It’s been a while, but I’m still in top form and ready to start a rant. So what are we waiting for?
As a Royals fan, Bills fan, Chiefs fan, etc., I know what it means to lose. The Chiefs are in a 9-35 slump over the past three seasons, and the Bills… well, do the words “Wide Right” or “Music City Miracle” mean anything to you? But baseball is the worst. All the other leagues have at least some form of parity. The Chiefs went 13-3 a few seasons ago before the drop out. Even though the Bills lost those playoff games, they were still playoff games. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl champions just ten months ago, are on the verge of missing the playoffs, while the Saints, last place in the NFC South just one year ago, are undefeated. That’s parity for you. And that’s just the NFL. In the NBA, the Boston Celtics went from second-worst to first in the span of one year. In the NHL, last year’s Eastern Conference runner-up, the Carolina Hurricanes, are having one of their worst seasons ever. This is the cycle of parity: The winners lose, the losers win, and eventually everyone’s happy at one point or another. So what’s wrong Major League Baseball?
The Kansas City Royals are in a very long drought. They have not reached the playoffs in nearly 25 years, since their improbable World Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals. 70 playoff births. Fourteen American league teams. That should average to exactly five playoff births per team in that era. The New York Yankees have made the playoffs eleven times in that time frame, winning the World Series five times. The Boston Red Sox have made the playoffs twelve times in that time frame. The Oakland A’s have made it nine times, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (what a mouthful) eight times, and the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians seven times. These six teams combined make up 43% of the American League- and 77% of all playoff births in the American League between 1986 and 2009. Nearly 25 years. That’s a long time to allow parity to take hold- but it never has.
There are some theories I have for this problem with Major League Baseball, and I will of course offer some ways to fix them. I believe the problem lies in many alternate causes, but it all links to one thing- finances. Major League Baseball has no salary cap, so teams that have loads of money can go out and buy as many star players as they want, creating a void where the star players should be on low-income, small-market teams. Meanwhile, these teams of good players (*cough cough Yankees*) start winning games over the small market teams and in doing so, create more fan interest. As more fans become interested, more fans buy tickets, and when fans buy tickets, they buy souvenirs and food from the stadium. This generates more income, and we get back where we started: lots of money for those teams to buy good players. Argument One: Major League Baseball has a luxury tax on teams that spend more than a certain amount of money. Answer: While the MLB does have a luxury tax, it is set too high and the penalty is not enough to affect any teams in a way that creates parity. Check this out: According to the Baseball Almanac, the New York Yankees spent over 200 million dollars on their payroll; the Royals, 58 million. The Yankees, of course, fared much better than the Royals. 200 million dollars is an absurd number to spend on payroll. We need a salary cap! Argument Two: Teams can develop good talent through farm systems. Answer: The Kansas City Royals have one of the best farm systems in the league, but where is that getting them? The truly talented players can be signed away after a few years by other teams. The NFL Draft is very successful; the number one overall pick is already a starting quarterback, and many rookies around the league have starting jobs. The MLB Draft has about 1/1,000 of the magnitude of that draft. How many mock drafts do you see for Major League Baseball? How much media attention? Some teams even skip draft picks because they don’t care about it anymore. If the attitude of teams is that they’d rather not draft players, that tells you that they aren’t committed to using the farm system.
What I’m trying to say here is that there are many arguments that you can make that Major League Baseball does have parity. And maybe it does, a little bit. But the luxury tax is too flimsy, teams don’t want to wait through the long process of the farm system, and high-income teams become spending juggernauts and spend more money than is necessary. The bottom line is that if Major League Baseball wants to have fan interest, they need to have parity. Sure, fans in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia are interested. But those are large-market cities and many teams come from small-market organizations. To have parity, Major League Baseball needs to impose a salary cap. Without it, America’s pastime may be America’s pastime no longer.