(NOTE: I plan on doing a before/after thing, so expect further discussion when Darvish agrees to a deal)
To truly appreciate sports, you must first appreciate that, now more than ever, sports are a business. We must color every judgment with this knowledge. David Beckham did not come over to the states to win an MLS championship (a laughable notion), he came to sell tickets and increase the fame of both he and his wife. Of course, most athletes are a competitive sort- that is without question. But we have a most telling example in the most recent baseball offseason. The Saint Louis Cardinals just won the World Series. They did so without one of the best starting pitchers in the National League, Adam Wainwright. There was no “looking for the best opportunity to win” no “loving the situation and people Saint Louis provides,” no excuse for why Albert Pujols ended up signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (the most irritating name in all the MLB). If you heard anything from the lips of Pujols or his scumbag lord of agents Dan Lozano that didn’t consist of “Money, money, money. Get that dolla’ dolla’ bill,” they were lying. I am long past letting things like overblown contracts bother me. I highlight this idea because it is important to set the stage of the baseball/business blurry line when discussing the signing of a big-name Japanese player, in this case Yu Darvish.
Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. Sports, not just baseball, has been in remedial history class for years. Stupid contracts are replicated, GM’s stubbornly cling to long-lost notions and it takes teams a long time, relatively, to learn from their mistakes. But this pessimism is from the view of the fan. Sports, as I’ve said, are much more than that. This Yu Darvish deal, or ‘pre-deal’ I suppose, highlights this divide between fandom and finance just as the Daisuke Matsuzaka deal did several years ago. At its bare bones, decisions such as the signings of Matsuzaka and Darvish make little sense. Why gamble so much (over $50 million!!!) just to talk to players who have never faced the competition or stress of a major league season? Certainly, once one of these players makes it known they wish to play in the MLB, they have little choice but to negotiate a deal with the top-posting team, but 50 million dollars is still a whole lot of dough to cough up just to sit at a negotiating table. A player like Roy Oswalt, a Texas native, is looking for a one-year deal and has an 11 year history of excellence. Mark Buehrle signed a 4-year deal for slightly more than Darvish’s posting fee. So for that price, a team could get a.) a 12-year veteran who has had 11 straight years of 200 innings(!) or… b.) the rights to negotiate with a guy who, while admittedly younger, has never faced a major league batter, in a major league stadium- ever.
Here is where the divide between baseball and business is highlighted. By any baseball metric, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s tenure with the Red Sox has been a failure, a colossal waste of money and time (both the team’s on the field and the fans’ watching at home. The man was as exciting to watch as a snail derby). However, it is nearly impossible to accurately measure what the value of having the Red Sox brand expanded so judiciously in Japan and Asian cultures, as despite his mediocrity in the MLB, Dice-K is and was a legend in Japanese baseball and a hero of the World Baseball Classic. Red Sox (and especially Dice-K starts) games were shown, despite the hour, on thousands of televisions in Japan. Merchandise for the Japanese player flooded both his native country and the large Asian communities in the Northeast region. Bringing in Daisuke Matsuzaka engaged a whole new faction of potential fans (or customers, more accurately) just as similar moves with Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki had in previous years. Regardless of a fan’s passion for baseball, many followed and engaged with the teams and these players due to a fervent national pride. It didn’t hurt that in all occasions, the teams were good and/or had a large community to pull from (Seattle, New York even all the way back to Hideo Nomo were all good teams in relatively large markets). Texas appears primed to pull off a similar maneuver, regardless of how Darvish pans out. Nomo burned out. Dice-K never fit in, really. I could be way off base with my skepticism on Yu’s success in the majors. Darvish is of a very different build (he’s tall and lanky) and temperament (not a whiny diva, by all accounts) than Dice-K, and may very well develop into a top-flight major league starter. But that’s not the point. The Texas Rangers, in case you missed it, have made the World Series back-to-back years and are stocked with good young players. They have an ENORMOUS television deal. They have a beautiful stadium and a solid fan base. Their brand is on the rise, both due to winning and overall exposure. The signing of Yu Darvish, while it certainly will be an attempt to cover the loss of C.J. Wilson, will primarily help the Rangers in a much deeper, fiscal sense. Fans will hope he excels. Ownership will just hope he sells.
As always, enjoy the Black Keys. They’re going to release Blakroc 2 soon. If you don’t know what that is, the Black Keys spent a summer basically just hanging out with really cool rappers and laying down some awesome tracks. Check it.