Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Steinbrenner's impact

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner passed away early this morning. I think it is safe to say that Steinbrenner is a name that many an Orioles fan has cursed throughout the years. To Baltimore fans he embodied everything that was wrong the game. Steinbrenner bought championships and the Yankees were less a team than a collection of travelling all-stars. They were more Harlem Globetrotters than "Murderers' Row" now. But those callous statements wane today in the wake of "The Boss'" death.

Steinbrenner had been battling various health concerns for years and now in his passing the indelible mark he left on the game is clear, we are currently Steinbrenner's league and we will remain in his league for the foreseeable future.

Steinbrenner ushered baseball into the world of mega-contracts and uber-inflated salaries. Much like the United States during the late nineties George opened his wallet, invested wisely and let the dollars flow. The last team to out-spend the New York Yankees was the 1998 Baltimore Orioles. After coming up short the previous year in the playoffs the Orioles opened their wallets and spent a MLB high $70.4 million. The next year Steinbrenner's Yankees went out and added Roger Clemens and upped their payroll to $88 million; Steinbrenner would not look back. $92 million the next year; $112 the next; $125 in 2002 etc. until we come to today's $206 million pricetag.

During his reign the Yankees won seven World Series. He pioneered the idea of the Regional Sports network, something that virtually every team now needs to remain competitive in the marketplace. Steinbrenner never apologized for the way he spent the money, culminating in the billion dollar palace that the Yankees now call home. The most expensive ballpark in the country to still have obstructed views. But what Steinbrenner did more than any other owner is truly usher in the era of a stratified league. Baseball has always had its small, middle and large market teams and the larger market teams have always spent more money than the smaller ones. New York has always spent more money than Kansas City but with Steinbrenner's Yankees we truly see how each of the teams have to play the game differently.

Orioles GM Andy MacPhail summed it up perfectly at the start of this season during an impromptu meeting with the Oriole blogging hive mind in the MASN box. When speaking on a possible Adam Jones contract extension he responded how each level has to play the game differently. To Andy teams like the Rays have to sign players very very early. Now, Evan Longoria could have broken his leg and missed the entire year and never been the same afterwards, he could have been Rocco Baldelli, but the Rays don't have the luxury to sit around and wait to see what they have. They have to take risks and sign players very early. The Yankees can wait as long as they want, because if they have to they can outbid anyone and will outbid anyone for a player they deem as worth it. The Orioles fall somewhere in-between.

Teams that do not reside in the larger markets of the country (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, to a lesser extent) have to play very smart ball. They have to be sure their minor league systems continue to churn out ML-ready talent and be very conscientious about whom they give the big dollars.

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