Baseball is back, which means it's time to talk green. Not the pastoral majesty of the verdant emerald diamond, or whatever George Will sees when de-smudging his glasses with his bowtie. I mean money. Greenbacks. The lifeblood of the whole enterprise.
Like you, I'm fascinated by the budding Rangers-Angels rivalry. Mostly because both clubs are nouveau riche, thanks to a pair of gargantuan, multibillion-dollar regional broadcast deals that have lifted them into the money-is-just-paper-you-can-burn payroll orbit traditionally reserved for the Yankees, Red Sox, and whoever is paying Keith Olbermann's yearly salary these days. Baseball's newest, most important game-within-the-game isn't Moneyball-esque data mining for marginal on-field advantages—that's so 2004—but rather maximizing one's local television rights in order to spend like a sober investment banker. Will other teams follow suit? Can other teams follow suit? Or are small market clubs destined to feel ... even smaller?
Speaking of overspending: Check out the new-look Miami Marlins. That is, provided you can see past the neon animatronic Electric Kool Aid Acid Home Run Sculpture the club has installed in the outfield of its brand-new stadium. Designed by pop artist Red Grooms, the $2.5 million eyesore was paid for not by art-dealing team owner Jeffrey Loria, but rather by Miami-Dade County's Art in Public Places department. In other words: taxpayers. Which fits, given that the $634 million retractable-roof ballpark was mostly funded by the public, including $347 million in construction bonds that reportedly will cost the city and county more than $2 billion over the 40 years it takes to repay them. This outright looting—largely accomplished behind closed City Council doors—helped cost mayor Carlos Alvarez his job in a recall election; it prompted me to call for a not-at-all-joking Occupy the Marlins movement.
But hey, at least the notoriously penny-pinching club could afford to drop $191 million on three players in the offseason, including Jose Reyes. So it won't be all bad for the 5,000 or so diehard fans who typically show up to their games.
Here in Washington, DC, I'm looking forward to seeing if the hometown Nationals can live up to actual preseason expectations —the first time they've had those since they were the Montreal Expos. Oh, and along those lines, the heck with pennant sanctity—if the Nats are involved in a down-to-the-wire expanded Wild Card race, I'll be too busy following to care if it feels cheap. Money can't buy happiness, but it can sure purchase temporary excitement.
Hampton, what are your thoughts on MLB circa 2012?