Anyone old enough to remember baseball in the 1970s likely recalls some of the great teams of the era. The Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers come to mind. Some of these teams, their players and even managers are legendary among die-hard baseball fans; even fans who weren’t alive back then.
The A’s won three straight titles in the early 1970s with a team known more for its mustaches. People can still recall the entire lineup of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine,” and how Reggie Jackson jumped ship from the A’s to New York and became “Mr. October.” The Pirates won two titles and were competitive nearly every year, as were the Dodgers, who eventually peaked in the early 1980s.
Look back through the decades since then, and you’ll see a sad but truthful pattern that has emerged in this modern era of baseball, and that is despite occasional success, the small market teams have nothing on those in the bigger markets.
This is not a jab at franchises like the Dodgers or Yankees who are only playing by the rules. You have to credit their front offices for their accomplishments. Although the Yanks aren’t currently showering out millions, when the time comes to pay someone like Aaron Judge his due, they’ll have no problem doing it, as well as seeking out coveted free agents to keep the team competitive; nor will teams like the Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and other bigger market teams.
Then you look at Oakland, who every once in a while (2012-14) fields a quality team, and they stuck it to the Red Sox last month. But “Moneyball” only goes so far, and one has to wonder when they will be competitive again. It’s worse in Cincinnati, which also had a good team earlier in the decade. But they could not afford to keep All-Stars like Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier, who all play elsewhere now. The Reds haven’t been to the World Series since 1990, and got off to their worst start in 80 years. Former manager Bryan Price paid the price with his job, despite the fact that the Reds front office never offered him much help.
The Pirates, meanwhile deserve some credit and got off to another good start this season before leveling off. Will they continue to compete, or come the July trade deadline, will they be sellers rather than buyers?
Baseball is enjoying a fine year, with much to look forward to as the season progresses. But it is sad that small market teams appear to at times have no intentions to field a winner, which should always be the ultimate goal.