Everyone in the universe knows that the Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians to win the 2016 World Series. The Cubs got into the Series by ending what had been the longest pennant drought of the 16 old-line franchises in the National and American Leagues. The mini-bears had gone 71 years since winning the NL championship in 1945. And before last night, the Cubs last won a Series in 1908, a “mere” 108 years ago.
Here are the most recent league championships and World Series wins by the other old-line National League teams: Atlanta (formerly Boston and Milwaukee) Braves — 1999, 1995; Cincinnati Reds — 1990, 1990; Los Angeles (formerly Brooklyn) Dodgers — 1988, 1988; Philadelphia Phillies — 2009, 2008; Pittsburgh Pirates — 1979, 1979; San Francisco (formerly New York) Giants — 2014, 2014; and St. Louis Cardinals — 2013, 2011.
The American League lineup looks like this: Baltimore Orioles (formerly Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Browns) — 1983, 1983; Boston Red Sox — 2013, 2013; Chicago White Sox — 2005, 2005; Cleveland Indians — 2016 (previously 1997), 1948; Detroit Tigers — 2012, 1984; Minnesota Twins (formerly Washington Senators) — 1991, 1991; New York Yankees — 2009, 2009; and Oakland (formerly Philadelphia and Kansas City) Athletics — 1990, 1989.
What about the expansion franchises, of which there are 14? I’ll lump them because two of them (Milwaukee and Houston) have switched leagues since their inception. Here they are, in this format: Team (year of creation) — year of last league championship, year of last WS victory:
Arizona Diamondbacks (1998) — 2001, 2001
Colorado Rockies (1993) — 2007, never
Houston Astros (1962) — 2005, never
Kansas City Royals (1969) — 2015, 2015
Los Angeles Angels (1961) –2002, 2002
Miami Marlins (1993) — 2003, 2003
Milwaukee Brewers (1969, as Seattle Pilots) –1982, never
New York Mets (1962) — 2015, 1986
San Diego Padres (1969) — 1998, never
Seattle Mariners (1977) — never, never
Tampa Bay Rays (1998) — 2008, never
Texas Rangers (1961, as expansion Washington Senators) — 2011, never
Toronto Blue Jays (1977) — 1993, 1993
Washington Nationals (1969, as Montreal Expos) — never, never
POST-SEASON PLAY — OR, MAY THE BEST TEAM LOSE
The first 65 World Series (1903 and 1905-1968) were contests between the best teams in the National and American Leagues. The winner of a season-ending Series was therefore widely regarded as the best team in baseball for that season (except by the fans of the losing team and other soreheads). The advent of divisional play in 1969 meant that the Series could include a team that wasn’t the best in its league. From 1969 through 1993, when participation in the Series was decided by a single postseason playoff between division winners (1981 excepted), the leagues’ best teams met in only 10 of 24 series. The advent of three-tiered postseason play in 1995 and four-tiered postseason play in 2012, has only made matters worse.
By the numbers:
- Postseason play originally consisted of a World Series (period) involving 1/8 of major-league teams — the best in each league. Postseason play now involves 1/3 of major-league teams and 7 postseason series (3 in each league plus the inter-league World Series).
- Only 3 of the 22 Series from 1995 through 2016 have featured the best teams of both leagues, as measured by W-L record.
- Of the 22 Series from 1995 through 2015, only 7 were won by the best team in a league.
- Of the same 22 Series, 11 (50 percent) were won by the better of the two teams, as measured by W-L record. Of the 65 Series played before 1969, 35 were won by the team with the better W-L record and 2 involved teams with the same W-L record. So before 1969 the team with the better W-L record won 35/63 of the time for an overall average of 56 percent. That’s not significantly different from the result for the 22 Series played in 1995-2016, but the teams in the earlier era were each league’s best, which is no longer true. . .
- From 1995 through 2016, a league’s best team (based on W-L record) appeared in a Series only 15 of 44 possible times — 6 times for the NL (pure luck), 9 times for the AL (little better than pure luck). (A random draw among teams qualifying for post-season play would have resulted in the selection of each league’s best team about 6 times out of 22.)
- Division winners have opposed each other in only 11 of the 22 Series from 1995 through 2016.
- Wild-card teams have appeared in 10 of those Series, with all-wild-card Series in 2002 and 2014.
- Wild-card teams have occupied more than one-fourth of the slots in the 1995-2016 Series — 12 slots out of 44.
The winner of the World Series used to be its league’s best team over the course of the entire season, and the winner had to beat the best team in the other league. Now, the winner of the World Series usually can claim nothing more than having won the most postseason games — 11 or 12 out of as many as 19 or 20. Why not eliminate the 162-game regular season, select the postseason contestants at random, and go straight to postseason play?
