NOTE: This column was originally published on 5/28/09 at Ballpark Banter.
Perched atop baseball’s high chair is a commissioner, players’ union, and collection of affluent owners that are proud of how far Major League Baseball has come since the league hammered out a substantial revenue sharing deal during collective bargaining in 2002.
In Oct. 2006, Selig and Donald Fehr, head of the players’ association, announced that the league and union reached a five-year labor agreement that will ensure baseball is played without stoppage through the 2011 season.
These agreements have been imperative for MLB to continue to build its brand while supplying the loyal fans of America an entertaining product that they can feel eager to support to unconditional lengths, fiscally and emotionally.
The byproduct of these movements have been an ubiquitous increase in parity and a tantalizingly competitive landscape during the last five years. Both beautiful things.
With the Phillies, Red Sox, Cardinals, and White Sox winning the last four World Series, and the Rays, Rockies, Tigers, and Astros being their counterparts, it is obvious that homegrown talent is the preferred path to success, and the loot is becoming more of a moot point.
The sheer irrelevance of the economically powerful Yankees in October during the better part of this decade is enough in itself to solidify that point.
Okay, that much we know. We know what it means to the spirit of fans when the majority of ball clubs have a legitimate chance to compete for a title at the outset of a season.
But what we also know is that it takes much more than a fat bankroll to roll through October and size up a city for championship rings, so I’m not ready to sympathize for poorly-run, small-market clubs that can’t come within a Babe Ruth long ball of postseason play.
And, to be honest, there is a major void in the sport when the powerhouses at the top of the food web aren’t battling each other for playoff spots and playoff victories.
I’ve enjoyed every underdog story that has erupted onto the national scene in recent years including the improbable run of the ’08 Rays only to fall to a championship-starved city of Philadelphia; the resurgence of Kenny Rogers and emergence of Justin Verlander in ’06; "Rocktober" in ’07; and the most memorable moment for a White Sox franchise, that has been historically paralyzed by Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of his 1919 Black Sox gang, in ‘05.
But for us to enjoy the most entertaining league possible, from top to bottom, there has to be a level of elite teams, a level of contending teams, and a level of teams that are reading fantasy football magazines instead of scouting reports come September.
That will surely infuriate the fans that don’t usually get to buy playoff seats, but there has to be some sacrificial being for the betterment of any league. And putrid franchises can become contenders with the right processyou don’t need to look any further than Tampa Bay.
That is why I couldn’t be more excited that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox appear to be strong and waltzing down the same collision course destined for autumn.
Ever since Dave Roberts swiped a precious bag on a cool evening in Fenway in October ‘04, and the Red Sox completed "The Comeback" against Pedro’s self-proclaimed "Daddy", the Yanks have been busy scuba diving on the bottom of the Hudson River while Boston has been building its empire sans its legendary foil.
I’m sorry, but baseball has not been better for this. You don’t have to be emotionally invested in either one of these clubsyou can hate them, if anything but the dramatic theater that they provide is second to none. Rivalries, especially one as storied as NY-BOS, create a galvanizing buzz throughout the entire world of sport.
Playoff baseball has not been more exciting since the days of grilling Grady Little and exalting Aaron Boone. They just haven’t, and that’s because every great playoff needs a little history.
Don’t get this twisted. I’m not proposing that it would be good for baseball if the Red Sox and Yankees appeared in 10 of the next 12 World Series and won eight of them combined. That is not what I’m saying.
What is important, is their presence and relevance in October, for two distinct reasons.
First, having the behemoths in the playoffs is great for the fans. Well, how could this be great for fans that don’t root for the Yankees and Red Sox, you ask? Simple.
Without the Yankees, what would be the crowning moment of the Florida Marlins franchise? A hyperventilating collapse of Jose Mesa?
Without New York, how sweet is October ’01 for the Arizona Diamondbacks and their fans? Not nearly as tasty, right? Of course not, because they are the official slayers of the Bronx stranglehold on October. Their World Series title sucked the magic out of the majestic, and launched this whole era of even-competitiveness (yeah, I made that phrase up).
Without the Red Sox pushing the Tampa Bay Rays to reach for the ultimate prize, would they have even gotten to the World Series last year? I think so, but you can’t say that playing the Seattle Mariners in the ALCS would be as appealing to them as kicking the snot out of Boston, the bad boys they brawled with only months earlier.
One of the best games I have ever watched was Josh Beckett’s impersonation of Tiger Woods’ “Hello World” momentGame Six of the ’03 Fall Classic. A baby-faced Beckett hurled a complete game in Yankee Stadium to clinch the second title for the upstart Marlins, tagging Jorge Posada for the final out of the game and giving the finger to New York history in the process.
Second, having storied franchises clash in October grows the game of baseball nationally and globally because those are the only games that will draw in the casual fan.
A baseball junkie, like myself, would become engulfed in any playoff series, because that’s what us fanatics live for. But a man who is merely looking for a little entertainment to hold him over until his Sunday NFL binge is not going to worship a series like Rays-Phillies, especially when the teams have to trudge through a Nile River’s worth of water to play.
It ain’t happening. But Sabathia versus Beckett in Fenway, winner goes to the World Series? People are pausing their schedules for that.
I hear you fans in Atlanta and Chicago and Phoenix, but don’t tell me you wouldn’t watch. If you were truly a sports fan, you would. You just would.
And, ultimately, that is why I am giddy looking at the standings and seeing the Yankees and Red Sox atop the A.L. East as we close in on June. A remarkable summer is being assembled, and that is how it should be for baseball.
Really, I don’t care who wins. I prefer some teams more than others, but I root for epic stories, performances, and games.
There will come a timeBlue Jays (I plead guilty to premature praising), Orioles, Royals, Tigers, Rangers, and others, will be competing for their moment on the biggest stage, and they need the powerhouses in place to fully seize the spotlight.probably soon when the
Without the alpha dogs, there are no hungry, undersized fighters that we all can relate to and cheer for.
One servant’s ascent to glory is accompanied by one king’s fall from grace.