Steinbrenner: The Owner You Want To Want

I keep talking about sports being a crapshoot. About how teams need to get lucky with draft picks and hope their best players don’t get hurt or start the downslide of their careers too early. And for the most part, that kind of thinking is accurate.

Except in baseball. In baseball, it doesn’t HAVE to be a crapshoot.

George Steinbrenner died yesterday. No, you won’t see me with a tearful eye at the man’s funeral; but you also won’t see me dancing on the man’s grave either. As a non-Yankee fan, I’ve long loathed Steinbrenner for essentially buying his team’s success. Oftentimes, it was a bleak feeling, knowing that no matter how much my team tried, it was still an uphill battle compared to the Yankees. If they needed another bat, they could just go out and sign the best free agent out there. If they were struggling with their starting pitching in mid-July, they could go out and trade for the best, most-expensive number 1 ace out there.

They didn’t have to rely on their draft picks panning out. Sure, one or two would trickle up into the major league roster – most every team gets at least one or two success stories out of their farm system in any given 5-year period – but they didn’t have to suffer the indignity of giving some loser extra time to try to develop his stroke. If the kid didn’t have it, he was on the next train out of town in some trade that would inevitably make the team better.

Likewise, they weren’t crippled if they signed a Carlos Silva-esque pitcher to a too-big contract (see: Carl Pavano). If that happened, shit, they’d just shelve the sorry sack of shit and sign someone else to an even BIGGER contract.

Bleak. Like I said.

The Mariners don’t have that luxury. MOST teams don’t have that luxury. If we sign Carlos Silva to a 4-year $48 million contract, we’re stuck with Carlos Silva (or a player of equal-or-lesser value; see: Milton Bradley). If we’re bad – which we often are – we HAVE to give our farm boys a little longer look. Michael Saunders, for instance, had an extended look last year and had, like, zero extra base hits. This year, he’s improved, with his 7 home runs and however many doubles … but he’s also hitting .216 and strikes out too much on the pitch low-and-away because he’s a dead-pull hitter.

The Yankees under Steinbrenner would’ve traded him by now.

Of course, the Mariners don’t have the luxury the Yankees have because the Mariners aren’t willing to spend the money the Yankees are. That’s why, hate him or despise him, every non-Yankee fan would’ve given their left arms to have George Steinbrenner as their team’s owner. Don’t deny it!

There’s no trophy for “Winning The Right Way”, whatever that means. The system is set up as such that the teams willing to spend the money can buy the teams they want to put on the field, plain and simple. Just because the Mariners are owned by Nintendo – ostensibly with no ties and probably no regard for the Seattle Mariners whatsoever outside of the fact that when they ultimately sell the team they’ll make a hefty profit – we’re beholden to whatever they’re willing to spend on talent.

See, George Steinbrenner was a fan of the Yankees long before he bought the team. He ran the organization like a fan would run an organization. He spent the money because he could, because it gave him the most joy. He was passionate and emotional and often irrational … just like a fan. And, in the end, his team is the one with the most money to spend because it’s the team that makes the most money. Imagine that. Taking money to make money. If only more team owners thought that way.

Steinbrenner, Mark Cuban, whoever runs the Red Sox, even Paul Allen … these are the people you want in charge of your organizations. Passionate fans, but also shrewd businessmen who won’t settle for prolonged losing. Unfortunately, these kinds of owners don’t come around too often. Even then, they’re kinda pointless unless they’re running baseball teams, because the NFL has a hard cap and the NBA is fairly restrictive of the money its teams are to spend on players.

If the Mariners were good like the Yankees are good – practically every year – we wouldn’t see all the empty seats we see in Safeco Field. If we know ANYTHING about Seattle fans, it’s that they’re bandwagon all the way. Put a good team out there, we’ll fill up your stadium. Put a lousy team out there, and you’ll be pinching pennies and digging for loose change in the folds of your couch.

What’s an extra $50 million in player salary when it comes to selling out Safeco Field almost every game? Steinbrenner knew the value of an extra $50 million. That’s why his team has its own television network. That’s why he has the most expensive stadium in the history of baseball. That’s why his team’s hats and jerseys out-sell practically every other team’s in any sport. It takes money to make money; and the Yankees plan on making a lot of money for a long time thanks to Steinbrenner

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