Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who's Rooting Against The Rays

Tonight in Tampa, James Shields slipped the Rays past a mixed squad of Yankee regulars for yet another win in a September that's been more fun for them than ice cream in bed. Tonight in Baltimore, the exceptionally resilient Orioles -- seriously, Buck Showalter has a gift for ending lost cause years strong -- extended the Worst September Evah in Boston with another gut-busting win. Tonight in Los Angeles, the Rangers finally put the Angles to rest, as Nefty Feliz snuck a fastball past Howie Kendrick to end the Angels' last hope. And after 160 games, the Red Sox and Rays are even, with two games left to decide the American League wild card after the Rangers finally put the Angels to bed.

America loves an underdog, and has spent much of the last 10 years watching Boston Fan wave their ass at us, then turn to tell us about their feelings about waving their ass at us; this should be a slam dunk national wave of approval for the young and freewheeling Rays. But beyond Red Sox Nation, there's another very sizable contingent of people rooting for the Sawx. MLB itself, and every channel that broadcasts the games, buys ads, or sells apparel. Lots of people, really.

Now, here's what's on the line in the last two games of the season: Tens of Millions of Dollars. No, seriously. That's the difference between playoff games in the Tampa market and playoff games in the Boston market, and the simple fact is that Boston Fan does not watch the playoffs when Boston Team isn't in them. (But hey, remember, they are True Fans. Just ask them.)

One of the perks of the current job is that I get to learn things about MLB, as they are a client. And one of those things is that six to eight teams make up over 80% of their income. No, seriously. The ratio is that high, and there's really no reason why there should not be an official tiered system where BOS NYY PHL SF STL LAA CHC NYM play in an 8-game Mega Division where every game is on national television and Dodger Fan pules that Frank McCourt has cost them Tier 1 status, at least until the Bernie Madoff situation boots the Mets.

And sure, there are other mid-market teams with much to say about things. Texas has talent and a payroll, and there's always a team or two on the rise, like Milwaukee, that has a brief turn in the spotlight. But the Top 8 clubs draw the money, are never more than one good off-season away from going back to the playoffs regardless of the quality of their farm systems, and will, in my lifetime, finally get well and truly tired of this revenue sharing system that does nothing for them.

But all of that, of course, is in the future. In the here and now, we have the lovely sight of Boston Fan behaving as if the last decade of unbridled douchebaggery never happened, and How They Have Suffered, and it's all that I can do to keep from trolling Red Sox boards and networks to enjoy the misery. But that's not what I really want to talk about here.

Instead, I want to ask the question that will never, ever be answered, but would make every ounce of sense to an outside perspective with a reasonable understanding that Tens of Millions Of Dollars matter...

Why doesn't MLB have the umpires throw the last two games to make sure Boston stays in, and Tampa stays out?

Because it would destroy the integrity of the game. Because it would be an abomination on every level. Because there's the long-term dream that more than these eight major franchises will draw the money, because they really don't want things to be this top-heavy.

But then again, there's tens of millions of dollars on the table here. And powerful media companies, and multinational corporations, and so on, and so on.

Which tends to make any reasonable person go hmm... especially if the umpiring plays any part of the last two games. (And oh, if St. Louis were the small market team, and Atlanta was the monster? You could start wondering hard about that gift umpire game against the Pirates earlier this year, couldn't you?)

So watch the last two games.

And wonder.

About how a league could ever get to the point where you'd wonder about this...

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