Friday, August 17, 2018

For All Those Fans Who Say George > Hal Steinbrenner

Good morning, afternoon, or evening wherever you are when you are reading this. Hopefully your day is going well, you left your blinders at home and your rose-colored glasses did not match your favorite shirt and pants combination today because I am going to make a statement that is not only going to be an unpopular one, but it’s going to be true as well. I have grown increasingly impatient with the Yankees fan base as a whole recently and, for what it’s worth, a lot of you out there have completely gone off the reservation here. The fans that I am speaking of know what I mean, and they know who you are. These fans are ready to fire Aaron Boone, a rookie manager who is managing the second-best team (record wise) in Major League Baseball, Larry Rothschild, a great and well-respected pitching coach, and Brian Cashman, an amazing General Manager that has not only rebuilt this team but rebuilt a decimated farm system as well. These fans also want to demote (FYI, so-called fans, you can’t) Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Luis Severino and others (Giancarlo Stanton not too long ago) because they are failing seven or eight times out of every ten at-bats in a game that says you are great, not just good, for doing exactly that. These fans are also extremely quick to mention the fact that this situation would not be going on if George Steinbrenner, the Boss, were still alive. Um, excuse me? If anything, the situation is the way it is today BECAUSE of the Boss.

No disrespect to George Steinbrenner, I fully respect the man and what he did not only for the New York Yankees, but for the game of Major League Baseball as a whole. Let’s be real though, depending on how long on this timeline you want to go back on, the reason the New York Yankees are even in the situation they are in right now is because of the Boss, not because of Hal Steinbrenner “the coupon clipper.”

The luxury tax threshold came about because of teams and owners who heavily spent on free agents and on the international market. There once was a time where the New York Yankees owned everything, some may remember, and some may not. If there was a free agent on the market that the Yankees wanted, they got him. If that free agent didn’t work out instantly and there was an upgrade on the trade market that July, the Yankees got him too. If there was an international phenom coming over named Jose Contreras or Hideki Irabu, the Yankees got them too. Who was the man at the helm making all these decisions and signing off on all these paychecks? George Michael Steinbrenner III.

What was the league to do in order to counteract this? What was the Players Association to do? The only thing that they could to in order to not only curtail the dominance and the spending by the Yankees (who, if you remember, had their own television network in an era where this was virtually unheard of, unlike today) was to somehow implement a way to cap spending and bring some sort of normalcy and parity back into the game. Enter the original “competitive balance tax” and how it started way before it was implemented before the 1997 season. Let’s go back to the strike of 1994 that ended the season prematurely and ultimately cancelled the World Series. Much of what caused the strike was the disagreement between the league, the players and the owners over the control and power the teams had over their players in the salary department. Small market teams felt handcuffed by fiscal budgets while the larger market teams, like the Yankees (George Steinbrenner was still suspended from baseball at this time), refused to accept a salary cap. What did it result in? A strike. The players and the league agreed to return to the sport, albeit late, in 1995, before the two sides agreed upon a collective bargaining agreement in 1996 that would include Major League Baseball’s first ever luxury tax. The agreement states that the top five teams in terms of salaries paid would each have to pay a 34% fine on each dollar spent beyond halfway between the salaries of the 5th and 6th teams’ salaries. For example, if the 5th highest payroll in MLB that season was $100 million and the 6th highest payroll that season was $98 million the top five spending teams in the league would have to pay a 34% tax on every dollar they spent over $99 million, or whatever that median was.

Before the Yankees “Dynasty” success of the mid-90’s and into the early 2000’s the Yankees only spent a total of $9,919,651 in luxury tax dollars, although that was the second highest mark to only the Baltimore Orioles who spent $10,643,897 from 1996-1999. The luxury tax was working for the most part until George began dipping his feet into the deep end of the free agent pool again starting in the early 2000’s. While the luxury tax was eliminated from 2000-2002, which led to presumably a lot of the heavy spending from the Yankees, the luxury tax was back in a new CBA signed during the 2002 season that placed a flat, albeit soft, cap on spending that teams could not go over without being penalized. Here is the history of the luxury tax threshold and what those marks were from the 2003 season to what we will see in the 2021 season when the latest CBA expires.

