During the World Series, focus returned to the debate over whether big spending is the key to victory in baseball.
This past World Series featured the Boston Red Sox — with the fourth-highest payroll— against the St. Louis Cardinals, who are 11th in spending.
The Red Sox came out on top.
Popular wisdom in baseball is that the high payroll teams have an unfair advantage. If that was true, it would follow that the New York Yankees at $228 million would be facing the Los Angeles Dodgers at $216 million in salaries. The Yankees did not even make the playoffs and their payroll is some $70 million above the Red Sox ($158 million). Philadelphia, the third highest payroll at $159 million, did not make the playoffs, either.
If spending was the only factor, the New York Yankees should have won the last five World Series, but their last win was in 2009. The San Francisco Giants won last year with the eighth highest payroll, and in 2011 it was the Cardinals. They were 11th-ranked and spent half of what the Yankees did. In 2010, it was the Giants, who spent less than $100 million to the Yankees’ $206.
In 2008, the Phillies spent less than $100 million to the Yankees’ $209 million payroll. Teams with half the budget than the leaders winning World Series tells the tale.
Oakland was one of the final four American League teams this season with the fifth lowest payroll at $68 million.
Pittsburgh — the fourth lowest payroll at $66 million — made it to the final four National League teams. And then there were the Tampa Bay Rays in the final four American League teams as the third lowest paying team in all of the Major League with a robust budget of $57 million.
The Yankees spent four times that amount and stayed home.
Winning follows the same priorities in all major league team sports. It starts with the quality and stability of ownership, and a long-term plan. They know how to find and hire the right personnel evaluators to spot the right talent. Winning teams hire expert front-office executives who understand the sport and how to draft, sign, trade and cut players to create a winning blend. Some teams use analytics to form superior roadmaps to success.
Winning teams have gifted managers and coaches who can develop players, field the best talent and make critical game management decisions. Adjusting to key injuries, which all teams have, is a function of prior planning.
Perhaps the most critical facet of winning is the concept of team chemistry. Teams that believe in each other and will sacrifice and support each other can outplay superior talent in all sports. Motivation and elevating performance in pressure situations carry the day.
A strategic, motivated David can defeat an overconfident, slower-thinking Goliath.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.