Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Economic downturn could produce a level playing field for baseball
by Paul Kaplan
Georgia Online News Service

The economic crisis is crippling the nation's most important financial institutions, but it may actually save one of the most frivolous ones.


The grand sport has been losing its relevance ever since George Steinbrenner figured out that baseball in New York defies the laws of economics.

Overspending on labor can be a road to ruin in business. But for the New York Yankees it has been a ticket to fabulous wealth and sporting success. The more Steinbrenner spends on the Yanks, the more he makes. It's largely due to the wealth in New York and the team's lucrative broadcast rights.

The winning reformation of baseball economics was conceived by Steinbrenner in New York, improved upon by John Henry in Boston and modified to more affordable levels in mid-market cities like St. Louis, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

But it has been a terrible thing for baseball fans in most other cities.

More than half of the Major League teams now start each season with no realistic chance of becoming champions because they can't afford to buy the top players. Fans in cities like Pittsburgh and Baltimore and Miami and Kansas City have to suffer through demoralizing six-month-long seasons to nowhere, year after depressing year. Runs like Tampa Bay had last year are the exception, not the rule.

Last season, the Yankee payroll was 10 times the size of Miami's and twice as big as Atlanta's – even though the Braves had the 10th highest payroll in the Majors.

But now the collapsing economy could save the sports fans in smaller markets, and, some would argue, the game of baseball itself.

In the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the Steinbrenners went out and committed nearly half a billion dollars to sign the three top free agents available on the open market – pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett (whom the Braves coveted), and power hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira (whom the Braves had and traded because he was due for a huge contract).

The Yanks are moving into an opulent $1.6 billion stadium this season – a team official described it as "a five-star hotel [with] a ball field in the middle" -- and the owners want an all-star team to justify the outrageous prices they're charging for prime seating and luxury suites at the taxpayer-funded sports palace.

A lot of folks view this as a snobbish display of wealth at a time when Americans are losing their jobs and homes. Many are hoping that the Yankees fail miserably.

Those folks have it backward.

If the Yankees self-destruct in 2009, it will lend credence to the thinking that money can't guarantee a great team, and that you can't buy championships. That is true to a degree, as over the years some big-money teams have lost, and some small-money teams have won.

But, generally speaking, the ball teams that spend the most – the big-dollar boys – have a much better chance at success. Unless it's a fluke season, small-market teams such as Pittsburgh have little hope from Day 1.

In pro football (and basketball and hockey), on the other hand, where all teams are created financially equal due to salary caps, Pittsburgh has just as much chance as every other city. In fact, the Steelers are one of the NFL's most-storied franchises and reached the Super Bowl again this year. The hockey team in Pittsburgh is an NHL power as well.

No, the best thing for baseball fans would be for the Yankees to win it all in a breeze this season, Sabathia and Burnett to finish 1-2 in the Cy Young voting, Teixeira to win the American League MVP award – and Steinbrenner to lose his shirt because the new luxury suites, which he had expected to sell to the bonus babies at Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and AIG and Merrill Lynch, are dark and empty.

Only then might the gross inequity of the system push the majority of owners to change the model to one with a salary cap that controls costs and levels the playing field.

There will be a lot of resistance to change – there always is, in every organization – because several baseball owners are making good money under the current system, and all of them would feel the pain of a lockout.

Sorry, gentlemen, it's what your fans need – the ones outside of New York, at least. (You don't hear much grousing from the Big Apple about the Yankees being the biggest spenders in the American League and the Mets topping the National League in payroll.)

Naturally, the players would say no to the salary cap, and this is what the owners should do: Fire them all and start over. Hire the second-best baseball players in the world and pay them within the limits of the cap. The players will still make millions, and so will the owners.

When the original players eventually cave in – not if, but when – teams that are over the salary cap due to pre-cap contracts would have to get a waiver for an agreed-upon number of years – say, three.

It would be painful for fans in the short run to have an inferior product on the field, but soon enough it would return the sport to its greatness of yore.

Yes, it will be hard, real hard, Ringo, but if you love baseball, go ahead this once and root for the damn Yankees.

Paul Kaplan has been an award-winning writer and editor at newspapers in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.   [full bio]

Editor's note: Hello, Georgia! Lyle Harris, one of the most savvy journalists in the state, has a question for Georgians: Would they be willing to buy a car unseen and as-yet not even built and pay for it in advance? Probably not. But that's exactly how Georgia Power plans to finance its expensive new plans for nuclear plants. Harris' story leads off today's articles from the Georgia Online News Service and it's a message vital to the pocketbooks of every citizen in this state.

Also, Paul Kaplan takes a look at the awful state of Major League Baseball awful for everyone but the grossly overpaid players and the team owners. They demand massive subsidies for their stadiums or they threaten to leave town. Kaplan says the best thing that could happen for fans would be for the Yankees to dominate the season with all of their high-priced talent and for owner George Steinbrenner to go bust because all of the corporations that typically buy luxury suites and seats have become victims of the economic downturn.

Our "Soapbox" today is occupied by Sam Olens, who takes a shot at Gov. Sonny Perdue for wanting to drive up the prices of housing and health care.

And, if you're not mad as hell at that, I'll heat things up with my column on the foibles of "bipartisanship" and how some folks hate "socialism" when it's for you but not when it's for them.

As always, send your comments and suggestions to john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org or call 800-891-3459.

John F. Sugg, Executive Editor

Today's GONSO

When business has failed so utterly, it isn't "socialism" for government to set things right

by John Sugg
It's easy to make jokes about government. For example, there's a popular fable that when the federales in the 1990s took over a famed Nevada brothel called the Mustang Ranch, the bureaucrats so, um, screwed up the business that not even Viagra could save it from dysfunction. The only part that's true is that the government did end up owning the assets of the Mustang Ranch, some of which were auctioned on eBay. What's not true is that the government is so lousy at running things in a businesslike way, it couldn't even make a success of selling sex and booze.
Full Story

Economic downturn could produce a level playing field for baseball

by Paul Kaplan
The economic crisis is crippling the nation's most important financial institutions, but it may actually save one of the most frivolous ones.


The grand sport has been losing its relevance ever since George Steinbrenner figured out that baseball in New York defies the laws of economics.

Full Story

Perdue should not hike the cost of home ownership or medical care

by Sam Olens
Raising taxes during a recession is almost never a good idea.

But that is exactly what Gov. Sonny Perdue is proposing in two crucial state budget areas: housing and health care.

The governor wants to eliminate state grants that save many homeowners $200 to $300 per year on their annual property taxes. At a time when Georgia is leading the nation in home foreclosures, this is clearly not the time to make housing more expensive.

Full Story

Georgia Power's Nuke-Sized Nightmare

by Lyle Harris
Every so often our lawmakers need to be reminded that what's good for the Georgia Power Co. isn't always best for Georgians. Now is one of those times.

With a platoon of lobbyists at its disposal, the state's largest utility is in the process of bulldogging Senate Bill 31 through the Legislature on the broad hips of Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), who also chairs the Senate Rules Committee.

To be blunt, this bill is bad news that could result in costly, nuke-sized nightmare. Just ask state officials in Florida.

Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
New book chronicles Civil War from viewpoint of ordinary soldiers
by Bill Hendrick
Only those who hate schools would vouch for vouchers
by John Sugg
Georgia Power's pay-in-advance funding tops consumer issues at Legislature
by Maggie Lee
Georgia's chief justice: Because of bad economy, 'people will need access to justice now more than ever'

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