The best team money could buy
Everybody is sick and tired of hearing about the Yankees' exorbitant payroll
The Yankees are not a big-market team ... they DWARF big-market teams
It's harder to celebrate the hope of Opening Day when the Yankees win
The following is a screed about the Yankees' payroll. If you are a Yankees fan uninterested in a screed about the payroll, don't read it. You won't enjoy it. Go out, buy a championship T-shirt, reminisce about this great team, enjoy the victory. I'm telling you: Don't read it.
As for the rest of you: The following is, I think, something that is always bubbling below the surface of baseball (when you are not a Yankees fan). I rarely write about it because ... it's like writing about the heat in Phoenix. We all know it's there, and we don't really want to talk about it anymore. But with the Yankees winning the World Series and then talking about how it showed the team's character, well, yeah, I thought maybe this once ...
Here's the thing about the New York Yankees' huge payroll: It has been talked about so much that, in reality, it is hardly talked about at all. I know this makes little sense, but what I mean is this:
A. Everyone knows the Yankees spend much more money than any other team to win games.
B. Because everyone knows it, people have been complaining about it for many years.
C. Because people have complained about it for many years, everybody is sick of hearing about it.
D. Because everyone is sick of hearing about it, nobody really listens.
E. Because nobody really listens, people don't talk about the Yankees spending much more money than any other team to win games.
Yes, this is a weird circle. But in this bizarre world of spin where Alex Rodriguez tries to project himself as an underdog* and Yankees types try to recast George Steinbrenner as sympathetic figure, I think this Yankees money fatigue is very real. As soon as you start talking about it, people turn off. What we're talking about this again? Or, as indignant Yankees fans, they get angry: "Oh man, you're not going to talk about the Yankees MONEY thing again, are you?"
*One good thing about this postseason is that it does seem to have killed the A-Rod as choker myth once and for all. Good man Alex Belth sends along these numbers:
A-Rod during regular season: .305/.390/.576
A-Rod during playoffs: .302/.409/.568
Same thing. Same player. Same guy.
Now, let's think about this for a moment: You have a sport where the New York Yankees -- in large part because they are located in America's largest city and they have baseball's richest television contract -- can viably spend tens of millions of dollars more than any other team to acquire baseball players. You have one team (and only one team) playing the video game on cheat-mode.
This is much starker than people think, by the way. I quickly went back and looked at the numbers before writing my column for SI.com on Wednesday night, and I'm going to reprint them here because even as someone who has also grown sick of hearing about the Yankees' payroll, I found them to be stunning:
In 2002, the Yankees spent $17 million more in payroll than any other team.
In 2003, the Yankees spent $35 million more in payroll than any other team.
In 2004, the Yankees spent $57 million more in payroll than any other team. I mean, it's ridiculous from the start but this is pure absurdity. Basically, this is like the Yankees saying: "OK, let's spend exactly as much as the second-highest payroll in baseball. OK, we're spending exactly as much. And now ... let's add the Oakland A's. No, I mean let's add their whole team, the whole payroll, add it on top and let's play some ball!"
In 2005, the Yankees spent $85 million more than any other team. Not a misprint. Eight five.
In 2006, the Yankees spent $74 million more than any other team.
In 2007, the Yankees spent $40 million more than any other team -- cutbacks, you know.
In 2008, the Yankees spent $72 million more than any other team.
In 2009, the Yankees spent $52 million more than any other team.
Now, the conceit of American professional sports is that every team has a chance. That is certainly the conceit of baseball -- what the commissioner calls Hope on Opening Day.*
*He took this "Hope on Opening Day" thing from me, by the way. Bud Selig read it in a column I had written about the Kansas City Royals, called me about it, and began to trumpet it around. My contribution to baseball. I'm not proud of it.
So how can the commissioner of baseball promote such nonsense as Hope on Opening Day when the game is set up for one team to spend tens of millions more than anyone else? Well, it's actually an interesting thing, I think. I see it as a two-pronged play.
One: Baseball happens to be a sport where dominance can be obscured. It doesn't look like dominance. What I mean is this: Baseball, for many reasons, is built in such a way that the best teams win less often than in other sports. A 13-win NFL team wins 81% of the time. A national championship contending football team might lose once or twice -- or not at all. A 60-win NBA team wins 75% of the time, and a big time college basketball team will win closer to 90%.
A 100-win baseball team wins 62% of the time... and there was only one 100-win baseball team this year. The New York Yankees. Every baseball team that won even 56% of the time this year made the playoffs. It is a sport of small triumphs, good months, one-run victories. I believe it was Whitey Herzog who said that the key to baseball is not getting swept... the idea being that if you can play well most of the time and steal at least one in a three-game series when you're not playing well, then you will be in good shape at the end of the year.
So, dominant baseball teams don't LOOK dominant in the same way they do in football or basketball. It's like the billionaire CEO who doesn't wear ties and rides coach on planes. He's still a billionaire but he doesn't LOOK like a billionaire. No team goes winless or undefeated in baseball. Few ever go winless or undefeated even over 16-game stretches. No team in baseball loses fewer than 40 games, and no team wins more than 120, and it's only the rarest of teams that get anywhere close to either of those numbers.
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