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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

July 13, 2010 at 1:24 AM

George Steinbrenner was a fan’s dream — spent what it took to win

NOTE 10:14 a.m.: The Mariners have promoted second baseman Dustin Ackley to Class AAA Tacoma along with left-handed pitcher Edward Parades and right-hander Anthony Vavaro. All three report tomorrow.
My fondest memory of George Steinbrenner will be of the thing that made fans outside of New York loathe him and his Yankees the most. Steinbrenner spent what it took to help his team compete for a World Series each and every year.
And for that, I say, he deserves the respect of baseball fans — and sports fans — everywhere.
The man put his money where his mouth is in an era when there is a lot of mouth action without the money, or results, to go with it.
Photo Credit: AP

The one figure I saw that impressed me the most yesterday, after Steinbrenner passed away at age 80, was that his Yankees teams had spent $1.88 billion on free agents since he took over in the early 1970s. That’s nearly twice as much as was spent by any other team in baseball.
Yeah, he didn’t win every year. Some of the dimmer bulbs passing for baseball analysts have over the years pointed out that his Yankees, who won it all last season, had not previously captured a title since 2000. Oh, well, sure. How many titles have the Mariners won since 2000? The Oakland Athletics? The Cleveland Indians?
That’s such a trivial argument. Steinbrenner’s team made the finals in 2001 and 2003 and — with his sons technically running the club — won it all in 2009.
So, that’s two titles and four championship appearances between 2000 and 2009. Yeah, you’d take it. So would I.
Steinbrenner spent because the rules of the game allowed him to do it.
He didn’t try to win some ficticious “bang for the buck” trophy. The A’s were three-time champs of that earlier this decade. Woo-hoo!
The bottom line is, the business of MLB dictates that teams that can spend more money give themselves a better chance of lasting success. And he did it.
Steinbrenner spent money to make money.
He made billions for the Yankees.
And he gave their fans titles. Suggesting it was all Brian Cashman once “The Boss” got out of the way, or all Joe Torre, is serious disrespect to Steinbrenner. Torre was pushed out of the Yankees and has not won a World Series since. Steinbrenner’s team, passed on to his sons, just did. Cashman won championships because, when he made a decision, he didn’t have to worry about the checks not being there. Sure, some of those checks were spent in areas Cashman may not have liked. Raul Mondesi comes to mind. Jose Canseco. A minor obstacle for him to overcome. When Cashman goes after Cliff Lee this winter, just like when he locked up C.C. Sabathia, the money will be there because of the legacy set forth by Steinbrenner.
No, he wasn’t the greatest man to work for. That’s not the point.
The point is, MLB is set up to reward teams that spend. Dumb teams that spend a lot don’t always win, but teams that spend money semi-wisely — hello Red Sox — do their fair share of making the playoffs.
No sense fighting it. We can pretend baseball is some type of socialist haven, but it’s not.
The team owners don’t really want it that way. The players certainly don’t want it that way. When was the last time the players’ association agreed to do something that would reduce the wage earning potential of players for years to come? Salary cap? Come on!
Do you think Mariners players would vote for a salary cap? Yeah, right after they vote to take trains instead of jets.
Sure, they haven’t made the playoffs since 2001, but don’t cross your fingers hoping for M’s players to vote on a potential wage reduction for themselves anytime soon.
That’s not modern baseball. Baseball is about making money. The teams in MLB make a whole lot of money. Even when the economy is bad. If they weren’t making money, they would have “fixed” the game a long time ago. But the game is fine the way it is — for them. You have a vast array of teams playing in ballparks financed by the public and raking in cash that they are allowed to keep.
Sure, the poor economy might have dropped the overall value of a team by a couple of notches. But long-term? As I’ve written before, the owners of the Mariners could cash out tomorrow and walk away wealthier than they were before. We won’t even get into the tax writeoffs that owners of baseball teams get and apply against their fortunes in other businesses.
Steinbrenner understood this. And he made a fortune for the Yankees. But he also put money back into the product.
The two teams that beat his Yankees in the World Series last decade? The Marlins and Diamondbacks? How much did they put back into their products once they “bought” their own titles — which both teams did in 2001 and 2003? Go back and look. Those teams were dismantled in a big hurry.
Steinbrenner’s teams — through his wallet — maintained their excellence year after year. They were playoff contenders every single season.
Steinbrenner never took revenue sharing money and pocketed it like some team owners do. He was the one subsidizing that revenue sharing through a luxury tax instituted after collective bargaining in 2002.
He paid every year. And cheapskate teams pocketed their extra money and refused to spend more. I covered a team in Toronto, owned by a big-time cable conglomerate, that “Moneyballed” it’s way on a reduced payroll from 2002 through 2005 so it could bide time and eventually bleed dry the cash-poor, Chicago-based owners of the SkyDome — now the Rogers Centre — and force them to sell the ballpark at a bargain basement price. Fans? Hey, they got to see “Moneyball” at work while one good player after another left in favor of compensatory draft picks or bypassed the Blue Jays altogether. Even though the cable giant and other team owners entered MLB of their own free will.
Who enters a Formula One race with a Kia Spectra when you’re competing against Ferraris?
That’s MLB. It’s a Formula One race. If you want to get into it to make some money and be a big shot, that’s great. But yeah, it costs a bundle to compete with the likes of New York, where a lucrative local TV contract allows the Yankees to spend, spend, spend.
Those are the rules of the game. Nobody in baseball is changing them, be they owners or players. They are all making lots of money.
So, for me, the legacy of Steinbrenner is, at least, that while making gobs of money, he gave some back to the fans. He restored the Yankees dynasty and, let me tell you, his fans have never been left questioning whether this free agent, or that one, was not acquired strictly for financial reasons.
Steinbrenner was a capitalist in a game that lends itself to capitalism in its purest form. But let it never be said that his team’s fans didn’t benefit.
They still are benefitting from his legacy.
Fans in other cities don’t always like it. But that’s the game of MLB the way it’s been set up. And if owners in other cities don’t like it, they should do more to change it, or pull their Spectras to the curb and let some Ferraris take over.



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