Winning Isn't Everything A great regular season doesn't guarantee postseason success

June 28, 1998

The Yankees need to throw some ball games.

This modest proposal is not offered on behalf of any wagering
syndicates or Cal Ripken fan clubs. It's suggested for the
Yankees' own good.

Forty pennant winners have won better than two thirds of their
games en route to the postseason. Yet this rollicking
regular-season success--achieved only three times since
1954--does not always carry over into the World Series. Only
half of those 40 teams have gone on to win the whole can of
Cheese Whiz.

The picture for the Yankees, sailing along at week's end at
50-18 (.735), is even bleaker: The numbers get worse as the
winning percentages get better. The 14 teams that played
.700-plus ball won only six titles. The three that finished .750
or better all lost.

Baseball has been filled with Titanics. The top winner of all
time, Cap Anson's 1885 Chicago White Stockings, finished their
National League season a stunning 87-25 (.777), yet dropped a
still disputed World Series to the upstart St. Louis Browns of
the American Association, then a major league. The biggest
winner of the National League's monopoly era of a hundred years
ago, the 1897 Boston Beaneaters (93-39, .705), lost the Temple
Cup series that pitted them against the regular-season
runners-up, the Baltimore Orioles, so souring the public with
that anticlimactic result that the format was discontinued.

The 1906 Cubs blazed through the National League to win 116 of
152 games (.763). Tinker, Evers, Chance and company led the
league in team batting, fielding and pitching; they scored 13%
more runs than the next-best offense and gave up 19% fewer than
the next-best defense. Yet the Cubs lost the World Series in six
to the crosstown White Sox, the confounding Hitless Wonders, who
batted .230 for the year and only .198 in the Series.

Still, the Cubs may have been out-disastered by the 1954
Indians, the alltime American League winning-percentage leaders
at .721 (111-43). During the regular season the Indians averaged
five runs a game; they scored nine in the entirety of their
four-game Series sweep at the hands of the New York Giants. Even
in our era the first have been last. During the existence of the
four-division format, nobody won more than the '69 Orioles
(109-53, .673), yet they fell to the Mets in the Series. Since
the advent of the wild-card format, the '95 Indians hold the
record at .694 (100-44), and they didn't win the Series either.

Is there cause and effect here, something to be concluded about
the lack of a challenging regular season coming home to roost in
the playoffs? Not necessarily. Despite their 111 victories, the
'54 Indians won the pennant by only eight games. The 1885 White
Stockings and 1897 Beaneaters needed to play .700 ball too; each
finished first by only two games.

The only glad tidings history offers the .735 Yanks come in
pinstripes. Five Yankee teams fit our criteria--and four of them
('27, '32, '39 and '61) won the World Series. Of course, so did
19 of the Yankees' 29 other pennant winners.

B/W PHOTO: MARK KAUFFMAN Stunner The '54 Indians wilted against the Giants. [Cleveland Indians pitcher preparing to pitch to Willie Mays]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)