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Saving Baseball

David Steinberg

2004-02-26

This usually is an exciting time for baseball fans. Pitchers and

catchers are reporting, exhibition games are a few weeks away, and the

season will be starting in another month after that. This year is

different though. The trade of Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees has

fans up in arms. Dugout Dollars has the Yankees payroll at a tad under

$200,000,000. That's seventy million dollars more than the next team

(the Red Sox), more than twice as much as the 7th place Seattle

Mariners, and nearly ten times that of the Brewers. It's reached the

point where the rest of the league is starting to wonder how they can

compete.

Sports are not like other businesses. Sprint would love it if all

other cell phone companies went out of business as they could then

make a fortune. The Yankees, on the other hand, would become

completely irrelevant if they didn't have other teams to play against.

That's why competitive balance is so important here; sports is not a

typical free market.

It must be said that some of the anger and fear over this move might

be overblown. Effectively all the Yankees have done is move their

hole in their lineup from third base to second base. Yes Alex

Rodriguez is a much better player than Soriano but the season is far

from being over, even if it doesn't look all that good outside the

Bronx, let alone in Seattle. However, let's assume the worst. What

if the Yankees use their hired guns to win 110+ games and then stroll

their way to a World Series victory. Is there anything baseball can

do about this?

One of my ideas was inspired by a piece of news I heard about

Pollstar. Red Rocks won the Pollstar Best Small Outdoor

Concert Venue award so many times that they just decided to rename the

award after the venue and make it ineligible. If they have no other

plan, Major League Baseball could just call the trophy, "The New York

Yankees Trophy" and disband the team.

As amusing as that idea is, it's just silly. Sure the argument that

a powerhouse Yankees team is good for the game is just wrong; a couple

extra thousand fans come to Kansas City when the Yankees are in town,

but the effect is much less than what would happen if the Royals could

keep their players and compete. However, they do make money and

aren't bad by themselves. It's not that the Yankees dominate Major

League Baseball, rather it's that MLB is the only real baseball league

that exists.

In the early part of the last century, there were many baseball

leagues. The major leagues were the biggest, but people who didn't

live in one of the cities that had a team followed their own leagues.

No matter where you lived, there was a team nearby. Over the next few

decades those teams got bought by major league teams. Instead of

playing for their own championships, they played what were effectively

exhibition games. The goal of the minors is no longer to win; it's

to train players. This has been going on for way too long and it

should be stopped.

The reason why this is allowed to happen is because MLB has an

anti-trust exemption due to a ridiculous Supreme Court decision. If

that were to be removed - allowing each team to keep one AAA team in

case of injuries - things could become a lot more interesting.

Would minor league teams really draw if they were playing for real?

I think so. College football and basketball teams aren't as good as

those in the NFL but fans still come out to see them. Minor leagues

in soccer and hockey have strong local support. Even the XFL

actually did well; only the insanely high standards the league

presented made it look like a failure. The potential is there and I

haven't even mentioned my master plan.

If I were in charge of the baseball universe, the minors would be

structured like this. There would be 32 independent leagues, each

one representing a state (or province - this wouldn't be US only) or

two. By keeping the leagues on a small scale it both reduces

expenses and heightens local rivalries. Washington State has a

cultural divide between the cities west of the Cascades and those east

of it. An Olympia vs Spokane championship game would have the whole

state taking sides. That by itself would be enough to help the

leagues out, but it's not the whole plan. I chose the number 32 for a

reason.

Picture this. All of these seasons end in mid-August or so. At the

end of the year the champion of each league is then put into a

tournament. Think March Madness only for baseball. Winning the

league doesn't just give you local bragging rights, it would give you

a shot at national glory. People would make brackets, guides would

be created for teams that represent the Quad Cities and Tuscaloosa.

Baseball would thrive in all of the regions of the country.

The realist in me feels compelled to point out that this could very

well be overoptimistic. While this sounds like a good plan on paper,

it could easily fail when implemented. That might be true, but never

mind that. Spring Training is starting now. If I can't get excited

for my Mariners this year, I can at least speculate about a better

baseball world.

David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New

Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live

music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His

Phish stats website is at www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html

He is the stats section editor for

The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for

the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

http://www.livejournal.com/users/thezzyzx.

http://www.jambands.com/Columns/Zzyzx/cont..._02_26.00.phtml

Edited by desdemona
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