Many of you know that Joe Posnanski is a favorite writer of this blog. His excellence is beyond pretty much anything out there. He is consistently entertaining and consistently on point. As a result, he has earned his new gig as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated.
One of the things that good writers do is make you think. When arguments and statements from that writer make the reader ponder their own point of view, that's good writing. Rob Neyer over at ESPN does that too, though he's more of a commentator on other writers than he is a writer himself these days. But he makes you think and again, that's what good writers do.
Mr. Posnanski wrote a fairly scathing (in his words) screed the other day about the big bucks the Yankees have and their competitive advantage. As a Fan of both that team and of Mr. Posnanski (and of Sports in the City, another great blog with the same opinion), it is a bit bothersome that this opinion exists. And, on the surface, the point is true. The Yankees do have a competitive advantage. But what is also true is that hardly anyone with that opinion puts things in a historical perspective.
The opinion doesn't take into account what the Yankees have built. The Fan was there when it started. And believe this writer when he tells you, the Yankees did not always have this advantage. They built it the good old American way.
The lowly Marlins and Pirates and Royals and all the other "poor" teams in terms of payroll all have higher attendance figures than the Yankees did for at least half of the 1960s. The lowest attendance figure in the sport this past year was 1.4 million seats sold. All of these seats cost much more than they did back in the 1960s. From 1966 to 1970, the Yankees averaged about 1.25 million seats sold in attendance. That attendance was uniformly bad in those days must be stated here for fairness. But even saying that, the Yankees usually finished those years in the middle of the pack in attendance in the majors.
The team was such a financial mess that George Steinbrenner could buy the team at $10 million from CBS. From that lowly state, Steinbrenner built an empire. He used a bit of P. T. Barnum bluster, a knack for finding the back page of the New York Daily News, he correctly gauged the minds of New York fans and he built a television monster. He really has been the Vanderbilt of baseball.
Ted Turner nearly equaled what Steinbrenner did with the Braves. His TBS, which was far ahead of its time, took a poor team and made them a financial success, which like the Yankees, allowed them to be competitive for a long, long time.
The point is that these men succeeded with smarts and business acumen to take moribund franchises and built them into monsters. John Henry, et al, have done the same thing with the Red Sox. As a business owner, this Fan admires their success and dreams of that sort of end story. And yet, their success has become some sort of evil. It's become a bad thing and shouts are made across the land of lack of parity and lack of opportunity. Well, that's disturbing.
It is disturbing on a couple of fronts. First, it says that if a team is not very good at PR or not very good at building their brands and their businesses, the Yankees should be punished because they are. Heck, the Yankees are already "taxed" for their success with some of their hard earned money being given to those poor business people. Plus, with revenue sharing, all profits from national television rights and MLB products are divided evenly among all teams despite the fact that the Yankees drive in more money to those accounts than anyone else. And the Fan is okay with that on some level. But on another level, it seems a bit communistic to have the rich (again derived from smarts) support the poor (who haven't been as smart).
The basic unfairness the Yankees have is their location. It is considered the best market in sports. But that hasn't helped the Knicks has it? Or the Rangers? Artie Moreno is another example of an owner who took a franchise that wasn't exactly succeeding in their market and making it a success. He also has a prime market. But he had to make that market work for him. The Yankees have been successful at making their market work. But that is evil?
Let's look at another team in sports that has become nearly as "evil" as the Yankees. Let's talk about the New England Patriots. Before Robert Kraft bought that team, the Patriots were an absolute mess. They played at a dreadful stadium which was a traffic nightmare. The team was more awful than it was good. They had a couple of good seasons, but basically, they were an also-ran. Kraft has made that franchise a jewel through good business sense and smart management. But success breeds evil in this country nowadays. It's like we've become a country of anarchists. We want to tear down all these success stories because not everyone is a success.
The dirty little secret in baseball is that success for the Yankees means more revenue for the other owners despite whether they are good at what they do or not. The Yankees are the biggest draw whenever they visit other venues. That television revenue and marketing revenue sharing along with the "tax" the Yankees pay for their payroll means more money for these other owners. Some of them may cry foul for the success the Yankees have and the advantage they have built, but the Fan would believe that most of them think of the Yankees like some creepy, but rich uncle that lines their pockets with more money.
The Fan will take all of this one point further. Any team currently in a mess, any team with a small payroll and in a hole when it comes to competing can turn it around just like the Yankees did. If they had the same flair, the same acumen and the same brand-building machine, the Royals could be a big success as could the Marlins, the Twins and any other team you mention out there. The Yankees started from a lower point than all of them. Look it up. Granted, they have a good market. But that didn't stop Sam Walton did it?
Bottom line: The Yankees have earned their success. They are an American success story. And it is a story that anyone can repeat. That's not evil. It truly isn't.