I'm going to lay my allegiances out here now.
Well, at least a partial view.
For some reasons that are widely repeated, and not for others that are often discussed, the way I see major league baseball right now is not as 30 teams divided into two leagues. It's more 29 and 1.
And no, the one is not the Expos, owned by major league baseball and the other 29 team owners.
It's the Yankees. They're clearly playing under a different set of rules -- some of which is to their credit, some of which is further proof that Bud Selig is a spineless moron easily influenced not by the masses or his favorite fallback, "the best interests of baseball," but instead by something as small and simple as a dollar sign (and the number of decimal places that follow it).
What else would you expect from a car salesman?
It's been 29 and 1 for a while now. During the discussions that averted a strike in 2002, George Steinbrenner took exception to some of the proposals that seemed directed at restricting his ability to run his team the way he wanted. Big George seemed to cut back last season, and it resulted in another World Series loss. He clearly doesn't want that to happen again, even if his luxury tax figure next offseason will be as big as the Milwaukee payroll. (Which brings up the point that "29 and 1" can refer to at least different teams as the 1 -- Yankees, Expos, Brewers -- but for now, I'm just focusing on the Yankees.)
This doesn't just stem from the Alex Rodriguez trade. That does play a part, but not for the reasons you might think. The truth is, several teams could have had A-Rod, but they didn't want to be as foolish as the Rangers and invest so much money in one guy. The Red Sox could have -- should have -- had him in December, but in the end they couldn't pick up something like an extra $14 million. The union wouldn't agree to devaluing his contract any further, and the deal died -- though everyone from Peter Gammons on down insisted that the trade would happen and, indeed, had to happen for the Rangers, for the Red Sox, for A-Rod, for baseball.
But what really steams me about the trade that did happen -- Soriano for A-Rod -- is what Texas threw in: $67 million. Why the hell did the Rangers have to pay the Yankees to take the game's greatest all-around player (better fielder than Pujols, better -- and younger -- posterboy than Bonds) off their hands?? If the Yankees want to put together MLB's version of a real-life fantasy team, they should have to pay for it. If they want an all-star at every single position (including pitchers three or four times a week), they should have to pay for that and not get any help. The Yankees are easily the most valuable and lucrative franchise in professional sports -- with marketing and development agreements with two of the most popular franchises around the world, the Yomiuri Giants and Manchester United. No one can match the Yankees' revenue from the highest ticket in the game for a stadium with more than 40,000 seats, the unending string of merchandise (Pink caps with the "NY" logo? C'mon. The only thing more insulting than manufacturing them is that they actuall sell.) and the ownership of a network that not only shows 140 of their 162 games each season, but also those of the New Jersey Nets and Devils. Certainly, A-Rod's contract is unique and will likely never be seen in the game again. Even Pujols only got seven years at just over $100 million. (And a side note on that -- man, there are a lot of parenthetical asides today, aren't there? -- is that, should he leave the Cardinals as a free agent after the deal, he'll still only be 31! Just barely past his peak and still in his prime. You know, it pains me to think what records Barry Bonds might hold when he's all done, and I particularly don't want him to get Hank Aaron's 755 home runs. But Pujols just might hit 800, he's done so much so young.) But enough digression. I could have handled it if the Rangers picked up A-Rod's contract for this year and, maybe, part of next season. Let the Yankees have the last five years to themselves. But $67 million covers nearly three years of the average salary.
But the rules aren't different just for the Yankees in North America. Though this was only the second time major league baseball took two regular season games away from the fans in America and sent them to a country that doesn't need games that count to spark interest in the game, they did it differently for the Yankees than for the Mets, the Cubs and the Devil Rays. When the Mets and Cubs went over in 2000, each team lost a home game. The Mets were the home team for one of the games in Tokyo, the Cubs for the other. Each played only 80 home games that season. Furthermore, they came back from Japan with only three days off before resuming the regular season in New York and Chicago. But the Yankees didn't have to give up any home games -- both Tokyo games this week featured the Devil Rays as the home team. In their road spring training uniforms. The Yankees wore pinstripes, because that's what the Japanese fans would want to see, and the Devil Rays got last licks.
Take the Yankees out of the equation for a second. The Devil Rays deserved those two home games, because against any other major league team, they would've drawn about 13,000 fans (last year's average) in Tropicana Field. For a Yankees game at The Trop, they might get 27,000, so they even nearly doubled that the 55,000 per game they drew in Tokyo.
But I don't believe for a second that the Devil Rays got the home team share of the receipts and the Yankees merely got a visitors' share. First, the Tokyo Dome and other Japanese outlets must've gotten a piece. And the Yankees were clearly the draw, moreso than major league baseball itself coming to Japan, and were just as inconvenienced than Tampa Bay. I just have a hunch that major league baseball planned on the "home-and-home" split of the two games between the teams, until George came along and said, "I'm not letting the Yankees go over there if I'm going to lose a home game in the Bronx." Sure, it's a shrewd business move -- the Yankees, who averaged 42,000 fans last season, only drew more than 40,000 hosting the Devil Rays three times, once at 47,000 for the first home weekend game of the season and two more at 40,800 for two weekend games in July. But it's flat-out unfair if it came about like that.
There doesn't seem to be a foreseeable end to this business as we know it. Things will change if the Red Sox manage to beat the Yankees this year -- or if they manage to keep their free agents and build something of a minor dynasty to annually compete with the Yankees through the decade. But players get older and Steinbrenner can't run the team forever. By the time A-Rod's contract expires, Derek Jeter may very well be the only one still playing with him. In terms of prospects, the Yankees have absolutely no minor-league system to speak of and that's going to catch up with them eventually. Sure, they've developed Jeter, Posada, Bernie and Rivera, but now they don't have the Brandon Claussens and Eric Miltons to go out and make the trades they used to make. Everything is cyclical, and someday the Yankees will see this run end.
Unfortunately, they'll probably find some way to build themselves right back up.
Labels: Alex Rodriguez, Evil Empire, Japan, money, Rangers, Rays, Red Sox, trades, Yankees