By Paul Seyferth, section10
In the 2001 MLB playoffs, the New York Yankees defeated the Oakland Athletics in the American League Division Series. Coming into the series, these 2 teams looked pretty even. In fact, the A’s won more games than the Yankees during the regular season. The main difference wasn’t one seen on the field, though, it was in the payroll. The A’s were the second poorest team in baseball, spending a total of 33 million dollars that year on their team. The Yankees, on the other hand, spent 109 million, making them the wealthiest.
How can an organization be expected to compete when they are spending not even a third as much as some other teams? More importantly, how is this allowed?
Last week, our discussion class reviewed the case of Caster Semenya. We went back and forth about whether or not she should be able to compete in the women division, given her abnormally high testosterone levels for a woman. The main argument of one side was that every special athlete has abnormalities, and there should be no reason to punish him or her for it. Michael Phelps is not punished for being double jointed, the same way Bubba Watson is not punished for being able to bomb his driver further than other golfers.
Team sports are no different. All teams have unique attributes that can give them advantages and disadvantages. If you are the Seattle Seahawks, you have the advantage of a deafening home crowd. Boise State football plays on blue turf, which can take away teams out of their comfort zone due to the abnormality. In the case of the 2001 Yankees, they had the advantage of being richer than all the other teams.
Earlier this year, we read the Melian Dialogue, which illustrated the differences between the Melians and Athenians, or more vaguely, the strong and the weak. The Athenians tried to persuade the Melians to surrender to them, given the fact that Athens was easily stronger and able to crush Melia. In the opinion of the Athenians, this was a pointless battle to fight, because it was pretty obvious who was going to win. The Melians, on the other hand, had no intentions of giving up. Rather than accept defeat, the Melians knew they had a small chance of surviving the fight, and decided to role the dice.
In reality, there is no realistic way to level the playing field. But in my opinion, there is no need to. I guess you could say I take a “Melian” approach towards the way I view sports. Though the Oakland A’s were obviously much weaker on paper coming in to the season, they fought their way through and gave the richest team in baseball a run for their money.
In my opinion, unevenness is what makes sports so great. The “David verses Goliath” match ups create real excitement. The Kansas City Royals have not made the playoffs in 27 years. Growing up a Tiger fan, the Royals were always the team at the bottom of the division that no one had to worry about. This year, the Royals snagged the wild card
and ran through the American League playoffs en route to the World Series without losing a game. I cannot imagine the excitement a Royals fan must have experienced these last few weeks (probably the same excitement I’d have if the Lions ever did something similar). The whole country seemed to be in support of the Royals this year. Everyone was rooting for the underdog.
To me, the story of the Royals is what makes sports so special. Their natural disadvantage of historically being bad made their triumph even sweeter. They are the prime example that natural advantages and disadvantages are always going to be part of sports, but that doesn’t mean they define them. The true quality of sports comes from what happens on the field, not on a payroll. Sports should remain untouched, and we should continue rooting for the underdog.