Will the real underdog please stand up?

It’s not easy being a Minnesota Twins fan.

When I was growing up, the Twins were in the midst of a decade-plus dry spell between postseason appearances. And then, when I was 13, 1987 happened. The Twins won the World Series, for the first time ever. But with a feeble regular season record (including a stunningly bad 29-52 road record), and winning only the home games in the World Series, it wasn’t long before the team was derided for relying too heavily on the unique home field advantage granted by the Metrodome… when they weren’t being accused outright of cheating at home to get ahead.

After another World Series win four years later, a second drought began. The team barely survived Bud Selig’s failed contraction scheme in 2001 before roaring back to become a consistent pennant contender, the most frequent winner of the American League Central Division championship, and the team with the second most postseason appearances in the decade.

Unfortunately, the one team that’s been to the playoffs more often than the Twins in the last ten years is… the Yankees.

Oh, the dreaded Yankees.

Rosters may change over the years, and the exact reason is still up for debate, but in the Ron Gardenhire era, one thing is clear: the Twins just flat-out suck against the Yankees. And unfortunately, it has consistently been in the cards for the Twins to go up against the “Bronx Bombers” in the first round of the playoffs almost every time they’ve advanced under Gardy. The result has not just been a failure to get past the first round, but over their past few American League Division Series appearances, a failure to even win a single game.

Every time, it feels like this year will be different. But this year, it really felt like it might be different. The Twins have a new stadium, a bigger payroll, their strongest lineup in recent memory (even without Justin Morneau), and a lot of momentum behind them. (No Game 163 this year!) Most significantly, the Twins snapped their multi-season streak of regular season losses to the Yankees, in New York, back in May in a most spectacular fashion: Jason Kubel hit a grand slam off legendary closer Mariano Rivera, the first grand slam he’d given up in several years.

That home run, more than anything, seemed to signal that this year really would be different. Really.

But then, the same old result. It’s not just that the Twins getting swept by the Yankees in the ALDS is predictable; each individual game of the series almost seems to be played off the same script: the Twins take an early lead while the Yankees barely seem to be trying. Then in the 6th or 7th, just as the Twins’ starting pitcher (who, up to this point, has been shutting them down effectively) is tiring, the Yankees wake up, knock in 2 or 4 or 6 runs and the starter exits, demoralized. Then New York’s seemingly bottomless bullpen enters the picture, sending in a string of top-notch relievers, each more fearsome than the last, culminating in the arrival of Mariano Rivera at the bottom of the ninth… or possibly with 2 outs in the eighth… and this time there will be no grand slam, no come-from-behind victory, no walk-off win on a Jim Thome homer that bounces off the American flag pole.

Why? Why does this same script play out again and again, even when, as Alex Rodriguez laughably claimed last week, the Yankees are the underdogs?

To suggest that the Yankees were the underdogs in this series, presumably — well, OK, obviously and solely — because they were the AL Wild Card team, is absurd. Never mind the fact that the Yankees ended the season with a slightly better record than the Twins — 95-67 compared to 94-68. This Yankees team will never be the underdog to this Twins team. Even when the Twins dominate other teams — as they did this year with the otherwise quite talented Chicago White Sox — there’s just something — something — that keeps the Twins from delivering against New York. But what is it? I have a few theories, but first, let’s discuss another theory… the conspiracy theory that the Yankees engineered a playoff matchup with the Twins this year.

I’ve been thinking it myself since about a week before the season ended, and I’m not alone. Today the City Pages ran an article speculating, much like I had, that even if the Yankees weren’t deliberately, consciously throwing games at the end of the season, Joe Girardi and crew weren’t exactly putting 110% (as they say in sports) into winning the AL East. Why bother? They were already guaranteed no worse than the Wild Card. And ending up with the Wild Card also meant they’d be facing the Twins in the ALDS, not the Rangers, with whom they’d had a lot more difficulty (ending up 4-4) during the regular season, despite the Rangers’ overall inferior performance to the Twins’ during the season.

