This just in: Giuliani, Steinbrenner are sleazebags!

Plus: Barry Bonds' $90 million deal is a no-brainer.


Allen Barra
January 17, 2002 1:07AM (UTC)

Why is everyone in the New York area pretending to be so outraged at the revelation that Rudy Giuliani amended the Yankees lease in the team's favor before leaving office? Isn't that just the logical extension of the crap we were handed all through the fall? I mean, if the Yankees' pursuit of another World Series victory was really a selfless effort to provide emotional glue for all New Yorkers after Sept. 11, then why shouldn't George Steinbrenner -- who gave so much to the city while receiving so little in return -- be given carte blanche to build a new stadium? If the Yankees' postseason heroics really meant so much to the city, then why shouldn't a new Yankee Stadium take precedence over schools, churches, subways, or even new twin towers? So many New Yorkers merely risked their lives or devoted their time. Did any of them fork over $120 million for Jason Giambi?

Or, to turn the argument around a bit, how could anyone familiar with Steinbrenner's or Giuliani's personal ethics pretend to be surprised at the extent of the sleaziness involved in this deal? From the day in September that the games were resumed, Steinbrenner let Giuliani campaign from a prime box seat in Yankee Stadium on an almost daily basis. Are we now surprised to find out that Giuliani gave Steinbrenner a "Get Out of Jail Free" card to leave New York any time he wants as a payback? And, of course, since what the Yankees have the Mets must have also, Giuliani's act of moral cowardice stands as one of the most blatant screw-yous ever handed to the working man since Walter O'Malley took the Dodgers to Los Angeles.

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Fortunately, for new mayor Michael Bloomberg there's an excellent and very easy countermeasure to Giuliani's and Steinbrenner's greedy tricks: Veto Giuliani's deal and call Steinbrenner's bluff. Because, of course, that's all Steinbrenner's threat to move the Yankees can ever be, a bluff. This isn't 1958, and there are no more West Coasts out there for Steinbrenner to move his team to. In the NFL, you can pack up and move from a larger market (say, Los Angeles) to, say, St. Louis without a loss of income. In fact, if you get a juicy enough deal from the city you're moving into, you might even make money by moving to s smaller market. But Steinbrenner, and for that matter, the Mets' Fred Wilpon, have no place to go. They're tied to their enormous local TV revenues, which means they're tied to the New York area.

There's no getting around that, and it amazes me that the New York area press and politicians don't ever seem to understand it. Essentially, they don't have to offer George Steinbrenner anything at all in order to keep him there; in point of fact, after the Yankees took in an estimated $120 million in postseason ticket and merchandise sales, New Yorkers ought to be asking what Steinbrenner is going to give back in order to maintain such an incredible sweetheart deal. Incredibly, they never do.

Steinbrenner's only options would be to move the Yankees to Connecticut, but that's wildly improbable for so many reasons that it doesn't bear serious discussion. For one thing, there's no way attendance could be kept up following such a move. For another thing, American League owners would howl, and rightfully so. Who is going to pay money in Cleveland, Minnesota and Seattle to see their team play the Connecticut Yankees? New Jerseyians, God bless them, long ago made it clear that not a penny of public money will go for a new Yankee Stadium, and in any event, there's no available location that wouldn't turn a new ballpark into a logistical nightmare.

And if all of these other reasons mean nothing, consider just this one: Why would Major League Baseball -- a self-governing body, remember, exempt from most antitrust laws -- allow the richest franchise in the game to move to a new stadium which would make it perhaps twice as rich? Let's hope New York's new mayor understands this and has the fortitude to stand up to the inevitable temptations Steinbrenner will be waving in front of him. A man who could probably afford to buy the Yankees doesn't have to jump through hoops to get box seats.

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Question: If Barry Bonds had the personality of Derek Jeter or Sammy Sosa -- hell, that's asking too much, let's just say what if Barry Bonds wasn't a total asshole -- would anyone deny that he is more than deserving of the five-year, $90 million deal he has just signed with San Francisco? Does anyone doubt that if baseball salaries were predicated on the basis of production, that Bonds already earned a big chunk of that money last season?

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OK, you say, but what about his age? Well, the fifth year of that contract isn't guaranteed, so if Bonds' production drops off sharply around age 40, the Giants don't have to get stuck paying him $18 million for that last season. Second, what if Bonds' home run production should tail off over the next three seasons to a dismal 40 home runs a year. Wouldn't that leave him with 687 going into the 2005 season? And suppose he hits, say, a lousy 35 in 2005. Would that not bring him to 727? Would anyone care to place a big bet right now that he won't pass up Hank Aaron's career record for home runs in 2006 and that ticket sales from that alone wouldn't pay his entire salary? But that's not the only bonus that the Giants are going to get for their $90 million. Think of the fuss as Bonds approaches and then surpasses his godfather, Willie Mays? And then the hype when he does the same thing with Babe Ruth's 715. It's arguable that a good 40 percent of Bonds' proposed salary will be made up for just from the revenue generated by these home run chases.

What in the world is the matter with the Colorado Rockies management? Doesn't someone there have a calculator? If they had signed Bonds, they'd be collecting that extra ticket money by the year 2004.

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But all of the home run talk is a little bit beside the point. Isn't Barry Bonds, along with Alex Rodriguez, one of the two best all-around players in the game? Doesn't he do a lot to help his team win even when he doesn't hit home runs? Bonds was arguably the most valuable player in baseball when he was hitting 34 or 33 or 37 home runs per season. He was a remarkably consistent hitter even when his batting average dipped below .300. (In fact, he led the league in On Base Average twice, 1991 and 1995, while hitting below .300.) Cut Bonds' 2001 home run total, and I'll still give you a spirited argument that he contributes as much to his team's winning as, say, Sammy Sosa. Is the contract a gamble for the San Francisco Giants? Well, yes, but it's not that much a gamble, and frankly, Barry Bonds at age 37 still seems to me like a heck of a bargain.


Allen Barra

Allen Barra is the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

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George Steinbrenner Rudy Giuliani

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