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.