During Monday evening’s Open Thread, I explored a few economic theories behind the upcoming round of collective bargaining negotiations. As always, the Yankees and their huge economic advantage over nearly every other baseball team will be at the forefront of the 2011 efforts to renew the CBA, and I sketched out a rough idea for a salary floor.
As economic solutions go, a salary floor isn’t an ideal one. Although it would force teams such as the Marlins to spend rather than pocket their revenue sharing dollars, it would create more problems than it would solve. In fact, by forcing teams to meet a minimum salary threshold, baseball would create inflation. To reach the salary ceiling, some teams would be forced to overpay for mediocre talent, and the ripple effect of those contracts would lead to higher salaries — and fewer teams able to afford those players — at the top. That’s bad news for everyone.
With these and other institutional hurdles to a salary cap/floor system, smart baseball minds will look at other ways to rein in the Yankees. In Sports Illustrated this week, Tim Marchman proposed a third team for the New York area. The Yankees, he says, are right now playing within the rules of a system designed to penalize them, and it has mostly stopped accomplishing that goal. They paid $220 million for a World Series winner in 2009 and appear willing to go high in 2010. So let’s add a third team. He writes:
According to the measure used by the Office of Management and Budget, the New York metropolitan region numbers about 19 million people. In other words, New York has one MLB team for every 9.5 million people. Chicago, by this measure, has one for every five million people, just as Miami and Atlanta do. Los Angeles has one for every 6.5 million people, as do Dallas and Philadelphia. (This doesn’t even take into account New York’s vast, inherent wealth.)
As we learned a decade ago, baseball at large is quite willing to jury-rig a silly tax system that only works against the Yankees, because everyone else benefits, be it poor teams getting handouts or rich teams who see the Yankees ever so slightly chastened in their spending. With the collective bargaining agreement coming up for renegotiation, a bad economy and a Yankees team that looks like it will be ferociously good over the next few years even if the likes of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera begin their inevitable decline, it’s quite likely that their continued high spending will provoke some new set of ineffectual regulations meant to reign them in a bit.
The better solution would be to place a third team in New York. That would bring the town’s population:team ratio down to the level of Los Angeles or Philadelphia, and with the same number of people and dollars chasing more baseball, would quite likely bring Yankee spending down a hair without doing anything punitive or unfair.
He further elaborated on this point in a blog post on his personal site. He admits that this plan is both unlikely due to the territorial rights the teams own and unlikely to succeed due to New York’s huge size. After all, the Yankees would still be the top team in town; they would still sell out most of their games; and they would still draw record ratings on TV. Another team in the area would simply become another big market, high spending team that would. As he puts it, “Even with a third team, there would still be about as many people per team there than there are in any other market, and they’d be playing to probably the most baseball-mad population in the country. In the end, it’s about providing baseball to people who want it.”
From a New York point of view, I’d love to see a third team in the city. I’d love to see the regional rivalries reemerge as they did when my dad and grandfather were growing up in New York. I’d love to see three teams compete for air time and fan allegiance. I’d love to see borough-based baseball rivalries renewed, and baseball fever truly grip the city.
It won’t, though, happen. The Yankees and Mets won’t waive their precious territorial rights. The city won’t fund construction for another baseball stadium, and New Jersey isn’t about to foot the bill for a ballpark either. For better or worse, we’ll just be stuck with the Yankees and Mets. A third team also would not address baseball’s financial imbalance.
In the end, we just have to ask if it’s truly a problem. Should we care that the Yankees — as Marchman says, the richest, most powerful team playing in the “richest, most powerful city in the country” — lord over the rest of baseball? Maybe for the health of the game, we should, but I am not ashamed to root for U.S. Steel. Third team or not, it’s a grand life rooting for the Yanks, and the fact is that baseball probably won’t be able to do a thing about it in 2011.