The Lords of Baseball have spoken thus: the national pastime is in bad shape, and contraction is the answer.
Of course, few outside of Afghanistan’s cave-dwelling population really think that Bud Selig and his merry millionaires are being altruistic with their proposal to eliminate two franchises. Even fewer think that contraction would solve baseball’s long-term financial problems. Heck, Major League Baseball owners may be the only 30 people in the country deluded enough to believe that it will.
But let me play devil’s advocate for a column and accept that contraction is indeed the answer to baseball’s woes. The commish hasn’t yet revealed which teams the league would contract if it had its way with the courts and the union, but it’s little secret that Selig has his eye on the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos. It’s pretty safe to say that there aren’t any ultra-high revenue and payroll teams on the chopping block, such as your New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.
But that’s exactly the problem. Baseball’s problems start at the top, not at the bottom. And the only way to fix those problems and institute competitive balance is to contract baseball’s fat cat teams, not its bottom feeders.
Fans have long lamented the lack of competitive balance in baseball, and with good reason. Championships are won with money: ask the Arizona Diamondbacks, who had to borrow tens of millions of dollars from their fellow teams to make ends meet on their $80-plus million squad. Teams like the Montreal Expos pop their heads up in pennant races every once in a while, but their opportunity to win fades faster than Al Gore after a George W. Bush inauguration.
So long as the game has its George Steinbrenners and Rupert Murdochs, teams in smaller markets are doomed to suffer. Look at the last couple of World Series: Yankees in both, their opponents the free-spending Arizona Diamondbacks and the big-market Mets.
Small-market franchises can still make it, sure. But Oakland is a Jason Giambi signature away from returning the Yankees to the World Series and relegating the A’s to second place behind the Mariners next season and beyond. The Florida Marlins and San Diego Padres, low-revenue teams both, recently made it to the World Series only to virtually disappear from the map.
Rich teams inflate the price of mediocre players like Mike Lansing, relegated to the end of the Red Sox bench at the cost of a paltry $6 million per annum. And they get the best small-market players just as they hit their peak and their clubs can no longer afford them (see, for example, Boston’s pilfering of Pedro Martinez from les Expos).
And though talent is the real currency of baseball, what good is that talent when you can’t develop and keep it? The Yankees’ recent success in producing home-grown stars (Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter) is due largely to its ability to sign top young talent to big bonuses and retain free agents. In the long run the Twins and Expos are simply no match.
If Bud can’t go for the big market contraction idea, maybe he can compromise: eliminate one rich team and one poor team at once. Then perhaps the richer owners would think twice about depriving a city’s fans of their beloved team.
Perhaps eliminating the big boys is just a tongue-in-cheek proposal, with little chance of ever being achieved. But the Yankees and Dodgers have had their share of winning. And besides, Red Sox fans, you wouldn’t really miss the misery, would you?