Eighteenth century Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau cautioned that money can’t buy happiness. Two centuries later, The Beatles crooned that money couldn’t buy them love. And as we learned during the 1980s, when bombastic New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner spent like there was no tomorrow, money can’t necessarily buy you a World Series title, though, it sure can help.
In the 2020s, New York Mets owner Steve Cohen has been drawing comparisons to the late Steinbrenner for adopting a best-team-money-can-buy approach. This has understandably energized Mets fans, who suffered through years of penny-pinching by the Wilpon family ownership after imprisoned Wall Street swindler Bernie Madoff made off with tens of millions of their dollars.
While Mets diehards are loving Cohen, a hedge fund magnate who’s reportedly worth $16 billion, his counterparts are screaming bloody murder. The spending spree has indeed been staggering. Baseball Prospectus places Cohen’s 2023 payroll at $369 million – nearly $100 million above the second-place Yankees, and almost $300 million above the payroll of the Washington Nationals, the Rochester Red Wings’ parent club. According to SportTrac, Mets pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander will each make more this year than the entire the Oakland A’s roster, which ranks at the bottom of the Major League Baseball payroll list at $40 million. Total.
The Mets outlay is by far the most in baseball history and has prompted sports economists to create a new luxury tax category known as the Cohen tax. Several years ago, in a futile attempt to prevent owners from such binges, MLB instituted a tax ceiling. Teams that exceeded it would have to pay a tax which would be divvied up among the teams that kept their spending in check. Given the current figures, Cohen will pay $55 million in luxury taxes that will be shared by 29 teams next year. That’s more money than the payroll of five MLB teams.
Cohen appears undaunted by his counterparts’ criticism. Like Sinatra, he’s vowed to continue to do it his way. And to think, the Mets payroll would have soared to nearly a half-billion dollars had their deal with free agent shortstop Carlos Correa not fallen through.
If past is prologue, Cohen will learn the difficult lesson Steinbrenner did. The Bronx Bombers owner spent big, but not always wisely. His return on his investment during the 1980s was zero World Series. It was only after Steinbrenner was banished from the day-to-day operations of his club in the early 1990s that saner heads prevailed and prospects such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte remained in pinstripes and formed the core that helped produce five World Series titles.
It takes a mix of home-grown talent, free-agent signings, and astute trades to make the equation work, and the Mets do have a good mix of that. But don’t assume Cohen necessarily has purchased the team’s first World Series title since 1986. A lot of things can happen, and let’s not forget that the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves also reside in the same division. The Braves won it all two years ago. The Phillies made it to last year’s Fall Classic. And both teams boast rosters bursting with talent.
Buyers beware. This isn’t a done deal.
Speaking of wild spending, how about this Sunday’s Super Bowl? According to WalletHub, advertisers are spending $7 million for each 30-second television commercial. The lowest ticket on the secondary market will set you back $5,738. And the lowest daily hotel rate in the Phoenix area, site of this year’s big game, is $452.
Which got me to thinking: How in the blazes would an average Buffalo Bills fan afford these ridiculous prices if their beloved team had made it to the game? Toss in airline tickets, rental car and food and you’re pushing toward $10,000. I guess many diehards would take out a second mortgage to be there for what they hope would be the Bills first Super Bowl title. Sadly, the NFL has become such a behemoth that average fans have been priced out of attending. You’re better off saving your money, watching the game on your big screen, and ordering your pizza and wings.
LeBron James’ surpassing of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer Tuesday night has revved up the debate whether King James or Michael Jordan is the best player ever. I just wonder, though, why Kareem is rarely mentioned in this discussion. If you look at the totality of his career, from high school phenom at Power Memorial in New York City, to three-time national champion and player-of-the-year at UCLA to his sublime NBA achievements, including a record six MVP awards and six titles, you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who’s ever done it better.
I’m taking the fact that Josh Allen was able to play three rounds of golf at the recently concluded AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am means his injured throwing elbow is completely healed. If the Buffalo Bills quarterback weren’t able to put the torque on it required to swing a golf club, I’m sure his doctors would have advised him not to participate. But he did, teaming with Keith Mitchell for an impressive fourth-place finish.
Don’t look know, but the Bills 2023 schedule is brutal. Their home schedule features the Las Vegas Raiders (perhaps with Aaron Rodgers at QB), Dallas, the Giants, and up-and-coming Jacksonville, while their road slate features Philadelphia, Kansas City, Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Chargers. And let’s not forget the two games against the Jets (possibly with Rodgers or Derek Carr at QB) and the Dolphins. Talk about a murder’s row.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.
**Very informative work, Scribe!!
Good column Scott.. We don’t get you on a regular basis out here in (kinda rural) Arizona,
I”m a Rochester boy…Brighton high, U of R I follow Rochester sports as best I can..Thanks to Tommy Serafin and a bunch of my old running buds…Keep up the good work. I’s always good to hear from you