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Blue Skies Everywhere (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday February 20, 2007 9:23AM; Updated: Thursday February 22, 2007 12:37PM
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Wolf (no cap) is one of five high-priced free agents signed by the Dodgers in their penultimate year in Vero Beach, where workouts look much as they did in 1965.
Wolf (no cap) is one of five high-priced free agents signed by the Dodgers in their penultimate year in Vero Beach, where workouts look much as they did in 1965.
Chuck Solomon/SI
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Fifteen thousand people to watch scrubs play meaningless games? The famed '55 Dodgers didn't even draw that many people on average to Brooklyn's Ebbets Field during their world championship season in the height of the game's so-called Golden Age.

For better or worse, baseball never has been more bullish. So awash with cash is the game that only a hopeless romantic needs the bucolic setting of Dodgertown to elicit dreams of a winning season. Los Angeles, which went three-and-out against the Mets in the first round in October and hasn't won a playoff series in 18 years, is a National League pennant contender. But so are the Cubs, who spent $300 million this winter after finishing with the NL's worst record, and the Phillies and Brewers, neither of whom has reached the postseason in the wild-card era.

And why shouldn't the most drought-stricken clubs dream? The past six world champions (Cardinals, White Sox, Red Sox, Marlins, Angels and Diamondbacks) had one previous title among them since 1982.

"The last two CBAs have leveled the field," Dodgers G.M. Ned Colletti says, referencing the revenue-sharing enhancements of the 2002 and '06 collective bargaining agreements. "Teams that once struggled to keep their players are signing [young] players to long-term deals. Ten or 15 years ago, if they were truly honest, about 15 teams would say, 'I just hope we can win 81 games.' Now? There's hardly any who would say that. Maybe five at most. Everybody else has a real shot [at the playoffs]."

Increased sharing of each team's local revenue, as well as central-fund income streams that didn't exist a decade ago (such as Internet, international marketing and satellite TV and radio), have narrowed the financial and talent gaps between teams. Last year the club that ranked 13th in the major leagues in victories won the World Series (St. Louis) over a team that had lost 91 games the previous season (Detroit). Only one team with a top 10 payroll won a postseason series (the Mets, at No. 5).

Don't like your team's chances? As they used to say in Brooklyn, Just wait till next year. The baseball world turns faster than ever these days. Fourteen clubs -- almost half the total in the majors -- have played in the 12 World Series since the wild-card format was instituted in 1995. No team has repeated as a league champ for five years, the longest such streak since '79 through '88. And already more franchises have won a pennant this decade (11) than did in the 1990s (10).

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