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Kai Ryssdal: The American League Championship series starts tomorrow night — it’s New York Yankees at the Texas Rangers.
And here is a score to keep in mind before the first pitch is even thrown: the Yankees have been to the World Series 40 times. The Rangers… well, they haven’t. Ever.
Commentator and sportswriter Jon Wertheim says we ought to keep that in mind as the post-season really gets going.
Jon Wertheim: The World Series has been held since the early years of the 20th century and, yet, only a cluster of franchises has won a significant number of titles. Eight teams have never won a World Series. The Texas Rangers — currently in the playoffs — have never even been to the Fall Classic. On the other hand, the New York Yankees are going for their 28th title in barely a century.
As a rule, we’re offended by oligopolies and monopolies; we prefer competition. It’s better for consumers, it encourages innovation, it just feels fundamentally fairer. We have anti-trust laws to combat cartels. Think about it this way: Wal-Mart might be the American company most maligned for throttling competition. Yet, in 2009, its share of the U.S. retail market was barely 11 percent. So what about the Yankees? Inasmuch as World Series rings constitute a market, their share is more than 25 percent.
How can one team dominate like this? The quick and easy answer is money, especially in the absence of a salary cap. Fans of other teams will quickly note that when the Yankees can spend north of $200 million on players — as they did this year — and other teams barely spend half that, of course they’ll have an advantage.
But there’s more to it. Just about everything in baseball’s structure militates against parity. Start with the long baseball season. In the same way an opinion poll sampling 100 subjects will be a more precise than a poll sampling 10 subjects, baseball’s loooooooong season lends itself to an accurate reflection of talent. If two teams play one game, anything can happen. But if they play a good many games, the better team will win the majority of the time.
Then consider the playoffs. Only the eight best teams in baseball make it to the postseason — fewest of any major sports league. And, unlike the Super Bowl, the World Series is a best-of seven game, again, a large enough sample size so that best team should win. The Yankees may have the most baseball titles, because they buy the best players. But the imbalance is allowed the flourish because of baseball itself.
Ryssdal: Jon Wertheim is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. Me? I’m a Yankees fan. Got a comment — baseball or otherwise — send ’em our way.