Right around World Series time every year, everyone starts speculating who Major League Baseball would prefer make the World Series and who they prefer would not make the World Series. Generally, that evaluation has to do with the size of each prospective participant’s TV market.
In the end, I don’t think the discussion is proof that baseball is unpopular. I think it is proof that the Commissioner’s Office has harmed the game by only promoting certain teams at the expense of others. I was making this point among friends last year when someone tried to argue that the Rangers, who play in one of the largest media markets in the league, and Giants, who also play in a monster market, were a bad draw for baseball. In my mind, that’s baseball’s fault. In an attempt to milk every nickel out of one rivalry, the league abandons every other team and hurts its product in the meantime.
I was thinking about that same problem this morning when reading Dave Schoenfield’s obituary on Hideki Irabu. I suppose I always assumed that Irabu wound up in New York because Steinbrenner overpaid him. Not so fast. The Padres actually won his rights but Irabu refused to play for anyone but New York. And who can blame him? He came to the United States to build his personal brand. And, let’s be honest, there are only two ways to build a brand in Major League Baseball. Either you are a Hall of Fame caliber player, or you play in Boston or New York. That’s it.
It’s a shame for the game. There are so many great players playing in so many great cities that get no attention from the league office. But, it is also a built-in headwind for teams like our beloved Rays. It’s too bad.