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MLB Has a Split Personality When it Comes to Parity PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Thursday, 23 October 2008 13:18

Rays

Are the Rays the flavor of the year,
or is parity really here for MLB?

With the World Series underway, and with it, the Tampa Bay Rays representing the American League, focus has been placed on (yet again) parity within MLB. The Rays, going worst to first, has become a key talking point for the league and those in the blogsphere.

And, when you're talking parity, what you inevitably bump up against is a discussion on the ability of all 30 clubs to compete for top-tier talent. That, of course, bumps into talk of money to spend on free agency.

Nothing revenue sharing and the wild card hasn't fixed, right?

Ah, if it were all that simple.

For those that don't know, the Rays play in a modern day version of a fluted cow pie called Tropicana Field. It isn't the most esthetically pleasing place to see a game. Domes, at least for baseball, have gone the way of the DoDo ever since Oriole Park at Camden Yards came along.

The Rays, like the Athletics and Marlins, are hunting for a new stadium. The reason? The Rays want to have the increased revenues that would come with a new ballpark to allow them to be competitive.

"I think they need a new ballpark here. Absolutely," said Bob DuPuy, MLB's COO before Game 1 was played on Weds.

You may now all scratch your heads and ask, "Why is a club that is in the World Series saying they need new stadium revenues to be 'competitive'?"

The Rays averaged a scant 22,370 fans during the regular season, ranking them 12th among the 14 AL clubs, but still up from their 2007 average of 17,131.

Also, for those keeping score, the Rays had an Opening Day payroll of $43,820,598 for 2008, ranking them 29th out of 30 clubs (the Marlins came in with a profit taking $21,836,500. I say "profit taking" as they pulled in roughly double that in revenue sharing this year).

And yet, here are the Rays in the World Series (stay with me here, we're about to get to the meat of the matter).

Yes, there is parity in MLB these days... sort of. Over the course of the past couple of years, the Rockies, Indians, Diamondbacks, and yes, Rays, show that with bright minds in the front office, good draft picks, and creative contracts, clubs with low revenue streams can go deep into the playoffs.

But, here's what the Rays, and every other low-to-mid revenue making market is really saying when they ask for more revenues: We can't sustain winning without more precious revenues.

In other words, baseball is still not a socialist state over the long haul. Sure, the Rockies and Rays can make it to the World Series, but unless there are exceptional circumstances, there is an inability for those on the bottom of the revenue making totem pole to repeat in the years after their glory runs into the playoffs. On the other hand, their high-revenue making brethren (that would the likes of the Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, and Angels) can.

So, there is parity in MLB, but really, there isn't. The Rays are in the position they are in due to being so incredibly terrible for so many years that finally -- finally -- all those high draft picks are clicking. If the Rays were to <gasp> continue to be competitive in the coming years, then they, like most other low to mid-revenue making clubs, will find that they're in the baseball equivalent of no man's land; they won't be able to get the best picks in the draft due to climbing out of AL East cellar, and at the same time, won't have enough revenues to pick up a needed veteran free agent to fill out their roster.

So, that's why (along with some profit making as well, no doubt) low revenue making clubs that are in want of a new ballpark, beg for them.

Ah, you say, but where is that revenue sharing? What about that?

Yes, revenue sharing helps. But, for all those that say there should be more of it, simply giving clubs more money isn't going to magically make them competitive. If you don't believe me, just look at the Mariners this season, or the Orioles since Peter Angelos got a hold of the club. Spending money doesn't mean everyone will spend it wisely.

But, truth be told, this is why those in high places within the league see matters as just fine the way they are, thank you very much. MLB gets to have their cake an eat it too.

In reality, baseball wants parity, but not so much that the postseason becomes a parade of different low revenue making clubs filling out the playoffs year in and year out. Big markets, with well entrenched fan bases from sea to shining sea get more eyeballs in front of the televisions, and help make the sponsorship, television and radio advertisement game go round and round.

So, the balance now is near perfect. Selig can tout that clubs such as the Rays and the Rockies show that parity is finally here, and at the same time, the teams with big payrolls in big markets are the ones that are consistently in the playoffs over the years, making ESPN, FOX, and TBS happy, as well as Bank of America, DHL, Chevy, and a host of other advertisers.

So, remember... parity is here, but it isn't, which in some perverse way is just the way baseball likes it, and in reality, many fringe baseball fans do. The real day parity has arrived in MLB will be when the Tampa Bay Rays still have a low payroll, low attendance, and still make the playoffs. Then, and only then, can you say that the field is level in MLB.


Maury Brown

Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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