erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

Monday October 05, 2015

Alternate History: What If Baseball Had Never Gone to the Division Format?

So baseball's 2015 regular season is over and we have our 10 postseason teams, and in a short series anything goes. But I've often wondered what would've happened if baseball hadn't changed to a playoff format in 1969, and the team with the best record in each league continued to meet in the World Series.

This year we would get the Show Me Series: the St. Louis Cardinals (100-62) vs. the Kanas City Royals (95-67), 1985 Redux. AKA, the “Take Pity on Don Denkinger” Series.

We still might get it. But how likely is it? How often do the teams with the best records in each league meet in the World Series?

I'm glad you asked: 

Year AL Best Record NL Best Record AL Pennant NL Pennant
1969 Baltimore Orioles New York Mets    
1970 Baltimore Orioles Cincinnati Reds    
1971 Baltimore Orioles Pittsburgh Pirates    
1972 Oakland A's Pittsburgh Pirates   Cincinnati Reds
1973 Baltimore Orioles Cincinnati Reds Oakland A's New York Mets
1974 Baltimore Orioles Los Angeles Dodgers Oakland A's  
1975 Oakland A's Cincinnati Reds Boston Red Sox  
1976 New York Yankees Cincinnati Reds    
1977 Kansas City Royals Philadelphia Phillies New York Yankees Los Angeles Dodgers
1978 New York Yankees Los Angeles Dodgers    
1979 Baltimore Orioles Pittsburgh Pirates    
1980 New York Yankees Houston Astros Kansas City Royals Philadelphia Phillies
1981 Oakland A's Cincinnati Reds New York Yankees Los Angeles Dodgers
1982 Milwaukee Brewers St. Louis Cardinals    
1983 Chicago White Sox Los Angeles Dodgers Baltimore Orioles Philadelphia Phillies
1984 Detroit Tigers Chicago Cubs   San Diego Padres
1985 Toronto Blue Jays St. Louis Cardinals Kanas City Royals  
1986 Boston Red Sox New York Mets    
1987 Detroit Tigers St. Louis Cardinals Minnesota Twins  
1988 Oakland A's New York Mets   Los Angeles Dodgers
1989 Oakland A's Chicago Cubs   San Francisco Giants
1990 Oakland A's Pittsburgh Pirates   Cincinnati Reds
1991 Minnesota Twins Pittsburgh Pirates   Atlanta Braves
1992 Toronto Blue Jays Atlanta Braves    
1993 Toronto Blue Jays Atlanta Braves   Philadelphia Phillies
1995 Cleveland Indians Atlanta Braves    
1996 Cleveland Indians Atlanta Braves New York Yankees  
1997 Baltimore Orioles Atlanta Braves Cleveland Indians Florida Marlins
1998 New York Yankees Atlanta Braves   San Diego Padres
1999 New York Yankees Atlanta Braves    
2000 Chicago White Sox San Francisco Giants New York Yankees New York Mets
2001 Seattle Mariners Houston Astros New York Yankees Arizona Diamondbacks
2002 New York Yankees Atlanta Braves Los Angeles Angels San Francisco Giants
2003 New York Yankees Atlanta Braves   Florida Marlins
2004 New York Yankees St. Louis Cardinals Boston Red Sox  
2005 Chicago White Sox St. Louis Cardinals   Houston Astros
2006 New York Yankees New York Mets Detroit Tigers St. Louis Cardinals
2007 Boston Red Sox Arizona Diamondbacks   Colorado Rockies
2008 Los Angeles Angels Chicago Cubs Tampa Bay Rays Philadelphia Phillies
2009 New York Yankees Los Angeles Dodgers   Philadelphia Phillies
2010 Tampa Bay Rays Philadelphia Phillies Texas Rangers San Francisco Giants
2011 New York Yankees Philadelphia Phillies Texas Rangers St. Louis Cardinals
2012 New York Yankees Cincinnati Reds Detroit Tigers San Francisco Giants
2013 Boston Red Sox St. Louis Cardinals    
2014 Los Angeles Angels Washington Nationals Kansas City Royals San Francisco Giants

For the first three years, it was a wash. Same same. Then divergence. If it seems the divergence got worse, it did, because the playoffs became more complex: from best-of-five LDS until 1984, to best-of-seven LDS until 1993, to a two-tiered playoffs with wild card that we have today.

