(bad luck charm David Segui)

The Baltimore Sun’s Rick Maese
grants that “the distance between winning and losing is usually immeasurable”, and a man with plenty of recent experience as a loser, concurs.  Sort of.

We already know that deep coffers is why larger-market teams set up camp atop division standings each year, but last month Orioles owner Peter Angelos offered an interesting theory as to why some mid-market teams thrive and a team like his continually struggles.

“The only answer I can give you is better luck,” Angelos told the PressBox, “as well as more astute general manager performance.”

You’d hate to peg the Orioles’ futility on any one general manager – since most have a Baltimore life span shorter than an elephant’s gestation period – so we’re forced to assume that what separates the Orioles from playoff teams is simply misfortune, superstition and clover leaves.

After all, if the Cardinals win tonight, this year’s World Series will pit St. Louis against Detroit. Like the Orioles, neither of those teams had a top-10 payroll. They must be thrilled that luck finally found them. (The Mets opened the season with baseball’s fifth-highest payroll. In total, three of this year’s eight playoff teams spent less money but had more luck than the Orioles.)

The new collective bargaining agreement, struck in 2002, was supposed to level the playing field a bit. All teams now share in 34 percent of locally generated money (a 14 percent increase from the old CBA). That money is divided evenly among the 30 franchises – thus helping mid-market teams. (Plus, the luxury tax was supposed to discourage high-rollers from paying enormous salaries.)

But what was foolishly omitted at the negotiating table was any discussion over the dispersal of luck. While some big-market teams that benefit from operating their own cable companies have enjoyed their financial cushion, many mid-market teams have had a complete monopoly on the luck market. Given their success, you’d think the Twins have kidnapped a flock of leprechauns. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Athletics general manager Billy “The Butcher” Beane cuts off the rabbit’s feet personally!

They’re not the only ones. Look at all the tiny markets that somehow lined up the stars in their favor these past nine years: Oakland, Minnesota, Detroit, San Diego, Florida, Seattle, San Francisco, Cleveland and St. Louis. Lucky fools.

Let’s not forget that the Orioles weren’t always counting nickels, waiting for their turn on the luck carousel. They led baseball in payroll in 1998, the first year of their losing slide and the last year that any team not named the Yankees topped the league in payroll. In fact, the Orioles featured a top-10 payroll in 1998, ’99, and ’00 – all losing records, all fourth-place finishes. So even when they spent money, they suffered from bad luck!