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October 28, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Life After Getting Swept

by Jim Baker

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Is there life after getting swept in the World Series? Depending on how you define "life," then, the answer is: yes, there can be. The Astros are the 19th team to be swept from the field of honor (17th if you want to get technical and not count the teams who managed a tie) and they realize--having finished behind a team that was coming off a brooming--that it is by no means the end of the world. Well, it usually isn't anyway.

  • The happy endings

    Three teams have followed their sweepature with a World Series victory of their own. The first to do so were the 1922 Yankees. Playing the Giants for the third year in a row the following season, they won the first of their 94 World Championships. The '22 Yanks were one of the teams who managed a tie against their four losses and no wins, so you can leg wrassle over whether they belong on this list or not. The lesson here is that they never should have been allowed to build their own stadium. As soon as they did, everyone else's market share of Championships was cut dramatically.

    The next team to pull off the trick was the 1940 Reds. They were upended by one of the greatest teams ever in '39 and came back the next year to take down the Tigers in seven games. The final team was the 1976 Yankees. Humbled by the Reds in a Series in which only Jim Mason managed to homer, New York came back in '77 to beat the Dodgers in the Reggie Series.

    We know from having studied the plexiglass principle that most teams fluctuate up and down from year to year. The sweepees all experienced downturns the following season except for three teams. You know which ones did not? That's right, the three that went on to win the Series. Their gains were not significant--four games for the '22 Yanks and three for the other two--but everyone of the other 15 teams got worse by at least 3 ½ games.

  • The almost-happy endings

    No team has ever been swept in the World Series two years in a row. The closest anybody ever came were the 1907-08 Tigers. In two meetings with the Cubs they managed a tie the first year and a win the second. They became the first team ever to get swept but also the first team ever to follow up being swept by going right back to the World Series. The only other team to do so and lose the follow-up Series was the 1964 Yankees.

    Now that more teams make the playoffs, we're bound to see more of these almost-happy endings. Both the 1999 Braves and 2004 Cardinals followed up getting swept by making the playoffs the following year. For their trouble, the Braves were swept in the first round in 2000 by the Cardinals. As you just witnessed, the Cards made it to the National League Championship Series as their means of combating PSSS (Post-Sweep Stress Syndrome).

  • The step down

    The next group of teams didn't collapse in the wake of getting blanked but they didn't regain the top, either. The '27 Pirates came off their punishment by the Murderer's Row Yankees by dropping a fairly modest eight games in the standings. The '32 Cubs, also brutalized by the Yankees, dropped four games in the standings and finished third. Six years later, they returned to meet the Yankees again and, once more, were shown the alley door after just four acts of the play. The next year, they fell off by six games and finished fourth. The Giants were blown out by the A's in the Interrupted Series of 1989. The following year they took a step backwards by losing seven more games.

  • The big drop

    The key word in all of this is subsequently--not consequently. Nobody is making the case that what happened the following years and in those that followed came as a direct result of the team getting swept (although one could make the case that, had the Yankees made a better showing in 1976, they might not have pursued Reggie Jackson so hard in the following offseason).

    The 1928 Cardinals fell by 16 games the following year and went through three managers. Their decline was only temporary, however, as they rebounded to win the pennant in 1930 and the World Series in 1931.

    The '54 Indians dropped a seemingly-staggering 18 games, but they had pretty far to fall, considering they won 111 the year before. After getting cranked by Dusty Rhodes and the Giants, they, once more, turned over the American League driver's seat to the Yankees. 18-game drop or no, they still finished second, as they did in 1956 as well. They didn't return to the postseason for another four decades, though.

    The Whiz Kid Phillies of 1950--a team that most thought had a great future because they were allegedly so young and full of promise--fell on hard times almost immediately. They took an 18-game hit in 1951 and did not finish higher than fourth place until 1964.

    The 1990 A's remain the only team who had swept a World Series the previous year only to turn around be swept the following year. They, too, then took a 19-game plummet as their follow-up. They did bounce back to win the division in 1992, however.

    When Sandy Koufax retired after the 1966 World Series, it contributed to the decline of the Dodgers, fresh off a sweep at the hands of Baltimore. They ended up 22 games worse in the standings and had their worst winning percentage since 1944. It was a fairly short-lived downturn, however. They were back up over .500 to stay by 1969. Of the 18 swept teams, 13 won their opener the following year, quickly helping erase the sting of the sweep. Of the five who didn't the '67 Dodgers are the only ones to run their beginning-of-the-year losing streak as long as four games.

    The Fluctuatin' Friars of 1998 fell by a whopping 24 games the following year and had four more years of sub-.500 ball after that. They still haven't gotten close to 98 wins ever since, though.

  • The black hole

    The single-worst follow-up to getting swept can be laid at the feet of Connie Mack and his desire to divest himself of his star players and operate his club on whatever is weaker and cheaper than a shoestring. Coming off four pennants in five years, the last of which resulted in getting swept by the 1914 Boston Braves, Mack decided to gut his team via fire sale without benefit of the fire. They dropped 56 games the next year and went into a death spiral that, at its nadir, culminated in 1916 with the worst record of the 20th Century. Five more consecutive last-place finishes were in store followed by a period of mediocrity. A return to decency finally came a decade after the sweep.

---

Oh yes it is

You know what I get sick of hearing? This broken-down cliché of a line:

"How can they call it a World Series when it only involves teams from one country?"

Over the years, it's been slightly updated to include Canada, but it doesn't matter: it's a stupid question. You know why?

The World Series has every right to be called the World Series for the simple reason that it involves the two teams who draw from the talent pool of the best players in the world. And why are the best players in the world playing here, in North America? Because this is where the money is and if it's one thing we should all know: talent and money will find each other.

So please, until a player the likes of Vladimir Guerrero makes Japan or Mexico or Cuba his first choice as a place to ply his trade during his prime, this is most definitely the World Series.

Semantically and otherwise.

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