George Will

Sins can be such fun. Of the seven supposedly deadly ones, only envy does not give the sinner at least momentary pleasure. And an eighth, schadenfreude -- enjoyment of other persons' misfortunes -- is almost the national pastime.

Speaking of baseball, two Saturdays ago old Dodger Stadium was reverberating with fans' excitement. It might seem odd to call "old" a ballpark that opened in 1962, but it is tied with the Nationals' RFK Stadium as the National League's second oldest, behind only the Cubs' Wrigley Field (1914). (A riddle: What do the Cubs and Cardinals have in common? Neither team has won a World Series in its new ballpark. Of course, the Cardinals' new park opened in April.) Anyway, shortly before their Dodgers were beaten by the Mets in the National League Division Series, Angelenos emitted animal roars of approval as they watched, on the giant screen in left-center field, the Tigers defeat the Yankees in the ALDS.

Some Dodgers fans still nurse a grudge they inherited from Brooklynites when the Dodgers decamped for California after the 1957 season. But rooting against the Yankees is as American as a microwaved wedge of frozen apple pie topped with a slice of processed cheese. Such rooting often is the unlovely underside of the democratic ethos -- envy of excellence. But there also is resentment of the Yankees' financial advantage that has been inimical to baseball's competitive balance.

That, however, is a diminishing problem, for two reasons: Major League Baseball has implemented more redistribution of resources, and a new breed of general managers (e.g. Oakland's Billy Beane and Minnesota's Terry Ryan) are using new player-evaluation metrics to wring more baseball value from fewer dollars.

The Yankees' payroll of $206.4 million (not including the almost $30 million tax paid to MLB on the portion of the payroll over $136.5 million) is 2.4 times the Tigers' payroll. The Yankees' third baseman earns 68.7 times the salary of the Mets' all-star third baseman (Alex Rodriguez, $25.7 million; David Wright, $374,000). The shortstop makes approximately what the Marlins' team makes (Derek Jeter, $20.6 million; Marlins, $20.68 million). But the 2006 Yankees did baseball -- and the rest of America, if it learns the larger social lesson of the story -- the favor of demonstrating the steeply declining utility of the last $100 million of payroll.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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