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Published:October 8th, 2006 15:42 EST
Baseball's Unlikely Way to Acheive Parity

Baseball's Unlikely Way to Acheive Parity

By Zach Crizer

The Detroit Tigers are celebrating a win over the Yankees 8-1, clinching a trip to the American League Championship series. With this, a team that lost 119 games just three years ago beat the most expensive, illustrious baseball team ever put on a field.

New York’s regular batting lineup consists of 9 players who have each been on at least one All-Star team. When they were the unbeatable Yankees of the late 90s, star power was not the key element of the Yankees. The ability to lure any player they want has actually hurt the Yankees. The last World Series they played in, they lost to the polar opposite of themselves, the thrifty Florida Marlins. Then, in 2004, they put a different type of lineup on the field.

2004’s lineup consisted of Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and the final piece of the downfall, Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez filled a spot for the Yankees in 3rd base that was embodied in their success by an unheralded player who came up big, like Scott Brosius and Aaron Boone. He entered a spot in the lineup, the fifth man up, which was a traditional spot for Tino Martinez.

Maybe how teams look on paper simply does not have a correlation to the field. Perhaps an overload of superstars and great players is having a negative effect.

In an era characterized by just a couple teams dominating the major free agent market, parity is actually tremendously high. I would say it is the highest it has been since the 80’s. Baseball’s scene today is characterized by financial plans that keep the payrolls moderate and the power spread. Almost every team seems somewhat equal except the Yankees, but since 2003, during the time their payroll has soared above the rest, they have not reached the World Series.

In the playoffs, they have been knocked off by the Red Sox, Angels and now Tigers. The difference between the 2003 ALCS when they defeated their closest rival in payroll and 2004 when the Red Sox won favored the Yankees on paper. Between the two years, the Yankees had won the toss up for the most highly touted player in the history of the game. Alex Rodriguez seemingly was the division between the two clubs, but apparently that favored the Red Sox, because just the year before journeyman third baseman Aaron Boone ended the series with a walk-off home run in Game 7.

Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson all joined the Yankees thinking they were guaranteeing themselves a World Series win. While they are all marquee players, they have not matched the success of Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill and David Cone.

The role players of the Yankee dynasty embodied Joe Torre’s famous clean cut attitude and diligent mindset. Now, with the lineup from Hollywood having failed three years in a row and getting dominated by the upstart Tigers, Torre’s job is in the air. Alex Rodriguez could be on his way out the door, along with many other key players.

Perhaps recognizing the Yankee strategy, this idea of a lineup full of good players who can get on base, surrounding a solid pitching staff, is sweeping the nation. It was tweaked into a financial plan of running a baseball team by Oakland A’s executive Billy Beane, and made into a book called Moneyball.

Moneyball has undeniably changed the way teams are built. Beane’s team will be facing the Tigers in next week’s ALCS, and his strategy is working. When his team accumulates too many Hollywood stars and egos, Beane gets rid of some of them. And it works.

The Yankees have been paying out their ears to hitters. Pitching has gone somewhat unstressed for the Yanks. The White Sox, who won the World Series last year, had the best pitching in the league. The Tigers have it this year. After the Tigers, it is the A’s. It is no coincidence these teams are in the ALCS, but why is parity back in baseball all of a sudden?

In the 90s, there were just 6 different World Series champs. In this decade, there are already 5 and it is guaranteed there will be a 6th, and I think the Yankees are completely responsible. Due to their massive free agent accumulations, they made the big signings scarce and thus allowed other teams to become somewhat equal to each other.

What they did not count on was their team failing to get it done. The teams that have won recently have had one thing the Yankees cannot steal away, young talent. Young players will decide the World Series this year. Whether it is Justin Verlander facing off against Dan Haren in the ALCS or Jose Reyes and David Wright dominating the NL for the Mets, building a team of only established superstars makes it more necessary for other teams to try young talent.

Jason Giambi’s former position with the A’s is being occupied by sudden sensation Nick Swisher. An old superstar in Frank Thomas is leading the way there, bringing experience and home runs, but the rest of the team is a team, not a group of stars.

Retro jerseys are popular right now, and apparently so are retro teams. The 80s are back in baseball. The Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers were two of the nine franchises that won a championship in the 80s, led by two famous managers, Sparky Anderson and Tony La Russa. Jim Leyland has sparked Detroit’s success this season, while Ken Macha has been praised for his loose clubhouse in Oakland.

With the Yankees out, the playing field is level. It leaves baseball to play itself out on the diamond instead of in the negotiating room. It is the way baseball should be. In this era when the game has been anything but pure, the postseason will be crystalline; full of talent for the future on teams all coming from the same relative direction.

Now, baseball’s ultimate prize will be decided by epic performances, by motivation of cities and managers, by pitching and by hitting. This postseason baseball is back to the basics, so enjoy the American pastime as it does its best imitation of the American dream.