The Gap Between Baseball’s Haves and Have-Nots Hits a Record
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Trend won’t change course until the wealth gap closes.
By Matt Foley
This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.
The Chicago Cubs are dead — thanks to bullpen issues, a record five straight one-run losses and a slippery first base. And while Chicago’s once-assumed dynasty has fallen off the radar, Major League Baseball’s other prestige franchises are soaring.
America’s pastime is a white-collar world, and the wealth gap continues to increase.
In 2017 we reported on the widening competitive gap between baseball’s conglomerates and the mom-and-pops — and two years later, ain’t a damn thing changed. The big big clubs, armed with monstrous payrolls and advanced technological investments, are running away from midmarket teams like the formerly proud Kansas City Royals.
The Dodgers (101-56), Yankees (102-56) and Astros (103-54) have all won 100 games, and if the Twins (97-60) or Braves (96-62) reach triple digits it will mark the first time MLB has ever had four 100-win teams. Meanwhile, thanks to the Royals (57-100), Tigers (46-109), Orioles (51-105) and Marlins (54-101), this is the second time in history (2002) we’ve seen four 100-loss teams.
The four cellar dwellers all routinely rank in the bottom 10 of payroll, while the Dodgers, Astros and Yankees make up three of MLB’s seven highest-paid clubs. The NL Central champion Cardinals rank sixth, while the NL wild-card-clinching Nationals rank eighth and Atlanta ranks 14th.
Of the eight playoff teams, only the two American League wild card teams — Oakland and Tampa Bay — rank in the bottom half of MLB payroll. One will be eliminated by Wednesday, and the other doesn’t stand a chance against the superpowers with the means to sniff out the slightest competitive edge.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
Errol Spence Jr. vs. Shawn Porter (Saturday at 9:00pm ET on Showtime)
IBF welterweight champion Spence faces WBC champion Porter in a 147-pound unification bout. Spence is the heavy favorite in one of the year’s biggest fights, but the road won’t be easy against a bruiser like Porter.
Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints (Sunday at 8:20pm ET on NBC)
No Drew Brees, no problem. Teddy Bridgewater led the Saints (2-1) to a 33-27 win over Seattle last week. Will TB be enough to beat a 3-0 Cowboys team that has yet to be truly tested?
Ones to Watch
Jonathan Taylor. With quarterbacks tearing up college football at every turn, can any running back outlast the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts or Joe Burrow for the Heisman Trophy? Only three running backs have won college football’s most prestigious award this century, but Wisconsin tailback Jonathan Taylor makes the case week by week to be the fourth. Fresh off a sophomore season that saw him rush for 2,000-plus yards and 16 touchdowns — and finish ninth for the Heisman — Taylor has been a force through three games this fall, with 440 rushing yards and 10 total TDs, the most by any non-quarterback in the country. Last week, in No. 8 Wisconsin’s 35-14 win over Michigan, Taylor rushed for 203 yards and two scores, nearly beating the Wolverines himself. Taylor has been held under 100 yards in only five games in his career; two of those instances came against Pat Fitzgerald’s defensive-minded Northwestern Wildcats — who get the Badgers on Saturday in a game critical to continuing Taylor’s Heisman hype.
Alyssa Thomas. The WNBA Finals are officially set, and the Connecticut Sun have a 6-foot-2 hybrid forward with two torn labra to thank for getting them there. Often overlooked behind All-Star center Jonquel Jones and point guard Jasmine Thomas, Alyssa Thomas is a playmaker on both ends (11.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists per game) who may just be the X-factor in these finals. And she’s even getting better as she heals. Thomas tallied back-to-back double-doubles in leading a sweep of the Los Angeles Sparks. But the Sun will be underdogs in the finals against the Washington Mystics, who feature MVP Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman. But what the Sun lack in panache, they make up for with depth, chemistry and hard work. That’s the goal against a Washington team that some consider the best WNBA offense ever. As a tone-setting forward, Thomas will be one of the main defenders tasked with slowing Delle Donne and Meesseman.
