Sunday, October 19, 2014

2014 World Series notes/oddities

By Rick Morris

^ San Francisco’s return to the World Series for the third time in five years highlights perhaps baseball’s most-durable-yet-least-talked-about trend: having a handful of teams dominating pennants in one decade, followed by many different teams going to the Fall Classic in the next.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  Let’s go back to the early decades of the game: in the 1910s, nine teams made it to the World Series, followed by exactly nine again in the 1920s and then eight in the 1930s.  That’s a pretty consistent run.  But from there, 10 teams made it in the 1940s, down to seven in the 1950s (!), up to 11 in the 1960s, down to eight in the 1970s, up to 14 in the 1980s, down to 10 in the 1990s (albeit with one fewer World Series thanks to the strike of 1994, but that would not have made a difference), up to 14 in the 2000s.  Due to San Francisco nabbing three pennants this decade and two apiece for St. Louis and Texas, there have been only six teams thus far to win the pennant as we are halfway through the 2010s.  In order for this decade to feature more pennant winners than the last, it would take nine different teams in the World Series in the next five years – with none of the previous league champions from this decade represented, of course – which is a rare occurrence.  There were nine pennant winners in five years from 2005-09, 1984-88 and 1944-48, in decades remembered for much more parity than what we’re seeing now.  So you can lay money on the fact that the 2020s will see much more parity in terms of World Series representation than we’re seeing now and sportswriters will invariably freak out and proclaim a “new era of mediocrity” in baseball.

^ With their third pennant in half a decade, San Francisco is in some rarified air historically.  Before the hammerlocks that the Braves (five pennants from 1991-99, with the World Series strike year wiping out the 1994 postseason) and the Yankees (six pennants from 1996-2003) put on Fall Classic appearances around the turn of the century, you’d have to go back to the As of 1988-90 (three straight appearances), the Yankees of 1976-81 (four appearances in six years), the Dodgers of 1977-81 (three appearances in five years), the As of 1972-74 (three straight appearances) and the Orioles of 1966-71 (four appearances in six years) in the entire League Championship Series era.  But the Giants need to look across the Bay to find the only one of these teams to win all of these pennants in a short span and convert on all of them, the aforementioned Oakland team of 1972-74 that was the first team since the 1949-53 Yankees to win more than two consecutive World Series (although the 1998-2000 Yankees accomplished the same feat in the midst of their run).

^ This run has cemented the Giants, once again, atop the historical National League standings, with 23 pennants all-time.  They are part of a triad that has a collective hammerlock on the titles with 59 combined, the Dodgers with 21 and the Cardinals with 19 (the Braves have 17, but have only been in this rarified air relatively recently, having obtained theirs disproportionately in the 1990s with five).  Of course, had St. Louis won the 2012 and 2014 NLCS, there would be a three-way tie at #1 with 19.  The Dodgers actually had the lead for a long time, as the last of their 21 pennants came in 1988.  At that time, the Giants had 18 and the Cardinals had 15.  Prior to the “Bay Area Earthquake World Series” of 1989, San Francisco had been through its longest-ever pennant drought of 27 years, allowing their then-leading total of 18 to get surpassed, as the Dodgers went from 13 to 21 league titles in that span.  But based on their dominance in the earliest years of baseball, the Giants took the lead in pennants won from the White Stockings and Beaneaters franchises in 1913 with 7 and held on in first place until the Dodgers tied them with 18 in 1977 and pulled ahead the following year.  San Francisco’s resurgence atop the historical standings with three pennants in the last five years merely restores the franchise’s run on top from 1913-76. [NOTE: some of the pennants referenced above predate the establishment of the World Series.]

^ How does San Francisco’s 63 years of pennant dominance stand up to the franchise always held up as baseball’s gold standard, the New York Yankees?  Not too shabby.  The Yankees tied the Philadelphia As with nine pennants in 1937 and pulled ahead the following year, establishing a record that they still hold, 76 years later.

^ In terms of the top three NL franchises in World Series appearances, how have they fared against one another in the playoffs?  The Dodgers and Giants have never met in the postseason, aside from the 1951 “The Giants win the pennant!” tiebreaker.  The Cardinals lead the Dodgers, 2-1 in the NLDS, 2-0 in the NLCS and 4-1 overall.  The Giants lead the Cardinals 3-1 in the NLCS, after losing the first of their four matchups in 1987.  In terms of World Series titles between these three franchises, the Cardinals still fare the best, converting 11 of their 19 pennants successfully.  The Giants are 7-for-19, while the Dodgers are 6-for-18.

^ The Mount Rushmore of Modern Managing, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bruce Bochy, has been represented in 17 of the last 24 World Series now with Bochy’s fourth pennant.

^ There has still never been a World Series solely comprised of teams that were created following the 1961 expansion.  Of the last “old” (pre-1961 origins) vs. “new” (post-1961 origins) teams to meet in the Fall Classic, old has won the last five times (2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2005), so that’s an ominous mark for Kansas City.  The Giants are 1-1 in such World Series meetings, having dispatched the Rangers in 2010 and lost to the Angels in 2002.  The Royals are also 1-1 in such meetings, as both their unsuccessful 1980 run against Philadelphia and successful 1985 final against St. Louis met this criteria.

^ Given that both cities are still relatively “young” as major league sports markets – neither was really on the map until the early days of the second half of the last century – there is little connection between Kansas City and San Francisco historically leading into this World Series matchup.  The obvious main exception to this rule was their shared custody of arguably the best quarterback of all time, Joe Montana, as his fateful late-career injury with the 49ers led to a moderately successful coda with the Chiefs in the early 1990s.

^ Much has been made of Kansas City’s 29-year drought between World Series appearances.  They are, in fact, the first team to return after 29 years with no appearances in between.  Teams taking 29 years to return with appearances in between, however, are not rare.  It happened as recently as five years ago, when Philadelphia got back to the Series in 2009 after winning it all in 1980, with successful (2008) and unsuccessful (1983) appearances in between.  Counting that one, there are 14 instances of one team doing this, including the Red Sox (2004), Dodgers (1988), Yankees (1976), Red Sox (1975), Giants (1962), Yankees (1961), Yankees (1957), Yankees (1956), Yankees (1955), Yankees (1952), Yankees (1950), Dodgers (1949) and Cubs (1949).  Believe it or not, there are actually three instances of two teams staging a World Series rematch 29 years apart, albeit with each making other appearances in the interim: 1981 (Dodgers-Yankees), 1978 (Dodgers-Yankees) and 1951 (Giants-Yankees).  Ironically, it’s the latter World Series that’s been in the news over the past few days, as comparisons have been made between the aforementioned 1951 and 2014 “The Giants win the pennant!” home runs.

^ If the Royals win the World Series, they will be the 20th franchise to notch the accomplishment at least twice.

^ San Francisco now faces another team from Missouri after beating one in the NLCS.  The only other time that a team had to go through a team from the same state in both of the final rounds was 1981, when the Yankees beat the As in the ALCS and lost to the Dodgers in the World Series.  Kansas City also faces their second team from not just the same state in these playoffs, but the same market, as they dispatched the As in the wild card game.

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