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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. BC - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:11 PM

    The NBA has a salary cap and its the most top-heavy, non-competitive league going.
    Try again, Feinstein. Or go write another novel or something.

  2. Drew GROF - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:14 PM

    There are salary caps in football, basketball and hockey. I don’t see very many players starving as a result of them.
    Mr. Feistein should go have a discussion with Antii Niemi or one of the million or so free agents unable to find work in the NHL.

  3. Old Gator - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:15 PM

    Scrooge McLoria certainly doesn’t want a salary cap. Look at all the high-priced free agents he’s been able to sign with his idiot tax money.

  4. Fernando - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:17 PM


  5. John_Michael - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    C’mon Craig. Baseball needs a salary cap so first place, large market teams like the Padres can’t buy themselves into the playoffs each year.

  6. Ditto65 - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    MLB needs a salary floor. Spend $XX.xx, or pay a penalty.

  7. charles - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    To suggest that the NFL is in trouble because of the upcoming labor battle sounds like someone who never lived through 94. Also, the fact that baseball is still pretty popular (though not as much when compared to other sports as it was 30-50 years ago) doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be more popular with a salary cap. That a bunch of teams can make the playoffs speaks to the unpredictability of the game of baseball. The NBA doesn’t have much competitiveness because one player can so easily dominate the game.

  8. ThatGuy - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    I think that has more to do with NHL players over-valueing their self worth. In your Niemi example, he has played 43 career games. He got hot in the playoffs, and now wants a huge contract. There are so many examples of Goalies doing that, getting the contract, than never living up to it. That its unbelievable. Cam Ward comes to mind.

  9. Scott - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    In the NBA, the Celtics and Lakers combined for over 50% of the league’s titles. Two teams, half the titles.
    The argument for salary cap (if anything) should be less about parity and more about the fact that it’s the smart teams that dominate instead of the rich teams – an argument can be made it’s more fair.
    Of course, the Lakers won last year because they were $44M over the cap and no one else can pay that kind of luxury tax. Nice example Feinstein.

  10. Craig Calcaterra - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    Almost all of the rhetoric about salary caps comes up when there is labor discord, most notably in 1994 and 1992. The NFL may be successful and popular, but the argument that a salary cap prevents labor problems is being disproven as we speak.

  11. JBerardi - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:46 PM

    The primary function of a salary cap is to make the owners (slightly) richer.

  12. Jonny5 - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    I say we need a salary cap NOW! I demand it be……. One Trillion dollars!!!!

  13. John_Michael - Aug 4, 2010 at 12:59 PM

    How would one presuppose that a salary cap would prevent labor disputes? The point of the salary cap would be to supress salaries. The salaries of said labor, which would instigate a dispute…
    In a free market-esque salary structure, players get paid what someone is willing to pay them. Outside of collusion, which is anti-freemarket, a player can’t complain if he (hopefully she too, eventually) doesn’t get what they want because there isn’t an artificial barrier against compensation levels to aim the complaint against.

  14. ThatGuy - Aug 4, 2010 at 1:04 PM

    The labor unrest I dont think can be contributed to the Salary Cap though, it can be contributed to Greed. The owners think they pay the players to much of the pie, the players think they get to little. The salary cap going away this year was not because the owners didn’t like it(a few didnt, ie Jerry Jones, but most did). The Salary Cap going away a year before the labor agreement was put in the last CBA as an encouragment for the owners to keep the peace. Evidently they thought the risk of losing the cap was worth trying to get major concessions from the players.

  15. YankeesfanLen - Aug 4, 2010 at 1:24 PM

    Let’s make a salary cap based on current spending. You are not allowed to pay more than 1.5 this year’s salaries, Scrooge McLoria. Neither is the Universe. See? Everyone’s happy!

  16. doctorfunke - Aug 4, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    Man I hate when people are ambitious. Jerks.

