I've seen a lot of people posting on the social media sites that, if the hometown St. Louis Cardinals can't make it to the World Series, they'd love to see the rival Pittsburgh Pirates do so.
Because the poor, poor Pirates are the little market team that could and we should all root for the underdog.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are one of the most profitable teams in baseball due to their time-tested formula of not spending any money on payroll while raking in boatloads of cash through the MLB revenue sharing program. If anything, Redbird rooters should be harked off that a portion of their hard-earned dollars go to keep the Pittsburghers living high on the hog off of corporate welfare.
The Bucs could have spent tens of millions more on players and still stayed in the black, financially. But their owners were more concerned about making huge profits and sipping champagne at the country club than they were in investing in players who would win some games and spray the bubbly on them in the clubhouse.
When the Pirates were 67-95 in 2008 they spent $55 million on payroll. Their lackluster performance brought in $32.13 million in gate receipts, according to ESPN. But, no worries, they brought in $39 million in revenue sharing funds. When you count concessions, broadcast rights fees, merchandising and other income streams, the Pirates make money hand over fist -- they just don't reinvest it in the product on the field.
"The numbers indicate why people are suspecting they're taking money from baseball and keeping it -- they don't spend it on the players," David Berri, president of the North American Association of Sports Economists told ESPN. "Teams have a choice. They can seek to maximize winning, what the Yankees do, or you can be the Pirates and make as much money as you can in your market. The Pirates aren't trying to win."
Even with a payroll increased to $78 million this year, Forbes Magazine reports that the Pirates made about $21 million in profits last year. Their $204 million in total revenue was more than fellow playoff teams the Baltimore Orioles ($198 million), the Oakland Athletics ($187 million) and the Kansas City Royals ($178 million.)
Granted, the Pirates have turned things around a little bit in the last two years, posting their first winning seasons in two decades. But fans seem to be relatively unimpressed. In a market roughly equivalent to the St. Louis metropolitan area, the Bucs managed to draw a third less fans than their biggest rival. The Pirates saw 2.4 million tickets sold while St. Louis, winner of two more games in 2014, drew 3.54 million. Their ballpark, widely considered to be one of the nicest in baseball, averaged only 78.6 percent of a sellout while the Redbirds filled a larger stadium to 99.4 percent of capacity.
Why should Cardinals fans care about the Pirates getting a long-awaited World Series trophy when their ownership and the residents of their drawing area don't seem to care?
Personally, what I don't care for is paying more to buy tickets to games at Busch Stadium so the owners of the Pirates can put it in their pockets. Somehow that offends me even more than if they used their ill-gotten cash to try all-out to beat the Cardinals.
In unrelated musings:
I am somewhat amused by the coverage of the Royals on the eve of their first postseason game since 1985.
Several players mentioned Monday, after such a long layoff from postseason play, how they were excited to finally bring October baseball back to Kansas City. Whoa, Nellie. If you take a look at the calendar you might notice your play-in game falls on Sept. 30. In the world of two wildcards and a one-game coin flip, you're effectively the 65th team trying to make it into the NCAA basketball tournament. So don't go counting your World Series tickets just yet.
On the other hand, I think I would feel a bit squeamish if I was an Oakland Athletics fan counting on Jon Lester's left arm to punch the club's post season ticket. Sure, historically, Lackey has owned the Royals throughout his career with a 1.84 ERA. But the former Red Sox pitcher, who has made no secret of the fact that he'd like to be a future Red Sox pitcher, is a seemingly disinterested 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA during his brief stint in Oakland. Lester could be the perfect option for shutting down the Royals. But he's going to have to be on top of his game in a contest that promises to be a tight affair.
It's just, at least in my mind, a more comfortable situation when you are counting on players who are fully invested in the organization for which they play as Adam Wainwright is and Chris Carpenter was before him. Sure, Lackey is pitching for a new contract. But I sincerely doubt that the outcome of a single game is going to make much difference to his free agency as his public pronunciations that he wants to return to Beantown. Unless, of course, he is seriously injured.