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Owens: Parity allows all MLB teams shot at success (Feb. 15)

Andrew Owens | Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ah, the sweet sounds and smells of spring are approaching. Such thoughts conjure different feelings for different people, but for me, it mostly means baseball is around the corner.

If you look outside it would be difficult to imagine that another baseball regular season is a little over seven weeks away.

There is simply something special about spring training that none of the other sports can match. When each team shows up to spring training each February, they believe they have a shot at winning their respective division and, unless you’re from the AL East, it is a realistic opportunity. After all, 15 of the 30 clubs have clinched a World Series berth since 2000, and 25 of the 30 teams have appeared in the postseason since 2001 (22 of 30 since 2006).

Baseball’s exclusive Futility Club consists of the Blue Jays (but they’re from Canada, so no one notices), the Royals, Pirates, Orioles and Expos/Nationals (rough to be baseball diehard from the Beltway, huh?). The Pirates, baseball’s poster child of irrelevance, have heightened hope to end a playoff drought that has lingered since 1992.

Basically, the Pirates have not made the postseason since a guy named Fielder led the Tigers in RBIs. What are the chances that ever happens again?

What’s that? You say you have 214 reasons why that could happen again?

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

Baseball has achieved a level of parity unmatched by other sports. Even with no salary cap and a luxury tax that only sometimes deters baseball’s Goliaths from letting their money rain (see the Yankees and Red Sox this offseason), baseball still achieves competitive balance at a higher level than the other major sports.

Last season, baseball’s version of the Final Four did not feature a club in the top nine of the sport’s payroll pecking order.

Three teams came from the Midwest and one from the Southwest, a stark contrast to football’s East Coast Super Bowl.

In the NFL, there has not been an AFC champion not named the Patriots, Colts or Steelers since 2002. If you don’t have an elite quarterback, forget about winning the Super Bowl. That sad reality eliminates 15-18 teams before the first whistle of the season is even blown.

The NBA has the least amount of parity, and it grows worse each year. Rarely does a team make it to the NBA Finals, or even the conference finals, if they were not one of the preseason favorites. When is the last time an underdog won their conference like the Cardinals, Rays, Tigers and Rockies won their leagues in recent years?

Much of baseball’s parity is due to the irregularities that are unique to that sport. Justin Verlander could very well win 20 games again this season, but it in no way guarantees the Tigers a division title, let alone an elusive World Series championship. If the bullpen implodes and the seemingly vaunted Detroit lineup fails to live up to the hype, the door will open widely for an up-and-comer like the Royals or Indians.

That’s what makes the sport so great. While many people scoff at the prospects of the Mets somehow becoming competent or a Pirates NL Central title, the fact remains that all 30 clubs, including the typical cellar dwellers, have reason for optimism heading into 2012.

After all, if a team that lost its ace in spring training, was 10.5 games out of the playoff hunt in late August and was down to its final strike twice in the World Series still managed to muster enough magic to win a championship, who says your favorite team can’t?


Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.