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Joshua Neuman

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Letter From a Spoiled Yankees Fan

Posted: 10/25/10 12:50 PM ET

Dear anyone in the habit of complaining that the Yankees simply buy World Series championships, or that the Bronx Bombers' payroll is out of hand, or that the team is bad for baseball,

Unless you grew up with a Texas Rangers pennant hanging over your bed, you have no business reveling about the Yankees elimination last week. The Texas Rangers did not slay a Goliath, did not destroy a Death Star and did not overcome an Evil Empire. Your argument that the Yankees and their $207 million payroll are bad for baseball is bubkes.

A little historical perspective: Back in the Yankees' heyday in 1920s, the team was able to sign whoever they wanted, whenever they wanted to, and (because of the enforcement of the reserve clause) to retain a player's rights as long as they wanted to. There was no amateur draft to help the weaker teams. There was no revenue sharing to deplete the Yankees coffers. And when the Yankees exerted their financial position to, say, buy Babe Ruth from the Red Sox for $125,000, the result around baseball wasn't mass whining, it was mass excitement -- imagine that. The 1920s team, the first Yankee team to exert its financial superiority upon the rest of the league, virtually saved the game of baseball after the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal. Despite the system actually being rigged in their favor, it was somehow clearer in those days that a juggernaut like the Yankees gave the league legitimacy and strength.

Today, the economics of the Yankees are even better for baseball than they were in the 1920s when they saved the sport. Forget about revenue sharing and the fact that the Yankees will fork over approximately $160 million of the approximately $600 million they generate this year -- to "poorer" teams who are supposed to use those funds to help insure their teams stay competitive. Forget about how much MLB generates from television contracts due to nationwide interest in the Yankees. Forget about increased ticket sales in other stadiums when the Yankees come to town. Forget about the fact that the Yankees generate 25.4 percent of major league baseball merchandise sales, which gets shared with other teams. Forget about the fact that the Yankees economic model is distinct from any other team in baseball -- because of its ticket-pricing structure, its YES Network, its 20 million potential customers within commuting distance to its stadium, and the number of ex-NYers populating urban centers like Florida and Southern California who start the "Let's Go Yankees" chants in opponent stadiums. Forget all of the reasons why the Yankees should have a higher payroll than any other team in baseball because that payroll doesn't magically confer victories. Yes, listen very carefully Bronx Bashers: Ultimately, the Yankees success is earned.

You whine about the size of the Yankees payroll as if it's some magical elixir, but take for granted the challenges which come with that payroll. As a result of their much-ballyhooed free agent signings, the team consistently must forfeit high draft picks and miss out on selecting blue chip prospects. Now I know what you're thinking, if it's such a "challenge," then why don't the Yankees simply pass on all those free agents and keep the draft picks?

Along comes the second distinct challenge with which the Yankees must contend -- the unyielding pressure from their fans and the New York media, which encourages the team to be myopic and irrational. The Yankees are expected to win at all costs today without compromising a future in which they will have to do the same. It means that during every pennant race, there is pressure on the team to trade away younger players with star potential for aging veterans who might contribute a little something to the team immediately. I should mention that for the past 20 years, the Yankees have navigated this balancing act spectacularly, having an almost preternatural sense of which of their minor leaguers will end up as studs and which will become duds. The Yankees somehow know they need to hold onto the Jeters, Riveras, Posadas and Pettites. Do they know it because of how rich they are?

There are other unique challenges the Yankees have to contend with when assembling their team. They are never allowed to "bottom out" -- to have a true youth movement that will replenish their farm system. They don't get the "home town discount" when one of their own players decides he would like to re-sign with the team. The Yankees are also frequently used to drive up the bidding on players who have no actual interest in signing with them. In such cases, the Yankees, contrary to popular opinion, show remarkable restraint. They rarely outbid teams by much (thereby driving up the market), even though they have the wherewithal to do so. If any of the "big-market" teams are to be celebrated, it's the Yankees.

Still reluctant to admit that the Yankees payroll might actually be the result of some complex factors owing to their unique situation in the marketplace and that the team's success is earned and not bought? Well, answer this question: Why do the Yankees dominate areas of the baseball business where there aren't the same budget disparities found in major league payrolls? The Yankees and the Pirates, and everyone in between, have the means to invest in baseball operations, but the Yankees (despite having to consistently forfeit draft picks) consistently generate prospects as touted as any other team. That speaks more to good decision-making, than it does to budget disparities.

Despite the facts, you're still going to complain about the Yankees. You might hope that as the cacophonous chorus gets loud enough, Major League Baseball might impose a (hard) salary cap to constrain the Yankees wicked ways. You probably assume that this will be a good thing for small-market teams -- that those teams will subsequently become more competitive and generate enough income to offset the loss of luxury tax revenue and ancillary income from the Yankees' success and that these teams will increasingly invest that income in payroll. But how will small market teams respond to the newfound pressures of fielding competitive teams--especially when those pressures could lead to them having to cut into their profits? These days, no one notices if they run in the black while occupying the cellar, because after all, they have the big, bad Yankees to blame.

The problem in Major League Baseball -- if there is one -- isn't that the Yankees use their financial assets to their advantage, but that other teams (the ones you root for) don't do the same. The Yankees have a hallowed history not of buying World Series rings, but of using their income in wise ways to create good teams and more income to create good teams. So, stop complaining and be thankful for the filthy rich, winning machine that is the New York Yankees. And if that's too tall an order, have the decency to stop whining about the Yankees payroll until next month when the Yankees sign Cliff Lee.

Enjoy your World Series.

Sincerely,
Joshua Neuman

 

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