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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Worst Thing That Can Happen in Sports

Mark the time. At 11:55pm EST on November 4, 2009, the worst thing that could happen in sports happened.
Ok, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. The Yankees have just won the 2009 World Series. As a Red Sox fan, yes, it makes me a little sick. But let's look at the bigger picture. Perhaps I'm a Red Sox fan who can't see past my own biased opinion, but is this not a horrible occurrence for all of baseball and to an extent, all major sports? If you were listening carefully at 11:55pm, you could actually hear the collective sigh of 80% of sports owners across the country. For me, the Yankee payroll since the turn of the century never really bothered me because despite all their big spending free agent signings - Giambi, Matsui, Damon, Pavano, Brown - and big name trades for the likes of Rodriguez and Johnson, I was never really threatened they would win a championship. The fact is, in terms of building a team that could win IN THE PLAYOFFS, the Yankee teams at the end of the '90s were far better than those of the 2000s. You can't buy championships, right? Bit players like Paul O'Neil, Scott Brosius, Chuck Knoblauch and Tino Martinez made the team a championship contender.
The problems with baseball most owners have is the true status of the game - the rich get richer, and the poor can't compete. I think the epic failures of the Yankees in the playoffs the past 6-8 years were great for the game. Here was a team that fell short one year, spent mounds of money on any and every top notch free agent, sold off their farm, and were odds on favorites the next season to win the Series. Then, like clockwork, they lost in the playoffs and the cycle continued. The 2008 Tigers tried to follow this example - load up on big names, make a video game-esque roster, look great on paper, and not put it together on the field.
But now that has been shattered. The Yankees are champions in 2009. Personally, I don't really care that they spend far more money than anybody else, that they have the highest payroll in baseball. What bothers me about the Yankees winning this year is that unlike ANY OTHER team - fellow big spenders Boston, LA, Mets, etc included - they don't develop any of their own talent. And I mean recently. I know Rivera, Posada, Jeter and Pettitte are homegrown. They're also all 10+ year vets, and therefore don't really factor into recent seasons where Yankee spending has skyrocketed. The great teams in this game, the ones who compete year in and out, develop a majority core of talent, then sign that one or two key guys to round out the roster. Guys that fit. May not be the BEST available player on the market, but there is a smart choice for each team, a guy who fits. The Yankees have done the anti-this in recent years, they don't make smart choices when it comes to free agents, they don't look for someone to compliment their roster, they sign the big name, the most expensive. And year in, year out, its failed them. Until now.
The saying "you can't buy championships" is officially dead. The Yankees killed it. They have, in fact proven the exact opposite. In 2008 they missed the playoffs. In the offseason they spent $500 million - that's right, half a BILLION dollars - on free agents. And then they won a championship.
At 11:55pm, the Yankees proved baseball in real life is like a video game - load up on the best rated players and run through the league. No contest. "The game's not played on paper, it's played on the field." Until tonight. Owners of teams like the Royals, A's, Twins, Pirates, Braves and Rays will keep drafting players, developing superstars, and watching as the Yankees sweep up the finished product and cruise to another championship. Let the little guys do the work, and the big market teams reap the benefits.
In 2008, a team won the World Series. This coming February, a team will win the Super Bowl. Tonight, 25 individuals won a championship. Chemistry? Overrated. Fundamentals? Unnecessary nuances. Price of the Commissioner's Trophy? $201 million. Start saving up Kansas City's and Tampa Bay's of the world. Or sit in your living room in October and watch as all that hard work you put into drafting and developing players pays off for the Yankees, whose efforts in the process consists of filling out a check - but after all, writing all those zero's is strenuous, right?
No wonder the NFL is fearing an un-capped season.

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