Monday, November 16, 2009

THE GREAT RESENTERS

"Paul had a sense of injustice early on... If his older brother was in the process of winning, he was lucky. If he won, he had 'cheated'"-- Molly O'Neill, "Coming to the Plate"

Now that didn’t take very long, did it? Barely had the parade ended or the champagne dried before the bile began to ooze and the vitriol to swell. Outside the Castle on River Ave., the Jacobins gather to besmirch the King, to tarnish his crown, and to discredit his accession.

It’s a old and tedious canard Yankee fans know too well. Composed of assumptions so tenuous, logic so facile, and malice so transparent, the argument, distilled to its essence, amounts to two whole sentences. Twenty-nine teams in major league baseball can earn a Championship. The Yankees can only buy one.

Seldom does the ressentiment of hypocrites and socialism of fools provide more titillating comic relief.

WASHINGTON'S CORPORATE POPULISTS
Ever year we witness the photo-op. A professional sports franchise wins a title and the President invites the team to the White House to favor them with his compliments. Congress, otherwise the more deliberate branch, strikes earlier. Not wanting the aura to fade, they introduce ceremonial bills congratulating the team in the days following their victory. With minor excpetion, the resolutions pass unanimously. After which, Congressmen return to their customary business-- self-promotion.

Last week it was the Yankees's turn. So Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano introduced House Resolution 893 congratulating the team on their 27th championship because the nation's poorest and most densely populated Congressional district finally had a reason to boast and preen. They'd partaken of a triumph to call their own, even if only vicariously.

Who could possibly object? Where to find such people lacking a modicum of grace, gallantry, or sportsmanship that they would begrude the Bronx downtrodden their flash of glory? Look no farther than the Capitol building; the U.S. Congress teems with them.

An unprecedented 17 House member, in fact, voted 'no' and reminded Americans of the rancor, pettines, and puerility that has come to epitomize the nation's legislature.

Item # 1: “Beantown’s Jacobin”
Asked why he voted against House resolution 893Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt replied, “For those of us in Red Sox nation, it was a sad, sad day. It tells you something about the corrosive nature of money in sports and politics.”

The distinguished Representative from Quincy, after all, knows whence he speaks. Since 1989, Congressman Delahunt has received $34,000 in campaign contributions from Liberty Mutual Insurance Company-- the fourth largest property and casualty insurer in the United States. A $100 billion dollar corporation, no little thanks to Congressman Delahunt, you and I now insure against catastrophic losses. Under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, our tax dollars now re-insure Liberty Mutual for claims owed to terrorist attacks. Coincidentally, Massachusetts’ scourge of money and politics “corrosive” voted for its re-authorization.

Item #2: “The Agrarian Demagogue”
Congressman Bruce Braley, evidently, concurred with the Representative from Liberty Mutual.

Asked why the representative from Iowa's 5th district wouldn't extend New York's Yankees a simple courtesy, his spokesperson said, “Congressman Braley simply could not vote in good conscience for a resolution honoring the moneyed interests of the Wall Street Yankees.” I didn't know the players and coaching staff held second jobs. Then again, Girardi always has reminded me of an investment banker.

Regardless, it seems the side of the hand the Congressman shows "Wall Street" varies with the year. In 2009, the Wall Street Yankees get the back of hand. To the Wall Street Bankers, in 2006, however, the Prairie Populist extended the palm. Since his election, in fact, Braley has accepted $10,000 in campaign contribution from the American Banking Association. (See Open Secret.com)

That the fiscal regime under which major league baseball operates make the supposedly progressive U.S. code-- over which the Congressman ostensibly wields influence no less- seem oligarchic, by comparison, doesn't seem to faze him either of them.

If the Iowa and Massachusetts Congressmen fancies themselves Populist crusaders out to slay Robber Barons and to soak the rich, they would do better to hunt among the coroporations situated in their districts. For example, when was the last time Liberty Mutual Insurance Company indemnified a competitor? What about Iowa’s John Deere & Co: how much did they contribute to the competitive wherewithal of other manufacturers of agricultural machinery?