If you want to crown them, then crown their ass! Does it feel like more young quarterbacks are finding success in the NFL than ever before? After three weeks of play, we’ve learned just how many backup QBs can step in and contribute effectively, whether that be the Panthers’ Kyle Allen (261 yards and four TDs vs. Arizona), the Jaguars’ Gardner Minshew (two TDs in a win over Tennessee) or Indianapolis’ Jacoby Brissett (310 yards vs. Atlanta). None, though, were better than Giants rookie Daniel Jones. Making his NFL debut, Eli Manning’s heir apparent passed for 336 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns in a win at Tampa Bay. Still, it’s becoming more difficult than ever to know which of these young QBs will have staying power. As the NFL adopts QB-friendly rule changes and offensive concepts that rely heavily on pre-snap motions and coach-assisted audibles — all familiar to quarterbacks fresh out of college — the bar has been lowered for young signal-callers to find success. Yet, so much of that success depends on outside influence. As the early-season struggles of Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz and Mitchell Trubisky illustrate, we may not truly know which young quarterbacks have the juice until we see them operate under strain. So, is Jones for real? Well, the team around him sure isn’t. With respect to the late, great Denny Green, it’s too early to crown him.
Tampering. Two months after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he believed ”leakage and slippage” — read: teams and agents agreeing to deals before the start of free agency — around free agency deadlines was “hurt[ing] the perception of integrity around the league,” the NBA has approved a series of new tampering rules. Effective immediately, the NBA can now suspend executives, void contracts, take away draft picks and fine teams up to $10 million for violating the rules. What’s more, teams will be required to physically save communications with agents and rival teams for a full year, with five teams subjected to a random audit each season. It’s impossible to predict if this will make a meaningful impact in an era of unprecedented player movement — and player empowerment — but it may soon force the NBA to reschedule at what point of the year free agency and the summer league take place. Meanwhile, college basketball is seemingly sending a message to its most (allegedly) corrupt actors. The University of Kansas will be hit with “multiple major violations” by the NCAA stemming from last year’s federal criminal trial in which testimony revealed five-figure payments to Kansas players via Adidas. It could lead to postseason bans and loss of scholarships. Kansas is disputing the charges, but coach Bill Self’s legacy and the success of a college hoops blue blood is on the line.
Get Set for a New Wave of Tennis Greats to Court Success, by Mark W. Wright / OZY
Look beneath the trio — Djokovic is No. 1 on the ATP tour, Nadal is 2 and Federer 3 — at the rankings table, and an unprecedented yet little-recognized churn is unfolding as players from more countries than ever before are competing in the higher ranks.
The Man Who Would Kill Horse Racing, by Ryan Goldberg / Deadspin
In a garden-variety suburb outside Albany — a recent July morning, but it could have been any morning — Patrick Battuello woke up at 5, brewed a cup of coffee and then sat at his computer to review the previous day’s horse races.
FIFA Report Shows Women’s Game Has Grown Technically and Tactically, by Suzanne Wrack / The Guardian
The manager of the U.S. women’s national team, two-time World Cup winner Jill Ellis, has talked about her legacy. “It was one of a kind, obviously the second World Cup for me personally, but a wonderful showcase. The numbers don’t lie; our sport is exciting and energizing.”
Can NFL Refs Do What Analysts Never Could: Get Coaches to Pass More?, by Josh Hermsmeyer / FiveThirtyEight
Through the first two weeks of the season, holding penalties in the NFL are at an all-time high. That’s bad news for running plays.
Washington State gunslinger Anthony Gordon threw an insane nine TDs — two shy of the single-game NCAA record — in a 69-67 loss to UCLA last Saturday night. Up 49-17 in the third, Gordon’s Cougars gave up 50 (FIFTY!!!) second-half points to the then-winless Bruins. The game was absurd, and the highlights are equally insane. Enjoy.