- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. Everything you thought you knew about baseball in the last decade probably could be summed up in one statement: You can't win if you don't spend money.

Want to make it to the World Series? Go to your neighborhood bank, withdraw about $100million from your savings account and hand it over to big-name free agents on the open market.

Want to make it to four straight World Series? Move to New York, develop your top minor-league prospects into future Hall of Famers, sign a bunch of veterans to gigantic contracts, start your own cable sports network (charging distributors outrageous subscription rates) and watch as a dynasty is born.

The formula worked to perfection. Rank in the upper echelon of team payrolls, and you are almost guaranteed to be playing in October.

Not anymore.

Check out the eight participants in the 2002 version of baseball's postseason. Yes, the Yankees and their $125million payroll are back yet again, but the American League's three other entries (the Anaheim Angels, Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins) have a combined payroll of $140million.

In fact, only two of the six most-expensive teams (based on Opening Day payrolls) made it to the playoffs: the Yankees and the defending champion Arizona Diamondbacks, whose $102million payroll ranked fourth in the game.

The Atlanta Braves ($93million) were ranked seventh, the San Francisco Giants ($78million) were 10th, the St. Louis Cardinals ($74million) were 13th, the Angels ($61million) were 15th.

And bringing up the rear, two of the four smallest-market teams in baseball: the Twins, who were 27th in the sport with a $40million payroll and the A's, who were just behind them at $39million.

Commissioner Bud Selig and his fellow owners, who worked so hard this summer to craft a new collective bargaining agreement in hopes of changing baseball's skewed economics, may not like this. But the varying types of clubs that made this postseason proves there is more than one way to build a winner.

No one knows that better than the small-market A's and Twins, who as fate would have it, officially christen October baseball today with Game1 of their intriguing AL Division Series.

Don't tell Billy Beane you have to shell out big bucks to make it to the playoffs; Oakland's general manager has guided his club to three straight postseason appearances despite one of the lowest payrolls in the game.

The A's have done it by developing talent from their farm system, pulling off a few shrewd trades and perhaps most importantly sticking with the plan. Beane could have hung on to MVP first baseman Jason Giambi last winter, but it would have cost him an arm and a leg and likely would have prevented him from keeping the rest of his team intact.

So while Giambi was making his $20million annual salary in New York, the A's were busy winning an AL-record 20 games in a row en route to a 103-win season tied with the Yankees for most in the majors.

At least Oakland knew it had a chance to make it to October. The Twins didn't even know if they'd make it to April.

But a court injunction prevented Minnesota from being contracted, and the low-budget Twins responded by cruising to the AL Central title and their first playoff appearance in 11 years, where they will meet none other than the A's.

This postseason isn't just about big markets and small markets, though. The Angels overcame their dreaded "mid-market" status to win 99 games and reach the playoffs for the first time since 1986. Late-season swoons had always been the norm in Anaheim, but the Angels put those demons to rest and amazingly kept pace with the A's through a dominating second half.

If the Angels are to make it to the World Series for the first time in franchise history, they'll have to go through the Bronx, where the Yankees and their 26 World Series titles await.

In the National League, the Diamondbacks open defense of their championship against the same division series opponent from a year ago: the Cardinals. Arizona has the most dominating pitching duo in modern times in Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling; St. Louis has the sentimental favorites following the deaths of pitcher Darryl Kile and announcer Jack Buck this summer.

And in the other first-round series, the pitching-heavy Braves making their 11th straight playoff appearance face the most feared hitter of his generation, the Giants' Barry Bonds, who is hoping to exorcise the demons of his past postseason failures (a career .198 batting average).

These eight teams, each taking a different path to the playoffs, each feeling like it has a chance to walk away with a World Series trophy, will play in what could be the most wide-open October in recent baseball history.

And, perhaps for the first time in a while, money may have nothing to do with it.

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