November 3, 2005
BASEBALL: Equal Opportunity
Now that the World Series has concluded with a sixth different champion in six years, it may be time to retire the idea that baseball is suffering from a crisis of lack of competitive teams. That's not to say there aren't imbalances; even rich teams like the Mets, Red Sox and Phillies spent barely half the budget of the Hated Yankees this year, for example. But even if nobody else can be the Yankees, the number of teams that have the chance to be competitive from time to time is much larger than Bud Selig has argued in the past.
I ran a chart four years ago breaking out the last time each team was in the postseason or finished within six games of the postseason (division or wild card). Six may not be a round number but it seemed like as good a line as any - the Indians, for example, finished six games out this year; the Royals finished 7 out in 2003. So, I'll use the same standard again. With that in mind, let's update the chart to show the last time each team was within six games, the last time each team made the postseason, the last World Series appearance and the last championship:
|Team||w/in 6||Post||In WS||Won WS|
(Chart corrected per reader comment - when I did this in 2001 I must have missed the 1988 Tigers. My bad.)
As you can see, two things are clear from this chart. One is that, much as it still bothers me on a number of levels, the wild card really has opened up a lot of playoff opportunities (without the wild card, even the Red Sox would not have appeared in the postseason since 1995). And second, the number of true have-nots in the game is pretty small. 21 of the 30 teams have been at least seriously competitive for a playoff spot in the past six seasons, and only three of those have failed to make the playoffs in that period, one of whom (the Rangers) had just ended a run of winning three division titles in four years and followed that up by signing the largest free agent contract in the history of sports. Another, the Phillies, plays in the largest one-team market in the nation. The Blue Jays were also coming off a successful run in the early 90s and have generally drawn well, but have suffered partly from poor management and partly from sharing a division with the Yankees and Red Sox.
Of the remaining nine hard-core long-term losers, one has been given a solution to its economic problems, as the Nationals got a new city and are on their way to a new stadium and new ownership. The Rockies have a substantial and growing market to themselves, but have been victimized as much by altitude and bad management as by economics. The Orioles are always big spenders but share Toronto's problem of being in the AL East. Four of the six of the remaining sad sacks (Reds, Pirates, Tigers, and Brewers) play in brand-new ballparks, plus the Devil Rays opened in 1998. Only the Royals combine all the worst problems of baseball's underclass - low payroll, small city, old ballpark, and a track record of poor management.
Now, in a game with winners and losers, someone has to lose, and baseball's always had teams that spent a long stretch in the wilderness (read the history of the Phillies and A's some time). I would, for now, classify four teams as being genuinely handicapped by economic circumstances, not as a complete excuse for failure but as a contributor to long-term stagnantion: the Reds, Pirates, Brewers, and Royals. Three others have serious long-term futility problems, but less economic issues: the Tigers, Devil Rays and Rockies. It is a legitimate concern that even new parks don't seem to do much for the hard-core underclass of the game. But the good news is, the chance to be competitive has rarely been so widespread as it is today.
UPDATE: Another interesting note here, after the last two seasons: there's now no team whose last World Championship came between 1955 and 1978. There's 19 teams that have won the Series in the past 27 seasons, plus 8 expansion teams that have never won it (3 of whom entered the league since 1977), leaving just three teams (the Cubs, Indians and Giants) with a serious long time wait since their last flag. The fourth longest drought is the Rangers.
The Rockies and Tigers would both be very healthy if they could just win, so I don't see them as particularly troubled (although I do think winning in Colorado may just not be possible). I would really only characterize the Devil Rays and Royals as severely unhealthy - but Tampa could potentially be healthy with a good team, and KC ought to be as capable of competing as division rival Minnesota.
i dont think KC will be capable of competing for a long time. and while the brewers and pirates do have economic problems, both seem to be on the rise. it might just take the pirates another 2 years to develop and get some production around Bay-if they can hold on to him and other players for that long.
Not to split hairs, but Detroit came within one game of making the playoffs in 1988. Nobody remembers this because they were four or five games out when they were eliminated, but they won all their remaining games after that, and Boston lost all their games after clinching. They would have easily won the division if they had put anyone other than Gary *#*$! Pettis and his sub-.300 OPB in the leadoff hole.
You wrote "Another interesting note here, after the last two seasons: there's now no team whose last World Championship came between 1955 and 1978." Maybe I'm just misreading this, but the last two years didn't result in champs who previously were champs between 55 and 78. So unless I'm confused nothing changed in that regard the last two years (other than the Cubs, Indians, and Giants has less company in their misery) .
The White Sox won the pennant in '59. Perhaps Crank meant to say pennant. Not sure how last year helps or hurts that, though.
No, I was just commenting on the fact that we're down from five long-drought teams to three; it's just that I just noticed that after the Giants there's a big gap to the Pirates in 1979.
It is interesting. The Cubs are obvious, and it takes no effort to think of the Tribe as a "Long Time Loser." But the GIANTS holding the third longest streak just sounds surprising.
Almost as surprising as "Shea Stadium: 5th Oldest Ballpark in the Majors." And when you think of the 4 legendary stadiums that are older, all the more surprising. Much though Shea will always hold a place in my heart, I know it's a dump. It's MY dump, but it's a dump nonetheless.
I wonder how KC would be doing now if not for Mr. Kauffman's misguided attempts to keep ownership of the Royals in KC. At this point I would almost rather root for a strong in another city then what this team has become. (Actually at this point I do, having moved to St. Louis 10 years ago, now I root for the Cardinals)
I understand what he was trying to do, but I'm sure the years of rudderless direction have had a permanent impact of the fortunes of the team. And I don't think its in any less danger of moving now then it would have been. It may have just been delayed.
The Indians actually finished 2 GB this year in the Wild Card (and 6 GB in the Division).
Actually, the Royals are making progress. They are now following a plan. There are several bright prospects in the pipeline and the future is not as dim as it was. The Royals even have two players on the US Olympic qualifying team. Things are looking up in KC.
I agree that baseball seems to have evened out with the wild card...I think just being in it for a few more weeks/months can bring a lot of revenue for a team (or their contracted network), particularly in local market spot buy advertising and ticket/concession sales. I think also the Moneyball effect is there too...don't have to overpay for superstar names when there are alternatives to build a solid team with all around production numbers...
I think the superstars can be the missing piece, but they can also be big dollar distractions, which may just even things out a bit. But difference in revenue definitely makes the "mistakes" in contracts that much more destructive to a smaller market team, whereas the Yanks can just absorb it and move on. Football doesn't have that problem since the contracts are largely not guaranteed money...
Good stuff, Crank.