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For the 1,567th time: baseball does not need a salary cap

Aug 4, 2010, 11:59 AM EDT

And even if it does, the Yankees trading for Austin Kearns is no evidence of it.

John Feinstein knows a hell of a lot about college basketball and golf, but his take on the finances of major league team sports is a bit shaky.  How could it be anything but based on the argument he makes today: baseball should have a salary cap so it can be successful and competitive like football, basketball and hockey.

I’ll leave hockey to others because I just don’t know enough about it, but it never ceases to amaze me that the NFL and NBA are trotted out as superior models to baseball’s. The same NFL that is about to embark on an ugly as all hell labor battle. The same NBA that just bore witness to the 127th (estimated) Celtics-Lakers Finals and just watched a team get its heart ripped out by a departing free agent in more callous a manner than any baseball player’s departure has ever hurt a team.  If the point of a salary cap is a league’s financial health, competitiveness and some sense of fan friendliness, football and basketball are doing it wrong.

But I think the kicker to this is that what sets off Feinstein’s rant today is that the Yankees picked up Austin Kearns. Really, he ends his column by suggesting that baseball’s salary cap be called “The Kearns Rule” because apparently New York’s acquisition of a journeyman outfielder making $750,000 is a bridge too far. No one likes the Yankees’ largess, but it sure as hell wasn’t on display at the trade deadline.

But as I always do when someone writes one of these “baseball needs a salary cap” things, I’ll note that every team in Major League Baseball has made the playoffs at least once. Twenty-three of 30 have made it in the past ten years, and 28 of 30 have made it since 1992.  I’ll also note that, as I type this, there are two very sophisticated groups of businessmen literally bidding against one another in an auction for the right to buy a Major League Baseball team. And a bankrupt one to boot.

If that’s evidence of a problem, it’s a problem unlike that which I have ever seen.

  1. Ditto65 - Aug 4, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    You say that like it is a bad thing (I mean no actual harm to anyone – even Scrooge McLoria).

  2. Reflex - Aug 4, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    What competitive balance are you reffering to in the NFL? I just went through a decade of Patriots wins, and a previous decade of Cowboys wins. I have not seen the Lions in the playoffs or championships in my adult life. In fact there are a lot of NFL teams I never see get anywhere. Others show up for one season and dissapear.
    Care to use some numbers to generate some proof of the competitive balance you speak of? Every such analysis I’ve seen demonstrates that the NFL is a collection of haves and have nots, with a few suprise teams here and there.

  3. Ditto65 - Aug 4, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    Yeah, Steinbrenner proved that.

  4. Calir - Aug 4, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    Yes it does. Nees a salary bottom as well. Next…..

  5. rob - Aug 4, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    The Yankees and Cardinals have combined to win 37 titles. More than 33% of the titles. So that isn’t the best argument. Plus most of those titles by the celtics and lakers were long before salary caps. Any argument about title percentage should be kept to the actual salary cap era.

  6. bigtrav425 - Aug 4, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    Anyone who thinks Baseball doesnt need one needs to go have there head examined or there prolly a Yankee or red sox DOES need a cap as well as a Bottom.this is a idiotic needs one, bottom line and the facts you gave us Craig are not really a big deal.every team has a good yr here n there just out of luck like the Indians did in a few yrs ago.Do you not remember the Marlins buying a world series more or less? Where have u been since 96ish with the Yankee’s? how many WS rings do they have? how many times have they NOT made the playoffs? This would make it a more even playing ground for everyone and make teams like the Royals and Pirates spend a lil money as well( per the Bottom part of it).I think its Absurd anyone outside of New York or Boston still thinks there is no need for one

  7. lessick - Aug 4, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    “Wait till the Yankees sign Crawford and Lee in the off season. The pro salary cap crowd may have a collective massive heart attack.
    If spending meant winning then the Yankees would have won every title since 1996 (Estimate).”

    Actually, the Orioles would have won some titles circa 1998 and 1999 when they were outspending the Yankees…and finishing below .500. If I’m not mistaken, the Dodgers passed the Yankees in payroll around that time and did not sniff the playoffs.

    The salary cap does little more than make owners wealthier.

  8. lessick - Aug 4, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    “Where have u been since 96ish with the Yankee’s? how many WS rings do they have?”

    The late 90’s titles were mainly won with homegrown talent, not reckless spending. In fact, the reckless spending this century has gotten them only one title in the past nine years. I’m not a Yankee apologist–I hate those guys.

    I am in favor of better revenue sharing of local TV money. Sure NY teams make more with their local broadcasts, but there are ALWAYS two teams on the field. IMO, 50% of local TV revenue should be equally shared by all teams. The big markets would still make more, but the gap would be less.

  9. Kevin S. - Aug 4, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    In the cap era (’99-’10), the Lakers have won 5 times and the Spurs 4. So, does the top two teams winning 75% of the titles make things work better for you?

