By Frank Deford
April 07, 2010

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-bloomin' again, every team has a chance. Well, that's true in the NFL, the NBA and the NHL, but baseball is more like Dancing With The Stars. It's understood from the start that some competitors just don't have a prayer.

We kinda, sorta suspected that Tom DeLay and Jerry Springer didn't have a legitimate chance at winning the coveted disco ball trophy against beautiful, young and agile dancers. And as long as there is no salary cap to equalize things, the Yankees and a few other rich teams are going to buy championships, while the 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 one needs proof, a British survey just revealed that the Yankees pay their players, on average, more than any other team in the world. Even more significant: The Bronx Bombers are the only MLB team in the top dozen. Baseball law really does allow the Yankees to be in a league of their own.

There are 26 divisions in the four major team sports and, in 25 of them, the American dream lives. Then there is the American League East, where the Yankees reside along with their moneybag runner-up, the Boston Red Sox. The division is so stacked, Commissioner Bud Selig has floated the idea that perhaps some desperately poor franchises be temporarily reassigned to that division. Not to improve their chances, you understand, but to give them more paydays. Higher attendance at games against Boston and New York equals big gate receipts. In college football and basketball, this shameful charity goes by the name of "guarantee games," wherein poor schools schedule themselves against famous teams, putting a price tag on the role of sacrificial lamb.

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 when drafting amateur players. So far, the Rays have done 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, essentially buying the 2009 pennant.

Sure, quirky things can happen in the playoffs. But this Opening Day we are only reminded again, that for baseball's welter of statistics, it remains a sport without a salary cap. Ultimately, the only numbers that matter are the ones that follow the dollar sign.

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