CAP IN HAND
By Bruce Dowbiggin
Iconic baseball writer Bill James, in 1987, frustrated with MLB’s labor stoppages
and the decline of the minor leagues, wrote that the minors “were an abomination
… if you’re selling a sport and the players don’t care about winning, that’s not
a sport. That’s a fraud … an exhibition masquerading as a contest.” Bill imagined
a better model and proposed that, as opposed to limiting the number of teams in
MLB to protect parity, a free market was capable of sustaining many more franchises
— hundreds, even — if we would just allow it to sort out the level at which those
cities might best compete.
Cap in Hand goes a step further, arguing that a free market in sports teams and
athletes once existed and could work again if the monopolists of MLB, NFL, NBA,
and NHL would simply relent from salary-restraint schemes and reserve-clause models
that result in elite talent being spread as thinly as possible and mediocrity being
rewarded via amateur drafts and equalization payments.
In fact, the model for this exists and may be the most wildly popular and monetarily
successful of all professional sports: European football.
Cap In Hand asks: what if the four major North American pro sports move beyond the
restrictive covenants of the franchise model? The product sold to fans today is
a pale copy of what it might be if the market could guide the best players to the
best teams, whose ingenuity and innovation would inspire everyone to do better and
put on a better show.
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