But back to the question: How likely is it for a team with the best record in its league to make the World Series?

  • Best-of-five LCS (1969-1984): 56%
  • Best-of-seven LCS (1985-1993): 61%
  • Wild card era: best-of-five LDS, then a best-of-seven LCS (1995-present): 32%

Some observations:

  • The Braves have suffered the most from the playoff format. They had the best record in the NL nine times but only went to the World Series five times, for a deficit of 4. 
  • Cubs and Pirates also suffered. Both have deficits of 3. That's right: in a non-playoff format, the Cubbies would've gone to the World Series three times in the last 30-odd years: in '84, '89 and '08.
  • The Giants have benefitted most from the playoff format: best record once (in 2000, when they lost to the Mets in the LDS), but five World Series appearances for a net gain of 4. 
  • The Yankees have a deficit of 1, so they'd have 41 pennants rather than 40. Also their period of domination would've been more recent. No pennants in '96, '00 or '01, but pennants in 2006, '11 and '12.
  • The two teams that have never been to the Series (the Mariners and Nats), each would've gone ('01 and last year), but now four teams would be no shows, since they're all post-'68 teams that have never had the best record in their league: Rockies, Marlins, Padres and Rangers. 

We would've gotten Royals/Phillies in '77 rather than '80. The Braves wouldn't have gone in '91 but would've gone in every subsequent year in the decade, plus '02 and '03. In 2000, the Yankees/Mets subway series would've been replaced by the White Sox/Giants series, but would've reemerged in '06.

Certain teams seem to do particularly well when they have the best record. The BoSox led the AL in wins three times, and each of those times ('86, '07, '13) they won the pennant. And good news for Cardinals fans: Six times they've had the best record in the NL and five of those times they made the Fall Classic (2005 was the misstep).

But overall the playoff format seems tailor-made for upstarts. It's October 5, 2015, and a whole new season. 

Cubs vs. Athletics: 1989 World Series

Who could forget the great Cubs-A's World Series of 1989?

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Posted at 06:18 AM on Oct 05, 2015 in category Baseball
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Sunday October 04, 2015

It's the Last Day of Baseball's Regular Season: How Did April's Predictions Go?

It's the last day of the regular baseball season so a good time to check out how all those predictions went back in April. We live in such a predictive culture but we always forget this part. The accountability part. 

Here, for example, is Sports Illustrated's four “Baseball Preview” covers from April:

Sports Illustrated: four covers from 2015 Baseball Preview issue


These aren't exactly predictions—they went with teams that traditionally win bupkis—but they went with the wrong teams. Doesn't help combat the myth of the SI cover jinx, does it? 

In a way it's even worse over at Grantland, where, on April 6, six writers predicted how the season would go. Put it this way: It went better than their predictions. 

There are 10 postseason positions, five for each league, meaning 60 predictions in all from these six writers. They divided them into division winners and wild card winners but I'll just take them all at face value. Choose the Blue Jays as a wild card and that's good enough for me.

So how many of the 60 slots did these experts get right? Twenty-one. 

That's 35%. Keep in mind, 10 of the 30 MLB teams, or 33%, make it, so 35% is almost bare minimum. The experts at Grantland did about as well as a horse stomping its foot might do. 

Or worse? None of the pennant winners the six writers chose are still in the running. Four of the writers picked the Nats in the NL, two went with the Miami Marlins. In the AL, we got four Sox rooters (two Red, two White), one dude chose the M's while the sixth went with the Angels. In a way, the Angels guy wins. They weren't eleminated until today, so he was closest. Kudos.

