Baseball postsMonday October 24, 2016
2016 World Series: Who Do You Root For?
If our team isn't in it, and we're not assholes, we tend to root for underdogs. The world is so unfair we want to add a little bit of balance to it, a little justice. We want something to come out right for once.
This year's World Series is an embarrassment of riches in this regard. The two teams, Cubs and Indians, aren't just underdogs, they're the underdoggiest teams in baseball history: the two franchises that have waited the longest for a championship.
So who to root for? Let's count it out:
- Last World Series championship: The Cleveland Indians have the longest championship drought in the A.L. and the second-longest in the Majors: When they last won the World Series, in 1948, Harry S. Truman was president. The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, have the longest championship drought not only in the Majors but probably the known universe: When they last won the World Series, Roosevelt was president. No, not Franklin; Teddy. It was 1908. That's 108 years ago for those scoring at home. Advantage: Cubs.
- Last previous pennant: For the Indians, relatively recent: 1997. For the Cubs, infamously not: 1945. Advantage: Cubs.
- Total pennants: If the Cubs haven't won one since 1945, they must be at a big disadvantage, right? Nope. They actually sweep the Indians in this category, 11-6. Cubbies won flags in: 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945 and 2016. That one in '45? At that time, they had the third-most pennants in baseball history—after the Yankees and Giants. Indians aren't even close: 1920, 1948, 1954, 1995, 1997 and 2016. They have the second-fewest pennants among original-16 teams, after the Chicago White Sox. Advantage: Indians.
- Total championships: It's a wash, 2-2. The Cubs lost their first Series in '06 against the crosstown “hitless wonders” ChiSox, but then won the next two in '07 and '08. In fact, they became the first team in MLB to win two World Series. And there they stopped. The Indians also won their first two, 1920 and 1948, and then stopped. No advantage.
- Opening Day payroll: Cubs: $186 million, fifth-most in baseball. Indians: $114 million, 22nd-most in baseball. No other team in the bottom half even made it to the postseason, let alone the World Series. Advantage: Indians.
- Injuries: The Indians made it this far despite injuries to half of their starting rotation. The Cubs lost Kyle Schwarber two games into the season and haven't missed a beat. The biggest injury for the Cubs, in a way, has been to Jason Heyward, he of the $180 million contract, who isn't injured; he just can't hit anymore. Advantage: Indians.
- The 2004 Red Sox factor: The 2004 Red Sox helped change the world. It was a franchise with its own blighted history—no championship since 1918; oh so painfully close in 1946, 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986 and 2003—and in the ALCS they were playing the biggest bastards in all of professional sports, the New York Yankees, who, at the time, had been to 39 World Series and won 26 of them. They'd been to six of the last eight Series and won four of them. They were massively efficient, corporate tyrants. And they were about to do it again: up 3 games to 0 in a best-of-seven series. No team in baseball history had ever come back from those odds—let alone against the winningest team in all of professional sports. But the 2004 Red Sox did. And it changed everything. And two of the architects of that team were manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein. Francona now manages the Indians, Epstein is now Grand Poobah of the Cubs. Whose magic will continue? Who knows? Either way, it's a wash.
- The Ex-Yankees closer factor: If you'd told Yankees fan at the start of the year that both Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman would be in the Series, they would've been ecstatic, since both pitched for the Yanks in April. If you'd told them that they'd be pitching for opposite teams, they'd think, “Well, at least one of the teams is the Yankees.” Then you go for the kill. Fun! Advantage: us.
- Movies about each team: The Indians' “Major League” trumps the Cubs in “Rookie of the Year” any day of the week. Do the Indians get dinged for all of those sequels? And for Charlie Sheen? Maybe. But not enough. Advantage: Indians.
- The logo factor: This one isn't even close. One team has a cute cuddly animal as its logo, the other uses a caricature of a member of a wide swath of people who were systematically slaughtered by our country in its constant, manifest push west. In many ways I'm a traditionalist, but it's beyond time for the Cleveland organization to lose that logo and possible its nickname. Big advantage: Cubs.
The tally comes out 4-3 in favor of the Indians, but they win some squeakers, while the Cubs, well, the Cubs have 1908 and 1945. Hard to top that. Let alone the logo battle. I get the feeling I'll be rooting for the Cubs.
But sometimes you never know until the game actually begins. That's Tuesday night, 5:08 Pacific time, on Fox.
And Then There Were Four
A year ago, the Toronto Blue Jays were the team with the longest postseason drought.
