At first glance, it’s so easy to curse the trade that sent 2003 MVP Alex Rodriguez to New York City to play ball for the Evil Empire, the loathsome Yankees. Perhaps the deal of the decade, one that trumps every other act of greed in the history of pro-sports and personifies the tendency of pro-teams to bow to financial pressures and allow other teams to “buy” championships, really is, as Yankees owner George Steinbrenner calls it, the biggest deal since they picked up Reggie Jackson years ago. After the Boston Red Sox attempts to acquire A-Rod earlier this off-season failed, it’s certainly another attempt to stick it to Beantown, something that’s been happening ever since the Bronx Bombers bought George Herman “Babe” Ruth from the Sox in 1918. Call it greed, call it sour grapes, call it whatever you want: just don’t accuse the Boss of breaking the rules. He simply wanted to bring the greatest shortstop in baseball since Ozzie Smith to New York, and when Steinbrenner wants something, he usually gets it. Now, this isn’t to say that what Georgie did wasn’t ridiculous and over-the-top. As my buddy Ben nicely summed it up, “It’ll be the freakin’ All Star Game every night the Yankees play.”
Rodriguez was so desperate to play for a winner after so many last-place finishes with the Texas Rangers, that after the Sox deal fell through, he agreed to switch positions to third base in order to fit into the lineup in New York. Alex Rodriguez, the best defensive shortstop in the majors, agreed to play third base so the Yanks could keep their favorite son, Derek Jeter, at that position. Steinbrenner was (and is) so desperate to leave his legacy as Yankees owner that he brought baseball’s highest-paid player in history to a lineup already loaded as far as payroll is concerned. Steinbrenner felt the need to have TWO All-Star shortstops on his team. The New York Yankees now employ six of the 12 highest-paid players in the major leagues.
Its insane, but there’s no rule against it. Major League Baseball is one of the two most popular professional sports without a salary cap (and the National Hockey League is about to have a work stoppage that could last up to two years because of it). Days ago, you may have felt anger, even rage, at the news that the richest team had just acquired the league’s richest player.
To this I say: don’t hate the player, hate the game. In the lopsided economic environment Steinbrenner operates in, he has every opportunity to trade for and sign any successful ballplayer he wants. Just this offseason he’s picked up Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, and last season they loaded up on stars like Aaron Boone and Hideki Matsui. This is the same Evil Empire that signed Jason Giambi as a free agent after he almost led the Oakland A’s to playoff victory in their series against the Yankees in 2001, the same Boss that years ago stocked up on an already powerful World Series pitching rotation by adding future Hall of Famer (and former Boston star) Roger Clemens. As Georgie Porgie proves year in and year out, something is seriously wrong with the financial climate of the game for him to be able to do this. The lack of a salary cap, along with the immense popularity of the Yankees, allows the Boss to spend as much as he wants on payroll while still turning a profit. The “luxury tax,” the only penalty enforced on teams that spend too much, (and a silly excuse for such a policy at that) is like a slap on the wrist for him; A-Rod will cost New
So, you can scream and shout about the Damn Yankees all you want, and it wont change a thing. The only hope for smaller market teams against them this season is to realize that the Yankees are still human, and thus still capable of losing. As proof, have a look at the success of other pro teams with a similar “buy wins” strategy: in the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers have had only mild success after signing All Stars Gary Payton and Karl Malone this season, and the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings still have yet to see if they can win the Stanley Cup with two of the world’s best goaltenders in Curtis Joseph and the retired-then-unretired Dominik Hasek. Even the New York Mets, a ball club with a similarly sizable payroll yet absolutely nothing to show for it, are proof-positive that spending money doesn’t always translate into winning championships. Games are played on the field, in the rink and on the courts; you can point to talent, payroll and stat lines all you want, but in the end, the only statistic that counts is the number of W’s the Yankees come up with this season. And, if Alex Rodriguez wants to avoid the fury and anger of a cranky George Steinbrenner, he should hope that the 2004 playoffs end with a W. As the frugal Florida Marlins showed us last season (and the Anaheim Angels in 2002), it’s not how much money you spend, but how you spent that money that counts.
As my dad would say, “That’s why they play the games.”