A conversation about MLB, on the field, off the field.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The NECESSARY EVIL Empire

The monicker says it all, the "Evil Empire". Larry Lucchino, President of the Boston Red Sox uttered the famous phrase in December 2002 after losing the José Contreras auction to the aforementioned New York Yankees. We all know instantly when we hear of the EE which team it is, there is only one. But the facts are, whether you love or hate the EE, everybody wins, fans and Industry.

The Yankees have been held up in many misinformed quarters over recent years as symbolic, if not the cause, of everything that is perceived wrong with MLB; Competitive imbalance, greed, grotesque salaries etc. I disagree, I believe that there is sufficient parity in MLB, the Yankees are good business partners and the players get paid a fair wage.

There are two types of sports fans, Yankee lovers & Yankee haters. Either way, it's fun. ( Don't underestimate the pleasures of hating. ) In particular,the EE Red Sox rivalry has evolved into one of the most entertaining spectacles in professional sports. The rivlary is enhanced greatly by the Yankees & the Red Sox ability to afford, elite, highly skilled, star powered teams. MLB is extremely popular at local levels, but on a National scale, only the Yanks / Red Sox games garner the attention they do. Many sports fans I encounter criticize MLB for not having a salary cap, because it allows the Yankees to grossly outspend their competitors. Well if you don't allow for that, they are no longer the EE that everyone loves / loves to hate. The Manny, Big Pappy, J.D., Dice K, Schilling, Beckett vs Giambi, Jeter, A Rod, Damon, Rivera, Matsui rivalry doesn't occur any longer in cap leagues. Cap leagues do not allow for the extended competition, over several if not more seasons, between great teams. Casual fans are interested in the Yankees, they're always in the playoffs, superstars, controversy, tradition, glamor. What's wrong with that? Would capping the Yankees payroll make MLB better?

Contrary to the prevailing opinion amongst casual sports fans, there is competitive balance in MLB. MLB can point to 7 consecutive different World Series champs. Thanks to the Wild Card, most teams are "in the hunt" come August for a playoff spot, which is likely the principal cause of record attendance. Parity, which means everyone is just above or just below .500, has been achieved in the NL. The Cardinals qualified for the playoffs with 83 wins last season, in 05 the Padres qualified with 82 wins. In the AL, there is parity in the West and Central ( save for the Royals ), the most unfortunate position to be in is competing in the AL East with the superstars, well no system is perfect.

The Wild Card, along with Revenue Sharing, Luxury taxes, and the money being distributed from Central Fund revenues has created the current Competitive Balance. The Yankees pay the bill. Steinbrenner paid out $100 million in Revenue sharing & luxury taxes last season, about 1/3 of the total dispensed. As well, no other team has the impact that the Yankees do on the amount of money that flows into the Central Fund, i.e. National TV contracts, licensing, merchandising, etc. The Yanks competitors see their biggest gates of the regular season when the EE rolls into town.

The EE, at least until they move into the new Yankee Stadium, seem to have maxed out payroll. No free agents were signed this off season, in fact they jettisoned a few big salaries. You can't blame the EE for inflating the value of free agents this off season.

MLB has found the perfect balance, a system that allows the glamor teams ( EE, Red Sox & Mets, once they move into Citifield ) to maintain their status while practically everyone else has an opportunity to contend, while sharing in the glamor teams largesse.

You can have the NFL and NHL ( I can't comment on the NBA ), no continuity, mediocrity by decree, player movement mandated by accountants, not GM's or coaches. I'll take MLB.

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