Hank Steinbrenner, TEA Partier?

We don't delve much into politics here — so many more important things to fight about, right? — but Hank Steinbrenner co-mingled baseball and the politics of economics in his discussion of revenue sharing, piggybacking somewhat on similar comments from the Red Sox ownership group:

"At some point, if you don't want to worry about teams in minor markets, don't put teams in minor markets, or don't leave teams in minor markets if they're truly minor," Steinbrenner said. "Socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it, is never the answer."

This of course sounds very much like typical right-wing hyperbole about taxation. MLB has a taxation system, whereby the wealthiest — i.e., those who can most afford it — pay extra, and those funds help out the most disadvantaged in the system. Sound familiar? It should; it's the basis for the progressive taxation system, the one that has been in place in the United States since the implementation of personal income taxes 100 years ago.

Sounds like Hank believes he's been Taxed Enough Already. 

[It should be noted Steinbrenner is making a different argument than one made by Henry, who has criticized the system on the grounds that small-market teams are taking advantage of it by pocketing the money. Steinbrenner seems to be criticizing the basis of the system itself.]

But even if Steinbrenner is right that this system is "socialism [or] communism," The New Republic's Jonathan Chait argues simply: So what?

Of course, if you define a system of sharing revenue between every franchise and forcing them to compete on the basis of managerial skill rather than raw economic power as "socialism," then of course socialism can work. It works in other sports franchises. But clearly owners who are long on economic power and short on brainpower will oppose a system like that. Why force yourself to out-scout the Milwaukee Brewers when you can spend them into the ground?

This of course is the secret to both the Yankees' and the Red Sox' success under the revenue sharing system: They have competent front offices that make few mistakes, and they have enough money to paper over the few mistakes they do make. 

I think Chait is mostly right that the arguments of big-market teams like the Sox and Yanks are more born from a desire to keep as much of their money as possible (as opposed to some altruistic desire to better the game of baseball), but he goes too far when he describes the Yankees' revenue stream as "an idiot-proof racket." As any Yankee fan of the 1980s (or Mets fan in the 2000s) can probably attest, even incredibly wealthy teams need competent leadership to capitalize on their advantages.

10 comments… add one

  • “Forcing them to compete on the basis of managerial skill rather than raw economic power…”
    This is such an extreme statement. Nobody is forcing anyone to compete or be competitive on any level, that’s the real problem. The problem doesn’t lie within the haves, it lies within the have nots. I think revenue sharing, much like taxing the people who make the most, is just silly but I will save that for another day and another forum (I am not rich, far from it). Take that out of the equation totally, it’s not about sharing it’s about re-investing the money shared back into your team. You can collect all the revenue sharing you’d like and still you aren’t required to re-invest that money in your overall product. Why is there no rage directed towards the teams that pocket that money, short change their fans and continually year after year SUCK. The Cubs have been unlucky, not awful for all these years. Their owners spend. What’s the excuse for the Royals? How is it excusable that they have been GOD awful for this long and have made no efforts via FA other than Gil Meche and Jose Guillen? If you want to complain about an even playing field and let’s battle out Manager vs Manager then you have 3 options: 1. Institute a salary cap. 2. Institute some sort of re-investment policy that comes along with revenue sharing 3. Shut up and stop complaining. I hate when blame is passed on to someone else..the big bad Yankees and terrible old Red Sox, they are just ruining the game…stomp, stomp, stomp. I am over weight or Husky as I like to call it because I don’t exercise and eat too much. I am middle class because I went to school to be a teacher. If I wanted to be thin I’d stop eating and exercise more. If I wanted to drive a Range Rover I would have become a CPA. Life is about choices. There are rules for all, play by them or sit in the corner and blame them, either way life goes on. You want to win in MLB choose one of the 3 steps I listed above or shut up.
    “It works in other sports franchises. But clearly owners who are long on economic power and short on brainpower will oppose a system like that. Why force yourself to out-scout the Milwaukee Brewers when you can spend them into the ground?”
    Even before the Greinke trade that emptied their farm system, the Yankees and the Red Sox BOTH had better farm systems in place. The Red Sox lost 2 of their best minor leaguers to SD and they STILL have a better farm system than most. Another extreme statement that isn’t fact based.
    Way to go Paul, now you got me all fired up! You’ve got a knack for that lately! :)

    John - YF February 22, 2011, 12:43 pm
  • ^+1 with John here.
    Under no circumstance should the Luxury Tax money be used as profit. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the Luxury Tax money should not be allowed to be used to keep teams afloat – if the organization is that bad off, there is a much bigger problem than is the responsibility of others. That money should be used to invest into the club. Period.

