Baseball's Real 'Golden Age'
Sins can be such fun. Of the seven supposedly deadly ones, only envy does not give the sinner at least momentary pleasure. And an eighth, schadenfreude -- enjoyment of other persons' misfortunes -- is almost the national pastime.
Speaking of baseball, two Saturdays ago old Dodger Stadium was reverberating with fans' excitement. It might seem odd to call "old" a ballpark that opened in 1962, but it is tied with the Nationals' RFK Stadium as the National League's second-oldest, behind only the Cubs' Wrigley Field, which opened in 1914. (A riddle: What do the Cubs and Cardinals have in common? Neither team has won a World Series in its new ballpark. Of course, the Cardinals' new park opened in April.) Anyway, shortly before their Dodgers were beaten by the Mets in the National League Division Series, Angelenos emitted animal roars of approval as they watched, on the giant screen in left-center field, the Tigers defeat the Yankees in the American League Division Series.
Some Dodgers fans still nurse a grudge they inherited from Brooklynites when the Dodgers decamped for California after the 1957 season. But rooting against the Yankees is as American as a microwaved wedge of frozen apple pie topped with a slice of processed cheese. Such rooting often is the unlovely underside of the democratic ethos -- envy of excellence. But there also is resentment of the Yankees' financial advantage, which has been inimical to baseball's competitive balance.
That, however, is a diminishing problem, for two reasons: Major League Baseball has implemented more redistribution of resources, and a new breed of general managers (e.g. Oakland's Billy Beane and Minnesota's Terry Ryan) is using new player-evaluation metrics to wring more baseball value from fewer dollars.
The Yankees' payroll of $206.4 million (not including the almost $30 million tax paid to MLB on the portion of the payroll over $136.5 million) is 2.4 times the Tigers' payroll. The Yankees' third baseman earns 68.7 times the salary of the Mets' all-star third baseman (Alex Rodriguez, $25.7 million; David Wright, $374,000). The shortstop makes approximately what the Marlins' team makes (Derek Jeter, $20.6 million; Marlins, $20.68 million). But the 2006 Yankees did baseball -- and the rest of America, if it learns the larger social lesson of the story -- the favor of demonstrating the steeply declining utility of the last $100 million of payroll.
New York, the world's financial capital, takes money very seriously. And New York has been the intellectual epicenter of political liberalism, which has consistently preached, and has consistently disproved, the efficacy of pitching large sums at social problems. In the city where America's welfare state was first imagined and implemented, the entitlement mentality bred by the welfare state includes the assumption that the Yankees are entitled to be in the World Series, which they have not been since -- gasp -- 2003.
There still are revenue and spending disparities between baseball teams that are impossible between NFL and NBA teams because those leagues have salary caps and more centralized revenue sources. Nevertheless, when the Tigers dispatched the Yankees Oct. 7, baseball was guaranteed its seventh different World Series winner in seven years. There never have been seven consecutive Super Bowls, or seven consecutive NBA championships, won by seven different teams.
Baseball's supposed "golden age" of the 1940s and 1950s was not so golden outside New York. In 1947 the Yankees won the American League pennant and beat the Dodgers in the World Series. In 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953 the Yankees were World Series winners over the Dodgers, Phillies, Giants, Dodgers and Dodgers, respectively. If the Phillies had not beaten the Dodgers in the 10th inning of the last game of the 1950 season, every World Series game for five years would have been played in New York. And if 103 wins, which usually are enough to win the pennant, had sufficed in 1954 (the Indians won 111, an American League record for a 154-game season), the Yankees would have won 10 pennants in a row, because they also won in 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958.
Great Yankee teams have been good for baseball. In the 1930s one of every four tickets sold to an American League game was for a game involving the Yankees. And this year, when the Yankees were drawing 4,200,518 fans to Yankee Stadium, they also played in front of 3,080,290 on the road. But improved competitive balance is one reason why, for the third consecutive year, MLB set an attendance record (76,043,902) and why today is MLB's golden age, even west of the Hudson River.