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Parity Reigns

Six World Series champions in six seasons says there are no shortage of teams that can make a playoff push and win a title

March 25, 2007|From the Associated Press

Barry Zito thought about the San Francisco Giants' chances and was pretty pleased. Payroll no longer is supreme when it comes to World Series titles.

"In 2002, the wild card won. In '03 the wild card won. And in '04, Boston was the wild card and won," he said. "That's what's great about baseball."

Parity reigns in the major leagues, where there have been six World Series champions in six seasons for the first time since the late 1980s. So while watching the expected -- Barry Bonds' home runs, Dice-K hoopla and New York Yankees turmoil -- look for surprise teams to emerge.

Last spring, who expected the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series? How many people thought the Cardinals had a chance after they finished the regular season 83-78?

"There's no division today that you can say, `This team is going to win for sure,' " commissioner Bud Selig said. "I can see in some of the divisions three or four teams competing right to the end. In every division there's enormous competition."

There's no shortage of teams hoping for big turnarounds.

The rebuilt Chicago Cubs, who hope to keep their Series title drought from reaching a century, brought in Lou Piniella to set off sparks from the manager's office, then committed $272 million to Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis.

Philadelphia, building a team around Ryan Howard, added pitchers Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton.

"There are more teams with high expectations because of what's transpired in recent years," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. "Ownerships with $60-to-70 million payrolls are saying, `Why can't we do it?' "

Need more examples?

Milwaukee, trying to push ahead in a weak NL Central, signed St. Louis postseason star Jeff Suppan to a $42 million deal.

Toronto added two-time AL MVP Frank Thomas in an effort to break the New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox hegemony in the AL East.

"There is so much parity that you don't go into a three-, six-, nine-game stretch where you're playing any patsies anymore," Boston pitcher Curt Schilling said.

Across the major leagues, there are story lines large and small.

Much attention will be focused on Bonds -- on and off the field.

He enters with 734 homers, 21 shy of Hank Aaron's record. In addition, the 42-year-old left fielder needs 159 hits to reach 3,000, 70 RBIs to get to 2,000 and 143 runs to reach Rickey Henderson's record of 2,295.

He also takes the field with a unique clause in his $15.8 million, one-year contract. With Bonds under investigation by a grand jury for possible perjury in his 2003 testimony on steroids, the San Francisco Giants insisted on a provision that states the team can terminate the agreement if he's indicted.

While the probe into steroids by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, which is starting its second year, is looking at many players, Bonds is the most prominent target. With all the hubbub, commissioner Bud Selig hasn't committed to be in the seats for No. 756, and Bonds might be unwanted by MLB when the Giants host the All-Star game at their ballpark by the bay on July 10.

"Let them investigate. Let them, they've been doing it this long," Bonds said after his first spring training workout. "It doesn't weigh on me."

Others are heading for big numbers, too.

Tom Glavine, the ace of the New York Mets' staff while Pedro Martinez recovers from rotator cuff surgery, needs 10 wins to reach 300 and will get going right away in the major league season opener at St. Louis on April 1. Randy Johnson, back with the Arizona Diamondbacks after snarling through two unsuccessful seasons with the New York Yankees, starts the season with 280 wins.

San Diego's Trevor Hoffman is 18 saves shy of 500. Sammy Sosa, trying to restart his career with the Texas Rangers after a year off from the game, needs 12 homers to reach 600. Houston's Craig Biggio is 70 hits shy of the 3,000 club.

And then there's Roger Clemens. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner is likely to add to his 348 wins and 4,604 strikeouts. The 44-year-old Rocket won't decide until May whether to pitch for Houston, the Yankees, Boston or stay retired.

"There's days where I'm excited about it, maybe I should try it, and then three days later I'm thinking that there's no way," he said. "I don't know that I can put my body through that again."

The unhappy Yankees are coming off their ninth straight AL East title but another uneasy offseason. Manager Joe Torre nearly was fired after the first-round playoff loss to Detroit, Johnson and Gary Sheffield were traded and the team told Bernie Williams there was no room for him back in the Bronx. The Yankees haven't won the Series since 2000, and Alex Rodriguez has hinted that he might opt out of his $252 million contract after this season if he doesn't find success and appreciation.

"I want to be a Yankee and I understand my contract," A-Rod said coyly. "I understand my options."

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