Why There Shouldn’t Be A Salary Cap
Everyone in the world thinks there should be a salary cap in baseball. We live in a society that loves equality, and believes everyone and everything should have a chance to rise from rags to riches (and also loves capitalism). A salary cap would create an equal playing field, they say. The Pirates would have a chance, they say. The Yankees wouldn’t dominate the game, they say.
Well here’s what I say; those are all things that, directly or indirectly, we love, or should love, about the game.
And let me preface the rest of this post by saying I’m aware of what a sentimental doofus I am.
To begin with, yes, teams like the Pirates are limited by a lack of funds. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a winning season since the early 90’s. I KNOW. But you know why? Because they went through a period in the 2000’s where they spent tons of money on washed up veterans like Jeromy Burnitz just so that they could win 70 games instead of 60, crippling their development when they should have been rebuilding. They had poor scouting and didn’t develop players very well, resulting in very few Pirates prospects of note besides Jason Bay and Nate McClouth. They let a lot of good talent flame out, like Ian Snell and Tom Gorzellany. And although Neil Huntington has taken the GM reins and actually started a legitimate rebuilding process, they aren’t getting a ton in trading away their veterans, having netted only Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen from Boston in the Bay trade (Although Andy LaRoche came over from the Dodgers, and he may yet be serviceable). These are all small examples of a much larger problem that has existed for a very long time. The Pirates are on the right track now, and with a little luck they could be contending.. maybe in 2011.
But the point of this diatribe about Pittsburgh, is that they sucked for so long because their organization sucked. They made stupid decisions and got screwed for them. Long term. That’s inequality at work, because the Yankees can afford to pay 50M to Carl Pavano and not cripple their organization for years to come.
But with regards to making an equal playing field and not having the Yankees dominate, is that really what you want? Do you really want the Yankees to have the same chance as everyone else? If the Yankees spent the same on salary as the Rays, and the Rays beat them in the ALCS, would you feel quite as awesome and vindicated when that happened?
Would you have felt the same amount of sheer rage when Phil Cuzzi called Mauer’s double foul?
Would you have felt the same joy when Boston won four in a row to beat New York in the 2004 ALCS?
Would you be as intrigued when terrible teams defied all expectations and made a run at the playoffs, knowing that they spent the same as everyone else?
Would you be able to stereotype and demean Yankee fans the same way, knowing their team has the same chance to win as yours?
My point here, is that what makes baseball so complex and interesting, is the fact that there’s a villain and there are small peasants who, every once in a while, through merit, can rise up and slay the beast who has every advantage. The Yankees are that villain. They outspend everyone and buy championships and their fans are cruel and merciless and the man spending the money’s name is Cashman. The fact that there is this evil power residing over the entire sport creates a sentimentality about it that is lost in other sports. In other sports, underdogs are underdogs because they’re worse than the other teams. In baseball, underdogs are defined not just by the talent of the team, but by the disadvantages they face financially. You can have the most talented team in the league (Rays?) and still be an underdog. Everyone loves a good David and Goliath matchup, especially when Goliath is an aristocratic dickhole.
I guarantee you, when the Pirates finally contend, that whole city will erupt in feverish support for that team. When they finally make the playoffs, tickets will sell out in 5 minutes. Remember how Detroit was in 2006? How Kansas City was in 2003? Remember the original Rocktober?
Inequality creates more lows, but also more highs, and frankly those highs are too good to do away with. Even if that means once the Twins core of talent wears away the team will become mired in a period of mediocrity and the Yankees will still dominate, I’m willing to endure that based on the amazing runs of 2006 and 2009 and all the crazy things they accomplished despite spending way less than the top teams.
And how did they do it? They had some good drafts. They turned a lot of their best prospects into solid contributors at the major league level, even when at first those players looked like they would flame out (Span, Cuddyer, Kubel, Morneau, Baker, Hunter, Santana). They hired a manager who, despite being pretty boneheaded with his lineup construction and who had, and still has, an undying love for ‘grit’ and ‘veteran leadership,’ never once lost control of his clubhouse and created an atmosphere that embraced the underdog image and united under it. They made a few good trades, and never tendered an obnoxious contract that would haunt the team for years later.
See how the Pirates, and the Royals, and the Orioles.. haven’t done any of that? But those are the only teams during the past 10 years or so that haven’t had more than one season of being in legitimate contention. Cleveland, Florida, San Diego, Colorado, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Arizona. All these teams have had windows. It’s always possible that, given a competent management structure, your team can win at some point in a three or four year period and then sustain that success for several years afterward, despite playing in the same sport as the Yankees and Red Sox. Despite there not being a salary cap.
I guess baseball just demands a little more patience on the part of its small and mid market fans. But once that patience pays off, it’s worth it.