Todd Radom (@ToddRadom) posted this informative 1903 newspaper clipping from the St. Louis Republic where one of the so-called “knights of the keyboard” complained openly about the New York Yankees — then known as the Highlanders — exorbitant $75,000 payroll, which counted as the highest in professional baseball history at the time. One can only imagine what they were saying on about that obscene figure on sports talk radio.
Last week the Yankees dished out over $155 million to Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka. When you add up the Tanaka signing alongside the free agent contracts dolled out to Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury the Yankees’ 2014 payroll will blow past baseball’s $189 million luxury tax threshold.
Cue the complaining, as some things never change.
Baseball’s competitive balance is a topic that remains open to debate. For what it’s worth, the Yankees have maintained the highest payroll in the Majors from 2000-2013, yet have only won the World Series twice during that period (2000, 2009) along with a loss to the Marlins in the 2003 World Series. It’s not quite the year-to-year parity seen in the NFL, however in recent years we’ve seen the low-budget Athletics and Rays make the playoffs using intelligent, forward-thinking front offices rather than a reliance on a bunch of blank checks.
As easy as it is to target the Yankees and criticize their payroll, it’s worth remembering the “dynasty” years in the Bronx (1996-2001) were an equal mix of homegrown players (Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte) and some smart trades such as Paul O’Neill for Roberto Kelly and Tino Martinez for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock. During those years the Yankees got important contributions from guys like Scott Brosius, Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton — not exactly mega-free agent superstars.
Of course that success didn’t stop the Yankees from opening up their check books in subsequent years. Handing over a bunch of money to free agents like Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina didn’t result in a championship, but the nearly half-billion shelled out to CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett in the winter of 2008 produced the club’s 27th World Series title within a year.
In any event, so long as baseball is played in the Bronx, writers are going to find a way to bitch and moan about the team’s payroll. It’ll probably just occur in hologram form.