THE NEW YORK Yankees have had Major League Baseball's highest payroll in each of the last 14 seasons. But this past offseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers - triggered by new ownership and the prospect of new local cable TV money flowing down the L.A. River to Dodger Stadium* - decided to challenge the Evil Empire for top dollar.
That's like trying to outspend Joan Rivers at Cedars-Sinai Center for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
The Dodgers did it. Maybe. They definitely surpassed the Yankees' 2008 record total of $209 million - with a projected player payroll of nearly $230 million - but the Yankees, supposedly in the midst of a penny-pinching, let's-clip-coupons sea change, also are close to $230 million after acquiring Vernon Wells from the Angels.
*Factual disclosure: The Los Angeles River does not flow to Dodger Stadium; I'm using "geographic license" there. Actually, the L.A. River does not flow much of anywhere - it's pretty much a series of dried-up pipes in a concrete channel. In fact, if you poured a Big Gulp into certain portions of the L.A. River, you would triple its liquid content.
The Dodgers, in more than doubling their payroll in one year, are in character with cash-rich Los Angeles, where money is no object and where money often is the object. You would think the streets are paved in gold here - actually, I believe David Geffen's driveway is - with the accumulation and application of capital wealth around town of late:
(I am reminded of my favorite money quotations from two nimble minds of the 20th century. Longtime Illinois senator Everett Dirksen once said, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." And comedian Henny Youngman said, "I've got all the money I'll ever need, if I die by 4 o'clock.")
The Dodgers signed right-handed pitcher Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract and South Korean left-handed pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu to a six-year, $36 million deal. They are paying pitcher Ted Lilly - a 37-year-old on his sixth team; career record: 130-111 with a 4.13 ERA - $11.6 million this season because, well, they could. Among position players, the Dodgers are paying Adrian Gonzalez $21.8 million in 2013, Carl Crawford $20.3 million and Hanley Ramirez $15 million.
And, to think, in the early 1990s some people insisted that Ted Danson was overpaid at $400,000 an episode on "Cheers."
Of course, in L.A. everything is inflated. Tom Cruise makes $70 million to $100 million per movie. "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" cost $300 million; it's expensive shooting on the high seas with multiple pirate ships. Then again, you don't always get what you pay for - they spent $175 million making "Waterworld," the L.A. River of post-apocalyptic science fiction films.