With their Game 7 victory Wednesday night, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the third time in the last five years, becoming the first team since the late-1990s Yankees to win that many championships in that short a span. It's a feat that's both impressive and historically significant. Depending on how you divide them up, one could say that fewer than 10 teams in World Series history have had comparable or superior runs of success, putting the 2010s Giants among the greatest teams in major league history.
Using San Francisco's three titles in five years as the standard, I've come up with the following method for grouping their predecessors. To avoid numerous iterations of what was effectively the same run of success (for example: The 1947-51 Yankees, 1949-53 Yankees, 1950-54 Yankees, 1951-55 Yankees, and 1952-56 Yankees all won at least three titles in a five-year span), any stretch of three or more titles in five years that overlaps another stretch of three or more titles in five years by the same team is being treated as part of the same run (so the 1947-56 Yankees are one team, not five). By that method, the 2010-14 Giants are one of just nine teams to compile a run of championships that included at least three in the span of five years. Here's how I'd rank those nine.
1. 1947-56 Yankees
These Yankees were the only team in major league history to win five straight championships, doing so from 1949 to '53, and one could argue that their period of greatness actually stretched from 1947 to 1964, when New York won 15 of 18 American League pennants and 10 World Series titles. However, it won "just" two championships in the seven-year span from 1954 to 1960, creating a break in the dynasty, at least as far as National League teams were concerned. From 1947 to 1956, however, the Yankees won seven World Series in 10 years, effectively three in five years twice plus an extra title.
The footnote to this dynastic run is that the Brooklyn Dodgers won six NL pennants in 10 years from 1947-56 (and lost a pennant playoff in '46 and '51), but lost the World Series to the Yankees five times over that span. Given that the team that beat them just happened to be on the greatest sustained run of success in major league history, it's worth considering that those Brooklyn teams deserve a place on this list despite having won just one World Series, that coming in 1955 over, of course, the Yankees.
2. 1936-43 Yankees
The Yankees were also the only team in major league history to win four straight championships, doing so from 1936-39. Starting with the last of those titles, they became the first team in major league history to do what the Giants just did, winning three titles in five years without any two of them being consecutive, with wins in '39, '41 and '43. Of course, doing so on the heels of four straight titles makes the non-consecutive qualifier seem rather silly.
New York also won the pennant but lost the World Series in 1942, giving it seven pennants in eight years over this span. Only the 1949-58 Yankees and 1955-64 Yankees, two overlapping periods in which New York won nine pennants in 10 years, ever so much as matched that.
3. 1996-2000 Yankees
These Yankees were the only other team in major league history to win four World Series in a five-year span, winning in 1996 and from 1998-2000. Included in that run was the 1998 team that won 114 regular-season games, an American League record later broken by the 2001 Mariners. Those Yankees won 11 more in the postseason to set the still-standing single-season wins record (regular and postseason combined) with 125.
4. 1971-75 Athletics
Just five years after moving to Oakland, the A's started a run which made them the only non-Yankees team to win three consecutive World Series, doing so from 1972-74. Since the impetus for this list is five-year spans, I'll include the year before and the year after here, as Oakland won the AL West all five seasons but was swept in the ALCS by the Orioles in '71 and the Red Sox in '75. By way of comparison, the Giants have won their division just twice in the last 11 years.
5. 1912-18 Red Sox
These Red Sox are the only non-Yankees team on this list to break out of the five-year box. They won the World Series in 1912, '15, '16 and '18, giving them three titles in five years from 1912-16 and 1915-18. During the latter stretch, they were led by a young lefthanded pitcher named Babe Ruth, who never won three titles in five years again after being sold to the Yankees after the 1919 season.
6. 1910-14 Athletics
The first team in World Series history to win three titles in a five-year span, Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics actually won three in four years, something only the top six teams on this list have ever done. In addition to their championships in 1910, '11 and '13, the A's added a fourth AL pennant in 1914, only to be swept in the World Series by that year's "Miracle" Boston Braves.
7. 1958-62 Yankees
In addition to their championships in 1958, '61 and '62, these Yankees won the AL pennant in 1960 only to lose the World Series on Bill Mazeroski's walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7. Reaching beyond this five-year sample, the Yankees were the AL champions every year from 1960-64, making them the only team other than the 1949-53 Yankees to win five straight pennants.
8. 1942-46 Cardinals
These Cardinals dominated during World War II, winning 105 or more games and the NL pennant every year from 1942-44 and winning the World Series in '42, '44 and in the first post-war season of '46. The one time they didn't appear in the World Series during that span was 1945, the year that Stan Musial served in the military. Musial, who was never drafted, enlisted in the Navy that January, and the Cardinals finished in second place, just three games behind the pennant-winning Cubs.
9. 2010-14 Giants
The current Giants are the only team on this list not to have won back-to-back pennants, and they have had just two first-place finishes compared to a minimum of four for each of the eight teams above them. Given that, it's almost impossible to argue that they should rank any higher. Still, give them credit for having to fight through a deeper league, a longer season and all of those extra rounds of playoffs. They are one of just three division-era teams on this list, and one of just two from the last 40 years. Of the nine teams on this list, only these Giants and the 1910s Red Sox never lost a postseason series, and San Francisco has played more than twice as many series as those Red Sox — nine in total, plus this year's Wild-Card Game, to Boston's four.
Evaluated purely by their play in the postseason, the Giants would rank no worse than fourth on this list, behind the three Yankees teams to win at least four World Series without losing a postseason series over a five year span. As it is, what San Francisco has done over the last three years, despite being underdogs for virtually all but this year's World Series, stands as no worse than the ninth-best run of sustained success in major league history.