Thursday, June 19, 2008

Buying Championships

Several of my friends are huge basketball fans. Last night the Boston Celtics defeated the LA Lakers, and this generated several group emails today. One of the emails addressed the ever popular topic of teams "buying" championships by simply spending the most money on the best established players. The writer (Let's call him "Dave" because, uh, that's his name.) put it thus:

I've always scratched my head when people make comments about "buying" the best players, like the Yankees consistently do, as well as teams like the Celtics. that a bad thing? Isn't that, as an owner, what you're supposed to do?

I applaud all the "best team money can buy" franchises, because they're doing everything they can to win, and that's what all teams should do.

That's so much better than the stingy teams that still ask their fans to buy tickets without giving a shit what they put out on the floor.

I responded with:
I don’t mind that some teams are trying everything they can to win. I DO mind when some sports are financially structured to turn most of the pro teams into a feeder system for a few really large franchises. So my problem with the Yankees’ isn’t that they’re buying up the best players, it’s that most of the teams in MLB can’t afford to compete.

Now with Boston and the Lakers it IS different. The Association has a better financial structure. Some teams will be wealthier than others, but the rules are such that pretty much any team can compete financially with any other team. (Endorsements are another matter, but the NBA can’t do anything in that area and most players really aren’t that big into the endorsement game.)
Of course this doesn't mean that all of the franchises in the NBA try hard to win. Clearly the Charlotte Bobcats of the world just don't want to spend the money to be good. But I don't see how the NBA can really do anything about that. (The fans in Charlotte can do something by simply not going to the games. That's how they ran the Hornets out of town when that franchise quit trying to win.)

Something else to keep in mind is that simply spending money is no guarantee of success. The most notable examples I know of are the Washington Redskins under the ownership of Dan Snyder and the New York Knicks. (I believe the NY Mets in MLB are in the same boat, but I don't follow baseball.) Just spending money isn't enough.

But there are two things that (potentially) annoy me about teams that "buy" championships.

The first is the fans of teams that win in this manner. Invariably the fans will talk about the greatness of their city and their team of choice. But really, do the people of Boston have any reason to crow today? Sure, Paul Pierce has been a fixture of the franchise in recent years, but several of the players (Garnett, Allen, Cassell, Brown) are so new to the city that they probably have trouble finding their way home after games. (Actually, Brown and Cassell are so new to the team that they're probably living in hotels. Given their ages the few games they played for Boston in the last couple of months may be the last the play in NBA.) So I don't want to hear anything about how great a basketball town Boston is. They're just good at raiding other cities for talent.

The second is that sometimes the "buy 'em up" mentality destroys an already existing culture that was worth preserving. The Oriole Way was an organizational method used by the Baltimore Orioles back in the day to get young players into their farm system and develop them in a particular fashion. That Way may have become outdated in the current era of baseball (and it did produce some stinkers back in the day, along with some championships) but Peter Angelos' method of trying to buy championships didn't work either. By trying to ape the Yankees Angelos has not only wasted a lot of money but he has also destroyed something that made the Orioles distinctive. I would hate to see this same kind of process destroy the long-term make-up of other organizations that have built a distinctive character over the years, like the Pittsburgh Steelers.

1 comment:

Trooper York said...

You are right about the Oriles but that is a function of someone who doesn't know what they are doing. The Yankees actually have recently had a base of home grown players. Jeter, Rivera, Petite, Posada are the base of the championsip teams that we have had recently. We did dip into the pool of free agents for pitchers but that's what you have to do. Right now the Yanks are trying to develop their own pitchers and are being roundly abused for it. Most teams just don't want to spend the money. It's that simple. They revenue sharing from the big clubs and pocket the money. The Red Sox only started to win when they copied the Yankees method. They spent the money and they won. Anybody can do that and stay on top. Look at the Twins. They develop great players and then let them go because they don't want to pay them. Their owner has ten times more money than Steinbrenner. He's just cheap.
That's no way to win.