  10. linfield - Aug 4, 2010 at 5:26 PM

    You’re right about certain teams in the NFL with sustained championship level play, but those trams relied more on great management to win, while the financial backing was a much lesser factor in their success. Unlike baseball, smaller market teams like Pittsburgh and Green Bay have also been serious super bowl threats, thanks to a system which assures those teams won’t be stripped down of talent like MLB. Unlike MLB, smaller market teams are consistently in the hunt, and super bowl appearances are common. Having Arizona in the super bowl recently was like the Royals reaching the World Series. The major difference is the Cardinals have a fair chance of returning to that level, thanks to a fair system. Last year, Arizona remained a serious super bowl contender. You just won’t see big market teams in the NFL hoard talent like the Yankees do,
    And that’s the difference. All teams in the NFL have a fair shot to compete for the ring, and small market teams have a long record of serious contention. For teams like the Lions, the major reason they’ve struggled has been bad managment, the system gives everyone that opportunity. That’s a big reason for the popularity of the NFL, all fans know there is hope and look forward to watching throughout the season, even if their team is eliminated. In MLB, you have many teams with little or no hope, so people tune out baseball in the postseason, hence the poor TV ratings.

  11. Ick McWang - Aug 4, 2010 at 6:26 PM

    the only reason i am in favor of a salary cap is because I am a rays fan and being the poor child in the AL East sucks.

  12. dynamo9 - Aug 4, 2010 at 8:20 PM

    MLB needs to come up with a way that teams can retain their homegrown talent. If there was a system in place that regulated player salaries it would be beneficial to MLB. This way if the Yankees are willing to pay 25 players the maximum salary then so be it, but if a player wants to remain with his home town team then the team can actually afford them.

  13. Sam Lee - Aug 4, 2010 at 9:00 PM

    Well, your Reds won’t win the series this year, next year or the year after that. There is a pretty significant chance that the Yankees win one in that time span. Nobody would be surprised if they win 2. When was the last time the Reds won again? Was the financial imbalance as perverted then as now? Its a loser’s mentality to equate winning the NL Central with winning the World Series and you sound as if you might be getting close to that.

  14. willmose - Aug 4, 2010 at 10:02 PM

    Craig, thanks for the sanity on the subject. Why is that everybody is all for freedom and free enterprise until you talk about professional sports? Would MSNBC be a better place if all the bloggers worked under a salary cap? Or you couldn’t take your blog to ESPN or Fox Sports if the paid you more? Sports is a business. It is free enterprise that makes baseball America’s game.

  15. jumanji11 - Aug 4, 2010 at 10:31 PM

    Salary floor would be the worst idea ever. Let’s force small-market teams to pay more money to overpriced, bad players in their ’30s! Sure, they’ll cut back on player development, scouting, amateur signings…but those things don’t really matter anyways, right?

  16. Kevin S. - Aug 4, 2010 at 10:37 PM

    They don’t spend the money they get through revenue sharing as it is. You don’t think that should be a requirement?

  17. condeclar - Aug 4, 2010 at 10:43 PM

    Competitive balance is the goal, but a Salary Cap isn’t the only tool. In fact, it probably isn’t the primary tool. Everyone is forgetting about Revenue sharing. So, you make a Salary Cap, but what if you don’t have the money to reach the Max or even the Min? Say Pittsburgh??
    The idea is that the Entire League wins when there is an equal playing field for each team and the main two components of that is Revenue sharing and Salary Equality.
    People use the example of certain teams such as the Patriots or Lakers being able to achieve higher rates of success to argue against a Salary Cap.
    The goal of equal resources isn’t that each team wins equally. It is that each team competes on a level playing field. It is still up to each team to make good decisions and run their business as good as possible.
    The Lions are a perfecet example of this…. They have sucked for a long time. Why? Because they have made poor choices…….ie Matt Millen. On the other hand, the Patriots lucked out and found Brady in the 6th round of the draft.
    The Yankees value will erode as the Overall value of baseball erodes.
    In my opinion, Baseball’s system sucks, and Baseball as a whole will continue to experience an erosion until they realize the whole is more important than the pieces.

  18. condeclar - Aug 4, 2010 at 11:24 PM

    You are absolutely correct. A Sports Association should have the Freedom to do what they want.
    At this point, they do because the government isn’t forcing them or forbidding them from implementing a salary cap.
    In the sense we are talking about, government is the only one that takes freedom away. Of course, an individual person can take away my freedom by kidnapping me or some other illegal activity, but that isn’t what we are talking about. That’s just an illegal act. We are talking about taking away freedom through the political system.
    I will give you an example: I don’t believe that the government should have the ability to make Seat Belts mandatory. To me, that is taking my freedom away to choose.
    However, I believe it is perfectly acceptable for people to educate people about the benefits of wearing a seat belt and even using shame to coerce people into wearing seatbelts. This is creating societal norms or values, which is a perfectly acceptable way to shape people’s behavior.
    In my opinion, people should have the legal ability to do a lot of things or to do most things, BUT that doesn’t mean they should do it. And that is where societal norms and values come into play.
    What you are really saying is that sports teams shouldn’t listen to their customers because that’s what we all are. We aren’t the government passing a law.
    We are customers telling some business what we want to see because we are not being satisified. This is the basis of our system. What we are engaging in is the epitome of “Free Enterprise”.

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