|Monday, June 24
Don't listen to Bud's crying
By Jim Caple
We've been brainwashed.
Ever since the last strike we've been told repeatedly that baseball faces a competitive imbalance as lopsided as scales weighing Mo Vaughn and Ichiro. That teams from small markets have no chance to compete against teams from large markets. That the situation is so desperate certain teams must be eliminated.
We've heard baseball sing this song more often than "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." We've heard it sung more often than "YMCA." We heard it sung so many times that we even came to believe it.
But as this season nears the halfway point, Bud Selig and his owners better answer one question before singing it during labor negotiations.
Where is all this competitive imbalance?
Bud will say these are mere anomalies, like Kim Basinger winning an Academy Award. He will say they cannot be duplicated over a couple seasons. He will say that only the well-heeled teams can afford to mount a competitive team year after year.
And you know something? He's right (or mostly right). But so what?
Look, it would be great if every team went into every season with a realistic chance to win a title. Just like it would be great if every team opened each season with $8 box seats and 50-cent bleacher tickets. The sad fact, however, is that such competitive balance has almost never occurred in baseball history, regardless of the economic system in place. And you don't need to get ESPN Classic to realize that, either. A quick glance through the Baseball Encyclopedia shows competitive imbalance is as much a baseball tradition as peanuts and pretzels.
You want to talk about teams that entered the year without a chance to compete? The Phillies had one winning season from 1918 to 1948 while finishing in last place 16 times and next to last nine times.
You think the Pirates have it bad now, with nine consecutive losing seasons since deciding to keep Andy Van Slyke instead of Barry Bonds? Compare that to the 1949-57 Pirates who finished last six times in nine years, were a cumulative 344 games out of first place, and barely cracked 6,000 in average attendance one year.
You want big markets dominating small markets? From 1949 to 1966, at least one team from New York or Los Angeles was in the World Series every year, with the Yankees playing in 14 of them.
We forget these things because we were spoiled by a remarkable stretch of relative competitive balance during the '80s and early '90s. Baseball went from 1982-90 with nine different teams winning the World Series. From 1982 to 1988, the only team that won consecutive division titles was Kansas City. From 1982-91, 22 different teams won a division title. From 1982-96, the only teams that did not finish in first place were the two expansion teams (and the Marlins won the World Series the next year).
But that sort of parity was the anomaly. Every previous decade saw a couple teams dominating and everyone else holding a lot of Bat Nights to boost attendance. And even during that recent era of relative competitive balance, several teams went long stretches without a chance at the postseason (the Mariners, for example didn't have a winning season from 1977 to 1990).
Could the playing field be more even than it is now? Sure. And the players ought to work with the owners on improving it.
Just realize that you can change the system all you want and the poorly run teams are still going to consistently lose.
Why, after all, are the Cardinals in first place again while the cross-state Royals are in near last place again? Why are the Tigers on their way to another losing season despite a new stadium and the nation's eighth-largest metropolitan market? Why have both Chicago teams failed to reach the World Series since 1959 despite playing in the nation's third-largest market?
And most importantly, why are the Brewers on their way to a 10th-consecutive losing season and a last-place finish despite a new stadium and baseball's reported highest profits?
That's really the whole reason we hear so much about baseball's competitive imbalance when other leagues merely accept it as a part of sports. The Brewers are so bad that they color Bud's vision as commissioner. But just remember this: When he talks about baseball's horrible competitive imbalance between large- and small-revenue teams what he is really talking about is nothing more than the competitive imbalance between his horrible Brewers and everyone else.
Box score line of the week
4 AB, 0 H, 0 R, 0 RBI
Castillo's streak was the longest in the majors since Paul Molitor's 39-game streak in 1987 and longer than all but six hitting streaks since the modern baseball era began in 1901. Still, he fell 21 games short of the record. To give you a better idea of how much farther he had to go, Castillo's streak would have had to last until at least July 17 to break the record.
He generated a lot of headlines and SportsCenter highlights but not much excitement in Miami. The 18 home games during the streak drew an average of just 11,510 fans, including a dozen games under 10,000 fans and just 5,865 for the final game of the streak.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
The roar of the crowd
I don't remember anything about the game or even who was playing. I only remember how nice it was to have Jack with us in that little tiny car. There was Jack, his voice, his warmth, his friendly style bringing a little bit of home to us when we were so far from home. As we sat above that little Mexican city, enjoying the lights below, we could not touch the radio until the game was over and Jack had wished us good night.
To listen to "Monday Night Football" in Mexico -- ON YOUR HONEYMOON! -- just to hear Jack's voice ... well, that's about as high praise as a broadcaster could receive.
And Michael's wife must be one tolerant woman.
From left field
Here's how those six other players who hit in at least 35 consecutive games since 1901 fared the season of their streak:
Win Blake Stein's money
Q: Who was the first radio announcer in baseball history?
Answer: Harold Arlin, who broadcast the Pirates game for Pittsburgh's KDKA in August of 1921.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org