When you walk into my closet, the first thing you see, or run into, as is often the case, is the hat rack. More specifically, it’s a glorified length of rope with specialized hat-holding clips. It holds 18 baseball caps, among them are 10 representing the Chicago Cubs. At the top are the authentic home and road caps, a couple of throwbacks, even one with about 8 different Cubs logos on it. But you know what’s not clipped onto the rope? A salary cap.
All corny wordplay aside, MLB is pretty similar to my little hat rope, except for the preponderance of Cubs stuff. Several teams, some old and some new, some much nicer and more expensive than others. I can’t really take this hat rack analogy any further, so I’ll stop now. I watched the Yankees parade the likes of CC, AJ, and Tex across the dais this offseason, all the while becoming more and more disgusted. I was disgusted that one team could just go out and pluck the best players off the market. I was enraged to think that the Bronx Bombers might once again return to World Series, and that they might actually win it again. But what really got my goat was the fact that there were never any real bidding wars for these players.
The Yankees’ offseason spending spree was like the Desert Storm: they walked in, bombed the hell of everything, and walked back out with their collective middle finger held up to the rest of the league. It didn’t help matters that this little melodrama took place against the backdrop of a national ecomony that looks about as sturdy as one of the towers my 2-year-old daughter builds out of plastic blocks. Baseball is supposed to be America’s pasttime, but if it’s not careful it’ll end up looking more like America’s weekend hobby.
Baseball and its players have always been more attainable, more human, than other sports and other athletes. With the money being thrown around now, that’s becoming less and less the case. As salaries escalate, the game becomes more surreal, the players more like movie stars than simply grown men playing a child’s game. And as Americans become more and more concerned with their own financial struggles, the chasm will only grow wider and deeper.
There’s a lot of pent-up anger in baseball fans; hot weather and a beer or six will do that to people. It has always been commonplace for spectators to get a little rowdy, to view their ticket as a pass to play verbal long-toss with the light-hitting center fielder or the gaffe-prone shortstop. After all, those guys on the field are paid millions of dollars, so they should be able to take the abuse, right? Well, as that latent anger continues to build among the legions of fans, the voices will grow louder and their barbs sharper. The targets on players’ backs will grow larger.
While I may just be doing my best Chicken Little impersonation, I really do believe the sky may be dropping a bit even if it’s not yet in a total freefall. Bud and Co. need to take a page out of the NFL’s playbook and put some serious thought and effort into a legitimate salary cap. The parity in professional football has brought that league unprecendented success and strength, and it’s all tied back to the cap. Well, that and fantasy football, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic for a whole ‘nother time. When baseball limits the spending it will regain its rightful spot atop America’s collective sports consciousness. Okay, that might be a bit too lofty a goal, but I have always found that it’s best to aim high.
So until such time that the owners and the unions, and Bud, see fit to cap their spending, I’ll just have to keep hoping. And I’ll keep an extra one of those hat clips free in case baseball gets itself a new cap. I’ve got a great spot for it just below my 2003 Indy 500 hat.