Apart from the taxes the U.S., New York state, and New York City collect from the New York Yankees, the team also redistributes a share of its profits to its fiercest competitiors. In 2008, the Yankees paid major league baseball $100 million dollars in revenue-sharing fees and luxury taxes. Largesse that comprises 25% of the total $400 million in proceeds Commissioner Selig’s office subsequently donated to small-market franchises like the Pirates, Indians, Padres Rays, and Marlins, among others. In fact, the Pirates and Indians, received $40 million and $20 million, respectively, in subsidies. (See “Revenue Shearing,” by Bill Madden, NY Daily News, August 16, 2009). The Marlins' stipend falls somewhere in between. (Hardball Times, "The Loria of It," March 5, 2008)

If the call of justice in baseball really moved them, Delahunt and Braley would revile the greed and venality of the Pirates' owner, Robert Nutting, and the Marlins' owner, Jeffery Loria, among others, that enable them to pocket monies the Commissioner specifically earmarks for acquiring and retaining their talent. In 2008, the Marlins' $20 million dollar payroll matched their subsidy; likewise the Pirates $48 million dollar payroll approximated theirs. The revenue each team garnered from broadcast rights and ticket sales their owners would have their fans, their cities, and their rivals believe evaporated into thin air. Delahunt and Braley's selective outrage is akin to railing at Pfizer for purchasing Wyeth meanwhile condoning Glaxo for exploiting U.S. tax loopholes to move job overseas.

Meanwhile, the great malefactors of wealth on Wall Street, bankers who receive bailout checks from which they award themselves million dollar bonuses while their companies waste away, find kindred pirates in Pittsburgh and related sharks in Miami.

THE TRANSPARENCE OF MALICE
Then again, demagoguery is Congress’ native language. What's a journalist's excuse?

Observing how the press reported the Yankees's 27th World Series, one would guess that journalism suddenly suspended its profession's sacred ethic of objectivity for sports coverage. A homily about money's insidious and inexorable influence colored the beat reporter's narrative. The columnists, meanwhile, celebrated a belated Halloween. Dispensing with empirical fact, reasoned logic, historical context and intellectual coherence consistency, their columns instead invented ever new and more elaborate theoretical trappings and editorial disguises for a mantra worthy of a New England adolescent: "God, I hate the Yankees." Albeit, it lacks the Red Sox fan's cri de coeur's simple integrity.

To quote ESPN Peter Gammons, “the clich├ęd response to [their] winning the World Series seemed to be a universal ‘The Yankees bought the Series,’ as if somehow they went outside the rules of law and bought Cook or Palm Beach County.” (“Blame the System,” ESPN, November 7, 2009) (I trust that Gammons, in his hyperbole, didn’t intend to evoke Cook County’s notorious thralldom to perhaps the most irredeemably corrupt political machine in American history—not consciously anyway.)

Gammons' blog post hardly mounts the most vigorous or cogent defense on the Yankees’ behalf. Perhaps, Gammons recalls the 2007 season and the immediate parallels it suggests too vividly. If so, he’d do well to remind his colleagues.

Before recapping it, I excerpt a few choice selections from the detractors below.

Exhibit 1---"The Best Team Money Could Buy," by SI.com's Joe Posnanski (11/06/09), "You have a sport where the New York Yankees... spent $50 million more than any other team, that team with three sure Hall of Famers and as many as four others and as many as four others, that team that bought Milwaukee's best pitcher and Anaheim's best hitter and Toronto's No.2 starter and Boston's favorite idiot and the most expensive player in the history of baseball and so on, that team will win the World Series, spray champagne... and tell you that they won because they came together as a group and kept pulling themselves off the ground. "

Exhibit 2 - "“The New York Yankees win the World Series. That is not, in itself, a very remarkable sentence to write…. They have the largest payroll in Major League Baseball for the ninth successive year: $201million" (Times Online, Tom Dart, 11/05/09)

Exhibit 3 -- "Rooting for the 2009 World Series champion New York Yankees is like rooting for AIG. The Yankees are the perfect symbol for the times - bloated excess…While the federal government was bailing out AIG, the Yankees were charging thousands of dollars for the best tickets in a new $1.6 billion ballpark paid for in part with public funding and tax breaks That's like rooting for a bully. Is there really any joy in that?" (Thom Loverro, The Washington Times, 11/06/09)(emphasis mine)

(Actually, "public funding" and "tax breaks" did not finance Yankee Stadium; tax-free NYC industrial revenue bonds enabled the Steinbrenners to borrow money at a lower interest rate because the City guarantees the loan. Hence, the bonds only cost taxpayers if the Yankees default on interest payments-- a remote possibility. What's more, the City can't forgo tax revenue it never would have collected. No NYC IRBs = No New Stadium = No Bonds to tax. But hey why should a few facts stand in the way of good diatribe?)

