making a few good moves and not languish in last place season after season because they can't pay for top talent. When fans of every team can go into each season with legitimate reasons to be optimistic that this might be their year.

How a sport that is so obsessed with "the purity of the game" can focus so much attention on the unfair competitive advantages supposedly gained by things like cork and Vaseline but continue to ignore the payroll disparity elephant in the room is simply beyond me, and a disservice to all its fans.

This post was supposed to be about my long and usually disappointing history of rooting against the Yankees. I'm not sure how it took a left turn into the larger issue of labor models in professional sports leagues, but I guess that's all right.

Actually, everything's all right. The Red Sox beat the Yankees. :)

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