“You don’t know the power of the dark side!” If you haven’t been living on a desert island for the past, oh, 30 years, you know that this is a quite from Darth Vader of Star Wars fame. If you don’t know who he is, I truly feel sorry for you, but sufficed to say that he is the leader of the “evil” side in the battle for the universe, and helps to patrol over the dominion of the “Evil Empire.” Taking a page from this saga, Red Sox President Larry Lucchoino in 2002 deemed the Yankees “The Evil Empire” for their propensity to spend whatever it cost to put together the best team money can buy. This has been the case basically for the past 15 years, and it continues to be a massive question that needs to be addressed if the idea of competitive balance is at the core of what major league baseball really want to address (currently there is no salary cap, only a luxury tax). Consider the following three points.
1- The Yankees 40-man payroll in 2009 cost over $215 million. The next highest team was the other one from New York, the Mets, and their payroll was “only” $141 million (these totals are from an article by Jayson Stark).
2- The difference between the Yankees and the Mets, some $74 million, is more than the entire payroll of nine teams.
3- If you add up the payrolls of the Marlins, Padres, Pirates and Athletics those four teams come in at less than $190 million, or $25 million less than the Yankees.
Obviously the Yankees spending is a huge problem, one that threatens to ruin the game in my opinion if left unchecked, but the point of the article by Mr. Stark was that there is something fishing going on here. Distilling his piece down into one sentence, here is what we get:
Major league teams pocket $80 million before they sell a single ticket because of revenue sharing, radio and television money, and the central fund.
This raises the obvious question. If major league baseball is a $6 billion dollar a year business, and teams do in fact receive $80 million a year before selling a single ticket, how is it possible that 12 teams failed to have a payroll of $80 million in 2009? Here is the explanation of MLB’s chief labor negotiator, Rod Manfred. “You need to understand that these teams have expenses in addition to the 25-man roster on the field…They have the cost of their player-development system, which averages $15 million [per team] a year. They have the cost of acquiring [amateur] players through the [June] draft and internationally, which averages $9 million [per team] a year.” While that might all be true, the $80 million figure listed above does not include ticket sales, parking, sponsorships, souvenirs etc. With all that extra do coming in, is there really a reason that any team shouldn’t be able to spend $80 million on payroll?
After all of that Mr. Stark says that we shouldn’t blame the Yankees because at least they take that money and shove it back into their payroll. However, what does a team like the Marlins, who had the lowest payroll in baseball at under $40 million, do with all that extra dough? Honestly, a team like the Marlins just might be out-profiting clubs that spend three times as much money, even if their ticket sales are rather diminutive.
In the end I still hate the Yankees, and the fact that they simply try to buy championships. But this is a free market society, and a free market game, so you can’t blame them for taking advantage of the rules. However, if you are a Marlins fan, you might want to ask your team where that extra $40 million dollars is going because it clearly isn’t being invested in the on the field product.
By Ray Flowers