Exhibit# 4-- "Even Brian Cashman said last night the Yankees are a product of their payroll and then defended it, saying they play by the rules. Which is entirely true... they rose from third place because they simply outspent everybody else on Burnett, Sabathia and Teixeira. It's not complicated.” (All You Can Do is Wear It," by Boston Globe's Pete Abraham, 11/05/09) (Et tu, Pete?)


WHAT, FILTHY LUCRE SOIL THESE PURE BRAHMIN HANDS?
Consider Abraham's argument for a second. It does betray a superficial cogency, does it not? The Yankees finished in third-place and missed the playoffs in 2008. Consequently, in the off-season, they aggressively pursued and successfully signed Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixiera-- the last of the three, by outsmarting and then outbidding their arch rivals. With $60 million in annual salary spent and three premiere free agents corralled, the Yankees returned to the post-season the following year and took home a championship. In sum,


Preface: In 2008, the Yankees didn't qualify for the playoffs.

  • Premise A: In the 2008 off-season, the Yankees, as a consequence, leveraged their preeminence as the league's highest grossing franchise to acquire three expensive, marquee free-agents.
  • Premise B: The following season, the Yankees won the World Series ("Wear It"
  • Conclusion: Because the Yankees spent $60 million this off-season on free-agents to improve their team, they bought themselves a championship.

Follow the money, right?

Only two basic flaws riddle the above syllogism. First, its logic suffers from the classic fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. That is, simply because Premise B (World Series) succeeded Premise A (major free-agent signings) in chronology does not mean the first cause the second. No doubt, it may have. Then again, pure coincidence could account for Premise B supervening Premise A. Or, more likely, a whole array of unacknowledged factors like Posada's and Matsui's recovery from injuries; the augmented offensive production Jeter, Cano, and Melky contributed; Hughes' mastery of the set-up role, among other improvements, just as easily could explain why the Yankees 2009 season surpassed their performance in 2008. Only a sophisticated statistical analysis can separate each factor and isolate its overall contribution.

Second, the press seems to invoke the "Follow the Money" rule rather capriciously; its sudden self-evident truth and received wisdom inspired less by the spending's circumstances than the spender's identity: the upstart merchant or the thrifty Brahmin.

Observe its selective and indiscriminate application to two teams' parallel trajectories.

In 2006, an AL East team-- let's call them TEAM B: 'B' for Brahmin-- possessed a $120 million dollar payroll good for the second highest payroll in baseball. On August 2, 2006, the Brahmins led their division with a 64-42 record and seemed fated for a rewarding October. Somewhere along the way however Manifest Destiny foundered. The Brahmins lost 11 of their next 15 games, suffered a rash of injuries, accused a star hitter of malingering, bickered in the clubhouse, and maligned each other in the press. Then, to culminate the fall from grace, management, to mask its hubris, played the gentility card.

Wrapping themselves in the mantle of impecunious virtue, the Brahmins Front-Office blamed their collapse on an "Uber"-franchise, the New York Yankees. (Management would renew this charge three years later when a certain free-agent first-baseman spurned them and joined their enemy.) Evidently, the money changers-- the Uber-franchise, that is, in the original German-- had purloined Bobby Abreu. A contract the landed gentry, on the other hand, insisted their poverty precluded. You have to sympathize with these poor dispossessed patricians: after all, how is a team with a $120 million payroll, and boasting the league's highest ticket prices besides, supposed to compete with the "Wall Street Yankees"?

So sworn to virtue, the Brahmins meanwhile tumbled from 2nd place to 3rd and in fact, barely averted a losing seaso, finishing 81-81 in 2006 and spending October at home.

Perhaps their superior virtue didn't console them, in the end, after all. Because as soon as the World Series ended, Team Brahmin started to spend like the noveau-riche arrivistes at whom they loved to look down their nose. In one month, they bought the free agent market's three premiere players at their respective positions. (Hmmn, sounds familiar, eh?)

