Arizona's arms will test Yankees
WASHINGTON — One team lives on a tree-lined street in a mansion full of antique furniture and tasteful art. Its butler has an English accent, and the sound of Bach wafts gently through an open porch.
The other team has a big house, too, just off the highway, somewhere in suburbia. It has sports cars out front and an ocean-sized pool in the back. One problem, though: It has about six credit cards, and they're all maxed out.
That's the matchup for baseball's World Series, set to begin tomorrow: It's the old money against the borrowed money, the New York Yankees against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It's the series everyone wanted to see when the playoffs began three weeks ago.
The Yankees, winners of three straight world championships, have the rare ability to play postseason ball with poise and timing. Winning seems to be their destiny, especially following Sept. 11. They have three solid starting pitchers, a dominant bullpen, and a team full of wily position players who minimize mistakes and thrive in the clutch.
The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have the two best starting pitchers in the game at the moment - Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. Some have compared the Arizona duo to Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who together helped win three championships for the Los Angeles Dodgers. That may be a stretch, but this fact remains: If the World Series were to go seven games, Schilling and Johnson would pitch at least four games. That's enough to win.
For that reason, the Diamondbacks seem to be the team that matches up best against the Yankees - better than the slugging Oakland Athletics, better than the record-setting Seattle Mariners.
"Pitching, pitching, pitching, and sometimes one run is enough [to win], and we have proven that," said Yankees manager Joe Torre after beating the Seattle Mariners in five games and advancing to the World Series. "So we respect [the Diamondbacks] a great deal because the first thing you think about are the two guys they are going to throw at you."
Yet, while the Yankees and Diamondbacks have solid pitching and scratch hitting in common, their paths to the World Series have been vastly different.
The Diamondbacks, with a payroll of about $81 million, were built for the moment through free-agent signings. Only in their fourth year of existence, they reached the World Series faster than any other expansion team. They got over the hump this year by adding offense to complement Schilling and Johnson.
But, Phoenix is not exactly a baseball town. Despite having a top team and a new stadium, its crowds are thinning. This year it ranked 14th out of the 30 major league teams in attendance. On top of that, owner Jerry Colangelo has tapped out his credit to pay for this year's team. Even the players pitched in before the season, deferring chunks of their salaries so the team could be competitive in the free-agent market.
"I refuse to take any credit for what's happened with this ballclub this year," Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly said recently. "[The players have] done it all themselves. They put their egos on the back burner, and decided that as a unit we were going to try to go out and do something special this year. I kind of just sat back and watched them."
It may or may not work. Some analysts say the Diamondbacks' revenue, about $120 million annually and shrinking, will not be enough to sustain them much beyond this year. They could suffer a fate similar to the Florida Marlins, who won the World Series in 1997, dismantled the team the following year, and are now thought to be on the brink of going out of business.
The Yankees, with about a $110 million payroll, are a different story. They have generously spent money in the free-agent market, but also have nurtured a farm system that has consistently produced top talent. They have the market size, TV contract, and revenue to pretty much do whatever they want. Last year, they reportedly made a $186 million profit.
"The Yankees are the only baseball team to establish dominance in the free-agency era," says Andrew Zimbalist, an expert on baseball economics who teaches at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.
Take this year's team. The Yankees' biggest off-season signing was Mike Mussina, a dominant pitcher who is scheduled to start Game 1 of the series in Phoenix. Their top starter for most of the year, Roger Clemens, was another free-agent signing. But the Yankees also have loads of homegrown talent (center fielder Bernie Williams, shortstop Derek Jeter, closer Mariano Rivera, and second baseman Alfonso Soriano), as well as solid players acquired through trades (first baseman Tino Martinez, third baseman Scott Brosius, and outfielder Paul O'Neill).
The Yankees have been able to achieve this balance with a crafty front office and by pumping money into their farm system to pay for highly touted, yet unproven, talent. It is something other free-spending teams have been unable to do consistently.
For the fans, the contrasting styles of the Yankees and Diamondbacks organizations should add intrigue to the World Series. The Yankees have a chance to go down as one of the greatest dynasties in baseball history. The Diamondbacks have a chance to crash the party - and walk out with the silverware in their pockets.