An Empirical Study

Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 08:33 AM EST

Contributed by: Anonymous

So Bartolo Colon has been traded. Finally. The long-anticipated, long-rumored trade has happened, proving once again how senseless trade rumors are, especially the ones generated by professional journalists who know better but who operate under the umbrella of titillation, where hard facts come second. None of these experts had mentioned the White Sox as a possible destination, but voila! El Gordo lands in the windy city, and stocks in companies that make Polish sausages go up five bucks a share. What interests me most about the deal are not the players involved—obviously the White Sox gain the most—but the continued and bewildering tendency of major league teams to help, via trades, the New York Yankees, who, at last, present, and future check, don’t need anyone’s help, even if it is only in the form of an aging, injury-prone RH relief pitcher, the kind available in the minor leagues, the independent leagues, and your local Wal-Mart. Trading the Yankees anything, be it a back-up catcher or an extra baseball, is the equivalent of a country giving the United States a nuclear weapon. Speaking of empires, the recent branding of the Yankees as an “Evil Empire” elicits some questions: Are they really an empire? And, if so, are they an evil one? Or are they simply products of an economic model that increasingly makes less-and-less sense, that being free-market capitalism, alive and well in the baseball world? It is worth a closer look.

From a PR perspective, there is no smarter organization in Major League Baseball than the Boston Red Sox. This is a team which, year after year, has a payroll not much lower than the Yankees (until this year’s international and domestic spending orgy), throws millions of dollars at its home-grown and trade-acquired talent (Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Alan Embree), signs expensive players via free agency (Johnny Damon, Jose Offerman, Manny Ramirez, Tony Clark, Ramiro Mendoza), bids huge amounts on others (Bernie Williams, Tom Glavine), acquires expensive talent for the stretch run (Mike Lansing, Ed Sprague, Cliff Floyd, Ugueth Urbina), and has a clubhouse that is, um, “entertaining.” Doesn’t sound all that different than the Yanks, does it? Yet it is always the boys in pinstripes who take the heat for their imperialist ways, when the Red Sox are in nearly every way just as culpable.

A useful comparison can be made between the United States and its western allies. The U.S. is a giant octopus, stretching its sticky tentacles from here to Manchuria, hurling its poisonous green ink—the dollar—at anything and everything, shoving its nauseating moral and economic agendas at everyone, consuming half the world’s resources, and threatening, in the name of security and freedom, the fragile world “peace” that exists today. And that is a partial list. But France, Britain, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy, et al, are not innocent; they are all, to a lesser degree than the U.S., dependant on foreign oil and they all, again to a lesser extent, exploit third-world countries for labor and raw materials; their economies, while not as free-market oriented as the United States, are not truly Socialist, either; as recently as 2000, France was testing nukes in a distant ocean. And so on and so forth. However, these countries usually escape blame, because the Untied States, as the most ardent defender of the free-market system and “democracy,” absorbs most of the criticism—just as the Yankees absorb nearly all the criticism for a system severely flawed to begin with.

But while the United States, in fact, does deserve most of the blame directed at it for the state of the world—in much the same way the Yankees are said to be largely responsible for the present condition of baseball—we should point out the overall western philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism is the real aggressor here. This is in no way a defense of the United States or the Yankees; many of their actions are indeed indefensible. However, both entities are merely playing within the “rules,” to use a crude word—rules that have existed for a long, long, long time, and that never will change until some courageous people step forward, with the acuity to recognize and convince people that simply because a new world order hasn’t occurred yet, doesn’t mean it is not possible. Perhaps it will be someone like Canadian PM Jean Chretien, for example, or Gerhardt Schroeder of Germany refusing to send troops against Iraq. Now, admittedly, I don’t know much about the tenure of Chretien, or how much Schroeder was playing politics to get elected, but I admired their courage, particularly Chretien’s for acknowledging that the West must assume some of the blame for the condition of the world. At some point, it is going to take someone with conviction to stand up to the United States, to not support their tyrannical policies, to not be bullied or intimidated, and to do so at the relative short-term peril—i.e. economic hardship and possible alienation—of their own country. Until then, the United States will cling to its empire with more and more vigor, and the rest of the world will continue to suffer as a result.