    Brad February 22, 2011, 1:11 pm
  • I wish Hank would shut up.

    krueg February 22, 2011, 2:15 pm
  • I think I agree with both of you about the inadequacies of the current system; they seem to be in line with Henry’s criticism as well. Steinbrenner, OTOH, seems to be attacking the system’s foundational principle, which I think takes the legitimate criticism of the implementation to a totally different level. Like Chait, I think that argument is faulty.

    Paul SF February 22, 2011, 2:19 pm
  • There should be a stipulation in the revenue sharing system that ALL revenue sharing money that a team receives must go towards the team payroll. Anything your team ends up not using goes back into the general fund. I have no idea why this policy wasn’t instituted in the first place.
    I also personally feel that each team should get some ‘franchising’ capability, where each team every x number of years gets to tag one of their players and give them some kind of x-year extension (stipulation: that player must have been with the team for x years prior to this extension) based on the top x player salaries at that position. These would be paid for by a general MLB fund. It would be complicated to pull off and keep the players union happy, but it’s absolutely ridiculous that Tampa Bay lost their franchise player to free agency, and now their payroll will be under $30M.

    AndrewYF February 22, 2011, 2:26 pm
  • i think my past comments on this subject fall more in line with henry than stein…i like the idea of forcing the teams to reinvest, or they forfeit the money back to the pool…anybody else see the connection between the implementation of revenue sharing and baseball’s fear of losing its exemption to antitrust legislation?…baseball is the only sport by the way to have that status…stein better be careful not to open that can of worms…

    dc February 22, 2011, 3:19 pm
  • I think I agree with both of you about the inadequacies of the current system; they seem to be in line with Henry’s criticism as well. Steinbrenner, OTOH, seems to be attacking the system’s foundational principle, which I think takes the legitimate criticism of the implementation to a totally different level. Like Chait, I think that argument is faulty.
    I think it seems that we all agree, to an extent. But if a team can’t pay their heating bills and instead uses revenue sharing money to pay general expenses instead of, say, salaries, what’s the difference? It makes a difference to the players themselves (they want money spent on salaries, always), but the Owners made their bed when they agreed, as a body, to revenue sharing and the luxury tax. If a team isn’t viable as a franchise, then they should contract that franchise. Complaining that said franchise isn’t plowing money back into salaries is convenient, self-serving, and fan-friendly claptrap.
    Why won’t the rich owners threaten the small teams with elimination? Because they are a cartel of wealthy citizens who have mutual benefit in co-existence, big teams and small. Without the small teams, the big teams aren’t so big. Without the big teams, the small teams can’t subsist as profitably. It’s peaceful coexistence, with some moodiness and resentment when the rich and privileged have to give back. It parallels society, other than the fact that the “underprivileged” are not in need of health care and are in fact rich themselves.
    When I hear John Henry start talking about cutting out franchises in lieu of sharing his money with them then I will know he is serious about this issue. Until then, he’s trying to toe a populist line, one which basically distracts us from something he is honest about: a desire to keep more of the money that his team makes.

    SF February 22, 2011, 4:23 pm
  • love me some hank speak…
    where….
    “We’re not going to back down, It’s goodbye.”
    actually means…
    “We’re totally going back down, how’s $275,000,000 sound?”

    sf rod February 22, 2011, 10:31 pm
  • The teams in the small market underinvestment spiral like the Florida Marlins still make money:
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/08/24/1789068/leaked-data-show-strong-profits.html
    Teams can either focus on winning or focus on making money. The Marlins have been fairly competitive, have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, very few fans at the games and make money even in seasons where they truly suck.

    Steve in Miami February 23, 2011, 8:11 am
  • “…Why won’t the rich owners threaten the small teams with elimination? Because they are a cartel of wealthy citizens who have mutual benefit in co-existence, big teams and small. Without the small teams, the big teams aren’t so big….”
    because of the fear of losing their antitrust exemption…nothing more than that

    dc February 23, 2011, 8:39 am

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