A Rant against Major League Baseball

This is a blog entry I’ve wanted to write since I wrote about CNOOC earlier this month.  I love baseball.  It’s my favorite sport (or pasttime, depending on your point of view).  According to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, baseball is one of the most competitive of the four major U.S. sports (the other three include the National Football League, National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League).  Last season he said that baseball was competitive in recent years because there has been no dynasty since the New York Yankees won their fourth World Series Championship in five years back in 2000.  I was as breathless as any baseball fan when the Boston Red Sox came back last year from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series (anyone who despises the Yankees is a Sox fan). 
Still, something is unsettling to me as a diehard baseball fan–Major League Baseball’s lack of competitiveness.  Some purists are annoyed when MLB meddles with a sacred game by introducing innovations such as interleague play, playoff wild cards, and the designated hitter.  Those don’t bother me one bit.  What annoys me is the fact that year in and year out the same teams seem to either compete for a playoff spot, or they fold early, cellar dwell, and wind up being division losers.  The Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan & Co. notwithstanding, I am not really a fan of sports dynasties.  Of course, I have my own biases, and the baseball didn’t bounce my way this year.  I’m a big fan of the cellar-dwelling Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals, two cellar dwellers.  I root for any team that play the New York Yankees or Atlanta Braves, and as usual they will likely make the playoffs.  But despite my biases, I still think I have a legitimate rant.
Here are the teams still in the 2005 Major League Baseball playoff race as we head into September:
  • Leading their division:  Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Diego Padres
  • Still in the wild card race:  New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, and Minnesota Twins

Here are the teams destined to lose their divisions this year:

  • Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets or Washington Nationals (formerly Montreal Expos), Pittsburgh Pirates, and Colorado Rockies
The 2005 division-leading teams have won their divisions or been a wild card a combined total of 15 times since 2000.  The wild card teams have won their divisions or been a wild card a combined total of 13 times since 2000.  10 teams have won a total of 28 division titles or wild card spots in the last five years.  During that time, 40 playoff spots were available.  Hence, ten teams, or one-third of all MLB teams, won 70% of all playoff spots since 2000.
Likewise, this year’s cellar dwellers have lost their divisions a total of 13 times since 2000, or about 45% of the time.  This figure does not even include perenniel losers such as the Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers who are nowhere near a playoff spot this year.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t surprises in Major League Baseball.  The New York Yankees are out of first place (for now).  The Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, and San Diego Padres are surprises.  The Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, have far exceeded expectations.  But it’s still disconcerting to see that virtually every year the same 10 teams are competitive, while another 10 or so are not.  Just 8-10 teams each year could go either way, creating a modicum of competition.  The MLB playoff race offers great odds if you like to bet on baseball in Las Vegas.  However, if you’re a sports fan who likes real competition, you can’t help but feel like the deck is stacked in favor of the same teams each year.  To me, it isn’t worth watching that one Cinderella like the Red Sox, White Sox, or the Cubs surprises everyone.  
The lack of competitiveness in Major League Baseball cannot be not totally explained by team budgets and outrageous player salaries.  Each year the low-budget Oakland Athletics are just as competitive as the big-budget New York Yankees.  The big-budget Mets and Dodgers perennielly disappoint.  The Braves keep on winning even though their days of dipping into Ted Turner’s deep pockets is over.  I don’t have a simple answer as to why Major League Baseball is so uncompetitive.  Maybe I’ll write about it a future blog entry.  For now, suffice it to say that I am growing less and less interested in baseball even though I still consider myself a diehard fan.  Maybe my interest will renew when I see the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Milwaukee Braves, and Colorado Rockies each win their divisions in the same year.  Then I’d be convinced professional baseball is truly competitive.
Here is the statistical breakdown of Major League Baseball’s winners and losers since 2000.
Division & Wild Card (WC) Winners (since 2000)
5 Times
Atlanta (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004)
New York Yankees (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004)
4 Times
Oakland (2000, 2001-WC, 2002, 2003)
St. Louis (2000, 2001-WC, 2002, 2004)
3 Times
Minnesota (2002, 2003, 2004)
San Francisco (2000, 2002-WC, 2003)
Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels (2002-WC, 2004)
Arizona (2001, 2002)
Boston (2003-WC, 2004-WC)
Houston (2001, 2004-WC)
Seattle (2000-WC, 2001)
Cleveland (2001)
Chicago White Sox (2000)
Florida (2003-WC)
New York Mets (2000-WC)
Chicago Cubs (2003)
Los Angeles Dodgers (2004)
Division Losers (since 2000)
4 Times
Tampa Bay (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003)
Texas (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003)
3 Times
Milwaukee (2002, 2003, 2004)
San Diego (2000, 2002, 2003)
Detroit (2002, 2004)
Kansas City (2001, 2004)
Montreal (2001, 2004)
New York Mets (2002, 2003)
Arizona (2004)
Chicago Cubs (2000)
Colorado (2001)

Houston (2004)

Minnesota (2000)

Seattle (2004)
Philadelphia (2000)
Pittsburgh (2001)
Toronto (2004)

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