The first day of spring means that the warm light of baseball grows tantalizingly closer by the moment. Still, a lengthy week separate us from Opening Day which means we will need to entertain ourselves.
Recently, I’ve been considering the weight of postseason accomplishments. Fans of rival clubs within the AL Central are fond of talking smack to compare their club’s accomplishments with another’s. But what matters more? Kansas City has won a World Series more recently, but Detroit has more overall titles. How much should we value division titles compared to a wild card berth? Let’s work this out.
Baseball exists as a cultural time capsule. Much has changed since 1901 — the number of teams has grown from 16 to 30, teams carry more players, and the season is longer now. Most germane to our analysis, the playoff field has expanded. Baseball’s beauty comes from its permanence, however. It’s still nine innings to a game, nine players on the field, and 90 feet to first. The trick then is to balance today’s accomplishments with those of the previous century. Here is our scoring rubric:
• World Series Champions – 5 points
• American League Pennant – 4 points
• Advanced to American League Championship Series (post 1994) – 3 points
• Division Champions – 2 points
• Wild Card Berth – 1 point
A quick note on these values. We will be assigning one point value per season depending on how much postseason success the team enjoys. For example, the 1906 White Sox would receive 5 points for winning the World Series. The 2005 White Sox would receive that same score. If we compounded the points per season then the ’05 club would receive 2 points for winning the Central, 3 points for winning the ALDS, 4 points for securing the pennant, and 5 points for sweeping Houston in the Fall Classic. Their aggregate score would then be 14 points. Both flags fly forever, but is a modern title worth nearly three times as much as one from a century earlier? As different as the game is, we still place those trophies on the same shelf. So points will be allocated only based on how far your club advances.
Two other ground rules concern the wild card and the Twins. In 2012 MLB added an additional wild card participant with the winner playing the top seeded division winner. For our purposes we will consider all wild cards equivalent whether they came before or after this rule change. Winning the wild card game will not earn you extra points. Lastly, in 1961 the Washington Senators relocated to the Twin Cities and became the Twins. While in the nation’s capital the club won three pennants and a World Series. Those accomplishments are considered part of the official Twins lore, but our context concerns how fans of the current teams would discuss their team among other division fans. I have a crisp high five ready for whoever knows a Twins fan who cites those Roaring 20’s triumphs. If they don’t mind then neither do we. Let’s dig in.
5.) Kansas City Royals
The Royals joined baseball’s fold in 1969 so it’s natural that they would sit fifth among their division mates. George Brett led the club to three straight divisions from 1976-78, but each time Reggie Jackson and the Yankees sent them home empty handed. They finally captured the flag in 1980 before falling to the Phillies in the Fall Classic. A pair of division titles in strike-shortened ’81 and ’84 both went against the Royals 3-0. Their big win came in 1985, a seven game World Series winner over the Cards. Then came a nearly 30 year sojourn through a barren baseball wasteland that greatly hurts their standings here. A wild card classic in 2014 paved the way for a 3-0 ALDS win and American League title. They eventually fell to the Giants in the World Series. The following year they sealed the deal with a division title, pennant, and finally another Commissioner’s Trophy. Their final tally reads as follows:
5 Division Titles (x 2)
2 Pennants (x 4)
2 World Series (x 5)
Total: 28 points
Best argument for a KC fan: They have the most recent championship of any divisional club.
Best smack talk against KC: Zero playoff appearances between 1986 and 2013. That’s the kind of thing you notice.
4.) Minnesota Twins
Baseball came to the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 1961. For the first time, Washington DC could not keep a team as the Senators fled west while changing their name to the more regionally appropriate Twins. Picking up a fully developed club facilitated Minny’s ascent. In 1965, their fifth year in state, the Twins reached the World Series only to fall to the Los Angeles Dodgers. After two fruitless division titles in 1969 and 1970 they eventually captured the ’87 crown over the St. Louis Cardinals. Kirby Puckett and the boys stuck around to claim another ring in 1991.
The Twins enjoyed a resurgence at the beginning of the 21st century. Division champions in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2010 brought excitement to the Metrodome, but Minnesota could not clear the ALDS in any appearance after 2002. The Yankees swept Minnesota out of the ALDS in 2006, 2009 and 2010. The Twins finished dead last in the Central two of the past three years. While the future may be bright, the present is somewhere between midnight and pre-dawn.
7 Division Titles (x2)
1 ALCS Appearance (x1)
1 Pennant (x4)
2 World Series (x 2)
Total: 31 points
Best argument for a Minnesota fan: The 1991 World Series is widely regarded as the greatest Fall Classic of all time.
