So the evil Yankees are back in the World Series and the debate about large market dominance in baseball has fired up again. Living between NY and Philly I have seen both sides of the issue. Until the last 5 – 7 years, the Phillies pretended to be a small market franchise and of course the Yankees are the bully many people love to hate. Personally, I think this is one of the best, most competetive eras of baseball and that a salary cap would ruin the game like it has ruined the NBA and NHL. I would also argue that the NFL is not better because of the cap but the popularity of the sport itself overruns any detriment the cap may cause. In the NFL the only players that really matter are the QB’s, everyone else is expendable. Baseball is much more player driven and thrives on the accomplishments of superstar teams and superstars.
MLB has a revenue sharing agreement and while it is not as extensive as the NFL it does help to balance the playing field. Now, what small market teams decide to do with the money they receive from the teams that generate massive revenues is truly the problem. Some teams, like the Pirates this year, chose to dump payroll and just collect that fat check from MLB. Others like the Rockies and Twins have invested in their farm systems and a few key midrange free agents. Plenty of small and medium sized markets have won over the years, it’s the team that don’t compete on a consitent basis that cause any percieved disparity. MLB is far more competitively balanced than the NFL or NBA right now.
There are a few MLB teams that just need to be moved or folded. The towns they are in do not support them, even when they win. Also just because a market was viable 90 years ago does not mean it is now. The Pirates, for example, even with a new stadium do not draw enough fans to support a higher payroll. Even in the early 1990′s when they were a playoff team, the Pirates were only in the middle of the pack attendance wise. Why should any larger revenue teams continue to support a franchise that had a stadium half paid for by the public, still draws very small crowds and hasn’t had a winning season since 1992? The Rays are another example of a team to be contracted. They were in the World Series last year and couldn’t draw then or now. They have built a solid team that had a down year. If the city were going to support them they would’ve shown up last year or the beginning of this season, but that didn’t happen.
As far as competitive balance, the NFL is more imbalanced than ever. Half the games each week are match-ups between the hapless and the excellent. The bad teams may pop up and have a good year here and there but generally the same teams are at the top year after year. In the NBA it is almost impossible to get good unless you gut your team and hope for a great draft pick or dump salaries and sign one huge free agent. In baseball, however, even a team that dumps a salary at midseason can benefit with minor league talent. Also an MLB team can take a risk on a free agent without it hurting them five years down the road because of the cap. Is the MLB system perfect, no, but it is the best system for baseball.
There have been 10 different World Series Champions since 1995, 11 different Super Bowl champs in that time and only 7 different NBA champions. Clearly a cap is not all it is cracked up to be. Helping smaller teams through revenue sharing is important to keep leagues viable but a cap does nothing to increase competitive balance and possibly even hurts it. So stop crying about the Yanks and Sox and just be thankful that they support your teams by generating revenue and interest, because without them there would be no Pirates, Rays or Padres.