Defection and the Business of Baseball
In the past decade, the argument can be made that the Giants were given a raw deal (that seemingly expired in 2010). There was both heartbreak and middling levels of success galore, with the occasionally controversial record-breaking season out of Barry Bonds. If there’s one area of heartbreak that hasn’t been felt all that strongly at all though, it’s been in the realm of defection.
Major League Baseball is first and foremost a business. 30 teams join together in the common goal of assembling their own respective teams using the funds allotted to them in order to turn a profit at the end of the year. Each team sells tickets, merchandise, advertising space, concessions, and any number of other baseball-related products at a massive mark-up.
Sitting in the nosebleeds at AT&T Park can cost you upwards of $20-30 a pop, not counting the $15 you have to fork over in order to find affordable parking (usually at the freeway overpass on Bryant). But then you get to your seat and realize that you’re hungry. You go to the nearest Doggy Diner and spend $4.50 on a hot dog, $5 on a bottled water, and another $5 on a pretzel.
Around the 3rd inning, you realize that you are indeed at a Giants game, so alcohol is a necessity. You decide that in order to save money, the best way is to buy the beer that tastes the most like water. Eight dollars later, you’ve been hoodwinked into buying a Bud Light in a fancy aluminum bottle. When it’s all said and done, you’ve spent anywhere from $50-60 on a night where you thought you were getting a deal by paying just $22 to sit in a seat with a view obstructed by the foul pole.
What this long-winded hypothetical is for is to denote just how much the people in charge don’t afford sentimentality any thought. They run a business and they need to turn a profit in order to make an exorbitantly comfortable living. Being subject to the nostalgia of two-dollars a seat for a double-header at the Polo Grounds is bad business. This same mindset goes for paying players.
There are of course always exceptions to this, but they are typically few and far between (Derek Jeter comes to mind). As such, players treat the management the same way that they’re treated in return, as they usually go where the money is. A free agent in high demand will almost always go to the highest bidder, putting all loyalties aside. A guy like Jayson Werth could have spent the next five years on a team that will probably contend for the next 2-3 seasons, but instead chose to condemn himself to seven years on the Nationals payroll for $126 million. You can’t fault Werth for taking that much money, and you certainly can’t fault the Nationals for trying to show a commitment to winning. The difficulty comes in reconciling the business of baseball with the passion of a fan.
So what does this mean to the everyday Giants faithful? Fans have had their share of defection heartbreak; Willie Mays finished out his days on the Mets, while Willie McCovey spent his later seasons as a Padre before returning to San Francisco. Still, this wasn’t quite the same as a multi-million dollar-influenced betrayal. Mays and McCovey were both traded at the twilight of their careers, so the decision wasn’t theirs to make. Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria on the other hand certainly had a choice.
Uribe and Renteria will forever go down in the annuls as postseason heroes that helped bring the World Series trophy to San Francisco for the first time. Uribe’s walk-off sac-fly against Roy Oswalt as well as his go-ahead home run in the NLCS clinching game will be fondly remembered. Renteria’s three-run home run off of Cliff Lee was of course the deciding blow in Game 5 of the World Series. After all this, Uribe bolted to the rival Dodgers for 3 years and $21 million, while Renteria took the Reds offer for $3 million after stating that he was “insulted” by the Giants $1 million proposal.
This is a scenario that Giants fans in San Francisco have never had to deal with. Before 2010, there wasn’t a World Series title for World Series heroes to be a part of. It’s not a terrible problem to have, but it still hurts all the same. Uribe may have been a hack-tastic knucklehead but he was our hack-tastic knucklehead.
Leaving San Francisco for greener pastures is one thing. Leaving San Francisco to join the Dodgers for the same offer the Giants made is head-scratchingly frustrating. If the Giants had offered significantly less money and fewer years I’d understand. Baseball is a business, blah blah blah, all that jazz. But if the Giants’ offer was even anywhere close to the Dodgers’, why would the guy bolt for the one team that break our hearts the most? In Renteria’s case, it was evident from the start he wanted more money, and that the Giants weren’t going to accommodate this. He went to the one team willing to pay a 35 year-old shortstop with a bum elbow above market value and it’s easy to understand that. Uribe’s defection though, I simply don’t get.
There exists a vast divide between the way fans and management perceive baseball. Players can sympathize to an extent with fans, but even they get caught up in the money side of the sport if not just to be able to make a living. That’s not to say that the management side shouldn’t feel this way; a team needs to operate on a financial level. A fan’s monetary investment in baseball though is a direct result of their emotional investment. You forked over $300 dollars to go to Game 1 of the World Series because you love the Giants.
Upper-management forked over tens of millions of dollars to produce a winning team that in turn makes it so fans spend exorbitant sums of money to see their team. It’s a symbiotic relationship as old as the sport itself. It’s neither good nor bad: it simply is what it is. We as fans can only hope that our management continues to spend money the right way, a hope that in turn leads to websites like the one you’re on right now. Crazy stuff no?