Market Share, Shmarket Share

by Warren Menzer

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If I have to hear any of the following terms too many more times, I'm going to go crazy: "competitive balance", "small market", "salary cap", or "revenue sharing". Many writers, especially since the signings of A-Rod and Manny Ramirez, have written as if the great game of baseball is spiraling down the drain, and Scott Boras was the one to flush the proverbial toilet. Out of this, you get the absolutely most idiotic quotes, such as this one, by Bud Selig:

That wasn't an issue in the '50s. You had Clemente in Pittsburgh. You had Aaron in Milwaukee. Market size wasn't the factor it is today. Whether that's good or bad depends on whose perspective you look at it from.

Oh, I see - the grand old times, when baseball was perfect, and nobody cared about the money. Sure, market size didn't matter, as long as you played in New York, given the fact that the Yankees were in 8 of the 10 World Series that decade, and the Giants and Dodgers made a total of 6 appearances. Yeah, those were the days. Not like 2000, when we had the first season ever in which all teams had winning percentages between .400 and .600.

But Warren, overall the teams might be more competitive, but the small market teams just can't compete with the big guys anymore - just look at the success of the Yankees. Umm...okay. It's too bad payroll is so important, and teams like the White Sox (26th in payroll), the A's (25th) the Giants (18th), and the Cardinals (12th) have no chance at making the playoffs, while cash cows like the Dodgers (2nd), the Orioles (3rd), and the Red Sox (5th) make it. Oh wait, that's exactly what didn't happen. Silly me.

Honestly, teams like Philadelphia lose all credibility with their small market complaints after they spend over $7 million a year to sign Ricky Bottalico, Jose Mesa, and Rheal Cormier. Sure, the Yankees spend more money, but they aren't stupid enough to waste their dollars on these guys (plus the Phillies have little claim to being small-market, given that they play in the fourth or fifth largest city in the country). The Pirates are spending over $7 million a year on Terry Mulholland and Derek Bell. The problem isn't lack of money, it's lack of good management. That's why the A's are so much more successful than the Dodgers, despite the fact that Oakland's payroll is about one-third of Los Angeles'.

I'm not going to say that teams that spend more have no advantage - that statement is just as ridiculous as the statements that bother me - but is that necessarily a bad thing? Teams go through fluctuations financially, as well as on the field. As recently as five or six years ago, the Expos had a higher payroll than the Mets. If the Phillies could put a real quality team on the field (and they can, even given their payroll), they could attract more fans, which allows the team to spend a bit more money on salaries and the farm system. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, and we can't expect every team to be at the top of their cycle at the same time.

What makes this whole line of discussion particularly crazy is that this is not, as some claim, the most unbalanced era in baseball history, it's probably the most balanced era ever. If you look through the history books, you will not find a season where the teams were as close to .500 as they were this year. Even given the disparity in payrolls, no team won or lost 100 games. And the teams that dominate so much these days - the Braves, Yankees and Indians - were the worst teams in baseball 10 years ago.

In a perfect world, the Yankees would lose 162 games a year, and the rest of us would all be happy. But as much as I'd love to see George Steinbrenner lose that many games (I'm thinking there would be about 50 managers that season), I think things are fine the way they are. <!-- Article Ends Here --!>

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