Today they're the remaining 2016 team with the most recent World Series title:
|TEAM||LAST PENNANT||LAST TITLE|
|Toronto Blue Jays||1993||1993|
That's good news for baseball fans. For the World Series, we are at least going to get a team that hasn't won a pennant since '97 or a World Series since '93. Those are worst-case scenarios.
The bigger news is we're on the verge of a potentially historic underdog series, Indians vs. Cubs, or a team that hasn't won the World Series since 1948 (longest AL drought) vs. a team that hasn't won since 1908 (longest MLB drought by far). That would be something. Let's see both of them lose that.
That said, the Cubs aren't as historically bad as people think. They were the first team to go to the World Series twice (1906, 1907) and to win it twice (1907, 1908). And that pennant in 1945? It was their 10th overall. At that point, only the Yankees (14) and the Giants (12) had captured more flags.
Hell, despite this historic drought, they still average one pennant every 11 years, which is a better average than both the Blue Jays and Indians. It's only when you look at average years between titles that their historic ineptitude becomes obvious:
|Toronto Blue Jays||37||7||2||2||18.5||18.5|
* Since advent of World Series in 1903, excluding 1904, 1994 and this year.
(And if you're curious, yes, the Yankees slaughter everyone in each of these categories. They have 52 postseason appearances (Dodgers are second), 40 pennants (Giants are second w/20), 27 titles (Cards: 11). They average a pennant once every 2.75 years, and a championship once every 4.07 years. It's why we hate them.)
(BTW: For the above, I did not factor in the number of overall MLB teams during every given year of each team's existence. In other words, it was statistically easier to win a pennant/title from 1903 to 1960 when there were only 16 teams, rather than the 18 teams in 1961, the 20 teams from 1962 to 1968, the 24 teams from 1969 to 1976, the 26 teams until '92, and 28/30 teams in the '90s. This kind of calculation goes beyond my decidedly amateur stats brain. Others are welcome to have at.)
So how likely is Cubs vs. Indians, the ultimate historic underdog showdown?
The 2016 numbers don't look bad. Cleveland was 4-3 against Toronto this year, while Cubs went 4-3 against LA.
More, the Cubs had the best run differential in baseball (+256), while the Indians were 4th-best (+101). Jays were 5th (+93), Dodgers 6th (+87).
But it's October, they're short series, and anything can happen. We find out starting tonight at 5 PM PST.
Killebrew Goes Deep in '71 All-Star Game
Mouse over for the follow-through:
In the early '90s I was living in a group home near Green Lake, with, among others, Alex, Parker and my good friend Mike Busick, Mr. B, who had a VHS recording of the '71 All-Star Game. One night, one hot stove league, I watched it. I knew it was the Reggie AS game (as opposed to the Pete Rose/Ray Fosse game from the previous year): the game in which Reggie, still in Oakland greens and without the pornstar 'stache he would wear in the Bronx, launched a monster homer off the transom in Tiger Stadium—one of the longest homeruns anyone's ever hit in the All-Star Game. Or anywhere, really.
What I didn't know? Five other players, all future Hall of Famers, went deep in that game: Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, and the man above. The wind was blowing strongly to right, and most of the homers went there. Not Killer's. His was launched into the wind and landed in the left-field bleachers. In Mr. B's room, when I saw it go out, I began to cheer like I was watching a live game. I cracked up Mr. B. “You do know this happened 20 years ago,” he said. It felt new all the same. I felt like a kid again.
But just look at that list. When these guys retired, they were, on the all-time homerun list, No.s 1 (Aaron), 4 (F. Robinson), 5 (Killebrew), and 6 (Jackson), while Bench had the most HRs for a catcher ever, and Clemente was a few months away from World Series glory, and 18 months away from his death flying relief supplies to earthquake victimes in Managua, Nicaragua.
Have six greater players ever hit homeruns in the same game? How could that even be possible?
The 300-Strikeout Pitchers
Sandy, Randy, and He.
First, here's the bigger trivia question. It's the one baseball fans can really mull over and have fun with at a bar with a friend:
Name the 15 pitchers in the modern era (post-1900) who have struck out 300 or more batters in a season.
Some you'll get right away (Koufax, Ryan, Randy, Feller). Some take a while (Richard, Schilling). Some you might not get (Blue, Scott).
Here are a few follow-up trivia questions that I think are a little more interesting:
- In which three decades of the modern era did no pitcher strike out 300 batters in a season?
- In which decade did the most pitchers strike out 300 batters?
- Who was the first pitcher to strike out 300 or more batters in different decades?