Though the situation is, obviously, much less critical, it is easy to see how it relates to baseball. The Red Sox and Dodgers and Braves and the other big spenders are the Canadas, the Frances, the Japans of the major leagues; they exploit the system as much as anyone, despite their protests and rhetoric against the United States and the Yankees, no matter how accurate it may be. I should say, those teams and countries listed above exploit the system almost as much as anyone. They are content with the present economic structure, because they enjoy nearly unlimited freedom within it, and because they are certain, no matter much how much they spend, the United States and Yankees will always spend more, and be more arrogant doing so. In terms of baseball, the other teams may not be more arrogant, but they are more disingenuous; the Red Sox, like the Yankees, want to win a World Series and control the baseball world—only they are more reticent while the Bronx Bombers, as we know, aren’t shy about it. (Although the “We need to cut expenses” garbage before they signed Matsui and Contreras and Clemens and Mays and Ted Williams and whoever reeked of hypocrisy.)

It is almost as bad as the Red Sox calling the Yankees an Evil Empire when small-market teams pump their fists in rage and wail about the economics of baseball—then turn around and trade with the Bronx Bombers. This brings me to back to the point I had made earlier about the importance of countries and individuals legitimately and peacefully, and with conviction, standing up to the United States. Applied to baseball, teams need to stop being bullied by and afraid of the Yankees. While many small-market clubs can somewhat rightly moan about not being able to sign Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, and others, these same teams can offer no excuses for trading with the Yankees. Ever. Two examples of this came last summer, when the Blue Jays dumped Raul Mondesi to New York for two inconsequential minor leaguers, and when the A’s and Tigers teamed up to supply the Yankees with a three-million-dollar-mop-up man. Even though the other three teams benefited, in theory, from the trades, the Yankees got help they simply didn’t need. I realize Mondesi had become something of a cancerous tumor imbedded in a wall of tumors, but the Jays couldn’t find someone to give up even a Grade B prospect? Or at least find someone who would pay more than half of Mondesi’s salary? And if the Tigers were serious about trading Weaver for prospects—and they obviously were—there were 29 other teams in the majors with prospects. Even the Braves or Red Sox, as irritating as those two clubs are, would have been a better alternative than the Yankees.

It is particularly asinine the A’s would deal with the Yankees, considering the Yankees had eliminated them in the playoffs two consecutive years and had signed Jason Giambi, the franchise’s soul, to an exorbitant contract following the 200l season. Yes, the A’s got Ted Lilly and a bushel of prospects, who they have since turned into Erubiel Durazo, and Lilly and Durazo are two useful players, in theory. But the A’s also willingly strengthened their chief rival (the Mariners and Angels notwithstanding). To their credit, however, the A’s seldom complain about market trends, partly because they have developed a nucleus of players who will keep them in contention through the decade, but also partly because their system would succeed even if they had a budget the size of the Yankees, or even of the Giants; the A’s simply don’t throw money at players who can be picked up for nothing, as Gary Huckaby points out in the A’s Hot Stove Report on Other small market teams—and even teams as financially-blessed as the Red Sox and the Braves—sign to bloated contracts Chuck Knoblauch, Marquis Grissom, Jeffrey Hammonds, Offerman, Mike Timlin, Javy Lopez, Chan Ho Park, et al, then direct their wrath (read: stupidity) at the Yankees and try to turn them into the Evil Empire. The end result, mainly from the small-market team’s perspective but increasingly from teams like the Red Sox and Braves, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: “We gave it our best shot, but we just can’t compete with the Yankees financially, and if we didn’t trade Weaver or Kevin Millwood, they would have left as free agents, so we may as well get something for him, even if that something is below market value.”

To wrap things up, I will turn to the Baseball Prospectus. Last year’s BP had an excellent piece on the Yankees, the conclusion of which reads as follows: “The Yankees are going forward, and they can realistically be called favorites for the World Series again in 2002. Other clubs can choose to whine if they want, or they can begin the hard work of competing.” I will argue that point in terms of the world stage—I think, like George Orwell and so many others, that laissez-faire, competition-driven capitalism is a total failure when measured against the aggregate of the global scene, and that true Socialism is the only solution to this mess—but I will not argue it in terms of the present economic structure of major league baseball. (Despite all claims to the contrary, baseball is a game; the decisions made within it may be business-oriented, but they have no relationship with reality.) In addition to the advice given to other major league teams by BP, I would add the following: until an NFL-like Socialist system is in place, where teams like the Tigers and Royals and even the A’s have more financial leverage, those same teams should, at the very least, stop feeding the monster.