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Deep Thoughts on the World Series

The Powers That Be suggested I write something about the World Series, what with my rumored interest in baseball history. So I was trying to think what I could write on short notice that isn’t utterly banal.  I’m sure that MLB officialdom is thrilled to see two major market teams in the Series.  So what?

Then it hit me: How about a good rant? That is right in my wheelhouse!  What to rant about? Fortunately, baseball (or, in fairness, Fox Sports) rose to the challenge with this:

Deep Thoughts on the World Series

I hear, in my mind’s ear, “First Time Ever” in a Valley Girl voice

As it happens, when the Dodgers won the pennant, my thought had been to wonder if they had ever met the Red Sox in a World Series before. This is trivially easy to look up. So I was well aware that the Dodgers and Red Sox had competed in the 1916 World Series. Here is the box score from game 2. Note the Red Sox pitcher, who hit like, well, a pitcher. Also, 14 innings in 2 hours 25 minutes:

Deep Thoughts on the World Series

So how can anyone claim (barring simple blinkered ignorance) that this year’s matchup is their first? My guess is that they would, as the first line of defense, point out that the Dodgers were in Brooklyn in 1916, so they meant that this is the first time the Los Angeles Dodgers have faced the Red Sox. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, the argument goes, they reset the clock.

The thing is, the Dodgers do not and never have treated the move to Los Angeles this way. The Los Angeles Dodgers have always been considered a continuation of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1990 they celebrated their 100th anniversary. This actually was pretty slick. Anniversary of what? They were in the minor Inter-State Association in 1883 and the major American Association from 1884 to 1889. But raising those requires more explanation than you want in a marketing campaign. They could have gone with 100th Anniversary in the National League, but they choose to leave it at 100th Anniversary. The point here is that they most definitely did not consider 1990 to be their 33rd Anniversary.

The kernel of truth is that some franchises do restart the clock with a move. The St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore, changed their name, and quietly forgot their previous existence, which given the Browns’ record, is understandable.

The rule of thumb is that the teams that kept their old nicknames (Dodgers, Giants, Braves, Athletics) kept their old records, while the teams that adopted new nicknames (Browns, Senators, Senators again, Expos, I suppose I should include the Pilots, and probably a couple others that aren’t coming to mind) wiped the slate clean.

Deep Thoughts on the World Series

Which brings us to the topic of team nicknames. The second line of defense for the First Ever! claim is that the Brooklyn Club of 1916 was called the Robins, not the Dodgers, so that is the first ever this year.

This in turn is based on a standard list of team nicknames for each year. The thing is, that list is bullshit, in the technical sense of the word. I have never been able to run down where it comes from. My guess is that it is from the 1960s or 70s, when there was a push to revisit baseball history, what with the Big Mac, but without necessarily understanding it.

Part of the misunderstanding was the assumption that the way team nicknames work today has always been how they worked: as official, or at least quasi-official, marketing trademarks, with only one trademark at any given time. The researcher’s task was to determine what this trademark was each year. In reality, team nicknames were a bit or journalistic pizzazz. It is hard to stay fresh writing about baseball day in and day out. Nicknames were a way to juice things up a bit. Some of these nicknames were very stable, and embraced by the clubs. The Giants have been the Giants since the early 1880s, and the Pirates the Pirates since 1890. Other clubs had multiple nicknames, used simultaneously, often in the same article. Our intrepid researcher choose one for each year, using deeply mysterious criteria, and anointed it the name for that year. So while it is true that the Brooklyn club was in 1916 called the Robins, it was also called the Dodgers and the Superbas. How Robins was selected from the possibilities is a dark mystery.

Deep Thoughts on the World Series

(As an aside, the bogosity of the standard list runs deeper than picking one possibility at random. In several cases the entries are complete fictions. The most egregious is the “Boston Red Caps.” I have a pet theory about this, which so far has persuaded no one: There was in fact a Red Caps club, but in St. Paul, Minnesota. The St. Paul Red Caps won the League Alliance pennant in 1877. The League Alliance is deeply obscure and generally misunderstood by those who know it ever existed. My suspicion is that our intrepid researcher came across a mention of the Red Caps as the 1877 League Alliance champions and confused them with the Boston club, the 1877 National League champions. This serves as a useful filter with modern works on baseball history. If they call the Boston club the Red Caps you need go no further.)

