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Competitive Balancing Act II-The King
2003-04-27 02:00
by Mike Carminati

Competitive Balancing Act II-The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature

Previous entries in the series:

Competitive Balancing Act I-Intro: Chris DeRosa's Reinsdorf Award 2002

Future entries in the series:

Competitive Balancing Act III-This Is Pop: Redefining Large- and Small-Market by Population
Competitive Balancing Act IV-C'mon Freddy, Everyone into the Poo-el: Reviewing the Available Player Pool
Competitive Balancing Act V-Natural Resources: Attendance and Competitive Balance

The financial results of the past season prove that salaries must come down. We believe that players in insisting upon exorbitant prices are injuring their own interests by forcing out of existence clubs which cannot be run and pay large salaries except at large personal lose.

The season financially has been a little better than that of [the previous year], but the expenses of many of the clubs have far exceeded their receipts, attributable wholly to high salaries. In view of these facts, measures have been taken by this League to remedy the evil to some extent for [next season].

- NL President William A. Hulbert, September 29, 1879, announcing the adoption of what he called the "uniform player contract" but which became known as the "reserve clause" after a league meeting in Buffalo.

"Today baseball woke up and recognized there was an 800-pound gorilla sitting in our living room - the lack of competitive balance in the game. Let's cure some of the problems. Enough is enough. Baseball has been for too long a big, old oil transport ship that takes forever to turn. Bud should take the rudder and turn ASAP."

- Larry Lucchino, San Diego Padres, January 20, 2000

By every measure, baseball is in the midst of a great renaissance. Never has the game been more popular. We set a new attendance record in 2000, drawing nearly 73 million fans to our ballparks. More fans attended Major League Baseball games than attended the games of the other three major professional team sports combined. When you add the 35 million fans drawn by minor league baseball, the aggregate number of fans that attended professional baseball is nearly 110 million. In the so-called halcyon days of New York baseball in 1949, the three New York teams-the Yankees, the Dodgers, and the Giants-drew a combined 5,113,000. Last season, the Yankees and Mets drew 6 million.

The only set of circumstances-and I have often said this, Senator -that can impede this great renaissance is our inability to solve the problem of competitive imbalance. During the past decade, baseball has experienced a terribly disturbing trend. To put it simply, an increasing number of our clubs have become unable to successfully compete for their respective division championships, thereby making post-season appearances, let alone post-season success, an impossibility.

The enduring success of our game rests on the hope and faith- key words here, ''hope and faith''-of each fan that his or her team will be competitive. At the start of spring training, there no longer exists hope and faith for the fans of more than half of our 30 clubs, and we must restore that hope and faith.

The trend toward competitive imbalance which is caused by baseball's economic structure began in the early 1990's and has consistently gained momentum. Indeed, as I testified in 1994 before members of the U.S. House of Representatives, baseball's economic problems have become so serious that in many of our cities the competitive hope that is the very essence of our game is being eroded.

Unfortunately, baseball's economic problems have only worsened since 1994, and for millions of our fans the flicker of competitive hope continues to become more faint. The competitive imbalance problem is one that, if not remedied, could have a substantial effect on the continuing vitality of our game.

- Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig at the Senate hearings on competitive balance (i.e., Hearing Before The Subcommittee On Antitrust, Business Rights, And Competition Of The Committee On The Judiciary
United States Senate entitled "Baseball's Revenue Gap: Pennant For Sale?"), November 21, 2000.

Competitive balance has been a concern in baseball almost since the beginning of the sport as an organized concern. In two years leading up to last year's labor dispute and the resulting collective bargaining agreement, Bud Selig and the owners painted a dreary picture of baseball's immediate future. Whether this was just a negotiating tactic or an airing of the sport's laundry in public, it did seem to correspond to the year leading up to the first deadline for the old CBA. And when the deadline was extended in the wake of the September 11th tragedy, the rhetoric seemed also to be extended. Talk of competitive balance since the new CBA is of how the Angels rode the crest of positivity that the improved competitive balance engendered. (You might guess my stance on the issue from these observations.)

I am belatedly starting a series on competitive balance to examine how balanced the game has been historically and how balanced it remains today. I thank Chris DeRosa for allowing me to re-print his Reinsdorf Award 2002 article, which I felt was an excellent opening salvo on the issue. It is from the point of view of a Yankees fan, but given the attack that that franchise has been under from within baseball as well as from the media and the fans, I felt that an incendiary response to those seemingly endemic attacks was more than appropriate. Besides it's damn well-written.

The next section of the competitive balance series will review what has been written up until now regarding the topic. Of course, it will be in my own idiomatically irreverent style. I will review the findings of baseball's independent Blue Ribbon Panel of MLB insiders, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould's explanation for the death of the .400 hitter, Bill James' 1990 analysis on competitive balance, economist Andrew Zimbalist's take on the state of the game, as well as a few papers that I have found online from non-professionals.

To be continued....

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