January 17, 2001
The Imbalance Sheet
Bob turned on the television one fine August day to find that the hated New York Yankees were in town to play the Twins. He called his son John into the room to let him know the game was on.
"Who's that?" asked John, as a Yankee hitter lumbered to the plate.
"I'm not sure," said Bob. "He isn't moving too quickly."
After a few moments, the identity of the hitter became clear, as announcer Kilgore Trout broke in. "Derek Jeter steps to the plate today. He's hitting .243 on the season with just four home runs and 18 runs batted in."
"Why is he wearing all that stuff?" asked John.
"Well, son," said Bob, "It all started back in 2002, when Bud Selig decided that what baseball really needed was parity. So the small-market teams banded together to design a system that would bring the more successful teams back to the pack.
"You see, Derek Jeter was once one of baseball's best and brightest stars, and the Yankees had him locked up for years for $20 million a season. But most teams in baseball said they couldn't afford to pay a player that much, so Bud and his cronies decided to balance the scales a little. Now Jeter has to wear those thick glasses to blur his vision, and that 50-pound belt around his waist to slow him down, and those bands around his wrists so he can't swing the bat so quickly. This way, he can't hit or field or run as well as he used to, so the Yankees won't be so much better than everyone else."
As Bob spoke these words, Jeter stopped about two feet away from the batter's box. He looked around furtively, started to play with the weights and the bands a little bit. When he stepped into the box and the pitcher wound up, Jeter shook the weights and the bands off and ripped the glasses off his face. Unencumbered, he took the first pitch over the left-field wall, and even the Minnesota fans cheered at the fine piece of hitting they had just witnessed.
"Who are they?" shouted John, as two figures in dark uniforms appeared on the field, sprinting towards Jeter as he circled the bases.
"The Parity Police," explained Bob. "They're at every game to make sure that the big-market teams' players wear all the proper equipment to inhibit their play." As he spoke, the Parity Police clubbed Jeter into submission and dragged him off of the field through a previously-hidden door in the outfield wall. A few fans booed, while others returned to their prior activities while ignoring the game.
Bernie Williams started to wander towards the pitchers' mound until the Yanks' first-base coach guided him toward the batter's box. Bob shook his head and changed the channel, mumbling, "It was a great game once."
How far-fetched is this scenario? Consider the competitive balance draft, where teams smart enough to make good use of all their 40-man roster spots will have to surrender a player or two every year to teams too cheap, lazy, or stupid to do their own scouting and player development. Lower-revenue teams smart or lucky enough to have a winning season or two will find themselves hit hardest, while perennial doormats like the Brewers and Phillies will have yet another reason to skimp on player development. It's a hare-brained solution in search of a problem, and it's the dumbest idea the owners have had since salary arbitration.
Keith Law can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.