The culmination of my rant is that the collective baseball community in its broadest sense has this self-image of its being peculiarly interested in its own history. There is some truth to this, as shown by the plethora of baseball history books spewed forth every year. But this comes with the caveat that given a choice between getting it right and having a satisfying, easily comprehended story, the good story will usually prevail. And if getting it right runs up against a marketing campaign, getting it right hasn’t a chance. Feh.

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Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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28 thoughts on “Deep Thoughts on the World Series

  1. Since my Cubs managed to lose both a one-game Division Title playoff and the subsequent one-game wildcard game, I guess I’m mostly indifferent… maybe with a tiny preference for the Red Caps.

    Is it spring training yet?

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    • Nothing warmed this Sox fan’s heart more than seeing the Cubs’ bats go silent in their last 2 games. And seeing Joe Madden, yet again, mismanage his pitching staff.

      Yeah, I’ve got nothing but schadenfreude in this 100 loss season.

      It looks like the 2 best teams won the pennants this year, and the pitching matchups should be epic, especially Sale/Kershaw.

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      • Boooo. But yes, I could see how that would be satisfying; the bats they did go silent.

        Though I’m not sure its possible to mismanage a combination of Chavez, Cishek, Rosario, Kintzler, Garcia, Wilson and De La Rosa… after Chavez, you’re just picking different flavors of poison.

        The cubs without Morrow/Strop/CJEdwards weren’t going deep this year.

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  2. Love this.

    After the Braves were eliminated (unsurprisingly), I was rooting for a Brewers-Red Sox series, because I have two friends who are avid fans of those teams, and I was looking forward to them going at it. Instead, I just have to hope that both teams lose.

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  3. Charmed, as always, by the old box scores. Not surprising to see Ruth go 0-for-5: even the best hit slumps and IIRC he was notably good, but still developing into the Best Of His Era at that point.

    While I share @chris’ nostalgia for the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers and my heart was with them in the NLCS, my head told me all along that Los Angeles had the stronger team. I’ve no problem rooting for my former city against the Effin Red Sox and shall do so with lust and jeer.

    Two more notes about the 2018 Brewers. First, of course, Christian Yelich for NL-MVP and I shall tolerate no dissent on that point.

    Second, what do people think of Craig Counsell’s “bullpen game” strategy? It got a little silly with a starting pitcher facing one (1) batter and then retiring, but the idea of working a bunch of pitchers 2-3 innings, keeping the guy on the mound fresh, and keeping the guys in the batter’s box off-center… Frankly, I think we’re going to see more teams using that approach and lean on their aces less in 2019. Just as teams were quick to realize that statistically, the infield shift works out most of the time, many will see that a constant flow of medium-strong pitching elevated the Brewers from their merely-good 2017 season to their take-it-to-7-for-the-pennant 2018 run. What say you?

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    • I think you right, and it’s something some of the more edgy analytics folks have been pushing for. Why pay top rotation money when you can have 3-4 middle guys for the same prive and more flexibility, they say. As a fan, I don’t like it because it really breaks up the flow of the game, and as we’ve discussed before nothing is more laborious to sit through than multiple in-inning pitching changes. I would not be surprised to see a rule change coming if this continues to become active strategy. The part of that particular box score that jumped out was the 2 hours and change 14 inning game. More of that would be good for the sport.

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    • Not a fan. The White Sox took the pennant in ’05 in five games with the starters going 44 2/3. (But really it was A.J. Pierzynski stealing first in game 2 that provided the spark.) I don’t think the game has changed that much. It’s really just managers trying to prove their high salaries are justified.

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    • Starting pitcher being pulled after facing one batter is a stunt I really don’t need to see. It’s not unprecedented, but it makes the playoffs less like regular season baseball because its enabled by the added rest days for travel during the playoffs, which means more bullpen arms are available. (One of the reasons its not unprecedented is that the Brewers pulled the same stunt during the September roster expansion which adds up to 15 players from their farm system, which some argue needs to be modified so that there aren’t so many pitching changes)

      AFAIK, there are no rules regarding this, just a gentlemen’s agreement to exchange pitchers 24 hours in advance, so teams can construct their roster. I would codify that rule, barring an injury exclusion and require the starting pitcher to pitch an inning, barring a rain delay.

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  4. My rant about MLB Playoffs is more of a certain unease with a playoff system that is designed as a sprint somewhat incongruous with a 162 game season.

