Before informing you of people whom I sincerely hope you keep in your thoughts and prayers, especially as we enter a New Year, I must admit that, before learning of the plights of these people, the baseball related discussion below was about to be an untoward rant toward one of the pre-eminent–in fact Hall-of-Fame–journalists in all of baseball, Peter Gammons. As much as anything, this post is intended to indicate that we learn as we go, even and sometimes especially if we initially think that we have things all figured out. Usually something serves as a prescient reminder of the fragility of life and, in the process, that life itself is the great instructor, that we’re always its pupils. Here I hope it also proves helpful for untangling the rhetorical Gordian knot that has entangled financial discussions in sports in general and baseball in particular.
I just read at Jane Heller’s excellent Confessions of a She-Fan that Doug Mientkiewicz’s wife has had another operation, in addition to her previous heart surgery and pacemaker implant. Among many calls he has received, including from Jane, Mientkiewicz received one from Yankees manager Joe Girardi wishing him and his wife Jodi well. I must admit to including myself in the group that respected Mientkiewicz’s outstanding glove but consistently criticized him because of his bat in the first few months of 2007, when the Yankees struggled. When he got hurt June 2 against Boston after Mike Lowell collided with him at first, Mientkiewicz was batting .226–up 72 points from the end of the dismal April the Yankees had amassed. Yet he had 18 hits in September, adding to his always excellent play in the field, to help the Yankees clinch the Wild Card spot in a most unlikely fashion. This guy–this great glove and terrific teammate for the Yankees only one season, in addition to seemingly being a loving husband–has dealt with a tremendous amount with his wife ill for some time. Please keep him and his wife in your thoughts and prayers this off-season as 2008 rings into 2009. Regardless of playing well or poorly, Mientkiewicz was more than solid in the field. He was accountable and with no excuses. I wish his wife Jodi a speedy recovery and return to good health.
In my preoccupation with my own immediate family and friends this Holiday season, I neglected to pass along my best wishes for a speedy and healthy recovery from surgery for a rare form of stomach cancer that Todd Drew, who writes at Alex Belth’s outstanding Bronx Banter in addition to his own stellar Yankees For Justice, experienced over the holidays. That he continues to experience difficulty as he recovers pains he, not only because he and I seem to share the same left-wing political views and not only because we share our allegiance to the Yanks, but also that Todd is a terrific writer whose work people should regularly read and savor. Please keep Todd in your thoughts as well as we ring in the New Year.
I mention these not simply to poke and prod us–mainly me–about our inner, essential humanity. Rather, these examples of human frailty very much remind me of Peter Gammons, whose recent article at ESPN.com I’ll staunchly criticize below but for whose overall work I’m still grateful to read. Gammons very nearly died of an aneurysm over two years ago, and the story detailing his recovery to which I just linked–replete with Gammons thanking everyone from the woman in the gym parking lot who saved him to the medical and nursing staffs who cared for him to Don Mattingly who gave Gammons a cross and necklace he received as a gift–still moves me deeply when I read it. Thus, I do not take lightly the harsh critique I will subsequently level against a Gammons article for various reasons, including his injudiciously analogizing the Yankees to that nefariously inhumane corporate enterprise, Wal-Mart.
Gammons begins by purporting to know what was in Mark Teixeira’ heart of hearts–$$$–when he says, “All the innuendo about Teixeira not caring for Larry Lucchino and John Henry doesn’t really matter, because Teixeira was going to New York.” In other words, sports fans, ignore the good, detailed legwork that Alan Schwarz did at The New York Times “Bats” blog to detail at least part of the Teixeira back story–that the Red Sox just may have warded off other baseball teams on Teixeira coming out of high school only to subsequently low-ball Teixeira on their eventual mid-round draftee’s contract offer. Ignore also that Teixeira may have had lingering reticence about the Red Sox organization that predated Lucchino and Henry. Gammons’s article would have us believe that it was simply the Yankees’ financial gravitas or inexorable economic inertia that Teixeira was unable to withstand.
Now to be fair, Gammons does dole out praise to the Yankees for their baseball and business acumen, for their patience in passing on trading for Johan Santana so that what high-priced acquisitions they made would not be at the expense of their budding minor-league system, for their perspicacity in seeing the long-range free-agent picture to know that the pre-2009 free agent crop was probably the most bountiful they’d see for at least a couple years, and for rightly acknowledging the smarts of GM Brian Cashman. Gammons is no dummy and has a good head for both the on-field game and the behind-the-scenes machinations to know how baseball and its personalities operate.
Where I diverge from and eventually criticize Gammons based on his as always well-written if innately flawed piece begins with his determination that a good degree of fans were at once mini-Steinbrenners, self-hating Red Sox fans, and willing to part with precious prospects for expensive experienced players. Without his citing any specifics, Gammons ignores the incongruity of the hydra-headed monster he concocted. He presumes that those who consider not winning the world series “a failure” to be “misanthropes,” while at the same time discussing the “joy” that Jeter and Mariano have brought to the ballpark–all the while overlooking how miserable Pete Abraham characterized Mariano to have been during the final weeks of the 2008 season as he knew and experienced a Fall without an October. To consider such fans misanthropic ignores that they just may derive significant value and enjoyment from experiencing the games, yet still might evaluate their team’s overall success harshly. This seems to elude Gammons.
