So another baseball season ends, this time with the St. Louis Cardinals celebrating their World Series victory in their home park. With a 83-78 regular season record, the 2006 Cardinals become possibly the "worst" team ever to win a championship. The previous low regular season record for a championship team was the 1987 Twins, at 85-77. Interestingly, that Twins team also rolled over a "superior" Tigers team to make the postseason.
Both of the World Series teams backed into the playoffs, becoming huge underdogs. The Cardinals almost featured a historic collapse, as a late charge by the Houston Astros almost dropped them out of the playoffs altogether. The Tigers lost AL Central on the last day of the season, getting whupped by the Kansas City Royals--fortunately for them, they had the social safety net of the Wild Card. Both teams were expected to lose their first round matchups, and both won handily; the Cardinals were clear underdogs to the New York Mets, and their pitchers caught fire during that series, holding down one of the strongest offenses in the National League.
The Tigers cruised to seven straight postseason wins on the strength of their three weapons: pitching, defense, and the home run (not necessarily in that order). The Tigers relievers won game two of their ALDS, the starters won games three and four; they outhomered the "mighty" Yankee lineup, 6-4; and they only made two errors to the Yankees' six. In the ALCS, the Tigers outhomered the A's, 7-4; the A's only scored nine runs in four losses.
I was cheering for the Tigers in this Series, if only for La Chiquita and her family, who are from Detroit. But the Cardinals were able to keep the Tigers in the ballpark, and the Tigers' defense abandoned them. Pitcher fielding, one of the neglected areas of the game, absolutely killed the Tigers in this series. It seemed like the Detroit pitchers couldn't pick up a comebacker without something bad happening, and a run scoring. Brandon Inge, one of the best thirdbasemen in the AL, made critical throwing errors (See, Alex? You're not the only one.) A fairy-tale run ended in an ugly way, one which I hope doesn't embitter Tigers fans past seeing that their team had a great, great season.
So congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals, and their fans. While being the "worst" world champion ever is a dubious distinction, it calls to mind a joke. What do they call the guy who graduates last in his class in medical school?
They call him "Doctor." Flags fly forever.
What was more frustrating: watching Jeff Weaver pitch eight good innings in a World Series clincher, or watching Kenny Rogers suddenly become untouchable (if sticky to the touch) this postseason? On the one hand, the Yanks won the World Series in which Rogers was goofing things up, while Weaver cost the Yanks a critical game of the 2003 WS (edge, Weaver). On the other hand, Rogers' ace pitching helped eliminate the Yankees; while Weaver's sudden effectiveness helped eliminate the Mets (edge, Rogers). I'd like to hear from all you good folks out there--what's the woist?
This World Championship assures that not only will Tony LaRussa make it into the Hall of Fame, he may well be canonized, as well. That's going to be annoying. It'll be telling of how the members of the BWAA actually submit their votes, to see how LaRussa does in the Manager of the Year award. If LaRussa wins (or even finishes a strong second), you can be sure that all that stuff about ballots being cast before the end of the season is bunk. Supposedly, there's a fair amount of leeway as to when the ballots are actually received, although voters are supposed to only take the regular season into consideration.
Changing gears, from Sherman's column in the Post (hat tip to Repoz at BTF): "And once Pavano's body is in better shape, [agent Gregg] Clifton said, the pitcher can begin dialogues to work on repairing his reputation." Uh, good luck with that.
I mentioned the 1987 Twins earlier. A member of that championship team, and former Yankee, knuckleballer Joe Niekro passed away yesterday. He had suffered a brain aneurysm the day before. Seeing Peter Gammons on the field at the World Series, just months after Gammons suffered an aneurysm of his own, makes you think about how lucky the ESPN analyst is. Our condolences go out to Joe's family, including his brother, Hall of Famer and ex-Yankee Phil Niekro, and his son, current San Francisco Giant Lance Niekro.
We'll be back this week with more wrapup on the Yankee season, and a few non-baseball items.