If the Cleveland Indians are in it, then it’s obviously them. The problem is, they rarely make the postseason. (And NO I am not counting that extra game against the Tampa Rays in 2013 as a postseason appearance. No. No. No. No.)
I think a lot of fans of any sport have a two-category system for their league’s postseason: Those they will root for, and those they will actively root against.
For instance, this season’s darlings are the Kansas City Royals. Lots of people who normally don’t care about the Royals will be rooting for them. On the other end of that spectrum, two teams that people love to root against – the Yankees and Red Sox – will not be in the playoffs this season. I’m not sure we have a clear-cut villain this year, though I will be rooting against the Tigers, and not because they are an AL Central foe of the Indians. I’ll be doing it because they buy their team.
Okay, so that seems fairly simple, right? I pull for the Royals and against the Tigers. So what’s the dilemma?
The dilemma is this: While the person inside of me wants to see the little guy win, the fan in me thinks that it would be better if the big guys won. And in Major League Baseball, the line between Little Guy and Big Guy is pretty distinct for one reason: There’s no salary cap.
The team with the highest payroll in the Majors is the L.A. Dodgers, which, according to Deadspin, is $235.3M, and the lowest team, the Houston Astros, was $44.5M. That’s a $190.8M discrepancy.
Figuring out who the Big Guy is and who the Little Guy is, does not take a lot of work.
Let’s take a look at the 2014 postseason participants, and see how they stack up in terms of salary cap:
|American LeagueDivision Winners:
Detroit Tigers ($162.2 – 5th place)
Baltimore Orioles ($$107.4M – 15th)
Los Angeles Angels ($155.7M – 6th)
Wild Card Teams:
Oakland A’s ($83.4M – 25th)
Kansas City Royals ($92.0M – 19th)
|National LeagueDivision Winners:
St. Louis Cardinals ($111.0M – 13th place)
Los Angeles Dodgers ($235.3M – 1st)
Washington Nationals ($134.7M – 9th)
Wild Card Teams:
San Francisco Giants ($154.2M – 7th)
Pittsburgh Pirates ($78.1M – 27th)
If we broke the league down by salary-cap ranking, this is what is represented in this year’s playoffs:
|Salary cap ranking, the league divided into thirds:1-10: 5 teams
11-20: 3 teams
21-30: 2 teams
|Salary cap rankings, the league divided in half:1-15: 7 teams
16-30: 3 teams
“So? This is old news, right? We know the game is tilted towards the teams that can spend. What’s your point?”
My point is that being the fan of a team that can’t spend the kind of money it takes to win a division takes a lot of the fun out of watching. We know the chances are good that they won’t make the playoffs, and if they do, they won’t go far. Can they win their division? Yes. No matter how much you spend, you still have to play and win games. But the odds are against them, based on payroll discrepancy.
For my team to have a fair chance at competing every year and not just when the stars align, I need the playing field to be leveled and that can only happen with a salary cap. Shared revenue is not working, as illustrated by this year’s playoff teams. And I feel like the only way of getting a salary cap instituted is if the big guys always win.
And that’s my dilemma. My heart says “little guy”, but my brain says “big guy”. Which sucks. Don’t you just love to see someone with an unfair advantage fall to the disadvantaged, to see the underdog pull it off? It’s fun to see different teams win! In the NFL, they call that “parity.” That’s where my heart is. But my brain is the party-pooper. It insists that the big guys need to win to give the little guys a fair chance in the future.
A lot has to go right for the teams who do not/cannot spend. They have to get the right players, get them to peak together, and they have to have the right manager. They can’t miss on trades, can’t miss on big contracts. Every time they miss, it sets the club back and that’s more time that a fan base has to watch its team struggle.
The right thing to do is to create a salary cap, but nobody in baseball seems to want one. Nobody pushes for it. The owners will hide behind avoiding a labor dispute, but I don’t believe that. At least players will be honest and say that it’s about the money, that a salary cap would suppress salaries. I’m sure the owners’ angle is tied up in money, too. They just won’t admit it.
So the only way to get a salary cap in baseball is if the noise is loud enough, if the fans demand one, the same way they demanded testing for steroids. When the noise got loud enough, the two sides, who couldn’t come to an agreement over this for years before, rushed in and hammered something out. Same thing with instant replay.
They could do this with a salary cap, but only if fans turn up the pressure. And as long as the networks that they have in their pockets continue to point to small-spending teams with success, the noise will remain a murmur. But if it’s the same big-spending teams winning every year, then maybe something will get done.
So, as each season ends, I have to pull for the big guys to make the postseason. And in the postseason, I have to pull for the big guys to win it all.
If not, then ESPN will continue to roll out mouthpieces that will say, “Well, Oakland and Tampa are consistent winners.” I always want to scream back, “That’s TWO teams!” Before Tampa, it used to be the Minnesota Twins that they pointed to. Well, anyone want to ask Ron Gardenhire how that’s going? 4 straight seasons of 90-loss baseball just cost the guy his job. And let me tell you, he’s had little to work with. Why? Because of turnover. And for all the love for Billy Beane’s work, take a look at the Oakland A’s from 2007-2011: 5 straight years of not finishing over .500.
So grit your teeth, Tribe fans, and cheer with me: Down with the Royals and the A’s! Up with the Angels and the Dodgers!
I hate it, too, but it’s our only shot at ever seeing the Indians competing on a level playing field.