The 2014 World Series begins in a few hours. Both teams competing in it — the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals — failed to win 90 games. This therefore will be the first World Series in baseball history (other than in the shortened seasons of 1918 and 1919, and in 1981, the year of the strike) to lack at least one 90 game (or more) winner.
Both teams spent the entire regular season proving that they are not the best team in their division, never mind in their league. The Giants weren’t even the best wild card team in the National League. Had baseball not expanded recently to two wild card teams, the Giants wouldn’t have made the post-season.
As for the Royals, they outscored their opponents during the regular season by only 27 runs. They are a slightly above average team. The Giants, who outscored their opponents by 51 runs, are slightly better than a slightly above average team.
Major League Baseball, assisted by most sportswriters I read, would like to persuade us that the Giants and the Royals made the World Series due to special qualities that manifest themselves only in October. The Giants, winners of two recent Series (with teams that performed better during the regular season), are said to be battle hardened post-season warriors. Kansas City, which hasn’t sniffed the post-season in decades, is said to be withstanding pressure because the players are loose.
The possibility that both teams are simply lucky rarely enters the discussion. Yet, we know from watching baseball during April-September that three to ten games (the range played by the two World Series contestants and their division-winning rivals) don’t present a big enough sample from which to infer excellence. Baseball isn’t basketball.
Baseball has made a trade-off. It has given up the requirement of excellence (more or less) in its champion in exchange for a long, revenue-generating post-season and a regular season in which mediocre teams can dream in September of reaching the playoffs and even the World Series.
To be fair, the trade-off has advantages beyond generating revenue and extra September interest. The lengthy post-season increases the number of exciting games and the likelihood of at least one suspenseful series. (This year there were a large number of great games, though no truly suspenseful series).
But even here, baseball shoots itself in the foot. The combination of four-hour games and television scheduling issues means that much of the excitement occurs around midnight (Eastern time). It is thus missed by a great many fans in the East and Midwest. Some of the additional excitement occurs when folks are at work.
I hope the Giant and the Royals produce a good World Series. There’s no reason why they can’t. Similarly, there is no reason why, say, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Milwaukee Brewers couldn’t have.
But even if this is a great World Series, I doubt that 50 years from now any geeky blogger outside of the two cities involved will be writing “This Day in Baseball History” posts about it.