Contrary To Popular Belief MLB Baseball Has Parity
[quote]“There’s just not enough parity in baseball; the same teams win every year.”[/quote]
I know you’ve heard these words because I’ve heard them, too. The truth is, every passionate fan of MLB has heard or will hear these words. It’s inevitable. It can’t be avoided. You will hear them. And if you support a small market club, you’ve probably uttered them yourself.
Born out of New York Yankee success is perhaps the greatest myth in all of professional sports; that baseball lacks parity due to its monetary system. The myth would like to have you believe that the games are played in front offices, decided solely by negotiations over years and dollars. The myth would also have you believe that MLB is ruled by an elite class that can’t be supplanted.
It simply isn’t true.
For starters, the single greatest perpetrator of this myth no longer has the stranglehold on baseball that it once did. The New York Yankees ruthlessly dominated back when the American and National Leagues held only eight to ten teams each, but the league has since changed. MLB has worked to expand its brand, boosting the number of its clubs to 30, while also introducing two additional playoff rounds to compliment the World Series. Likewise, the luxury tax was added to help bring competitive balance to the league. These changes, which range as far back as 1969, have made winning a World Series more difficult for all organizations within MLB — including for the mighty Yankees.
Over a span of 40 seasons, from 1923-1962, the Yankees won an astounding 20 World Series championships. During this time, they created perhaps the greatest dynasty in the history of professional sports — bar none. For 40 years, the Yankees achieved their glory with some of baseball’s greatest all-time legends, as without the configurations of modern MLB in place, there was no one to stand in their way.
Eventually, though, after decades, that great Yankee dynasty would breathe its last, doing so in 1964. The organization would be forced into a period of waiting, a most unusual position for them. It wouldn’t be until 1977, 15 years after their 1962 championship, that they would raise another flag. Soon after, there would be another 18-year wait. Most recently, between their championships in 2000 and 2009, they waited another nine.
Overall, in the 50 seasons following 1962, the Yankees have won only seven championships. Of course, the Yankees still lead MLB for championships over that stretch of time, but the margin in which they’ve dominated the league has shrunk. The St. Louis Cardinals have won five World Series since 1962, while the Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds have each won four. And in this century, the Yankees have no more championships (2) than the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, or San Francisco Giants. Still, the Yankees remain an ever-lingering presence in MLB, though their shadow doesn’t quite loom in the same way that it did during their greatest glory days.
Much of the New York Yankees’ success — and their longevity — is attributed to their spending habits in free agency. That kind of funding certainly helps, but it isn’t the sole reason the Yankees are a perennial winner. The New Yankees also operate a notoriously well-run organization. They’ve reached the playoffs in 18 of the last 19 seasons, proving they know what they’re doing with daily operations. Money doesn’t buy that. Their latest dynasty was not built on piles of cash, but rather homegrown talent. Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera were developed within their own system. They weren’t signed in free agency, nor were they traded for.
Meanwhile, other large-market franchises haven’t managed quite as well. The Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, and Los Angeles Dodgers — all of which have top-10 payrolls — haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. The Philadelphia Phillies’ dynasty appears to be dead, and neither Chicago club has made the playoffs since 2008. In fact, the Chicago Cubs have been forced into a full-scale rebuild. The New York Mets, embroiled in controversy, have failed to reach the playoffs since 2006.
At the same time, small-market franchises have been finding success, proving once more that the game is not driven by dollars and cents, but rather by player talent. Despite ranking among the worst for player payroll and fan attendance in the American League for the last five years, the Tampa Bay Rays have won 90 games in four of five seasons dating back to their appearance in the 2008 World Series. The Minnesota Twins were able to reach the playoffs in six of nine years, from 2002-2010, also demonstrating for a time how a small-market club should operate.
The Oakland Athletics, too, are a shining example of how a club with limited funds can compete. From 2000-2006, the franchise appeared in the playoffs in five of seven seasons, winning 88 or more games in all seven seasons. Their story drew the attention of Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, and later, that of Hollywood. Along with the Baltimore Orioles, the Athletics became one of the biggest MLB stories of 2012. In 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals are attempting to break through and put an end to their long playoff droughts.
Expansion of the league and its playoffs, as well as the luxury tax in more recent years, has left MLB with a more diverse playoff culture. Sure, unseating a divisional power continues to be a difficult task, but more and more teams are getting to play during the month of October. All in all, 21 MLB franchises have made the playoffs since the start of the 2008 season.
Furthermore, since the start of the 1980 season, MLB has seen 21 different franchises hoist a World Series championship flag. If that sounds good, it’s because it is. No other major North American sports league comes close to that mark, as during that same time frame, the NHL has managed 16 different champions, the NFL 15, and the NBA a paltry nine. To put this in proper perspective, MLB has had nine different champions since the start of the 2001 season, 15 since ‘88, and 16 since ‘86. From 2000-2006 alone, baseball enjoyed seven consecutive years of different champions with no repeat listings. Even better, from 1978-1987, MLB enjoyed 10.
Impressively, only four of MLB’s thirty franchises have failed to win their league and make a World Series appearance since the start of the 1980 season. The Seattle Mariners are the lone team from the American League to not capture the pennant, while the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos represent the remaining three clubs, all from the National League. Perhaps even more impressive is that since the strike-shortened season of 1994, MLB has seen all four of its latest expansion clubs — the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, and Tampa Bay Rays — reach the World Series. Between the four organizations, they share five pennants and three World Series championships.
MLB’s landscape has changed for the better, and the game is thriving — both on the field and in terms of business. Lucrative TV deals for the league are providing all 30 clubs in MLB with more revenue, allowing even small-market clubs to retain their stars. Recently, it was announced that ESPN, FOX, and TBS will collectively be paying more than $12 billion over an eight-season period for the right to televise MLB games.
However, as the league rakes in more money that it ever has before, it is arguably becoming more important than ever for organizations to spend their money wisely. With these TV deals in place, free agency is becoming less relevant. Fewer stars are reaching the open market each year, and factors involving the draft are attached to the game’s greatest players, leading many organizations to shy away. This trend has put pressure on front offices to scout well, draft well, and develop their talent well, as rebuilds may be more common than reloads in years to come. Big market clubs, too, aren’t exempt from this.
Baseball has the parity it needs. Its monetary system has not impeded its ability to possess a diverse field of winners. Yankee legends Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle helped to create this myth that says baseball lacks competitive balance, winning ad nauseum throughout their careers, but their time is through. In the decades since their departure from the game, MLB has implemented changes that have brought about greater balance within the industry, allowing clubs of all financial statuses to compete. But somehow, someway, that myth persists.