I’m not going to say that there really was a conspiracy at work. I doubt a Yankees-Twins ALDS fate was decreed from Bud Selig’s office, or even the Yankees’ front office. But it might have been somewhere deep down in Girardi’s brain. Look at the numbers, examine the facts, and the conclusion is obvious: the Yankees stood a better chance at advancing to the American League Championship Series as the Wild Card than as the AL East champs. Whether or not the Yankees acted on this information, it’s still there.

The Yankees managed a feeble 2-8 record in the final ten games of the season. Then again, so did the Twins. But no matter what the Twins did, they were guaranteed to face the Wild Card in the ALDS, and that would either be the Rays or the Yankees. The Rays pulled off a mediocre 5-5 record over the same period, but it was enough to clinch the division title. The only team that could really do anything to seal the Twins’ fate for the ALDS matchup was the Yankees. Was that on their minds? I like to believe it wasn’t a factor in how they played those final few games, but there’s no doubt they were aware of what losing the division to the Rays would mean for their postseason.

But I’m not going down this dark path to lay blame for the Twins’ pathetic ALDS performance at the feet of the Yankees. The Twins have no one to blame but themselves for how ineptly they consistently perform against New York. Whether or not New York threw a game or two is irrelevant: the only reason they would even want to do that is because the Twins flat-out suck against them. And the Twins are too good a team to be so consistently bad against one particular opponent. And that is what I really want to explore.

Why are the Twins so bad against the Yankees?


The first place I look when trying to diagnose the Twins’ chronic Yankee defeats is on the field. The Twins are a good team. A damn good team. They led the league in team batting average this year; they’re nearly perfect on defense; they’ve got tremendous depth in the lineup; their starting pitching is solid, even if there’s no real “ace”; and their bullpen is better than almost any team’s besides… well… the Yankees. They’re brimming with confidence when they’re on the field, especially when that field is Target Field, where nearly every game this season was sold out, over capacity, and the fans were more enthusiastic than I’ve seen them in the past two decades.

This team rarely makes mistakes. And yet, when they’re playing the Yankees, they seem dazzled by the celebrities on the field: A-Rod, Jeter, CC, Mo. These guys are superstars. New York superstars. They’re celebrities beyond the baseball diamond, and when the Twins face them, it sometimes almost seems like we’ve put a Little League team out there on the field with all of the heroes whose baseball cards they’ve stuck between the spokes of their bicycles. The Twins, on the field with the Yankees, just don’t feel Major League in the same way, even though as a team, on the whole, they’re every bit as good.


Then again, maybe it’s not just the dazzling superstars of the Yankee lineup that intimidate the Twins. Maybe it’s the national exposure. When the Twins play the Yankees, even during the regular season, they’re a lot more likely to be broadcast coast-to-coast. Even when they’re not, Yankee Stadium is a much bigger stage than Target Field. But one need look no further than Joe Mauer’s embarrassing performance in this year’s All-Star Game for evidence that maybe it’s not really the Yankees, or at least not just the Yankees, that make these guys nervous. Joe Mauer is arguably the best catcher in baseball today, and he is inarguably the best hitting catcher in Major League history. He’s won as many batting titles as all other catchers in the history of the American League combined. And he has a couple of Gold Gloves too, proving he’s just as solid crouched behind the plate as standing next to it. But judging by his sloppy performance in the 2010 All-Star Game, you might wonder how he ever advanced past Class A.

So why did Joe look so bad in the All-Star game? Could be the same reason the Twins as a team look so bad against the Yankees in the playoffs, year after year. Maybe they’re just so unaccustomed to the spotlight that it blinds them.

Small Ball

Over the past few days, I’ve enjoyed the musings of Fake Ron Gardenire on Twitter. There’s no question in my mind that Gardy is a great manager. He’s done remarkable things with the Twins since he took the helm in 2002. The team has never enjoyed the kind of consistent success — at least at the division level — that they’ve had under his leadership. His six pennants — won over a span of nine years — outnumber the total won over the entire prior history of the franchise since moving to Minnesota in 1961. And yet, only once has he managed to advance past the first round of the playoffs, and that was in his first year as manager.

