It’s only the remarkable immediacy of the Internet that allows me to go out on a limb and say nutty things like this: The wretched imbalance in Major League Baseball payrolls means that – over the long term – smaller-market teams like the Minnesota Twins will perhaps be able to compete adequately over the course of a season and win a division title or wild card berth here and there, but ultimately are doomed against the likes of the Yankees in the postseason.
I’m gonna look pretty silly if the Twins somehow pull something out against New York, but even then it wouldn’t mean I was wrong. Part of the wonderful charm of baseball is that the unexpected – sometimes even the unimaginable – can happen, but in a game that prides itself on anointing greatness only over an extended, even arduous schedule, the percentages favor the club with the greater manpower.
Now one of the important things that mitigate this factor is pressure. I’m convinced that a team like the Yankees is quite properly handicapped by the almost unrealistic expectations that come with having all that high-priced talent. Everybody from the various Steinbrenners on down anticipates and expects that they will win in these payroll mismatches, so the underdog typically faces a relatively relaxed situation.
But trying to identify those instances when the pressure cooker prompts professional athletes to choke is extraordinarily difficult if not impossible, unless your name is Johnny Miller. But I seemingly digress.
My basic point is that while the Twins appear to debunk the idea that teams with lower payrolls can’t effectively compete against mucho-dinero behemoths like the Yankees, the reality may be that they can in fact compete only to a degree.
It’s perfectly understandable that baseball would have moved to the tiered playoff system and then ultimately add the wild-card element, given the huge population growth that the country has undergone in the 40 years since the “new” system was established. But back in 1968, coming out on top after a 162-game ordeal put a club immediately into the World Series: nowadays it puts a team into a truncated playoff dance for a chance at getting into the World Series.
If I were a fan of a small-market team, I would find it deeply unsatisfying to find my guys in the playoffs against a ball club that was paying its guys twice as much dough as my guys were getting. Especially if my guys were typically getting rudely bounced out most of the time.
Thank God I root for a big-market juggernaut like the Mets.