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Yankees Capitalism

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Pro sports are not immune to the economic collapse: The NFL is laying off 10 percent of its corporate workforce, baseball agents are sweating to find teams for all their clients, and only half the NBA franchises make a profit. Yet last week, the Yankees agreed to pay ¬CC Sabathia $161 million, and the Mets signed Francisco Rodriguez for $37 million. And the latter was considered a discount.

Despite the recession, our New York teams keep doing what they’ve always done: spending the competition into oblivion. Especially the Yankees. Sabathia had made it clear he didn’t want to come to New York, even after the Bombers had offered him $140 million. So the Yankees gave him 20 million more reasons to change his mind.

How is this even possible? Where’s this money coming from? Never mind that $161 million is, at the very least, unseemly right now. If you want an answer, look back to the days before the Sabathia announcement, when details leaked about the Yankees and Mets asking the city for a combined $450 million more in public bonds, to pay for cost overruns on their immoderate new stadiums. (They’d initially been granted $1.5 billion.) Already, the two teams are not paying rent or property taxes on the new stadiums, and the MTA ($104 for a monthly MetroCard, anyone?) is giving the Yankees their own Metro-North station. The teams are also subtracting construction costs from their share of MLB’s revenue-sharing program, which pays out to less-flush franchises. The Yankees (and Mets) have prepared for a potential recession the old-fashioned way: by reducing their own expenses long before everyone else was doing it. That made paying Sabathia (and Rodriguez) easy. The recession is going to cause normal teams to scale back. The Yankees and Mets are not normal teams. They have big shiny new stadiums and fancy cable channels. So they don’t get normal players.

The Yankees will receive some bad press for making a 300-pound man the best-paid pitcher in baseball history during a financial catastrophe. But before long, we will all forget about it, because Sabathia is the best pitcher in baseball and the Yankees desperately need him. Sure, it looks bad to ask for $370 million in bonds the day before they pay a man $161 million. But it looks worse to lose. Winning, in those pretty new stadiums, is all the good PR the Yankees and Mets need. Assuming the fans can still pay their cable bills, of course.

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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