Thursday, July 1, 2010

Marvin Miller Mad-lib

This blog went live on June 20, 2010. Since that time, I have received numerous comments (both here and on other blogs) from those that refer to the exceptions of baseball history as proof that free agency has changed nothing. Defenders of Marvin Miller and the free agency era base their arguments on small market teams that sometimes win and big market teams that sometimes lose.

The arguments are always the same and work like a mad-lib. Fill in the blanks:
Remember that time back in ________{fill in year} when the _________________________{fill in name of small market team} had a good year? Well that proves that small market teams can win and that Marvin Miller changed nothing. So forget this issue and let's get back to electing Miller to the Hall of Fame.

Or the following is the other side to the same coin:
Remember that time in _______{year} that the _______________ {name of big market team} had a bad year? That proves that you can't buy a pennant.

In baseball, even the worst teams win 50 or 60 games a year. The best teams lose 60 or more games a year. Anything is possible.

The small market teams can accumulate enough talent to put together a winner for a few seasons before the grim reaper of free agency comes to harvest their best players. The big market teams sometimes make stupid decisions and end up losing for several years in a row. All of these things happen despite free agency. Free agency is not a neutral factor. It weighs against the small market teams.

The irony is that free agency does not necessarily help the big market teams. Rich teams frequently squander the advantage that free agency gives them. Free agency is inferior as a strategy to building teams internally through farm systems. Big teams that buy existing talent often suffer as a result of this strategy.

But free agency does act as a veto on the success of the small market teams. Small market teams will lose their best talent, even if the result does no good for a big market team. It makes no difference to point out that the Dodgers, Yankees etc. often lose.

The tragedy of the Miller era is the hopelessness of the future for the small market teams - not the success of the big market teams.

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