Baseball Hot Stove season is upon us, which means free agent envy is in full bloom for fans of franchises with less active checkbooks. With Carl Crawford signing with the Boston Red Sox, and Cliff Lee's Philadelphia Phillies press conference on the horizon, it leads fans to wonder how fair Major League Baseball is on the field, since it doesn’t seem to be that way from an economic standpoint.
But does economic disparity mean a dearth of parity each October? Defenders of baseball, like the commissioner of the league, will point to last year’s World Series, where the team with the ninth-highest Opening Day payroll played a team that confronted bankruptcy mid-season.
Pittsburgh Pirates fans may feel differently, but the commissioner has a reason to defend his league. Fifteen different franchises have made it to the World Series since the year 2000. In the every-year-you-can-turn-it-around NFL, there has been exactly the same number of different teams getting to the Super Bowl in that span.
For full transparency in how we’ve arrived at these numbers: so that each league has a fair shake, we counted every Super Bowl and every NBA Finals contested since January 1, 2000. This way, the NFL and NBA have 11 seasons to choose from, just like Major League Baseball. Since there was no Stanley Cup Finals in 2005, we added the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, giving the NHL 11 seasons to choose from.
The key points in our parity analysis:
• The NHL, NFL and baseball have had 15 different teams play for the title since the year 2000. The NBA has had just 11.
• Nine different franchises have won the World Series in the last 11 played. Same with the NHL: nine different teams have won the Stanley Cup of the last 11 played. There have been eight different teams to win the Super Bowl, and just five to win the NBA Finals.
Repeat Champions by League
Last 11 Championships Contested
• Each league has had just two different repeat champions in the span, but some have been more title-dominant than others. The repeat winners in baseball and hockey have combined for just four championships while the Lakers have won five NBA titles themselves.
So when your resident mid-market baseball fan is bemoaning the uber-millions spent by baseball’s upper class, remind him of this: parity may not be economically present in baseball, but it’s happening on the field.