And in the AL? Good god. Of the 30 possible slots, they got three right. Three. Three Blue Jays. No one predicted Texas or Kansas City, last year's A.L. pennant winner. Everyone thought the Yanks would be a no-show again. No one thought Houston would go anywhere. 

Maybe this is the beauty of baseball. It can still surprise us. 

Except for the St. Louis Cardinals, of course, who enter the postseason for the fifth year in a row. And of course my Seattle Mariners, who don't enter the postseason for the 14th year in a row. Now that the Blue Jays are in, that's the current record in postseason woes. 

Wait 'til ... Aw, screw it. 

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Posted at 02:47 PM on Oct 04, 2015 in category Baseball
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Saturday October 03, 2015

Catch of the Day: Kevin Pillar

This was yesterday:

Kevin Pillar Superman catch

Superman comes to mind. You can see it here

Posted at 03:11 PM on Oct 03, 2015 in category Baseball
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Thursday September 24, 2015

Yogi Berra: 1925-2015

Yogi Berra

There are some amazing stats and facts about Yogi Berra, who died yesterday at the age of 90.

He was a three-time MVP who played in more World Series games than anyone in baseball history—and by a long shot: 75 games vs. 65 games for second-place Mickey Mantle*. He's the only man to ever catch a perfect game in the World Series. Every season in which he played more than 100 games, which is every season from 1947 to 1961, he received MVP votes. Every one. He was a 15-time All-Star with 13 World Championship rings. Oddly, he never led the league in anything: runs, RBIs, doubles. Nada. But he had a career OPS of .830, he was part of the D-Day landing, and he had a cartoon bear named after him. He was beloved even by inveterate Yankee haters. Maybe you know some of those. For inveterate Yankee haters, he was also the guy in left field when Bill Mazeroski's ball sailed over the left field wall at Forbes Field to win the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  

(*Berra's World Series games played record will probably never be broken. If you played 20 years and got to the World Series in half of those years and every World Series went to seven games and you played in every one of those games, you would still be five short of tying Berra's mark. Didn't it seem like Derek Jeter was in the World Series forever? Well, guess how many World Series games he played in? Thirty-eight. Halfway.) 

This is my favorite Yogi stat: In five different seasons, he had more homeruns than strikeouts. Only Joe DiMaggio did it more often (seven times). Yogi came pretty close to doing it in his career, too: 414 Ks against 358 homeruns. He was a famous bad-ball hitter but he put that ball in play. If I hit it, he liked to say, it wasn't a bad pitch. has a nice piece on the friendship between Berra and Derek Jeter, in which we get the following story:

One day after Jeter swung and missed on a high, full-count pitch, Berra asked him, “What the hell are you doing swinging at that? You looked terrible.”

Jeter reminded Berra that he used to swing at pitches out of the strike zone all the time.

“But I hit them,” Yogi shot back. “You don't.”

(For the record, Jeter struck out 1,840 times against 260 homers.)

But Yogi isn't known for stats and facts—no matter how interesting. He's known for saying shit: 

  • Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded.
  • You got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there.
  • If you can't imitate 'em, don't copy 'em.
  • It ain't over til it's over.

A good Yogi-ism is tough to come up with. When they made them up for various commercials he starred in (Miller Lite, Aflac), they fall flat. The stuff writers came up with paled next to the master in his domain. It helps if they're illogical in a mathematical sense but logical in a human sense. They shouldn't make sense but do. 

Stories about Yogi are even better. This may be my favorite. After he retired, Berra was on a radio show and the broadcaster told him beforehand:

“We're going to do free association. I'm going to throw out a few names, and you just say the first thing that pops into your mind.”

“O.K.,” said Berra.

They went on the air. “I'm here tonight with Yogi Berra,” said the host, “and we're going to play free association. I'm going to mention a name, andYogi's just going to say the first thing that comes to mind. O.K., Yogi?”


“All right, here we go then. Mickey Mantle.”

