The venerable Frank Deford writes the same column that has been written
every year since time immemorial: baseball needs a salary cap if it
wants to stay competitive:
Because baseball begins as life afield is renewed, tra-la, you can
always count on two things this time of year. One: In trees, the sap is
rising. Two: in baseball, the sappiness is rising. Yes: As sure as the
flowers are a-bloomin’ again, every team has a chance. Well, that’s true
in the NFL, the NBA and the NHL, but baseball is more like Dancing With
The Stars. It’s understood from the start that some competitors just
don’t have a prayer.
I’ll grant that mid-market teams are at a disadvantage in signing their
own would-be free agents and I’ll grant that life kind of sucks if
you’re an Orioles or Blue Jays fan, but beyond that Deford’s column is unmitigated hogwash. What baseball teams “don’t have a prayer?” I’d say Washington, Pittsburgh, Houston, San Diego, Baltimore, Toronto, Cleveland, and Kansas City are it. Every other team could, with a bit of luck, make the playoffs this year. Now tell me how many NBA teams have a real shot at the title. If you say more than five you’re dreaming.
Baseball may not be optimally-competitive, but the notion that a salary
cap will make it so — or that the leagues with salary caps are more
competitive — is plain wrong. The NBA has had two teams dominate the
Western Conference for a dozen years despite a salary cap. The Red Wings
don’t seem to be on a level playing field with my Columbus Blue
Jackets. The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts have more AFC championships in the
past decade than the Yankees have AL titles.
The notion that there is
greater parity in football, basketball or hockey than there is in
baseball is a
totally unsupported assertion, and even if there were support for it, the evidence that such parity is due to a salary cap as opposed to, say, the greater significance of injures (i.e. the NFL) or playoff systems in which everyone who doesn’t utterly suck gets invited (NHL and NBA) is a topic that has been wholly unexplored and remains utterly unsubstantiated. What has been substantiated, however, is the notion that the three other major sports leagues are suffering either serious labor trouble right now, serious economic trouble or both.
There’s an old saying that one should not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Baseball is not perfect, competitively speaking. But it is good. Much better than most people make it out to be and much better, I would argue, than exists in any league with a salary cap. Which, now that I think about it, means that there isn’t any “perfect” out their to begin with, no matter what Frank Deford says.