On baseball and money and other things

I haven’t written much about the Yankees this offseason. This is because, well, I hate the offseason. Trade rumors, free agent signings, guys stretching in sun-lit fields across Florida and Arizona – yeah, I don’t really care about that. For me, November through March is like a long waiting game. Give me the games. The pace of the season. Playoff runs and hot summer nights and RBI singles and John Sterling foibles and called third strikes on the outside corner – those are the reasons I fell in love with the game.

And, sure, it was an exciting offseason at times. McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran, Tanaka. Everyone talks about how the Yankees spend, but really it’s been five years since the Yankees went on a spending spree like this. And I’m always amused when non-Yankee fans accuse the team of buying championships. As if spending money is a sign of evil. Because, to me, that’s an attack on competence. The Yankees make a lot of money, and they spend a lot of money, and to me that’s great, because other teams have the money and choose not to spend it. Until there is some type of salary cap, this is how the sport works. If that money isn’t being spent on the organization, it’s going straight to the owner’s pockets – and let’s be honest, the Steinbrenners don’t need any more.

It’s interesting – of the four major sports, baseball is the only sport without a salary cap, and it can be argued very persuasively that baseball has the most parity. Here is one measure – number of different teams that have won championships over the last 30 years:

MLB: 18
NHL: 15
NFL: 15
NBA: 8

And what makes this even more interesting is that baseball has fewer teams and fewer playoff spots than the other three sports.

Over the last 10 years, every baseball team has won between 44% and 58% of its games. That’s an extremely narrow margin for all 30 teams. None of the other sports even come close to that. And that’s because in baseball, money is less significant. An individual player is less significant. You might have the best hitter in the game, but he’s only guaranteed to hit 1/9th the time. Money certainly helps, no one denies that, but it’s not a sign of evil or unfairness or a hindrance to the game. It’s a lame excuse to hate on an organization.

And now for something completely different. This is Derek Jeter’s final season. I am sure I’ll have more to say on this as the season progresses, but man, I feel like a part of my childhood is ending. It’s uncanny how closely the careers of the Core Four – Posada, Rivera, Pettitte, Jeter – mirror my childhood. They all debuted some time around 1996, the year I started kindergarten. Pettite and Rivera retired the year I graduated college. Jeter will be gone a year later. You grow up with these players, and then they leave, and I don’t know if I’m ready for that.

And maybe this isn’t how I should look at things, but when I watch the Yankees now, I inevitably feel a tinge of sadness, as if I’m watching the last remnants of the baseball I used to know. Because everything from here on out is going to be different.

This is OK, it’s a good thing, it means I’m growing up and time is passing and a new generation of fans will have a new generation of players to root for. I’ll still be watching regardless. I’m too deep in this thing to ever not watch the Yankees. I still enjoy baseball more than just about anything. I imagine that won’t ever change.

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