The Cubs and Indians are both trying to end long championship droughts and America is tuning in with some of the highest television ratings the World Series has seen in a number of years. It is easy to see why there is renewed interest in the Fall Classic. The game features two of the most lovable losers in baseball, the Charlie Browns of baseball, teams so inept they have required Hollywood movies to imagine what it would be like if they won.
So far the ratings have been the strongest in years, mostly because there are a lot of Cubs fans nationwide, and because casual sports fans want to tune in to see if they can finally end the "Curse of the Billy Goat." But for me, there has been a renewed interest in the playoffs overall. I actually care who wins it all this year. And that, I think, is largely because the Royals are good now.
You may think, "shouldn’t a guy who writes about baseball on a regular basis care who wins the World Series every year?" To be honest, I haven’t. When I was a kid, I could tell you every single World Series matchup in the 1980s and 1990s. Then I went to college, the Royals became awful, and things became....hazy. Most years it was the Yankees, and if they weren’t in it, then it was the Red Sox once they broke their curse, and the Cardinals or Braves were a pretty good bet to be the National League representative. Many years there was little drama, no underdogs to root for.
In the past decade, however, baseball has done a lot more to help smaller market franchise. They have increased revenue sharing. Their massive new national television deal is a rising tide to lift all boats. There were other factors - analytics, deflation of offense - but the once-doormat Royals were finally able to not only compete, but thrive. And it suddenly mattered who the other good teams were.
This is why parity matters. Actually, "parity" is not even the right term, that suggests every team be mediocre with no greatness. That seems to be the current NFL - its the Patriots and a bunch of teams trying to be a bit better than 8-8. What MLB and other sports leagues should strive for is "competitiveness." All clubs should have a shot at a championship. Not every season of course. But over a ten-year period, we should see different teams competing for the title, not the same monolithic group of franchises.
Baseball is achieving this competitiveness. The last nine American League pennants have been won by seven different teams. In the last six seasons, 24 of the 30 clubs have made the playoffs (sorry Mariners, Marlins, Padres, White Sox, Rockies, and Twins). That is better than the NFL, which allows more teams into its playoffs, and has had 24 of their 32 clubs make the playoffs in the last six seasons (sorry Bills, Raiders, Browns, Rams, Jaguars, Buccaneers, Titans, and Dolphins).
Compare that to the awful six year stretch following the work stoppage in 1994. From 1995-2000, only 19 MLB clubs made the playoffs those years, just eight American League clubs ever made the playoffs. The Yankees won four consecutive pennants, the Braves were in the midst of winning 14 consecutive division titles. The Royals seemed doomed to the basement, along with the Pirates, Orioles, and Brewers. There was little hope, and little reason to care who hashed it out in October.
But now there is. The success of the Royals has piqued my interest in other clubs, and it is refreshing to see new clubs like the Indians, Cubs, and even the Orioles and Blue Jays have a taste of the post-season. Having each market in baseball feel like their team can win a championship - maybe not this season, but in the next few seasons - is huge for baseball. Because any fanbase that has completely lost hope is a fanbase that won't turn up to the ballpark, that won't tune in to see the local nine, and definitely won't tune into FOX in October.
Of course, I wouldn't mind if the Royals wanted to start a dynasty either.