If you're a baseball fan then you've probably noticed that for the first time in a very long time the Pittsburgh Pirates were in first place in the NL Central in the month of July. The same team that hasn't had a winning season since 1992 finally looks to be on upswing and should finish above .500 for the first time in nearly two decades. And with every underdog story there are plenty of fans from other teams that aren't having good seasons jumping on the bandwagon and cheering them on. So other then the exceptionally well ran Tampa Bay Rays, the surprise small-market team underdog story doesn't come around nearly often enough.
The best part of football and basketball is the illusion of parody. No matter what team you like there is almost always a reason to be optimistic most seasons. Sure, some teams have been having some down years but I simply can not think of any team in the NFL or the NBA suffering for the last 15 years without at least something to cheer for. The difference between the two leagues, at least to me, is that the bottom level teams are at least spending money while the bottom level teams in baseball are usually considered less of a major league team and more of a farm team for the Boston and New York's of the world.
I don't think the problem is that the teams at the top are spending to much though, I think the problem is the exact opposite. The at the end of the 2008 season the Pirates had just finished up their 16th losing season. They had traded away their best players for prospects and cash because they are a small market team and they simply couldn't afford to be a middle-of-the-pack team and be forced to pay their talent enough to keep them around. But then the Pirates financial papers leaked and between those two seasons, the Pirates made $69 million dollars in revenue sharing alone.
That's right, $69 million dollars in just revenue sharing. That doesn't include any money the team actually made themselves, just the money that was basically given to them. Last year the Pirates estimated payroll was right about $35 million and with the increase in how much the top teams spent in 2010 compared to 2008 and I would almost guarantee that the Pirates won't have to shell out a dime from their own pockets to pay any of their players.
If you ask me, that's the problem. There are to many teams out there looking to find ways to simply maximize profits rather then field a competitive team. So what I propose is a salary cap floor plan for all MLB teams. Right now teams are simply required to spend their revenue sharing on the baseball team but as we all know, there are plenty of ways to write off money as a company expense and get away with it. I propose requiring that every dime that is given to a team has to spent on payroll and that so much money from each ticket is required to be spent on the team. This way, given money is helping level the playing field and the fans spending their money to go to the game are assured that at least some of their money is going to help pay the players instead of lining the players pockets.
Just as an example, say the Pirates were required to spend $10 from every ticket they sold in 2010 and the (rough guess from 2007 and 2008 numbers) $35 million from revenue sharing on the team in 2011. They would have had to increase their payroll by $16 million dollars from the $34 million they spent in 2010 on players and had a payroll of at least $51 million. Take into consideration the talent they could've added with an extra $16 million to blow and the idea of small market teams competing more often becomes less of a fantasy and more of a reality.
And it wouldn't have to be every single year. Once every 5 years you could allow the owners to be under the number. A second time in that 5 year span and maybe take 10 percent of their revenue check, then a third year take 20 percent. It would allow the owners to still have a season or two to cash in before making a big push towards putting together a solid team. The Pirates counter to all of this would probably be that they have to pay for PNC Park. Of all the modern stadiums it is probably the best of the bunch and that is certainly something worth paying for. But what's the point of having such a great place for baseball if no one is going to come and watch?