In yesterday's column, I wondered whether or not three of sports' most storied franchises were on the wane and in danger of losing their institutional status. One thing I didn't consider: Whether or not athletes would actually want to play for those teams.
The answer would appear obvious: Of course. Who wouldn't want to play for a perpetual contender, with the richest owners and the largest fanbase? But I suspect it's more complicated than that. For evidence, look no further than New York City itself.
That every athlete eventually wants to play for a New York City team has always been treated as a truism. If they play there and fail, or can't handle the city's pressures, it is seen as an indictment of them, not of the city itself. Winning a championship means more there than anywhere else. Who wouldn't want to play there? (I once co-wrote an entire New York magazine cover package based around this idea.)
But I'm not sure this is true. The more one looks at the situation, playing in New York seems like much more of a burden than a benefit. Let's break it down, Walter White-style, with a pros and cons list. Because if I were a professional athlete, the last city I would ever want to play in would be New York City. I'm not even sure the "pros" make sense.
*More endorsement opportunities. I find this highly theoretical and unproven, particularly in today's global marketplace. Is Nike any more likely to give you a huge contract because you play in New York instead of San Francisco or Denver? Unlikely. Every team is national these days. The best I can say here is that the local car dealerships in New York probably pay more than the ones in Milwaukee.
* If you win a championship there, you will be more of a legend than if you won a championship anywhere else. This is basically the sports variant on the old John Updike line: "The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding." (This is one of those quotes that make non-New Yorkers want to punch New Yorkers.) I've never won a championship, so I can't speak to whether or not it's "better" to win one in New York, but I dunno: Non-New York champions always seem happy to me. I suppose it's possible everyone in this picture is secretly thinking, "Man, this would be so much better if we were doing this as Yankees," but I doubt it.
* You can make more money there. This was once true in baseball, before the Yankees started slashing their budget and the Mets began searching through their couch cushions for change, but it's definitely not true in any other, capped sports, particularly when you add in a crazy city tax rate and the added expenses. You're better off going to Florida and Texas, which have lower taxes and big houses where you can hide from the public.
* More access to the entertainment community. If that's your thing, you can make cameos on "Saturday Night Live" from time to time, or introduce a category at the Tonys, or your wife can show up on a reality TV show. But Los Angeles is a better bet in just about every way.
* Vibrant, active night life. This is definitely true: You can get a grilled cheese at three in the morning in New York City, no problem. But the clubs are more policed and restricted in NYC, and you still have to spend time on the street getting to them, making it much more likely you'll be ambushed by TMZ or some fan trying to start something.
* The boos. Fans should boo. They've earned the right: They've paid for it. Fans are so often the last consideration in sports that expressing their displeasure is one of the few ways they can be heard. But they do it a lot in New York. If you're sensitive -- and let's face it, if you've been coddled for having talent since you were 12 years old, you probably are -- it can be more than you want to deal with.
* Seriously, the expense. In addition to everything else, New York City has an invisible, off-books $40 wallet tax. No matter what you do throughout the day in NYC, when you come home at the end of the night, you will have roughly $40 less in your wallet than you thought you did. It's unexplainable, but it's true.
* The proximity to humanity. Come on, you're a professional athlete: The last thing you want is to be hounded by the riffraff every time you go grab a coffee. (Or take somebody else's). But if you live in the city, avoiding Regular People is a daily headache. Oh, sure, you can go live in White Plains, the suburban enclave north of Manhattan, but if you're going to do that, what's the point of playing in New York City in the first place? They have Wal-Marts up there. If there's a Wal-Mart around, you ain't near New York City.
* The media. Honestly, this would be the dealbreaker for me. This is the media capital of the country, which means that no matter how much you succeed, no matter how much joy you provide, everyone's going to pounce on you for no reason, just because they can. I mean, they called Derek Jeter "Derek Eater" and "Captain Munch." Does that sound like a place where you want to spend your time? If you have one bad game in New York, newspaper back pages call you a choker, or a fraud, or a failure, and it sits on stands all day, with people just staring at your picture next to some snappy pun about your last name. Oh, and if you have any personal issues -- that is to say, you are like every other person on the planet -- nothing is off-limits. So I hope you keep a perfectly clean sheet.
You're so much better off playing for Detroit, where there are, like, three total reporters, or St. Louis, where two star players can be detained for soliciting prostitutes and no one notices, remembers or cares. Take the pressure off. Go where no one is watching. Go where you can be left alone.
Don't play in New York City, free agent athletes of the world. It's just not worth it. It's the best city in the world. But not for you.
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