By BRIAN O'NEILL
October 26, 2005
If the Chicago White Sox hang on to win their first Series in 88 years, that would be a case of championus interruptus whose like has not be seen since, well, last year. The Red Sox went 86 years between championships.
These aren't just repeating story lines. While everyone was complaining about those damn Yankees, we have slid into the true Golden Age of Baseball.
Traditionalists see divisional play, wild-card champions, expansion and free agency as the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but they have helped usher in an unprecedented era of crown-passing.
The Astros and White Sox are the 23rd and 24th franchises to play in the past 30 World Series, and the winner will be the 19th team to seize the rings since 1975.
You know that's unprecedented because there were only 16 teams for most of the past century. Upping the number to 30 has increased the winning possibilities exponentially, and yet the 21st Century began with many believing that no team would ever outspend or outplay the Yankees. They were only half right.
-The maximum eight teams have played in the past four World Series. That first occurred between 1918 and 1921, and then didn't happen again for six decades. That's largely because the Yankees would not go more than three seasons without a World Series title between 1923 and 1962.
-The National League has sent eight different teams to the World Series in the past eight years. That never happened before, but then the league hadn't gone 7-for-7 until last year. The American League had eight champs between 1981 and 1988.
-The 12 teams in the past eight World Series are the most since 1979-1986. No other period has as many.
-Soon we'll have the sixth World Series champion in the past six seasons (joining, in reverse chronology, the Red Sox, Marlins, Angels, Diamondbacks and Yankees). That makes this the most dynasty-free time in baseball since the 10 champions between 1978 and 1987 (Yankees, Pirates, Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals, Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Mets and Twins). There also were six champions between 1967 and 1972 (Cardinals, Tigers, Mets, Orioles, Pirates and Athletics). No other periods had such flag-passing.
This is a 30-year survey because there are 30 teams. The cancellation of the 1994 World Series makes this year's Series the 30th since 1975, a year also coincident with the emergence of free agency.
Among the six wallflowers in this period are three franchises that were not around the entire time.
The Seattle Mariners arrived in 1977, the Colorado Rockies in 1993 and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998.
The other laggards are the Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos (1969), Texas Rangers/Washington Senators (1961) and Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs, who haven't been to the Series since 1945 and haven't won it since 1908, are the only original team this long from the dance.
You still have to spend to win. The combined payrolls of the Astros ($77 million) and White Sox ($75 million) don't come within $50 million of the Yankees' $206 million, but they remain on the high side, 12th and 13th in baseball.
Contenders in the lower third of payroll (Oakland, Washington and Cleveland) fell short this year. No team with a low payroll has won since the Marlins in 2003.
Fans who would rather blame the system can at least feel good that they're part of an estimable baseball tradition.
In 1925, Ernest Hemingway imagined a couple of Cardinals fans in the woods, drinking whiskey and bemoaning the state of baseball in his short story, "The Three-Day Blow."
"As long as (New York Giants manager John) McGraw can buy every good ballplayer in the league there's nothing to it," said Bill.
"He can't buy them all," Nick said.
Nick was right. The Cardinals beat the Yankees in the 1926 World Series.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com
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