The Twins have earned a reputation for playing “small ball” — scraping together victories not through home runs and other big plays, but one small step at a time. The best recent example of the Twins playing “small ball” to their advantage came in Game 1 of the ALDS this year, when Orlando Hudson’s heads-up base running got him to third on a play that should have kept him at second, and a minute later allowed him to score on a passed ball by New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. It’s the kind of thing that isn’t even on most teams’ radar as a strategy, but that play padded the Twins’ lead in the game. And, if they weren’t facing the Yankees, that 3-0 lead might’ve held up for a win.

And therein lies the problem. They were facing the Yankees, and in the postseason no less. This wasn’t a “small ball” situation, facing the Orioles or the Royals in mid-May. Gardy is an obstinately routine-oriented manager. And that usually works well for a sport where you’re on the field six to seven days a week, for six to seven months of the year. But the postseason is not routine. Every game, every inning, every at-bat, every pitch in the postseason is a big deal, but I feel like Gardy just hasn’t learned to adapt his coaching strategy for the postseason. The “Twins way” may lead to consistent regular season success, but it’s no way to win a World Series.

Divided We Fall

There’s frequent talk about how some divisions in Major League Baseball are weaker or stronger than others. There’s little argument against the notion that the AL East is the toughest division of all; scarcely more argument that the AL Central is one of the weakest. I’ve heard suggestions that the AL Central is closer to AAA than it is to the Major League caliber of the AL East teams. No doubt, if you placed this year’s Boston Red Sox or Toronto Blue Jays in another division, they’d fare quite well.

In the days before the leagues were split into three divisions, the division a team was placed in mattered little: although it might be possible to win a division with a record that would put you in second (or even third) place in another division, each team still faced the other teams in its league with roughly equal frequency. In the era of 26 teams, for instance, American League teams faced the other teams in their own divisions 13 times each per year, and teams from the other division 12 times each. In order to be successful, you had to play equally well against either division.

But since the split of each league into three divisions, along with the advent of Interleague play, the schedules are stacked much more strongly towards a team’s own division: now American League teams generally play 18 games per season against the other teams in their own division, compared with only 7 or 8 games against teams in other divisions. Interleague schedules are often built around regional rivalries, and disparities in the quality of these match-ups may further affect teams’ relative success.

This divisional insularity has magnified the disparity in ability between teams in the different divisions. So it’s not just a matter of the Boston Red Sox finishing the season with a record that would have been more competitive in the AL West, for example. The Red Sox faced a far more difficult schedule this year, and likely would have had an even better record if they’d played significantly more games against the Angels, A’s and Mariners, instead of facing the Rays and Yankees so many times.

The upshot of all of this for the Twins is simply that, despite their nearly identical won-lost record to that of the Yankees, they may not really be competitive at the same level as the Yankees are.

The Final Out

And so, after considering all of the above, after speculating wildly on the evil plottings of Bud Selig or the sinister ambitions of Joe Girardi, after ripping on our hometown hero and giving more credit to a fake Ron Gardenhire than the real one, after facing the harsh possibility that maybe the AL Central really is only AAA-quality compared to the AL East, I’m left with one conclusion: it doesn’t matter if the Yankees did engineer a postseason matchup with the Twins in order to better assure their continued success. The Yankees wouldn’t want to face the Twins if the latter could figure out how the hell to beat them.

The Twins have no one to blame but themselves for failing, year after year, to win against the Yankees. As for us fans? Well, we probably just need to face that fact and blame them too.

Underdogs? I believe as much as anyone that it’s good to be the underdog. I’ll continue to root for the Twins… and probably relish their underdog status. But you still have to want to come out on top, at least once in a while.

