While I've discussed it in some detail in previous posts, I thought it would be good to write one comprehensive post explaining it fully, and clarifying both what it is and is not. For the first time I can recall in my life, I'm writing an FAQ, and answers will be as detailed as I think is necessary.
What is the Oligopoly?
Simply put, the Oligopoly is a select group of Major League Baseball franchises that are also media favorites. The theory is that starting in 2006, some inexplicable force has kept anyone outside this select group from winning the World Series.
So this is a conspiracy theory?
No, because I don't believe there's anyone conspiring. I don't think anyone is rigging games or pulling strings to get a certain result. It's just something that happens. There seems to be an intangible sort of magic that carries one of these franchises to the championship every year.
What are you saying, that there's voodoo involved?
I make absolutely no claim to know how it works, I just observe the pattern. Perhaps the good vibes from the media somehow give these franchises a psychological boost. I just don't know.
Which franchises are in the Oligopoly?
Any franchise that's won the World Series since 2006 is an obvious member, meaning the Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees and Giants. Other franchises believed to be Oligopoly members are the Dodgers and Mets, since the national media would obviously have no objection to either one winning the World Series. There are other franchises that may or may not be Oligopoly members, such as the Angels, Braves and Cubs, but one can't be certain.
Wait just a second here...you don't even know for certain who's in it?
I'm only saying I don't know the full extent of the Oligopoly. While the Angels and Braves aren't overwhelming media favorites, I could see a title for either franchise being favorably received by the media. As for the Cubs, while they're a clear media favorite, they're also a franchise that derives a lot of mystique from not winning the World Series, so perhaps the media would be disappointed not to have that narrative any longer. There are other teams you could make cases for, so I wouldn't necessarily rule them out, but I don't believe they're members.
This makes no sense! Why would a franchise in a relatively small market like the Cardinals be in it instead of a bigger-market franchise like the White Sox, or even the Tigers?
Because neither one of those franchises has ever dominated historically, and both lack a brand that transcends their region. The Cardinals are one of baseball's flagship franchises, and let's face it, the media never tire of talking about what a strong organization they have.
OK, but what about the Phillies? You claim they're in the Oligopoly, but do you really think they have a brand that transcends their region?
No, and I wouldn't say the Mets do either. However, I believe the Mets to be Oligopoly members, because the media have always loved giving them attention, and the Phillies are part of the northeast regional media lovefest. Before the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, the city's title drought that extended back to 1983 got tons of media play, despite being dwarfed by the droughts of cities like San Diego, Buffalo and Cleveland. The media like talking about Philadelphia enough that a Phillie World Series title, while nowhere near as glamorous as say, a Yankee title, is still pretty darn cool to them.
It sounds to me like you're working backwards. Aren't you just making a post hoc rationalization for why certain teams win?
I can see how it would look that way to the skeptic, but I ask you to take a look at some of the teams that have lost the World Series since the start of the Oligopoly: The 2006 Tigers, 2007 Rockies, 2008 Rays, 2010-11 Rangers, 2012 Tigers and 2014 Royals. Right there you have seven teams. All are from franchises that aren't particular media favorites, and none has a widely-recognizable brand. Each of them lost to a team that fit the Oligopoly criteria. The only one on that list I'd consider clearly inferior to their opponent is the 2007 Rockies. Given normal odds, you'd think at least one or two of these teams would've won. It sure seems like more than a coincidence, doesn't it?
But the Royals came close! They lost Game 7 of the World Series by a single run! What if they had won that game?
Then I would have declared the Oliopoly dead. However, they didn't win, so it does nothing to refute the theory.
Why do you use 2006 as a cutoff? Is there something special about that date?
Because the 2005 White Sox are the last World Series Champion I don't believe to be part of the Oligopoly. My little pet theory is that as a White Sox fan, this is my punishment for finally being allowed to see them win it, but I don't necessarily believe that. Why it started at that time remains, like most things Oligopoly-related, a mystery.
So you think this Oligopoly is just going to continue for all eternity, and no one outside this group is ever going to win the World Series again?
No. I have a feeling it'll come to an end at some point, and I'll probably be rejoicing when it does. For the time being though, we're stuck under the dark cloud of media favorite dominance.
What would it take for you to declare the Oligopoly dead?
A team would have to win the World Series that is a clear non-media favorite. If I can't plausibly argue that said team is an Oligopoly member, then it will be proof that the Oligopoly is no longer in effect.
And which teams would those be?
There are 14 teams I am all but certain are not in the Oligopoly. If one of them won the World Series, I'd declare the Oligopoly dead:
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Cincinnati Reds
- Cleveland Indians
- Colorado Rockies
- Houston Astros
- Kansas City Royals
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Minnesota Twins
- Oakland Athletics
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- San Diego Padres
- Seattle Mariners
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Toronto Blue Jays
I'm nearly certain about the following teams being non-members too, but I could imagine a case being made for any of them. If one of them won the World Series, I'd probably declare the Oligopoly dead, but there'd be lingering doubts:
- Baltimore Orioles
- Chicago White Sox
- Detroit Tigers
- Miami Marlins
- Texas Rangers
- Washington Nationals
Doesn't any of this sound nuts to you?
Sure. I don't want to believe this is true, but after seeing the same thing happen year after year, it's hard not to feel like it's true. I would love to have optimism about the teams I like getting a chance to hoist the World Series trophy, but the Oligopoly has numbed me to such hopes. Hopefully it'll come to an end sooner rather than later. Until it does though, I'll continue to be a pessimist.