Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The 2013 World Series in Historical Perspective

The 2013 World Series promised to be an exciting one, given that in the Cardinals and the Red Sox we had two of the most storied and beloved franchises in major league history doing battle.

And it wasn't just that their respective histories were noteworthy, but the 2013 versions of each team were noteworthy as well. The Cards were noteworthy for having 20 of the 25 players on their post-season roster being home-grown talent. This is unheard of in this day and age of free agency, with its frequent player movement from team to team. But it was appropriate for the Cards, as it was the Cardinals, under the leadership of Branch Rickey, who pioneered the concept of the farm system staarting in 1921.

The Red Sox were noteworthy for finishing first after having finished last in 2012. They got rid of the mercurial Bobby Valentine and brought in the steady John Farrell as manager. They also got rid of a bunch of over-priced malcontents, via a big trade with the Dodgers during the 2012 season. With the money thus saved, the Sox brought in some veterans who were good team players, and their clubhouse this year was improved dramatically with the addition of the likes of Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes. (It used to be said that when the Red Sox went back to their hotel from the ballpark, they went in 25 different cabs, so bad was their team chemistry.)

This "addition by subtraction" has occurred with many teams during the past 20 years or so. One thinks most famously of the Mariners, who set an MLB record for wins after getting rid of Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey, Jr., 3 mega-stars.

The "Curse of the Bambino" now seems a distant memory. After going 86 years without a championship, the Sox have now won 3 in the last 10 years. With all the talk for so many years about the long drought, it is easy to forget that the Sox have been one of the most successful franchises in MLB history. They now rank 4th with 8 championships. They won 5 of the first 15 World Series between 1903 and 1918, then the 86-year drought, and now 3 in 10 years.

And they made it to 4 World Series during the drought, losing each in exciting 7-game struggles. And 3 of these were among the most memorable Series ever: 1946, with the famous Pesky "held ball", allowing Enos Slaughter's "mad dash" around the bases to score the Series-winning run; 1975, with the famous Carlton Fisk homer which ended game 6, still felt by many to be the greatest game ever played; and then of course 1986, when the Mets came back after being within one out of losing in game 6.

This year's version of the World Series was noteworthy for the interesting fielding plays, especially the odd obstruction call which ended game 3. (MLB has already announced that the obstruction rule will be reviewed in the offseason.) Although it went "only" 6 games, this was one of the the better World Series in recent times. Since 2002, there has been only one 7-game series, in 2011 between the Cards and the Rangers. There have been four 4-0 sweeps, with only two others, before this year, going to 6 games.

The Sox turnaround in the past 10 years can be traced to the hiring of sabermetrician Theo Epstein in the early 2000's. The movie "Moneyball" depicts the new Sox owner John Henry making a huge offer of $12,500,00 to try to lure Billy Beane away from Oakland, but Beane decided to stay with the Athletics. Epstein was ultimately hired for the job at the tender age of 28. Also hired was Bill James, the father of sabermetrics. It is safe to say that the way the Sox have embraced the sabermetric  world has contributed greatly to their success in the past 10 years.

No comments: