Everywhere you looked in baseball, the New York Yankees have dominated the news recently. There were the deaths of George Steinbrenner, the owner, and Bob Sheppard, the announcer. At the All-Star Game, seven Yankees were part of the American League squad, who were managed by Joe Girardi, the New York manager. And it could be that, come October, the Yankees may again dominate the game. Few would be surprised if the Yankees repeated as World Series champions, given their talent and depth.
Then again, the Yankees are guaranteed nothing as baseball shifts into the final two months of the season. More than any recent year, the 2010 season has parity aplenty. As the second half of the season began, 17 teams were within five games of a play-off spot. Baseball is often criticised for not having a salary cap, as the other three major North American sports do, which allows a team like the Yankees to capitalise on their market size and outspend the other 29 clubs.
But for all of their financial might, the title won by the Yankees title last year was their first since 2000. It is infrequently noted, but baseball has a more competitive balance than most assume. In the last decade, seven National League teams, or nearly half the 16-team league, won the pennant and the right to represent the league in the World Series. Even in the American League, where the Yankees and Boston Red Sox seem to dominate, four other teams got to the World Series in the last decade and two of those teams won the Series.
The introduction of revenue-sharing more than a decade ago has made this possible. While the Yankees, Red Sox and other big-market teams enjoy certain undeniable advantages, the increase in payments from the central fund have served to lift a number of small- and medium-market teams to contender status. (It is worth noting that not even big payouts to small-market teams can cover up poor management. The Pittsburgh Pirates, for example, are about to finish with a losing record for the 18th season in a row).
But one need only look at some well-run clubs - like Minnesota - to see teams who have scouted, drafted and developed well enough to overcome their market size. With the final third of the season approaching, the field of potential champions seems to be expanding, not shrinking. Having the Yankees and Red Sox as marquee attractions is good for the sport, too, since they generate interest for the game. But a level playing field with a frantic finish to the season is even better.
Baseball is a long season and fans need to know that they have hope. And this year, a check of the standings reveals that they have it now more than ever. firstname.lastname@example.org