With New York signing the Japanese pitcher Tanaka last week, we saw once again the need for a salary cap throughout Major League Baseball. Basically, New York is presumably going to be off the hook for Alex Rodriguez’s salary (which is a blessing for them mind you), and they’re putting the money into Tanaka. What they’re doing is well within the rules, so you can’t really fault the team. However fans should be upset at the system that allows for it to happen. Translated: be angry with MLB, the MLBPA, Bud Selig, etc.
That aside, what the lack of a salary cap in any sport means is that parity is much more difficult to come by. When it comes to parity in sports, I used to line up somewhat on the other side. In the late 1990′s and early 2000′s the University of Maryland was at the end of a process that had been revving up since 1989: a Final Four/National Title run. However at around the same time, more and more emphasis seemed to be getting put on some of the smaller schools (“mid-majors”). Quite frankly, I still argue that if an at-large tournament bid comes between a school like Maryland and a school such as Towson or George Washington, the smaller school has a bit of an advantage (all things being equal). The NCAA wants stories like George Mason’s Final Four run in 2006, where as Maryland beating the odds and winning it all in 2002 was just a run-of-the-mill season. Basically, my attitude at that time was why would I (as a fan of a big school) want parity when it would in theory run to the detriment of my team?
That argument might still hold true in a sport like college basketball. However when you get into professional sports it’s a different story.
MLB would argue that the parity is there for the taking, however teams such as the Baltimore Orioles and other smaller market franchises need to step up and spend the cash. First off let’s face it; if you’re in a business such as MLB you’re printing cash. However owners of all companies have a Gross Operating Profit number that they want to hit on their budgets. If spending like the Yankees and Red Sox spend gives them a GOP number of 15% as opposed to 50%, they aren’t going to be very happy.
So what does this have to do with a salary cap vs. non-salary cap discussion, and more importantly how does a salary cap equal more fans? If there was a salary cap in MLB, not only would ARod’s salary presumably count against the Yankees this year, but they probably wouldn’t have been able to afford Tanaka. That would allow other franchises to have a shot at him, and perhaps he would have ended up in a place where he could have made an impact such as bringing a struggling team to the post season discussion. And it’s not just Tanaka; you can throw any player into that mix.
This would allow fans in places such as Houston, San Diego, Miami, and Minnesota to know that not all of the good players will automatically end up in pinstripes or at Fenway. At a certain point your fan base might start to erode a bit if fans don’t feel that they have a legitimate shot at winning when they come to the ballpark. Quite frankly we saw that in Baltimore for years. Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium, and a few others are going to be sold out every night. But the league is putting that above perhaps drawing just a few more fans in some of the places I mentioned above.
Again, the flip argument is that teams such as NY and Boston shouldn’t have to not spend money just because other teams don’t think it’s fair. And furthermore, those teams could argue that they’d end up taking a bigger hit in terms of overall GOP given that if a salary cap suddenly came into play they’d have to get rid of some of their players. Those players also equal merchandise sales among other things. I recognize that it’s not as cut-and-dry as people might think. However in the long run I think that MLB would have a much more fair look to it if there were boundaries such as a salary cap.