For many, Christmas is in December – and in some cases July – but for me, Christmas begins when the first pitch of the Major League Baseball season is thrown. The smell of the freshly cut grass and the crack of the bat whistling through the spring air makes W.P. Kinsella’s question of “Is this heaven?” all the more obvious to answer.
Unfortunately for me, my best playing days are behind me. The glory days of being a star shortstop and catcher went the way of four years and 40 pounds, but my love for America’s pastime has never diminished. But recently, my genial nature and my love of baseball collided in a torrid collision that rocked my patience.
Recently while browsing through the troughs of ESPN.com, there was a small poll about baseball. It asked, “What is the biggest problem in baseball for the 2006 season?” According to over 100,000 Americans, the biggest issue in baseball was – drum roll please – competitive balance. Yes, ladies and gentleman, competitive balance – no, not steroids, but whether baseball needs a salary cap. Give me a break!
First off, detractors would say too many of the same teams are making the playoffs over and over – case in point, the Yankees and the Braves. Secondly, big market teams will buy the best players and leave nothing in free agency to teams of smaller markets. Again, the Yankees are a perfect example, having expensive players like A-Rod, Giambi and Damon. They argue that other leagues like the NBA and the NFL which have salary caps are much more competitive. Well there’s a problem with that and all you need is to do a little research.
In terms of competitive balance, take a look at the last five World Series winners – Chicago White Sox, Boston, Florida, Anaheim – yes I know it’s Los Angeles, but they’ll always be the Anaheim Angels to me – and Arizona. Five different teams in five years, compared to only three in the last five for the National Football League and only three in the last seven in the NBA.
And what of the high payrolls of teams in the big markets, well just look at the Mets and the Dodgers. A combined one playoff appearance and they play in the two largest markets in the country, in addition to having two of the top five in payrolls all five of those years.
Compare that to the Athletics and Marlins, whom have combined for four times the number of playoff appearances and a World Series while being in the middle of the pack or bottom of the league in payroll, and play in relatively small markets compared to Los Angeles and New York. In fact, according to ESPN.com, 17 different teams have made the post-season in the last five years, more than half of the league, again compared to less than half, respectively, in both the NFL and the NBA, leagues that do have salary caps.
What does this all mean? Well, I guess the old saying is true – it really does all start at the top. I’m from L.A. and I lived through the Tracy, DePodesta and McCourt era for the Dodgers where I watched them squander over $400 million in three years to put up only a shadow of what was once a great organization. The only reason I still went to the games were for the hot dogs! From Billy Bean in Oakland to John Schuerholz in Atlanta, the teams that have solid management and stability are the ones that win consistently.
Look at the Indians. After their fire sale in 2001, they stayed committed and built a winner through their farm system and a commitment not to make drastic choices. And the Marlins have won two World Series in the process of building and selling their entire team in the last 10 years.
The argument is that teams with money are the teams that win, well that’s not the case. The teams that are stable are the teams that win. Baseball is competitive and now can we get back to the real issues, like dealing with steroids?
Wang can be reached at email@example.com.