The Cubs win the pennant (and again and again)
There’s been a little bit of chatter about Joe Posnanski’s piece about rewarding regular season success in baseball, given the “crapshoot” nature of the playoffs. Basically, Posnanski arrives at a proposal that the NL and AL award their “pennants” to the teams in each league with the best regular season records, while still allowing the playoffs and World Series to continue unaltered. In other words, there would be League Pennant Winners potentially different than the League Champions who meet to determine the World Series Champion.
“But I just don’t think that sports works that way in America […] A team that wins the most regular season games should feel proud of its accomplishments, but I don’t think that it is likely to be independently lionized for them.”
I think this misses the point a little.
I kind of suspect Remington is reading too much into Posnanski’s discussion of EPL Football, whose lack of a playoff serves as a jumping-off point, but bears little resemblance to the eventual proposal.
The thing is, we do already something almost exactly like the Posnanski proposal in North American sport: The NHL’s President’s Trophy is awarded to the team with the best regular season record (highest points total). And, as any hockey fan will tell you, the President’s Trophy is a cool thing to win, but is not nearly as cool as the Stanley Cup. There’s no reason to expect any fan would rather see their team win the Pennant than win the World Series, so what’s the harm in adding a consolation prize (or bonus prize – only five teams since 1994 would have won both a Pennant and World Series under this system)?
I suppose this begs the question, “well then why even bother?” The answer is actually what makes this relevant to our little Cubs blog here: it would provide a tangible measure of success that can contextualize success or failure a team. Had this system been in place, the Cubs would have NL Pennants from 1984, 1989, and 2008. This would help put the Cubs’ historical futility into context that even smart people sometimes lose sight of: namely, that while the Cubs have failed to win (or reach) the World Series, they have not failed to put together very, very good teams.
So yeah, maybe it’s because I selfishly want to be able to say the Cubs have won the pennant. Maybe it’s because I’m a hockey fan. Either way, I like this idea a lot.
I do feel obligated to add that this is not some perfect – or even “more perfect” – way to measure the best team in baseball. The unbalanced schedule and interleague play still means comparing teams in different divisions is problematic. But that’s also a feature with the whole wild card system (and – ugh – even with divisional standings; interleague “rivalry” games need to disappear now), and my diatribe against interleague play is a manifesto for another day. For now, I’ll just say, yeah let’s award pennants this way because why the hell not.
Anyway, here’s a list of the teams with the best record in each league, dating back to the 1994 realignment (WS winners in bold; WS losers in italics):
|year||AL Pennant||NL Pennant|
|2012||New York Yankees||Washington Nationals|
|2011||New York Yankees||Philadelphia Phillies|
|2010||Tampa Bay Rays||Philadelphia Phillies|
|2009||New York Yankees||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|2008||Los Angeles Angels||Chicago Cubs|
|2007||Boston Red Sox /||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|2006||New York Yankees||New York Mets|
|2005||Chicago White Sox||St. Louis Cardinals|
|2004||New York Yankees||St. Louis Cardinals|
|2003||New York Yankees||Atlanta Braves|
|2002||New York Yankees||Atlanta Braves|
|2001||Seattle Mariners||Houston Astros|
|2000||Chicago White Sox||San Francisco Giants|
|1999||New York Yankees||Atlanta Braves|
|1998||New York Yankees||Atlanta Braves|
|1997||Baltimore Orioles||Atlanta Braves|
|1996||Cleveland Indians||Atlanta Braves|
|1995||Cleveland Indians||Atlanta Braves|
|1994||New York Yankees||Montreal Expos|
And back to the start of division play:
|year||AL Pennant||NL Pennant|
|1993||Toronto Blue Jays||Atlanta Braves|
|1992||Oakland Athletics /||Atlanta Braves|
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|1991||Minnesota Twins||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|1990||Oakland Athletics||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|1989||Oakland Athletics||Chicago Cubs|
|1988||Oakland Athletics||New York Mets|
|1987||Detroit Tigers||St. Louis Cardinals|
|1986||Boston Red Sox||New York Mets|
|1985||Toronto Blue Jays||St. Louis Cardinals|
|1984||Detroit Tigers||Chicago Cubs|
|1983||Chicago White Sox||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|1982||Milwaukee Brewers||St. Louis Cardinals|
|1981||Oakland Athletics||Cincinnati Reds|
|1980||New York Yankees||Houston Astros|
|1979||Baltimore Orioles||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|1978||New York Yankees||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|1977||Kansas City Royals||Philadelphia Phillies|
|1976||New York Yankees||Cincinnati Reds|
|1975||Oakland Athletics||Cincinnati Reds|
|1974||Baltimore Orioles||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|1973||Baltimore Orioles||Cincinnati Reds|
|1972||Oakland Athletics||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|1971||Baltimore Orioles||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|1970||Baltimore Orioles||Cincinnati Reds|
|1969||Baltimore Orioles||New York Mets|
It goes without saying that there would have to be a way to break ties (as would have occurred in 1992 and 2007), and it’s not exactly fair that the 1971 Orioles beat out the A’s by virtue of playing three fewer games, but whatever.
And I’ll leave you with some fun, if not particularly notable points:
- During the first three years of divisional play, both hypothetical Pennant winners would have met in the World Series. After 1971, however, the two Pennant winners meet only eight times, including only twice since the introduction of the wild card (Braves/Indians in 1995 and Braves/Yankees in 1999).
- The Yankees and Expos (and hell, baseball) would have something to show for 1994.
- The Braves would have a lot more to show for their incredible stretch of dominance during the ’90s and early ’00s.
- Like the Cubs, the Mariners and the Expos/Nats have something to hang their hats on despite never appearing in a World Series.
- Maybe most ironically, while Posnanski’s proposal seems to come from a spitballing session with Billy Beane, Beane’s A’s would still not have anything to show for their success.