It seems as if folks across the country have been dubbing the divisional series of the 2012 MLB playoffs as perhaps the "best set of first round series in the history of baseball." That's a statement that really couldn't be further from the truth.
Entering the postseason, everyone – including myself – was excited about the possibility of seeing a new batch of teams in the playoffs. Teams like the Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals all managed to qualify for the divisional round. Finally, we might finally be getting a break from all the major market, free-spending wheelers and dealers that have dominated the MLB postseason landscape for the past several years. Nope. One-by-one these underdog squads fell in decisive game fives at the hands of much more financially quipped opponents. None more gut-wrenching than the Nationals' 9-7 ninth inning defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals.
It would be four major-market teams to advance to the league championship series; the Tigers, Yankees, Cardinals and Giants, continuing to illustrate the MLB’s obvious lack of parity amongst its 30 teams.
A quick check of history would reveal that three of these final four teams account for every one of the league’s last three championships. The Yankees, Cardinals and Giants each rank Nos. 1, 2 and 3 respectively on the all-time list of World Series appearances. All four teams have combined for a grand total of 48 league championships. Each of the other 26 MLB teams? Just 59 titles between them.
This means that, over the course of MLB’s 109-year existence, 45 percent of all the World Series that have been played have been won by one of these four franchises. That is an absolutely mind-blowing statistic.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone as to how each of these four teams have achieved their success. I’ll give you a hint: its green, made of paper and has little photos of Benjamin Franklin on the front.
For the second time in the past four seasons, each of the MLB’s final four teams have had a payroll ranking in the league’s top ten. The Yankees, with a grotesque total of $197,962,289 are tops on the list, with the Tigers fifth ($132,300,000), the Giants eighth ($117,620,683) and the Cardinals ninth ($110,300,862). Please note that the source of these payroll numbers is the USA Today. The link to their story is here.
As a bit of quick math would inform you, the combined payroll for these four clubs is up close to $560 million dollars. Indicating that once again, as its always been, winning in the MLB is directly based upon how many zeros your owner can afford to fill in on the end of a big-name free agent’s contract.
With the exception of the NBA -- and the University of Kentucky, if you want to count college basketball -- in no other major American sports league does a large checkbook directly correlate with on-field success, as it does in Major League Baseball.
Of the NHL’s five highest payrolls, three of the teams (Buffalo, Vancouver, Washington) have never once won the Stanley Cup, and another is in the midst of a lengthy 37-year championship drought (Philadelphia). The NFL’s Miami Dolphins currently boast the league’s second-highest payroll, according to USA Today, yet haven’t won a Super Bowl since the year 1973.
In baseball, I’d really like to know what happened to "winning it the right way". What happened to drafting and developing your own talent while throwing in a free agent or two here and there to plug up some holes? The fact of the matter is that "winning the right way" simply doesn't exist anymore. The MLB has become a constant competition of who can write the biggest check or do best at bending the small-market team over a barrel in a lopsided trade.
This is in no way an indictment on the beautiful sport of baseball that I am very much fond of. The thrilling moments and down-to-the-wire finishes to these playoff games over the past few weeks have been baseball’s beauty on full display as the pageantry of the game has been showcased to a national audience. However, this is simply a presentation of what has become a sad reality in a salary cap-free league in which spending will always dictate winning.
Ben Woodward is a Contributor to SB Nation Boston. Twitter: @_BWoodward