Perspective: Baseball Is a Game of Money

by Aviv Klayman ‘24

One of the biggest reasons why sports is beloved by so many people is its unpredictability. In any match up, any team can win. However, is this truly the case for “America’s Pastime” — baseball? Over the last decade, eight different teams have won the World Series, which, from an outside perspective, suggests that there is parity within the game and that most teams have an equal chance of competing for the title. However, under a microscope, the truth behind baseball’s unfairness and inequities toward certain teams is clearly visible.

The teams that have won the World Series since 2012 are the San Francisco Giants (2012, 2014), Boston Red Sox (2013, 2018), Kansas City Royals (2015), Chicago Cubs (2016), Houston Astros (2017, 2022), Washington Nationals (2019), Los Angeles Dodgers (2020), and the Atlanta Braves (2021). The commonality with all of these championship teams are that they come from “major markets”, located in highly populated cities with influential reach to other parts of the country. The Yankees and Dodgers have local fan bases of well over 16 million people, while the Cubs, Nationals, Giants, and Red Sox have fanbases of just over 5 million people. The facts show that the teams that win are the teams that have the money. Nearly all of the winning championship teams had a team payroll that ranked in the top half of the league, with a few exceptions.

This problem of the “big market” teams always having the upper hand is rooted in how the MLB, different from most other major league sports, does not have a salary cap, meaning there is no maximum value on how much a team can spend. Instead, the MLB has a luxury tax, which is implemented on the top grossing teams, with the money being distributed evenly to the other teams in the league. However, the tax is so light and inconsequential that most teams just ignore it. So it doesn’t stop teams from spending hundreds of millions of dollars and does little to help teams that are struggling to keep up money-wise. The ability for a team to make it to the championship is based on this huge gap in money. For instance, since the consistent implementation of the tax in 2003, the Yankees have paid a total of $348 million in tax. Nearly every year they are above the allowed threshold of money, which is set at the beginning of every year.

This issue of the pay-to-win method the MLB seems to be following is also very prevalent when it comes to the signing of players during the offseason. In terms of payrolls, the New York Mets, so far for the 2023 season, are paying their players over $356 million. In comparison, the Oakland Athletics are only going to pay their players $15.5 million.In terms of signing free agents during the offseason, the same “big-market” teams reign at the top, while the “small market” teams watch in envy. This effect makes it exponentially more difficult to vie for big-name free agents which could increase the teams performance and also draw more attention from potential fans.

If the MLB were to transition to a salary cap oriented league, it might allow for smaller market teams to fight for championships. If the MLB cannot make any adjustments, it will be a long while until some of the smaller market teams will even be to compete for a World Series. If the MLB wishes to revitalize their dying franchises, then adding more parity into their game would rejuvenate some of the current bottom feeders of the league.