Baseball Takes a Hit

This weekend, the New York Yankees signed All Star shortstop Alex Rodriguez for $179 million. Only eight players in baseball have contracts worth over $100 million, and now four play for the Yankees. The gap between rich and poor teams is growing wider, causing baseball as a whole to suffer. Teams with smaller payrolls cannot stay competitive, and season-by-season, the standings grow stagnant. Baseball, like the government, has guidelines to protect against monopolization in order to maintain a fair contest. However, Owner George Steinbrenner and his New York Yankees are not acting within the spirit of these principles. This is simply bad for baseball. The Yankees do willingly pay the tens of millions of dollars required by the luxury tax and revenue sharing, but Major League Baseball established these practices for a reason. The luxury tax and revenue sharing are deliberate measures to prevent a huge disparity between the teams with high and low payrolls and to maintain a level of competitiveness, much like federal anti-trust laws. Steinbrenner chooses to ignore the spirit of these practices. Instead, he simply pays staggering amounts in taxes. Last year, he owed roughly $62 million in luxury taxes and revenue sharing. That amount alone is more than the payroll of the Detroit Tigers and double the projected payroll of the Milwaukee Brewers. Steinbrenner himself said that no one complains when he receives his revenue sharing check; however, baseball as a game, and an industry, would be much better if no one needed to write that check in the first place. The damage done by Steinbrenner’s gross overspending is evidenced by the stagnation of divisional standings in the recent past. The five teams in the American League East, the division in which the Yankees play, have finished in the same order for the past four seasons: the imperial Yankees, the beloved Boston Red Sox, Toronto, Baltimore, and lowly Tampa Bay, finish in that order, year in and year out. No one wants to watch a game when the winner is already known. A team staring at last place in its division in mid-spring certainly will not draw a crown in August. As reflected in our economy, increased competition benefits the consumer. A more even distribution of money and talent between franchises would likewise serve baseball’s fans. But Steinbrenner and the Yankees do not simply have all the concentrated wealth; their wealth enables the club to acquire concentrated talent from the league’s best players. The starting line up reads like roll call for the All Star Game; the Yankees hold 17 current or former All Stars members. But, talent is not only purchased at the Major League level. The Yankees’ mammoth budget allows the team to employ the best scouts and coaches in the business, which in turn yields a strong minor league system. The huge financial differences let the Yankees not only buy, but also grow talent, producing the likes of Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter. Comparable to merging two huge multi-billion dollar corporations, arguably the game’s two best defensive players, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez now stand on the same left side of the New York infield while those less fortunate are forced to struggle to stay in the game. Every move made by the Yankees is legal. Steinbrenner with his Yankees, as an entity which has earned millions and millions of dollars, is free to spend millions and millions. But baseball suffers. Just as no corporation can rightfully corner the market in an industry, no team can truly survive as a dynasty for decades, and no team should attempt to do so by playing beyond the spirit of the institution and decreasing the integrity of the game. When one team, the New York Yankees, tries to win at all costs, the 29 other teams lose.