RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And it is time for sports.
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MARTIN: OK. It's still technically football season but we're going to take a little break from all the Super Bowl hoopla to talk baseball. If you can believe it, we're only weeks away from spring training. And if you're a Yankees fan, there's a new pitching ace on the staff you can keep your eye on: Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees signed him this past week from his Japanese club for a whopping $155 million. That seems like a lot to me. So, to hear what this means for the Bronx Bombers' bottom line and their fans, NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now. Hey, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.
MARTIN: OK. Yankees had already said, I understand, that they weren't going to spend so much money anymore. I mean, they already had the highest payroll in baseball. What happened?
PESCA: Well, they always have the highest payroll in baseball. It's a place they were really comfortable with. But there was some talk coming into maybe last year, you know, maybe we should do it a little differently. There was an incentive. If we get our payroll under a certain number - it was $189 million - then the tax rate that we have to pay, OK, all of the sudden we're talking about laugher curves here. But the tax rate we have to pay would drop from 50 percent to 17 percent. It would be this kind of long-term austerity cost-saving thing.
PESCA: And, you know, maybe in the short term we won't have these great teams but, you know, it will really help us overall in terms of our expenditures. Well, they tried that, or at least they semi-embraced that last season. And they actually had positions that were staffed by non-All Stars, even not-very-good players, and the fans revolted. I mean, they revolted to the tune of Yankee Stadium still drawing the most fans in the American League. But still three or four thousand fewer fans a game were coming out, and that made the Yankees do a recalculation.
MARTIN: So, I don't get that at all, because the Yankees are supposed to have this diehard fan base. All of the sudden, the team starts paying less for players to save money and the fans don't go to the games?
PESCA: Well, the fans said, all right. I mean, to be a Yankee fan it means, you know, we're trotting out an All Star at every position. It's clear that this isn't the year that the Yankees are going to win. And it just costs so much to go to the Bronx and pay $18 for a steak sandwich that, you know, unless we have a reasonable expectation of being in the World Series, we are staying away. This is the fascinating thing, I think. So, because the fans stayed away - a few thousand a game - but times whenever their average ticket price is, say, 50 bucks, and times the 50 bucks they'd stay at the stadium, the Yankees figured out actually austerity is a bad deal for us. You know, we got to spend so much because it'll make the - you know, they're like a luxury brand - you know, it'll make the Yankees that much better. And I think the fascinating thing is this: That those Yankee fans are like, oh, we're in second place. We're not going. Would you consider them good fans or bad fans?
MARTIN: Bad fans, bad fans.
PESCA: Wouldn't you? But they wound up really helping the Yankees because they revolted or at least stayed a little bit, they made the Yankees show much better this year. They made the Yankees sign Tanaka. They made the Yankees say, ah.
MARTIN: They just made their team pay more money.
PESCA: That's right. But they now have better players on the field. That's exactly what the fans wanted. In fact, if there are two season ticket holders and one showed up all the time, the other one said, oh, I just bought this year cause I wasn't into the team last year, the guy who just bought this year could turn to the diehard pinstripe dude and say you were really hurting the team last year. It was guys like me who made the team open up the payroll.
MARTIN: OK, Mike, do you have a curveball for us?
PESCA: I do. So, Stan Wawrinka beat Rafael Nadal in the finals of the Australian Open. Nadal was hurt. Wawrinka, even though he was wearing the white top, red shorts matching the flag of Poland, actually, he's not Polish. He's Swiss, though he has a paternal great-great grandfather or something with a Polish surname. I found out a lot of interesting Stan Wawrinka tidbits, looking them up on Vubayu, Vubayu, Vubayu Vikipedia(ph). Here's my favorite one: He has a tattoo. It's a Samuel Beckett quote. It says: Ever tried, ever failed, no matter. Try again, fail again, fail better. And I found out that Daniel Ratcliffe, of Harry Potter fame, considering getting the same tattoo.
MARTIN: As I'm sure you are. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, Mike.
PESCA: Got to match the piercings.
MARTIN: Thanks, Mike Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.