Keeping Up with the Yankees

The Yankees and Red Sox have staged their version of an arms (and bats) race over the past five years, as both teams scramble to sign the best free agents, both to bolster their squads and ensure their archrival doesn't end up with the talent. For as heated as this rivalry is, doing nothing means falling behind.

As free agency has forever changed the nature of baseball competition, so has it accelerated the "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality in companies, universities, and cities. Gone are the days, both in sports and in life, when you hung your shingle at the same employer for your entire career. As athletes have learned to sell their services to the highest bidder, so have programmers, researchers, and entrepreneurs. In our knowledge economy, everything is mobile, even entire companies.

What does this mean? First, it's a lot easier to keep talent than replace it, so take care of your young studs within the ranks, or else someone else will benefit from their prowess later on. Second, there are still ways to be sticky, so create an environment that's hard to leave and you just might get the benefit of the "hometown discount." Third, if you don't have the bank of the Yankees, you have to have a system like the A's, who have used stats to field a competitive team with a fraction of the payroll.

Sports, for all its attractiveness as an escape from the real world, is actually a pretty darn good proxy for the real world. You pay attention to the nuances of the sports world, you pick up some interesting insights on race and class, economics, human resources, and team chemistry. Maybe all my hours rooting for my teams, culling through old stats, and instinctively turning to the sports page every morning isn't so useless after all.
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