he wrote about imbalances in the National League.
Stark was describing what are generously called "teardowns." Basically, they are intentional catastrophes. Baseball has finally created identical replicas of the Knicks and 76ers, teams that go an entire season, striving to come in last and, thus, draft first. Stark's real concern: That MLB's six worst teams next year will play in the NL, settling playoffs races by mid-July. (Of course, with a few tweaked gonads, the Yanks can join them, but that's another story.) And some people - those nameless sources that populate sports reporting and Donald Trump anecdotes - are concerned.
"I think it's a problem for the sport," said an executive of an American League contender, looking at the state of the NL from afar. "I think the whole system is screwed up, because I think it actually incentivizes winning. And that's a big issue going forward."
Wait a minute... Teams want to lose? How can this be? The horror, Mr. Kurtz, the horror!
Frankly, as revelations go, this one is up there with saying the Atlantic Ocean is moist. Right now, two elements characterize American pro sports:
1) Leagues use salary caps (or de facto caps, via the luxury tax, in MLB) to undermine and eliminate free market bidding for players. A few stars make obscene money, but for the most part, free agents face a controlled market with limits arbitrarily set by the owners. Aside from a handful of exceptions, the billionaires are happy to sit back, poor-mouth and bank the money.
2. The tried-and-true way to build a winning franchise is to simply be awful for three to five years, accumulate young stars via the drafts, bank your revenue-sharing checks, and then - when the time is right - make your run. Once on top, you can squeeze the city for tax breaks or a new stadium. No politician lets a championship team walk out the door. Just wait your turn. Clear eyes, thick wallet, can't lose.
Look at the Royals. Look at the Astros. Look at the Rays. Look at the Mets. And this year, quite probably, we can look at the Redsocks - who are being projected to win the AL East. Yes, we've loved watching Boston collapse under its own hubris - (they are second only to the Yankees in hubris) - but they can't fall apart forever. This looks like their year.
Which brings us to the perpetual mediocrity known as the New York Yankees. Here we are, in the middle of yet another winter of nothingness, as the "Evil Empire" - (what a joke) - claims career minor leaguers off waivers, while other teams sign stars. Hal "Food Stamps" Steinbrenner - (my new name for him, btw) - says he can't sign anybody until the long term contracts expire. That's a sweet way to blame the players for management's stupidity - (He's copying how Wall Street managed to blame school teachers for the financial crash of 2007). It's not his fault. Those damn greedy players!
Rooting for the Yankees used to be one of a great, secret pleasures in American sports. Even when the team sucked - and we sure did for vast periods of the 1980s - they still had a swagger. But today, the worst team to follow in MLB may not be the Reds or Braves, as Jason Stark contends. Nope, the saddest franchise is the toothless and boring Yankees under a regime in which the owner pulls out his pockets and cuts corners.
Here's a prediction: The 2016 Yankees won't come in first or last. They'll just subsist, chasing the Wild Card slot, like a dog with a sausage tied to its tail. Winners? Losers? Five games above .500, the Yankees are technically neither. But I can tell you how it feels to be a Yankee fan:
It feels like we are the biggest losers of all.