Source: wikipedia

The luxury tax basics changed some over the years, but the basic premise remained the same, if teams went over the cap they were hit with fiscal penalties. Under the CBA that stretched from 2002 – 2006 teams that were going over the cap for the first time had to pay a fee of 17.5% on every dollar over the luxury tax threshold (later increased to 22.5% with the 2006 CBA), while second time offenders would pay 30% on every dollar. Third time offenders, like the New York Yankees, were paying 40%, or 40 cents on every dollar that they spent over the luxury tax threshold. To put this in an example that many Yankees fans can understand, before the 2001 season the Yankees signed first baseman Jason Giambi to a seven-year deal worth $120 million. While there wasn’t a luxury tax threshold in 2001 when he signed, there was for the final five seasons of the contract. To make it simple, Giambi’s seven-year deal was worth roughly $17 million per season, with 40% of that being $6.857 million. Multiply $6.857 million five times and you have $34.285 million dollars in taxes alone and on the Jason Giambi contract alone. FYI just to put this into perspective of how much $34 million in payroll was back in the early-to-mid 2000’s, the entire payroll of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003 when the tax came back to the game was $19,630,000.  

During the first CBA that stretched from 2002-2006 the Yankees spent $152,749,814 (2003), $182,835,513 (2004), $205,938,439 (2005), and $194,663,079 (2006) in overall payroll, tops in Major League Baseball each season by a long shot. This did not factor in what the team spent in luxury tax dollars. Obviously, the luxury tax threshold was not deterring anyone, but especially the New York Yankees and George Steinbrenner during that time (although George passed away in 2010 before these changes were implemented), from spending so things were switched up before the 2012 season with a new CBA. With the new CBA came a new penalty for going over the luxury tax, this time for offenders that have gone over the luxury tax threshold four or more times, hitting them with a 50% tax on every dollar spent over the luxury tax threshold. Since the inception of the luxury tax threshold in MLB the Yankees have spent a whopping $319.6 million just in luxury tax penalties alone, “closely” followed by the Los Angeles Dodgers and their $149.7 million in penalties spent for second place. It wasn’t until the current CBA that was agreed upon in 2016 that we saw the ability to stay under the threshold for one year to reset the penalty to “first offense” spending on dollar spent over the threshold.

So, why does Major League Baseball even have a luxury tax threshold, and the subsequent penalties that followed which now include international spending limits and draft pick compensation limitations? Because of people like George Steinbrenner, God rest his soul. With this information it seems not only silly, but also irresponsible to say that George Steinbrenner was a better owner than Hal Steinbrenner when you can’t really compare the two. George Steinbrenner was apples, and his son Hal is oranges. Th difference is that George was ahead of his time and had the ability to pay whatever for whomever and dominate the league, Hal is just being forced to play in a league that finally caught up to what his father was doing and getting away with all along. The only reason there is a luxury tax threshold, due in large part anyway, is because of George Steinbrenner… and the only reason that Hal needs to get under it is because of his father.

It isn’t just sacrificing money anymore, because yes I do realize that the Yankees make $500 billion a season or whatever number those irrational and uninformed fans on social media love to gloat about when bitching about not signing a player for financial reasons, but it is also about sacrificing prospects, draft picks, international money, and lord knows what else they will come up with when the current CBA expires in 2021. The league has caught up to the Yankees, both in terms of players and in terms of money, and the game just isn’t the same anymore. Add Hal Steinbrenner to the helm of the Yankees empire in the mid-90’s through the 2000’s and the Yankees may have won a lot more World Series than just five World Series Championships, but put George Steinbrenner at the helm of the Yankees from 2009 to present… and the Yankees may not have a single ring, or prospect, or draft pick, or anything else BUT THEIR MONEY to gloat about or talk about.

Think about that before simply declaring that this “wouldn’t happen if The Boss were alive.”

The Fine Line Between Passion And Ignorance

I don't know if any of you saw it, as it was closing in on midnight, but I went on a bit of rant on Twitter last night.

