STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're in the first full week of April, which means its baseball season again. And it's Wednesday morning, which means its time for Frank Deford.
FRANK DEFORD: Because baseball begins as life afield is renewed, tra-la. You can always count on two things this time of year. One: In trees, the sap is rising. Two: In baseball, the sappiness is rising.
Yes, as sure as the flowers are a' blooming again, every team has a chance. Whereas that is true in the NFL, the NBA and the NHL, baseball is more like "American Idol" or "Dancing with the Stars," where it's understood from the start that some competitors just don't have a prayer.
As sure as we kind of sort of suspected that Tom DeLay or Jerry Springer really didn't have a legitimate chance to win the terpsichorean championship against beautiful, young and agile dancers, the reality in baseball as long as there is no salary cap to equalize things as there is in our other popular team sports the reality is that the Yankees and a few other rich teams are going to buy championships, while little old mid-major cities really can't compete.
Come on, let's admit it: Baseball is the national pastime only if hedge funds are the national livelihood. If this had to be illustrated any more starkly, a British survey just revealed that the Yankees pay their players, on average, more than any other team in the world.
More significant: No other plutocrat franchise in the top dozen is a baseball team. Baseball law really does allow the Yankees to be in a league of their own, along with their moneybag runner-ups, the Boston Red Sox.
The AL East is so stacked that Commissioner Bud Selig has floated the idea that maybe some desperately poor franchises could be temporarily reassigned to that division not to improve their chances, you understand, but just to give them more paydays, losing before big crowds to Boston and New York.
The only way for the three geographical losers in the AL East: Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Toronto, to have any chance is to be both wise and lucky in drafting amateur players, which the Rays have managed magnificently, but don't mess with the fat cats. When Tampa's young homegrown players dared win the division two years ago, the Yankees immediately went out and signed the best hitter and the two best free agent pitchers, and thereby bought the 2009 pennant.
Sure, quirky things can happen in the playoffs. But at this Opening Day, we are only reminded again that for all of baseball's welter of statistics, it remains a sport without a salary cap. So, ultimately, the only numbers that really matter are the ones that follow the dollar sign.
INSKEEP: Frank Deford still batting a thousand. He joins us each Wednesday.
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