Where I really take umbrage with Gammons is in his ill-chosen analogy between the Yankees and Wal-Mart, a company and whose practices I absolutely loathe. Near the end of his article, Gammons brays, “Wal-Mart eats up small-family businesses. The Yankees eat up the Brewers and the Indians, and there may not be an owner in any sport who, given the opportunity afforded to Hal Steinbrenner, wouldn’t have done the same thing.”
The Yankees are Wal-Mart? The Yankees treat their employees, up to and including their players–without whom there quite simply and frankly are no Yankees–as Wal-Mart does? Wal-Mart, for those who may not know, is the corporation that just settled 63 large lawsuits for $640 million in stolen back pay for refusing to pay employees for rest and meal breaks as well as forcing them to work off the clock rather than pay overtime. Not only is this not the first time that Wal-Mart has done such things but, as interviews with corporate managers in Robert Greenwald’s excellent documentary “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices” reveal, this is company policy. Greenwald’s fine film also reveals patterns of spying on employees as part of its heinously anti-union animus, sexual discrimination, employing woefully underpaid workers in chop-shop contractor factories overseas, and environmental degradation as part of Wal-Mart’s destructive modus operandi.
Gammons’s point is to liken one financial giant and the dominance they enjoy and exert to another. It was in my opinion poorly done, is woefully inaccurate and as a result is rendered facile, and for more than the atrocious particulars about Wal-Mart mentioned above. It also reflects how badly people, even someone as informed about baseball as Gammons, discuss the game’s financial particulars.
“Wal-Mart eats up small-family businesses. The Yankees eat up the Brewers and the Indians…” Really? Let’s discuss. Wal-Mart does in fact drive out small-business competition through various means, including undercutting their prices and attracting customers by offering most things customers want, need, and use under one roof. However, the Yankees, through revenue-sharing, support the Brewers and Indians, among other small-market teams. According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2005, the Yankees paid $76 million in revenue-sharing that, with what twelve other teams contributed, was subsequently divided up among the seventeen others. The Brewers received $24 million and the Indians $6 million. Such largess nearly off-set the Brewers’ total 2005 salary of $39, 934, 833, and paid just over 1/6 of Cleveland’s $41,504,500 2005 salary–neither insignificant sums. The Royals, whose fans staged a hissy-fit “protest” walkout of the Yankees in 1999, received $30 million in 2005 through revenue-sharing to off-set 5/6 of their $36,881,000 total payroll that season. To the best of my knowledge, their fans have not protested that the Royals should return any of that money to the Yankees or other larger-market teams. These and other small-market teams, which by the way are the ones who most often underpay players, have little incentive to fill their stadiums with fans by attracting them through signing good players. In essence, small-market teams that are unsuccessful on the field can be and often are quite successful financially. For example, the Florida Marlins had a 2005 payroll of $60,408,834, received $31 million in revenue-sharing that year, then drastically slashed payroll the next three seasons to just under $15 million in 2006, just over $30 million in 2007, and just under $22 million last year–slightly more combined than they paid in 2005–half of which was off-set by revenue-sharing in that year alone.
The Yankees don’t eat up these teams. They and others feed them hand over fist, whether or not they re-invest the money into payroll, which is the purpose of revenue-sharing and which small-market teams too often don’t. They’re too often selfish, hoarding money rather than paying players more and in the process sticking it to fans who, in places such as Florida, certainly notice. The Marlins drew on average 16,482 last year, 16,920 in 2007, and 14,372 in 2006–dead last in the National League each year–after drawing 22,872 on average in 2005, a season in which payroll happened to be nearly what it was in the three subsequent seasons combined.
I can at least agree with Gammons’s conclusion that other teams would do the same, seeking to dominate, in a similar situation. Yet I stridently disagree with the ill-chosen Wal-Mart analogy for the reasons I outlined above. I also strongly question to what degree such owners of small-market teams even wish to be in Hal Steinbrenner’s situation when they receive tens of millions each year whether or not their teams are good, when they benefit from large gates when well-stocked teams with well-paid players such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Cubs and others roll into town, and when they fail to re-invest revenue-sharing largess in salaries, which is the explicit purpose of such a system. Too often, teams such as the Marlins but also the Royals and plenty of others fail particularly their fans, but also owners of big-market teams, their own players, and the system itself by washing their hands of the responsibility to provide a good baseball product–all the while whining about competitive imbalance because of skewed salary structures that they not only do nothing to rectify, but indeed exacerbate through their penurious ways.
The Yankees are baseball’s Wal-Mart? Spare me, Mr. Gammons.