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It really should be called Moneyball

By Matt Johnson in Sports

Baseball isn’t what it used to be. Slowly, greediness and an increasing focus on money by both players and owners is pervading the beauty of America’s purest game.  And if nothing changes, it will follow the same path to corruption that caused near-decimation of the NFL’s labor agreement and an irreparable tarnishing of the NFL’s reputation.

Boy, you should have seen me when the Phillies got Pence.  Once I heard the news that Philadelphia’s squad had acquired All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros on July 29, my baseball love-meter dropped as drastically as the Dow Jones Industrial Average did in mid-August.  (Funny enough, this was the same night the Rockies quickly escorted the best pitcher they have ever had out the door of the clubhouse and into the welcoming arms of the Cleveland Indians.  Hopefully you know who I’m talking about.)

Granted, part of the reason for my anger was that my least favorite team, the arch rivals of my beloved Braves, had just exponentially increased the strength of their already solid offense; after the acquisition of Pence, the Phillies have gone 32-13 through Sunday.  However, the Pence story is just another chapter in a book I have already been reading for a long time—East Coast teams in the big-market cities (that’s you, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia) dominating their opponents more and more solely because they have bucketfuls of money to spend in an almost unlimited fashion.  This is the starting point of my case for a salary cap in the MLB.

The main reason why a salary cap is necessary for the health and long-term prosperity of baseball is that it is creating a complete imbalance of wealth that absolutely does reflect the play of teams on the field.  Let’s take a look at some of the 2011 payrolls of MLB teams. Top 4: Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels.  Bottom 4: Padres, Pirates, Rays, Royals.  Notice a trend?  The top 4 have all won at least one World Series in the past ten years, and combined they have won five.  They’re also three of the favorites to win it all this year.  The bottom four? Only one World Series appearance, by the Rays, which resulted in a loss.  Besides the Rays, these bottom four have recently been some of the worst teams in baseball—especially the Pirates and Royals, who have a combined 43 years without even making the playoffs.

Even looking at the payroll chart as a whole is very telling.  The top half includes the three previously mentioned teams plus clubs like the Giants, Tigers, Cardinals, and Rangers.  These four have a combined four World Series appearances and two championships in the past five full seasons.  This year alone, through Sunday, they have combined to win 343 games and lose only 268. In contrast, the bottom half holds the Mariners, Orioles, Astros, A’s, Nationals, and Blue Jays.  The last playoff appearance between these teams occurred five full seasons ago, and none of them has won a World Series in 17 years.  Oh, and this year? They're a combined 395-516 through Sunday.

If we consider these differences between payrolls in monetary terms, the results are astonishing.  The Yankees, with a payroll of $203 million, exceed even the Phillies by about $30 million and the Red Sox by $41 million.  How much more than the last-place Royals?  $167 million.  The two highest paid players in the MLB, Alex Rodriguez and Vernon Wells (not so coincidentally from the Yankees and Angels, respectively) will make a combined $59 million this year.  That’s more money than seven other teams have to pay their whole roster.  And if you’ve never even heard of Wells, ask yourself then if he should be getting the second-most money in the MLB.  Actually, I’ll answer that with numbers: he’s hitting a measly .219 with 59 RBIs and, this season, the lowest on-base percentage for an outfielder since 1920.

See the injustice of it all?  Baseball would be filled with a much greater diversity of good teams and players if it were to implement a salary cap.  All the MLB needs is at least some evening-out of buying power to let the bottom-feeders try to pick themselves up—which they could do if they had the resources to compete with the big East Coast teams for talent.  If Commissioner Bud Selig or one of his successors does go down this road, who knows how long baseball might prosper amidst the failure of other money-crazy leagues.  If the MLB keeps on the same track it is currently on, it can look forward to following the NBA and NFL into the dumpster and further alienating a fan base that is losing interest anyway.

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