The Pennant, the Payroll and the Excuses

Yankee fans should not be too upset about the charges that their team has bought the 2009 pennant.  Comments like that seem like a small price to pay, excuse the pun, in exchange for top free agents like CC Sabathia and Mark Texeira as well as the ability to retain home grown stars like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.  The Yankees payroll is the biggest in baseball and is certainly one of the reasons they are in the World Series.

The Yankees beat a tough Angels team in the ALCS, moreover, largely because some of the highest paid players in the game including, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter played great baseball  However, they also won for other, albeit more quotidian, reasons.  The Yankees beat the Angels because they played fundamentally sound baseball and were smarter on the bases and in the field then their opponents.  It doesn’t take a high priced free agent, although Vladimir Guerrero was one, to know not to get doubled off first base on a soft line drive to right field.  Players who make less then ten million dollars a year should be able to throw to first and catch throws to first cleanly.  These and other mistakes were a big part of the Angels undoing.

While the discrepancy between the Yankee payroll and everybody else may not be good for baseball, attributing any defeat to that discrepancy is probably worse for baseball.  Rooting against the Yankees because of their payroll is part of the game, but announcing after a loss that it was because of the money, should not be.  Baseball is a great game not because a team can consistently buy a pennant, but because it is so confounding difficult to do just that.  This is the real lesson of recent baseball, and Yankee, history the failure of the Yankees from 2004-2008, while not happy memories for Yankee fans is evidence of this.

Recognizing that things said immediately after being eliminated from the playoffs should be discounted somewhat, Torii Hunter’s post-game comments still demonstrates how widespread the payroll excuse is, as well as how absurd it is. “We battled…but we couldn’t beat that payroll. Plus, in the eighth, we gave it away.” This statement was made by a man who made $18.5 million in 2009, more than all but three Yankees.  The absurdity of Hunter’s statement, especially when one considers the source, speaks for itself.  According to Hunter, the Angels lost because they spent less money, and also because they couldn’t turn either of two sacrifice bunts into outs in the eighth inning.  They also lost because made similar mistakes more or less throughout the series.

Again, Hunter can, and probably should, be excused for making a statement like this.  This was a tough loss for the Angels, so Hunter may have been a little preoccupied.  Nonetheless, if more players start making comments like this, baseball will not be better for it.  Making excuses, even empirically accurate excuses based on sound financial data, is not becoming from superstar ballplayers, especially well compensated ones like Hunter.