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Baseball’s Parity Problem…

I wrote this about six weeks ago and never published it, because I was planning on changing the name of my blog and was waiting to do that first. One thing led to another, and, well… I’m still planning on changing the name of my blog (my wife has informed me that it’s beyond acceptable levels of sport-nerdom), just, you know, tomorrow…

Anyhow, while this isn’t exactly topical anymore, it still largely applies and since it’s written it might as well be read:

Jayson Stark, who’s a wonderful writer, despite not spelling his name properly, wrote an interesting piece earlier this week (cough-in February-cough) in which he polled several league executives to determine how many teams had the potential to win the World Series this season.

Now, lets deal with the question first, before getting to the results. The question, how many teams, going into the season, have even the slightest hope of winning the World Series, could really be rephrased, “how many teams have a chance to make the playoffs this year?” As we’ve seen the last two seasons with the Giants and the Cardinals popping champagne in November, you don’t have to be the best team, because once you reach the playoffs, it’s anyone’s game.

And, of course, opportunities to make the playoffs are going to be a little better this year than they’ve been in the past, which must be considered in the equation, but still if you read Stark’s article, the executives he spoke with identified an astounding 19 different teams capable of winning the World Series. They unanimously identified 12 as being contenders – and Boston wasn’t one of the 12.

For all the caterwauling about how baseball needs a salary cap and how only the rich can win, we are truly in an era of almost universal parity. Even without the second wild card, you have to believe that more than 15 teams can at least play the “IF” game (ie. “IF Colby Rasmus remembers how to hit a ball, IF Brandon Morrow learns to pitch with runners on base, IF Kyle Drabek or Brett Cecil can tap into their potential…). Despite what those polled thought, the Red Sox are certainly title contenders, as are – obviously – the Yanks and Rays. If everything broke right, as it did for the Rays in 2008, then the Jays could sneak in. That’s four. The AL central has the front-running Tigers and with a few breaks, the Indians could squeak into contention. So, now we’re at six. Out West there’s only two options, the two time AL champion Rangers and the reloaded Angels will both beat the snot out of the Mariners and A’s. So, now we’re at eight from the AL alone.

The NL has even greater parity. The East has four teams who are reasonable picks to play in October (sorry Mets fans…). Even after losing Pujols and Fielder, the Cardinals and Brewers shouldn’t surprise anyone by winning the central, neither should the Reds. That’s seven NL teams and 15 overall. And the NL West? Well, everybody’s aboard the Diamondbacks bandwagon, but the year before that everyone was championing the Giants and Rockies, and despite their ownership mess, the Dodgers boast the best position player and pitcher in the league. So, that’s everyone out West except the Padres. Four more teams, giving us an absurd 11 teams in the 16 team NL with playoff hopes.

All told, that means that only fans of 11 teams enter the 2012 season dreaming of the 2013 season. What does that mean? It means that absurd payroll discrepancies or not, parity is not a problem in baseball.

Don’t believe me?

In the twelve years since the turn of the century, 15 teams have played in the World Series. That’s half of baseball. And an astounding nine of those fifteen teams have scheduled a parade in the week following the series. What about all those leagues with more stringent salary caps? Well the lordly NFL, for all its wonderful parity, has seen a similar 15 teams in the Super Bowl – however with two more teams, that’s a slightly lower percentage of the league – and they’ve only crowned eight different champions. The NBA, which due to the nature of the sport, is perhaps the least capable of having true parity, has sent 11 teams to the championship, with only six different winners. Only the NHL can match MLB’s record of contestants throughout the early part of this century, matching MLB with 15 Stanley Cup combatants, and nine different teams drinking from the Cup.

Of course, the NHL crowned their 15 and 9 in one fewer season than baseball. That’s because hockey lost an entire year of their sport to a lockout that ensured the owners could implement a hard cap… So, yeah. All things being equal, I’ll take my sport, sans salary cap, with 12 full seasons of play, 15 different teams in the World Series, and 9 different champions.

Parity Indeed!

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