Saturday, October 21, 2006

TOP 5: WORST WORLD SERIES TEAMS

Now that the 83-win Cardinals have put the kibosh on thoughts of a ticker-type parade through one of New York City’s boroughs, here's the five worst teams to make the World Series:

Recent teams, such as the 2003 Florida Marlins or ’05 Houston Astros, haven't been considered. Not enough time has passed to take their full measure. Also, wild-card teams that make the Series are another animal entirely, although one did make this list.

1944 ST. LOUIS BROWNS (Regular-season record: 89-65)
With World War II on most of the good players were overseas. The perennially pitiful Browns cashed in, winning their one and only pennant with a starting infield who had all been declared medically unfit for military service. Led by shortstop Vern Stephens' 109-RBI season, the Browns beat out the Tigers for the pennant. They were a game behind with four games left, but swept aseries from the Yankees, while the Tigers could only split against last-place Washington.

That put the Browns into a World Series against the powerhouse Cardinals, who were their landlords at Sportsman's Park. The Brownies gave it their best -- they even won the opener -- but they weren’t good enough to overcome a record 10 errors, and the Cards prevailed in six games.

1997 CLEVELAND INDIANS (86-75) / 1997 FLORIDA MARLINS (92-70)
By quirk of fate, two of the all-time top-5 worst teams to ever make the Series did it in the same year. Cleveland had just the ninth-best record in the majors and was a relatively inoffensive bunch.

The Marlins were the real affront, on so many levels. They were a store-bought team of free agents with severe personality defects -- Bobby Bonilla, Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown -- in teal uniforms playing in a football team, and to top off, a wild-card team that had edged out the Mets for the wild-card berth by having a better interleague record. Oh, and if you happened to read sportswriter Dave Rosenbaum's behind-the-scenes book about the '97 Marlins, If They Don't Win It's A Shame, you'll understand why all this fawning media treatment of Tigers manager Jim Leyland seems like a bit much. (Rosenbaum quotes Leyland saying, among other things, that "the ruination of this country was the women's movement."

TV ratings nosedived, there was a 14-11 game played in temperatures that were barely above freezing. After six fairly artless, unmemorable games, naturally the teams turned in a classic in Game 7, with the Marlins scoring once in the ninth and again in the 11th to win their first World Series.

1987 MINNESOTA TWINS (85-77)
Question: If home-field advantage for the World Series had been decided by the All-Star Game (which the NL won that year) back then, would the Twins have beaten the Cardinals? Would they have even been in the playoffs?

The Twins were 29-52 on the road, and won just seven games while away from Rachael Leigh Cook's home state after the All-Star Game. In the World Series, they entrusted someone named Les Straker (career record: 10-15) to make two starts.

They won two less games than the Yankees, the fourth-place team in the AL East. Regardless, the Twins had home-field advantage for both playoff rounds, and they drew favourable matchups -- the Detroit Tigers were not only drained from a memorable pennant race against the Blue Jays (which yours truly still hasn’t got over), but as a slow, mostly veteran team were poorly suited to play on the Metrodome’s artificial turf. In the World Series, the Twins played a banged-up St. Louis team that was missing slugger Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton, who had hit half of the Cardinals homers that year. Tom Lawless, who hit .080 during the regular season, actually had to start at third base for the Cards in the decisive seventh game.

To this day, the ’87 Twins remain the worst team to ever win the World Series. They’re likely still going to hold that distinction following this Fall Classic.

1973 NEW YORK METS (82-79)
All together now: Worst. World. Series. Team. Ever.

The '73 Mets -- Ya gotta believe! -- were in last place on the Fourth of July, 12½ games behind the Cubs. They made ground over the next 10 weeks, but on Sept. 17, were still below .500 and in fourth place, as the Pittsburgh Pirates knocked Hall of Famer Tom Seaver out early, rolling 10-3 and dropping the Mets 3½ games back with only 12 to play.

No one really deserved to win the NL East, but someone had tobe the supposed sacrificial lamb for Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in the playoffs. Between Pete Rose and Sparky Anderson, the Reds could talk your ear off, but the media would need actual games to cover.

That 10-3 Pirates win was the first of this oddball five-game, two-city, Monday-to-Friday series. Another loss might have dashed in the Mets’ chances and in the second game, Pittsburgh led by three runs entering the ninth inning.

The Mets rallied, though. Jim Beauchamp and Ron Hodges (if you said, "Who?" that's precisely the point) came off the bench to deliver hits, Felix Millan hit a two-run triple and the immortal Don Hahn (seven years in the majors, seven career homers) hit a go-ahead two-run single off Pirates relief ace Dave Giusti. Buzz Capra held the Pirates in the ninth to preserve a 6-5 win.

The three games back at Shea were pretty much catered to the Mets. On Sept. 19, Cleon Jones (you remember his name from Top 5 New York Baseball Sex Scandals) hit two homers to pace the Mets to a 7-3 win.

One night later, the Mets again won in their final at-bat, prevailing 4-3 in 13 innings after the Pirates bullpen again failed to hold a ninth-inning lead. Mets manager Yogi Berra again rolled double 6’s with his pinch-hitters: In the ninth, Ken Boswell worked a walk, and then Duffy Dyer, a .185 hitter in ’73, doubled him in to force extras.

Now Pittsburgh’s lead was a half game, and it was Seaver’s turn to start again. The Pirates started Steve Blass, and if you need to know the context, just Google "Steve Blass disease." One of the game’s better control pitchers, Blass, for lack of a better word, completely lost it in ’73, and there were a million and one theories why he suddenly he could not pitch in games.

The Mets knocked Blass out with four runs in the first inning, bringing their record back to .500, which amazingly, put them in first place. In four days, Berra's bunch had leapfrogged the Pirates, Expos and Cardinals in a matter of just four days.

The rest was cake by comparison -- the Mets beat the Reds for the pennant. They damn near beat another dynasty in the World Series, taking a three-games-to-two lead over the Oakland A’s. However, the A’s beat Tom Seaver in Game 6, and in the seventh game, Bert Campaneris and Reggie Jackson reached Mets lefty Jon Matlack for early homers, and the A’s rolled to a second straight championship.

The A's, of course, would win again in '74. The Mets wouldn't so much as contend again until 1984, but during those lean years they did once put a batboy in right field during a spring training B game after neglecting to bring enough players to field a proper team. You could look it up.

(Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseball-Reference.com and BaseballRace.com were valuable in writing this post – much more so than Mr. Sager’s noggin.)

That’s all for now. Send your thoughts to neatesager@yahoo.ca.

1 comment:

kopper said...

The Browns actually still owned Sportsman's Park in 1944. Veeck sold it to the Cardinals in '53.