Historically, 2000 was a significant year in baseball. It was the last year there was even a hint of equality in the sport. The Yankees had the highest payroll ($95 mil), and the team 20th in payroll was the Houston Astros ($50 million). The $45 million difference was not that wide a chasm. In 2010, the gap was tremendous.
The Yankees were again first, but at $206 million; the team 20th in payroll was the KC Royals at $72 million. The gulf has nearly tripled ($134 million). You know we’ve railed on this site for years about a salary cap in baseball in hopes of creating a more level playing field. And we’ve heard your responses – the union won’t let it happen! Get the wealthy owners to open their damn wallets! Many of you have suggested a salary “floor”. Even if there isn’t a consensus on what the solution is, clearly, something needs to be done to bridge the gap between the handful of teams that spend a lot of money and collect the best free agents, and the many teams that are increasingly looking like farm teams to the high rollers.
Well for the first time in awhile – come to think of it, this could be a first time ever – a high-profile ESPN baseball writer has dared to mention the dreaded salary cap. Howard Bryant writes:
Selig understands combining the words “salary” and “cap” is the same in his sport as adding the word “match” to “gunpowder.” As a result, he has placed the impetus for competitive balance on the political leaders of smaller cities, telling them if they fund ballparks their teams will compete. It is an argument that fails to take into account the enormous gap in local television revenue, evidenced by new ballparks in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Milwaukee that haven’t closed the payroll gap. But in truth, both he and the owners still want a salary cap.
Selig wants a cap? The owners do to? WELL BRING IT ON! (bold ours)
Yet if the networks that run the game want big money, marquee talents, especially in an expanded playoff system, they’re not looking for parity. And neither is the public according to viewing preferences. They want superpower teams in New York and Boston, not a salary cap or any type of controls on spending which would limit the ability of the super teams to dominate. Neither television, the Red Sox nor Yankees would seem to embrace the NFL-style parity Selig has long said he’s craved for baseball.
But does the public “want” superpower teams because that’s where the bulk of the talent is located? It all begins with the talent. The stacked teams get the national TV time. They hog the headlines on all the sports websites and on TV. If the talent was more spread out – like in the NFL and NBA – perhaps it all might be different. But it’s difficult to compare the NBA and NFL – two leagues with caps – because in hoops one or two players can carry a “small” market franchise for a decade (see Utah, San Antonio) and in the NFL there’s the gambling/fantasy aspect (plus a much shorter season).
If you mention the massive MLB World Series ratings in the mid-80s (the Yankees and Red Sox weren’t the powers they are now), well, that might as well have been a different century. So if you’re not for a salary cap, how does Selig get to parity before MLB falls behind in the “popularity” race to the NBA?