I wish the Yankees symbolized the American economy

It kills me to write this post, but I'm about to defend the New York Yankees.  I do it only to make a point about the American economy and free competition, so bear with me.  In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Phil Sheridan writes the following about the Yankee signing of Mark Teixeira
The New York Yankees represent the very worst of America. Overstatement? Consider the times. Cornerstone industries are faltering, taxpayers are being asked to bail out mismanaged financial institutions and their overpaid CEOs, and decent, hard-working men and women are being laid off or worrying that they could be next. Now consider the eight-year, $180 million contract the Yankees reportedly handed first baseman Mark Teixeira Tuesday. Stack it on top of the $161 million deal signed by pitcher CC Sabathia and the (relatively) modest $82.5 million promised to A.J. Burnett and you have the most egregious display of financial irresponsibility in the history of sports. The Yanks' insane overspending would be bad for baseball in the best of times. These are not the best of times.... What's wrong here is obvious. It's also not really new. Unlike the NFL, NBA and NHL, baseball has no salary cap. Those leagues do not have caps for the sheer, unbridled joy of finding loopholes and exceptions. They have them as part of an effort to maintain some kind of competitive balance among teams from different-size markets in disparate parts of the country.
Sheridan's response is pretty typical of non-Yankee fans -- which is disturbing, because it's so wrong on so many levels.  First, it would be awesome if American corporations acted more like the Yankees.  One cause of the deepening recession is that firms are afraid to do anything other than hold cash in hand at the moment.  The smart ones should invest in expansion -- capital is ridiculously cheap right now and they'll be well-poised once the economy takes off again.  If enough firms acted that way, the economy actually would take off again.  In signing these players, the Yankees have made long-term investments while keeping their expenditures constant relative to last year's payroll.  Given their move to a new stadium, their revenues should increase.  They have made these moves in order to improve their chances of competing.  That's how corporations should behave.   As for Sheridan's point about competitive balance -- well, let's go to Joe Posnanski, who has some useful data on this point:
it always gives me great comfort to see the following facts: -- Over the past 10 years, eight different teams have won the World Series. In all, 15 teams made the World Series -- half of the teams in baseball. -- Over the past 20 years, 14 different teams have won the World Series. In all 22 teams made the World Series. Now, we're at more than two-thirds who have reached the Series. -- Over the last 30 years, 20 different teams have won the World Series, and only four -- Cubs, Mariners, Rangers and the Expos/Nationals -- have failed to get there... I'm not saying that the Yankees will not win in 2009 -- that's an awfully good team now, absolutely the best that money can buy. But just remember that key fact: 20 teams have won a World Series in the last 30 years. And by comparison: -- Only 14 teams have won the Super Bowl over the last 30 years. -- Only 14 different men have won Wimbledon over the last 30 years. -- Only 13 teams have won the Stanley Cup over the last 30 years. -- Only nine teams have won an NBA title over the last 30 years.
It is telling that the team sports with salary caps actually have more dynasties than baseball.  In baseball, more money can make the Yankees better, but it can't guarantee them anything.  As a Red Sox fan, I'm perfectly happy to have the rest of America hate the Yankees along with me.  Holding them up as the symbol of what's wrong with the country, however,  is pretty ludicrous.  UPDATE:  Thanks to YFSF, I see that Dan Szymborski has made a similar argument over at Baseball Think Factory
The Yankees do spend more money than other teams in MLB, but the differences would be less drastic if the payrolls of many teams had been rising up to the waves of new cash that have entered baseball in recent years. Going by the NFL formula, very generous considering the MLBPA is far more powerful an entity than any other union in sports, the payroll floor for 2009 would almost certainly be in the $100 million range. 58% of league revenue, as the players in NFL get, would be, in baseball, an average team payroll of a hair under $120 million. It's pretty clear that while the Yankees are outspending everyone comfortably, the rest of baseball has just as much to do with the payroll disparity as the Yankees do. Now, what about the Yankee mindset? The Steinbrenners aren't anywhere near as rich or as liquid as some other owners in baseball such as Carl Pohlad of the Twins. The difference is that the Steinbrenners have always invested in their team, always striven to put the best product possible out on the field. The Yankees have certainly made some terrible trades, especially when King George was hands-on the most, but they were done with the motive of making the team better. Yes, the Yankees got a huge, undeserved payday from the locals for their stadium, like most teams in baseball did, but it's a mitigating factor that they're actually plowing those funds back into the on-field product. And the team never threatened to not compete until they got their sweet check. Perhaps a small difference, but I see it as a good bit more ethical than Kevin McClatchy demanding taxpayer moneys to help the Pirates compete and then turn around and use all the money to fund his failing media empire. 


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