Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game!

December 11, 2008 |

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”Frank Sinatra, ‘New York, New York’

Many pro athletes have been seduced by the bright lights and the big stage that New York provides. Reggie Jackson left the Orioles after 1976 and boldly proclaimed he was the straw that stirred the drink with the Yankees. His signing led the Yankees to consecutive World Series championships.

Ever since Jackson came to New York, a steady stream of high priced free agents in every sport decided to try to make it big in The Big Apple. Most of them have been in baseball, where Dave Winfield, Pedro Martinez, Jason Giambi, Tom Glavine, Carl Pavano, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Billy Wagner, and David Wells are just some of the names to come to New York and ply their trade with either the Yankees or Mets.

Some of them have been successful, even wildly successful. Some of them have been failures, like Pavano, Ed Whitson, and yes, even the Big Unit, Randy Johnson. But they all came for the same reason. They got offers they couldn’t refuse.

That’s exactly what happened with CC Sabathia. He got an offer he couldn’t refuse. When someone offers you seven years, $161M, you take it. When someone offers that kind of money and the chance to opt out after three years and test free agency again (when he will be 31) and maybe make even more money, you have to take it. It doesn’t matter if you like the city or not. It doesn’t matter if you like the organization or not, you have to take it.

Ask yourself this question, what would you have done if you were in Sabathia’s shoes? There wouldn’t be many of us who would turn down that kind of money, especially when the next best offer was the Brewers offer of $100M, some $61M less than the Yankees had on the table.

In the interest of full disclosure, I live in Milwaukee and have covered the Brewers for the last three and a half years. I have talked to CC both in the locker room, and on my show. Listening to Brewers fans yesterday, it was like Sabathia had committed a capitol offense.

The prevailing opinion in this city that Sabathia didn’t want to play in New York, that he just went for the cash grab. The funny thing is, there has never been a quote attributed to Sabathia saying he wanted no part of New York. In fact, every time Sabathia was asked about his impending free agency, he went out of his way to say he was leaving all his options open, and that included Milwaukee. Sabathia was being political, pure and simple.

Were the Yankees bidding against themselves? That’s a very good possibility, but we’ll never know. Sabathia’s not going to tell anyone who else was in the running, and the Yankees aren’t going to either. Did Sabathia’s hometown Giants decide to get in on the bidding? We will never know for sure. Did Sabathia really tell Dodgers GM Ned Colletti that he wanted to be a Dodger? We will never know for sure.

What we do know is that the Brewers made an attempt to bring Sabathia back after his Summer of Love with the Brewers, which resulted in their first playoff appearance since 1982. What we also know is that the Yankees were not going to be told no by Sabathia, and they, to borrow Don Vito Corleone’s words, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

There are some fans who always figured that Sabathia was going to go to New York. They aren’t that broken up about Sabathia leaving and are genuinely happy for the four months he gave them.

Then there are the fans who bought what Brewers GM Doug Melvin said earlier this week – that the Brewers were still in it. Those fans have been critical of Sabathia since word broke that he was going to New York, going so far as to call him greedy. There have been radio hosts who have done the same thing.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Again, what would you have done if you were Sabathia, take the $161M offer or the $100M offer? If you tell me you’d take the $100M offer and leave $61M on the table, you’d be lying.

Do not discount the role that the union played in this affair. Don Fehr is not a fan of his rank and file leaving money on the table. What he wants is for the players to set benchmarks, and Sabathia did just that. If Sabathia gets $161M, then A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe are going to get more money than they thought they were going to get when free agency started.

At the end of the day the Yankees did what they felt they had to do to make them a World Series contender, and that’s all that really matters here. They spent the money to sign someone they felt they had to have. Just like the Giants did when they signed Barry Zito for $126M. Just like the Rangers did when they signed Alex Rodriguez earlier this decade, giving him $250M.

Sure, the money the Yankees spent on Sabathia is outlandish, considering the state of the economy right now. And yes, the disconnect between the players and the fans is going to continue to grow. Some fans will grow to resent some of the players making this kind of money. Others already do.

But, the Yankees are taking the gamble that Sabathia will be one of the reasons they win their first championship since 2000. And if that happens, no one is going to be screaming about Sabathia and his $161M. They are going to forget that they are paying higher ticket prices. They are going to go out and buy Yankees World Series gear and literally wear their fandom on their chests. Because winning is really all that matters.

It’s a lot to live up to, but considering what Sabathia did in September, pitching four times on three days rest, literally carrying the Brewers on his back to the playoffs, it is something that Sabathia is capable of doing.

It’s not his fault that he got offered $161M. It’s just the way the game is played. Not every team can afford to play it that way, but those that can do.