I was born a few blocks from Yankee Stadium. The first baseball game I ever saw was in The House That Ruth Built and another great Yankee hero, Mickey Mantle won it with a 9th inning home run. I became an instant New York Yankees fan.
Later in my childhood, I also became hooked on The Pittsburgh Pirates. Since the two teams never played each other, there was no conflict. Although, as a lone Pirates fan, surrounded by Yankee and Mets fans, my Pirates fever grew faster than my Yankee fever. If the Pirates did play the Yankees in the World Series, I would have rooted for The Pirates. But that did not occur.
Then something happened. Free agency took hold in baseball. NFL teams share broadcasting revenues with each other. Surprisingly, the tea baggers have yet to protest this little bit of socialism found in the heart of American life. The NFL is run by commies! But MLB is run the good old fashioned American way, the guy with the deepest pockets gets the best toys.
What this means is that a city like Green Bay can compete in football but a city like Pittsburgh has no business having a major league baseball team. They just don't have enough revenue to pay the top players. To be sure, on a rare occasion, a team from a smaller city can rise up and surprise everyone, but this is rare indeed. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, once regulars on the playoff scene, are all but extinct. The sport's other two smallest cities, Kansas City and Milwaukee have one postseason appearance between them in the last two decades. And, even if a small city team does make it to the top, they will never be able to stay there, as their newly discovered talent gets stripped away.
Fourteen years ago, I saw the light. The Pirates were up for sale and there was the possibility of them moving to a larger city, one that might possibly give them a chance. But they insisted on staying in Pittsburgh. That decision turned me on them. I felt they were turning their back on reality and, in essence, throwing in the towel. They had to know that by staying in Pittsburgh, they were going to remain uncompetitive. Or they were just plain stupid, and neither thought is a happy one. If they were going to turn their back on me, I happily turned my back on them. And, it turned out, to be a good decision. Forget about getting to the World Series, the Pirates have set a sports record with 17 consecutive years of losing more games than they've won.
Now, a fan can put up with a lot. Look at Cubs fans. They haven't won the World Series in 102 years! New York Ranger fans went half a century without a championship. Boston Red Sox fans went 86 years without one. I, myself, am a Miami Dolphins fan. They haven't won the Super Bowl for 35 years. But I stick with them. The point is, these teams try to win every year. And by at least trying, they earn the loyalty of their fans. The Pirates don't even try. The other teams are victims of poor management decisions, poor execution or bad luck. But they are not guilty of giving up. Every year the Pirates hold a fire sale and trade away their best players. The list of players they traded away or lost to free agency, over the years, could make up an all-star team. They are a team undeserving of its fans. Who wants to put their heart and soul into a team that has no heart and soul?
The Yankees, on the other hand, pay up for the best players money can buy. If they produce a Derek Jeter, they keep him. They go shopping every year and try and add the best talent to give them a shot at winning. This is not new. Back in 1919, they bought the best player in the history of baseball, Babe Ruth, for a whole lot of cash, too.
What is new is that people complain about it. People are up in arms. It's unfair! It's un-American. Quite the contrary. Business is the business of America. And the guys with the deepest pockets are best positioned to build their business. Read the sports pages today and you'll find a whole lot of jealous Yankee haters moaning and whining about the Yankees' payroll. Is Apple to be blamed for out-spending smaller computer companies and developing the iPhone? Fox spent $200 million dollars to make the film Titanic. Did people complain that that was unfair to smaller film companies?
Now, there are those of you who will say sports are different. Unlike other businesses, there should be an equal playing field. But that would ignore the reality that sports is still a business, with real economic considerations. MLB could easily have come up with a system like the NFL. But they didn't. To increase competition, a few years back, they put in a weak step sister version of revenue sharing. Teams that have huge payrolls, like The Yankees, pay into a fund and that money is supposed to go to the smaller city teams. But there's still no incentive for smaller town teams to actually use the extra money they get to compete. They can just pocket the cash and not give it to their players. Which is what they do. Unlike the NFL, there is no parity.
The Yankees are not to be chastised for building the "best team money can buy." They are to be praised for it. Here we have a family that is willing to part with its cash to give its fans the best show possible. They break no rules. They play within the rules. And they win by doing it. They are not the only teams playing this way. The Red Sox won a World Series by buying Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez. Do you think the Phillies will still be at the top in a few years if they don't pay Chase Utley and Ryan Howard?
I am thankful I grew up in the Bronx. I am thankful that borough is home to the greatest franchise in the history of sports. And I am mostly thankful that their ownership is willing to pay whatever it takes to make sure they have the best players. It doesn't guarantee that they'll win it all, but it guarantees they'll be in the mix. You can argue that Major League Baseball should change their structure. But until they do, you can't blame the Yankees for giving their fans the best show money can buy.
Follow Bruce Tenenbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BruceTalk