DISPATCHES: Money is the root of Yankees’ evil

DISPATCHES by Hank Kalet: Yankees’ payroll reaches $200 million with A-Rod acquirement.

By: Hank Kalet
   I don’t know that I can be a baseball fan anymore.
   I don’t know that I can sit down and watch a game in which the competitive balance is so skewed toward the teams with money, a game in which the owners with the money can amass the most pieces while the rest of the league is forced to just sit back and watch.
   Imagine a chess game in which your opponent can spend an inordinate amount of money to buy extra queens and rooks, while you’re forced to watch as your bishops and knights leave for more money. Doesn’t mean you can’t beat your opponent, but it makes it rather difficult.
   The Yankees’ acquisition of Alex Rodriguez is the equivalent of them going out and buying an additional queen, a rook, a knight — you name it. The Yankees — who already had the highest payroll in the game by a significant margin, who already had all stars eight of their nine everyday positions, who already have been to six of the last eight World Series and have been in the playoffs every year since 1995 — now own the best player in all of baseball.
   Alex Rodriguez is the reigning most valuable player of the American League. He has won the last two American League Gold Gloves at shortstop. He is a former batting champion. He has led the American league in homeruns the last three years and has averaged 46.8 dingers a year for the last six. He is a lifetime .308 hitter and has driven in 100 or more runs in seven of his eight years in the big leagues.
   A-Rod also is the highest paid player in the sport, which is why the Yankees were the only team that could have pulled this off. Their owner, George Steinbrenner, is committed to winning and is willing to spend whatever it takes to bring in players to succeed.
   It’s been his MO since he took over the team and went out and signed future Hall-of-Famers Jim "Catfish" Hunter and Reggie Jackson, along with should-be Hall-of-Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage.
   And the Yankees have what in baseball terms is an unlimited source of funding. The team has a massive fan base — it drew nearly 3.5 million fans to the ballpark in 2003, has its own television station, makes gobs of cash in marketing jerseys and hats and all the paraphernalia available in sporting goods stores across the country. No other Major League team can match it.
   So when George Steinbrenner wants a new third baseman, he can go out and get the highest priced player in the game, its premier shortstop both offensively and defensively, and ask him to move to third. The cost? Star-on-the-rise Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later. Granted, A-Rod didn’t come cheap and the Rangers have agreed to pay a portion of A-Rod’s salary, but the Yankee payroll is still approaching $200 million — $200 million for 25 players. You could run two South Brunswick school districts on that budget.
   In fact, the Yankees’ payroll is more than the total spent by the Twins and the Athletics combined — two teams that have won back-to-back division titles.
   But maybe this is exactly to what I have to look forward. The Athletics and Twins have found ways to win, despite the cash, as the Marlins did last year in shocking the baseball world, knocking off the Yankees in six games, riding the strong right arm of Josh Beckett to victory.
   Maybe I don’t have to walk away from baseball. Maybe the small market Royals, with their bargain basement roster and young arms, can find a way to improve on last year’s unexpectedly competitive season. Maybe the Anaheim Angels can ride their signing of Vladimir Guerrero to the playoffs and their brilliant young pitching staff to the Series.
   Maybe there are more bumps in the road for the Yankees than I think, bumps that might be big enough to derail what on the surface seems like an unstoppable locomotive.
   Maybe I will watch baseball this season after all.
Hank Kalet is managing editor of the South Brunswick Post. He can be reached via e-mail by clicking here.