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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.

Off Base Power Rankings
1. Jack Buck
Last week, there was crying in baseball
2. Luis Castillo
On the other hand, he broke Vince DiMaggio's hitting streak
3. Yankees
Busy week: Regain first place, apply for permit for tickertape parade
4. Minnesota
Great month of news: Twins back in 2003, Ventura not
5. Red Sox
Boston's plan to sign Ted's kid hits snag when he hires Boras as agent
6. Reds
Cincy hadn't looked that bad since Mapplethorpe painted Marge Schott
7. Martha Stewart
New paint catalogue includes San Quentin Slate
8. Zacarias Moussaoui
Can't wait for the Court TV movie: "My Cousin Zacarias"

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?

  • Despite being handicapped by a soulless owner who has bad-mouthed his team and its stadium for a decade (and volunteered the team for elimination), the Twins have a six-game lead in the AL Central.

  • The Expos suffered through one of the worst owners in big-league history, were repossessed by the league and ear-marked for euthanasia. They're in second place in the NL East and have a better record than the Mets (as do the Marlins, for that matter).

  • The Athletics have the third-lowest payroll in the major leagues, yet are coming off a 100-win season and are on pace for 94 wins, more than two division leaders.

    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
    The good news was Luis Castillo passed DiMaggio during his hitting streak. The bad news is he passed Dom DiMaggio. Castillo still was three weeks shy of Joe DiMaggio when his hitting streak finally ended Saturday night against the Tigers, producing an oh-fer next to his name in the box score for the first time since May 7. His disappointing line:

    Luis Castillo
    Second Base
    Florida Marlins
    68 2 17 44 25 .338

    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
    Castillo's streak wasn't the only thing that failed to excite Florida fans. The Marlins' rematch with Cleveland drew 27,197 fans for the three-game series last week. There were 59,159 fewer fans at the final game of this week's series than for the final game of the 1997 World Series. And any discussion of competitive imbalance ought to include the Marlins winning that World Series. Sure, they've had a losing record in every other season, but if competitive imbalance includes a World Series, most Cubs fans would gladly take it. ... By the way, while Castillo had 62 hits during his streak, Ichiro had 66 hits during the same span. ... The last-place Brewers are shooting to become the only team to finish in last place in four divisions -- the AL West, the AL East, the AL Central and the NL Central. ... Oakland is 23-6 since trading Jeremy Giambi. ... Get the polls ready again: The Reds are 10-15 and have fallen from a 2 1/2-game lead to a two-game deficit since Ken Griffey Jr. returned from the disabled list. ... Tony Tarasco hit his first home runs since 1998 last week. In between Tarasco home runs, Sammy Sosa hit 205 home runs. ... Due to the peculiarities of the interleague schedule, the Mets are the first team to play regular-season games involving both Chicago teams and both New York teams in the same season. ... Edgar Martinez felt a twinge in his knee last week and won't be back in the lineup until at least mid-week. The question is why the Mariners activated him from the disabled list when they did. Seattle faced nine consecutive games without a DH when Martinez came off the DL, meaning he would be limited to pinch-hit duties. Why not give the leg longer to heal by waiting at least until the National League games were over?

    The roar of the crowd
    I always knew Jack Buck had a lot of fans, but even I underestimated how many until receiving e-mails from readers responding to my piece on his death last week, "The Friend I Never Met." Michael Tierney writes:

      Let me share my memory of Jack Buck, "The friend I never met." Fifteen years ago, while on my honeymoon, my new bride and I sat in a small rental car high atop a bluff over looking the night lights of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. As I fumbled with the AM radio trying to find some kind of romantic music I heard the unmistakable voice of Jack Buck calling "Monday Night Football." Thinking I would only listen long enough to catch the score, I stopped turning the dial. We were hooked.

      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
    What does Luis Castillo's hitting streak spell for the remainder of his season? If the past is any indication, very good things. Of the six previous players with a hitting streak that long or longer, three are in the Hall of Fame (Joe DiMaggio, George Sisler and Ty Cobb), one would be if he were eligible (Pete Rose) and one will be (Paul Molitor). The only non-Hall player was Tommy Holmes, who finished with a .302 career average.

    Here's how those six other players who hit in at least 35 consecutive games since 1901 fared the season of their streak:

    Year Streak Player The dish
    1941 56 Joe DiMaggio Hit .357 and won MVP
    1978 44 Pete Rose Hit .302, signed big contract with Philadelphia
    1922 41 George Sisler Led AL with .420 batting average
    1911 40 Ty Cobb Hit .420, won Triple Crown
    1987 39 Paul Molitor Hit .353, career high
    1945 37 Tommy Holmes Hit .352, led league in home runs
    1917 35 Ty Cobb Led league with .383 average
    2002 35 Luis Castillo Currently ranks fourth in NL with .338 average

    Win Blake Stein's money
    This week's category: The Only Broadcaster Older Than Bob Uecker's Jokes

    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 He can be reached at

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