November 9, 2001

About MLB Contraction, Part 2

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The Wu-Tang Clan once said that “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” It’s not often that I disagree with GZA, RZA, ODB, Raekwon, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck and U-God. But on the subject of the recently announced major league baseball contraction, that’s just what I’m going to have to do.

Ever since Commissioner Bud Selig declared Tuesday that he would wield the axe on two teams, money has been oft mentioned as the root behind his decision. The four teams considered for elimination –Montreal, Minnesota, Florida and Tampa Bay — don’t generate enough revenues, the pundits said. They don’t fill the seats and they’re too small-market, they said. There would be more TV money rights to spread around, they said.

Contraction is a necessary evil, and it had to occur sooner or later. But it’s not happening because of money squabbles.

No, siree, what’s wrong is that baseball’s fat and it needs to go on a diet. Overexpansion has saturated every major American professional sport (see the Columbus Blue Jackets and the we-were-in-Vancouver-but now-we’re in Memphis-but-we-still-have-the-same-name-for-some-reason Grizzlies for further evidence). MLB has just been the first victim to defend itself.

When baseball expanded to 30 teams in 1997 by giving clubs to Arizona and Tampa Bay, it did itself a major disservice. Obviously, Arizona won the World Series last weekend. But that’s not because the Diamondbacks made adroit decisions in the expansion draft. They beat the Yankees because owner Jerry Colangelo shelled out a lot of dough to bankroll a star-studded roster.

What expansion did was inject 50 more players into the majors, 50 players that probably weren’t really deserving of that honor, 50 players who probably would still be wasting away in AAA ball if the league was still at 28 teams.

Expansion made it more realistic that the fifth pitcher in a team’s starting rotation or its eighth hitter in the lineup would be of less quality. It wasn’t a juiced ball that cause home runs to sky rocket in the 1990s —