Like swallows heading back to Capistrano, it’s back again: the big market vs. small market narrative you can count on being discussed like clockwork once Labor Day passes. The one shilled by ESPN and the rest of the east coast sports establishment that says money doesn’t really skew the baseball race each season. No siree, small market teams can fend for themselves just fine, thank you very much. Baseball doesn’t need to fix its big market/small market chasm because it doesn’t exist. And if it does, it’s not a chasm, just a little creek to be surmounted with a hop, a skip and Ryan Braun’s pharmacist.

Everyone has a fair chance to win. Nothing to see here.  Now move along.

Mike Lupica has championed this nonsense on behalf of his native New Yorkers for years. Now, Howard Bryant of the New York Times has taken up the torch. Last Sunday on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters, Bryant breathlessly intoned the following:

“Fifteen out of thirty teams are within 3.5 games of a playoff spot. If you’re scoring at home, that’s half the league.  It’s been a false narrative all along.  The $195M Yankees are in a dead heat with the $46M Oakland A’s.  Eight teams in the bottom half of the league in payroll are in contention, while the $170M Red Sox are in last place.  And another thing, it’s been happening for years. Nine different teams have won the World Series in the last 11 years, all without a salary cap.  Maybe money isn’t everything.”

Sure. The smug and easy way Bryant hawked his message left no doubt that for him, baseball exists in cities like New York, Boston and L.A—and everybody else can go pound sand and just continue to be the farm system to Baseball’s elite.

Of course, none of the facts Howard chose to wheel out in front of the camera were wrong, mind you. They were merely cherry picked while others were conveniently omitted.

To hear Howard tell it, the addition of another wild card, which keeps more teams in the race later, should satisfy the rabble at the bottom of the major league barrel. Of course, the fact that this means that two teams will merely see their season extended for one additional game is of no concern for our modern day Marie Antoinette.

Let them eat cake.

If Bryant were honest, he’d admit that teams like the Reds and A’s must wait for their talent to mature, in essence, wait their turn, while the penthouse Yankees throw bags of cash at agents, making sure they are in the hunt each and every year. Small market teams get one shot, maybe two, then fall back and wait for years for the next wave of talent to make another run.

Ask the Milwaukee Brewers.

Every year the Yankees don’t win the World Series, we’re told “money isn’t everything.”  Often ignored is a simple truth that while money doesn’t guarantee titles, it’s usually pretty good at reserving a seat for the playoffs, much in the same way a one hundred dollar bill handed to the maître d’ used to guarantee one a 7:00 pm table at Lutèce. Between 1995 and 2007, the Yankees never missed the playoffs. Since 2008, they have bellied up to the bar each year, like boorish dinner guests who don’t know when to go home.

Hiding out of earshot of the cry that different teams are winning the World Series each year is the simple fact that of the last 8 champions, 5 have been in the top 10 in payroll (NY, SF, Philly, Boston (twice)), 1 has been the team 11th in payroll, (St. Louis (twice)), with the 2005 winner, the White Sox, being the outlier at 13th in payroll.  The last 3 runners-up have been Texas and Philly, who have only been spending money like drunken sailors.

The fact that the New York Yankees saddled themselves with long contracts and aging players, that the crosstown NY Wilpons don’t know how to value baseball talent, or the fact that a former basketball player turned owner has blindly thrown a quarter of a billion dollars around recently trying to hit a grand slam in Chavez Ravine, doesn’t mean that everything is okay in small market flyover land.

It may fail to make the small print in Bryant’s argument, but it’s nevertheless true that big money stupidity kills the have-nots even when they fail to capitalize on their ill-gotten gains. Again, see Kansas City (Grienke), Milwaukee (Sabathia, Grienke), or the suddenly slumming NY Mets (Reyes), who’ve all seen their talent sucked away the moment free agency approached, or have chosen to trade it away rather than watch it walk, with nothing to show in return.

Now, a new argument can be made that the newly minted extra wild card team will actually turn out to favor the big money teams more than ever.

What NL team has the highest average payroll since 2008?
What NL team suddenly in the WC race, has played below .500 all year?
What NL WC team will be the most feared should they get in?

ANSWER: Philadelphia.

Prior to the invention of the Wild Card, bad baseball for 4 months got a club an early tee time in October. Those days are gone. Now, big market teams will almost certainly devote an even larger percentage of their resources to acquiring free agent pitching, knowing that it will only take a few games over .500 to land a seat in the post-season, where gold plated pitching staffs will take over, dominate and likely win. When the Phillies chose to re-sign Cole Hamels to a monster contract, rather than trade him at the deadline to a team looking for a post-season rental, their front office knew the additional WC meant that they would never be out of the race if Hamels remained on the staff in August and September—and Utley and Howard came back healthy.

And they were right.  It’s easy to see a scenario today where the Phillies grab the last Wild Card spot, sweep through the playoffs with Halladay, Lee & Hamels shutting down every opponent in sight, standing alone on Baseball’s summit at season’s end.  Call it the frighteningly new normal.

But …

should the Reds, A’s or Nationals reach the World Series next month, expect the east coast propaganda machine to go into overdrive. It will use those hard-earned success stories as another argument that money doesn’t matter so much. They will ignore the fact that while the Yankees may not finish first every year, they are right there every October. They will have you believe that the Texas Rangers success is due to Ron Washington, not the $120M they have spent this year.  And should they fail to make the post-season this month, they will surely make the Angels the poster child for their Money Isn’t Everything narrative.

Don’t you believe it.