Saturday, June 14, 2008

Parity In Baseball

Many sports fans make a case for parity - the idea that all teams should be as equal as possible to allow every team a shot at winning a championship. This idea is quite widespread. Sports like basketball and football have tried to accomplish this idea by implementing such things as a salary cap and revenue sharing, etc. Well, there is a solution to the parity problem that nobody ever talks about, and it's the only one that makes sense. I'll mention it later in the post.

The call for parity comes from a realization that big market teams have all the money and much larger sources of revenue and media attention, and therefore can simply "buy" success, if not a championship. New York is a great place to have a team. Big market teams are always in the playoffs, and fans are tired of seeing them all the time. They want somebody else to have a shot. Fans tire of dynasties.

Now, I'm actually opposed to this idea of parity. In fact, football and basketball are boring because of it. I always hear in the news about a trade or pickup or attempt to keep some player that some team can't do becuase of salary cap limitations. What fun is that? Oh, the Steelers can't resign this guy for what he's worth because of the salary cap. Why not? I believe teams should be able to improve their teams, regardless of money. Yes, I hate seeing the Yankees in the playoffs all the time. But, money doesn't guarantee a championship, as the last seven years have testified.

I actually prefer eras in sports that include dynasties. They make sports history interesting. If a different team won each year, history would be much less meaningful. Dynasties in my lifetime include the A's of the early 70's, the Big Red Machine, the Blue Jays minor dynasty, and the late 90's Yankees. Without dynasties, a winning team would have little hope for the following year, and players would leave more easily. Dynasties create memories and conversation.

The real solution to the problem of parity can be summed up in the answer to a question. If New York is such a great place to have a baseball team, then why don't more teams play there? The real problem isn't the disparity of market size between metropolitan areas, it is the idea of "territorial rights" given to teams. In baseball, each team has a territorial right within a 75 mile radius. If a team wanted to move to San Jose, the San Francisco Giants could veto such a move. And they did when the A's wanted to move there. When the Expos moved to Washington, the Baltimore Orioles cried foul and wanted compensation for the invasion.

But here's the problem with the territorial rights rule: it creates disparity because it is based on land area and not population. Yes, George Steinbrenner has been given a 22 million population metro area, while the Brewers have 2 million. Teams are given entire markets, not just parts of a large market. What baseball really needs is more teams in the large markets, to dilute the population base for each team. Do New York and Milwaukee have the same number of McDonald's? Put a team in downtown Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, one in East Retherford, NJ, and then you're talking. Put one in San Bernardino, San Jose, Chicago suburbs, and another one in Boston somewhere. All the intra-area rivalries would help, and it would give the Tampa Bay's of the baseball world a real chance to win... by either being more competitive right there in Tampa, or by moving to Brooklyn.

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