September 1993 - Draining The Talent Pool

I have a serious case of rockin' pneumonia, and maybe even the boogie-woogie flu, but I'm immune to expansion fever. In fact, I think expansion is an evil plot, with the potential to ruin Major League Baseball as we know and love it.

Adding two new teams of 25 players created 50 new Major League jobs, for a total of 700 roster spots. Although spread across 28 teams, we still have 50 guys in the Bigs this year that were only good enough to beat the bushes last year. Among those 50 are roughly 20 pitchers. Hasn't every GM been whining for years that there isn't nearly enough pitching to go around? Please 'splain it to me: How does adding another 20 pitching jobs address the dearth of hurlers?

What I see happening is a finite (and maybe shrinking) player pool getting spread over too many teams, effectively weakening proficiency throughout the Major Leagues. Expansion is a clear-cut case of subtraction by addition.

Moreover, as a Denver native and former Bears Knothole Club member, I question whether that city really deserves a Major League team. Sure, crowds are busting the turnstiles in Colorado now, but let's be careful not to confuse "spectators" with "fans." Excepting a hiatus from 1932 to 1946, the Queen City of the Plains has been home to professional baseball since 1886. Granted, there is a mystique to the Major Leagues, but much of the Triple-A ball played in Denver was of a higher caliber than today's sub-par Rockies. Those teams were all but ignored by the Denver denizens.

In 1983, the Boston Globe referred to Denver as "the Harvard of Baseball" because so many future stars paid dues there. Ralph Houk and Billy Martin both got their first managerial experience as skippers of the Mile High Nine. Mike Easler hit 19 homers there in 1974, and two years later, Andre "Awesome" Dawson hit .350, with 20 round-trippers. In the 1980 campaign, Tim Raines won both the American Association batting crown (.354) and the stolen base title with 77 SB in only 108 games! Yet when Raines and Tim Wallach (36 HR, 125 RBI) led the Bears to the Association title that year, just over 5,000 true fans elbowed their way into Mile High's expansive confines for the championship-clinching game.

Closer to home, I'm still not convinced that the '93 Red Sox are pennant contenders. In spite of their improved record, it's my theory that the Olde Towne Team didn't improve that much since last year, but that many other teams got a lot worse. Could a Majors-wide talent dip have anything to do with the Sox improved record, or John Olerud and Andres Galarraga flirting with .400 this year? Prior expansions have seen the talent return to previous levels after a year or two, but my fear is that baseball's self-correcting capacity may now be overextended.

As we all know, baseball these days is a bottom-line business. The leaderless owners don't have to give much thought to the fans or the future health of the game as long as they keep putting fannies in the seats. Always expecting the worst from the owners, I fear they will look at the $90 million per team franchise fee, keep adding more teams, and keep rolling in dough. There is already talk of expanding to 32 teams! But how long can it last? Sooner or later, fans will realize that they're paying top dollar to watch a watered-down product, and decide that the Major League ballpark is no longer the place to be seen.

Here's an inflammatory idea that just might improve the game: Consider that there are now too many teams, and that the game would be well served by eliminating a few. Do Seattle, Houston, Cleveland, San Diego or (pick one) still deserve teams? Does any town, even New York, deserve the Mets? Look at "contraction" as a means of ensuring top-flight skill throughout the Majors. It's a simple formula: Fewer roster spots mean more competition amongst the players, which means better, not more, baseball being played at the Major League level. It's the elusive concept of addition by subtraction, but it just might save baseball from itself.

©1993 - 2007 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


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