    Football: 16 game season, 3* game playoff (approx 25%)
    Hockey: 80 game season, 16-28 game playoff (approx 25%)
    Baseball: 162 game season, 11-19* game playoff (approx 9%)
    *plus 1 wildcard game

    I guess I don’t really feel that Baseball playoffs resolve the baseball season in as commensurate a way as Football/Hockey. if 25% seems a reasonable approximation, then we’d need about 40 more games to settle a baseball world champ. Of course, with a 162-game season that’s impossible… so some sort of division around mid-season into upper and lower divisions might be a semi-historical approach.

    The second half of the season sees the top 15 (probably room for 2 team expansion) so lets say top 16 teams play each other in two 8-team divisions for the next 81 games*. After that, top two teams play one best of 9-game World Series… or top four play two best of 7 series… either way.

    *Or, alternately, break the season into 108-games to decide divisions, then 54-games to decide World Series sedes… or introduce the break at whatever number allows for the teams to play one ea. home/away 3-game series against the teams in their brackets (72/90??)

    Bonus: Bottom division plays for the top 4 draft picks… with the 16th (last place) team getting pick #5, #17, #49; then 15 getting #6, #18 #50 and so on. (i.e. World Series Champs first pick #48)

    Call me Manfred, I’m open to new opportunities.

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    • Because so many AAA and AA teams are part of farm systems, a Premier League style promotion/relegation system isn’t really an easy possibility. But I muse about whether it might be good for the whole. One of the reasons the Effin Red Sox have the scary record they do is all those games against lowly Baltimore.

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      • Yes, but this would be purely a division among the major league teams… top 15 (or 16 w/expansion) in Upper Division (playing for championship), bottom 16 in Lower Division (playing for the #1 draft pick).

        In this scenario, Boston would have played its last, 54, 81, or 90 games against the top 15 clubs… Washington would have been #15 in 2018*

        So yeah, that would be a potential benefit in deciding the top team… more games against top competition.

        *end of season, didn’t look-up top 15 at mid-season.

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      • Because so many AAA and AA teams are part of farm systems

        The value of “so many” here is all. Also all A and Rookie League teams. This is pretty much by definition nowadays. The hierarchy of minor leagues is a function of Minor League Baseball, which used to be called the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. The last unaffiliated teams in Minor League Baseball were about 1990 or so.

        The modern independent league movement arose, not coincidentally, in the 1990s. There is a good book on it, “Slouching Toward Fargo.” These leagues don’t fit into the AAA/AA/A scheme. They sometimes like to make claims about their level of play (AA is typical, as high enough to impress while not being utterly implausible) but this is mere marketing.

        Edit: I should also add that this is the least of the reasons why we aren’t going to see a promotion/relegation system.

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          • I was simplifying. There are six levels of affiliated minor leagues. From top to bottom: AAA, AA, A advanced (often informally called “high A”), A (informally, “low A”), A short season, and Rookie.

            Why this obviously insane nomenclature? Grade inflation. It started out with a sensible system of A, B. C., etc. Then an A league made a good case that it was really higher than the other A leagues, so we got AA. Fast forward and no one wants to be anything lower than A, so what the heck: participation trophies all around. Except for the Rookie leagues, of course: what losers!

            AA ball is my favorite. They level of play is good. The players know where to throw the ball and have the ability to do it, but they still have something to prove. AAA tends to be a holding pattern of guys waiting for the phone to ring. Get down to low A and it can be a comedy of errors.

            Edit: Games on the short season A level that you see in the Northwest League are fun, but these are guys who a few weeks earlier were playing in college, or even high school. They tend to be athletic and naturally talented, but don’t know any more than you or I did at that age.

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            • Got you. We tend to follow what is close, and up here its short season or college ball. The Mariners are a bit of a distance but not undoable once a year or so and the local college (where the wife works) just won the college world series, which is nice. When we were in the bay, it was a toss-up between driving to Sacramento for the Rivercats or go to an A’s game.

              Then again, the wife will sometimes stop and watch a little league game.

              edit: Oh, I actually don’t think the lettering is that insane, as I have a few interests that use arcane systems to make distinctions like this. Think sizing of books, gauges of metal, that sort of thing.

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  5. Richard Hershberger: These leagues don’t fit into the AAA/AA/A scheme. They sometimes like to make claims about their level of play (AA is typical, as high enough to impress while not being utterly implausible) but this is mere marketing.

    As someone who has witnessed independent league baseball, junior college is probably more accurate.

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    • In fairness, it depends on the league. The Frontier League makes no pretenses of being more than a rookie league. The Atlantic League is the top indie league. I followed it pretty closely some fifteen years ago. The “AA-equivalent” claim optimistic, but not risible. I have seen some people claim it is lower now, but I can’t say from personal observation.

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