Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

In Memoriam: How George Steinbrenner Compromised the Future of Baseball

The brain of a sports fan is not a rational one. One may be a loser, broken-hearted, and victim of bad luck, bad genes or bad temper, and all is well if his fave team wins a championship.

Sports writers, announcers, SportsCenter jocks and their kin, of whom there seem to be a frightful number in the world these days, know the truth about how winning happens, especially in major league baseball, but they’ll never tell. To do so is to kill the Golden Goose and risk their jobs.

As has been wisely said, the mass of humanity have lives of quiet desperation, and our obsession with sports is Exhibit Number One that this is so.

Most people care not a fig how others make money or how winning happens in sports. Ulysses Grant won the Civil War thanks to overwhelming numbers, and did the Allies on D-Day. But there is a difference between war and sports; the latter is a matter of “game” and should be as fair and equitable as possible.

George Steinbrenner has died and sports cognoscenti have been out in force, not to bury but to praise him. Buried he will be, but any praise deserves qualified comment. Because the Boss, well before his death, planted the seeds of destruction for the Great American Game.

To say that George did anything or anybody any good is to say that he did so chiefly for himself and for baseball’s free agents. He did so for the latter as a byproduct of his willingness to spend insane amounts of money for the best ones out there and to keep his Yankees on top while everyone else chased them.

It’s already been suggested that if George is to be hurried into the Hall of Fame, that Curt Flood go there at the same time: Flood fought the battle of free agency and led finally to other players getting it. At the time, no one supported Flood and no acclaim has come his way till now, and that is only if he indeed makes it into the Hall. George owes his own success to Curt, and used free agency to pad mound, field and even bench so that victory would always be his.

Some say, well, George had the dough so why not spend it to win? But he was not the only rich team owner. Some, indeed, had losing franchises because, unlike Gotham City, they didn’t have great populations or longstanding local traditions, not to mention vast media markets. But many current owners have plenty of money and don’t mind making a profit but to them neither the game nor their teams represents the bitch goddess of ultimate success.

In another blog (“Damn Yankees,” in the Sports category) I worried that other owners might try to emulate George’s win-at-all-costs tactic but never dreamed it would be the Red Sox, who tried to out-Yank the Yanks with their disgraceful move on Daisuke Matsuzaka, spending $50 mil just to speak to him–and a similar amount to sign him. This should never have been heard of and Beantown will never make the return on that wicked investment that they paid for.

That, I ventured at the time, and inspired by Steinbrenner, was the beginning of the end for baseball and while it will take a while, its end as the Great American Game would surely arrive, by virtue of a long and agonizing death.

George’s wealth has been put at $1.1 billion, as has that of the Cubs’ Ricketts family, and the Angels’ Arte Moreno–all of whom are surpassed by Bob McLane of the Astros ($1.5 bil), John Malone of the Braves (2.4B) but none near the Mariners’ Nintendo-man owner and his 4.2B.

None but George, however, lusted so much for the Brass Ring as to spend long and senselessly. His team’s value in terms of money was and is more than twice that spent by any other club, including last year’s $450M spending spree during offseason, a rich-kids roster to be housed in the lavish Tower of Babel known as the new Yankee Stadium (while tix sales plunged 7%). Call it the House that Money Built. Another part of the success story being touted is his buying the team in ‘73 for a lousy ten million compared with its current value of 1.6B–keeping in mind it’s 95% leveraged to Stadium debt.

I recall when another year’s lineup, already a Murderer’s Row, hit a slump; the Boss found them whining in the locker room and buoyed their spirits by promisisng to go out and buy a Jason Giambi and a Bobby Abreu, just to make them all smile again–and increase their chance of winning. And he did.

More recently, as alluded to above, he shelled out a king’s ransom to bring in three more world-class, free-agent all-stars: hurlers Sabathia and Burnett–along with slugger Mark Teixeira, who by all rights (like A-Rod before him) should have been Red Sox, but at the time no one could beat the blank checks George waved in the air.

Of late they lusted after Cliff Lee but he got away and their eyes are now on Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres, a team ensconced in first place in its division but Gonzalez is their sole superstar and would go well with another recent all-star acquisition, Curtis Granderson. Call Yankee Stadium what you will, but don’t call it a level playing field.

It is the failure of baseball, that, unlike other sports, it has relied much less on farm teams, drafts and a reasonable trading system, and has been left to the mercies of the One Man who would stop at nothing to outbid everyone else and thereby harness all the talent needed to stay on top.

But isn’t that the American Way? Well, yes, the ugly part of it. The other part is better than that but will never find its way into baseball as long as the Steinbrenner boys are in charge now that the King is dead. In that regard, call George and his boys Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum. If, as is so commonly said, “American demands a winner,” at present we have none in the Majors that we can be truly proud of.

As said before, I don’t see how the Yankees and their fans claim to be “Number One,” with straight faces. The fix is in and the game is rigged. But why should they care? That’s New York for you.

Are we getting the picture? Yes, but the focus will blur into the one-line legacy that George was a “winner.” Fine. And baseball will be the loser.

3 Responses to “In Memoriam: How George Steinbrenner Compromised the Future of Baseball”

  1. For Sports fans, there is always pro football with its salary cap. With spending parity there is true competition. Longtime losers like the Saints and the Rams from small to mid market areas can win Super Bowls. There are no Yankees in football, and that is great for the fans.

  2. You’re CUTE when you’re mad.

    A New Yorker & Enthusiastic Yankee Fan)

  3. I have it on good sources that Abner Doubleday favored cap and trade. He should have stuck with NASCAR, his first choice. A great read, as always – thank you.


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