Tuesday, December 23, 2008


With the New York Yankees' signing free agent first-baseman Mark Teixeira to an eight-year, $180 million contract, the mantle has now officially been passed from father to son.
Henceforth, Yankees' chairperson George M. Steinbrenner shall no longer carry the nickname New York Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo long ago gave him. The title, "Steingrabber," now officially rests with one of the co-chairmen, Steinbrenner's son, Hal.
Actually, I prefer a different nickname for the younger Steinbrenner: "Big Bank Hal."
And not far from the real Sugar Hill district in Manhattan, where plenty of people are suffering from the current world economic crisis, up in the Bronx, while the economy there is tanking, the Yankees payroll is cranking.
Who needs the U.S. Congress to bail out Wall Street firms, big banks and America's auto industry?
Why should the captains of industry and commerce call on Washington, when they really should take the subway up to the Bronx and visit Hal Steinbrenner?
First, C.C. Sabathia got seven years and $161 million from Big Bank Hank. Then, A.J. Burnett scored $82 million over five years. Derek Jeter is already in the middle of a $189 million deal, to say nothing of the 10-year, $275 million deal Alex Rodriguez signed with Big Bank Hal last year.
You might say I'm player-hating.
I don't hate the player, I'm hating the system. And after today, expect the chorus to grow nationwide to the fans and owners of Major League Baseball's other 29 clubs.
Do the words "competitive balance" mean anything anymore -- to anyone -- in this sport?
If I live in, say, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Miami, Seattle, Cincinnati, Houston, or other cities in which the brass of their Major League entries are publicly saying they must slash payroll to even stay afloat, why would I spend money on a ticket to even one home game, knowing my team will not only not be competitive in 2009, but in the foreseeable future?
Why would I be content knowing that my team, by these Yankees' signings, has been reduced to a mere filter feeding club?
How would I be expected to retain allegiance to my team's best players, knowing that quite likely they'll be traded to the Yankees or another wealthy club by July 31?
Now, all of Major League Baseball must suffer because the Yankees finished in third place last season and the Steinbrenner clan and the team's insatiable, spoiled fan base simply couldn't stand that indignity.
Baseball may be compelling, but it's rapidly going the way of professional rugby and soccer, where those league's clubs have long had first and second-division status for rich and poor clubs. Who knows, maybe Big Bank Hank is already seeking advice from Rupert Murdoch, who created a Super 8 rugby league, of high-paid, virtual All Star teams, representing several different countries, to turn MLB into just such an outfit.
Maybe MLB had it right the first time when it introduced the free agent system back in the late-1970s. Teams could draft players they were interested in signing and negotiate with them. But there was a limit to how many free agents a team could negotiate with and sign.
It wasn't perfect, but at least the Cincinnatis, Kansas Citys and Pittsburghs of the MLB world could compete.
Before you shout me down as a baseball socialist, or say I'm standing against the most basic of American philosophies, freedom of choice, let me make it clear:
I'm not against any ballplayer making as much money as he can.
Goodness knows, the owners -- who no one pays to watch -- make tons more money than the players. But a system which continues to reward baseball's teams with powerhouse payrolls -- need any further proof that MLB's luxury tax, reached in the collective bargaining agreement of 2002, is an utter joke? -- clearly doesn't work if the overwhelming majority of teams and their fans are relegated to being paupers. Even with the Yankees being slapped with a $26.9 million luxury tax bill by the Commissioner's Office, which Big Bank Hal and his minions are probably laughing at.
I dare MLB to explain and justify this system to the laid off auto worker fans in Michigan and Ohio, who likely can't afford to go to many Tigers', Reds' or Indians' games.
President-elect Barack Obama was swept into the White House, partially because of what he promised to deliver: "a rescue plan for the middle class."
Major League Baseball must devise a similar plan for middle revenue clubs, before the Big Bank Hanks of baseball absorb the entire talent reservoir and render those clubs perennially helpless to compete.

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