If someone wrote a book revealing the secrets of one of the most successful baseball franchises of the last five years, you would think that book would become the Bible of America\’s Pastime. However, baseball teams and the people who run them are too stubborn to admit that the book \”Moneyball\” by Michael Lewis – a sort of documentary on the success of the Oakland A\’s and their General Manager Billy Beane – is exactly that.
\”Moneyball\” reveals what the A\’s did in the 2002 season to win the AL West by four games despite having the division\’s lowest payroll by over 20 million dollars. The Oakland A\’s made the playoffs every year from 2000 to 2003, and missed them by just one game last season. The A\’s were even in the playoff hunt going into the last two weeks of this season, which followed an off-season in which they traded away two of their three pitching aces, before the Angels pulled away.
So, you ask, why does all this matter? Because, the A\’s payroll is indicative of a trend in baseball these last few years: several teams each season make runs at the world series despite team payrolls that only accumulate to a fraction of the big spenders.
Sure, the Angels are ahead in the division by about seven games now. But, did you realize that their team payroll is an astounding $41 million higher than the A\’s this season? Sure the Yankees and the Red Sox had another epic late-September, early-October, duel for the AL East title. But did you realize that the team hot on their tracks for the wildcard spot, the Cleveland Indians, has a team salary of just 41.5 million dollars-compared to 208 and 123 million respectively for the Yanks and Sox.
This trend is not just prevalent in the American League as the Padres ($63 million) have wrestled the NL West division crown from the Dodgers ($83 million) and Giants ($90 million). The team the Padres will most likely be facing in the divisional round of the playoffs this week, the St. Louis Cardinals ($92 million), dominated and claimed baseball\’s best record for the second season in a row-despite a team salary half that of the mighty Yankees.
Then there are the bad teams. The New York Mets, who never met a costly free agent they didn\’t like, shelled out a whopping $101 million for a 83-78 record and a third-place NL East finish. The Cubs spent $87 million for a sub .500 record and a fourth-place finish in their division behind such teams as Milwaukee ($39.9 million) and Houston ($76.7 million).
My point here, besides trying to embarrass these poorly managed franchises, is that, in a season such as 2005, where steroids hung a cloud over the entire summer, is this fair to the fans? Is it fair to the dedicated baseball fans in such cities as Seattle and Baltimore – who shares a division with the Yankees and Red Sox and had to sit through the Rafael Palmeiro embarrassment – to pay high ticket prices because of their teams\’ 87.7 and 73.9 million dollar payrolls, while these teams do poorly on the field and finish worse than Milwaukee, Cleveland and Minnesota ($56 million).
Hell no, it\’s not fair, and it borders on robbery. Teams with loyal fan bases and relatively high team payrolls – and even the teams with lower payrolls that are consistently bad – should be ashamed of themselves. The league shouldn\’t stand for it either. MLB needs to come together and do what\’s been needed ever since the Yankees got their gold rush: institute a salary cap.
A salary cap is the only true way to pay back the fans for the billions of dollars they spend each year at ballparks across the country. The NFL did it and the popularity of their league has skyrocketed in the past few years. There is a parody in football that baseball needs. Under a loose salary cap, teams would still be able to spend far more than others, but at least these \”others\” would still feel like they had a chance in July.
What makes \”Moneyball\” so impressive is that it shows Oakland\’s unique strategy to winning games on a budget. Yet, this book has strangely been out for over two years and a lot of teams are still not getting the ever-so-obvious hint.
Baseball, wake up. It\’s time.