The most expensive team in baseball, the $189.7 million New York Yankees (and that's a pre-Roger Clemens figure) went down this week with a whimper. The team with the third-highest opening day payroll, the New York Mets ($115.2 million), collapsed long before that.
Nos. 4 and 8 – the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs, respectively – couldn't win a playoff game. Nos. 5-7 (Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Seattle Mariners) didn't even make it to October. Neither did Nos. 8 to 12.
People like to decry baseball's salary disparity and lack of championship opportunities for small-market teams, but once again the playoffs are proving otherwise.
Yes, the $143 million Boston Red Sox, with the second-highest payroll according to USA Today's salary database, have reached in the American League Championship Series. But they're joined in the final four by the Cleveland Indians (No. 23), Colorado Rockies (No. 25) and Arizona Diamondbacks (No. 26). Those three payrolls total $168.2 million, $21 million less than the Yankees' entire outlay.
If the goal is to make every team feel like it has a chance every season, you couldn't design a system that would produce a better outcome. If Cleveland or Colorado win, baseball will be assured of its eighth different World Series champion in eight years, not to mention its 13th different Fall Classic participant out of a possible 16.
Salary cap or not, baseball's parity – at least at the championship level – trumps the other major sports.
The NFL – with its hard salary cap, revenue sharing, weighted schedules and "any given Sunday" motto – has crowned six different champions the past eight years and, like baseball, has had 13 different teams reach the Super Bowl.
The NBA, which also boasts the kind of salary cap seemingly everyone claims baseball needs, has seen four teams win the title in the past nine years. Just nine clubs have reached the NBA finals over the last eight seasons.
Making the MLB numbers even more impressive is the fact that just eight of the league's 30 teams (26.6 percent) are invited to the postseason. The NFL lets in 12 of 32 (37.5 percent) and the NBA goes with 16 of 30 (53.3 percent), which, in theory, should increase the likelihood of upset-driven diversity in the late rounds.
Does it help to spend more money? Obviously, it lessens the margin for error. The Red Sox, for instance, were able to overcome up-and-down seasons from free-agent splurges Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew. And the Yankees, of course, make the playoffs every year with a payroll nearing a quarter-billion dollars.
That said, recent history indicates anything is possible. Just a year ago, the Detroit Tigers shook off 12 consecutive losing seasons (including 119 losses in 2003) to reach the World Series. The Rockies have been below .500 the past six seasons and the Diamondbacks the last three, yet will meet in the NLCS as the league's hottest teams.
The truth is, you can't buy a World Series. Spending money may increase your odds, but it assures nothing because the star player has less impact in baseball than any other sport.
Alex Rodriguez made $22.7 million and put up MVP numbers during the regular season, but even if he was capable of getting a playoff hit outside of Yankee Stadium (he's sporting an 0-for-48 streak), he can only influence the game so much. He only bats about four times per game and may not make a single defensive play. Likewise, a starting pitcher may only get the ball twice a series and a key reliever relies on his teammates handing him a late-inning lead.
In basketball, each player impacts each possession on offense and defense. In football, a star quarterback will handle the ball approximately 50 percent of the time. Therefore, having a Tim Duncan or Tom Brady is far more valuable than an A-Rod or Andy Pettitte.
But that's baseball. The best hitters fail twice as often as they succeed, so you need players up and down the roster to step up.
Take it from the Yankees, who despite the having league's highest payroll have come up empty in the playoffs the last seven seasons: You can spend all the money in the world and it guarantees nothing.
No matter how loud the cries for a salary cap, no matter how much cheapskate owners claim the current system isn't fair, here's another October to again prove differently.