The Steinbrenner Legacy
It's a bit off topic for a website devote to Philly sports teams, but it sort of relates to the current state of baseball and the Phillies. I was encouraged to finally see a columnby someone who wasn't singing the praises of George Steinbrenner.
Maybe it's just my irrational Yankee hatred, but I don't get all of the hosannas for King George. He was probably the first owner in pro sports to both: a)be heavily involved in day-to-day management, and b)spend a ton of money trying to win. And although he seemed to have been a pretty good guy in his private life, he was kind of a douche as an owner. For 15 years or so he basically ran the team into the ground, with his frantic seat-of-the-pants style that would have had him laughed out of most fantasy leagues. Just think of how dismissive people are of owners like Dan Snyder now. That was how Steinbrenner was viewed for most of his career as owner of the Yankees. It wasn't until their title runs starting in 1996 where he sort of became a beloved old bastid in a weird way, rather than scorned and ridiculed.
He used to make horrendous trades and overpaid for free agents who were often mediocre, one-dimensional players who just happened to play well against the Yankees (e.g. Roy Smalley, Steve Kemp, Ken Phelps…famously for future All-Star Jay Buhner, as Frank Costanzo pointed out). And this ended up driving up the market for other mediocrities. Free agency was great for the game, but the problem was you always had like 25 sane owners and a few Steinbrenners who would shatter salary structure every year.
The most innovative thing he probably did was to become the first owner to sell TV broadcast rights to a cable company, which is why the Yanks have had such a huge spending advantage over the last 20+ years. But ultimately his actions: buying championships, driving up the market for mediocre players, etc, almost helped ruin the sport or at least the competitive balance anyway. Over the last 30 years or so, the Yanks have spent over $1.8 billion on free agent contracts, while the 2nd closest team has spent less than half of that. In the 70's and 80's, franchises in small markets and/or with horrible TV deals like the Pirates, Royals, and A's (to name a few of the have nots), contended nearly every season. Now, usually 1/3, or sometimes even 1/2, of the teams in the league don't have the financial resources to realistically compete for championships. So I'm not sure why we should honor that result.
The current structural economic problems with the game can be directly attributed to the actions of owners like Steinbrenner and his ilk. I'm sure the MLB players' union loves it. But I'm not sure it was that great for the sport as a whole, outside of the cities with teams in the top 10 in payroll. I have to admit that the selfish fan in me would have probably loved having Steinbrenner as owner of our baseball team instead of the current ownership over the last 30 years though.