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10 REASONS WHY BASEBALL IS BACK
Tom Verducci
July 05, 2004
There's hope in San Diego, Cincinnati and, heck, even Tampa Bay—and that's just one explanation for why fans are flocking to the game again
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July 05, 2004

10 Reasons Why Baseball Is Back

There's hope in San Diego, Cincinnati and, heck, even Tampa Bay—and that's just one explanation for why fans are flocking to the game again

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WILD RACE TO BE FIRST

At week's end 17 teams were within five games of first place--the most clubs in that position this far into a season in the 11 years of the wildcard era. Here's the number of teams within five games of a playoff spot (and other teams within five games of a wildcard spot) on June 27 in each year since baseball went to the six-division format.

WITHIN FIVE GAMES OF

Year

First Place

Wild Card

Total

2004

17

4

21

2003

14

3

17

2002

12

1

13

2001

11

4

15

2000

13

2

15

1999

12

2

14

1998

8

3

11

1997

14

3

17

1996

15

2

17

1995

14

2

16

1994

16

1

17

1 More teams have a chance to reach the postseason.

When he unfolds his morning newspaper and studies the major league standings, commissioner Bud Selig is a meteorological maven awed by a confluence of conditions that may come once in a generation. Call it baseball's perfect storm. "This," he says in hushed reverence, "is exactly the way I dreamed about it in the 1990s."

Selig has the globally marketable �berteam that every sport covets: the Yankees. He has the two Wagnerian ball clubs with the most obsessive fan bases, the Cubs and the Red Sox, playing well and to alltime heights of fan interest. He has three other tradition-rich teams, the Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals, also contending. Those six crown-jewel franchises, covering both coasts and the Midwest and comprising the game's three greatest rivalries, are all on their way to having consecutive winning seasons in the same two-year period. When was the last time baseball was this fortunate? Never.

There's more. Selig has many middle-and small-market teams, most of them buoyed by luxurious new ballparks and cash infusions from baseball's new revenue-sharing system, contending with the Rockefeller franchises. At week's end 17 of the 30 teams were within five games of first place—including such surprises as the Indians, Padres, Rangers and Reds—the most such contenders on June 27 in the 11-year history of the six-division format (box, below). Such parity comes on the heels of a 2003 pennant race in which 17 teams began September within 3� games of the eight playoff spots.

"Without revenue-sharing," Selig says, "[baseball] wouldn't look like it does today. San Diego, Detroit, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Oakland, Florida...without revenue-sharing they are nowhere."

Twenty-first-century baseball may have been epitomized last weekend in St. Petersburg, where the hottest team in baseball, the Devil Rays, who lost 99 games last year, hosted the defending world champion Marlins in a meaningful series. Florida accepted the second-largest revenue-sharing handout for last year ($21 million) while Tampa Bay was tied for third on the dole list ($19 million).

No, it's not the purists' pre-wild-card "good old days." It's better. Just two years ago, after the Yankees had come within two outs of winning a fourth straight World Series, Selig and the owners anguished about competitive balance and payroll disparity and schemed to disband two teams. Their caterwauling ended with the 2002 collective bargaining agreement, which included a luxury-tax system that has penalized but not curbed the Yankees' spending. New York will pay a $22.5 million tax on its $195.5 million payroll this year. Boston, with a bill of about $2 million, is the only other club expected to be taxed. That $24.5 million will be split among player benefits, an industry growth fund and player development in countries without organized high school baseball, such as the Dominican Republic.

What has impacted competitive balance more than the luxury tax is the CBA's new two-tiered revenue-sharing plan. On one level all teams kick 34% of their locally generated revenue (up from 20% in the previous CBA), minus ballpark expenses, into a pool that is divided in 30 equal parts. On the other level the new CBA created a central fund revenue-sharing system in which the average revenue for the 30 teams is determined, and then money is paid by the rich teams and distributed to the poor teams in proportion to how much they exceed or trail the average. The Yankees, for instance, paid the most ($52.7 million) into the pool last year while the Expos received the most ($29-5 million). In all, the teams below the average revenue shared $169 million in 2002 and $220 million in '03 and are expected to share $270 million this year. The system, which won't be completely phased in until next season, has helped forge a competitive balance in which:

?The Yankees have been eliminated from die playoffs the past three years by eventual world champions ( Arizona, Anaheim and Florida, the latter two being wild cards) who had won one previous title in 54 combined seasons.

?The National League has had six clubs win the past six pennants, a streak that occurred only twice previously (1914-19 and 1986-91).

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