Baseball postsSunday November 06, 2016
Poz Waxes (On)
“Still, we had Game 7. This beautiful and boring and riveting and flawed game of baseball, invented by nobody and everybody, taught to children by Civil War soldiers, national pastime when America was ascending, symbol of hope for integration before Birmingham and 'I Have A Dream,' this game of messy labor fights and various scandals but also of Henry Aaron and triples and hot dogs smeared with mustard, this game, even now, in the CGI world of 2016, this game can still grab us by the hearts.”
-- Joe Posnanski, “The Wonder of Game 7,” on the final game of the 2016 World Series.
Joy in Mudville
I had some friends over last night to watch Game 7 of the World Series, and it was fun, and the Cubs won in extras, and it was great to see those players, and those fans, celebrating the team's first championship since 1908. But it was all muted for me because of the machinations behind the looming presidential election. I should let go of it but I can't. It's the bullshit that gets me. The fact that a week ago FBI director James Comey changed the narrative and possibly the election based on NOTHING. Nothing. And the same right-wring frothbots are at it again. With NOTHING. They create smoke and they hope you think there's a fire.
But enough of that. Enjoy this. And rest easy, Steve Bartman.
Now that the Cubs have finally done it after 108 years, which current team has the longest championship drought? That would be their opponents last night—the team that came back in the bottom of the 8th with three runs to tie it. The team that couldn't hold on in the top of the 10th to win it. The Cleveland Indians.
Here's the new chart. “Pennants Since” means how many times they've been to the World Series since they last won a championship. Again, Cleveland is on top here. Any errors, report to me:
|Team||Last Title||Yrs Since||Pennants Since|
* Have never won a championship
** Have never been to the World Series
I still find it fascinating that for every year MLB has expanded, only one of the teams from that year has ever won a World Series championship. Even in 1969, when there were four teams that entered the Majors, only one of those teams, the KC Royals, has won a title. They've won two, in fact. The others? Padres went twice, lost twice. Brewers went once, lost once. Expos/Nats have never been.
Am I the only one who's noticed this?
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?