December 27, 2008
For the Commissioner, the triumph of the Tampa Bay Rays was one of the best things that happened in the 2008 version of baseball.
The Rays' rise, from a decade of defeat to the World Series, represented the best evidence to date that competitive balance is a baseball fact, rather than a baseball hope. For Bud Selig, whose tenure as Commissioner has been characterized more than anything else by an emphasis on increased competitive balance, the Rays' division title, American League pennant and World Series appearance all offered compelling testimony to the fact that the game is working the way it is supposed to work.
The Commissioner reflected upon the positive changes in the game, as well as the difficult challenges ahead, in an interview with MLB.com. We'll start with the positive, which was epitomized by the Rays, a small-market, low-revenue franchise, the type of operation that only a decade ago would have been subjected to defeat.
"It's a remarkable story and a wonderful story, almost a breathtaking story," Selig said.
"When you think back to where we were in the '90s, how small-market clubs never won and the few playoff games they won were like 4 percent or 5 percent, there was all this despair about disparity. On Jan. 19 of 2000, the owners gave me unprecedented power to solve the competitive balance problem. The vote was 30-0. There was genuine, deep and abiding concern. There's no question that it existed. Competitive balance was a real problem. The sport felt it in every way. So Tampa Bay winning was a manifestation of all the changes."
The primary changes have been the growth of revenue sharing and the luxury tax on the highest payrolls. This was once an unthinkable concept in baseball, the last bastion of the free-market model among North American professional sports. But in 2008, more than $400 million in revenue sharing was distributed among small-market franchises to at least somewhat level the economic playing field.