The best team money could buy (cont.)
I think of it this way: I would bet that if the Indianapolis Colts played the Cleveland Browns 100 times, and the Colts were motivated, they would probably win 95 of them -- maybe even more than that. But if the New York Yankees played the Kansas City Royals 100 times, and the Yankees were motivated, I suspect the Royals would still win 25 or 30 times. That's baseball.
So you have this sport that tends to equalize teams. That helps blur the dominance of the Yankees. If the New England Patriots were allowed to spend $50 million more on players than any other team, they would go 15-1 or 16-0 every single year. And people would not stand for it. But in baseball, a great and dominant team might only win 95 out of 160, and it doesn't seem so bad.
The second thing is that, at the end of the year, the best teams are thrown together in a succession of short series that are fun to watch but are not designed to pick the best teams. Quite the opposite: A short series in baseball is designed to shelter weaknesses and expose strengths. Yuni Betancourt can out-hit A-Rod in a five-game series. Livan Hernandez can out-pitch Tim Lincecum in a one-game match-up. Baseball doesn't hide this -- they slam it down your throat. October baseball! Anything's possible! And so on.
And in that way the expanded playoffs have been genius for baseball -- not only because they are milking television for every dime, but because the short series have been baseball's one defense against the ludicrous unfairness of the New York Yankees. Hey, if the game is rigged, rig the game. The Yankees spend a lot more money than any other team. As a direct result, they had the best record in the American League in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2009. They made the playoffs every single year but one this decade (and going back to 1995). They are the best team with the best players every year -- that sort of big money virtually guarantees it.
So, you create a system in which the best team doesn't always win. In fact, you create a system in which the best team often doesn't win. For years the Yankees didn't win. They lost to Florida. They lost to Anaheim. They blew a 3-0 series lead against Boston. They lost to Anaheim again and Detroit and Cleveland -- and how could you say that baseball is unfair? Look, the Yankees can't win the World Series! See? Sure they spend $50 million more than any other team and $100 million more than most. But they haven't won the World Series! Doesn't that make you feel better?
And this has been the Wizard of Oz slight-of-hand game that MLB has been playing for a long time... Ignore the man behind the curtain who makes more money off of baseball than anyone else and can buy just about any player he wants. Ignore the absurdity of it all. Just remember: The Yankees haven't won in a while! Just remember: Anything is possible.
There's something else that people say: They talk about how money doesn't guarantee wins. And they point out that other teams (the Mets, the Cubs, the Astros, etc.) spend a lot of money and don't win. I think this actually makes for an interesting argument if you want to talk about the inequities of baseball... big markets, small markets, all that.
But the Yankees are a whole different argument. They are their own argument. The Yankees are not a big-market team. They DWARF big-market teams. They are quantitatively different from every other team in baseball and every other team in American sports. They don't just spend more money than every other team. They spend A LOT more money than every other team. The Boston Red Sox spend $50 million more than the Kansas City Royals? Who cares? The Yankees spend $80 million more than the Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees have a pat hand.
This is the way baseball is structured, and we have reached a point where people simply don't want to hear any griping about it. Don't like it? Don't watch. Some people have stopped watching, I suppose. But many of us keep on because we love baseball and there's enough randomness in the game itself and enough volatility in the playoffs to distract us from the lunacy of having the game so ridiculously tilted toward one team.
The trouble is that, inevitably, that one team will make good choices. They will put together a team of All-Stars. They will sign a dominant left-handed starter and a slugging switch-hitting Gold Glove first baseman and a right-handed starter who throws curveballs that bend like wiffle balls. That team will be a remarkable collection of stars, and they will play often beautiful baseball, and they will win more games than any other team during the season. That team will roll through the playoffs without facing an elimination game or anything resembling real drama -- though there will be constant efforts to make it SEEM like there's drama.
And then: That team that spent $50 million more than any other team, that team with three sure Hall of Famers and as many as four others, that team that bought Milwaukee's best pitcher and Anaheim's best hitter and Toronto's No. 2 starter and Boston's favorite Idiot and the most expensive player in the history of baseball and so on, that team will win the World Series, and spray champagne on each other, and they will tell you that they won because they came together as a group and kept pulling themselves off the ground and didn't listen to the doubters.
And then, if you are a not a Yankees fan, you will want to throw up. If you are not a Yankees fan, you are left hoping that next year the randomness of a short playoff series will get the Yankees and allow some other team to win so we can celebrate the hope of Opening Day. And that's baseball.
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