Does Big Money win Love, Sport Championships, and even the Presidency?

By | August 28, 2012

For a number of decades the New Yankees, of major league baseball, have been the richest baseball franchise and, as a result, have fielded superior teams that have won many pennants and World Series (the most of any team by far).  Yet they have not won every year; some years teams with a significantly lower payroll and a more human face have beaten them. (See the great Brooklyn Dodger victory in the 1955 World Series.)  But more frequently than not, deep pockets are the main factor that enables a person or an athletic team to claim victory.   This applies as much in sport competition as it does in politics and love.  Any competitor for the big prize in politics better have a good fund raising team, as well as a good political program (or at least one that appeals to the voters).  Our romantic myths may say that love conquers all, but any man seeking a desirable partner in life better show at least a potential for a decent income if he is to succeed.  A destitute lover usually remains destitute longer than he remains a lover.

So where does this leave us in the summer of 2012?  In national politics, the US Supreme Court has opened to flood gates to unlimited campaign spending by candidates, their supporters and the countless PAC (Political Action Committees) supporting them.  So we can expect the best government that money can buy.  Or can we?  It remains to be seen whether the fabulously wealthy Mitt Romney, with all his deep-pockets corporate and PAC support can win the Presidency over the incumbent, President Barack Obama.

Recently (2012) in the world of Los Angeles/Orange County sports, we have seen three professional franchises, the LA Dodgers, the LA Angels of Anaheim, and the LA Lakers spend millions of dollars to bring in established stars to strengthen their lineups and hopefully win a championship.  Wealthy team owners can shell out big bucks and buy an all-star lineup.  Sometimes this results in a championship; sometimes, it does not.  We shall see how things work out for our two baseball teams and our NBA team.  Maybe they, like Mitt Romney, will show that money wins out, whether in politics or athletic competition. But, I hope not.

What has past history of sports shown us on this question?  Do the best teams that money can buy always win the big prize?  In politics, do wealth and the ability to shell out big money always prove to be the essential factor that leads to victory?

Consider some NBA history involving our Los Angeles Lakers.  In the 1960s the Lakers had two of the best players in the NBA, Elgin Baylor (one of the greatest forwards to play the game) and Jerry West (one of the best guards).  In the summer of 1968 they acquired in a trade the great center, Wilt Chamberlain, giving them a team featuring three of the greatest players in the league.  Surely they would easily win the championship, most people thought.  But they did not win either in ’69, ’70, or ’71.  The big money acquisition of Chamberlain and an all-star lineup did not give them a championship.

A few summers later, in 2003, the Lakers acquired all-stars Karl Malone (one of the best power forwards) and Gary Payton (great defensive guard), who joined the all-star duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, who had already won several NBA championships. Who would be able to stop this team of all-stars?   Well, the answer was: the Detroit Pistons, a coherent team of great defenders and one all-star.  The Pistons, with a payroll ridiculously lower than the Lakers, won the NBA championship, beating the Lakers 4 games to 1.

Move a few summers forward, to 2012 and once again the wealthy LA Lakers have spent big money to acquire an all-star team.  They managed to trade for Dwight Howard, the best center in the league, Steve Nash (old, but still one of the best point guards in the NBA), and Antawn Jamison, a great scorer.   These three join all-stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in a lineup which might win another championship.  We shall see. But NBA history indicates that the team with the most money and the all-star lineup does not always win the big prize.

The Major League baseball season of 2012 also featured two local teams (local for Southern California), the Angels and the Dodgers, who spent millions of dollars to acquire big established stars and build impressive lineups and pitching staffs.  So far, in the American League, the revamped Angels are having a rough time and are in jeopardy of not even making the playoffs.  Interestingly enough, the Oakland Athletics, with a payroll only of fraction of that of the Angels, are leading the Angels in the American West.  The Dodgers only recently spent millions of dollars to acquire all-star players and strengthen their team.  We must wait to see whether their big expenditures pay off.

For some of us there’s something disagreeable with the idea that big money and the all-star teams it can assemble win the day against teams that develop in more traditional ways. One of my favorite NBA season was that of the year ’76-77 when the Portland Trailblazers defeated the Philadelphia 76’ers for the NBA championship.  The Portland team, a working-man’s team led by Bill Walton (center) defeated the powerful Philadelphia 76ers which featured four all-stars led by the great Julius “Dr. J” Erving. I suppose that in NBA competition of 2013 I will be rooting for the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder to defeat the all-stars from Los Angeles, and in the 2012 baseball playoffs, I will root for the Oakland A’s and the SF Giants to show up the teams with deep pockets from our Los Angeles area.

In the political sphere, it has been obvious that effective fund raising and the support of wealthy, powerful interests are the sine qua non of any effective political campaign, especially at the State and National levels.  But there are degrees, and some people in politics are not willing to sell out completely to the wealthy and powerful interests that can make or break them.  Unfortunately these types often do not have long careers in public office.  Someone with less integrity and more eagerness to accept the big money often will defeat them, much to the detriment of the political process.  But in a ‘free,’ Capitalist society like ours any complaint against the influence and power of big money sounds rather Quixotic, even ridiculous.

Nevertheless, I will be rooting that the Democrats and Barack Obama can hold their own against the powerful money machine that the GOP and Romney will surely have working against them.  Setting questions of policy and competency aside, one is moved by the pathetic fact that one political party (GOP) has completely sold whatever soul it might have possessed to the biggest bidder.  That alone is enough to motivate me to support the other party.

With regard to romantic love, I hope there are at least a few cases in which the poor, honest boy wins the girl over the deep-pocketed predator, who often prevails because of the great wealth and life of luxury that he offers.  But maybe there are a few perceptive young women out there, as I hope there are enough perceptive voters this November who will not allow themselves to be seduced by the big money of the GOP.

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