Baseball is the one sport that gets derided for having "no parity." Compared to football, we’re told, baseball is dominated by a small number of big-market clubs, while the NFL shares the wealth to the point that any team can realistically hope to win a Super Bowl.
Guess what? The evidence says that’s not so.
Sure, the Yankees dominate baseball. Of course, that’s why the Yankees haven’t won the World Series since 2000, a number that the football fans seem to forget all the time. In fact, in the past seven years, baseball has had seven different World Champions. Football can’t say that, what with the Patriots claiming three of the last seven Super Bowls. (Then again, NFL fans say that dynasties are good for the game, which goes completely against "parity" arguments. Why do they get it both ways?) In fact, none of the other major pro sports can say that. The NHL comes close, with six different teams winning the Stanley Cup in that period. The NBA has had just four different teams win its championship.
Okay — that’s a small sample, and you could argue that it just happens to work out in baseball’s favor. In that same seven-year period, eleven different teams have made a World Series appearance, as only the Cardinals and Yankees have made multiple appearances. Here, the NFL does beat baseball (just barely), as twelve different teams have appeared in the Super Bowl (only the Patriots have appeared more than once.) Just eight NBA teams have made Finals appearances, with the Lakers, Spurs, Nets, and Pistons all having multiple appearances. The NHL has had ten different teams appear in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Let’s extend things even further. Sixteen different teams have made LCS appearances in the last seven years — that’s more than half the teams in baseball. The NFL slightly beats baseball out — seventeen teams have made appearances in the championship game in the past seven years. But since the NFL has two more teams, that’s actually a slightly smaller percentage of the league than baseball. (The AFC has less parity than the NFC — just six AFC teams have made appearances, compared to ten NFC teams. Not only the Patriots but also the Colts, Steelers, and Raiders have made multiple appearances.) Fifteen NBA teams have made appearances in the Conference Finals. The NHL does beat baseball, with eighteen teams making Conference Finals appearances in the last seven years.
The stat that people most like to recite, though — and the one that hurts baseball — is the number of teams that have made the playoffs. Over the last seven years, 27 of the 30 NBA teams have made playoff appearances, 28 of 30 NHL teams have, and 28 of 32 NFL teams have. Compare that with baseball’s number: just 19 teams have made playoff appearances over that period.
However, that stat is flawed. Baseball takes only eight teams in its playoffs, compared to 12 in the NFL and 16 in the NBA and NHL. What if baseball had a 16-team playoff? If baseball had a sixteen-team playoff, it would have a similar figure: 27 of the 30 teams in baseball have managed to have one of the eight best records in their league sometime in the last seven years. Yes, even the Rockies, who had the NL’s eighth-best record back in 2000. Only the Pirates, Devil Rays, and Orioles would still not have made a playoff appearances if baseball had the mega-playoffs of the other major sports.
So if a friend of yours ever tells you that baseball has no parity, just look to all of this. The evidence, if it doesn’t necessarily show that baseball has more parity than the other three leagues, it at least is on the same level.
More stats for thought…
Franchises that have never made a playoff appearance: MLB-1 (Devil Rays); NFL-1 (Texans); NBA-1 (Bobcats); NHL-2 (Thrashers, Blue Jackets). All are relatively recent expansion franchises.
Franchises that have never made a finals appearance: MLB-5; NFL-6; NBA-8; NHL-7
Franchises that have never won a championship: MLB-8; NFL-15; NBA-14; NHL-14
Number of franchises that have won a championship since 1980: MLB-18; NFL-14; NBA-8; NHL-12