More thoughts on the Yankees trying to “buy” a World Series title

I mentioned here that I’m already hearing comments about the Yankees “buying” (or, at least, trying to “buy”) a World Series title. And if you look at it objectively, just from the point of view of total payroll and revenues, then you should be able to understand why some people feel that way. Of course, understanding is not the same thing as agreeing. The reality is that it takes more than just money to win the World Series. Yes, a high payroll team like the Yankees can afford to sign the Sabathias and the Teixeiras. But that doesn’t mean that those expensive players will be the right pieces to the puzzle. Randy Johnson had a much lower postseason ERA when he signed with the Yankees than CC Sabathia did when he came to New York, but so far this postseason, CC has performed far better than the Big Unit did in his postseason starts in pinstripes. An expensive puzzle is just junk if the pieces don’t fit together, but
an inexpensive puzzle can be a work of art when all of the pieces fit
just right.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit more, and I’ve done a bit of research. Take a look at the World Series winners since the Yankees last won, and their total payrolls for those years*:

2001 Diamondbacks – 8th highest payroll
2002 Angels – 15th highest payroll
2003 Marlins – 6th lowest payroll (only the Indians, Padres, Brewers, Royals, and Rays had a lower payroll)**
2005 White Sox – 13th highest payroll
2006 Cardinals – 11th highest payroll
2008 Phillies – 12th highest payroll

Look at that list…only one of those teams was in the top ten for highest payrolls in the year that they won the World Series. By contrast, the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox had the 2nd highest payrolls behind the Yankees.

The Yankees have had MLB’s highest payroll every season except one since their mid-90’s “dynasty” began in 1996. The only season they didn’t have the highest payroll was, ironically, in 1998 when they had one of their best seasons ever. (The Baltimore Orioles had MLB’s highest payroll in 1998…and finished 4th in the AL East, 35 games out of first place.)

What does this prove? Money (i.e., one of the top payrolls in MLB) can help a team to sign the players it may need to be successful, but it doesn’t necessarily help to “buy” a World Series title. Winning takes more than money…that’s a fact that the Yankees have certainly proven for the last 8 years. It takes:

  • good players (some of whom do make the most money, and some of whom do not)
  • team chemistry (some people roll their eyes at that…I think those people are fools)
  • teamwork
  • and often, a little bit of luck

By the way, it should be noted that the 1997 Florida Marlins — whom many people (including me) have used as an example of a team that “bought” its World Series title — had the 7th highest total payroll in 1997. The Marlins did bring in a lot of players from outside the organization (free agency, trades, whatever) for the sole purpose of winning a World Series, and then gutted the team over the next two seasons because they could no longer afford to keep their best players. But even they did not have the highest payroll in baseball that season…nor were they even ranked in the top 5 as far as total team payrolls were concerned in 1997.

Does having lots of revenue and a high payroll help a team to be successful? It can. Does it guarantee that a team will win this:

ws_trophy.jpegNope. There are no guarantees. Even a commanding lead in a LCS doesn’t guarantee that a team will get to the World Series, much less win it. Just ask the 2004 Yankees.

* Source: USA Today Baseball Salaries Database

** Note: one other source — baseballchronolgy.com — ranked the 2003 Marlins as having the 5th lowest payroll; the Indians were ranked higher.

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7 comments

  1. devilabrit

    I am not sure putting up all that money helps win the world series, but it can help giving the opportunity, I believe you still have to have chemistry in the clubhouse, no matter how much you spend…. I hear a lot of people saying the Yankees are trying to buy the win, but if they didn’t try you would have comments like those from Tribe fans…and I think the Yankee fans comments are better to hear..LOL
    ~peter
    Outside the Phillies Looking In
    http://devilabrit.mlblogs.com

  2. Jane Heller

    As you pointed out so clearly, Shelley, if having the biggest payroll meant a team won every year, the Yankees would have many more trophies than they do. New York is a big market and the Yankees have made a fortune from TV revenue. They also pay out the most in luxury tax. And they have owners who put their profit back on the field, as opposed to some who pocket it. I’ll take the Yankees way every time.

    http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

  3. juliasrants

    It will be interesting to see where the Yankees are next season. One has to believe that their revenues are down this year from the opening of the new stadium and the number of empty seats. I wonder is it will effect what the team has to spend.

