erik lundegaard

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World Schmeries

Mariner fans need to quit their whining. Yes, another July 31 deadline passed and the Mariners did little to improve the team. Since Pat Gillick's arrival in the fall of '99 here's how the M's have bolstered themselves for the pennant drive:

2000: Al Martin, Chris Widger
2001: n/a
2002: Jose Offerman, Doug Creek, Ismael Valdes

Which explains the lack of A.L. pennants flapping in the right field breeze.

This year it's more of the same. We rescued Rey Sanchez off the sinking ship of the Mets, but that was it. When Jeff Nelson had the temerity to question Mariner management, he was quickly shipped back to the Bronx, where the pizza's good, the fans are loud, and the Yankees divvy up championship rings every other year. Let this be a lesson to all belly-achers in the Mariner clubhouse.

Meanwhile the Oakland A's, despite a budget half ours, and the resentment of other GMs towards A's wunderkind and Moneyball subject Billy Beane, managed to pry Jose Guillen, one of the National League's best hitters this year, away from the Cincinnati Reds. In 2001 they similarly fleeced the Royals of Jermaine Dye. In 2002 they acquired Ted Lilly, Ray Durham and Ricardo Rincon down the stretch. Pretty good moves for a team with no fan base.

So on the surface of things it looks — again! — like the M's didn't make the moves they need to make in order to win the pennant. Yet this kind of criticism doesn't look at the big picture. Because in the end the Mariners are still number one.

I don't mean number one in the division (since that will be decided at the end of September), or number one in the American League (since that will happen when a team consistently knocks off the Yankees), or even number one in the hearts and minds of Mariner fans everywhere (since that's a sentimentalized and ultimately meaningless claim).

No, I'm talking number one in profits. Economics, baby. Moola. The business of America is business, and the M's owners are thoroughly American in this regard — especially when they're Japanese.

Oh sure, they deny it. When Forbes magazine published its annual report this April on how profitable Major League Baseball is — a report which always manages to embarrass Major League Baseball — the M's were similarly embarrassed about being number one on the list. There were hot denials. We only made $10.7 million in profits last year, not $23.3 million! And we funneled it back into the team! And we're making up for all those years we operated at a loss! Really!

Good PR, certainly, but their denials take away from the glory of it all. Don't they get it?

We're number one! We're number one! We're number one!

Saps like George Steinbrenner continue to think in terms of pennants and World Championships, and idiotic fans scour the papers during the doldrums of mid-November to see who won this year's MVPs and Cy Youngs and Rookies of the Year — as if these mean anything — when all that really matters is money. Haven't they been telling us this for years? It's not a game, it's a business. The goal is to run the club on a self-sufficient basis. And most famously: We're not interested in making the World Series, we're interested in making a profit. So why keep denying the business side? We should embrace it.

On the field the Yankees are unrivaled: 38 pennants and 26 World Championships. But in the front office? A joke! According to ESPN.com, their payroll (nearing ($160 million) is $40 million higher than of the next highest team (the Dodgers), and eight times as high as the Devil Rays. All of this for some little pewter rings they might get next April? What business school did they go to?

They pay Sterling Hitchcock $6 million per, Steve Karsay $5 million, and — get this — light-hitting shortstop and defensive liability Derek Jeter $15.6 million! Losers!

The Mariners, meanwhile, are smart enough to know they've got a good thing going. They're isolated here in the Pacific Northwest, where most fans are content as long as they have electronic hydroraces, the Mariner Moose, and Dan Wilson slugging .340.

And if attendance dips as it's done this year? Tell fans the team can't be improved because attendance has dipped. Baseball scribe Bob Finnigan wrote in July, “...attendance is down by more than 200,000, which may not be good enough to let owners go spendy.” I.e., our product is turning away customers which is why we can't improve our product. And fans accept this circular logic! Brilliant!

There should be baseball cards bearing the likenesses of owners Hiroshi Yamouchi and Chris Larson, with budgets and profit margins on the back. Can you imagine the kids? “I'll trade you my George Steinbrenner for your Howard Lincoln.” “The sacrosanct budgetman for a guy who paid millions for Hideki Irabu? Get outta here!” “What if I throw in Brian Cashman?” “Hey, give me someone who knows the value of a dollar and maybe we've got a deal.”

When Yankee fans chant “Overrated” at our players we can chant “Overspending” at their front office. When Yankee fans ridicule our light-hitting players we can ridicule their heavy-spending owner. The game ain't on the field no more. It's the economy, stupid, and we're number one, we're number one, we're number one.

—originally published in The Grand Salami