- 1920s, '30s, '50s
- 1970s: six pitchers, 11 times (no other decade is close)
- Sudden Sam McDowell: 1965, 1970
Here's the chart:
|1900s||2||Rube Waddell (2)|
|1910s||2||Walter Johnson (2)|
|1960s||4||Sandy Koufax (3)||Sam McDowell|
|1970s||11||Sam McDowell||Mickey Lolich||Vida Blue|
|Steve Carlton||Nolan Ryan (5)||J.R. Richard (2)|
|1980s||2||Mike Scott||Nolan Ryan|
|1990s||7||Randy Johnson (3)||Curt Schilling (2)||Pedro Martinez (2)|
|2000s||4||Randy Johnson (3)||Curt Schilling|
What happened in the 1970s? I assume it's some combo of the easy targets from expansion franchises (four joined MLB in 1969) and starting ptichers going long into games; before the rise of relief specialists. In the '90s the whiffs went up all around baseball, and you had three dominant strikeout pitchers that tended to last long into games, but since then (despite all the Ks) we've entered a fallow 300-K period again.
The fallowest period was the first six decades of the 20th century, when only three pitchers managed to strike out 300+ in a season: Waddell, Johnson, Feller. Then expansion came, Koufax arrived, and we were off to the races.
Last year we had Kershaw squeaking over with 301. This year, with a month to go, Max Scherzer, helped by a 20-strikeout perfromance against Detroit in July, leads the Majors with 227. That's 73 away. He averages about 8.4 Ks per game and looks to have another seven or so games to pitch. That's about 15 short. And the Nats have no more games scheduled against Detroit.
A-Rod's Last Game...in Pinstripes Anyway
Will the last player retiring from Major League Baseball please turn out the lights?
Seriously, suddenly it seems like everyone's going like that. It's not Derek Jeter's farewell tour, which seemed to last for-fucking-ever. This month it's: Mark Teixeira is done in September. Prince Fielder is done now. Oh, and Alex Rodriguez is done now, too. So sayeth the Yankees.
There's a story with A-Rod that we're not hearing yet—the way the Yankees forced him out so quickly, with so little fanfare, with such disrespect, four homeruns shy of a mythical 700. It's not befitting the way one of the best goes out. Or maybe the best do go out this way: Both Babe Ruth (after age and owner lies and a trade to the Boston Braves) and Ken Griffey Jr. (after age and rumors and negative reports) retired on the same day, June 2, exactly 75 years apart. They were here and then they were gone. Not everybody gets the year-long birthday party Jeter got.
In the first plate appearance of his last game, Alex hit a line-drive RBI double in the gap; then a few 6-3s, a K, and Joe Girardi let him play third for one ceremonial out in the 9th. I'm glad he got the double. Suddenly I wanted better for him. Suddenly I was rooting for him. But even the weather was against him. It literally rained on his parade—his pregame ceremony. It got cut short. People had to run for cover. Words were left unsaid.
Grabbing dirt, post-game: a fan again.
At the start of the year, per my annual slideshow, A-Rod was the active leader in nine batting categories. Who's taking over? Mostly Albert, with a little bit of Adrian, and an Ichiro and a Ryan tossed in:
- Games: Adrian Beltre (2676)
- At-Bats: Adrian Beltre (10,134)
- Hits: Ichiro (3,002)
- Home runs: Albert Pujols (581)
- RBIs: Albert Pujols (1785)
- Runs: Albert Pujols (1647)
- Strikeouts: Ryan Howard (1810)
- Walks: David Oritz (1299) --> Albert Pujols (1208)
- Career WAR: Albert Pujols (100.7)
A-Rod retires 3rd all-time in RBIs, 4th all-time in homeruns, 5th in strikeouts, 6th in total bases, 6th in extra-base hits, 8th in runs, 14th in HBP, 20th in hits, 25th in games played, 25th in slugging percentage, 30th in doubles, 35th in walks, and 37th in OPS. He won three MVP awards, and should've won five. He's got a ring. There were two PED scandals. He was booed forever and even before the PEDs. It was the $252 million contract, the Slap Heard 'Round the World, the aura. He seemed to love himself too much but it was probably the opposite. He always seemed aware of himself in the moment. Part of himself seemed outside himself, watching. How did he play at that level that way? He actually seemed vulnerable. I've never seen a great baseball player so poorly outfitted with “fuck you” armor.
So much coulda woulda shoulda.
Even his retirement is in quotes. He's gone from the Yankees but maybe some other team will take him, and give him a shot at 700. We've got a month and a half of the season to go. I think that would be a great farewell: making noise, and gate receipts, for some team other than the Yankees.