Being an obnixous Yankee fan in a city where most baseball fans follow one of two so-called “medium market” teams, I often get asked to defend the charge that the Yankees’ (read: George Steinbrenner’s) spending habits have ruined the great sport of baseball.
My standard reponse is that yes, the Yankees do spend more than other teams, but that’s because they wisely (well, mostly wise) reinvest their money into the team. That money pays for a team that fans turn out to see, in turn, leading fans to buy the team’s merchandise and follow the team from around the world. What’s more, the Yankees pay millions of dollars to other teams in the form of revenue sharing, and a number of those teams take that money and put it back into the pockets of their owners, rather than putting that money into a team (for that team’s fans) worth cheering for.
Rather, I counter, it isn’t the Yankees ruining baseball, but those owners taking that money to enrich themselves, rather than their team.
Even though free agency has only existed over the last 30-40 years of baseball’s lifespan, the concepts I’ve been talking about have been around a lot more. In reading a recent interview at Baseball Analysts with Dan Levitt, who wrote a book about Ed Barrow, the Yankees’ first GM, it’s easy to see that my argument is not a new one:
Rich: Using newly available material from the New York Yankee financial records and previously unexplored financial data from 1951 Congressional hearings, you delved into the economic environment of baseball over the first half of the twentieth century. What was the most enlightening thing you learned about the Yankees?
Dan: Two things stand out. First, the Yankees reinvested their profits in the team while other franchises often distributed theirs out to the team’s owners, and second, the Yankees consistently paid the highest salaries.
I’d rather be a fan of a team that spends prodigiously than one run by a bunch of penny pinchers. Sure, the Yankees are a .500 team at this point in the season, but their ownership has at least given them a chance. I’d like for someone to honestly tell me that you can say the same about Pittsburgh or Florida. Those cities should have their teams taken away.