It has dawned on Arte Moreno, finally, that Frank McCourt blew up the Los Angeles Dodgers enough to make L.A.'s baseball scene seem like L.A.'s pro football scene.
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Well, "stole" only works only if you think Pujols was the personal property of St. Louis, Mo., and all its citizens. That was, after all, the assumption of baseball's most cognoscentious cognoscenti -- that Pujols was St. Louis, and St. Louis was Pujols.
What Moreno did to cheat the conventional wisdom was what he used to do with impunity -- close the deal. His eyes got bigger than his stomach will bear, as it always does with purchases of this size, but for the moment, he is engorged on the adrenaline of freshly roasted cash, and he is a bad dude again in the town that he owned a decade ago.
The lesson here is simple, and basic, and should be remembered forever and ever and ever by those who defend the owners during lockouts. And it is this:
No system of collective bargaining that tries to "even the playing field" can hold against Arte Moreno when he gets a snootful of money. Or, for that matter, Jeffrey Loria in Miami. Or anywhere where owners let their hormones run rampant.
Now don't get me wrong -- owners who spend money on the product are always preferable to owners who keep it (which, oddly enough, is typically the position Jeffrey Loria holds). We're all for owners caring about the same thing we do -- the team. It's why George Steinbrenner was so good as an owner -- he did jack the cost of doing business into the stratosphere and he did it with a spectacular gracelessness, but he plowed most of the money he churned up into the ball team.
That, not profit-taking, is the truest calling a sports owner can have -- otherwise, why own at all? Running a meth lab has a better return on the investment.
But listening to the NBA owners bitch so contemptibly about how the system is broken, then to discover that the same old big spenders are chasing after Chris Paul and Dwight Howard the way they chased after LeBron James before that, we are reminded that the only system that ever works in professional sports is dictated not by the players but by the owners.
|The $150 Million Club|
|Largest MLB contracts|
|Manny Ramirez||Red Sox||2001-08||$160M|
|Adrian Gonzalez||Red Sox||2012-18||$154M|
|Source: The Associated Press|
So if the system is broken (which it never is, by the way), it's because the owners break it. And while baseball isn't broken by the Albert Pujols deal, it is good to remember that Pujols didn't choke Moreno into submission -- Moreno sprinted toward Pujols.
And that's why Moreno seems out of breath today. He had to wear down Loria's new money and break the Cardinals' alleged hold on Pujols. That after Loria had to work the Mets' newfound money problems to make Jose Reyes an $18 million shortstop. And Prince Fielder will send the costs up again.
This is how it works. Baseball just completed its latest CBA with the players, and suddenly teams are flush with money again. And those who don't spend, well, don't spend. They have it -- they just prefer to keep it. And they're the ones who always grouse loudest about the system being broken.
And then remember that the strategy is always to blame the players for their own hormonal imbalances.
So congratulations to Arte Moreno and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They spent $250 million to enrich Albert Pujols, fix first base and kick the Dodgers in the groin while they are laying face-down in a puddle. That's smart work by any measure.
But amid all the self-congratulation, he should know that today's masterstroke is tomorrow's myocardial infarction. And when that time comes, this will end up being Pujols' fault, the way Alex Rodriguez's contract ended up being his fault. It's how the game away from the game is, and always has been played.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.