Monday, December 14, 2009

Least Likely To Succeed

Here something I wrote a couple of months ago. Enjoy

Least Likely To Succeed: The Ten Longest Shots That Became World Series Champs

It’s almost November, which means Halloween, Election Day and the World Series are coming up. It looks like Philadelphia will be facing either the Angels or the Yanks this year. This isn’t surprising. All of these teams have been good for the past few years. But what teams were surprise winners in the Fall Classic over the years? Allow me to offer a list often teams who overcame long odds. I looked at a number of factors, but the one thing most of these teams have in common is that they were able to take advantage when a dynasty had an off year or beat one of them mano a mano.

1906 Chicago White Sox:

They played their crosstown rivals, the Cubs and beat them in six games. They only had two Hall of Famers on the team; George Davis and Big Ed Walsh. Called the Hitless Wonders, they scored 3.7 runs a game. That was about average for those days, but they only allowed 3 runs a game. Only the Cubs were stingier. They won games at a 62% clip, but the Cubs only lost 36 times in the regular season for a .763 winning percentage. The odds against the White Sox beating them were 2:1. Those are long odds for a World Series team. Only one writer (Hugh Fullerton) picked them.

1914 Boston Braves:

The Tigris and Euphrates of fluke teams. For two and a half years, or ever since the changed their name from the Rustlers to the Braves, they had a record of 154-226 (and they were worse before this), then, from July 15th on, they went 61-16 to vault from the cellar and overtake all the rest of the teams. They left the Giants, the three time NL champs, in their dust before sweeping Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s in the World Series. By 1917, they returned to the second division, where they mostly remained until after World War II.

1924 Washington Senators:

The Yankees were looking to repeat as AL champs. But after two sub-.500 seasons, the Sens captured the flag from them on the last day of the season. Walter Johnson finally gets his ring in the most exciting World Series to date.

1940 Cincinnati Reds:

The prewar Yankees were probably the best baseball team of all time. 6 Hall of Famers played for them. In 1940, they fell into second place and the Tigers won the American League. Thus, the Reds faced Detroit and won in seven games when Buddy Myers’s fly to deep center scored Jimmy Ripple in the seventh inning and broke a 1-1 tie. Why are these Reds on this list? Mainly because they broke the Yankee’s championship streak, but partly because they did it with only one Hall of Famer in Ernie Lombardi. Well, make it two if you count manager Bill McKechnie. The early part of the century is well represented in Cooperstown. Only two champs had just one Hall of Famer on the team prior to WWII. Incidentally, the other one was the 1919 Reds team that beat the Black Sox.

1954 New York Giants:

This is another team that broke a long skein of Yankee success. They also came back after a 70 win season to break up Brooklyn’s hegemony over the Senior Circuit. Like the Reds, they did it in a year when New York fails to win the AL. Cleveland won 14 games more than the Giants, but the gap between the two teams may have been as big as that indicates. The NL was more competitive that year.

1969 New York Mets:

This was a perfect storm. The Mets won 100 games, but that only lifted their running three year winning percentage to .481. A Cubs collapse allowed them to win the new NL East division They swept the Braves in the League Championship Series, but then went on to face the Baltimore Orioles. Earl Weaver’s team would win 100 games three years in a row starting in 1969, but they succumbed to the Mets in five games. The only two Hall of Famers on the team were Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and Ryan pitched less than 90 innings. They’d probably be less well-known if they played in a different place or a different time, but they are only one of four World Series champs to have a sub-.500 running the year winning percentage.

1985 Kansas City Royals:

They were a fluke. A few years earlier, the Royals were a great team. They battled the Yankees a number of times in the late 70s and finally overtook them in 1980 only be the first team to get beat by the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. They won the AL West the year before despite having a negative run differential and this squad wasn’t that much better. They won 91 games, but it was a soft 91. They should have probably won 86 or so, but Dan Quisenberry was awesome. And he was a rarity at the time, before submariners and sidewinders became more ubiquitous (I liked them more when they were more unique!) Anyways, they beat California by one game and went on to face Toronto in the ALCS. Dick Howser was able to outfox Bobby Cox and the Royal’s went on to the World Series. They almost lost in Game Six, but received a little help from Don Denkinger and one the game. Then they crushed Saint Louis in Game Seven. Sometimes, it’s your year. After the Mets, they were the second expansion team to win a World Series. Unfortunately, it may be a long time before they do so again.

1987 Minnesota Twins:

While the Royals were winning it all in 1985, the Twins were going 77-85. The next year they got worse and went 71-91. Ray Miller was fired in September and replaced by Tom Kelly. They got better in 1987, but they were outscored 786-806. Still, they won 85 games. They might’ve been the 9th or 10th best AL team that year, but they won a weak West division (Oakland was still a year away) and beat Detroit to go the World Series. The Cardinals were up and down with Whitey Herzog during the 80s, but they made three World Series. All of tem went the full seven games and they lost twice; once to the aforementioned Royals and then to the Twins. Minnesota had trouble scoring a t Busch Stadium, but they scored 33 runs in the four games at the Metrodome.

1988 Los Angeles Dodgers:

This team had to overcome two of the great teams of my early adulthood; the New York Mets and the Oakland Athletics. And they did it after losing 89 games two years in a row.

1990 Cincinnati Reds:

The Bash Brothers A’s teams had great success during the regular season, but take them out of the Bay Area in October, and they’d run into trouble.

Honorable Mention
1912 Red Sox
1926 Cardinals
1933 Giants
1959 Dodgers
1971 Pirates

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