John Feinstein knows a hell of a lot about college basketball and golf, but his take on the finances of major league team sports is a bit shaky. How could it be anything but based on the argument he makes today: baseball should have a salary cap so it can be successful and competitive like football, basketball and hockey.
I’ll leave hockey to others because I just don’t know enough about it, but it never ceases to amaze me that the NFL and NBA are trotted out as superior models to baseball’s. The same NFL that is about to embark on an ugly as all hell labor battle. The same NBA that just bore witness to the 127th (estimated) Celtics-Lakers Finals and just watched a team get its heart ripped out by a departing free agent in more callous a manner than any baseball player’s departure has ever hurt a team. If the point of a salary cap is a league’s financial health, competitiveness and some sense of fan friendliness, football and basketball are doing it wrong.
But I think the kicker to this is that what sets off Feinstein’s rant today is that the Yankees picked up Austin Kearns. Really, he ends his column by suggesting that baseball’s salary cap be called “The Kearns Rule” because apparently New York’s acquisition of a journeyman outfielder making $750,000 is a bridge too far. No one likes the Yankees’ largess, but it sure as hell wasn’t on display at the trade deadline.
But as I always do when someone writes one of these “baseball needs a salary cap” things, I’ll note that every team in Major League Baseball has made the playoffs at least once. Twenty-three of 30 have made it in the past ten years, and 28 of 30 have made it since 1992. I’ll also note that, as I type this, there are two very sophisticated groups of businessmen literally bidding against one another in an auction for the right to buy a Major League Baseball team. And a bankrupt one to boot.
If that’s evidence of a problem, it’s a problem unlike that which I have ever seen.