March 21, 2010 was a good day

There were two huge news events yesterday, both of which made me more hopeful about the future of our nation, for drastically different reasons.

First, health care reform. I’ve been a big supporter of this since the beginning. The promise of reform of our woefully dysfunctional health insurance system was a key issue of President Obama’s campaign, and I am impressed that he stuck to it against considerable odds. Charting a course both idealistic and pragmatic, he achieved something other presidents have tried, unsuccessfully, for decades.

Is it a flawed and perhaps inadequate reform? Yes. But it’s a start. We’ve known we were on the wrong road, a dead-end road, for decades. We’re not back on the right road yet, but at least we’ve finally turned around and are heading in the right direction.

I’ll save the particulars for another discussion, and I’ll refrain from my usual complaints about the likes of Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin et al. I believe this is a profoundly good thing for America, and I believe in the coming months it will get better. By election day, the true value of what has been achieved will have started to become apparent. We’ll still be plugging our ears over the screeches from the far right, but in the end it won’t matter, because the Democrats in Congress, despite themselves, managed to get something, something really big, done. For more on what this reform bill means, there are some excellent articles at the New York Times.

The other big news, less essential to most Americans’ day-to-day lives, but great for Minnesota Twins fans, and really for anyone who appreciates the role baseball plays in America’s cultural life, is that the Twins signed Joe Mauer to an 8-year contract. And not just any 8-year contract, but a New York Yankees-sized 8-year contract. The amount of money involved may seem obscene to many, and I’m sure there will be complaints that if the team can afford that kind of salary for one player, they could have afforded to chip in more of the cost of Target Field. (I’d have to admit, there’s some credence to that argument, considering that this 8-year contract for Joe Mauer — $184 million — is more than the Twins’ share of stadium construction costs — $167.4 million.)

But that doesn’t matter. The fact is, Joe Mauer is unequivocally a superstar of Major League Baseball. And this is the scale of MLB superstar salaries. If Mauer had gone to free agency at the end of this season, he would have been signed by the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or another “large market” team on the East or West Coast, and if anything, he would have been paid more. I’m proud of the Twins for sticking it out, keeping the hometown boy at home, and giving him the kind of salary his stature in the league warrants.

Considering that less than a decade ago the Twins were being considered for contraction, the fact that they have become a perennial contender, and are now beginning a new era in a first-class ballpark with an MVP catcher, this contract is a decisive statement that mid-market teams do count, and that Major League Baseball really does happen outside of the Bronx. For more thoughts on the Mauer contract, check out this article from ESPN.com.

The Minnesota inferiority complex (and major league sports)

Twins UnderdogI love maps. I love charts. I love rankings. I love comparing the quantitative differences between major cities. I don’t know why I love this stuff; I just do. So bear with me while I geek out on this a little.

Minnesotans (at least, I think it goes beyond me individually) sometimes have an inferiority complex, especially those of us who live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. We are a major city, the 16th largest metro area in the country. We have a diverse and strong economy, with a prominent national and international role in medical technology, arts and design, retail and manufacturing. We have an excellent arts community, and the highest number of theaters per capita of any American city besides New York. We have excellent parks and recreational opportunities. And, as I’ll get to in a minute, we have teams in all four major league sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL). In short, this is a great American metro area, and the gem of the upper Midwest.

And yet, we feel inferior. We feel inferior to Chicago. We feel ignored by the rest of the country, who think of this only as a place too cold to ever visit, much less live in. (Never mind the fact that in July and August this place can be unbearably hot, and we typically experience warm weather from April to October.)

I was reflecting on this today, partly as I marveled at the fact that the comparatively tiny city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, has managed to retain an NFL team since the league’s inception (though that’s mainly due to their unique ownership arrangements). I thought about how it always seems like our sports teams are the ridiculed underdogs, occasionally openly dismissed by sportscasters despite their successes. (I’m thinking particularly of the loathsome Cris Collinsworth and his generally disdainful commentary on the Vikings’ pair of ignoble defeats on NBC’s Sunday Night Football in recent weeks.)