My first tweet on the subject was meant to stand on its own...
But not long after that, I had to get it all out...
It's hard to express yourself 100% correctly on Twitter, so I wanted to write something here to make sure.

Every year it's the same thing. When the Yankees play well all you'll hear is praise for Brian Cashman. Fans will talk about his great trade for Didi Gregorius (especially during Didi's incredible start to the season), or the trade that brought Gleyber Torres to the organization. But when things aren't going so well those same fans will cry about him trading for J.A. Happ instead of a bonafide ace at the trade deadline. Although that Happ thing is working out pretty well, huh?

To be fair, the hate thrown at Aaron Boone has been around for most of the season. Even when the Yankees were winning 70% of their games the manager's moves were questioned. However, some of those that merely questioned Boone earlier this season are now calling for his head on a pike. Amazingly, I've heard numerous people wish Joe Girardi was never let go.

So many fans hated Joe Girardi! But some people have this amazing ability to remember the past differently.

Does a manager have any influence on the outcome of a game? Of course. But is it nearly as high as some people tend to think? No.

A number of people have written about lineup construction and came to the same conclusion... it really doesn't matter a whole hell of a lot. Going by the results, even the best lineup would only result in a handful of extra runs throughout the season. And that comes from things like Gary Sanchez being much worse than any of us imagined, or Miguel Andujar having a rookie of the year season that very few thought would happen.

And don't get me started on the bullpen decisions. Sure, it can be frustrating to see Boone bring in certain pitchers in certain situations, but at the end of the day, we're talking about what should be the best bullpen in baseball. So many of the failings we've seen from the bullpen should not have happened. David Robertson nor Chad Green are the same guys that were destroying the competition last season. And Zach Britton has been nothing like the guy we imagined he'd be when the Yankees acquired him a few weeks back.

Aaron Boone should be able to bring any of the three aforementioned guys into a game with little to no worry, but that hasn't been the case. And that's not Aaron's fault. The players failed Aaron... not the other way around.

Now for the biggest fallacy you'll read on Twitter or anywhere else...

"Hal Steinbrenner doesn't care about winning. All he cares about is making money. If he really wanted to win then he wouldn't care about going over the Luxury Tax threshold, especially since the team makes over a half billion dollars a year anyway."

This is actually very simple. Sure, it may not be true everywhere, but in New York (at least in the Bronx) fans demand a winner. Otherwise they don't show up.

In 2009, when the Yankees won the World Series, the average attendance at Yankee Stadium was 45,918. That was also the first year of the new Yankee Stadium, so I'm sure that helped ticket sales too. In 2010, when the Yankees made it to the league championship series, average attendance was 46,491. Attendance remained over 45,000 a game through 2011 when the Yankees won the division, and attendance was still very good in 2012 when they won the division again. But the following season, when the Yankees finished 12 games behind in the AL East, attendance plummeted by over 3,000 a game. Even in 2014, which was Derek Jeter's final season, attendance only went up a bit, which is likely due to another 3rd place division finish (12 games back).

And attendance has yet to bounce back to anywhere near the level they saw when they first moved into Yankee Stadium III.

Side note: It still amazes me that attendance wasn't as high as ever in 2014, the last chance to watch Derek Jeter in Yankee Stadium. Wow.

So stop saying Hal doesn't care about winning. Winning = money. So whether Hal cares more about winning or money, it doesn't matter.

Like I said on Twitter towards the end of the rant... it's perfectly okay to be pissed. Hell, if you truly care about something you should be mad when it goes wrong. Demand more effort from a player when everything he does or says screams "lackadaisical". Discuss an error by a player, or a bad move by Aaron Boone. But for the love of God stop acting like you know better.

The truth of the matter is none of us know what's best for the Yankees. If we did then we wouldn't be talking about it on a blog or on Twitter. Hell, we wouldn't be writing for ESPN or the New York Daily News, either. We'd be standing next to Brian Cashman, Hal Steinbrenner, and Aaron Boone. Or we'd at least be in similar positions for another professional baseball organization.

We're fans. To take that further, we're some of the most passionate fans you'll see in all of sports. We want perfection, even if we know we won't get it. And there's not a damn thing wrong with that. But everyone should know their limits.