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Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Brother, can you spare a dime?

By Austin Swafford

Hank Steinbrenner came out Monday and once again took up the cause of the poor, oppressed, super-rich powerhouse that is the New York Yankees. The owner of the team that spends only $200-plus million a year on its payroll, and is a whole year removed from winning the World Series, had this to say about MLB's luxury tax: "Socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it, is never the answer."

Hank Steinbrenner
Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner, shown in 2008, isn't a fan of keeping teams in small markets.
Yes, indeed, whatever. Steinbrenner could have used a philosophy class, an economics class, or maybe just a couple of minutes on dictionary.com to find out that the luxury tax isn't socialism or communism or whatever at all.

It's hardly news that someone would incorrectly invoke the boogeyman of socialism or communism or whatever to try to win support for their cause, but Steinbrenner really topped himself in the preceding statement: "At some point, if you don't want to worry about teams in minor markets, don't put teams in minor markets, or don't leave teams in minor markets if they're truly minor."

Brilliant! Why didn't MLB do this sooner? All MLB has to do is limit its teams to a half-dozen major markets. Because the inability to spend $150-plus million a year definitely means Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Toronto don't deserve baseball teams, right?

Steinbrenner might hate it, but people in small markets deserve to see baseball. They love their teams and they're just as invested in them as the fans in New York are in theirs.

There's no direct correlation between how much money a team spends and how good they are. Just ask the Cubs and Mets. Spending doesn't equal winning, but it sure doesn't hurt. There's a very good reason why some teams are competitive every single year, while teams like the Rays, Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Astros tend to have one or two great years and then go a very long time before competing again, because they completely sell out and then have to dismantle and start over. It's a burden completely foreign to Mr. Steinbrenner.

Steinbrenner's burden is the luxury tax. And it's not much of one, as the Yankees have blown their payroll through the roof every year. Since the luxury tax was instituted in 2002, the Yankees' payroll has increased by almost 84 percent, peaking at $209 million in 2008. For Steinbrenner to act like the Yankees are somehow having some undue burden placed on them is an argument he simply won't win.

The luxury tax is not the solution to these problems. But it's a better solution than getting all of the teams out of those small markets. Mr. Steinbrenner is very fortunate to have inherited the team he did in the market he did, but that doesn't mean that other teams deserve his derision. He'll earn a much greater audience by making his perfectly fair argument logically rather than with ridiculous rhetoric. But, then, can one resort to logic and calm rationale and still be a Steinbrenner?

Austin Swafford writes Austin's Astros 290 Blog, a blog about the Houston Astros. You can follow him on Twitter.