  17. Old Gator - Aug 4, 2010 at 1:47 PM

    Scrooge McLoria would slit his wrists if there were a floor – because you just know that it’d be three times what he wants to spend.

  18. Drew GROF - Aug 4, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    Niemi was awarded a contract in arbitration, the Hawks chose to let him walk for nothing rather than pay what he the awarded amount. That isn’t Niemi, that’s a broken system.

  19. Simon DelMonte - Aug 4, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    There is room to argue about perceived, potential and actual competitive imbalance. If Tampa really is a third rate team again in two years while the Yankees and Red Sox keep rolling, you can ask why it happened and how to prevent it. And certainly it’s hard to feel like it’s a balanced playing field when the Yanks can absorb bad salaries while some teams seem to be unable to afford good.
    But…well, maybe a salary cap stops Omar from signing Awful Ollie. And maybe it means that AJ Burnett doesn’t pitch in the Bronx. It could change things. It could also do nothing – anyone really think Team Steinbrenner would have found ways to not be the Yankees just because of a cap?
    Never mind that I think the salary cap is terrible for basketball. And only a tiny part of the story in the No Guaranteed Contract Football League. The only sport where I think it does any good is hockey, and only as a something that saved the sport short term.

  20. The Real Shuxion - Aug 4, 2010 at 2:11 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).

  21. JBerardi - Aug 4, 2010 at 2:13 PM

    I don’t blame them. I just don’t support their endeavors.

  22. bpizzle42 - Aug 4, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    I guess no one here is a Pirates fan. A salary cap would put an amount that must be used. That would be wonderful I say. But, I am sure they would throw the money at Derek Bell and Doug Strange.

  23. doctorfunke - Aug 4, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    It would be great if every owner just tried to win all the time, but that just wouldn’t be good business unfortunately.

  24. mike wants wins - Aug 4, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    Spending doesn’t guarantee anything, but it sure helps to be able to afford to spend at a greater level than your competition. Does anyone really believe that the Yankees or Sox or any team that wins is so much smarter than everyone else that they could win it all with a $55MM payroll, instead of the one’s they have? Not spending also doesn’t guarantee you’ll be bad. Also, measuring competitiveness based on who wins a championship is silly. Comptetiveness is about hope for fans. The issue that baseball has is the number of games. It just seems to be non-competitive because a large number of teams will play 60+ games after they are “out of it”. That’s a lot of games for people to not buy tickets for…….

  25. linfield - Aug 4, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    We definitely need a salary floor and cap, you can’t compare MLB with the NBA or NHL because those sports were never the national pastime.The NFL has taken over as the national pastime over the past decade plus largely because of competitive balance. We only have to check the outstanding super bowl TV ratings between the Colts and Saints as proof. By contrast, the big market world series of last season has awful ratings when compared to the far less attractive pre strike Fall Classics. You simply can’t explain this massive decline in ratings away, other than the clear decline of baseball’s popularity has coincided with the decline in competitive balance.
    Competitive balance has little to do with the number of teams in the playoffs, it’s twice as easy for MLB teams to reach that goal in the current six team format. Rather, it’s the lack of success by those small market teams to be sustained, serious world series contenders. That’s the huge difference between MLB and the NFL. Yes, the Marlins pulled off the amazing feat of winning a couple Fall Classics, but they haven’t been close to that level since. The Twins and before them, Oakland, were universally hailed as small market success stories, but they’ve played like the Pirates in the postseason, going a combined 1-9 since the 1994 strike with only one ALCS appearance(and the A’s were crushed in that series, 4-0). That’s the problem, people.
    Yes, MLB has always had rich and poor, teams like the old St. Louis Browns are one example. But you’ve never had the gap which exists today, and that’s fundamentally unfair, Most fans know this already, and that’s reflected in the sport’s dwindling popularity. Does anyone believe the NFL would ever allow a third rate network like TBS to cover it’s playoffs with a third rate announcer like Chip Carey? Of course not.

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