From October, 2013
The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals are meeting once again in this year’s World Series. It’s been a regular occurrence: the fourth time these two teams have faced each other on baseball’s biggest stage. The Cardinals hold the 2-1 advantage.
Growing up as an Astros fan in the ‘90s I was aware of two great certainties in the game at the time.
First, the team to beat in the National League was the Atlanta Braves. Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux, Chipper Jones and others propelled the franchise to five World Series, from 1991 to 1999.
Then there were the Yankees, toughest franchise to beat in the history of Major League Baseball. Four championships in five years in the late 90s.
But at the turn of the century, trends began changing. New York lost to Arizona in Game 7 of one of the most dramatic World Series of all time. And in 2003 the Yankees fell again, in the David vs. Goliath matchup. The Florida Marlins’ $54 million payroll vs. the Yankees at $164 million. Florida won in six games, ending with Josh Beckett’s complete game shutout in Game 6.
So much for New York dominance. The Yankees’ decline more or less coincided with the Braves stepping back after Ted Turner sold the team and budgets were cut.
Despite their recent troubles, the Yankees are the club every franchise aspires to be and a budget any would envy. The Yankees are America’s iconic sports team, with the history and wealth, the distinctive black and white pinstripes.
New York has the highest current payroll in major league baseball totaling over $228 million. But now it’s a semi-retirement center. Worn-out names like Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, C.C Sabathia. Big names with bloated salaries. This year New York has paid Rodriguez $28 million to sit out the majority of the season.
George Steinbrenner summed it up perfectly when he said, “When you start talking about the best team money can buy, the Red Sox have just as many free agents as we do. They just didn’t pay as much.”
The vacuum left by the Yankees ushered in a procession of new clubs to reach the World Series: the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, as major league baseball shows surprising NFL-style parity.
Many have had reason to hope, but of all the would-be dynasties, none have been as dominant in recent years as the clubs in this year’s World Series.
Here’s a look at the numbers for the past 10 baseball seasons.
As you can see, the balance of power has shifted out of New York.
We’ve witnessed the resurgence of the long forgotten Red Sox, the dramatic breaking of the 86-year Curse of the Bambino. After winning five championships in seven seasons from 1912-1918, the Sox sold Babe Ruth and did not win another world championship until 2004, when they swept the Cardinals.
The Cardinals, however, have been a more consistent ballclub. Second to New York in World Series titles, St. Louis had a twenty-year drought that ended in 1996 with the arrival of Tony La Russa as a manager in tune with a capable front office.
La Russa set a professional tone for a then-downtrodden organization. He demanded hard work and accountability. Big-salaried veterans grumbled at first when he put them on long bus rides in spring training, treating them like the rest of the roster. But La Russa, who had World Series experience managing Oakland, had instant respect in St. Louis.
And instant success. The Cardinals did things his way and won the division title in his first season as manager. He would go on to repeat the feat seven more times in St. Louis.
The Cardinals keep regenerating with their farm system, focusing on drafting and development, rather than on heavy plunges into the free agent market. The team’s player payroll is $115 million, eleventh in the league.
The Cardinals’ method has produced some of the sport’s finest talent: Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Matt Carpenter.
And they have enough budget to add a few free-agent veterans where the farm has not provided. Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, Matt Holiday, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen have been key pieces to this franchise over the past decade.
While the Sox have their share of home-developed talent (Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester), they have acquired more quality veteran talent than the Cardinals can afford. Major signings and trades have helped Boston reach three World Series in ten seasons. Pedro Martinez, Josh Beckett, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Johnny Damon have played major roles.
Boston outspends St. Louis in player salary by $35 million because it’s a big-market team. Even so, the Cardinals, with baseball’s best minor-league system, can compete rather evenly, as shown by this World Series headed for at least a sixth game.
Meanwhile, the once mighty Yankees sit at home, left to watch as St. Louis and Boston battle for designation as Champion of the Decade.