We learned this week that MLB owners elected Rob Manfred as their new commissioner. Much of the discussion as he takes over the job from Bud Selig next January is in regards to the problems that he’ll encounter. But he walks into his big new office with a great product that fans coast to coast, including in flyover states, can enjoy.
It wasn’t too long ago that if you were a baseball fan in the bottom half of Major League Baseball’s markets, your team had little to no chance to make the playoffs, let alone win the World Series. If you lived in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Milwaukee or Kansas City, your favorite team needed a divine convergence to even have a chance of winning. Sure, that happened for the Indians in the mid-to-late-90s, when a lineup that included Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel, Albert Belle and Kenny Lofton all matured at the same time and helped the Tribe reach the World Series in 1995 and 1997. Alas, the franchise couldn’t keep any of those players because of prohibitive costs, and they left.
While that was happening, the Pirates went from 1993 until last year without a winning record or playoff spot. The Royals haven’t been to the playoffs since beating the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series. After losing the ALCS in 1996 and 1997, the Orioles have made one playoff appearance (in 2012) and at one point suffered through 14 straight losing seasons.
Milwaukee hasn’t been to the World Series since 1982. Other teams have been in the same boat.
But they times, they are a changin’. In 2002, baseball’s collective-bargaining agreement instituted its first revenue sharing. At its most basic, the latest MLB collective bargaining agreement has every team pay 34 percent of its net revenue into a central fund, and then in 2012 it was redistributed evenly to all 30 clubs. Last year, the top 15 market teams forfeited 25 percent of what they got back. Half of that money went to player benefits, the other half to the smaller-market clubs. This year, the top 15market teams will forfeit 50 percent of their share. Next year, it’s 75 percent, and in 2016 it will be 100 percent. So they’ll be giving 34 percent of their profits to the pool, and not getting any back, while the smaller 15 markets get half of the share. Every team is now on a much more level playing field than before we had revenue sharing.
In 2002, the Braves, Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Giants represented the National League in the playoffs. Atlanta was the ninth-biggest market, St. Louis 22nd (with an asterisk due to the incredible support the franchise gets) the Diamondbacks (making a financial splash in their early years) were playing in the 16th-biggest market, and San Francisco the fifth-biggest. In the American League, the Yankees, Twins, A’s and Angels (from the first, 13th-, fifth- and second-biggest markets) made the playoffs. In the World Series, the second-biggest market beat the fifth-biggest. In 2003, the Marlins beat the Yankees, with Red Sox (sixth-biggest market) joining the Yanks, Twins and A’s again. In the National League, the playoff teams were the Braves, Cubs (third-biggest market), Giants and Marlins, all teams from the 10 most populous metro areas in the country.
Fast forward to last season. The NL playoff teams came from the ninth (Atlanta), 21st (St. Louis), second (Los Angeles), 23rd (Pittsburgh) and 35th (Cincinnati)-biggest markets. In the AL, the seventh (Boston), 11th (Detroit), sixth (Oakland), 14th (Tampa) and 19th (Cleveland) markets were represented. In 2002, five of eight playoff teams came from top nine markets. Last year, four of 10 came from top nine markets. This year, the impact of revenue sharing is even more pronounced. If the playoffs started today, the NL teams would be Washington, Milwaukee, the Dodgers, Cardinals and Giants. In the American League, the teams would be Baltimore, Kansas City, the Angels, A’s and Mariners. Teams from markets 34, 21, 27, 31 and 13 would be in the playoffs. No teams from the first- and third-biggest markets, New York and Chicago, would make it. The others would be the two teams from the second-biggest market, Los Angeles; the two from the fifth-biggest, San Francisco/Oakland; and Washington, from the eighth-largest metro area. As opposed to the late 90s and early 2000s, all small-market teams have a chance with revenue sharing.
In addition, parity is now at an all-time high. I referenced the 2002 CBA, with revenue sharing starting in 2003. In 2002, the only teams in non-top 10 markets to make the playoffs were St. Louis, Arizona and Minnesota. Of the remaining teams not in top 10 markets in the NL, Montreal and Cincinnati were the closest to playoff spots at 19 games out. Seattle was 10 out in the AL. Right now, of the nine MLB teams that are more than six games from a playoff spot, six are from top-10 markets.
Revenue sharing has done its job. It has allowed franchises like Kansas City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Milwaukee to compete every year. It’s given more fans an opportunity to watch meaningful baseball in September.
But there is a downside for Cardinal fans – we want our team to dominate. When Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Milwaukee can afford to keep their young players and acquire needed talent, life is more difficult for franchises like St. Louis. Whereas they used to be able to cherry-pick players who very few teams could afford, like Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen, now more teams are able to deal for a star from a team that has bailed out. Or, teams can afford to sign a player it previously may not have been able to. It isn’t as easy for St. Louis.
It is fun, though. Seeing the fans in Pittsburgh last season, and seeing what’s happening in Kansas City and Baltimore this year, is great for the game. Fans are engaged, franchises are flourishing, and excitement is high. As Bud Selig exits the commissioner’s office in January, he can take pride in knowing he put a lot of baseball teams back on the map.