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Tuesday, October 17, 2006
George Will on Baseball's Competitive Balance

Last week, I did a post on baseball's competitive balance and explained that high payroll simply does not equal success. Well, I was delighted to read George Will's Op-Ed column in the Washington Post this past weekend (Baseball's Real 'Golden Age'). George Will is one of my all-time favorite commentators on the business of baseball. I don't think I've ever disagreed with anything he has said about baseball. He makes some excellent points to demonstrate "the steeply declining utility of the last $100 million of payroll" (as he puts it) and that baseball's competitive balance is a diminishing problem:
  • There still are revenue and spending disparities between baseball teams that are impossible between NFL and NBA teams because those leagues have salary caps and more centralized revenue sources. Nevertheless, when the Tigers dispatched the Yankees Oct. 7, baseball was guaranteed its seventh different World Series winner in seven years. There never have been seven consecutive Super Bowls, or seven consecutive NBA championships, won by seven different teams.
  • Baseball's supposed "golden age" of the 1940s and 1950s was not so golden outside New York. In 1947 the Yankees won the American League pennant and beat the Dodgers in the World Series. In 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953 the Yankees were World Series winners over the Dodgers, Phillies, Giants, Dodgers and Dodgers, respectively. If the Phillies had not beaten the Dodgers in the 10th inning of the last game of the 1950 season, every World Series game for five years would have been played in New York. And if 103 wins, which usually are enough to win the pennant, had sufficed in 1954 (the Indians won 111, an American League record for a 154-game season), the Yankees would have won 10 pennants in a row, because they also won in 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958.


Since when was the Golden Age about everyone winning? The Golden Age was jus amazing years of baseball, or so I thouhgt. I always thought that dynastys were good because it provided you with a clear overdog to try and beat, whether they won or not. Competitive Balance is important, and there stilll needs to be a salary cap.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 10/17/2006 7:27 AM  

In addition to looking at playoff trips and World Series wins, which payroll does influence to some extent, but certainly does not guarantee, we should look at wins in a season.

There was an excellent article at The Baseball Analysts, and I'd like to quote a section of it.

"Contrary to popular perception, payroll in professional sports is not strongly linked to wins. A $100 million team does not win twice as many games as a $50 million team - not even close. Our own work has shown that only about 18% of a team's regular season wins can be attributed to its payroll.

In other words, more than 80% of a team's regular season record cannot be tied to team spending. We would add that this is what we see when we look at teams in Major League Baseball from 1988 to 2005. In other words, the lack of a link between spending and wins is not a recent phenomenon. Across time more spending is not an elixir that leads automatically to success on the field. As the saying goes, games are not won on paper. Moreover, they are not won just because you spent a pile of paper."

One of the reasons I like studying baseball so much is that you can really get a good look at the strategies governing a team's baseball operations through player development, offseason spending and trades.

We may despise Jeffery Loria's actions as owner of the Marlins, but we also have to applaud Larry Beinfest's ability to trade for and utilize young talent.

That said, I agree with the first commenter regarding the "Golden Age" - a large part of it is due to the exciting postseasons we've had, the influx of young, talented players who hit the ground running, and the increased efforts to market the game differently.

Blogger Satchmo -- 10/17/2006 10:34 AM  

If you go to an Ivy League school, does that guarantee you that you will do better than everyone else. No, but it does give you a better chance. That is all this proves.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 10/17/2006 10:57 AM  

But a high payroll in baseball, eg. the yankees, might mean that you field a highly competitive team much more than lower payroll teams. The Yankees are competitive every year. While some teams with low payrolls are not, like the tigers (once every 20 years). There are some low payroll teams that are fairly competitive every year like oakland and minnesota, but the Yankees are competitive (for a division title) every year and in the playoffs EVERY year.

Anonymous tommie -- 10/18/2006 9:56 AM  

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