This week marks the beginning of the Major League Baseball playoffs, the annual culmination of America’s greatest pastime. Over the next few weeks, baseball’s ten best teams will battle it out in pursuit of the coveted – perhaps immortal – World Series championship.
As we tip our hats to the clubs who have made it this far, we thought it might be fun to take a look into what makes the game so unique, so fun, and so fundamentally American.
Perhaps the greatest thing about baseball is that, like life, neither success nor failure is preordained. To this end, baseball is unique among major American sports, being the only one without a salary cap.
What does that mean? It means the Los Angeles Dodgers can spend $300 million on their payroll while chasing glory, and nobody can do anything about it.
Except beat them.
Of the ten teams battling it out for October triumph, less than half have payrolls that rank among baseball’s ten highest. Four more are in the middle of the pack. And two, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros, rank 24th and 25th, respectively, among baseball’s 30 teams.
How could this be? How could the Pirates and Astros each spend under $100 million on payroll and yet find themselves playing under the bright October playoff lights, while big spending clubs like the Boston Red Sox ($184 million) are already playing golf?
Think of it this way. Look at the great new businesses in America today: Uber, AirBnB, and the like. In the case of, say, AirBnB, its founders knew they couldn’t take on the Hiltons and Marriotts head on. So they innovated, kept expenses low, and built a tremendous operation from the ground up that has, in just a few short years, fundamentally transformed how Americans plan and spend money on vacations.
The same goes for the Pirates and Astros. Both clubs were perennial doormats for much of the past decade, but both prudently planned for the future. They drafted diamonds in the rough. They used analytics in ways unique among their peers, and were able to sign undervalued players for much less than, say, the New York Yankees might have done. They innovated, evolved, and ultimately succeeded, at far less expense than their rivals. And they have found themselves here today, with the same chance to lift the World Series trophy as their much wealthier peers.
Innovation has always been a foundation of American success. It’s how the biggest businesses remain on top of their industries (well done, Apple), but, perhaps more importantly, it’s how the little guys have found success in the rat race. With that in mind, we’ll be watching this year’s playoffs closely, with one eye trained firmly on those little guys.
After all, America used to be an underdog too.
Among those sitting it out this year? Lucky you, we have some resources where you can spend your free time. Find out more about free markets, how regulations limit our ability to play the game, and what it is that makes America exceptional.