“What about him?” said Berra.

That still makes me laugh. 

This story is lesser-known but just as apt in delineating the man. It's from Bill Pennington's recent book “Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius,” about the infamous dugout explosion between Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin on national television in the summer of '77:

Billy charged at Reggie. But Yogi Berra, who had known Billy since 1949—and like Rizzuto knew when an explosion was about to occur—had already positioned himself between Reggie and Billy. Elston Howard, another coach and former 1950s teammate of Billy's, made it his assignment to corral Reggie. Unnoticed in the drama, the two men had maneuvered like trained bar bouncers accustomed to defusing confrontations. Watching the two former Yankees catchers move tactically and in tandem without saying a word was Ron Guidry, the young pitcher who was sitting on the dugout bench. As Guidry told author Harvey Araton, Berra and Howard both stood up as soon as Billy told Blair to get his glove. “They had the smarts to know that this doesn't look good, something's going to happen here,” Guidry told Araton. “Nobody else did, just them. ...”

Berra, fifty-two years old, was a bear of a man at the time, and he grabbed Billy by the belt and the crotch, which is an especially effective way to control someone. “Yogi had hands like vises,” Billy said later. “I wanted to get at Reggie in the worst way but Yogi had ahold of me.”

He was always in the midst of things. As Joe Posnanski reminds us, from 1957 to 1985, no New York team went to the World Series without Yogi on the squad as player, coach or manager. He played for the Yankees in '57, '58, '60, '61, '62 and '63. He was the player-manager for the '64 squad but got fired after the Yankees lost the Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. (The Yankees didn't appear in the World Series after that for another 12 years.) He was a coach on the '69 Mets, manager of the '73 Mets, and coach on the Yankee squads in the “Bronx Zoo” turmoil of '76, '77, '78 and '81. He became manager in '84 but was fired 16 games into the '85 season. (The Yankees didn't appear in the World Series after that for another 11 years.) The '86 Mets was the first New York team to go to the Series without Berra since '57. Interestingly, he was coaching the team that nearly prevented them getting there: the '86 Astros.

His last game as a player was on May 9, 1965. As a Met, he faced Tony Cloninger of the Milwaukee Braves and went 0-4 with three strikeouts. The man who rarely struck out couldn't abide that. “I didn't go out there to be embarrassed,” he said and quit the next day.

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Posted at 06:37 AM on Sep 24, 2015 in category Baseball
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Sunday September 06, 2015

Dumbest. Sign. Ever.

Today, Major League Baseball and the Baltimore Orioles are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the magical night that Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,131st consecutive game and thus passed Lou Gehrig's longstanding mark of 2,130 consecutive games. 

It's also the 20th anniversary of the magical night a fan brought the dumbest sign ever to a Major League ballpark.

A photo of both was on the back cover of the 1998 book, “Sporting News Selects The 100 Greatest Baseball Players,” which I reviewed for The Grand Salami back in the day:

It is September 6, 1995, and Cal Ripken is jogging the perimeter of Camden Yards, high-fiving fans. Everyone is excited, cheering. Different people are holding up different placards: “2131: Iron Man” and “We Love You Cal.” And in the center of this celebration a fan brandishes a homemade sign which reads, “Lou Who?”

Lou Who? What goes through such a fan's mind? Does he imagine that in playing in his 2,131st consecutive game, Cal Ripken has just defeated Lou Gehrig in the same way that, say, Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston? That with Gehrig sprawled on the canvas we have to forget him now? That, as Patton put it, Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser, and that's just what Lou Gehrig is now, a loser, because he's only second on the all-time consecutive games list?

I no longer own that book (why, right?), but I searched the vastest, searchiest reservoir of human data ever created, and came up with ... this one shot:

Lou Who? Ripken's 2,131st consecutive game 

It's tough to read but there it is, right above the “[Heart] You Cal” sign.

“Lou Who?” Jesus. 

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Posted at 10:56 AM on Sep 06, 2015 in category Baseball
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