Fans gathered at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City this week for a pep rally ahead of the Royals' first playoff game since 1985.
People held black, gold and white "We Believe" signs during a "Let's Go Bucs!" celebration in Pittsburgh's Market Square to get ready for the Pirates' second straight playoff appearance following a 21-year absence.
Boosted by revenue-sharing money and changes in baseball's collective-bargaining agreement, many of Major League Baseball's small-market teams have revived and have a chance to reach the 10-team playoffs each October.
"I walk my dogs every day at 9 o'clock on the same 3-mile path, and in April and May, nobody stopped me. People were just driving by," said George Brett, a Hall of Famer for the Royals and now a team vice president. "Then in August and September, the same cars that had been driving by me every day are stopping, honking their horns and yelling: 'Hey, way to go Royals!' It's unbelievable. These are people I don't even know."
With the return of the Royals to the postseason, only the Marlins, Seattle and Toronto have failed to appear in the playoffs during the past decade.
"I think it's the bedrock for keeping the sport a national sport as opposed to a sport that's popular in the northeast corridor where you have bunch of rich teams," Commissioner-Elect Rob Manfred said.
Still, the championship has remained elusive for the low rollers: Every team that's won the World Series since the 2003 Florida Marlins has had a payroll among MLB's 13 highest that year.
"I don't believe there's a way to overstate the impact of the collective bargaining agreements on teams in markets like ours and Kansas City," Pirates President Frank Coonelly said. "Quite simply, without the revenue sharing agreement in Major League Baseball we couldn't exist in Pittsburgh and it would be very difficult to exist in as many as five to eight other markets in baseball."
But the measures thus far, which starting in 2012 included restraints on spending for amateur players, have not achieved as much change as some clubs would like to see take place.
"There are further steps that can and should be taken in order to continue to improve competitive balance in Major League Baseball," Coonelly said. "We have made tremendous strides, but there is still a way to go."
Despite a luxury tax designed to slow spending, the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers have raised their payroll to a record $255.9 million, according to the latest figures compiled by Major League Baseball, which include roster moves and earned bonuses through the end of the regular season.
Playoff teams also include Detroit (fourth at $173 million), San Francisco (sixth, $165 million), the Los Angeles Angels (seventh, $164 million), Washington (ninth, $146 million), St. Louis (11th, $121 million), Baltimore (14th, $112 million), Kansas City (19th, $97 million), Oakland (22nd, $92 million) and Pittsburgh ($27th, $78 million).
The New York Yankees (second, $216 million) and Boston (fifth, $168 million) missed the playoffs together for the first time since 1993 — the last four-team postseason before the switch to three-division leagues and wild cards. Philadelphia (third, $184 million) finished in last place for the first time since 2000.
"I think that what revenue sharing has done is leveled the playing field over the course of a 162-game season, and when you look at competitive balance you measure it by the number of teams who have a chance to win the World Series," Miami Marlins president Dave Samson said. "Revenue sharing does not account for the vagaries and the luck that is required to prevail in a World Series. When I look back at '03, I look back at 10 different plays that have nothing to do with payroll."
And the small-market teams think they have an advantage with younger rosters filled with more driven players.
"One of the dilemmas of our game is the money often robs the incentive of the player, and that happens sometimes, not only internationally but in the States, as well," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "Truthfully a lot of our more successful signs that I've been a part of were guys that didn't get a lot of money."
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.