Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy Yankee Day!

Over at the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, Sean McNally continues a tradition he started over at Baseball Think Factory: declaring January 3rd "Yankee Day":
Why? Simple, the two most significant events in the history of the franchise are credited to have occurred that day. In 1973, George Steinbrenner paid CBS $10 million for the Yankees. Adjusted for inflation that’s roughly 2.1 million dollars* in 2008 funds. Just absurd.

Going back into history, Baseball Reference cites Jan. 3, 1920 as the day the transaction sending George Herman “Babe” Ruth to the Yankees was processed. I’ve since seen it elsewhere credited to dates in December, but since that doesn’t fit with my narrative, I choose to ignore it.
* I think he might have done the calculation backwards. If you go to the Government's CPI Inflation Calculator it gives the figure as $48.7M, which makes sense because $10M was worth more in 1973 than it is now.

The Yankees played their first game ever on April 26th, 1901 so I suppose that would be the franchise's birthday. I'm sure a few of their World Series victories have piled up on the same days in October, but it's unlikely that two more important (or at least symbolic) events share the same anniversary.

Curse or no curse, the acquisition of Babe Ruth changed the balance of power in the American League for years to come. In his 15 seasons with the Yankee, the team went to 7 World Series and won 4. He got on base in 48.4% of his plate appearances in Pinstripes and slugged 659 of his 714 career homers wearing them. Over that time, his OPS+ was 210. By comparison, A-Rod's best single season was 176. That tells you more about the offense production during the 20's and early 30's than it does about Ruth vs. Rodriguez, but the Babe was so far ahead of his peers that it's almost impossible than anyone will ever be better.

The Babe was probably the one thing most responsible for turning the Yankees into the preeminent franchise in all of sports initally, but it was the Boss who did the most to bring the Bombers back to glory.

Consider that Bud Selig had bought the Seattle Pilots - an ostensibly broke team on the fringes of the Major Leagues - just three years prior to George Steinbrenner's acquisition of the Yanks for $800,000 more. Selig wanted a team that he could move to Milwaukee, so it's not like he was in danger of buying the Yankees, but it goes to show that $10M was an incredible steal, even back then. While the Yankees have won both because and in spite of Steinbrenner and he certainly had his flaws as a person, it's hard to imagine the Yanks under the control of someone with a stronger desire to win than The Boss.

Almost everywhere else around the MLB and other professional sports leagues, owners are content to run their teams as if they were a business, considering profitability to be their number one concern. Even as the Boss has faded into the background, the organization has continued to put the emphasis on assembling the best team possible, even if it means spending hundreds of millions of dollars on blue chip free agents.

With a brand New Stadium and another World Series trophy, the Yankees aren't short on cash. But there are plenty of other teams who would have rested on their laurels this offseason instead of making aggressive trades and finding undervalued free agents with lots of upside. Although The Boss is no longer making the decisions, we have him to thank for the borderline irrational desire to win that makes the Yankees who they are today.

Happy Yankee Day, indeed!


  1. Actually $10 million seemed like a lot to pay for the Yankees at that time. I was a financial advisor and tried to interest clients but the Yankees had been run into the ground by CBS and other than a NYC franchise and the belief that baseball (which had lost a great deal of its popularity) could come back. I really don't remember the numbers but the Yankees were bleeding CBS dry and the price had to take that into consideration. I do remember there was concern that Steinbrenner would want to move the Yankees from NYC but he was too smart and understood the value of his new franchise.

    One thing though … if Steinbrenner proved to be as incompetent as Mike Burke was in running the Yankees I truly believe the Yankees might have gone into bankruptcy as the Steinbrenner consortium had significantly less financial strength than CBS. Bottom line is that the price was fair at the time of the transaction and it does look ridiculous today but you had to be there.

  2. Thanks for commenting. Nice to know some of the back story on that.

    Regarding moving, I recall an interview with Marty Appell where he talked about the Yankees entering discussions with New Orleans and touring the Superdome some time prior to the 1974-1975 remodeling. And there were a lot of rumors in the early nineties about a move to NJ.

    As meddling as Steinbrenner could be, I think bringing Gabe Paul along with him help a ton on the baseball side of things. And Steinbrenner's own business acumen coming from a family run business as opposed to a public corporation may have helped on the business side of things. I recall reading he had to trim a lot of fat from the CBS regime when he came aboard.

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