Why you should care
Because who doesn’t like to watch the very best gathered together in one place?
The All-Star break is already upon us, and if there’s one standout (beyond the players) so far this season, it’s current standings for Major League Baseball — really. With few erstwhile exceptions, such as the struggling Milwaukee Brewers and the “sh*t or get off the pot” Philadelphia Phillies, the current standings resemble the slate of Republican presidential candidates: 20-plus contenders still have a chance of being in the race come October and none of the current front-runners seems poised to pull away. In fact, every team in the American League, and 11 in the National League, are within eight games of a playoff slot.
Baseball in 2015 is picking up right where it left off last year when the small-market Kansas City Royals came within one Herculean performance by San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner from bringing Kansas City its first championship in three decades. Parity — that beacon on the hill of professional sports — is flourishing again in baseball. And even though the league does not have a salary cap, small-market teams like the Royals, the Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros are among baseball’s biggest overachievers already this season. Parity, like Andy Dufresne once said of hope, is a good thing, maybe the best of things. Parity fuels dreams, it retains interest, it sells tickets, it draws the long summer into autumn.
Parity, it also turns out, as moneyballer Martin Kleinbard told OZY at the end of last season, may be here to stay in baseball — and because of something unlikely. Though it’s all the rage to bash payroll imbalances these days — from the corporate workplace to MLB — the truth of it, says Kleinbard, a sports analytics expert, is that salary distortion and the increasing prominence of young, relatively inexperienced players may actually have made it easier for the underdogs to succeed. Read “Why Money Doesn’t Matter in the MLB” here.
Baseball’s youth movement will be on full display in tonight’s Midsummer Classic. Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, the youngest All-Star at age 22, will be playing in his third All-Star Game, a contest that will also include two 23-year-old rookies, Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, who finished second in the Home Run Derby last night. And the first pitch of the game will be thrown to none other Los Angeles Angels outfielder and reigning AL MVP, Mike Trout, the 23-year-old phenom who has taken baseball by storm the past few years. The speedy 6-foot-2, 235-pounder, who OZY profiled earlier this year, is considered by many to be the best all-around player in the game, and perhaps the closest thing to a surefire Hall of Famer that baseball has seen in awhile. Read more about “The Phenomenal Mike Trout” here.
Throwing that first pitch to Trout will be the starting pitcher for the National League, Zach Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that many consider to be the antithesis of parity. Owners of baseball’s largest payroll for the past three seasons, the Dodgers currently sit atop the NL West Division with one of the best records in baseball. But as OZY’s Sean Braswell covers here in “Big Money Comes to Moneyball,” the once free-spending Dodgers are trying the make the leap from big money to smart money with some key offseason acquisitions — not just of players, but of a dream team of Moneyball-style executives, who themselves might be undervalued assets.
Youth, parity and smart money. These are some of the forces behind what might eventually be seen as a new era in professional baseball. But first, tonight, it’s time to honor old traditions — at least until the manager benches our favorite player.