The New York Yankees made their annual trade deadline deal, picking up a couple of pieces (and a couple more huge contracts) to help get them to October, just the kind of move that sends small-market fans into a rage.
This time the Yankees grabbed outfielder Bobby Abreu and his .427 on-base percentage, and pitcher Cory Lidle and his much-needed live arm, from the Philadelphia Phillies. In return, they gave up a slew of prospects that no one seems too worried about.
It was a deal that surprised no one because New York could do what perhaps no other team could – stare down Abreu's $15.5 million 2007 salary without blinking. It wasn't the prospects that clinched the deal for the Yankees, it was their cash reserves that made them the only logical trading partner.
All of which is the result of having the best owner in professional sports – George Steinbrenner.
Yeah, we know, all non-Yankee fans hate Steinbrenner. The guy gets ripped nonstop – on the Internet, on the radio, in the papers, even on Seinfeld. He is the poster child for the revenue disparity that has crippled the competitiveness of as much as a third of Major League Baseball. He can be boorish, arrogant and irrational. There is an understandable sport in watching him spend and spend and fall short, as he has since 2000.
But to confuse that with a lack of appreciation for Steinbrenner, the ultimate "fan-owner," is shortsighted. To blame him for baseball's financial mess is to confuse the player and the game. It is the fault of MLB and its owners for allowing a system in which the Yankees' annual payroll can soar to more than $200 million.
Steinbrenner is just playing by the rules.
Steinbrenner has turned baseball upside down because his thirst for championships is greater than even the most die-hard Yankee fan. Combine that with a daring and often innovative business mind and you have the perfect owner – a guy who is 100 percent committed, even to the point of financial foolishness, to winning championships.
What fan doesn't want that out of his owner? What fan doesn't want management that not only puts its money where its mouth is but also spends its free time finding new ways to get more money to put where its mouth is?
The Yankees are the most popular team in the nation's most populous market, so its advantages are obvious. But that doesn't mean they can't lose.
CBS owned the team from 1964 to 1973. It was a miserable run where corporate accountants kept slashing costs, the team made nary a postseason appearance and eventually the corporation sold the team to Steinbrenner for $10 million, far less than it had paid.
Steinbrenner hasn't been perfect, but from the start he understood that to make the Yankees dominant, you had to think (and spend) New York big.
In 1974 Steinbrenner gave Catfish Hunter a huge deal, and nothing really has changed since, even though the 74-year-old has stepped back a bit from the day-to-day operations.
Business-wise, Steinbrenner continues to run the best franchise in baseball, maximizing every last revenue stream. From renovating Yankee Stadium in the '70s to the use of cable television in the '80s to marketing deals in the '90s to the '02 creation of the YES television network, he has been the model of how to run a pro sports team.
Steinbrenner has committed the majority of the funding for the Yankees' new $1 billion stadium, rather than holding up taxpayers for the full bill like so many other, wealthier pro sports owners.
All of that has taken a steel will. He long has run the business with thin profit margins – if any at all. According to the New York Times, the Yankees lost money in five of Steinbrenner's first six years of ownership. But the Boss was happy because the Yankees won three pennants and two World Series.
As recently as 2005, the team lost between $50 million and $85 million, according to the New York Daily News, which doesn't mean that Steinbrenner is in the poorhouse (or that the franchise's value doesn't keep multiplying) but still, how many other owners are willing to do that?
But that's the gamble. A gamble he has long been willing to make.
Yes, the Yankees have advantages being in New York, but the distance between them and other franchises is greater than it should be. There is no reason the Chicago Cubs, with their big market, national fan base and national television deal, couldn't rival the Yankees on and off the field. But the Cubs are owned by the Tribune Company, a corporation that would rather suck out profits than reinvest in winning.
Other big-market clubs such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox (until recently), Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants and New York Mets have stumbled with different ownership groups that lacked the vision, brains or the guts to match Steinbrenner.
Steinbrenner runs the most aggressive money-making franchise. He reinvests into the on-field product, which in turn produces more money to be reinvested. A lot of owners just cut and run.
While Steinbrenner has stumbled often – and who knows whether this trade will even get the Yankees to the playoffs – the failures are mostly the result of trying too hard.
So you can curse the Yankees for, once again, loading up on players without regard to money, you can hate hopelessness of baseball in Kansas City and Pittsburgh, but you can't fault the Boss for reaping what he's been sowing for over three decades and once again going all in for the World Series.
And you can wish your favorite team's owner was just as committed.