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Did the Yankees buy their title?

Nov 5, 2009, 10:25 AM EDT

Here are the first two I’ve seen of what I am sure will be many sour grapes reactions to the Yankees’ title today:

Kevin Cowherd of the Baltimore Sun:

I hate the Yankees. I feel like crying whenever they win. Still, it was inevitable that the season finish this way. The Yankees were the best team in baseball — the best team money could buy AGAIN.

Scott Miller of CBS Sports.com:

The World Series takes personal checks. Credit and debit cards, too. Score one for the Yankees, and their bankers. Hideki Matsui as World Series MVP? Maybe. The three home runs were clutch, and the World Series record-tying six RBI in Game 6 were smashing. But the chief bean counter who sat behind the desk last winter and approved the expenditure of nearly $425 million to hoist CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett aboard the U.S.S. Yankee? Now there’s a true Yankee.

Personally I find this line of reasoning to be tired and lazy.  Everyone has their own ideas of what ails baseball from a business perspective, and certainly the Yankees are playing a different game than everyone else these days.  But counting the Yankees’ titles and chalking them up to dollars alone is nonsense.

The Yankees payroll is obviously gigantic, but it did not come out of general lockstep with all of the other teams until around 2002. Before then they didn’t always lead the league — they were behind the Orioles in 1998, for example, — and when they did lead the league, only a couple of million bucks separated them from a pack of the next highest payrolls.  In fact, 2002 was the first time they were as much as $10 million higher than anyone else. Before then: four titles in the Jeter era.

The Bombers’ payroll exploded in 2002 and continued to escalate through 2008.  They somehow managed to buy no titles during that time.  Much is made about signing Sabathia and Teixeira this year, but their 2009 payroll is actually lower than 2008’s.

I’m not going to drink the Yankee-fan Kool-Aid and say that there’s some level playing field out there. But if the past fifteen years have shown anything, it’s that even if you can buy general competitiveness, you can’t simply buy a World Title. To get that, you have to be smart, you have to execute and you have to be a bit lucky too.

The Yankees were all of those things this year, and to leave any part of that out is to fail to tell the whole story.

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