Monday, October 25, 2010

Competitive Balance

Once the World Series ends, the battle for Cliff Lee begins anew.

For those not familiar with Mr. Lee, he is among the pre-eminent pitchers in baseball. He currently hones his craft with the Texas Rangers, the team that twice beat out the NY Yankees when it comes to Lee. Last July the Seattle Mariners, Lee’s team at the beginning of the season, decided to trade him. The Yankees and Rangers pitched the Mariners various players in return for Lee. Seattle chose the Texas barbecue, not the NY strip (strike one). Texas then walloped the Yanks in the American League pennant series that concluded last Friday night in so convincing a manner it left no doubt which was the better team (that last clause was hard for a Yankee fan to write, but my journalism training impressed upon me the professional ethics of delivering all the news objectively, even when it hurts). Lee pitched just one game, a shutout gem (strike two).

Before my team’s ignominious defeat, I was indifferent, even slightly opposed, to the idea of spending Steinbrenner millions to sign Lee to a multi-year contract after he becomes a free agent when the World Series with the San Francisco Giants concludes. I reasoned that while I like to see New York win, I prefer they do it in competitive contests, not one-sided acclimations. It would be much more gratifying to win if the other team had a pitcher like Cliff Lee on its staff, as the Philadelphia Phillies did last year when they lost to the Yankees. How sweet that victory was.

But now that the Bronx Bummers looked so futile, scoring just 19 runs to Texas’s 38 during their six game series, I’m all for opening the coffers to buy Lee’s services. I believe baseball demands such action in the name of competitive balance. Let’s face it—without Lee pitching for the Yankees it is hard to imagine them winning another trip to the World Series in the foreseeable future. Derek, A-Rod, Mo, Andy and Jorge are not getting any younger. They still have lots of fingers with no rings to wear (A-Rod, especially, has four more empty fingers than the others to adorn). The Yankees need Lee and his shut down pitching because they just ain’t winning by scoring 1 or 2 runs a game in the post-season as once they face any team except the Minneapolis Twins, Yankee hurlers are serving up meatballs other teams are devouring.

This is not just a Yankee fan’s rant. Baseball needs New York in the World Series, and by NY I don’t mean the Mets. The Yanks bring out the passion in their fans and in the Yankee haters around the league. Other teams and their fans find it much more enjoyable and rewarding if they beat the Yanks, than say, the Cleveland Indians, or the Tampa Bay Rays. No team’s loss provides the imprimatur of victory more so than the Yankees.

So for the sake of competitive balance, the Yanks must sign Lee or winter’s chill will come to the Bronx while the calendar still says October for the next few years.

Of course, Lee might decide to stay in Texas where he is idolized, has a younger, hungrier team surrounding him, is closer to his hometown of Benton, Ark., is recognized as the ace of the pitching staff and wouldn’t have to compete in New York with his friend C.C. Sabathia for that honorific. If he chooses to stay with the Rangers, that would be strike three. In shutting out the Yanks on two hits last week, Lee struck out 13. It don’t look good.

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