As the World Series opened Wednesday in Boston, focus will return to the debate over whether big spending is the key to victory in baseball. The series pits the Boston Red Sox -- with the fourth highest payroll -- against the St. Louis Cardinals, who are 11th in spending.
The popular wisdom in baseball is that the high payroll teams have an unfair advantage against lower payroll teams. 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, with the third highest payroll ($159 million), did not make the playoffs either.
If spending was the only factor, the New York Yankees should have won the past 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 and spent half of what the Yankees did. In 2010 it was the Giants who spent less than $100 million to the Yankees $206 million. 2008 was the Phillies year, and they 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 as the fifth lowest paying team 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 Major League Baseball with a robust budget of $57 million. The Yankees spent four times that amount -- $170 million dollars more, and stayed home.
Winning follows the same priorities in all major league team sports. It starts with the quality and stability of ownership, astute men who have 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 "Billy Ball" 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 will generally defeat an overconfident, slower thinking Goliath.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.