I’m going to give you some sets of numbers and I’d like to know if they mean anything to you. Ready? 65 and 46, 100 and 54, 128 and 81, 129 and 22. Anything? Okay, I’ll give you a couple hints. Try putting a dollar sign before each number and six zeroes after. So what do you got now? Still nothing? The numbers, all in the millions, represent the total payrolls for the four major pro sports (NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB) for the last full season of play. Now take another look and see if anything leaps out at you.
For the most part, the numbers are fairly close, with one glaring exception. In 2013, the New York Yankees had the largest payroll not just in baseball but in all of professional sports. That’s no surprise. Prior to 2014, when the L. A. Dodgers broke the bank at over $235,000,000, the Yankees were the biggest spenders every year going all the way back to 2001. During that span, they won exactly one World Series. Money well spent? That’s debatable; and, we can save that debate for another time. What concerns me is the incomprehensible disparity from the top to the bottom. There are thirty teams in the Major Leagues. The New York Yankees spent nearly $229,000,000 on their 2013 campaign. The Houston Astros were a hot dog and a cup of coffee north of $22,000,000. In other words, the Astros represented less than ten percent of the Yankee’s total spending. A-Rod alone, who missed most of last season, still earned more than the entire Astros team. What’s wrong with this picture? And is it any wonder the Yankees have been the bad guys in every movie from The Bad News Bears to Major League.
Really, though, the problem isn’t the Yankees or any of the deep pocket teams. It’s the salary structure itself. The MLB does not have a salary cap. They do have a spending limit, and a luxury tax for teams that spend beyond that limit. Here’s the entire team-by-team breakdown so you can see how well that works. Here’s a tip. IT DOESN’T WORK! Only two teams had a payroll that exceeded $200 million. Only two other were above $150 million. More than half the teams in the league had a payroll less than half of what the Yankees spent. But again, this isn’t about the Yankees. They’re guilty of nothing more than taking full advantage of an obviously flawed system. They even put money in other teams coffers to, in theory, improve the level of competition. Spoiler alert. That doesn’t work either.
Years ago, the MLB introduced a plan for shared revenue. That’s when teams that have give to teams that haven’t. I’d say it looks good on paper but even that would be a stretch. Check out this 2012 article by Wendy Thurm. It’s specific to the Marlins, who have a history of selling high and buying low, but other teams fit the mold. For shared revenue to work, teams would actually have to spend the money their given on things like… oh, I don’t know, BETTER PLAYERS. That isn’t happening. As a result, some teams are spending close to $230 million. Others are spending $22 million, or $36 million, or $57 million. Even at the bottom of the barrel, the disparity is stunning.
As a final example of just how messed up this all is, let’s put it in a slightly different context. I wrote a novel about auto racing so we’ll settle this on the track. And, because it’s tough to comprehend hundreds of millions of dollars, we’ll break it down to thousands of dollars instead. You’re the Astros and you’ve got 22 large to spend any way you want. That should get you a new Corolla with every bell and whistle your local Toyota dealership has to offer. I’m the Yankees and my 229 large should be just enough for a beautiful 25th Anniversary Edition Panoz Esperante Spyder GT. The green is out. What the hell are you waiting for?
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