Monday, October 09, 2006

Of Yankees and Budgets

Hey, everyone. I hope you are all well on this Columbus Day. I know I have been AWOL from this glorious forum of ours for way too long. Without getting into details, I can tell you that a series of events – some good, many bad – have kept me out of the loop. For that, I apologize.

Well, I’m back, and I must admit, I feel a little bit like Rip Van Winkle, as things look a little different than they did before (when did this place become The Political Jeffdom?), and I feel a little out of it. (Another decent parallel would be Han Solo in Return of the Jedi immediately after he is freed from the slab of carbonite and encounters his old pal Chewbacca in a prison cell deep within Jabba’s palace. After hearing from Chewy how Luke Skywalker had become a full-fledged Jedi Knight, Han, in disbelief, muses, "A Jedi Knight?! I’m out of it for a little while and everyone has delusions of grandeur!")

Enough prologue. On to substance. (I will warn you: this post begins with a sports theme. If you can stick with it, it does eventually have the customary TPS twist.)

This past week, I watched my favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees, pull off yet another spectacular post-season collapse. Some might say this year’s craptastic performance pales in comparison to their nuclear meltdown during the 2004 American League Championship Series, during which the Yankees made baseball history by blowing a 3-0 lead to the Boston Red Sox, who then went on to shatter the infamous "Curse of the Bambino" and win the World Series. In some ways, it does pale. What made this year’s failure particularly painful, however, was the fact that this Yankees team was allegedly the best-hitting team ever to take a baseball diamond.

In terms of hard numbers, their offensive (i.e., scoring-related, not repugnancy-related) statistics were quite good. There are so many statistics that tell the tale of the Yankees’ offense this season. Since this is not a sports weblog, I won’t bore you with them all (you can see the team’s numbers here, if you really want to), but it is not a stretch to say that the 2006 Yankees had better than decent offensive numbers, even when compared to previous teams that boasted the likes of giants like Ruth and Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle. (I am not saying that any of the individual players on the 2006 Yankees can hold a candle to those Hall of Famers, but I am saying that, on paper at least, the current team had far greater depth than any of Ruth’s or Mantle’s teams. But I digress.)

So why am I complaining? I’m glad you asked. The reason is, all of that statistical prowess yielded negligible results when it mattered most, during the playoffs. What would make a general manager salivate on paper caused dry mouth in reality. The Yankees’ all-or-nothing offense – scoring eighteen runs in one game, getting shut out the next – could not withstand the above-average starting pitching of the Detroit Tigers (who, by the way, deserve congratulations for advancing to the ALCS). Being stacked with musclebound home run hitters, they were unable to fathom that a successful offensive outing sometimes requires more than a 400-foot home run or two. The Yankees were outhit, outpitched, outrun, and outplayed in the field – and as a result, they are out.

Sycophantic apologists for the Yankees’ sorry excuse for a team have expressed disbelief, noting that they did not expect the team with the highest payroll in baseball ($194.6 million at the start of the 2006 season – which means that figure does not include several expensive mid-season acquisitions) to lose to a team with the fourteenth highest (or seventeenth lowest, depending on your perspective) payroll in baseball ($82.6 million at the start of the season). It is worth pointing out that only three of the top ten baseball teams in terms of payroll – the Yankees, the New York Mets ($101.0 million), and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($98.4 million) – even made the playoffs this year. The Oakland Athletics, who will be playing the Tigers in the ALCS later this week, have the tenth lowest payroll in baseball ($62.2 million).

If the people running most of these baseball teams were running real, honest-to-God, non-antitrust-protected, survival-of-the-fittest businesses, they would in fact be out of business.

While I would like to think that the "spending equals success" crowd is unique to baseball, sadly, it is not. There are way too many people out there who think that there is a direct correlation between how much money is spent on something and the degree to which that thing is successful. We see this sort of reflexive idiocy most prominently in the arena of government spending. Every year, state and federal governments pour obscene amounts of money – tens or hundreds of billions of dollars – into thousands of programs that are allegedly aimed at solving problems. When the problems subsequently find themselves unsolved, legislators and many of their supporters reflexively believe (or at least pretend, for selfish political purposes) that the reason the problems were not solved was underfunding, which in turn leads to increases in spending for these programs.

This sad cycle is repeated fiscal year after fiscal year, which is why state and federal budgets have ballooned in the previous few decades. This is also why Americans have less take-home income than they did twenty or thirty years ago, and why the amount of Americans’ take-home income will continue to plummet in the coming years – particularly if Nancy & Co. somehow manage to win control of Congress in November.

I long for the day when a true-blue conservative politician will step forward and utter what is unthinkable in the current climate: that the solution to many of our economic and societal woes is less spending rather than more spending.

Of course, I also long for the day when my Yankees don’t suck. I may be asking for too much on both fronts . . . but when has that ever stopped a Yankee fan before? And when does Spring Training start?

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