Best way to heckle a Minnesota fan: Did you know your team has not won a playoff game since George W. Bush’s first term?
3.) Chicago White Sox
Chicago places a respectable third in these rankings. The South Siders have played ball in the AL since 1901 with success coming early and recently with not much in between. Titles in 1906 and 1917 set up the team for a run of dominance in the game’s early years. The infamous Black Sox Scandal of 1919 torpedoed those efforts, but we did get two rewatchable Shoeless Joe Jackson movies out of it so it wasn’t a total loss. Forty years elapsed before the White Sox won the pennant again; they promptly lost the 1959 World Series to the LA Dodgers. Chicago went wanting until they captured the AL West in 1993.
So if you’re keeping track at home, the Sox have TWO separate 34+ year playoff droughts on their resume. The Sox managed a forgettable division title in 2000 before breaking through in a big way winning the 2005 World Series. Chicago went 11-1 that postseason including a sweep of the Houston Astros. The ChiSox managed two playoff appearances after that championship, but have not breached October since 2008. I’m sure the success of their cross town neighbors doesn’t bother them at all.
5 Division Titles (x2)
3 Pennants (x4)
3 World Series (x5)
Total: 37 points
Best argument for a Chicago fan: Dead or live ball we have titles.
Best way to heckle a Chicago fan: What’s it like being Chicago’s “other” team?
2.) Cleveland Indians
Cleveland’s baseball history dates well into the 19th century, but the current club joined the fledgling American League in 1901. It took nineteen years before Cleveland reached the Fall Classic which they won at Brooklyn’s expense. The Indians made a habit of long playoff droughts. A 28-year gap separated their first and second championships – 1948’s six gamer over the Boston Braves. The Tribe won the pennant six years later after consistently flailing in the Yankee’s prolific shadow. Then came a legendary span without Octobers.
Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn and Jake Taylor did manage to earn Cleveland a 1989 AL East title, but the flag was later vacated when the Commissioner’s office learned the win was in fact a motion picture. The Curse of Rocky Colavito ran for 41 years until the 1995 club won the division and pennant. The Braves took their (relocated) revenge in the World Series. You no doubt know all about the 90’s clubs and their outright dominance of the AL Central. A curtain call division title in 2001 preceded leaner years. In 2007 the Indians returned to postseason baseball, advancing as far as the ALCS before bowing out to the Red Sox. Last season’s team won its division, ALDS, ALCS, and three World Series games before…you know the rest.
In the franchise’s 116 year history its playoff success is surprisingly recent.
1 Wild Card (x1)
3 Division Titles (x2)
2 ALCS Appearances (x3)
4 Pennants (x4)
2 World Series (x5)
Total: 39 points
Best argument for a Cleveland fan: Defending American League Champions, thank you very much.
Best means to heckle Cleveland fans: Sixty-nine year title drought much?
1.) Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers stand alone in first place by a wide margin. Despite how Indians fans may feel about their Lake Erie rivals there is simply no denying that Detroit has been a marquee franchise in Major League Baseball for over a century. Four World Championships. Seven pennants. The Tigers have a little dust collecting on their most recent WS trophy – it is 33 years old after all. In fact, their title drought currently ranks fourth among clubs that have captured the trophy before (ignoring teams like the Mariners who have never won a title). So if Cleveland, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh can beat them to a parade then Detroit may carry that most undesirable distinction of “longest wait.”
The Tigers have world championships in four different decades and reached three straight Series from 1907-1909. No matter if they were in the American League East (three titles) or Central (four titles) Detroit has consistently found the playoffs. With an aging roster they have a narrow contention window that may be closing sooner than they prefer.
3 Division Titles (x2)
2 ALCS Appearances (x3)
7 Pennants (x4)
4 World Series (x5)
Total: 60 points
Best argument for a Detroit fan: Count the rings.
Best means to heckle a Detroit fan: Four straight division titles this decade but no parades.
1. Detroit – 60
2. Cleveland – 39
3. Chicago – 37
4. Minnesota – 31
5. Kansas City – 28
While these rankings are somewhat subjective it is still fun to see how common rivals stack up. Too often the sports narrative boils down to “champs and losers” which is a discredit to all the accomplishments required to even reach the championship stage. In Major League Baseball only 1/30th of the participants will be crowned at the end of the year. There is no reason not to appreciate the smaller triumphs even if your favorite team is not the last one standing. With the season a week away there will be ample opportunity for all these teams to climb these arbitrary rankings.