Friday, November 6, 2009

False Equivalence

Since the New York Yankees won their 27th World Series on Wednesday night, by far the most of any Major League Baseball team, there have been many many conversations about how their level of spending gives them an unfair advantage. Now to me this is an obvious truth. The fact that every single year the Yankees have the ability to look around the league and cherry pick the best guys off other teams with the enticement of big money simply can't be disputed. Now that is not a guarantee of success, but it definitely makes it a lot more likely.

I am not saying this diminishes their achievements in anyway, I am just saying that you can't over look what is staring you right in the face. If they don't have Mark Texiera or C. C. Sabathia, their two big free agent signings in the last offseason, do they win the championship this year? I highly doubt it. Still under the current rules they are working under there is nothing untoward about what they have done. It makes sense for them to put the best team together than money can buy because that is the way Major League Baseball is now set up.

But all of a sudden Yankee fans are offended by people pointing this fact out. And one of their biggest fall back arguments seems to be "Yeah well if it was that easy why aren't the Washington Redskins winning the Superbowl?" This is a patently ridiculous argument but you will actually hear sports pundits on the radio and see them on TV and in print actually repeating it. Not only are the NFL and Major League Baseball just two different animals in general, but the Redskins in particular are exactly the wrong team to use in comparison.

See with baseball you can literally run your team like you are a fantasy owner if you have enough money. Because there are only about 15 or so guys on a roster and because there is no salary cap you can literally pay to have all stars at every position on the field. When you look at what the Yankees have done over the years that is basically exactly what they have done.

In the NFL by contrast you generally can only sign but so many big name players from other teams because of the constraints of the salary cap. So of the 22 starters on offense and defense you might be able to pluck two or maybe three at the most pro bowl type players away from other teams to try to make a run at a championship.

But there is also the matter of team chemistry and this is the biggest difference in the two sports. With 53 guys on an NFL roster there are going to be challenges to keep everyone on the same page. You have to mesh a lot of different attitudes and a lot of different egos into one common mindset to try to get the job done. With much fewer players on a MLB roster you don't have have the same level of cohesiveness. Besides that when there is a problem its a lot easier to get with one guy or two guys to address it than having to police a bunch of guys on a NFL team.

A related major difference is how you deal with a free agent "bust". See for the Yankees and other MLB teams with big revenues, if they sign a guy that doesn't produce then they either trade him, cut him, and or pay another guy to replace him. In the NFL on the other hand if you sign a big time free agent and they don't work out then you are screwed for at least a few years because of the constraints of the salary cap. That means that the guy pretty much HAS to play for the first couple of years of their contract at least and it also means that if there is a personality conflict then the team just has to deal with it. That means coaches can be undermined and game plans can be hurt because of one guy who can't be cut or traded.

With the Redskins however the problem is actually that their owner Dan Snyder DOES try to run his ball club like a Major League Baseball franchise. He truly believes that any problem on a football field can be fixed if you just throw money at it. Just look at his teams over the years. The most recognizable guys generally are people that he took from another team. Best player on offense this year is probably Clinton Portis who came from where? Denver. Best player on defense this year has probably been London Fletcher, who came from where? Buffalo.

Year after year after year Snyder, instead of focusing on building his teams from the ground up through the draft and player development, just looks on the list of free agents from other teams and starts licking his chops. That is the exactly WRONG way to run an NFL franchise and its why his teams will not win a championship. In the NFL you can't have a bunch of mercenaries coming to your team every year and expect to have long term success. That is just too much turnover and too much turmoil and nobody ever gets to stay long enough to establish themselves as a leader and for the team to establish an identity.

Now I know people compare Snyder many times to Jerry Jones down in Dallas, but that is a patently ridiculous comparison when you get beyond the bluster. Look back and those Cowboys teams that won Superbowls. Where did the overwhelming majority of the talent come from?

Homegrown, that's where.

Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Moose Johnson, the offensive line, Tony Tolbert, Ken Norton, Larry Brown, and the list goes on and on. Yeah he brought in some guys to get them over the hump, but the heart of the team were guys they drafted and coached up to Pro Bowl status. Hell look at the Cowboys even now. Tony Romo, Marion Barber, Miles Austin, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Terrance Newman and again the list goes on and on.

Now try to think of a starter, not even necessarily a Pro Bowler, other than Chris Cooley that Snyder has drafted and had thrive over the last 5 years.

The point is you don't build an NFL winner in the same way that you build a MLB winner. When you look at the teams that win Superbowls year in and year out a substantial part of their team is always, and I mean ALWAYS home grown. And before anybody starts hollering about the New England Patriots let me throw some names out, Teddy Bruschi, Lawyer Milloy, Tom Brady, Troy Brown, Assante Samuel, Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, again the list goes on and on.

That is the anti thesis of what you will find with perennial MLB World Series champs or contenders. For them its all about finding guys off other teams to bring in as center pieces for their team to help them bring home the title.

Again I am not hating on the Yankees for that, hell more power to them, I am just saying we have to be honest about it.

It is what it is.


  1. Great post, Steve. I think there are some other factors that make baseball and football different when it comes to spending money. One is the shorter career span of an NFL player, and another is the the lack of complicated systems that you see in the NFL.

    Baseball's longer career span makes the pool bigger for good players to spend money on. The NFL doesn't have that luxury. For most players, it's just a few years that they're on the top of their game. Most teams try to keep those players locked up for those years and don't let players in their peak go to free agency. A-rod, Rivera, Jeter, Petite, Matsui.. these are all guys in their mid to late 30's playing at a high level. In the NFL, that's more of a rarity.

    Also, baseball's a simpler sport. There isn't different "offensive" or "defensive" schemes to learn. The Yankees can plug Texeira, CC, and Burnett right into their lineup without worrying too much about them getting the "system." In contrast (as we're seeing with the Bucs), NFL teams need the players to not only know the system, but fit the system. That's why a baseball team can trade mid-season for a guy to have an immediate impact. In the NFL, that doesn't happen as much.

    Interesting stuff. I, personally, think Yankee fan needs to get over their defensiveness about payroll. Hey, if your team's owner is willing to break the bank for a championship, why not enjoy it? I would love for the Rays to open up the vault this off-season. It's not going to happen, but I'd love to see it.

  2. I agree with all of your points and in fact I was going to also include the point about the difference in complexity but I didn't want to risk making the post too long. Y

    The mere fact that Yankee fans are so defensive just goes to show that they know and realize they have a competitive advantage because of Steinbrenner's deep pockets. But hell I mean its not cheating, its how MLB is run right now so who really even cares?