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The Red Sox as Heavies

Here’s something I wrote after the Red Sox victory over St. Louis in the World Series in my BP column for October 29, 2004:

The Red Sox role as proxy for the world’s Yankee haters has now been completed. What will follow next should prove interesting. Once the smoke clears and the 2005 season gets underway, the Red Sox will find they have lost their cuteness factor. The Darlings of the Long Drought will discover that they are now in the sights of the rest of baseball as the Junior Evil Empire–the team with the second-highest payroll in baseball. When they storm into secondary cities with their ever-increasing fan base in the van, the locals are going to have a hard time discerning the difference between them and the Yankees. This will become especially true if they can cook up a mini-dynasty, something they have the financial and mental resources to accomplish.

Has this come to pass? I know that I see more and more Boston fans at away games these days. Is this your perception, too? Dan Wetzel has a piece at Yahoo! Sports that says that this very thing has happened. One thing is for certain–in sports, it is better to be hated than pitied.


The Colorado Debutantes

When the Astros made it to their first World Series two years ago, I prepared this piece about the Series debuts of every team in history. Now that Colorado is about to play their first Series game, the topic is relevant again. Rather than repeat everything I wrote then, simply refer back to the previous piece and consider what follows as an addendum to that piece.

Houston, 2005: The Astros first-ever World Series game was marked by the early departure of starter Roger Clemens, who was relieved after two innings of work. The ‘Stros were still very much in it at that point, tied 3-3. In fact, they would be in every game of this Series, even taking leads in Games Two and Three. No sweep is enjoyable, but some are less humiliating than others. One might argue that this one, with a combined score of 20-14, is one of the least humiliating ever.

First batter: Craig Biggio
First pitcher: Roger Clemens
Final score: lost 5-3
Series outcome: lost to Chicago, 4-0

Colorado, 2007: Which of these teams swept the recent NLCS: the one that hit .254/.312/.359, or the one that hit .222/.316/.311? OK, you know the answer is the team with the lesser figure, otherwise I wouldn’t be framing the question like that. This is yet another reason why every playoff ticket printed should have this passage included in the small print on the back: “The bearer understands that the postseason is a crapshoot.” In the thirteenth year of the three-tiered playoff format, the Rockies enter Game One as the first team ever with a chance to run the table in three straight postseason series. Only the 1976 Reds–back when it required just seven postseason victories to win the World Championship–have finished the playoffs undefeated. The ’99 Yankees and ’05 White Sox lost just one game apiece in the expanded format, but their losses came in the ALCS, meaning they did not arrive at the threshold of the World Series with the opportunity that the Rockies have now.

First batter: Willie Tavarez
First pitcher: Jeff Francis
Final score: ?
Series outcome: ?

Some updated first-timer stats: First-timers are a combined 12-12-1 in their inaugural World Series game. The teams that won their first game took seven of 12 Series and the teams that lost their first game took six of 12, with the team that tied–the 1907 Tigers–losing. First timers, then, are 13-12 in overall Series wins (or 10-9 excluding the series in which both teams were playing inaugurals).

The Left-Behind Series

The Rockies become the 26th team to make their World Series debut. This marks the third Series bow since the turn of the century. Your conspiracy theorist would suggest that there was some sort of plan afoot to rotate Series appearances among all 30 teams. Regardless, there remain only four teams that haven’t made it to the World Series yet. They are, in order of creation, Washington/Texas, Montreal/Washington, Seattle, and Tampa Bay. That’s almost one from each wave of expansion, or all of them if you cheat a little and combine the 1993 and 1998 expansions into just one group. The Rangers represent the 1961-62 four-team group that also included the Mets (first World Series appearance in 1969), Angels (2002), and Astros (2005). The Nationals represent the 1969 group along with the Royals (1980), Pilots/Brewers (1982), and Padres (1984). The Mariners are from the 1977 pair with the Blue Jays (1992), while the Rays are the remaining holdout from the ’90s quartet that also includes the Marlins (1997), Diamondbacks (2001), and now the Rockies. None of the four remaining teams seem especially close to getting there, either, although one probably could have said as much about Colorado as recently as Labor Day.

The last World Series in which both teams were making their Series debut took place 101 years ago, and featured the Cubs and the White Sox. The Cubs were back the next year, and every Series since then has included at least one participant that had been there before. How amazing would it be if two of the remaining four Series holdouts made their Series debut in the same year? I don’t think the word “amazing” would even begin to cover it if we were to see a Nationals-Rays, Nationals-Mariners, or Nationals-Rangers at some point in the immediate future, except that with the Wild Card process and the state of the National League, a Nationals rise coupled with a Mariners or Rangers run through the playoffs isn’t all that impossible to imagine.

While 15 years may seem like a long time to have waited for Rockies fans, it is but a grain of sand in the great desert of what the fans of many other teams have had to endure. What follows is a list of the 10 longest absences from World Series play. (Please note that I did not subtract a year for the seasons in which a Series was not played, 1904 and 1994.) The count begins either in the year after the team’s last World Series appearance or their first year of existence in the case of those poor unfortunates who have yet to get there or who endured long droughts from their very beginnings. (The meter on the St. Louis Browns does not start running until the third year of the franchise because there was no World Series their first two seasons in play.)

61: Chicago Cubs (1946-2007)
46: Washington Senators/Texas Rangers (1961-2007)
45: Chicago White Sox (1960-2005)
43: Houston Colt .45s/Astros (1962-2005)
42: Cleveland Indians (1955-1997)
41: Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels (1961-2002)
41: St. Louis Browns (1903-1944)
40: Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland Athletics (1932-1972)
39: Chicago White Sox (1920-1959)
38: Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (1969-2007)

The Cubs are famously inglorious (or gloriously infamous), but the White Sox have the dubious distinction of appearing on the list twice. Speaking of the Cubs, are they going to flip fate the bird and wear a patch commemorating the centennial of their last World Championship next year? By doing so, what do they really have to lose?