It all came full circle for me as I watched a SECOND Padres comeback win over the defending World Champs, the Philadelphia Phillies, late Saturday night. I was watching the second broadcast of the game with a friend (who happens to share the same disdain for the lavishness and greed of MLB ownership) and as we kicked back, partaking in adult beverages, we settled in to enjoy the top of the 9th.
The Padres had just given up the lead and were down one heading into their final at bats, but for some reason both of us felt a comeback coming on. When you sense something brewing in a team, there is no explanation – you just feel it. That feeling of knowing the team, of understanding the players’ attitudes, THAT is what makes baseball worth watching.
On Friday night, anyone watching that game knew what was about to occur – and it sure did, as the Padres won 8-5 on the heels of a Kevin Kouzmanoff three run homer and another solid closeout by Heath Bell. Although there were only two of us in the room, the jubilation was genuine. It was a great baseball game, and the Padres had won again, improving to 9-3 on the season.
Now is as good a time as any to give a little background information on my own baseball fandom. Growing up within eyesight and earshot of Yankee Stadium, I was introduced at a young age to a team that never lived up to expectations. Anchored by Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield, the Yankees I was introduced to did not win a World Series until 1996. In many ways, I was spoiled to root for those consistently average teams. The Yankees had become a mediocre organization, and its fun to root for a loser when you know the other people rooting along with you are true fans.
Starting in 1995, the Yankee fans that stayed at home in lieu of buying tickets to watch a losing team began showing up as the team showed promise, and the team won its first AL East title since 1981. After winning the World Series the following year, the Yankees went on to build a dynasty that won four World Championships in a short period of time. During that time period, baseball’s global appeal and financial growth (as well as the players’ anatomy) led to what I like to call the Ridiculous Salary Era (RSE).
By going to Baseball Chronology, a statistical machine commonly referred to for everything baseball, you can track the growth of team salaries by year since 1929. You can probably begin to assess the RSE sometime around 1998 (the last time in the 90’s that the Yankees did not have the highest payroll in baseball) and track it from there. The exponential growth of team salaries becomes most shocking in 2001, when the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers all had team payrolls over $100 million dollars.
Obviously, the Yankees organization is at the heart of the RSE, as their 2009 salary stands somewhere in the $200 million dollar range and is the definition of RIDICULOUS. But what is lost in all the complaints about salary is the fact that the fans pay for those ridiculous contracts – and then some.
Using a tool on the website called “fancost”, you can view the average cost for a family of four to go to a game and purchase a couple beverages, a few souvenirs, and various food items. In 2005, the year after the Red Sox broke their 86 year Championship drought, they had the highest recorded average fancost in baseball at $263 dollars, over $100 dollars more than the league average and $70 dollars more than the Yankees and Cubs, who ranked right below them. What is most disturbing about that figure is that the 2005 Red Sox payroll dropped almost $2 million dollars from the year before – so fans were essentially paying just as much of their hard-earned money to see a team that cost Boston ownership less money to field. Is the greed pissing you off yet? It gets worse.
In the midst of one of the worst global economic crises in history, the Yankees opened a $1.2 billion dollar stadium with $925 million in tax-exempt bonds from the state of New York. This appalling use of public funds has not gone unnoticed.
There’s also that “pesky story” that the new stadium is built on protected park land and recreational facilities irreplaceable to the children of the South Bronx. In the same city, less than 20 miles away, the Mets opened their own brand new stadium on the heels of a 20 year, $400 million sponsorship deal with Citibank – the same Citibank that was just bailed out to the tune of $300 billion taxpayer dollars. No wonder local politicians have suggested the name be changed to “Taxpayer’s Field”.
I guess the whole point of this rant is to remind everyone that while it is true that professional sports have become microcosms of everything wrong with our society, there are still ballplayers that enjoy the game.
Go watch the Padres this year, and you will undoubtedly see a team/franchise in transition; the team was just sold coming off a horrendous 2008, the players barely know each other, and there are really only a couple “household” names on the team (for example, have you heard Walter Silva’s story?).
While It is unlikely that the success of this month will continue through the season, you just never know, as evidenced by the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. Maybe it costs too much to go see a game these days, but at least there’s a “blue-collar” team to root for in 2009 – right here in San Diego.