Here are the World Series pairings for 1994-2016 (National League teams listed first; + indicates winner of World Series):
Atlanta Braves (division winner; .625 W-L, best record in NL)+
Cleveland Indians (division winner; .694 W-L, best record in AL)
Atlanta Braves (division winner; .593, best in NL)
New York Yankees (division winner; .568, second-best in AL)+
Florida Marlins (wild-card team; .568, second-best in NL)+
Cleveland Indians (division winner; .534, fourth-best in AL)
San Diego Padres (division winner; .605 third-best in NL)
New York Yankees (division winner, .704, best in AL)+
Atlanta Braves (division winner; .636, best in NL)
New York Yankees (division winner; .605, best in AL)+
New York Mets (wild-card team; .580, fourth-best in NL)
New York Yankees (division winner; .540, fifth-best in AL)+
Arizona Diamondbacks (division winner; .568, fourth-best in NL)+
New York Yankees (division winner; .594, third-best in AL)
San Francisco Giants (wild-card team; .590, fourth-best in NL)
Anaheim Angels (wild-card team; .611, third-best in AL)+
Florida Marlines (wild-card team; .562, third-best in NL)+
New York Yankees (division winner; .623, best in AL)
St. Louis Cardinals (division winner; .648, best in NL)
Boston Red Sox (wild-card team; .605, second-best in AL)+
Houston Astros (wild-card team; .549, third-best in NL)
Chicago White Sox (division winner; .611, best in AL)*
St. Louis Cardinals (division winner; .516, fifth-best in NL)+
Detroit Tigers (wild-card team; .586, third-best in AL)
Colorado Rockies (wild-card team; .552, second-best in NL)
Boston Red Sox (division winner; .593, tied for best in AL)+
Philadelphia Phillies (division winner; .568, second-best in NL)+
Tampa Bay Rays (division winner; .599, second-best in AL)
Philadelphia Phillies (division winner; .574, second-best in NL)
New York Yankees (division winner; .636, best in AL)+
San Francisco Giants (division winner; .568, second-best in NL)+
Texas Rangers (division winner; .556, fourth-best in AL)
St. Louis Cardinals (wild-card team; .556, fourth-best in NL)+
Texas Rangers (division winner; .593, second-best in AL)
San Francisco Giants (division winner; .580, third-best in AL)+
Detroit Tigers (division winner; .543, seventh-best in AL)
St. Louis Cardinals (division winner; .599, best in NL)
Boston Red Sox (division winner; .599, best in AL)+
San Francisco Giants (wild-card team; .543, 4th-best in NL)+
Kansas City Royals (wild-card team; .549, 4th-best in AL)
New York Mets (division winner; .556, 5th best in NL)
Kansas City Royals (division winner; .586, best in AL)+
Chicago Cubs (division winner; .640, best in NL)+
Cleveland Indians (division winner; .584, 2nd best in AL)
THE SEVEN-GAME WORLD SERIES
The seven-game World Series holds the promise of high drama. That promise is fulfilled if the Series stretches to a seventh game and that game goes down to the wire. Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, here’s what’s happened in the deciding games of the seven-game Series that have been played to date:
1912 – Boston (AL) 3 – New York (NL) 2 (10 innings)
1960 – Pittsburgh (NL) 10 New York (AL) 9 (decided by Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the 9th)
1997 – Florida (NL) 3 – Cleveland (AL) 2 (11 innings)
2001 – Arizona (NL) 3 – New York (AL) 2 (decided in the bottom of the 9th)
2014 – San Francisco Giants (NL) 3 – Kansas City Royals (AL) 2 (no scoring after the 4th inning)
2016 – Chicago Cubs (NL) 8 – Cleveland Indians (AL) 7 (decided in the 10th inning)
33 seven-game Series (29 percent of 112 series played, including 4 in a best-of-nine format, none of which lasted 9 games)
17 Series decided by 1 or 2 runs
12 of those 15 Series decided by 1 run (6 times in extra innings or the winning team’s last at-bat)
4 consecutive seven-game Series 1955-58, all involving the New York Yankees (10 percent of the Yankees’ Series — 8 of 41 — went to seven games)
Does the World Series deliver high drama? Seldom. In fact, only about 10 percent of the time (12 of 112 decided by 1 run in game 7). The other 90 percent of the time it’s merely an excuse to fill seats and sell advertising, inasmuch as it’s seldom a contest between both leagues’ best teams.