Team Brahmin immediately signed the most expensive and prolific shortstop, Julio Lugo; and a coveted outfielders, J.D. Drew-- recently a Dodger with whose contract these ethical paragons may or may not have tampered. Then, miracle of miracles, they somehow managed to outbid the Uber-Franchise for the best starting pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka, paying $50 million just to negotiate with him and another $50 million on his contract. (The Yankees would return the favor three years later with Teixiera, albeit with much screaming and thundering by the Brahmins. To the aristocracy, turnabout is not fair play.)

By winter's end, Team Brahmin spent over $200 million and by Opening Day of 2007, their annual payroll rose from 2006's $120 million figure to $145 million, still good for the 2nd highest in baseball. Although in 2007, the 2nd highest payroll stood a full $30 million more than the $115 million dollar Mets.

THE DOUBLE STANDARD
Recall how the Red Sox-- I mean, Team Brahmin-- fared in 2007 after their spending spree in the preceding off-season? They won fifteen more games and not only returned to the playoffs, they claimed the AL East crown and won their second World Series in four seasons.

Only in the weeks following theit 2007 triumph, strangely, Congressman didn't deplore money's pernicious role in sports. Nor did baseball writers style "screeds" (Posnanski's word, not mine) invoking competiting balance and baseball's "best interest" to disparage Boston's triumph as a championship suborned. To the contrary, the pundits practically fell all over themselves to extol the Red Sox GM Office on their ingenuity and shrewdness and to declare their championship a testament to their ownership's initiative and resourcefulness.


Read the difference in a few selections from two of the same publications I excerpt from above, Sports Illustrated and The Boston Globe:

Exhibit A- "Boston's duo of GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona make a superb tandem. It's refreshing to see a GM and manager get along to this degree. Also, it doesn't hurt that both are terrific at their jobs. Epstein engenders some jealousy for being so good so young." (John Heyman, SI.Com October 29,2007)

Exhibit B -- “A lot has been made of the big-name, big-money stars who helped the Red Sox win, but good teams make smart decisions; and this title, like the last one, was just as much about the throw-ins, afterthoughts and castoffs whom the Sox have given a home.” (“These Are Not Your Father’s Red Sox,” Michael Northrop, Sports Illustrated, November 7, 2007)

Exhibit C -- “Henry, the low-talking hedge funder, has had considerable help in Lucchino, Werner, and of course, the brilliant young GM who has spawned a new generation of BlackBerry-wielding, stat-driven, cold-blooded hardballers intent on reinventing baseball operations” ("Foresight Is Their Specialty", by Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe, November 4, 2007)

Now, had the Tampa Rays recently won a World Series, then their 25th highest, $60 million dollar payroll may have justified the stark discrepancies, indicated above, in the press' coverage and overall narrative. But the Red Sox $143 million payroll in 2007, 2nd in baseball, hardly qualifies them for the role of hero in a morality tale about the power of intellectual sophistication and economic thrift to prevail over Big Business' colossal predatory financial might.

Financial wherewithal leveraged through free agent acquisitions, as such, either explains both the Red Sox 2007 championship and the Yankees in 2009 or neither of them. Or rather, their World Series' triumphs, together with the (i) the Phillies', in 2008 on a $98 million dollar (11th in the league); (ii) the Cardinals' in 2006 on a $89 million (also 11th in the league); (iii) the Chicago White Sox's in 2005 on a $75 million dollar payroll (13th); and (iv) the Marlins' in 2003 on a $49 million dollar payroll (25th): all together they dramatize the lie inside the Resenters' great canard. First, money alone has not and cannot buy a championship in basseball. More importantly, money may not even rank as the most influential factor, among many, in the winnowing process.

The Bombers, their players, personnel department, and ownership deserve better than the deceitful broadsides, begruding acknowledgment, and qualified accolades their championship, by and large, has garnered them. But don't expect it anytime soon. Nothing succeeds like excess-- demagoguery in Congress, duplicity in the press, and in baseball, the sore loser's resentful outcry. Little distorts the mind, deranges the senses, or unleashes the bile more than another title won by the New York Yankees.

1 comment:

Forstadt said...

Point well made. But I'm still waiting on your tip of the cap to Girardi...