Who Needs a Salary Cap? Yankees' Expensive Failures Are Too Much Fun

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 27, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Bernie Williams #51 of the New York Yankees sits in the dugout after flying out in the eighth inning of the Yankees' loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during Game Five of the American League Division Series on October 10, 2005 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the Yankees 5-3 and go on to face the Chicago White Sox in the American League Championship Series.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

If you’ve never been to Berlin or seen Avenue Q, you may be unaware of one of the most useful words in the world: schadenfreude.

For those of you who have never heard this alluring utterance roll off someone’s tongue, schadenfreude is Deutsch for “people taking pleasure in your pain” (in the words of Homer Simpson, “The Germans have a word for everything!”).

When you’re a sports fan, experiencing schadenfreude comes with the territory. St. Louis fans have no sympathy for the Cubs’ World Series drought. No one in Philadelphia sent “get well soon” cards to the Mets’ infirmary, I mean clubhouse, when their entire roster seemed to get injured last season.

And here in Cleveland—well, we hate everybody.

But there’s one team whose misfortunes are cheered throughout all of Major League Baseball: the New York Yankees.

With good reason too—the Bombers’ budget dwarfs that of every other team, and many a small-market club has lost its hometown hero to the greedy clutches of George Steinbrenner and the bottomless abyss that is his wallet.

And so, with nothing to do this winter but wait for the occasional pot to boil on the Hot Stove, many fans have taken the opportunity to discuss the problem of the stratification of wealth across teams’ budgets.

While most other major sports have some sort of rigid salary cap, MLB is following its normal pattern of being incredibly slow to implement progressive policies.

The current “luxury tax” system is about as toothless as Grandpa Simpson after Bart broke his dentures; just like in Monopoly (where I assume they devised the name for the penalty), wealthy teams are happy to pay the $75 when the alternative is landing on Boardwalk (though Steinbrenner probably has a hotel on that too ).

It’s understandable why the thought of reining in the Bombers’ exorbitant spending—“socialized payrolls”—is appealing to everyone who lives outside the Bronx. But for my fellow Yankee Haters, this sentiment is shortsighted.

If they didn’t spend so much money, it would take the fun out of watching them lose.

Now this may seem like an odd time to make this argument, as the Yankees finally earned their 27th World Series ring last season. But the key word there is “finally.”

The Yankees’ success in the wake of last winter’s half-billion-dollar shopping spree seems to have triggered a strong case of selective memory in the minds of New Yorkers.

Gone are the memories of 2001, when Luis Gonzalez and Erubiel Durazo proved that Mariano Rivera was, in fact, fallible.

Forgotten are the six games in 2003 when a gang of kids who stayed up past their bedtimes upstaged Roger Clemens as he took his final bow (at least, until coming out of retirement two months later).

No one seems to remember 2008, when the Yankees finished behind the Rays—the Rays!—and missed the playoffs altogether.

And, of course, there is no talk of 2004, when New York snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino.

The point is that sandwiched between the Bombers’ last two championship seasons were eight years of failure. Miserable, pathetic, hilarious failure.

Steinbrenner spent nearly $1.6 billion on player salaries in the nine years it took them to win No. 27, so he’ll have to cut back on costs a little bit the next time he tries to convince the Republican National Committee to hold its convention in New York or kill Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Doesn’t that make you feel better?

It doesn’t particularly bother me that the Yankees got to parade through Manhattan since I know that the strain on King George’s bank account was equivalent to a third-world county’s GDP.

And when they lose? Oh Lordy, when they lose! It’s a feeling so great, it can be expressed only by a word like schadenfreude.

Why would you want a salary cap to take away that joy?

Derek Jeter: $189 million. CC Sabathia: $161 million. Alex Rodriguez: $275 million.

Watching the Yankees burn through enough cash to feed the children of a medium-sized country: priceless.

There are some things money can’t buy.