The 2014 MLB regular season is wrapping up this weekend. As far as seasons go, unless you’re Derek Jeter — playing Thursday in just the first (and ironically last) home game of his career in which the Yankees are already eliminated from postseason contention — it’s been pretty ideal. If nothing else, it has felt peculiar. Boston, the defending World Series champs, is 26 games out of first place in their division; the Oakland Athletics are desperately attempting not to collapse in front of their data-driven faux-mascot and general manager Billy Bean; and five of the 12 teams in last season’s playoff bracket are currently slated to miss this year’s cut.
But as Michael Lopez points out, there might be something more noteworthy at play.
The median payroll of the 10 (likely) MLB playoff teams is $121 million. The median payroll of the 6 last place teams is $124 million #MLB
— Michael Lopez (@StatsbyLopez) September 24, 2014
Hal Steinbrenner/Joe Girardi/Brian Cashman’s New York Yankees are perennially left holding dunce caps following non-playoff campaigns. Given how ridiculously deep the team’s pockets are, it’s for good measure they’re left feeling this way. Many, mostly those in Boston or Queens, relish taking an opportunity to bathe in the tears of the pinstripe faithful at season’s end. The Bronx Bombers spent more than $209 million this season to miss out on the playoffs. Pittsburgh, a team with nearly one-third New York’s payroll, made this year’s postseason, showing yet again how much parity has become less a phenomenon and more a reality in baseball.
Parity is meant to level the playing field, removing any barriers between small and large-market teams. It’s doing its job for commissioner Bug Selig.
Just two teams in the top 5 on the highest 2014 team salaries chart will make the playoffs this year (Los Angeles, 1st; Detroit, 4th). The notion why not us? has never been more grounded than it is today. How did the Houston Astros, a franchise that lost 324 games over the last three seasons, have the same amount of wins as the defending World Series champs? Because baseball’s as equal a playing field as we have in major contemporary sports.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark posited an idea in February that the MLB has a higher degree of parity than the NFL. And he’s right.
Twenty-four of the 30 teams in the MLB have played in the World Series in the past 25 years. More than half (16) has won the Commissioner’s Trophy in that same frame. If the Kansas City Royals make the playoffs this season (magic number: 2), the Toronto Blue Jays will be the only team in baseball to not make the playoffs since 2001.
As Stark points out, 19 NFL franchises haven’t won a Super Bowl in the last 25 years, and six teams haven’t had a winning season in the last five. Four teams haven’t even been to the Super Bowl yet (Detroit, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Houston). Professional basketball shows little deviation in terms of wins, too. SB Nation’s Tom Ziller brilliantly pointed out in February that the NBA isn’t any more balanced than it was more than a decade ago:
It’s hard to believe that in the 1970s — the NBA’s decade of parity — eight different teams won NBA titles. Just six teams have won NBA championships and 11 teams have won conference titles since 2000. Thirteen teams have never won a championship and the Sacramento Kings haven’t made the NBA Finals since 1951, when they were the Rochester Royals.
But baseball, a sport many Chicagoans consider cursed, continues to level the playing field in ways the NBA and NFL hasn’t. Quite frankly, it’s refreshing.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Rivals, Denver Post, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. He currently writes for Wall Street Journal Sports, the ESPN TrueHoop Network and The Cauldron. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).