Citizens go ga-ga for NFL, but MLB is more reflective of our society
Posted: Friday April 9, 2004 12:51PM; Updated: Friday April 9, 2004 4:46PM
Forbes' 2004 Franchise Values
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
New York Mets
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
St Louis Cardinals
San Diego Padres
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
You can accuse Major League Baseball of not having the best drug-testing policy. You can accuse it of not always having the best interests of the fans in mind. And you even can say baseball is not the national pastime anymore. But you can't say baseball is un-American.
The socialistic NFL, with its parity-inducing policies, burrows its way deeper into the hearts of sports fans every year. Meanwhile, major league teams are, for the most part, left to their own devices to figure out how to compete in an unfriendly, unsupportive environment. You may have heard of this concept. It's called capitalism, and we're stuck with it, for better or worse, in life and in baseball.
Unfortunately -- or fortunately, depending on your political bent -- the capitalistic system often puts the majority of a nation's wealth in the hands of a precious few people. And baseball, being the wholly American game, is no different. We have long been accustomed to seeing the haves (Yankees, Red Sox, etc.) grab the largest pieces of the financial pie while the have-nots (Devil Rays, Marlins, Royals) get by on scraps.
At no time is this more evident than when Forbes magazineunveils its annual list of franchise values, as it did Thursday. Once again, Big Blue (the Yankees) sits at the top, along with its caviar-munching pals from big markets, the Red Sox, Mets and Dodgers. The Yankees' estimated value, as tabulated by Forbes, is more than double the individual worth of all but two major league teams. The Yankees brought in $238 million in revenue last season, nearly three times as much as the 30th-ranked Expos ($81 million).
This is usually where the Chicken Little Society, of whom baseball commissioner Bud Selig is a card-carrying member, chime in with their forecasts of doom. Woe is MLB. How will the game survive with such disparity? The NFL has parity, the NFL has drug testing, the NFL has a salary cap ...
Granted, the NFL has succeeded where baseball -- and Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, for that matter -- failed. It has created this shiny, happy society where all of its citizens share in the financial growth equally. It isn't hard to imagine all 32 NFL teams are sitting around the campfire passing the Vince Lombardi trophy around like a bong, er, "water pipe." Moreover, it has created the perception that its players are free of performance-enhancing drugs, legal or otherwise. Baseball still has a way to go on that.
But there is a disturbing sameness to King Football. The league has become a hegemony of homogeny. Every team has nearly the same level of talent. Nearly every game is the same, with the outcome undecided until the final minutes, with a stroke of luck usually dictating the outcome. And with only 16 games on the schedule, a missed extra point or bad call here or there is all a team needs to turn its season around. That is not the case in baseball, where the whole point of the 162-game schedule is to have luck play as little factor in determining the winners as possible. You have as good a chance of forecasting next season's Super Bowl teams by picking names out of a hat than you do by any sort of deductive reasoning. Just make sure not to pick the Patriots and Panthers, who will be lucky to finish above .500 if recent history holds true. Four of the past six defending conference champions posted losing records the following season: Raiders (4-12, 2003), Bucs (7-9, 2003), Rams (7-9, 2002) and Giants (7-9, 2001).
Have questions or feedback? E-mail Jacob Luft.
The NFL and its fans brag about every team having the same chance to win. But where else in real life do you find this to be the case? You and I and most people have a chance to "win," be successful in life and make huge piles of money. This is the land of opportunity. But it isn't the land of the same opportunity. For every baby born with a silver spoon in his mouth, an Ivy League education and a trust fund waiting for him when he turns 18, there are millions who have to be smarter, more dedicated and make better decisions to succeed. (What, you think Donald Trump was born poor?)
Those are the qualities the low-budget wunderkinds of baseball -- the A's (ranked 23rd by Forbes), Marlins (25th) and Twins (28th) -- demonstrated last season to qualify for the most exclusive playoff field in sports (eight of 30). The other five playoff teams were all in the Forbes' top 10. The Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, Giants and Cubs used a combination of their inherent advantage as big-market teams and savvy baseball decisions to make it October. The big boys will get theirs, but the little guys have a shot too, even if the odds against them are considerably tougher.
So maybe Major League Baseball is not a utopian wonderland like the NFL. But that's OK. Neither is America.