There was a time when the Dodgers were the Yankees of the West Coast. They completely dominated the Southern California market, and in 2000 they had the second-highest payroll in baseball, just behind the Yankees. The progression of their payroll compared to their peers since then:
|Year||Payroll rank in MLB|
Frank McCourt bought the team before the 2004 season, and while he didn't slash payroll, he certainly didn't increase it. Here's how the team kept pace with their huge-market and regional peers:
|Team||Payroll in 2001||Payroll in 2011|
|Dodgers||$109 million||$104 million|
|Yankees||$110 million||$202 million|
|Red Sox||$110 million||$161 million|
|Mets||$93 million||$120 million|
|Angels||$46 million||$139 million|
Since 2001, internet revenues have exploded. Television money -- especially for the teams that built regional cable networks -- is way up. The huge-market teams have dumped a ton of that money right back into their payrolls. Mid-market teams like the Twins, Tigers and Giants have kept pace with the league-wide inflation.
The Dodgers have not. They did buy a pair of small, 10,000 square-feet bungalows near the Playboy Mansion, though, and they did pay $14 million to rip out some tennis courts and make room for an Olympic-sized swimming pool. So the team has that going for them. Which is nice.
Allow me to shed the thin veneer of objectivity for the rest of this article -- I'm a Giants fan. By definition, I loathe the Dodgers. It's a rare kind of loathing, a kind that's embedded in a double helix. Red Sox fans know of it. Yankees fans know of it. Cardinals and Cubs fans know of it.
After the 1998 season, the Dodgers signed Kevin Brown to a 7-year, $105 million contract. It was a ridiculous sum for a pitcher back then. It's a ridiculous sum for most pitchers now. The Giants were playing in a fog-bound biohazard, with a team that was made with half the Dodgers' payroll. The two teams were on different financial levels. It was discouraging for Giants fans. There was no way the Giants could ever compete, dollar-for-dollar.
So in 2011, with the Dodgers bankrupt and the owner ready to napalm Major League Baseball just to keep his team, you'd think this would be a delightful turn of events for me as a Giants fan. I remember the cold feeling of the best pitcher in baseball signing for a bajillion dollars, so I should feel warmth at the news that the Dodgers' owner paid Russian faith-healers and hairdressers about what it would take to get another good baseball player.
Instead, I'm just really, really sad. It's one of the more discouraging baseball stories of the decade. I want the Dodgers to fail when they give up a home run in the ninth, or when they do something silly like give Andruw Jones tens of millions of dollars, not because a family with $x million spent $2x million on lavish nonsense.
All right, it's also just a little funny to a Giants fan. Slightly funny. Possibly hilarious and morbidly delightful. But still sad. Rivalries are always better when the two teams are on somewhat equal footing. Right now, the Dodgers are a mess because of something that has nothing to do with baseball. That's not good for a rivalry. That's not good for baseball.
Here's hoping that new owners come in and treat the Dodgers like the financial powerhouse they should be ... and finish one game out of the playoffs every year because of something baseball-related. That's the sort of thing that makes sports great. Rooting for a team to fail because of a owner's personal spending habits is like rooting for a walk-off catcher's interference call. I'll take it ... but it's just not why I watch the game.