George Steinbrenner and The Truth About the MLB Money Flood

Don SpielesCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2008

When a group of investors led by George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees in 1972, so began a new era in baseball: the Money Flood Era.  It was two years after that Catfish Hunter was released from his contract with the Athletics and was picked up by Georgie and the Yankees for $2.85 million over four years.

That amount almost laughable now, but at the time is was an unheard of salary.  So began the steady climb of salaries that Alex Rodriguez thanks God for every time he kneels down before bedtime.

In the 1980's,  the Yankees now joined their hapless rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in more or less perennial failure.  After back to back World Series titles in the late seventies (credited in large part to another money-bucket signing by Steinbrenner, that of Reggie Jackson) the Yankees also experienced a fruitless period after losing the 1981 World Series to Los Angeles.
All the while, Steinbrenner and the Yankees continued spending, picking up players like Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson.
By the mid nineties, the Yankees owner had been banned from day-to-day operations by the league twice.  The first vacation was a result of legal troubles when Steinbrenner was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon and felony obstruction of justice charges during the investigation. 
The second ban came in early nineties when commissioner Fay Vincent suspended Steinbrenner after it came to light that he'd hired Howie Spira to dig into Dave Winfield's private affairs in hopes of digging up dirt which would assist Steinbrenner in his ongoing feud with the star player.  This was to be a "lifetime ban," but it lasted only two years.
Ironically, this two year ban is credited by many for the renewed success that the Yankee organization was to experience.  General Manager Gene Michael and then manager Buck Showalter were able to shift the emphasis from big dollar free agents and focus again on farm system talent. 
This switch was directly related to the eventual rise of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte. The Yankees were poised for the post season in 1994 when a strike ended the season.  The team again was headed for the World Series in 1995 if not for an ALCS loss to Seattle.
By the time 1996 rolled around, Steinbrenner was back from his ban and back to sacking managers, this time Buck Showalter, even though he had the team on the brink of a championship.  The Yankees hired Joe Torre as manager. 
Steinbrenner also went back to his diamond studded plan of spending money on big names. While the franchise rode the success of the influx of young talent that had begun in Steinbrenner's absence, George next decade picking up stars for huge prices.  Since 1994, the Yankees have had the highest payroll in all but two seasons.
The Yankees added to their mystique, winning the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.  They made the Series in 2001 to be beaten in the seventh game by the Arizona Diamondbacks. 
Despite the evidence that big name talent was not the secret, Steinbrenner picked up stars such as David Wells, David Cone, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Jason Giambi, and Alex Rodriguez, all for large sums.  While the two former saw success, the four latter have had no real part in any Yankee championships.
In particular, A-Rod has been the center of more controversy than excellence.  There was initial backlash because Rodriguez was a shortstop by trade and was being moved to third because short stop spot was Jeter's.
Rodriguez proved to be consistently inconsistent in the post season, and off-the-field issues with women and his agent have been distractions.  Meanwhile, his first contract with New York (originally done by the Texas Rangers at 10 years, $252 million) was the largest in history.  His second (10 years, $275 million) broke that record.
A-Rod's first year with the Yankees was 2004.  It was also the year that they lost, rather embarrassingly, to the Red Sox in the ALCS.  Having been up three games to none, they blew four games to end their fourth straight season with no championship.  Their consistently huge payroll was not paying off.  They have not been to a World Series since.
The salt in Steinbrenner's new millennium wounds is that while the Yankees have been slumping again, their arch rivals, the Boston Red Sox have won it all twice.  The first in 2004, saw them go straight through the Bronx to get there. 
Boston also won in 2007.  This era of success for Boston coincided with a new ownership group and an influx of money.  This has prompted the anti-big-money crowd, and, ironically, many Yankee fans, to start accusing Boston of doing what Red Sox fans whined about the Yankees for so long—buying championships.
While the Red Sox have been consistently in the top five payroll list, there is little parallel to be drawn with the Yankees dollars when one uses statistics and not emotions.
Now, George Steinbrenner is no longer responsible for the money purging that the Yankees organization does.  These days Hal Steinbrenner. son of the iconic owner, has taken over George's role as grand wizard GM's worst nightmare.  But as far as can bee seen from this hot stove season, the apple has fallen extremely close to the tree.

Special thanks to BoSox 4 ever in the FanNation (SI) forum for calling these numbers to my attention.