As we learned in the fall and were reminded of earlier this week, Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly is pretty good at the behind-the-scenes politicking needed to build consensus on a touchy issue.
But although the Pirates helped inspire meaningful change in Major League Baseball’s bidding system for Japanese free agents, as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Dejan Kovacevic reminded us earlier this week, the league has a much larger issue relating to inequity among its clubs.
It never ceases to amaze that MLB is rarely ridiculed by the national media voices for its lack of a salary cap system. As Kovacevic wrote, several reporters and columnists across the country responded with barely-restrained glee upon the Yankees’ signing of Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka, reasoning that New York’s continued largesse is good for interest in the sport.
Those aforementioned voices may be right regarding national headlines, at least for a brief moment in the 24/7 news cycle, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone outside the Yankees fanbase getting excited about the Bombers winning yet another bidding war.
Baseball has never been more profitable, which has benefited some of the smaller-income teams via modest revenue sharing, although that redistribution system is nothing like what is seen in the egalitarian NFL. Is it any coincidence that America’s most popular and successful sports league is also the one that spreads the wealth the most?
The NHL and NBA have established King Solomon-like even revenue splits between teams and players, setting up salary caps of variable hardness. Similar to football, the two indoor sports leagues have created worlds in which clubs based in Pittsburgh and San Antonio can aim to legitimately compete with teams from New York and Los Angeles on a yearly basis.
MLB commissioner Bud Selig has frequently congratulated himself for injecting more hope into his league, but if we’re being honest, baseball’s economic system comes nowhere close to what works in the NFL, NHL and NBA. So why don’t teams like the Pirates take their plight more public?
I understand the benefit of affecting change from the inside, but I’d have to imagine that winning the PR war would be of some worth. Sure, some will say energy expended on complaining can be spent in more productive ways, but I disagree. Someone’s got to keep this issue at the front of mind, because most national reporters seem very content to maintain the status quo.
In short, baseball needs an insurgence from the people who have real power, the owners and prominent club executives. Perhaps they’ve resigned themselves to MLB’s version of trickle-down economics, but they can’t deny the appeal of league-enforced socialism.
No one likes a complainer, although that’s kind of the point. Coonelly, Pirates principal owner Bob Nutting and their lower-revenue brethren should resolve to keep talking until real progress is made.