I also think about this a lot whenever talk of one of our major league teams relocating comes up. There are frequent cries that this market is simply too small to sustain the teams it has. Never mind the fact that in every one of the leagues its four major teams participate in, Minneapolis-St. Paul is above the median market size (even ignoring Green Bay). We are one of only 13 markets with teams in all four sports. And I think we deserve to keep it that way. But I wanted to have a more complete picture of how the leagues and the markets they “live” in break down, so I created a table. I found the 50 largest metro areas in the country, and compiled data on the number of teams each has in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. I decided to throw in MLS too, since it’s growing rapidly in popularity (not that you’d know it around here). Here’s what I came up with:

Rank City Population NFL MLB NBA NHL MLS Total
1 New York, NY 19,006,798 2 2 2 3 1 10
2 Los Angeles, CA1 12,872,808 2 2 2 2 8
3 Chicago, IL 9,569,624 1 2 1 1 1 6
4 Dallas/Fort Worth, TX 6,300,006 1 1 1 1 1 5
5 Philadelphia, PA 5,838,471 1 1 1 1 1 (2010) 5
6 Houston, TX 5,728,143 1 1 1 1 4
7 Miami/Fort Lauderdale, FL 5,414,772 1 1 1 1 4
8 Atlanta, GA 5,376,285 1 1 1 1 4
9 Washington, DC 5,358,130 1 1 1 1 1 5
10 Boston, MA 4,522,858 1 1 1 1 1 5
11 Detroit, MI2 4,425,110 1 1 1 1 4
12 Phoenix, AZ 4,281,899 1 1 1 1 4
13 San Francisco/Oakland, CA3 4,274,531 2 2 1 5
14 Inland Empire, CA4 4,115,871 0
15 Seattle, WA5 3,344,813 1 1 1 3
16 Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN 3,229,878 1 1 1 1 4
17 San Diego, CA 3,001,072 1 1 2
18 St. Louis, MO 2,816,710 1 1 1 3
19 Tampa Bay, FL 2,733,761 1 1 1 3
20 Baltimore, MD 2,667,117 1 1 2
21 Denver, CO6 2,506,626 1 1 1 1 1 5
22 Pittsburgh, PA 2,351,192 1 1 1 3
23 Portland, OR 2,207,462 1 1 (2011) 2
24 Cincinnati, OH 2,155,137 1 1 2
25 Sacramento, CA 2,109,832 1 1
26 Cleveland, OH 2,088,291 1 1 1 3
27 Orlando, FL 2,054,574 1 1
28 San Antonio, TX 2,031,445 1 1
29 Kansas City, MO 2,002,047 1 1 1 3
30 Las Vegas, NV7 1,865,746 0
31 San Jose, CA 1,819,198 1 1 2
32 Columbus, OH 1,773,120 1 1 2
33 Indianapolis, IN 1,715,459 1 1 2
34 Charlotte, NC 1,701,799 1 1 2
35 Hampton Roads, VA8 1,658,292 0
36 Austin, TX 1,652,602 0
37 Providence, RI 1,596,611 0
38 Nashville, TN 1,550,733 1 1 2
39 Milwaukee, WI9 1,549,308 1 1 2
40 Jacksonville, FL 1,313,228 1 1
41 Memphis, TN 1,285,732 1 1
42 Louisville, KY 1,244,696 0
43 Richmond, VA 1,225,626 0
44 Oklahoma City, OK 1,206,142 1 1
45 Hartford, CT 1,190,512 0
46 New Orleans, LA10 1,134,029 1 1 2
47 Buffalo, NY 1,124,309 1 1 2
48 Birmingham, AL 1,117,608 0
49 Salt Lake City, UT 1,115,692 1 1 2
50 Raleigh, NC 1,088,765 1 1

An interesting list, and it led to a few surprising observations:

1. There are the “old” major cities and the “new” major cities. Strong representation among the major sports leagues — especially the older NFL and MLB — is more common among older, more established cities, even though they may be on the decline in recent decades, like St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Kansas City. On the other hand, cities that have grown substantially in recent decades (even though they may be very old cities) typically either have no major league teams, or if they do, their teams tend to be in the newer (or more recently-expanded) NBA, NHL and MLS: cities like Las Vegas, San Antonio, Austin and Orlando.

