George Steinbrenner has always ranked among the most hated New Yorkers. I can recall decades ago watching a weeknight Yankee game on television when the audience suddenly cheered mysteriously. The TV announcers were puzzled until they realized that the radio broadcasters must have scooped them with the news that George had been banned from baseball for an indefinite period for some infraction and that this message had spread like “the wave” among the Yankee faithful. What other major-league owner could be so reviled?
As a sports-club owner, Steinbrenner has been a spectacular success, getting New York City to renovate his classic stadium several years ago, running up the price of his tickets, and winning the richest contracts from broadcasters, in part because his only competition in the largest market is a newer team (i.e., the Mets).
Thanks to this largesse, Steinbrenner and his minor partners have run up the largest annual payroll in baseball based upon these principles: buy the contracts of older stars and assume their lucrative salaries. Since older players are more likely to get injured or decline than newcomers, buy yet more replacements for those fallen away, even if only temporarily. Given so many stars, as well as a competent manager, one might think they’d win every World Series, but they don’t. Given the competitive leverages of major-league baseball, no strategy is infallible.
Steinbrenner’s latest discreditable scheme is getting the city to give him the open sports fields adjacent to venerable Yankee Stadium to construct, albeit with Yankee funds, a replacement edifice that will have more luxury boxes and fewer seats. Since many Yankees games nowadays sell out, this will enable Steinbrenner to raise prices once competitive with a first-run movie to a level comparable, say, to the Metropolitan Opera. (As I’ve written in these pages, raising the prices drove away dark-skinned faces even in a borough, the Bronx, where Caucasians are a minority.) At the televised groundbreaking for the new edifice, Steinbrenner announced that he was constructing the new ballpark for the “benefit of the fans.” Bullchips, many must have joined me in screaming. Which fans? Not this one, who goes to see his favorite team (for over 50 years now) only when offered a senior discount of five bucks.
The Libertarian candidate for New York state governor a few years ago had the slogan of “Separation of Sport and State.” Though he didn’t get many votes, may I suggest that his slogan should be revived?