What This Weekend’s AL Games Said About Small-Market Teams

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Over the weekend, something relatively unpredictable happened. Two teams, the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, both in the American League, managed to sweep both of their series on the way to the ALCS, the American League Champion Series.

That’s not the unexpected part, although, for the Royals, who haven’t made the playoffs for nearly 30 years, it was a nice bout of continued success. No, what occurred this weekend was half a validation of Sandlot-style childhood feats of finesse that attract people to the games in the first place, as well as the oft-touted but not-so-often-seen victories over larger-market teams by their less-glamorous contemporaries. And, no, the Cardinals winning doesn’t count toward that. Sorry.

At the start of the season, no one would’ve picked the Royals to be playing in the ALCS, not even Royals fans. While the players may feel that they’re “over the stage of ‘happy just being there,’ ” as Eric Hosmer, first baseman, told The Kansas City Star after the team’s clinching victory, it went a long way toward creating the most expensive LCS tickets over the last half decade in either league, per Forbes.

“With a population of under 500,000, Kansas City has less residents than any of those cities, and just about 5% of New York City’s population.  Despite those population discrepancies, the average price for the 2012 Yankees ALCS tickets at Yankee stadium was $451, or just 62% of the price for the upcoming series in Kansas City,” wrote the publication. In second place? That’d be the Giants in 2012, followed by the Red Sox’s “pinch me, are we dreaming” appearance, which had an average price of $678; the average Royals ticket is now going for $732.

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This is the point where we mention that Kansas City is the second least valuable team in the MLB, according to Bloomberg, and that the Los Angeles Angels are, well, not. They’re one of the most valuable, actually, one of the perks of being an L.A.-based team. As you might expect, the Angels have the payroll to match their value, with the third highest in the entire MLB. For fans of the idea of competitive balance, Kansas City’s victory was not only historically improbable, given the franchise, but also fiscally endearing. And that’s true for the Orioles, as well.

Coming off a clean sweep over the Detroit Tigers, the Orioles haven’t been quite as starved for the postseason as their Kansas City compatriots — although they haven’t managed to win a World Series since 1983 — and they’re not quite as cash-strapped as an organization as a whole, but their win over the Tigers still proved that a team with more than $62 million in salary deficit (all team salary info is per Spotrac) can still make waves. Furthermore, in just four games, fans will be able to see their teams in the World Series for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president, and that’s pretty cool. We’re down with competitive balance.