The Worst of All Possible Worlds  (10/15/01)

Unfortunately, there is a distinct possibility that the Yankees will once again meet the Braves in the World Series.  This is the worst possible scenario for baseball for several reasons:

The first is that the TV media won't do their homework and will continue to perpetuate a number of myths that need to be dispelled:

1) The Braves have won 10 straight division titles.  The fact is they haven't.  They lost in 1994.  It was a shortened season, sure.  But baseball has had a number of shortened seasons and in every single one of them the team with the most regular season wins won the division.  The Expos won the most games that year.  The Braves didn't.  So it's pretty simple: the Expos won the division.  If Maddux can win the Cy Young that year, then the Expos can win the division.  That's not to take away from anything the Braves have accomplished in the last decade - their success in an era of increased player movement has been impressive.  Of course, it helps to have deep enough pockets to keep all your talent despite 2 expansions in the last 10 years... But let's try to get the easy facts straight for once.

2) John Schuerholz is a great GM.  The fact is he's spent Ted Turner's money hand over fist and gotten little in return.  In the past 2 years, he's dealt Bret Boone and Ryan Klesko for Quilvio Veras (who he released in the middle of this season due to ineffective play) and Reggie Sanders (who he released after last season), both of whom made more money than the guys Schuerholz traded.  To fill Sanders spot in left field, he traded for BJ Surhoff, who's salary is higher than Sanders'.  This year, Sanders hit 33 homers and driven in 90 runs for the D-backs.  Surhoff, "his replacement", posted 10 homers and 58 RBI.  Klesko would have been a nice fit at first, but the Schuerholz preferred Rico Brogna (3 HR, 21 RBI) to an aging Andres Galarraga (17 HR, 69 RBI).  After Brogna was given his release, they signed 40+-year old Julio Franco (3 HR, 11 RBI).  With GMs like Schuerholz, who needs bad trades?

The fact is that the Braves win because they had great scouts signing great talent cheaply for much of the last 12 years.  Most of those scouts and scouting directors, by the way, men like Paul Snyder and Bill Clark (between those two, they personally signed Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Rafael Furcal), were fired by John Schuerholz.

3) Derek Jeter is a great shortstop.  Jeter is a very good offensive player who plays shortstop and who happens to have a flair for the dramatic on defense.  But if you watch him day after day you'd see that he fails to get to a number of ground balls that an average shortstop routinely gets to.  And getting to ground balls on an everyday basis is the foundation of what makes a shortstop great.

4) The 1998 Yanks were the greatest team ever.  Well, if they were, will people anoint this year's Mariner's squad as the greatest ever if they win the World Series?  Probably not.  Even though this year's M's won more regular season games than the 1998 Yanks, I hope everyone realizes that, like that Yanks team, they were merely the beneficiary of great luck - few injuries, career years from a number of mediocre players, fortunate match-ups in the regular season, etc.  You want a truly great team?  Try the 1927 or the 1939 Yanks, the 1929 Philadelphia A's, the 1970 Orioles or the 1976 Reds.  Those teams were rife with Hall-of Fame and All-Star talents (and not All-Stars who were named to their teams by managers trying to get their own players contract incentives like many today are).  They won lots of games, had lots of great players, and walked away with the championship after beating some very good teams to get there.

5) that winning in baseball in not about money.  It is.  While it's true that the A's and Astros have done reasonably well on small budgets, they aren't in the championship series, are they?  Whenever they develop quality players they have a difficult time keeping them due to financial constraints.  The A's right now are contemplating whether or not to try to keep Jason Giambi, who may win his second consecutive MVP award this year.  Does anyone really think that if he were a Yankee or a Brave, that there would be any question that Giambi would be given a contract for just about whatever he wanted?

Teams like the Yanks not only keep whoever they want for whatever the price, they can also afford to take on extra salaries in trade and sign whichever free agent they want.  Wanna bet that Barry Bonds is a Yankee by January?  But it doesn't stop there.

Everyone talks about how those teams were built from their farm systems.  That's true to a point.  In the Yankees case, only 2 of their significant pitchers - Pettitte and Rivera - are products of their farm system.  The rest were free agents or trades.  But does anyone ever talk about how much more money than everyone else they spend on signing bonuses and their scouting network?  Have you ever heard news of the discovery of a hot international prospect and not heard that the Yankees are making an offer to him?  So not only do they spend more money than anyone at the major league level ($143 million on their current major league payroll) but much more than anyone on their farm system as well.

and finally, the most egregious of all of the myths that need to be dispelled is 6) that by the Yanks winning that it would somehow help to heal the city, and perhaps the country, from the events of September 11th.  That assault was not just on New York, but on the American way of life.  New Yorkers were not the only ones who felt loss on that day.  The idea that the millions of New Yorkers are somehow more psychologically needy than the hundreds of millions of Americans who now have trepidation about flying or who are buying gas masks and antibiotics for fear that they will be the target of a terrorist attack or who are openly suspicious of their neighbors, especially those of Middle Eastern descent... the notion that New York needs healing more than the rest of the country and that by the Yanks winning that somehow things will be better... that idea is horribly insulting to all those who were directly affected by the attack.  Thousands of families are mourning the loss of loved ones, and as someone who has lost immediate family members very suddenly and unexpectedly I can assure you that no amount of winning by a sports team can soothe that pain.

The second major reason why a Yanks/Braves series would be bad is this:  how many more times do we need to see the Yanks thrash the Braves?  The Braves simply don't match up well against the Yanks and until their GM learns to spend money wisely, that will continue to be true.  If the two teams meet in the World Series, the Yanks will win a very pedestrian 4 game sweep.

How the Yankees won

The A's actually had a chance to win the ALDS, but poor fundamentals did them in.  Had Jeremy Giambi slid to the outside of home plate in Game 3, there would be no discussion about the play the Jeter made. Giambi would have been safe, the score would have been tied, and the A's would have had a fast runner on second (Terrence Long) with a chance to take the lead.

In Game 5, poor fundamentals again did them in.  Three errors that extended innings gave the Yanks extra opportunities to drive in runs.  They did and that turned out to be the difference in the game and the series.

So how did money play a role?  Ever notice that when one of the Yankee players is struggling, some big name former Yankee star like Yogi Berra or Reggie Jackson or Don Mattingly is brought in to talk to him?  You think those guys do it for free?  If so, I have a bridge in Brooklyn and some land in South Florida to sell you...

You want another factor?  How about the A's losing their clean-up hitter and gold glove right fielder Jermaine Dye to a freak injury - his leg is broken by a foul ball in the early stages of Game 4.  While that in and of itself does not appeal to the money issue, his replacement does.  Had this happened to the Yankees, they would have had David Justice, with his $7 million salary and All-Star pedigree as their replacement off the bench.  The A's had Ron Gant, who was once a starting player but has not been particularly start-worthy in 4 years.  As a matter of fact, the Yankees scored 2 of their runs in Game 5 - the actual margin of victory - running on the arm of Ron Gant.  With Terrence Long in left instead of right covering for Dye, they might not have scored those runs.  Advantage: money bags.