"Nobody wins unless everybody wins"

Judging by some of the e-mails and tweets I received today, I seem to have annoyed quite a few Indians fans with my take on MLB’s parity, relative to that of the NFL.
I hear you, Indians fan. I’m with you. I feel you. We are simpatico.
You look at your Tribe team, entering 2011 with a bare-bones payroll and seemingly little hope of contending, and you know that the game’s grand economic inequities have caught up with Cleveland once again. All the big names developed in the Indians’ system had to be shipped elsewhere because they were due to cash in through free agency. 
It’s a story we’ve discussed in this space once or twice.
You also look at the broader scope of the game and note that the more teams spend, the better their odds to contend. This is indisputable.
So, yeah, baseball’s unfair. It’s been unfair as long as I can remember. If MLB operated like the NFL, the Indians might have maneuvered a way to keep their stars and build a playoff dynasty. Instead, the Indians lost those guys and, on top of that, they didn’t draft well. So now they find themselves among the Royals and Pirates of the world, trying to claw their way back to coherence on a limited budget.
It’s harder to claw in baseball than it is in the NFL. This is indisputable also. The player development process is painfully slow, and free agency is expensive and inefficient.
I get all that. To spend five years covering the Indians and not get that would make me the Hector Luna of beat guys.
But that wasn’t the point of the piece.
My point (apparently, not-so-well-articulated) is that, for all its economic faults, baseball has seen a remarkable amount of unpredictability in terms of playoff participants from year to year. Though you would think otherwise when you listen to talking heads or the casual fan, payroll alone doesn’t dictate the postseason lineup (three of last year’s eight postseason clubs ranked in the bottom 12 in Opening Day payroll, and only two of the top nine payrolls made it). And contrary to popular perception, baseball’s unpredictability in this regard rivals what we see in the NFL.
Is it easier or more efficient to build and sustain a great team — even in a small market — in the NFL? You better believe it (although you wouldn’t know it, watching the Browns operate). NFL teams can draft talent that directly impacts the team the following season, and the NFL has a salary cap and non-guaranteed contracts that ensure more bang for the buck and less chance of an albatross like Travis Hafner hanging around.
But that doesn’t mean the NFL is infinitely less predictable than MLB, when it comes to a preseason prognostication on who might participate in the playoffs and, therefore, get a shot at the title. The stats in the column back that up.
Baseball is actually trending toward more unpredictability. Over the last four years, 24 NFL teams (50 percent of the available spots) have reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons, and only 12 (37.5 percent) have done so in MLB. My suspicion (and I readily admit I could be wrong) is that, as MLB gets younger in the wake of the steroid era, we could see more and more instances of teams in the lower half of the payroll totem pole — teams like the Reds, Rangers and Rays in 2010 — make it to October. For the good of the game, I hope I’m right.
I’m not arguing that MLB has more economic parity. It’s painfully clear such a thing is nonexistent in baseball. I’m arguing that those who dismiss baseball as a sport in which only the big spenders survive aren’t paying attention. The stats demonstrate that, in both sports, a broad range of teams contribute to the playoff pool (a pool that is significantly wider in the NFL, which allows 12 teams in). In baseball, if you draft and develop well, you can put together a club that outplays its payroll and legitimately contends. But if you don’t, the penalties are harsher than they are in any other major professional sport.
That’s where the frustration sets in. And Tribe fans know that frustration as well as anybody.

9 Comments

According to Forbes Magazine’s annual survey of sports franchise profitability, the Indians have been profitable every year since 2004, taking in a cool $162 million in profits from 2004-2010 (survey results here: http://www.forbes.com/lists/2010/33/baseball-valuations-10_Cleveland-Indians_333426.html).

The Indians love hiding behind the “small market” designation, but they have no reluctance to accept and pocket revenue sharing money. Meanwhile, teams like the Marlins & Rays have won with low payrolls, while the Pirates and Royals have learned how to turn their losing ways into great minor league systems. The Indians? No winning, no great drafts…just whining.

Indians’ management is crying all the way to the bank.

Proudhon, where are you coming up with that number? I don’t see it anywhere on that breakdown.
For that matter, it’s a total amount over 7 years — a better indicator would be how much they made last year and the year before, which I would guess shows a stark downward trend.
Why would they be reluctant to take revenue sharing money? That money doesn’t come close to balancing out how much is spent throughout the league.
When was the last time the Marlins won with a low payroll? 2003? And other than that…? The Rays are an exception. They also just lost a bunch of players because they couldn’t match what other teams could pay them.

While not great – this is a much better article. Why couldn’t you start out with something like this?

Sorry to be blunt, but we’ve been spoiled a bit and have come to expect more from you. The MLB article wasn’t up to standard.

LA Fan – when you follow the link, scroll down – you’ll see a few sets of yellow bar graphs – one of them shows annual operating income for each year 2004-2010. I added up the years, so the $162 million figure doesn’t appear on the graph – my number is the sum of the 2004-2010 profits.

Since 2002, the Marlins have won at least 78 games every year but one, and been over .500 in 5 out of those 9 years. The Indians have been over .500 twice in those 9 years.

The Rays just lost a bunch of players, yes. Their payroll will be lower than the Indians’ this year, yes. And they will beat the Indians by 10-15 games. Bet on it.

AC,

I understood your point in the first article, and I think it was articulated clearly. I am a HUGE Indians’ fan, but I’m also rational about it. I would suspect that the Indians’ fans who seemed angry with you are letter their emotions control them. It was easy, for me, to understand that you were NOT talking about financial parity, but rather trying to quash the myth that salary caps lead to a wider array of teams being able to contend. Just know that you have at least one understanding reader, who is also an Indians’ fan.

foraker… You’re a man (or woman) after my own heart.

mjmarble… I am both flattered and insulted by your remark. I believe it was Bob Dylan who wrote, “Don’t know if I saw you, if I’d kiss you or kill you.”

I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
Writing help

I wonder if Nasito_Boom is a huge Tribe fan or a fan of AC’s work? Haha! Looks like someone needs to visit their own site, writing-help.org. GET A REAL JOB! I love these fraudulent bloggers peddling some garbage with a link. I’m surprised it isn’t for a remarkable dick growth cream or something.

AC – For the record…. “I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.”

The one thing I will say is I am not pessimistic. Do not put me in that category as AC called this one of the most “Pessimistic” sports town, in fact I would even venture to say nobody at Castroturf is “Pessimistic”. I am an optimistic person about my sports teams, because I have to. So having said that, here we go.

The Browns will be okay, I trust them, because Mike Holmgren is in charge. Make no mistake about it, Mike is in charge and he has a very good track record of not taking 1 but 2 franchises who had rough times before he took over and turned them into Super Bowl teams. Why can’t it happen in Cleveland? They had a very good draft this past season, and are getting rid of the bad players and bad contracts. He will delve into free agency, when Football settles their dispute, and he will continue to draft well. It may take 2 or 3 years, but the Browns will be in the Super Bowl soon.

Now the Indians, you can see the talent is there. This pitching staff had a 3.90 ERA in the 2nd half last season. Nobody brings that up. And I mean nobody. Having said that, with Cabrera, Grady, and Carlos Santana back, not only does that get the offense better, but it also gets the defense better too, automatically. If this team can stay healthy, and we get productive seasons out of Matt Laporta and Michael Brantley, this team can not only make some noise but finish .500 or better to get ready for 2012 where they contend. Think of 2004, and that is what we will get. 80 wins.

As far as the Cavs go, it can’t get any worst than this season.

There you go, optimisim all the way.

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