Saturday, January 24, 2009

Of Gold, Gooses and Eggs

Late to the party as always, but I'm blogging today about the Yankees huge off-season coup in which they acquired the 3 best players that are going to be available in what might be the next half-decade. Matt Holliday is going to free agency next year and he can expect a true Boston-New York bidding war for his services while Albert Pujols would only leave St. Louis through the management's gross incompetency.

But I find that anyone who has whined about the Yankees using their financial might has also unquestionably demonstrated an immature understanding of the nature of the world. By this, I don't mean to say (in a thick Brooklyn brogue whilst chomping on a cigar and wearing a fedora and overcoat) "That's just the way the world is kid. Deal with it." No, I'm referring to the very nature of the world in which we live; a world that operates on the principle of "equivalent exchange."

I don't believe in accidents. I believe in intelligent design. Poorly designed teams do not win World Series. Teams aren't formed by random collisions of human beings, maple bats and buffalo hide. There's a grand architect who's paid up to $2m per annum to take an abyss of possibilities and speak into existence a team to play 162 games between April and September.

Winning teams don't appear by accident. They have to be designed.

Don't misunderstand the point though. Winning can happen on a budget. Florida in 2003, the Rays this past year or Oakland in every other year are excellent examples of winning poor. Then there are the teams who have won with enormous payrolls. The scrappy Boston Red Sox, the blue-collar champions of every downtrodden Sully, Smitty and Patty have the distinction of fielding the most expensive (2007) and second most expensive (2004) teams to ever win the World Series. Boston fans, however rarely remember this fact when they complain about the Yankees' spending habits.

At any rate, the principle of equivalent exchange applies. Florida built their teams through devastating fire sales that alienated the city they played in. They traded away popular players for talented prospects that would lead them to their next championship. Meanwhile, the Rays paid for their trip to the World Series by fielding fifth place teams for a decade. Being a terrible team for so long has allowed them to amass players with the dazzling upside of B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Evan Longoria. They also selected Delmon Young who was sent over to Minnesota in a trade for Matt Garza, a critical piece of the 2008 puzzle. The world operates on equivalent exchange, value for value.

Let's take a moment to understand how baseball operates. Most teams receive a welfare check from the Yankees as a result of MLB's luxury tax. This was instituted to make teams more competitive. Let me say it another way: the Yankees are paying other teams to be better. But the majority of these teams do not put the money back into their baseball product. That $40m the Yankees pay typically lines the owners pockets and fans see not a penny of it. Who is to blame there?

The Yankees do not operate on the same business model that other teams operate on. For perhaps most baseball teams, there's not a big difference between winning 70 games a year or winning 90 games a year if the miss the playoffs. The Yankees however only turn a profit once they make the post-season. Their business model requires winning.

This is why I love the Yankees. Their team is their integrity and value. I don't mean some idiotic amorphous idea like "steroids" or "the love of the game," but the hard fact and truth that the Yankees dedication to fielding the best team that they can is directly related to their survival as a business enterprise. The same holds true for the Boston Red Sox and a few other teams.

If you want to see a disingenuous team, look at Minnesota's Carl Pohlad whose net worth is estimated to be triple that of the Steinbrenner family. He doesn't invest in making a better product, and it doesn't stem from a lack of ability, but a deficiency in desire. Owners like that don't care about Joe SportsFan who watches every year hoping that Kansas City (owned by Walmart) or Seattle (Nintendo) can contend.

Baseball, like all of life, operates on the principle of equivalent exchange. Brian Cashman is the highest paid General Manager for a reason. He's expected to create the best team in the major leagues. He doesn't have the option of holding a fire sale (the contracts are largely immovable), or being the worst team in baseball for a decade, but he does have his owner's incredible wealth. More than that, he has the city of New York which subsidized their new Stadium which is an incredible headwater of revenue streams. He prepared his team and business for a recession. The Steinbrenners offered him opportunity and wealth in exchange for his skills. Isn't that a fair trade and the basis of all good?

I love the fact that the Steinbrenner family owns the Yankees. It's the same love I have for a favorite food vendor or clothing manufacturer. When you find someone who cares about their product and is consistently dedicated to putting the best that they have on the market, doesn't that merit, hasn't that earned the customer's appreciation and loyalty? Why should the fact that the Yankees consistently win be a mark of shame? Each team has their own path to fielding a winning team. There are costs involved with fielding a low-salaried team, whether it's being at the bottom for a decade or destroying your team every 5 years. Why shouldn't Yankee dollars be looked at as the best option? There is no fruit that grows apart from the root. Teams must be built and costs must be paid. The Yankees pay in dollars and other teams pay in loyalty. Choose your currency.

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