As baseball emerges from its gala All Star break, the focus of fans turns to the July 31st trading deadline and which teams still have a chance to succeed. Hint: there's a lot of them! Baseball's head honcho Bud Selig likes to brag about parity in the national pastime and point out that even a small market team like Tampa Bay can win a pennant. Even President Obama made note of the competitive balance in baseball today. So, what exactly is the driving force behind the huge number of teams still in the playoff race?
Two weeks ago, just as interleague play had come to an end, Peter Gammons opined that revenue sharing was the key:
George Streinbrenner's birthday seems to be a good time for a reminder that Bud Selig's revenue sharing has flattened the baseball earth. Salary cap or no salary cap. In this century, eight different teams have won nine World Series, compared to seven different NFL teams winning 10 Super Bowls, five different NBA teams winning 10 championships.
Ask Hal Steinbrenner and John Henry how much they're funding the delicate balance of power. Ask Fred Wilpon, and he'll point out that on July 4 the Florida Marlins are buyers and believe they can win the NL East.
Gammons then lists eight teams he thinks have been all but eliminated from the playoff race; he lumps in the Blue Jays as team nine because of the tough threesome ahead of them in their division. He continues:
Otherwise, the AL East's big three are within five games of one another; the charging White Sox have made the AL Central a wild race, with three teams separated by four games; Texas and L.A. are tied in the AL West; four teams are within two games in the NL East; five teams are within four games in the NL Central; and while the Dodgers are off on "Mannygan's Island" in the NL West, the Giants and Rockies are No. 1 and 2 for the wild card.
That's how it works with revenue sharing and without a salary cap. In the last 25 World Series, 18 different franchises have won; the Yanks have won four, and the others with multiple championships are the Twins, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Marlins.
Gammons is wrong. Revenue sharing helps, but the real cog that drives competitive balance is interleague play. The 15 to 18 interleague games that each team in each league played served as a normalizer. Look: the average AL team won 55% of their interleague contests and the average NL team lost 55%. Since nearly every AL team was successful and nearly every NL team was not, and because the Wild Card and division races are isolated within their respective league, the interleague games didn't create any significant gaps in the playoff push.
For example, before interleague play started on June 11th, Tampa Bay was 6 games behind first place Boston. On July 4th, they were five games back. On June 11th, first and fifth place in the NL Central was separated by 5 games. On July 4th, it was down to 4.5 games. In the AL West, Seattle went from 4.5 back to 2.5 back. Atlanta moved 3.5 games closer to the NL East lead. I could go on but you get the point. Division races got closer this season because there was a distinct separation of power in interleague play.
So what good is revenue sharing? If anything, revenue sharing discourages parity as the supposedly small-market teams like the Florida Marlins and Kansas City Royals gladly accept cash from the big boys like Boston and New York, but scoff at putting the money towards player development or salaries. The Marlins tend to succeed a bit more than the Royals because they are thrifty with their money; Kansas City's frugality comes off as ridiculous when they drop big cash on failed free agents like Kyle Farnsworth.
So today, just two weeks away from the trading deadline, there are at least 15 teams and possibly 20 who think they have a ghost of a shot at postseason play. This is good! This is also surely evidence of parity but it has nothing to do with revenue sharing. It has to do with the unbalanced schedule that was instituted over a decade ago with the Great Equalizer known as interleague play.