Like Barry Bonds, Baseball Widow hasn't retired; she's just not playing.
Enjoy the archives. . .

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

In the Interest of Baseball. . .
or, Why Supporting a Salary Cap Doesn't Make You a Communist

So, yeah, Lucchino looks like an idiot for whining because his rich team lost out to baseball's richest team in the bid for A-Rod's heart. But, there is something to the "in the interest of baseball" argument.

In order to remain interesting, baseball has to be a competitive sport. If one team constantly dominates, then the sport becomes less interesting, less people will watch, and baseball will suffer. How do we ensure competitive teams? The NFL has gone the route of the salary cap, and (you gotta admit) the NFL is consistently interesting and profitable. . . with or without nipple rings.

The powers that be in baseball would tell you that they, too, have made efforts to keep the sport interesting and to maintain competitive teams. Club owners who wish to go over a pre-set payroll limit must pay for the privilege by giving money to smaller teams. The trouble is that rich teams can afford to pay any amount of luxury tax, so they're not discouraged from going over the limit. Also, the smaller teams that are supposed to benefit from the tax don't see any of the money. The owners just pocket their team's share of the tax. Kinda makes sense--if someone offered me money and said "you can keep it, or you can give it away," I'd probably keep it too.

The owners of the poorer teams won't see any benefit if they use the money to increase the payroll, because no matter how much they increase their payroll, they can never compete with the Yankees or the Red Sox. Where does this leave baseball? Well, eventually, nowhere. Professional sports live and die by spectator interest, and predictability isn't interesting. Just ask Atlanta: they've had one of the best teams in baseball every year for the last 11 years, and they can't fill the stands.

If we were dealing with a real market economy, then I would be against a salary cap. But this isn't a real economy. Baseball is an unregulated monopoly; it has special clearance from the government to be so. Artificial economies won't survive absent lots of manipulation. The good of the entire industry is tied to the success of the least well off. (Nerd Alert: it's called the maximin principle.)

Of course it's sad when we reduce baseball to dollars and cents, but let's face it: "love of the game" doesn't pay the rent. If baseball doesn't adopt some mechanism of ensuring viability, then it will become stagnant--both as a sport and as an industry. Whether or not the best answer is a rigidly enforced salary cap, it would behoove baseball owners to recognize their mutual fates.

No comments: