Derek Zumsteg's guest column on the The Irrational Market prompted a discussion about the Chicago White Sox in the comments section. One reader claimed the White Sox were the worst team in the last 40 years to win the World Series and others had various takes and spins on the South Siders.
I'll be the first to admit that I underestimated the White Sox last year. I selected them to finish fourth in the AL Central. I was even skeptical after the team broke out to a fast start but began to respect the Pale Hose as the season progressed. It wasn't difficult for me to realize that I was wrong: the White Sox were much better than I had thought. In fact, I became such a believer that I picked the White Sox to beat the Red Sox in the ALDS. However, Chicago did me two better by beating the Angels in the ALCS and the Houston Astros in the World Series.
The White Sox won it all in convincing fashion. The team finished the regular season with the most wins in the AL and the second most in the majors. They swept the defending champions in the first round of the playoffs, then won the pennant by winning four of five (including four consecutive complete game victories by a quartet of starting pitchers) against the best of what the AL West had to offer, before sweeping the Astros in the World Series. Put it all together and the White Sox went 11-1 in the postseason, tied with the 1999 Yankees for the best playoff record under the current format. Since divisional play began, only the Cincinnati Reds in 1976 had a better winning percentage with a 7-0 record.
To suggest that the White Sox weren't a great team is ignoring the facts. We can form our own opinions going into a season or quote Pythagorean records but the bottom line in measuring how successful--or unsuccessful--a team is (or was) is based on actual wins, place in the standings, and performance in the playoffs. Period. It is simply a mistake to do otherwise. If we want to use Pythagoras for predicting future performance, fine, go for it. But the bottom line isn't about having the biggest run differentials; it is about winning games.
I mean, at some point, we have to put away all of our other tools and subjective reasonings and pay respect to the team that actually wins games on the field. This debate reminds me of one of my favorite stories of all time.
After Notre Dame beat USC in a football game at the Los Angeles Coliseum in the 1920s, the losing coach told reporters that the Trojans had more first downs than the Fightin' Irish. Upon returning to South Bend and reading the newspaper account of the game, Knute Rockne, Notre Dame's legendary coach, sent his counterpart a telegram with the following message: "The next time you want to play for first downs, let me know." [Update: According to research performed by Bob Timmermann, the game in question may have been the 1925 Rose Bowl between Notre Dame and Stanford, not USC.]
No baseball team won more games than the White Sox last year. And they were the only team in the postseason that won its last game. You see, the Sox may not have led the league or majors in first downs but they led in what mattered: wins.
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Mike Hollman of Orioles Think Tank recently interviewed me about the state of the Birds, including the team's starting pitchers (Daniel Cabrera, Bruce Chen, and Erik Bedard), the bullpen, Jay Gibbons, Melvin Mora, and its prospects. I even shared my short- and long-term projections for the Baltimore franchise.
OTT: I'm sure a lot of people would like to hear that better times are ahead. Care to indulge us?
Rich: Well, everybody likes to think better times are ahead. But I have a hard time coming to that conclusion. The problem for the Orioles is that they are competing in a tough division. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays are all better right now, and the Devil Rays are likely to be better down the road.
I hesitate to say this, but I would expect the O's to finish last more often than first over the next five years. Put the Orioles in another division and they would clearly have a better chance of succeeding. Gerrymandering, anyone?
The full transcript can be found here. Enjoy!