    Julia
    http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

  4. ajay

    It’s amazing what Yankee fans will say to justify the absurdity of the Yankee payroll. Of course it takes good luck, good chemistry, and smart decisions. That’s for any team. But the Yankees can just go out and sign anyone they want and the rest of the league can’t. In fact, most teams have to say goodbye to their favorite players because they can’t afford to hold on their homegrown stars once they become free agents. But the Yankees can hold on to anyone they want (such as Jeter, Rivera, Posada, etc.). No other professional sport has such an absurd, ridiculous, and disgraceful system of haves and have-nots. MLB should be ashamed of itself for selling such a garbage product to the American public. We aren’t stupid, and we aren’t fooled into thinking the Yankees are some kind of legitimate winners when clearly they can just do whatever they want and the rest of the league does not have nearly the same options. MLB has become a complete joke and it’s disgusting how people are trying to justify this nonsense.

  5. diamonddiva

    Peter, all of that money definitely does help give the Yankees the opportunity to at least get to the World Series — or at the very least, into the postseason. No other team could have signed all of the free agents that the Yankees signed for this season. It appears that this year the Yankees have signed the right free agents, as opposed to the Randy Johnsons, Jason Giambis, and Carl Pavanos.
    Jane, the Yankees had the highest or second highest payroll in MLB when they won those 4 out of 5 World Series from 1996 to 2000. So, to be completely honest, I can understand why so many people claimed that they “bought” those World Series titles. That was before I started following the Yankees (Moose was still in Baltimore then *wink*), so it’s quite possible that I made that sort of claim on some message board back then. And if the Yankees win this World Series, such claims will be thrown around once again…and I can understand why, solely from a salary point of view. That’s why I wanted to illustrate exactly why those claims simply aren’t accurate. Oh, and you’re right about the luxury tax…if other team’s owners don’t put the money they get from revenue sharing into their payrolls to improve their teams, that’s THEIR problem.
    Julia, the Yankees revenues probably are down a bit this year because of the reasons you mentioned. But then, their revenue comes from far more than just ticket sales. And remember, they raised the prices of tickets at Yankee Stadium quite a bit, so those empty seats may not have been as much of a loss as they would have been at old Yankee Stadium. But yes, it will be interesting to see what kind of effect (if any) the cost of the new stadium and the empty seats may have on the Yankees’ spending this offseason.
    Ajay, in no way, shape or form am I attempting to “justify the absurdity of the Yankee payroll.” I am simply trying to prove that it takes more than just an obscene payroll to win a World Series. Do the Yankees have an advantage over other teams because of their ability to spend money? Of course they do. There’s no question about that. Any Yankee fan who denies that is burying his/her head in the sand. As I told Peter above, no other team could have signed all of the free agents that the Yankees signed last offseason. Few could have signed just Sabathia or Teixeira. And yes, the Yankees can afford to re-sign their top players when other teams cannot. I completely agree with your statement that “No other professional sport has such an absurd, ridiculous, and disgraceful system of haves and have-nots.” But that’s a problem with baseball in general; it’s not the Yankees fault. If you want to blame someone, blame Bud Selig. Blame the players union. Heck, go ahead and blame Scott Boras! IMO, there is a fundamental problem with the revenue sharing system — the low-revenue teams receiving the payments from teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets, are not required to put those payments back into their teams (e.g., increase payroll). That is not the fault of the Yankees; it is the fault of the system itself. And THAT is why there is such a big gap between MLB’s haves and have-nots.

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