2. Certain sports are more established in different regions. All of the sports seem to have their greatest representation in the oldest and most densely populated region of the country: the Northeast. But that area is especially well-represented in the NFL, whereas the NFL’s representation in the South is more sparse and newer — expansion teams like Jacksonville and Carolina — which may be due to college football’s comparatively strong popularity in the South. The rapid expansion of the NHL and NBA over the past 20 years has also led to more teams in markets in the South and West that have not typically been home to major sports franchises.

3. Major sports teams make a “major” city. Cities that have major league sports teams — especially those cities with multiple teams — seem bigger and more “important” than those that don’t, regardless of their relative populations. This is highly subjective, I realize, and maybe it’s just my own impression of those cities. But I think the frequent national exposure a city receives as a result of hosting a major team (especially an NFL team, as this is clearly the biggest “event” sport in the country today) creates a nationwide impression of that city as being major in a way that almost nothing else can. (Perhaps this is why we in Minneapolis-St. Paul fight so hard for our status as a “major league” city, and why our governor once compared a Vikings-less Minnesota unfavorably to Des Moines, Iowa.)

Consider for a moment your relative impression of Austin, Texas to that of Milwaukee. Which one seems like a more “major” city to you? Now compare their populations on the chart. Or, compare your impression of New Orleans to Providence, Rhode Island. (I think the fact that I feel compelled to name the state of the city without a major sports team in both of these examples says it all.)

It’s a big reason why all of the sports teams in Minnesota use “Minnesota” in their names instead of “Minneapolis.” Until the Wild arrived in St. Paul, it would have been accurate to discuss the Minneapolis Twins, Minneapolis Vikings and Minneapolis Timberwolves, but what would that do to St. Paul’s reputation and self-image? It’s bad enough as it is.

Addendum: After writing this post, I discovered a handy and closely-related chart on Wikipedia listing US and Canadian cities by number of professional sports teams. Of note: the only city in the United States that is not in this list of the top 50 but is home to a major sports team is, of course, Green Bay. Nine Canadian cities have at least one team in these “American” sports leagues (mostly NHL). There are a few variances in the population rankings comprising this list vs. those I used for my list. Some may be simply out-of-date, but others may be based on different interpretations of what constitutes a metro area. Most notable in this regard is that San Jose is typically considered part of the San Francisco Bay Area rather than a distinct metro area.


1 Los Angeles did, of course, have two NFL teams for many years, until the Raiders returned to Oakland and the Rams fled to St. Louis, of all places, after the 1994 season.

2 Detroit fascinates me for many reasons, not least of which being its ability to hang on to both its four major sports teams and its 11th place ranking (though it’s slipped from its one-time peak at number 3) among major U.S. metro areas.

3 San Francisco’s position at number 13, along with its lack of NHL and MLS teams, may appear somewhat arbitrary; I’ve typically seen San Jose lumped into the same Combined Statistical Area, bumping it up to sixth place and, along the way, giving it San Jose’s NHL and MLS teams.

4 The Inland Empire lacks any major sports teams, true. It also lacks any kind of cohesive center or place of relevance (beyond jokes about funny-sounding place names like Rancho Cucamonga) in the minds of anyone besides its residents. Having lived there myself (in Claremont and Upland) for a little over two years in the late ’90s, I take that personally. It is most especially ignored by those who live in the Greater Los Angeles Area west of the San Jose Hills.

