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"Communism" crack by New York Yankees' Hank Steinbrenner ignores realities of baseball

Hank Steinbrenner’s Yankees have benefited from public financing both in Tampa and New York.

Times (2007)

Hank Steinbrenner’s Yankees have benefited from public financing both in Tampa and New York.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Others see prosperity. Bless his heart, Hank Steinbrenner sees communists.

Others talk about labor peace, competitive balance and a golden era. Hank Steinbrenner talks about whacking teams.

In case you missed it Monday, while he was absolutely, positively, definitely not insulting Derek Jeter, the co-heirman of the New York Yankees took a broad swipe at baseball's economic system and seemed to suggest Tampa Bay did not deserve a major-league team.

Granted, these are not particularly outlandish points of view. Baseball's business model could definitely use some tweaking. And, like it or not, Tampa Bay has invited criticism with its rather tepid support of one of the league's most successful franchises during the past three seasons.

Still, leave it to Steinbrenner to recall McCarthyism as part of the good old days.

"At some point, if you don't want to worry about teams in minor markets, don't put teams in minor markets, or don't leave teams in minor markets if they're truly minor," Steinbrenner said. "Socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it, is never the answer."

No offense, but that's Bolshevik.

I'm sure I don't have to remind Comrade Hank that the spring training facility in which the Yankees play was built with about $30 million of taxpayer money in Hillsborough County. And, while we're on the topic, New York City's Independent Budget Office reported in 2009 that the new Yankee Stadium will cost the city close to $400 million. A state Assemblyman once estimated the Yankees would reap about $4 billion once all the tax breaks are considered in the coming years.

So, yeah, there may be better examples of socialism in baseball than the current revenue sharing agreement.

Not that I blame Steinbrenner for being a bit miffed at the revenue sharing checks he has to write every year. The Yankees are baseball's biggest earners, biggest spenders and the game's biggest source of the revenue sharing pool.

Now MLB is pretty secretive when it comes to such matters — commissioner Bud Selig supposedly told Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to buy a muzzle for his older brother Tuesday — but reports suggest roughly half the teams lose money in the revenue sharing pool and half the teams receive more money than they put in. For most, the amount coming and going is fairly negligible.

But there are a few teams at the deep end of the pool — that would be the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets and Dodgers — and a handful at the shallow end — the Marlins, Pirates, Rays and Royals — that are losing or gaining tens of millions of dollars every year.

According to documents leaked to last year, the Rays picked up $39 million and $35 million in revenue sharing in 2007-08. And, according to Steinbrenner on Monday, the Yankees paid close to $130 million in revenue sharing and luxury taxes last year.

Those are obviously substantial numbers, but they are also necessary to baseball's overall well-being.

And if Steinbrenner doesn't realize this, then he hasn't been paying attention.

For, if you want to limit the game to markets that are able to stand on their own financially, you're going to have teams in about a dozen cities. Somehow, that doesn't seem like a way to hold on to all the fans who already are fleeing to NFL stadiums and telecasts.

And if you want to eliminate baseball's one-for-all-and-all-for-one spirit, then you also have to ditch territorial rights. Which means Brooklyn might look like a nice destination for the Athletics, the Rays might find it comfy in Connecticut and the Marlins could have already fled to New Jersey. Somehow, I don't think Steinbrenner would approve of other box offices springing up in his back yard.

The same kind of reality is true of the baseball draft, which would have to be abolished. And, if the game were truly democratic, players shouldn't have to wait six years to file for free agency.

In other words, a little socialism, and some monopoly-friendly business practices, ain't such a bad thing if it helps sustain an industry with close to $7 billion annually in revenues.

Does baseball need to do a better job of spreading the wealth? Absolutely. The luxury tax is too lopsided and the threshold is too high. Since it was introduced in 2003, only four teams have been assessed, and the Yankees have accounted for about 92 percent of the taxes. Not only that, luxury tax money doesn't even get redistributed to poorer teams.

Baseball also needs to figure out a better way to ensure the so-called welfare teams are not pocketing revenue sharing as profits instead of re-investing the money in their franchises.

Honestly, I don't think Steinbrenner would be inventing his own Cold War climate if the Yankees hadn't failed to win the AL East in two of the past three seasons. It must be galling to spend three and four times as much as the Rays in payroll, get the snot beat out of you then have to turn around and write a check to Tampa Bay.

Still, the answer is not spending less on revenue sharing.

It's spending less on stupidity.

John Romano can be reached at

"Communism" crack by New York Yankees' Hank Steinbrenner ignores realities of baseball 02/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 11:07pm]
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