Among the hopefulness that is Major League Baseball's Spring Training comes the "news" that beleaguered New York Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez is going to be the highest-compensated player in the majors again. A-Rod will be paid $29 million this year, which apparently is more than the entire Houston Astros' roster.
This, coupled with the fact that Bobby Bonilla is one of the New York Mets' highest-compensated outfielders, makes one wonder if everything is really OK with the game we once revered as the "National Pastime".
Someone get me a salary cap. Quick.
Baseball's cap-less system makes for a bit of mayhem and seems to ignore assumptions made by the general populous. A system with no cap on spending should benefit the larger market teams and reduce parity, no?
Maybe not. If we compare the number of different champions by sport since 1980, this is what we come up with:
MLB: 20 different champions
NFL: 15 different champions
NBA: 9 different champions
NHL: 16 different champions
By this measure, baseball has the greatest amount of randomness to their season. Repeat champions are few and far between, which is why this time of year is so exciting for the baseball fan. Spring Training and Opening Day: the chance for rebirth and renewal.
For all the hype and hubbub placed on the gold standard of sports franchises, the New York Yankees, teams that call cities like San Francisco, Arlington, Cincinnati and Atlanta home have been just as much in contention. The Tampa Bay Rays, who according to Forbes Magazine had the lowest revenues in MLB last year, were in contention last year and figure to be again this year.
Every fan believes that his or her team has a chance to do something when each respective sport starts its season, but how much of that is honesty and how much is blind fandom? In most other sports, it would take a miracle for under-the-radar teams to ascend to the upper echelon of their league. In baseball, it's not only possible, but the numbers are in your favor.
People complain that the season is too long. The game is too slow. That society has outgrown the pastoral game.
The deliberately slow pace of the game is one of the most beautiful accidents in sports history. The absence of a clock actually creates more possibilities for the unlikely to become reality.
Last season, the Baltimore Orioles returned to prominence on the back of a ridiculous 45-11 record in one-run games and extra innings combined. Their 93-69 record far exceeded their expected win-loss record of 82-80. How different would that season have been had a buzzer gone off, ending those games?
No, the game is not too slow. We're too fast. Too busy. Too spoiled. Our point-and-click, instant gratification-ized society makes it hard to appreciate a game as relaxed as baseball is for most of its life.
There are aspects of the game that could be better, sure. However, all is quite well with the game. In fact, some might say it's never been better.
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