5 I still can’t believe the Supersonics ended up in Oklahoma City. That’s crazier than the Rams going to St. Louis.

6 Denver’s the smallest city with full representation in the five major league sports. But given that Denver is the outpost of metropolitanism for several states — I can attest from first-hand experience that there are people in northeastern Montana whose “local” TV channels are the Denver affiliates — its radius of influence significantly exceeds its immediate physical region.

7 While it’s true that the rapid growth of the Las Vegas metro area over the past 20 years may explain its lack of major sports franchises, the reluctance of the leagues to become (ah-hem, openly) involved in the world of sports gambling is also a well-known factor.

8 Hampton Roads probably suffers mainly from an identity crisis. Officially known as the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News MSA, a name that doesn’t really roll off the tongue, Hampton Roads is one of the oldest established population centers in the country, but it doesn’t seem to have the requisite prominent central city to attach sports teams to. However, it does look like Norfolk has come close to acquiring at least one major team in recent years. (Unfortunately I lost that citation among the mountain of links I clicked on to compile this list.)

9 I never realized Milwaukee was so far down on this list. I guess that’s what having a well-known Major League Baseball team for decades will do for a city.

10 And I’m really surprised New Orleans is this far down on the list, even after the population drop in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Here come the underdogs…

Twins Underdog
Last night’s stunning victory by the Twins in game 163 to clinch the AL Central Division title from the recently floundering Detroit Tigers was about as exciting a game of baseball as I’ve ever seen… and I not only watched every minute of the 1987 and 1991 playoffs, but I was also in the Metrodome in 1986 on the night when the dome deflated. (OK, that didn’t really have anything to do with the game itself, an unspectacular defeat handed to the hapless Ron Davis after proper dome inflation had been restored.)

The celebration was short-lived though: the Twins knew all along that in less than 24 hours they’d be in the Bronx, facing the best team that money can buy, the New York Yankees.

But as far as I’m concerned, the real championship has already happened. In the final weeks the AL Central was the only division in MLB that was contested. The Tigers’ surprising fall from season-long dominance of the division, and the Twins’ simultaneous, spectacular rise, was legendary. That the Twins’ season would end, for the second year in a row, in a one-game tiebreak to determine the division champ, and in such a game at that, was the ultimate conclusion to the Twins’ farewell season in the Metrodome.

What comes next is anyone’s guess. OK, who are we kidding? The Twins might eke out a victory when the series returns to Minnesota for game 3, but there’s almost no way the scrappy Twins can stand a chance against the formidable Yankees lineup.

The sad truth, though, is that there’s little sport in how the Yankees got to where they are. Unlike the NFL, Major League Baseball doesn’t have revenue sharing, ensuring that each team has the necessary resources (in theory… and leaving aside last year’s Detroit Lions for now) to field a solid team. The Yankees are in a league of their own, calling the country’s largest advertising market city home, charging four figures for some seats at Yankee Stadium, and in general bringing in quantities of cash that most other teams couldn’t even dream of, resulting in salaries for some individual players that are comparable to that of the entire roster of some smaller market teams. It’s as if the rest of the league is really AAA, and the Yankees are the only true “majors.”

Which, I suppose, is their right. I personally think revenue sharing is a smart idea, and it would keep the game a lot more interesting. Woo-hoo. The Yankees and the Red Sox and the Angels are all in the playoffs again. What a surprise. Maybe the feeble AL Central really does belong in AAA, but at least there’s some real competition, some real sport in it all. If the Yankees go on to sweep the Twins (likely), beat the Red Sox or Angels for the league championship (probably), and ultimately win the World Series (quite possibly), what does it really prove? Little more than that money is all that really matters in a game towards which the majority of the country is increasingly indifferent, for fairly obvious reasons.

Then again, as long as the Yankees can keep charging $2500 for seats, I doubt the decision-makers will really care. But for me, last night was what the game is all about.

Congratulations, Minnesota Twins, champion underdogs!

Update (October 11, 2010): OK, apparently MLB does have revenue sharing, but it might as well not.