Look, there may be “parity” in baseball, the same way there’s “parity” in the NFL, but I’m here to argue that these forms of parity are not the same. At ALL.
In the NFL, everything runs in cycles. A dynasty in one decade can easily turn into the next decade’s bottom-feeder. Look at Dallas: so dominant in the 1990s; so craptacular in the 2000s. The same goes the other way too. In between Super Bowl appearances (1985 thru 1996), the Patriots were one of the most inept franchises in football; ever since Tom Brady hit the scene in 2001, they’re the toast of every other organization.
I’m sure these same types of cycles exist in baseball too, though it has much less to do with winning the lottery on a franchise quarterback and much more to do with winning the lottery on an owner (or ownership group) willing to spend whatever it takes to win. Quarterbacks are generally in their prime for about 10-15 years; deep pockets can seemingly live forever.
There have been 16 seasons (not counting 2011) since MLB adopted the Wild Card system (and since they went with the three divisions per league system). Starting with 1995 and running through 2010. Can you tell me how many times, out of these 16 seasons, the Yankees have failed to either win the AL East or the Wild Card?
One. One time. They’ve made the playoffs in 15 of their last 16 years, with the lone exception in the 2008 season (when, I’m pretty sure, they were plagued with injuries and roster turnover).
The Braves – a team that mostly gets a pass, as they don’t spend nearly as much as the Yankees – have made it 12 of 16 seasons.
The Red Sox make it third on this list, having gone to the post season 9 of 16 times. Again, you’re talking about a team that spends a crazy amount of money.
Leaving the Braves out of the argument (because it would appear they truly are a world class organization) and sticking with the American League: guess who has been to the ALCS most often (9 and 5 times, respectively). That would be the Yankees and Red Sox. Who’s made the most World Series appearances? Again, the Yankees (7 times) and the Red Sox (tied with the Tribe with 2). Finally, which two teams have WON the most World Series championships? Yankees – 5; Red Sox – 2.
Know how many AL teams besides the Yankees and Red Sox have won the World Series in this time period? Try 2 (the White Sox and the Angels).
On the one hand, I get it, it’s fun to root for teams to beat the Yankees and the Red Sox. The ratings are always bigger, the games are always given more importance, and the joy is always tenfold when they are finally dethroned.
But, on the other, more significant hand, we’re stuck watching the same two teams more often than not. Sure, maybe if you take the last decade’s worth of NFL playoffs and pit them against MLB’s playoffs, you’d find similar parity numbers. But, there’s parity that’s based in reality and there’s the Perceived Parity where everyone knows that they’re going to get stuck with the Yankees and the Red Sox every fucking year hogging a quarter if not half of the playoff slots available to the American League. In my book, that ain’t parity.
And it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. Look at the NFL from the 80s through the present; look at how teams have changed. Some titans have fallen in the gutter, some peasants have reached the Promised Land. As long as the salary cap stays in place, this won’t change. We’ll have decades more with the same ebbs and flows.
In baseball? Without significant salary cap restrictions? Look for the Red Sox and Yankees to continue their dominance (with the occasional slip up thanks to the baseball gods smiting them with injuries). And, if you squint real hard, you can try to look for the crumbs that other AL teams are scrambling for when they manage to luck into beating one of these behemoths every blue moon. It’s like a full lunar eclipse: they don’t happen often, but when they do we have to cherish it as the heavenly miracle it is.