Monday, January 6, 2014

It's time for Yankee fans to ponder a future that increasingly resembles the NFL

This season will offer the biggest change in baseball since 1973, when Ron Blomberg, the first DH, stepped to the plate: MLB will use instant replays to overturn calls. Imagine "Cowboy" Joe West - mouth full of black chaw - touching his mic and announcing, "Upon furth refew, the runner beeda throw, and da caw is oturn."

Some say this should have happened long ago. Others can lament yet another blow to the humanity of baseball. It will add 15 minutes to games that already run too long. But, hey, if the Yanks lose on a corrected call, won't the world cheer the justice of it?

Because baseball will be a tad more like football.

Bud Selig has always longed to make MLB into a baseball version of the NFL - that is, a pro sport without a team like the New York Yankees.

Long ago, the NFL neutered any chance of dynasty by the New York Football Giants of Robustelli, Katcavage, Huff, Gifford, Rote, Connerly et al. (You could argue that by choosing Ali Sherman over Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry, the Giants neutered themselves.) Thus, no NFL team boasts anything like the Yankees' 27 World Championships. And no team ever will. The draft, weakened schedules and the almighty payroll cap guarantee that every NFL team looks and plays alike.

It's interesting that most pro football owners are old money billionaires, conservative in politics and ardent free market capitalists - except when it comes to their business, which they run like Karl Marx: The rules are designed to keep all franchises on near equal footing.

For years, MLB has edged toward this model. If Selig has a lasting legacy, it sure won't be in ridding baseball of steroids. Rather, it will be his constant push to institute a universal payroll cap. It caused the horrible 1990s labor strike. Ten years later, he instituted luxury taxes so onerous that they form a de facto payroll cap. This is why the Yankees are stuck so deeply with the pain of A-Rod's contract. It pushes the Yankees into a zone of incredible taxation.

But here's the reason for Yankee fans to worry: The fix is on.

When the Yankees are involved, the rules get changed.

In December, MLB's rules stated that when Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka came to America, his salary (correction: his posting fee) would not count towards the team's official payroll, and thus it would not be subject to luxury taxes. That left the Yankees with a huge advantage in the looming auction for Tanaka. But at baseball's winter meetings, this issue was raised, and the rules were changed - so abruptly and completely that Tanaka's Japanese team nearly refused to let him come to America. The new rules will push Tanaka's salary far higher - and add it to the payroll numbers. If the Yankees get him, they will pay huge penalties. The new rule changed the entire dynamics of the off-season, most notably for one team - the Yankees.

You could argue that, from a logical standpoint, the new rule makes sense. Why should posting fees be high and a player's salary low - and not count toward luxury tax? But somehow, when it was the Texas Rangers signing Yu Darvish, or other teams chasing boatloads of international free agents in recent years... well... cries to change the system were not considered. 

The latest sign of Seligism comes with a story that has made the rounds lately: The Yankees are threatening to go wild this year on spending in Latino markets. Actually, they have no choice. They squandered their draft picks, because of the (I believe dubious) signings of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. They need to spend their money somewhere. But MLB's reaction apparently will be to institute an international Latino draft - and then take away the Yankees first round draft picks. Basically, the move would destroy the Yankees chances to ever build from the ground.

Let's face it: The game is stacked: If every time the Yankees use their clout or money, the league changes the rules and penalizes them, eventually, we will be just like the Kansas City Royals.

Listen: I am a psychotic Yankee fan. I plead guilty. I root for the one team that throughout history has embodied greatness in American sports. (And it's not as if New York City dominates sports.) Yes, Americans are supposed to root for underdogs. But must we must usually lose? Is there not one pro team we can count on to, more often than not, lift us from the doldrums?

This is the deal: The lords of baseball will never quit until an NFL model is in place. At some point in the next five to 10 years, the Yankees will be an amalgamation of the San Diego Padres and Dallas Cowboys. They will be just another team with long-faded glory in their distant, distant past. In exchange, we will have parity - an annual shot at those one-game Wild Card weekends! Pass the meatloaf.


KD said...

thee Yanks need to buy Japanese and Latin teams and start a new "farm" system. who says farm teams have to be on American soil?

Unknown said...

The salary always counted against the luxury tax. It's the posting fee that didn't and still doesn't. It's just that the posting fee has been capped; pushing more money to the player instead of the Japanese team