Maher's routine was funny. It was also dead wrong. It's true that Major League Baseball, compared to the NFL, has an almost absurdly unstructured
economy; so-called big-market teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox are in a different stratosphere than small-market franchises such as the Pirates
and Royals because most of their income derives from not from national television contracts, but from local TV deals.
And Maher is correct, more or less, when he says, "The NFL takes all the wealth and puts it in a big commie pie and slices it up 32 ways, one
for each team" because "they don't want anyone to fall too far behind." Actually, NFL owners could care less about who falls behind: they split their
TV revenue in equal shares in order to keep teams from getting into bidding wars for players. Dividing up the major source of revenue into same-size
slices of the commie pie is an effective way to hold down worker salaries.
Here, though, is the point: Though few seem to understand it, baseball's relatively unrestrained free market system produces fairer results than pro football's socialism. From the first Super Bowl in January, 1967, to February's clash between the Packers and
Steelers, there have been 45 Super Bowls featuring 27 different teams, with 17 different teams winning the championship. The last 45 World Series have
also featured 27 different teams, but with 20 different clubs going all the way.
If we take the comparison from the beginning of this century, baseball still comes out ahead. From 2001 through last year, both MLB and the NFL saw 14
different teams place in the 20 slots for their championship game. But football has had just seven different winners over those ten seasons, while
baseball has had nine.
Why is this? One might argue that pro football's policy of wealth distribution discourages some teams from even trying to compete. After all, the
Pirates did win the Series in 1971 and 1979, while the Cleveland Browns (either in their old manifestation or rebirth in 1999) and Detroit Lions have
never even been to a Super Bowl. And it is no small point that a large part of NFL football's seeming parity is an illusion: The league has 12
postseason spots for it's 32 teams, so 37.5 percent of the clubs will get a playoff berth. Baseball has room for just eight playoff teams out of 30, or
So, yes, Major League Baseball does have a problem trying to get teams like the Pirates into the Fall Classic - and the Bucs, who are currently 16.5
games out of first place in heir division, won't be going this year, either. Meanwhile, the NFL has a problem just as serious which few even
acknowledge, namely how to get teams without much economic incentive out of their mediocrity mode. The New York Jets play in sport's biggest market,
yet they haven't won the Super Bowl in 41 seasons. Even Bill Maher might concede that after more than four decades, Jets fans are ready for a little
more free-market stew and a little less commie pie.