The Fall Classic came to an end Monday night, with the San Francisco Giants defeating the Texas Rangers in five games to claim their first World Series title since 1954. The Giants not only ended a 56-year wait for baseball’s ultimate prize, but will notably bring the trophy to San Francisco for the very first time, having been based in New York for each of their previous five triumphs.
Although coming short at the final hurdle, the Texas Rangers also had a significant first this postseason as they reached their maiden World Series in team history. That’s a massive achievement for a franchise that was founded in 1961 but had never won a playoff series prior to this season. The Rangers got that monkey off their backs by ousting AL East duo Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees on the way to the finals.
In spite of the Cinderella stories put on display by both the Giants and Rangers, many baseball pundits will argue that in order to be most successful, the sport needs the big-market teams to shine come playoff time. For example, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox pull in major media attention whenever they play and assure TV networks of good viewership.
The latter point can’t be disputed, since the viewership rating for Monday’s Game 5 was down 17 percent from Game 5 of last year’s Yankees-Philadelphia Phillies series. Nonetheless, I will argue against the claim that the Yankees are a necessary evil for the good of the game.
Yes, they have won a Major League-best 27 World Series titles (the St. Louis Cardinals are a distant second with 10). Yes, they have reached the World Series a record 40 times. Yes, they are probably the biggest sporting franchise in the United States, much like soccer club Manchester United in the English Premier League. But no, their dominance is not necessarily good for the game.
If all of Major League Baseball teams were on an even playing field with the Yankees, then perhaps their dominance would be most impressive and fascinating.
But the truth of the matter is that the Yankees win because they spend big. Some might venture to call it an unfair advantage. To put it in perspective, the Yankees’ 2010 payroll of $206 million is more than the combined salaries of four MLB teams – the Oakland Athletics, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates.
You want more perspective? How about the fact that the combined 2010 salary of Yankees players Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia is more than the ENTIRE team salary of the Texas Rangers! Oh yeah, the same Rangers that ousted the Yankees from the postseason on the way to the World Series.
Yes, football fans might point out that Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City spend way more money than teams like Wolverhampton and Wigan. Or the fact that Real Madrid’s spending over the last couple of seasons can be enough to buy a small country.
In this case it is important to remember that in European football there are hundreds of teams that have a giant pool of talent to choose from. Real can buy Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, but can only field 11 players at a time, while Barcelona will have Lionel Messi and Manchester United will have Wayne Rooney. Inevitably there will always be around 10 teams throughout Europe that can hope to win the 32-strong Champions League each year.
Major League Baseball is different in the way that the gap from the Yankees to the 10th team in salary is astronomical. Yes, the Giants are ninth in salary and just won the World Series, but what are the chances they will make another run next year? Highly unlikely, while it’s very likely the Yankees will be back again and looking for title 28.
It’s no coincidence that the Yankees and Red Sox, the top two teams in terms of payroll, have won three of the last seven World Series titles. Most of the national media will tell you that those finals match-ups were precisely the ones that drew the most attention and will be remembered the longest. The media will also remind you of the glory years in the late 1990s when the Yankees won four of five World Series titles.
What they might not mention is the fact that this past decade has produced numerous unlikely champions from different parts of the country.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, a team formed in 1998, won the World Series in 2001. The following year, Anaheim Angels, founded in 1961, won their first and only title. The Boston Red Sox ended an 86-year title drought by triumphing in 2004. The Chicago White Sox followed suit in 2005, by claiming their first title since 1917. You can now add the Giants to the list of unlikely winners. It is important to note that the Red Sox aided their cause by having the second-best team salary in 2004, while the other aforementioned teams were out of the top three the year they won.
Come next year, a big part of the national media will hope the Yankees bounce back, arguing that it will be good for the game. They will say the playoffs are not the same without the Bronx Bombers. They will say the World Series are not the same without the pinstripes. The fact is that the Yankees’ title in 2009 was their only one this decade, and baseball has been just fine.
The Giants winning the World Series was a breath of fresh air. Sadly, there are those who contest it was bad for baseball. Do I want to see New York in the Fall Classic next year? No Yank you.